Last year witnessed the two frontmen of Conscious Collective pivot their musical direction ever so slightly, but the tunes which followed their rebranding was something to behold.
Exhibit A: “Count your Blessings,” a radiant, Gospel chord powered number, lush with triumphant horns, tambourines, and piano — a feeling akin to when your pastor finally opens up those big church doors to let the sunshine into a dim mass.
Even on older singles like the frenetically upbeat “Too Many Signs” and the warm, slow burner, “Only Sunshine,” Makadi and JunJunRiz’s chemistry is undeniable. Thankfully for us, the duo was gracious enough to share what they’ve been up to since rebranding, beginning a new album together, and tapping into their newest sound.
“Count Your Blessings” is an earworm. Beautifully arranged. Congratulations on the recent drop. What was the process like in making this track?
M: Thank you so much! It’s funny looking back how the song came together. JunJunRiz came up with a gospel piano part, and sent it to me. We jammed on it later that week, and I was leaning towards something more bouncy, so I asked JJR to play it more staccato. Before I knew it, we had the hook. The best material really comes when you’re just vibing, not thinking. Over the next few months we jammed it out more, I wrote the rap verses and the choir part, and JJR came up with some drum sounds and other instrumental sections. It was really iterative, but we let it form organically which is why it took months. We knew it was a hit so, we didn’t want to rush it. We then realized it could use a horn section to give it a completely different vibe, so we had our friend Arnetta Johnson arrange some horns. She wrote trumpet, trombone, and sax parts all based on the feel and lyrical content of the song. We told her to play what she felt, and as a result we got fire.
This track sounds divinely inspired to say the least. Do either of you have a musical background in church settings?
M: Amen. Yes, I used to sing in a gospel choir that went on a tour.
JJR: Yeah, my dad is the music director for the church back home. The church is where I learned drums, bass, guitar, piano… my dad encouraged me to play everything, though he was particularly keen on having me sit at the piano.
How did you begin working together on music?
M: We actually met serendipitously at a jam session that a mutual friend of ours was throwing. Actually it was like a mutual friend once removed. A ton of people were jamming but the moment I heard Mateo play I was feelin it. Once we jammed it was on a different wavelength and I immediately knew we were inspired by similar kinds of music.
JJR: I ended up inviting Eug back to my spot and basically started writing immediately. It was pretty magical honestly.
I’ve seen you two perform as Conscious Collective earlier this year. Safe to say you guys have done some restructuring since then. What motivated you two to break off as solo artists to create a joint debut?
M: Indeed. Conscious Collective was really Makadi and JunJunRiz plus rhythm section anyways. We were already doing all of the writing and conducting. We realized that we wanted to lean more into music production and create quality recordings to propel us to the next level. I was more than ready and at the point in my musical career to brand as a solo artist finally too. I am at a point where I am happy and confident in my craft.
JJR: I think JJR started when I became confident enough in my Ableton chops to produce beats for Eug. Before that, most of my beats sat unheard in my disk drive…I finally realized that I had reached a point where I could translate what I’m hearing in my head into an actual arrangement on my computer. I wanted to use my skills to help support to artists who were ready to tell their stories but haven’t put a beat to it yet. I was always taught that it’s not about who can take the best solo, it’s about how well you can support and have a real musical conversation.
With “Blessings,” “Sunshine,” and “Signs” now out, are you happy with how your work has been received thus far?
M: As I was saying, yeah definitely! There’s so much soul, church, depth, vibrations, and organics in these songs and I feel people have been connecting on one or more of those aspects. However, we really need to get our music to more ears. That’s major.
JJR: I’ve had folks come up to me saying they vibe heavy with the music we’re making, but something that struck me in particular is when folks have dissected the raps and the audio clips. Ultimately, our goal is to tell our stories & uplift narratives not often found in mainstream music.
I’ve seen you two hit East Meets Words, Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, and Hard Rock Cafe. Any other Boston music venues that you have your eyes on at the moment?
M: Yeah! We’ve hit hard at Thunder Road Music Club, Boston University, and Newbury Street.
Now your chance to nerd about favorite musicians, styles, and random shit that inspires you. Go.
M: This is always the hardest question because between the both of us, we could probably go on forever… We’re so heavily influenced by black music in general, particularly soul, neo soul, hip-hop, jazz, and funk. What we listen to spans decades back…motown, disco, 80s hip hop, 90s r&b, 90s content hip hop, contemporary hip hop, trap, contemporary soul. In all of these pockets in the color palette we draw inspiration.
I like Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Little Dragon, Robert Glasper, At the end of the day I am moved by a lot of things, but mainly content and organic feel- something that isn’t forced. Unique minds and people inspire me.
JJR: Lately, I’ve been inspired by Natalia Lafourcade, G Yamazawa, Bambu, J Dilla & Noname. I’m inspired when artists make stories of their music, when they express their genuine selves through their craft.
What’s next for you two?
M: Stardom! We gotta keep pushing our music to the masses. We know we have good music, and the focus is partly shifting to spreading the word and sharing our art. We are working towards an album. Once that is done, we hope to focus all of our efforts on promoting ourselves. The sky’s not the limit, and neither are the stars. We are going to continue to spread light, project our souls, make bomb music, put our best foot forward, and let God handle the rest.
Be sure to catch Makadi live at Thunder Club in Somerville Saturday, February 17 at 8 PM.