1773 (pronounced seventeen seventy-three) is a trio of artists that consist of MCs Just J and Wisdm One and DJ Moral One. On their self-titled debut, 1773 (minus Moral One at the time) introduced themselves as torchbearers for the golden era (early to mid-'90s) of rap. In recent months they've been busy touring Japan in promotion of their newest album, Return of the New, and since their return to the States they've worked tirelessly to promote the US version as well as a mix-tape entitled "Returning the New Stuff."
The sophomore effort is 1773's most fully realized project so far, as it's the first time the Chicago natives were able to sit down together and build as one unit. Just J and Wisdm seem to have really found their comfort zone on this one, and they've matured in their ability to weave together centralized themes. And now that Moral One is officially part of the picture, the group's style as a whole is much more cohesive and appears destined for bigger things. Centerstage caught up with 1773 to see how their careers together began and where the next step will take them.
Where are you guys from originally, and how did you come together?
MORALONE: We're all from the North Side of Chicago - Logan Square, Humboldt Park. I really can't remember when I first met Just J or Wisdm ONE, because as long as I remember DJing the Chicago scene, I remember spinning for Wisdm and Jay as solo artists. When they started doing shows under 1773 around 2005 they naturally asked me to DJ the shows. I officially became a part of the crew in 2006 after I joined them on tour.
WISDM ONE: I had an idea to start up a group by the name of 1773 (1-773...the Chicago area code but pronounced seventeen seventy-three). Originally the group was supposed to be me and a producer but those plans didn't work out due to the timing of things. From there I decided to run the idea past J to see if he would be down to join forces and he was down for it. Moral started DJing for us as a group now but he wasn't an official member at the time. The more performances they did the stronger the bond as a three-man crew got, and it was only right to make Moral the third member of the group.
Can you take me back to the first time you guys performed together?
WO: Wow! As a group, our first official show as 1773 was actually not bad. We played at the Hothouse with Earatik Statik, Lab Rats and a crew named Smokey Bassment I think...
From the beginning we always wanted to stand out as a group who "put on a show." It was the first time anyone had ever seen us perform as a group and everyone that night was like, "where the heck did these guys come from?" It was cool to see how the people responded and gave back the energy that we were giving them.
Your name, 1773, pays homage to Chicago. What about the city inspires you guys?
MO: Its diversity, its segregation, its hope, its corruption, the North Side, its sudden burst of originality lately.
JJ: I find inspiration from the city as a whole. There have been times when I would just hop on the train and observe my surroundings just to have something to write about. I think that Chicago has so much to build from. It's diverse, yet segregated, spontaneous and predictable and lies in between the two other major cities in the states. That alone is inspiration in itself.
WO: Growing up here, the everyday life, the skyline, the people, the music, the different neighborhoods, the different cultures, Logan Square, Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, Downtown, our families, our friends, the Chicago artists who came before us and so much more. It's the City of Wind!
Tell me a bit about your debut album.
MO: It was what we were at the time. It had some great musical takes from Ohmega Watts and Tony Stone. I'm proud of it; "Broken Star" and "Constant Motion" are hits to me.
JJ: Our debut album, which is self-titled, was more of a project than a collective group creating an album. Originally, Wisdm came to me and asked if I wanted to work on a few songs with him. I was definitely down mainly because we were like-minded musically. He was about to move to Portland in a week from the time he approached me, so he brought beats over to my house, and we just banged out all the writing that week. Then I flew out there to record everything a month later.
Now you call your sophomore album your "real" debut. Could you expand on that?
MO: To me it was a true musical partnership with Othello. The beat choices Wis and Jay made were on point and their writing matured. So if people were to ask me about 1773 I would give them this record. It's complete; it has golden-era bangers with "Its On Again," battle raps with "Don't Take," and some left-field stuff with "Corner Pocket." So it's bigger than just those 2 to 3 singles on iTunes, it's a complete record.
JJ: Well, we officially asked Moral One to join the group as an actual member while we were working on it. That was the first piece of the puzzle. Secondly, we selected production, came up with topics and such collectively. There's something about taking your time and working together, versus one person having everything prepared and the other just hoping on board. Plus, the overall sound of the album is very cohesive and has a uniform sound to it.
WO: Return Of The New, which will be out summer 2009, just represents who we are musically at this point in time. We've grown so much as artist from when we started back in 2004, and we just want to give the people our "right here and now." We put a lot of time, effort, work, blood, sweat and tears into this album and the end result turned out better than what we expected.
How did your relationship with Japan-based label River City Music Entertainment come about?
WO: They actually found us on MySpace. Their A&R at the time sent us a message saying that he really liked the song "Constant Motion" and was wondering if we would be interested in releasing a 12-inch with them. I told him that we had an entire album done and that I would submit it for them to listen and get back to me on what they thought. If they liked it then they could release the whole album, if not, then just press up the single of "Constant Motion." They ended up really liking the album and licensed it from us. In December of 2007 we released our first album, Constant Motion with River City and in March of 2009 they released Return Of The New [in Japan only]. We've build a pretty tight knit relationship with the label and things have been going really well with them.
I can imagine the differences between Japan's hip-hop scene and America's, but what are some of the similarities?
JJ: Actually, there are a lot of similarities. Japan's scene kind of models itself after the hip-hop scene here in the states back in the 1995/96 era. From the way they dress, to the music they play. A lot of the shows we did felt like the shows and parties I used to go to back when I was a kid just getting into the scene here.
What do you guys have in-store for us when you come back from Japan?
WO: Well, we will definitely be performing more throughout Chicago and the Midwest. We'll be starting work on some new projects. Some things to keep an eye on: The release of the US Version of Return Of The New, a 1773/Vertual Vertigo EP, a brand new 1773 EP, a bunch of guest appearances on various projects nation and worldwide and some solo projects from all 3 members are also in the works. Check out 1773live.com for details.