The Making of “Clear Blue Skies” by The Juggaknots

David Ma speaks to Breeze Brewin of the New York rhyme trio about meeting Bobbito, getting dropped by Elektra, and the group's 1996 single.
By    April 7, 2020

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David Ma wears sunglasses even on rainy days.

How does anyone even make a song about racism without sounding preachy, obvious, or worse, corny? Even coming from gods BDK, G Rap, and the Biz (see: “Erase Racism”) it’s hard to take seriously. Yet the Juggaknots—sibling trio of Breeze Brewin, Queen Herawin, and Buddy Slim— avoided these pitfalls with “Clear Blue Skies,” a song that disarms you with its beauty and later impresses with its execution. 

The entire release, a sterling debut (on Fondle ‘Em, no less) was ambitious and bound with nuance, heavy themes over sunny beats. “Romper Room” for example, a song about a survivalism at too young an age, follows this approach with its brilliant usage of B.B. King’s “Hold On (I Feel Our Love Is Changing).“ 

Despite confronting tough topics as others of their era often did, the siblings were never militant in style or tone, so smooth it can be mistaken as lighter fare. “Clear Blue Skies” is the title track of their first release and is a jewel of an achievement, marked by back-and-forth deliveries about a white kid who, to the chagrin of his racist dad, falls for a black girl. 

[Brewin] “Well I’ll be damned, ‘cause it seems that I’m the last to know.
My father’s a bigot, my girl’s black, he can’t dig it; so she has to go.”
[Slim] ”Now you’re judgin me kid, but do you know me?”
[Brewin] “But it seems to me like even David Duke could be your homie.”
[Slim] “Now you know I ain’t no racist, but they place us in a terrible predicament. They’re taking over the block, and damn it son, I’m sick of it.”
[Brewin] “But when you see the neighbors you say – ‘Hi, how you doing’?’”
[Slim] “Still I think of how the value of my property’s been ruined.”

I’ve always liked how Brewin and Slim purposefully step on each other’s rhymes, making it tense and adding a real verbatim feel to the experience. It feels like eavesdropping, listening through a kitchen window, wanting to run before they catch you. And there’s that ethereal, breathy, lynchpin sample that repeats. 

Even in the bleakest of times, good music stays good and the Juggaknots’ have kept me sane. I called up Breeze Brewin to thank him and made sure we also talked about how “Clear Blue Skies” came to be. 

Tell us a bit about how you linked with Bobbito and how that led to your guys’ record deal.

Breeze Brewin: I live in a swamp in the Bronx [laughs] and I say that with great affection, it’s like a nature reserve here. Well here is where I met Pete [Nice], then Bob. Me and Buddy Slim, my brother, met Pete Nice when I was fourteen years old at this basketball camp his dad helped run. Pete was my coach and counselor. Pete was also doing a show called We Could Do This with Clark Kent, at Columbia, which Pete was an alumni. I handed out fliers for that show and I met Bob later through Pete.

The album was initially slated for Elektra before it finally landed on Fondle ‘Em. Share with us how that went down.

Breeze Brewin: Yeah, we signed with Elektra and a lot of it was because of my brother Slim’s hustle. It was the best thing but the worst timing. We decided to go with the bigger label because it seemed like the right move, but the shift had started before we even came on board. I mean, they put out Das EFX, Pete Rock & CL Smooth. Brand Nubian was popping off then too. But by the time we were in the studio touching up the album, we heard they dropped KMD completely so we felt things were already changing.

Did Elektra ever hear the record? Were you in the room?

Breeze Brewin: Yeah I remember finally having meetings and playing the songs for them and they were reeeaaally quiet [laughs]. They were basically like, “What the  hell is this?” So they dropped us. We used a good part of the budget to make a bunch of music that we actually felt good about. They were actually very professional about the whole thing.

How did the release end up on Fondle ‘Em?

Breeze Brewin: Bob was doing Hoppoh [Records] with Pete Nice around the time we signed with Elektra, and him and I already had a conversation about which labels to go with and whatnot. Well, after every went down with Elektra, Bob and I remained friends, so I’d go to his crib and he’d lace me with haircuts or whatever. And one day he was like, “Yo what happened to all that music you guys recorded?” At that point in time he just started Fondle ‘Em so we just basically showed him the tracks we had and Bob was like, “I’ll take these joints, and this one and that one…” He pressed them up and that was that.

Walk us through the making of “Clear Blue Skies,” what inspired the song and how it was put together.

Breeze Brewin: I was in college and a lot of cats were just rhyming and being dope. And we were really close to getting a deal and but didn’t totally feel like we had anything that was that crazy dope. I mean we felt like we were good but wanted to do something deeper than before. So I spoke to Slim one day and he was like, ‘You know what we should do? A song about racism. I want to tie it into what a clear blue sky would look like because clear blue skies are perfection.’ So after hitting me with the loose conceptual sketch and I was like, ‘Cool, I like that.’ He had everything almost laid out already, all the way to the name of the song. My role was to fill in the rest. So I felt like I should be personal in my approach since it was going to be a serious song and all.

If you could, share with us some of these personal things that went into the narrative.

Breeze Brewin: The story of the song itself is based on this one kid I knew, he was a white dude but he was as hood as anyone on the block. We were friends and would hang out at the crib all day, play basketball and listen to Ultramag [laughs]. Anyways, he always pulled the baddest ladies and I remember one day his mom was talking to him while I was over and she was like: ‘You know, it’d be better if one of these days you brought home a girl with blue eyes.” I remember hearing that as a kid and being kind of confused. I’m sure he didn’t think it was that offensive and I wasn’t gonna stop being his friend after that, but I could never un-hear it again. I was twelve and my mom had babysat him, so he was good people. His mom was good people too, and she was just talking in her kitchen and being honest. It just seemed like a natural thing she said. It rubbed me the wrong way and just stayed with me.

What other important or personal experiences you drew from in order to make “Clear Blue Skies?”

Breeze Brewin: For those not from New York, Mount Vernon is 80% black. I was on the Southside one day and that’s where I experienced racism for one of the first times. I was riding my bike and some old white guy in the neighborhood saw me and yelled: “What are you doing here? Go back to Mount Vernon! Go back to Mount Vernon!” I was little and didn’t even know what he meant. I ran home and told my mom and she was like, ‘Who said that to you?’ She actually had me take her back to the area where it happened and find the guy [laughs] and was like, “You ever talk to my son like that again I’ll send you to Mount Vernon myself!” You gotta understand, where I grew up in the Bronx was very diverse, fifty percent black or Latino, and the other half-white. In my old birthday pictures we had white people, and Jewish cats, Jamaican neighbors, all of it and everybody it seemed. Then crack came and it wasn’t so diverse no more. White Flight was immediate and real and they left right away [laughs].

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