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In hip hop, and in life, it's easy to follow the leader. But the road less traveled is usually the one bearing the footsteps of the true innovators - the people with their own vision, their own style. People like Eightball & MJG. When Eightball & MJG were making their ascension up the 90s hip hop hierarchy, little did they know they were drafting a blueprint for the future of hip hop, purveying a sound that would be emulated and appreciated a decade later.
Born in Memphis, TN, Eightball (Premro Smith) and MJG (Marlon Jermaine Goodwin) traveled throughout the south, with no one in front of them and no one behind them. Their music took them through Georgia and Texas and all over the southern region, lead by fans hungry for something new and different, something that spoke to them. Now, 13 years after the release of their Suave House debut, "Comin' Out Hard," and the string of successful releases that followed, Eightball & MJG are still making their innovative brand of soul music. A testament to their unwavering relevance was their 2002 signing to P. Diddy's Bad Boy Entertainment. What followed was 2004's "Living Legends," their Bad Boy debut album, the major club hit, "Buck Bounce" with DJ Quick and "Stay Fly"with Three 6 Mafia (2005).
"Ridin' High," their sophomore release for Bad Boy Records and the 10th album from the duo, is out this spring and is their strongest album ever. Hard-hitting hip-hop, with a respectful nod to R&B and the blues, the set opens with a dramatic intro that seems to forewarn listeners of what's to come. Equally dramatic is the single "Relax & Take Notes" featuring Nototious B.I.G & project Pat. "We weren't looking for a single, we weren't trying to please nobody," says Eightball of the track. "It was just Eightball & MJG being raw, being us. That's what I like about it. If you had to put it in a category, just say it's an Eightball MJG song."
Crafting music to meet perceived industry standards has never been part of their mission. Eight and G have always made the music they feel instead of following the industry, and because of that, the industry has come to follow them. "The stuff that used to be underground in the south is mainstream now," says Eightball. "The 'White Ts' and the 'Lean Backs,' they were making songs like that three, four years ago but people weren't paying attention to it then. There's no pressure with us to keep up with none of that because we ain't never tried to keep up with none of that. We always just do us and you can call it what you want."
"It's just always been about the music with us," says MJG. "We've seen a lot of people come and go and I don't think any of the ones that stayed around sat down and mapped out a game plan to be around that long. It's just living and learning and sticking to the format." That Eight and G format is alive and well on "Ridin' High." On "Get Low," the duo take us into a club scene that turns tragic. Fast paced and heart-pounding, they describe a shootout from the perspective of a desperate innocent bystander.
Highlights on the disc include "Cruzin'," an outstanding R&B collaboration with Slim from ATL's 112 and Three 6 Mafia, the bluesy "Runnin' Out of Bud" with Killer Mike and the steamy track "Take It Off" featuring Poo Bear. Jazze Pha adds his smooth R&B flavor to "Pimpin' Don't Fail Me Now," and Yung Joc heats up the hot party track "Clap On". "Memphis," an impassioned track produced by B Rock and featuring Al Kapone, is a well-constructed gem that finds the duo paying homage not only to their hometown but to their musical legacy as well. They vividly recount their life experiences and give props to other cities that have impacted their lives over the years.
Making this CD was easy for Eightball & MJG. As always, they knew what they wanted to say and went into the studio and said it. Their approach to making music is purely organic. "We don't procrastinate on it because it's not meant to be if you've gotta do all that," MJG reasons. "You know that old saying, 'You study long, you study wrong.'? That's what we go by."
Eightball agrees, explaining that they allow themselves to be guided creatively by the feel of the music, their own personal thoughts, and their state of mind. "A certain track, a certain kind of music might inspire a certain vision," says Eightball. "We might already have come into the studio thinking about something real hard and that might turn out to be a song. We just come in to the studio, be ourselves and kick back and make music. We've been doing this for a long time. It's like work but at the same time, of course, we love it," Eightball admits.
It's that approach to making music and to existing in the music industry that has made Eightball & MJG a mainstay. "You learn from your own mistakes and you watch other people and you learn from that," says MJG. "We ain't perfect, I ain't perfect but as far as this music and staying power, we just always kept the music personal. It seems strange even to us how long we've been doing it but this is what we love to do and if you're shown love you show love back."
"When people hear this album I want them to say this is one of the best Eightball & MJG albums that we ever made," explains Eithgball. "It's not giving no message or nothing like that. We're not trying to say it's the greatest hip hop album ever. We're not trying to save the world. We're just doing us.