Oct. 11, 2006 — A new hip-hop video filmed on St. Thomas makes a powerful statement against gun violence, but it never would have happened if the producers hadn't issued an all-points bulletin for the rapper.
"F, you got some major people trying to get in touch with you," announced Keesha, "The First Lady," on 105 JAMZ.
"F" is short for St. Thomas rapper FP, "The Full Package." FP's "Brother," a song and video inspired by his own brother's tragic demise, recently became the first video from a V.I. artist to go into rotation on Tempo, MTV's Caribbean video channel.
FP's producer cut hair before he started cutting tracks, so it's appropriate to begin the story in a barbershop. It starts earlier this year with one of the main men at Island SoundWorks Studios, veteran St. Thomas music producer Derrick "Black Juice" Moore. The one-time barber had sat down for a trim when he got a call from one of his talent scouts, Melvin "Biggz" Harrigan. The message: Turn on 105 JAMZ.
"I get out of the chair, I've still got the cape around me, I'm halfway through my haircut," he says. "I went out to my car and I listened to this kid, and I was like, 'Oh my God.'"
They quickly set up a conference call with Keesha. "I said, 'Listen, we've got to find this kid,'" Moore says. "So she put out an APB right there on the radio."
Moore, a St. Thomas native whose Black Juice Beatz production company has become a fixture on the island, calls Biggz and Jeffrey "Supreme" Creque "my ears on the street."
"They've been around me for years," he says. "I really got a lotta faith in them."
The song Moore heard came from a homemade "street CD" FP recorded with help from his old friend and bandmate, Michael "Big Mike" Stephens, now a producer on staff at Island SoundWorks (ISW). "Michael said he was making beats," FP says. "I said, 'Let's produce some music.' I carried it to a good friend at the radio station."
Keesha kept up the announcements for three weeks; it took awhile for FP to get the APB.
"Nobody knew that he left the island and flew to Miami to further his career, because he didn't think his career was going anywhere here," Moore says.
Word finally came from a friend, and FP called Moore.
"They'd been trying to get me and they couldn't," FP says. "They asked me to come back and record. I said, 'I will, once you guys promise me that you're gonna open the studio doors and let me work like a maniac.'"
A short time later, FP walked into ISW and recorded "Brother," along with the other tracks on his debut album, The Full Package. The video came together shortly afterward, and the video's spot on the Tempo channel marks the starting point for what FP and his producers hope will become broad success. FP may rap locally (his CD includes V.I.-themed tracks like "32 Sq Miles," "Welcome to the Rock," and "Rep the VI"), but he thinks globally.
"I'm not trying to base all my music here," he says. "I'm trying to get on the international standpoint. I'm trying to make music for everybody, a little something for everybody. Real-life stuff. Something everybody can relate to."
A Tragic Tale
The Full Package includes a number of songs with hard gangsta-rap lyrics — an arsenal of automatic weapons, with multiple uses of the N-word and references to "bitches" and getting high. FP delivers these rhymes with menacing power, like Paris, Tupac or personal heroes Eminem and Jadakiss. But the CD takes some sharp turns when it looks at potential consequences of all that posturing and machismo. A pair of songs in the middle of the album, "Brother" and "Suicide," look back in agony at lives gone wrong.
"The fact is he's gone and you're here and you're living his death," he raps in "Brother." "Suicide" ends with a gunshot and the sound of spent shell casings hitting the floor.
"Me myself, I can't listen to an artist that I would say sounded make believe," says FP, polite and soft-spoken over the phone. "You have to have some kind of reality that you can relate to, something I've been through. If I can't feel any kind of emotional attachment to your music, basically I don't listen to it."
FP, who just turned 22, was born Keshawn V. Callwood. Five years ago he lost his brother and musical hero, Darrell V. Callwood Jr. As FP rhymes in "Brother":
My heart is aching for my older brother
Related by a father but we both had different mothers
He took his life selfishly and he took two others
Might I add it was his babymama and her mother
The tragic event happened Nov. 10, 2001, in Orlando, Fla. "One day I got a call saying he had killed himself," FP says. "My whole world was shattered. I was shattered." As the rapper heard it, FP's brother had three children and fought constantly with his girlfriend's mother. That day in 2001, the fights escalated into an explosion of violence.
"Rumor says — I wasn't there, I could only go with what I heard," FP says. "I heard it like her mom tried to poison him."
Supposedly, FP says, the girlfriend told his brother that her mother had been putting poison in his food. Darrell had come to the doorstep of the mother's house, trying to see his children for what he feared might be the last time.
"His reaction was trying to see his children after he thought he was really going to die," FP says. The woman Darrell believed was trying to poison him refused to let him in, FP says, and he shot her. His girlfriend ran up and Darrell shot her, as well, before turning the gun on himself.
"Up until this day I'm still wondering what's up with my two nephews and my niece," FP says. "I've only seen them in a picture. I don't know anything about them."
Expressing his feelings through music gives FP one way to cope with the loss.
"I try to deal with it day to day," he says. "It gets hard when I think about it."
Though FP spells out the tragedy in his rhymes, he doesn't stop there. He turns the personal into the universal by making "Brother" into a quiet anthem, his sharp, plainspoken vocals cutting against the delicate, atmospheric music, giving way to the softly sung chorus:
If you kill your brother
What good would it be to his mother
She'll cry from now till sundown
So please, please put your guns down
That chorus sounds like a throwback to old-school hip-hop, an update of LL Cool J's "I Need Love" or the Force MD's "Tender Love" — songs that were hits when FP was a toddler. The explosion of violence mellows into a quiet storm, a lilting, tender voice crying against FP's raw rhymes.
Speaking of old school, legend has it that when Rolling Stones guitar player Keith Richards first heard a record by seminal bluesman Robert Johnson, he asked, "Who's that playing with him?" Richards' jaw hit the floor when he learned that Johnson himself played rhythm and lead guitar simultaneously. Listeners may have a similar reaction to "Brother": "Who's that singing with FP?"
Same answer: FP. When he sings, he sounds like a vintage sweet soul man with a hellhound on his trail — like the Stylistics' Russell Thompkins Jr. living what FP calls "a wary life."
"That's one thing that raises a lot of questions," FP says. "The video doesn't show me singing the R&B part — people think it's two different people. A lot of people go crazy when they find out it's both me."
From Studio to
The "Brother" video tells its own tale, depicting a back-alley confrontation, a drive-by shooting in which a little girl gets caught in the crossfire and a trick ending. After the funeral for a friend killed in the drive-by, an angry young man grabs a gun, storms out of his house — and throws the gun away. They filmed the scene on St. Thomas's "bridge to nowhere," a completed bridge in Estate Nadir with no road connected to it. A subsequent underwater scene had to be shot elsewhere. It shows the gun gently arcing through clear Caribbean waters before dissolving on the sea floor.
"The water under the bridge was calf deep and had the consistency of tobacco spit," says Paul Cater Deaton, the video's director and a veteran of underwater filming off the coasts of six continents. "We showed the video to Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, and he said we should get an award for being the first people to get some use out of the bridge to nowhere."
The video's producers and director worked with Malone and other public officials via the U.S. Department of Justice's Speak Your Peace program, "the focus of which was getting the guns off the street," says Dan McGuinness, Moore's partner at ISW Studios and a native of Canada. (See "Territory's Young People Invited to 'Speak Their Peace.'") ISW also runs its own record label and video-production company. (See "@Work: Island SoundWorks.")
FP's labelmates on ISW run the musical gamut. There are his old cohorts in the R&B harmony group All the Way (led by "Big Mike" Stephens), the laid-back bar-band rock of The Mighty Whitey and a gospel trio called Of God. The studio and label have set their sights high: This summer ISW named as its president Faye Perkins, a music-industry veteran who spent almost 18 years in top positions with major labels. McGuinness had a personal connection that helped lure her to the label.
"She used to be my younger sister's best friend in public school," he says. "She started with Sony Canada in 1989. She had a background in classical music. Around that time there was this weird kind of music called 'rap' that nobody knew what to do with."
Perkins' work selling hip-hop and alternative rock helped her scale the music-biz heights, most recently as vice president of international marketing for Sony BMG Music Entertainment. She still works out of New York for ISW.
"We were fortunate enough to convince her that maybe this is a worthwhile thing to do with her career," McGuinness says. With Perkins' help, ISW hopes to elevate FP from a regional star to a genuine player on the national and international stage.
FP's success to date has grown organically in native soil. For Speak Your Peace, a part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, young people ages 10 to 22 were invited to submit songs speaking out against crime. "Brother" fit right in.
"It's a very strong anti-gun anthem," McGuinness says. The team making FP's video used their newfound law-enforcement connections — particularly Wesley Hand, law-enforcement coordinating specialist for the U.S. Attorney's Office — to help them gain access to locations around St. Thomas.
"Wes opened a lot of doors," McGuinness says. "He's so impassioned about Project Safe Neighborhoods."
They needed a cell for a crucial scene in the video where a young man commits a murder, goes to prison and ages before the viewer's eyes, eventually dying an old man behind bars. "I want people to realize you can go in there, and spend your whole life in there, over something you should have thought about before you did," FP says. Over the images he raps:
No matter what nobody say, keep your prerogatives
Too many of us is lost to cages
"We had been trying to get access to jail cells and we couldn't even get a returned phone call," McGuinness says. Then Hand came to the rescue: "Next thing I know we're sitting with two captains and the assistant police commissioner."
Deaton, who has worked in film and television production since 1978, wouldn't have had it any other way. "The jail scene is critical," he says. "It demonstrates powerfully the despair and the waste of life. This guy has lost his entire life. It was critical we shot that in the jail with bars and gray walls and steel bunks. Nothing else would do."
The "Brother" video brought FP back to acting for the first time since elementary school, but music has remained a constant in his life. The vocalist sang calypso and choral music over the years, forming All the Way in high school. He got experience singing professionally in front of live audiences when All the Way performed at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, Wyndham Sugar Bay and Palms Court Harborview. "We would do original songs and at least one song that was known to the community," FP says. He got more academic music training when he left St. Thomas to spend a year at a magnet school for music in Alabama.
"My mom knew a guy that lived up the street from Lee High School in Huntsville," FP says. "It was a big adjustment. I'm used to seeing mountains and trees, and this little island is so convenient. I get in this place and it's so big."
In Huntsville, the chorus director initially treated FP like a little fish in a big pond, putting him in the beginner's choir.
"I said, 'Mr. Barry, I think this is a little below me,'" FP says. "'I'm not trying to sound cocky, but I think I'm better than this.'" The chorus director tested FP by playing notes on a scale and having FP sing them back to him. Goodbye beginner's choir, hello advanced choir.
FP began singing with his brother around second grade, following him through many changes over the years, through rock, reggae and hip-hop. "It was basically me trying to be like him," FP says. "Control three different styles." Outside the hip-hop realm, FP listens to a lot of alternative rock, including John Mayer and Linkin Park.
The Callwood brothers stayed in touch after Darrell moved to Florida.
"We would call each other," FP says. "He would sing a verse that he did; I would rap a verse that I did. He would rap a verse that he did; I would sing a verse that I did."
FP lived on the mainland for awhile after Darrell's death. After leaving Huntsville, he spent some time in Raleigh, N.C., before moving to Miami when his father finished a long prison sentence for gun and drug charges. "Basically my whole childhood he was locked up," FP says. "He really didn't know what state of mind I was brought up in. It just never really clicked between us."
FP moved back to St. Thomas three years ago: "I wanted to get back into the music scene, but my resources was limited as far as recording and so forth." But Stephens and FP eventually made their street CD, the crew at ISW heard him on the radio and now he's on television rapping "Brother." FP wishes the brother who inspired him could see how things turned out.
"The only thing I really regret is not having him here to see all of this happening right now," FP says. "I just decided to carry it on — this is what he would want me to do. He wouldn't want me to give up. I still have visions of me and him on stage together. I know that will never come true."
That regret fuels another critical scene early in the "Brother" video, with FP rapping in front of a tomb — Darrell's. Filming those scenes stirred up a lot of feelings.
"It was a high
ly emotional time for F and for me, too," Deaton says. "You could tell that FP was having to reach very deep inside himself to pull off that mission. He pulled it off. It really gave that scene an edge that you just can't act through."
Other scenes in the video employed a number of locals who had never previously crewed on a video shoot or acted, including Rashawn Abraham, Jan Carlos and two guys who call themselves Rythum and Flow. For the cemetery scenes, however, Deaton shot with a skeleton crew: FP, the rapper's girlfriend and Tanya Creque-Hodge, who runs the burials division of the V.I. Public Works Department.
"She was extremely helpful," Deaton says. "She felt it, too. It was deeply moving."
Deaton first felt the power of "Brother" before ISW ever cut the track. He had started doing preproduction work for an Of God video when McGuinness called.
"Dan said, 'You gotta get over to the studio,'" Deaton says. "Something magic was happening. I walked into Studio B. A bunch of guys were in there that I didn't know from the Marx Brothers. Derrick pushed play, and the refrain from the song started coming up, with no vocals. Then the guy standing off my right shoulder started doing the rap live right next to me."
That stranger turned out to be Deaton's next collaborator, FP.
"Paul didn't even realize the kid was standing behind him," McGuinness says.
"The whole thing just kind of unfolded," Deaton says. "The video pretty much wrote itself as I listened to him recite this thing. I thought it was really clever and moving."
In the director's eyes, the rapper brought hard-earned wisdom to his words. "FP's insights and his particular street knowledge were palpable," Deaton says. "He really knew what he was talking about." It helped Deaton to have FP there to break down some of his lyrics' slang, colloquial expressions and unique perspective.
"He kind of gave me some of the insight as to what it was all about," Deaton says. "Like in one part where he says, 'I lose two in the ground and in the air I let three pop.' That was his take on a 21-gun salute, the way seven men fire their guns three times. It ended up being kind of a collaboration between myself and FP."
Besides working to convey the emotional depth of FP's performance, Deaton also worked hard to avoid Caribbean cliches.
"The first response that people have is, 'Oh my God, this was shot here?'" he says. "We went to great lengths to avoid making it look like an island video. We didn't want it to be beachy with palm trees and pina coladas. We wanted it to look like we could have shot it anywhere from Philly to Houston to New Orleans. We wanted it to look broadly urban and have an appeal across the country."
"I was very much pleased with the way the video turned out," FP says. "To this day I watch it back to back."
FP's producers think his personality, intelligence and sense of humor will help put him across to a larger audience.
"My god, where did a kid with that background figure out how to put those words together like that?" Moore says. "How did he ever think of that? Some of it's funny. I don't know how many times you've heard a song that has, in the same line, 'asparagus' and 'esophagus.'"
From FP's viewpoint, he's just doing what comes naturally.
"I'm a very cool guy, y'know," he says. "I'm easygoing. Everybody has two sides. Everybody can get upset, and everybody can be cool. I try to be as cool with everybody as possible."
To preview or purchase The Full Package, go to ISW's website and click the play ("Music") button. ISW offers both a "clean" version and an unedited version of the album. To see the "Brother" video, go to YouTube. FP's MySpace page includes a higher-quality version of the video, but you have to join or have a MySpace account to view it. For more information about the video's director, Paul Deaton, get a Passport to Paul's World.
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