Mic Check, 2-0-1

A Jersey City hip hop group is poised for the big time

Up four floors. Past a narrow hallway. Two metal doors. A barren room just barely able to call itself a lounge with three couches, a television, Bob Marley poster, and pool table with an abandoned half-played game of 8-ball.
Off this room in a dilapidated former furniture gallery in Hoboken are two studios, with scuffed wood floors and holes in the ceiling. The space is a work in progress for The Committee Music Group (TCMG), which aims to connect artists from a wide range of disciplines.
In Studio A, two Jersey City musicians, SteadyBrave and Classick, both 24, are rehearsing. They make up two-thirds of the hip-hop clique SteadyMinded, which they founded in 2012. A beat is heard on a loop, interrupted only by the stifled mumbles of SteadyBrave.
He pauses and looks over to me, slouched on a black couch. “Gotta get the jitters out the way,” he jokes, while bouncing on his toes like a track star before a meet. SteadyBrave (born Roderick Spraus), sports a black winter cap, brown work boots and blue Henley. His ability to rap fast may have something to do with his Dominican roots.
Sitting near a cache of doodles and vinyls, including Michael Jackson’s Bad and the Bad Boys II Soundtrack, Classick lip-syncs lines. Born Jonathan Cartagena, Classick’s Yankees cap is slightly cocked to the right with the size sticker still on the brim. He is second-generation Puerto Rican.

Keeping Their Day Jobs—For Now

SteadyMinded, thus far unsigned and independent, is adding to its catalog tonight with two recordings.
Both rappers take a moment to review lyrics on their phones: bars written during their full-time jobs or between destinations on their daily commute. The two weave in and out of the booth to swap feedback, occasionally exchanging supportive fist bumps.
Rekalect, the engineer, a lanky, head-bobbing 24-year-old, turns knobs that balance the group’s clean—yet raw and gritty—sound.
Cartagena and Spraus anchor the group, whose third member, 18-year-old Elias Colon, aka Alias, couldn’t attend the session. “When I first met Brave and Classick about a year back, I freestyled for them and they were impressed,” he later tells me. “As a kid I always wrote poetry but didn’t think I could become a writer. It helped me find myself as a person, but it surprises me other people can relate to my music.”

Jersey City Roots

Though Spraus was born in Brooklyn, he and Cartagena were raised in Jersey City; they met while playing baseball in 2006 at Dickinson High School.
SteadyMinded’s content is married to its hometown, at times boasting on songs—“201!” or “straight out of Jersey!”—but at other times rapping, “the streets is dirty” and “the worst place for worst case scenarios.”
Cartagena, who was raised in the Journal Square area, says, “You experience a lot of fights and violence in the city throughout the years, but it’s shaped us to be who we are now. We’ve dealt with a lot of the darker side of Jersey City.”
Despite dealing with this “darker side,” the group, as their name implies, is “steady minded” on working hard and staying out of trouble.
Though Jersey City is widely known for its burgeoning arts scene and exploding development, in 2015, violence was up over the previous year. A scuffle over an Instagram photo escalating to gunfire, and a one-year-old being struck by a stray bullet stick in the mind.
Though Cartegena and Spraus grew up around gangs and drugs, the two found solace in music even before SteadyMinded. Starting as a freshman in 2006, Cartagena was the percussion section leader for Dickinson’s marching band, and Spraus was among the high-school students that joined the Visual/Performing Arts program at New Jersey City University, where he mastered the trumpet.
The group has met industry tycoons at shows in the area, like Tony Yayo of 50 Cent’s G-Unit crew, Obie Trice (who has ties to Eminem), and Styles P, all of whom reinforced SteadyMinded’s philosophy to stay true to itself.
After freestyling in cyphers and exchanging ideas for tracks, Spraus and Cartagena made their debut in an open mic at the Iron Monkey in downtown Jersey City in 2013.
Since then, they’ve released more than 20 tracks online and performed at many venues in the Metropolitan area: Brightside Tavern in Jersey City; Union City’s The Platform; and Angelo’s and Black Thorn in New York City.

In Good Company

A number of hip hop performers have New Jersey roots. Though R&B/hip hop artist Akon also graduated from Dickinson, his sound couldn’t be more different from SteadyMinded’s. Akon, a multi-platinum and Grammy-nominated rapper, has a distinctive dulcet tone on hooks that stick to your brain like bubblegum. SteadyMinded, meanwhile, often doesn’t have hooks at all, which can be jarring for listeners.
“We put emphasis on lyrics,” says Cartagena. Adds Spraus, “We wouldn’t want a fan that doesn’t understand how we feel. We’re not here to make everything simple for a listener.”
Paterson’s Fetty Wap did big numbers in 2015 landing Number 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart with his inescapable single, “Trap Queen.”
SteadyMinded cites Nas, Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, and Slaughterhouse among its influences. Joe Budden of Slaughterhouse is also a Jersey City native.

Back in the Studio

SteadyMinded’s Hoboken recording session is about having fun and dropping tracks for the masses via the group’s online SoundCloud page.
These days, free mixtapes dominate the airwaves, with listeners turning a deaf ear to mainstream radio hits. And some artists are breaking the mold of what it means to “blow up.”
“Anything can go viral and sometimes it can come down to promoting that one track,” Spraus says. “But right now, we’re going with the flow.”
They can’t force any given session to cough up an album or mixtape. It has to happen “organically,” they say. At this session, the two work on finalizing a new song, “Moral of the
Story,” a vivid take on street life. I ask to hear the final version.
“It’ll be up tonight, or tomorrow morning,” Spraus tells me. “You could listen then.”
It’s the first thing I do the next morning. And I’m not disappointed.—JCM


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