One of the most remarkable rappers to ever emerge from
DC is Joshua Paul aka Black Indian. He came from the streets of Northeast to live out every MC's hip-hop fantasy: hit records,
critical acclaim, worldwide tours, a major record deal, and most importantly - unprecedented street credibility.
Black Indian got initiated into hip-hop by hooking up with several local crews.
The first was Infinite Loop, an influential collective of DC rappers and hip-hop producers. Then he got involved with the
"Earthbound was basically a crew
of DJs, b-boys, and taggers (graffiti writers). I was hanging out with this guy named Mouse from Maryland Avenue who was a
great graffiti artist," says Black Indian. From there he started attending the famous Freestyle Union sessions at 8 Rock
in Southeast. These events were organized by Toni Blackman," he recalls. "We would have ciphers. Somebody would
DJ or bring their beats and we would have freestyle sessions all night."
The Freestyle Union allowed Black Indian to find his voice. "I could always rap, and the Freestyle Union sharpened
my skills even further," he says. "At the time I had dyslexia, but it wasn't diagnosed yet. I didn't understand
why I could verbally express myself so well, but I was having so much trouble in school." After graduating from Fletcher Johnson Jr. High School, Black Indian attended the Duke Ellington High School for
the Arts. It was also at Duke Ellington where he got slightly off-track.
"I was still living in the hood and I would carry my gun with me for protection," he explains,
"One day at school somebody saw me with it and turned me in." He was immediately expelled and sent to City Lights,
an alternative school for behavioral management. "I have to give Toni Blackman a lot of credit. She could have turned
her back on me after the gun charge, but she didn't. She made sure I kept coming to the Freestyle Union sessions."
It was through the Freestyle Union where Black Indian got involved with Kokayi,
Sub Z, and the Opus Akoben family. When Steve Coleman, the saxophonist and one of the leaders of Opus Akoben, was looking
for another rapper, Black Indian was hired to accompany them for their European tour. Black Indian recalls, "They
saw I had skills and they arranged for me to go to Europe with them. At the time I was only 15, so Ezra Greer the bass player,
had to call my mother and get her permission for me to go."
The tour was extremely successful and Opus Akoben went on to release the highly regarded album Art of War
on the BMG France label. After returning from Europe, Black Indian began working with local producers HL and Aquaman. He also
did shows with a group of Infinite Loop rappers called "13 Degrees to the East" (Los, Theory, Big Joe, D-Man and
Little Black). Black Indian decided to join forces with them and together they formed the super-group "Live Society".
It was while performing with Live Society that the owners of Planet Chocolate
City, a local clothing store, heard him rhyming and introduced him to Mike Nice (Michael Brewington), a local music promoter
"After Mike Nice heard me freestyle
he immediately wanted to sign me," Black Indian remembers, "He had the money to buy a lot of equipment. We were
buying ASR's, MPC's, $2,000 microphones. All of the stuff was in Mike's basement where we had a studio. We recorded and released
the single 'Get Em Psyched' on the local label Liaison. Then we shot the video for the song right in the hood on 8th
and H Streets."
Meanwhile, Black Indian was still touring
with Opus Akoben. By his estimation, he has traveled to Europe on at least 9 different occasions with Opus Akoben and Steve
Coleman. They finally parted ways on amicable terms when Black Indian's debut single "Get ‘Em Psyched" turned
out to be an amazing success.
The video for "Get 'Em
Psyched" hit the Box (Music Video Box, a viewer request music video channel) at the same time Nelly dropped "Country
Grammar", Black Indian remembers vividly.
first week Nelly's video was #1 and mine was #2. The rest of the summer I was #1 and Nelly was #2. I had just signed with
Mike Nice's label Maximum Capacity. When my video started blowing up it attracted a lot of attention from the major (record)
labels. MCA-Universal Records called Mike Nice and offered us a deal. We had just recorded a second single, "Makin Cash
Money", produced by (and featuring) Biz Markie. The Biz Markie connection got us spins on the New York radio stations,
and that record started blowing up too."
released the Get 'Em Psyched album and he was on top of the hip-hop world. It seemed like all of his hard work in
the studio and on tour was finally going to pay off. Then suddenly, everything fell apart.
First, the relationship with his label went sour. MCA-Universal Records had advanced Maximum Capacity
a large amount of money in order to promote the album. Mysteriously, much of the money had vanished.
"The record company wanted to know where all of the commercials were? Who was doing the promotions?",
he says. When MCA-Universal requested an accurate accounting of what happened to the money, they were rebuffed.
And when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, another scandal materialized.
Apparently, somebody at Maximum Capacity was running a so-called "Soundscan Scheme".
"Although I was moving a lot of units, I may not have been selling as much as I thought. They
were paying record stores to give my album credit when a customer purchased an album by another artist. For example, if you
went into the store and purchased an Outkast or Babyface CD they might scan my CD instead. The scheme resulted in my numbers
being artificially inflated."
He explains further,
"These are the type of tactics that major record labels do all of the time. If a record sells 500,000 copies, they will
buy the other 500,000 themselves, then say they have a platinum selling artist. The problem at Maximum Capacity was that they
In spite of his label uncertainty, Black
Indian kept touring in support of his album. He would dominate live shows with his lyrical prowess and stage presence. "I
did shows with Kurupt, Master P, Snoop and E-40. I went to the Bayou Classic in New Orleans and sold out the House of Blues
two years in a row. I had gained a following in New Orleans. If you look at the cover of my album, I'm wearing my hair in
dreadlocks and I'm smoking a blunt. You don't have to be a genius to figure out where Lil' Wayne got his style from. If you
look at the Cash Money videos during that time, Baby, Juvy and Wayne wasn't even doing it like that."
Black Indian was in Los Angeles doing a show with Mos Def and the Black Eyed
Peas when he met a young lady who owned a tattoo parlor in Las Vegas. They clicked right away. He relocated to Las Vegas and
the couple soon became engaged. Black Indian hooked up with some studios in Vegas and he started recording again.
"I flew in some producers from DC to help with my album. OC did several
songs, G-Camp did a couple of joints and KO produced the title track "The Future". Black Indian continues, "I
was also smoking a lot of weed in Vegas. I would smoke weed almost all day."
Hip-hop was still paying his bills. Between his studio work and his live shows, Black Indian was
doing well financially. He was also receiving money from the work he did with Opus Akoben. "The records I did with Opus
were released in Europe and I was still receiving royalty payments," he remembers. "I have to thank Kokayi and Sub
Z for that. I was so young at the time it would have been easy for them to 'get over' on me. They made sure my paperwork was
straight and I got all of my publishing credits."
Money wasn't a problem, but his lifestyle was finally beginning to take it's
toll on him - both mentally and physically. According to Black Indian, his drug usage was pushing him closer to the edge.
"The way I was smoking weed was crazy. At one point
I started tripping. I went into the closet and I refused to come out. I was even smoking weed in the closet! We lived in Sahara
Gates which was a very exclusive community. My bedroom window faced the mountains. When I finally came out of the closet,
the sun was rising over the mountains and it hit me directly in my eyes. I heard a voice saying, "Leave and never come
back." Black Indian packed up and left Las Vegas that same day.
Indian returned to DC a changed man. "After I 'saw the light', I stopped smoking," he says, "I
just lost my desire to smoke weed. I cut my dreads off. I started having more respect for myself and for my life." Ironically,
Black Indian's mother is Anita O'Brien, the pastor of Light Works Ministry, a church in Southeast DC.
"I started to read the bible every day. Because of my dyslexia reading
was usually difficult for me, but I wasn't having any problems reading the scriptures. When my mother saw that I was serious
about my faith, she asked me if I wanted to go to ministry school. I studied hard and soon I became a minister. I also got
Black Indian had become a new man, but hip-hop
was still in his blood. He got a call from a friend who was living in Japan. A Japanese company named Futureshock was interested
in his music and wanted to sign him.
"The company had heard my last album,
The Future," he says, "In particular, they liked the song 'Dip', prodcued by Kokayi. That song was about
smoking 'dippers' (marijuana joints dipped in PCP) and was recorded before I has become saved. I went over there (Japan) and
talked to everyone and everything was cool. They started rolling up blunts. When I told them I didn't use drugs any more they
were a little disappointed. We went into the studio and laid some tracks down. After the studio session we went out to the
club for a couple of hours. As we were leaving the club, I noticed we had 5 or 6 beautiful women with us. They asked me which
girl I wanted - I had the first pick. I explained to them that I was married and dedicated to my wife now. They were extremely
disappointed. They were expecting to see the Black Indian from the Get 'Em Psyched days."
Black Indian came back to DC and got a job with a non-profit organization called
4 C's. He serves as a court liaison and works with juvenile delinquents and other youth offenders. His job is to mentor and
advise the kids who enter the juvenile justice system. He works with the courts and probation officers to get troubled youths
back on their feet. Upon his recommendation, he can sometimes even get their sentences reduced. After they're released, he
helps them to get jobs and get back in school.
dealing with kids every day who are looking at 10 to 20 years," he says mournfully. "There's a great deal of hypocrisy
in the hip-hop industry. A lot of the rappers who love to talk about thugging and gang life are really going home to houses
in gated communities. These kids that I'm working with now actually live in the hood."
Black Indian continues speaking, but with a little more conviction, "The trick is to make some
serious hip-hop music about Christianity. When I was younger, I thought Jesus was corny. I got into the 5% Nation because
that's what all of the rappers were talking about. If we can make Jesus 'cool', we can change the world. I want to be the
first rapper to blow up with a positive message.”
Indian isn't just 'talking the talk' when it comes to delivering a positive message, he's also 'walking the walk'. In 2008
he released an entire gospel rap album entitled Proverbs 1-31. The CD has song titles such as, "He's Coming
Back", "I Will Pray for You", and "When We All Get to Heaven".
"I named the album Proverbs 1-31 because that's my favorite part of the Bible,"
he says, "Proverbs gives you lessons on how to live and I want people to have that kind of wisdom. I also want people
to hear the message with some real hip-hop. The music on my CD is the real deal. Listen to the CD, you'll hear gritty snares
and raw hi-hats; and my next album will be even better – this is just the beginning!"
Today, after enduring the trials of thug life and surviving the tribulations of the music industry,
Black Indian has emerged unscathed. He has lived many lives and is still only 31 years old. With his convictions reinforced
by his experiences, and with a solid spiritual foundation to support him, Black Indian is truly a man on a mission.