Five Steez – War For Peace

Written By Adam Itkoff
Edited by Magee McIlvaine

Jamaica has long been a rich backdrop for musical inspiration; cue emerging hip-hop artist, Five Steez. Across thirteen tracks and an array of production styles, Jamaican artist Five Steez delivers on his most cohesive project to date, ‘War for Peace’. Conscientious hip-hop from the heart of Jamaica, the album depicts a homeland wrought with dilemma and conflict, but an MC eager to examine with relentless energy. Often through storytelling and sometimes woven within choruses, Five Steez gives us music both soulful and poignant. With style and approach reminiscent of cult-favorite and former Def Jukie, Mr. Lif, Five Steez’s commitment to artistry and integrity in hip-hop exhibits his greatest strength, both personally and lyrically:

“I am, god and man/the five-pointed star for the rise and fall/and the five senses, four limbs, one head/five percenters say arm, leg, leg, mass is/masses mislead/by belief, because without knowledge you dead.”

Descriptions like this frequent the project throughout, where homage to Jamaica is strong, conflicted yet triumphant. Whether crooning on tracks like “Black Beauty” or swaggering over boom-bap production on “Shining”, Five Steez finds balance between context and content in this stellar debut. Get the album here and check out the interview below.

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Photo by Sabriya Simon

Can you tell us a bit about your introduction to music and hip-hop?

I’ve been a fan of music for as long as I can remember. It’s almost inescapable in Jamaica. So as a child, I heard a lot of Reggae and Dancehall as well as many other genres. Hip Hop was one of these genres I heard the most because my two older brothers, who were in their teens, by the time I was 6, were heavily into the music. As a result, I also grew up on a healthy dose of golden era Hip Hop and fell deeper in love by 1997 when I was 10/11 and heard Wu-Tang Forever and Rakim’s 18th Letter. I would dabble in writing rhymes a little bit but it wasn’t until I was about 14 that I fully considered myself an MC and started honing my skills.

Who are your strongest musical influences?

Nas, 2Pac, Dead Prez, Wu Tang, Rakim, Cormega and AZ are among some of my biggest musical influences in Hip Hop but I’ve learnt a lot from all sorts of artistes.

Lyrics to tracks like ‘Slaving on the Plantation’ point to the drudgery of workaday life. What allows you to stay creative?  

Funnily enough, ‘Slaving…’ is no longer my experience and hasn’t been over two years. As I said in ‘Yard Nigga Rap’… I hopped off the corporate ladder because it was driving me crazy LOL! It was extremely difficult to find time to work on my music or get in the right mindframe when I was working 9-to-5 so I took a major leap and decided to do what I wanted while focusing on my music. If I never had that drive, this album wouldn’t have been completed and I wouldn’t be on this journey.

What state do you feel hip-hop is in currently? Popular American hip-hop seems to focus on material and status whereas your music is clearly people-centric. Can you talk about what distinguishes your music?  

I think Hip Hop is slowly coming full circle. I’m not happy with what’s in the mainstream US market but I recognize that while the major labels are failing and falling, the underground is rising. So I think it’s a promising time. The essence of the genre is very much alive in the work of certain artistes and I’d like to think that I’m one of them. That is why I cannot get caught up in materialism or anything that I consider to be irrelevant or detrimental to my people. I’m naturally someone who cares a lot about what is going on in the world so I’m usually inspired to address certain things in my music. I really intend for the music to be for the people and to represent their causes simply because that’s my spirit as a person.

With both Jamaican and global poverty serving as recurring themes in your music, what role does hip-hop have in raising awareness surrounding these issues?

Hip Hop is the leading voice of the youth right now and one of the most popular musical cultures, if not the most. I think that makes it the perfect avenue for me to talk about what’s going on in Jamaica. Hip Hop is supposed to be the voice of the voiceless so I believe it should always be shedding light on issues and situations that don’t get enough if any attention in the mainstream media.

Screen Shot 2012 09 04 at 2.29.09 PM Five Steez – War For Peace What went into the production of this album?

A lot of thought, time and dedication, on my part, went into this album. It is a complete independent effort. Much of it was even recorded and mixed by me myself.

Some tracks were more collaborative than others… songs like ‘Blazing’… the beat was very much the offspring of Kabaka Pyramid, who did the initial beat, and Sawandi, who played various phrases and added the dub effects. ‘Growing Pains’ was fully produced under the guidance of Dawit in his studio. The majority of songs were done through beatmakers sending instrumentals and me taking it from there though.

I was always in the studio with the artistes featured except for Kabaka Pyramid on I Am. That song developed from me sending him my verse and hook, at which point he shot back his verse. After that, I recorded an 8 bar verse and he easily came in to finish the 16 with a similar scheme. Even though we never wrote or recorded together, we are similar artistes, who have collaborated in the past so it was a breeze.

How has the completed project been received?

 The project is being well-received and I’m grateful. I’ve been getting an overwhelming response from various fans and supporters as well as some nice write-ups on blogs and in one of the most popular local magazines called Backayard.

What comes next?

Visuals. I began shooting a video for ‘Slaving…’ on Sunday and should finish shooting this weekend. I hope for it to be out sometime in September. I also plan to follow up with more visuals for the album. I’m also considering releasing a special edition LP with two songs from the album but that will be down the line.