Ask John Forté why he called his Refugee Camp/RuffHouse/Columbia Records debut album Poly Sci and the rapper/producer is quick to respond. "We get our degrees in the streets and we get our degrees in school. Poly Sci represents the balance between the institution of academia and the institution of the streets."
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Poly Sci is all about keeping that balance, kicking it with the boys and then laying down intricate, literate rhymes drawing inspiration from the hood and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It's about keeping it real by being true to who you are and where you come from and knowing that being hard isn't as important as being yourself. And being yourself means never taking crap from other people. Poly Sci features the hit single "Ninety Nine (Flash the Message)," which takes the New Wave novelty song "99 Luftballoons" and spins it on its ear. "That was Wyclef's idea, gotta hand that to him," John says, "and I'm very glad it didn't turn out to be some blatant remake."
11 of the 14 tracks on Poly Sci were produced by John Forté; on selected tracks Forté received production assistance from Minnesota, Salaam Remi, and Wyclef Jean. Guest artists on the album include DMX, Jeni Fujita, Fat Joe, and the Fugees' Wyclef and Pras. Emanating from the distinctive sensibility of John Forté, Poly Sci has intelligence, beats, attitude, skills, and a keen focus. Poly Sci is the hip hop dissertation John Forté has been researching his entire life.
As a member of the Refugee All Stars, John has written, performed and produced tracks on the Fugees' multiplatinum international smash The Score and Wyclef Jean's solo album Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival featuring Refugee All Stars; John was one of the highlights of the Fugees SRO concerts around the world. John's also made numerous memorable cameos in videos, among them, Wyclef's "We Trying To Stay Alive" and the remix version of "Gone Till November." Over the past couple of years, John's also done a little sumpin sumpin on his own, releasing two underground singles (one with legendary turntable wizard Funkmaster Flex), heading up the A&R department at a indie record label and in general being in the mix during the most vibrant and productive era of East Coast hip hop.
A totally self-taught engineer and producer (he also plays classical violin) and an ambitious hip hop natural (he got his break in the music business simply by making phone calls to labels and convincing them that he had the goods), John Forté has a background that is as eclectic as the brand of hip hop he unleashes. "I had a definite vision with this CD," John says softly and his vision has its foundation in Brooklyn.
One of two kids raised by a single mom, John was born and grew up in Brownsville. A good student, John attended public schools until high school when he was awarded a full academic scholarship to the prestigious Philip Exeter Academy. John recalls that when he first looked at the Exeter brochures, "All I could think of was that sitcom 'The Facts Of Life.'"
Coming from a gritty environment like Brooklyn to the relative calm of New Hampshire was a jarring experience. "I totally went through culture shock," John recalls. "Plus I was also kind of alienated." Yet with the sort of determination and innate interpersonal skills that have always driven him, John broke down barriers and found a place for himself. "Those years were amazing because to this day," he says. "I still talk to people I met all over the world. It exposed me to a whole other reality. The cultural diversity at Exeter was something I wasn't going to get in Brownsville. I loved it."
Upon graduation John moved back home where he began to take steps integrating his two disparate worlds into one creative force. "I don't hide the fact that I went to this prep school and my boys back home knew this and in fact," he pauses, "they kinda respected me for having that background. Because they got to see the world through my eyes. But I always kept my ties to my neighborhood and to my culture, even when I was hanging out with rich kids. The bottom line is, as long as you're true to yourself, you'll get respect."
John decided to attend NYU and entered the school's music business program, but he soon dropped out because "it was a horrible, textbook method of teaching." A student of hip hop since he was a kid, John realized that college couldn't teach him what he already instinctively knew: the feeling and the power of the rhyme and the beat. Armed with confidence (he credits his mother with instilling it) as well as his natural Brooklyn bred brand of bravado and unmistakable skills and charm, John began to make inroads in the industry, and eventually recorded "Run Don't Stop," with Funkmaster Flex. "It was an incredible time, because everything was kind of up in the air," John remembers. "And it felt even more incredible and possible because I felt like I had managed to stick one little toe in the door."
It was during this time, that John crossed paths with the then-fledgling hip hop act the Fugees. "I remember thinking 'Fugees, what a funny name,'" John smiles. "This was back when Blunted On Reality (the group's first CD) had just come out. So I went to go see them perform."
Impressed by the show John found his way backstage and introduced himself to L Boogie. Once again fate stepped in as a good friend of Johns' was also working with the Fugees. Soon tapes and ideas and beats and rhymes were being listened to and a friendship and creative alliance was formed between John and the Fugees. Before long, John was performing with the group on local New York City dates. Yet even with this apparent success, John admits that as far as his own music "I had just sort of given up." He even went so far as to take an A&R gig at a small rap label. Then the Fugees' Lauryn Hill convinced John to submit some tracks for what would emerge as The Score. "I sort of liked being behind a desk," John admits. "But it seemed kind of inevitable that I would end up back with the Fugees. So I convinced Wyclef to take me on tour."
The rest, as they say, is the history that laid the ground work for Poly Sci. Of his first solo effort John says, "I knew I had to do this. But I always knew I had the Refugee Camp people in the studio and I always had Nutzbabies, who... well, they're just my boys. Always have been. So I had freedom but I had tremendous support."
That freedom and the knowledge that you can break all the rules if you know the game is evident on tracks like the neo-Gregorian vibe of "God Is Love/God Is War," which John states is one of his favorites, because "it tells a story that I hope hasn't been told before. It's about the balance between good and bad."
Ask John Forté what the message behind Poly Sci is and he answers quickly. "If this CD is about anything it's about finding common ground and being able to touch people regardless of socio-economic or geographical backgrounds. Because my life has given me the opportunity to experience things maybe a kid from Brownsville shouldn't have, I want to extend that opportunity to the world, through my music."
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