jimi hazel keeps it real, keeps it positive and keeps moving forward

April 16, 2010
In Jr. High and High School I had always listened to different forms of rock. I dug funk and soul; I was intrigued by early hip-hop but I was always enthralled by rock, hard rock and heavy metal. Punk Rock did not register with me until I got to college. My introduction to punk came in the form of an all Black, four piece hardcore band from the Bronx, New York. I had heard of 24-7 Spyz before they got to my university campus for a free show. They were the “other” Black rock band from New York.

Jimi Hazel Keeps It Real, Keeps It Positive and Keeps Moving Forward
Interview David Carr

Original AP post and comments can be found here

(Jimi Hazel of 24-7 Spyz)
I made it to the steps of the gymnasium early, which may have been a key mistake. As soon as the band hit their first note, all hell broke loose at the all ages, general admission show.

The group blasted through songs off of their debut disc while the crowd jumped, moshed and slam danced, with the intensity of a full scale riot. It was my first time in a mosh pit, it was my first time being at a punk rock show, and the fact that the band happened to be Black, held special significance for me.

(24-7 Spyz live at Rotterdam, 1989)

Although “The Spyz” never became a household name, the band was an underground hit and they were able to tour with and headline over, some of the heavy hitters in alternative rock including, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Public Enemy, Jane’s Addiction and Primus. The group lost two key members (exit vocalist Peter Fluid and drummer Anthony Johnson), replaced them (enter vocalist Jeff Brodnax and drummer Joel Maitoza) and became an even stronger band at the beginning of the 90’s. Twenty years later, Jimi Hazel, the guitarist for 24-7 Spyz is still making music.

He is leading a new incarnation of his South Bronx band, and he is also gearing up to record and release a collection of tunes with a (for lack of a better phrase) supergroup of sorts. Hazel has brought together a who’s who of underground Black rock musicians known as ANM, The Anti-Ni**er Machine.

When asked to explain what got him to bring these musicians together, Hazel declares, “This came about almost 15 years ago! I had moved to Southern California and I was at guitarist Spacey T’s (Sound Barrier/Fishbone) house. There was a bunch of us hanging at Spacey’s place. Me, Dug Pinnick from King’s X, Rick Skatore from the Spyz, Greg Fulton from Cyclone Temple…Jon Sutherland took a picture of all of us and said it would be sick to see a band like this. A few years later Dug sang two songs on the last Spyz disc, “Face The Day”. After the session I just looked at Dug and said let’s just do this, let’s make this project happen! We announced it and folks seem really excited about us coming together to make this band happen.”
Jimi sounds animated and happy when talking about the formation of this powerhouse, all star group. When asked to expound on why he feels this is important, Jimi’s elation is coupled with a sense of urgency and frustration.

To put it mildly, Jimi Hazel loves rock and roll and hates how it is perceived. “I hate how this genre has been miss-understood by both Blacks and Whites. I hate what happened back in the day to the Black bands that came up with us! Thanks to the success Living Colour had, the success we had, record companies started signing all of these Black bands but they did not support them. The record companies just did not understand bands like Follow for Now, The Family Stand or The Veldt, and they didn’t invest in them. They did not help these groups develop. In trying to help 24-7 Spyz they destroyed us. The record company did us in like a lot of other great bands. Fans came to our shows claiming they could not find our records in stores. The record company printed very few copies, sent us out on tour and refused to print more copies of the disc! Momentum got lost and our record company just lost interest in us. What happened to us back in the day and to those bands is not going to happen to this new project.”

(Jimi, far left, on the this is… album cover)
Hazel seems determined to make sure the mistakes of the past are not made in the present. Hazel has always been a champion of Black empowerment in the world of rock. This is why his choice to use a racial epithet in the band’s name is a bit shocking. “I hate the word nigger and I hate that the world of hip hop has made it ok to use,” Jimi exclaims. “You can’t make that word positive. By using the word in this way I am trying to destroy this word. I am saying that I/we are anti that word. We are anti that mentality. We are gonna do this on our own terms with very little help from the record industry.

It might be easy for some to characterize Hazel as bitter, but when he is asked to recount his days with both incarnations of the Spyz, Jimi reveals a happier and more hopeful side of himself.

Jimi relates, “With the first version of the Spyz I have to say on a given night we could give any band a run for their money. I mean the bands we toured with would freak out at how crazy their fans would get when we hit the stage. Some of the bands loved it. The Ramones and Jane’s Addiction loved it. PIL, not so much, ha! That first version was like dynamite on stage. The second version of the band was more like a fine wine! HA! Seriously, the second version of the band was my chance to write for a singer who could really sing. Peter was a great frontman but it got to the point where he would rather be doing cartwheels on stage than actually sing! Jeff was a real singer and I got to write better songs for a better band.”

Jimi Hazel may bristle a bit at the past but he is ready to look ahead with his new musical project. Jimi proclaims, “I am happy about where I am now. I am excited about ANM. I was lucky enough to see Jimi Hendrix live when I was six years old! That changed my life. I came home and I knew that playing guitar was something I was going to do for the rest of my life. We are getting the support we need not from the industry but from the actual people who really want to hear ANM.

Hazel’s excitement about his new project is infectious. As I end our conversation I can’t help but remember back to that fateful day when I got to see my first punk rock band. Jimi still has all of the intensity, integrity and humor I saw that day. Let’s hope the masses catch up to Jimi again when ANM make their debut. Whether or not this new project catches a bit of heat remains to be seen. One thing is for sure. No matter what happens with ANM, you can be sure that Jimi Hazel will keep it real, keep it positive and he will also keep moving forward.