Filed under: Crates,Features,Not Your Average,Print Work,Steady Bootleggin',Strong Island,The Unkut Guide,Where Are They Now?
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Pic courtesy Meaning of Dope.
After forming meeting at high school out on Long Island, Curt Cazal, B Luv and AJ Rok (who was originally from Mt. Vernon) would spend three to four hours every day rehearsing their routines. It wasn’t until they were all in college that the J.V.C. F.O.R.C.E (Justified by Virtue of Creativity For Obvious Reasons Concerning Entertainment) began to send their demo tapes out to labels. They now admit to being a little surprised when B-Boy Records offered them a deal on the strength of ‘Nu Skool’, which the group considered to be their weakest song at the time. According to AJ Rok: “Rock Candy Records was the label. Scott La Rock approached them about doing a label, and B-Boy Records was supposed to be – on paper – the joint venture between Scott La Rock and Rock Candy. That’s originally how it started. But what happened is, the people that owned the label – I think it was two Jewish guys, and a black dude – because Scott never put no money up, they let him say you’re an owner…but the paperwork didn’t reflect that.” J.V.C. Force’s debut single for the label, ‘Strong Island’, was originally recorded as the B-side to ‘Nu Skool’, but once it was laid down there was no denying the power of that song and it went on to become a huge hit as the A-side in 1987, and was quickly adopted as the anthem for the still-emerging hip-hop scene in Long Island. By sampling Chuck D‘s rallying cry of “Strong Island!” from Public Enemy‘s
‘Bring The Noise’ ‘Rebel Without A Pause’, J.V.C. were the first crew to really stand-up and represent Long Island to the fullest.
“DJ Spontaneous had traded me for my copy of ‘Good Times’ ‘cos he needed doubles for this party”, reminisces AJ. “He gave me this record by Frieda Payne, and when I listened to it I was pissed off I’d given up my ‘Good Times’! A few years later, the original beat we had for ‘Strong Island’ was ‘My Girl’, but B Luv said, ‘Hell nah. We’ve gotta look for a beat’. So we went to his pops house and I said, ‘Do you have anything by Frieda Payne?’ So he played ‘Band of Gold’ and I’m like, ‘Nah, that ain’t the record. Yo, turn it over’. It was the b-side, and we looked at each other like, ‘Yo!’ We called up Curt right away and played it to him”. Combing the two separate Frieda Payne samples, ‘Strong Island’ burst out the speaker with it’s rolling congo break, triumphant horn blasts and buzzing guitar licks, allowing AJ Rok and B Luv to kick an addictive back-and-forth routine that swings between light-hearted boasts and stern warnings to any doubters. J.V.C. also released the exclusive ‘Blue Mix’ of ‘Strong Island’ for the European market. “The U.K. was giving us mad love”, details AJ. “So we did something just for the U.K. It ended up going other places, but it was just for the U.K. It ended up coming back out to the States, eventually. They were giving us love so we gave them something extra.” Still instantly recognizable to this day, the track was remade by Chris Lowe (who produced much of Stezo’s debut) and Parrish ‘PMD’ Smith for ‘CT To LI Buckwhylin’ in 2000.
Building off of the momentum of the first single, their debut album Doin’ Damage featured popular tracks such as the title track and the Vaughn Mason-based ‘Take It Away’, but following the murder of Scott La Rock and the departure of KRS-One to Jive Records, J.V.C. found themselves as the lone golden goose at the crumbling B-Boy Records label. Frustrated by poor distribution and shady business dealings, the crew moved to Idlers for their sophomore effort, which proved to be equally unsatisfactory for different reasons. “Idlers was distributed through Warlock,” explains AJ. “The guy’s name was Tony Dick – he lived up to his name too. The best thing about him was that he introduced us to his lawyer, and his lawyer helped us get off our contract with B-Boy. And then his lawyer became our lawyer and helped us get off our contract with him. The bad thing about it was, he put out that Jungle Brothers‘ ‘Girl I’ll House You’, and then Hip-House started coming in he wanted us to get into that. And we did kinda listen to him, but I never felt it – it wasn’t me. They were trying to push us into areas that really wasn’t us.” Despite these creative differences, 1990’s Force Field proved to be a more diverse and adventurous musical excursion, delving into reggae and rock samples and even flipping the theme from the childrens television program The Electric Company (which was later used on MF Doom‘s Mm…Food LP). Another track – ‘We Got Our Own Thing’ – was based around CJ & Co’s hit of the same name, but after Heavy D released his own popular version of the song, Idlers asked the crew to remake it as a Hip-House mix called ‘It’s A Force Thing.’ Certified dope material such as the incredible ‘Tear The Show Up’ left no doubt that the crew were more than just one-hit wonders, but with minimal exposure and only one single released to support the project, the album didn’t make much noise outside of their already established fan base.
It would be another two years before the Force released new music, this time with Big Beat Records. While they recorded an entire (untitled) third album, the deal only yielded a single 12″ release – ‘Big Trax’/ ‘6 Feet Back On The Map’. The A-side was notable for being one of the earliest uses of the DeBarge sample made famous on Big L’s ‘M.V.P.’ and Biggie’s ‘Big Poppa (Remix)’, amongst others (although Kid Capri beat all of them to the punch on ‘Billy’ from 1991’s The Tape). What became of that third album (Creative Differences) remains a mystery, as the group finally parted ways during that period. Here’s what producer T-Ray, who worked a number of Big Beat projects at the time, had to say regarding that third LP:
“I want somebody to make sure they get that out. I would put it out but I don’t have all the masters. Here’s the sad thing. Power Play called me up, I was out here [in Malibu] so I couldn’t make it in time – some guys I knew that had bought Power Play, they called me up and they were like, ‘We gotta clean out all the old tapes, ‘cos we only got this one tape closet for the whole studio and it’s full of tapes. We just saw about twenty in here with your name on it!’ And they had some Percee-P tapes in there, with maybe seven or eight songs that had never come out, on two-inch reels. So I called Percee, ‘Yo, pick ’em up.’ Percee didn’t go do it, and it’s my understanding that all of those got thrown in the garbage, including the original tapes of the Kenny Dope record with all that shit separated, versions we didn’t use and shit. What I’m scared of is that potentially that whole JVC Force album got thrown away, unless there are copies AJ has.”
Where Are They Now?
AJ ‘Rok’ Woodson went on to make a name for himself as an accomplished journalist, working as Associate Editor at On The Go magazine, where he conducted some amazing interviews with under-exposed old school legends such as the Crash Crew and the Fearless Four. He later went on to contribute to The Source and The Village Voice, amongst others. He reunited the whole crew for his Heavy Rotation Magazine Radio show in December of 2007 to mark the 20th anniversary of ‘Strong Island’, and has just published a book titled Spiritual Minded – Da Daily Devotion For The Hip-Hop Generation.
Curt Cazal brought the rights to D&D Studios name and moved all the equipment from ‘The A Room’ to his house and started D&D East in Long Island. He also released records as QNC (Q Ball and Curt Cazal) and contributed tracks for a number of projects, including M.O.P.‘s Warriorz album.
B Luv started a company called The Get Down Lounge, which does a lot of private parties and functions in Atlanta. He’s also produced for Mean Green and Yankee B, and is working with a new artist from Cleveland named Rhyme Heavy.
Doin’ Damage (B-Boy, 1988)
Forcefield (Idlers, 1990)
‘Strong Island’ (B-Boy, 1987)
‘Love Line’ (B-Boy, 1988)
‘Strong Island’ (Blue Mix) (RAP, 1988)
‘Intro 2 Dance’ (Idlers, 1990)
‘Big Trax’ (Big Beat, 1992)
J.V.C Force – ‘Strong Island’ (Blue Mix)
J.V.C Force – ‘Doin’ Damage’ (Original Version)
J.V.C Force – ‘Nu Skool’ (12″ Version)
J.V.C Force – ‘Force Field’ (Alternative Mix)
J.V.C Force – ‘Tear The Show Up’
J.V.C Force – ‘Trivial Pursuit’
J.V.C Force – ‘We Got Our Own Thing’ (Unreleased)
J.V.C Force – ‘The Move’
J.V.C Force – ‘6 Feet Back On The Map’ (Hardcore Mixxup)
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