John Forté Biography
And now, as he awaits his appeal of a conviction of drug possession, Forté’s life has taken a turn more unexpected than any of the rest. Currently sentenced to fourteen years in federal prison, he is serving time in Texas. But with his sophomore album, I, John, scheduled for release in April 2002 on Transparent Music, Forté is not only keeping his presence in the music world but, more importantly, offering an introspective and honest glimpse inside of his experience. "Without faith my entire universe would have fallen off its axis," Forté explains about the aftermath of events following his 2001 arrest. "My personal turmoil and struggle opened a door of hope that I had long since forgotten. For that I am grateful."
I, John was the album written after his arrest, in the months preceding the trial. The circumstances surrounding the recording process resulted in a stripped-down, emotionally revealing collection of songs, written by a man using his craft to heal his own psyche. "I was heartbroken going through this ordeal," he states. "But with every revolution around the sun comes an evolution of consciousness. My fears helped point me in a direction that provided security. Poly Sci was good. But it was young and naïve. I, John is my reconciliation with a spirit I needed to bond with in a time of need. It is as complex as my relationship with God."
I, John is just that: he, Forté. The co-produced disc embodies the reflections of a man growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, imagining a more perfect world for his future sons, a former jet-setting playboy of the music scene now remembering, "I had lots of friends/ I used to love to party/When the darkness fell I suddenly had nobody." It is neither a typical hip hop album nor a follow-up to his 1998 solo debut Poly Sci. Instead I, John is a mosaic of thoughts, concerns and inner exploration, littered with appearances that underline Forté’s atypical approach to life and music. Many artists like to declare that their work is beyond categorization, yet with I, John, the sheer audacity of working with guests Jeni Fujita, Esthero, Tricky and Carly Simon, among others, places Forté’s sophomore album outside of any easy boxes. At one moment he's rapping about the pitfalls of a material-obsessed existence, in the next talking to a woman about their love. "Last night you seemed so far away/Could you hear me calling you?/I got out of bed this morning just because of you," he languidly remarks on "Out of Bed," making it unclear if he is speaking to his girlfriend or God. "Fortunately I have no idea where my music will fit, how it will be classified and categorized," the 27-year-old says. "I, John was not made with hip hop in mind. It was made with I, John, in mind. I hope it is received by millions. Sure. But more importantly it is well received by I, John."
Aside from its incisive lyrics, what is at first strikingly different about I, John is the lack of rapping being done by the hip hop artist. Although he still drops rhymes, Forté also fills his tracks with uncharacteristic singing in a mellow, singsong voice. "There was a lot of growth, isolation and self-discovery going through my experience with the law. When I was first arrested and released shortly thereafter, I ran to my pen and pad and wrote raps. But they were angry and instead of providing solace, the void within me expanded," he explains about the evolution in his sound. "So I began writing songs, lyrics with melodies. Singing songs from the heart about my experience helped me ease the pain and close the void."
Music isn’t the only way that Forté is keeping his psyche whole. He is also looking into ways to work positively with the other incarcerated men. "It would be an honor to help anyone get through this system," he explains. "I will do everything in my power to help my neighbors here. Perhaps I’ll design and donate a studio and give inmates an insight into the beautiful world of making music. Time will tell." So as this Brooklyn-by-way-of Exeter Academy-by-way-of-Refugee Camp-cum alternative rapper/musician continues to see where his future lies and how his life will unfold, he is offering I, John as his contribution, his greatest wish being that upon its release it will "help anyone else's journey along the way. It's not about fame. Fame is as real as the dollar. It is an illusion humanity invented. I don't want to be famous. I want to be free and in love."