Field Mob Sprouts A Following
The buzz: The catchy single about rumors and relationships, So What, is a breakout hit for the Albany, Ga., hip-hop duo Field Mob -- aka Shawn Jay (Shawn Johnson) and Smoke (Darion Crawford). The Jazze Pha-produced song is No. 1 on the Rhythmic Top 40 chart and features Grammy-winning singer Ciara, who is Smoke's cousin and no stranger to chart-topping records.
Ashy to classy: The newest signees to Ludacris' Disturbin Tha Peace label have high hopes for their just-out Light Poles and Pine Trees album after their previous two albums -- 613: Ashy to Classy (2000) and From Tha Roota to Tha Toota (2002) -- were critically acclaimed but didn't net big sales. "MCA was an R&B label," Smoke says. "They were used to pushing people like Patti LaBelle and Chante Moore and Kenny Lattimore. They didn't know how to push a rap act, and especially not a Southern rap act."
They're free: Having Atlanta native Ludacris in their corner has made a difference, they say, and he has allowed them more creative freedom. They said, for example, that they had been trying to do their take on Hoagy Carmichael's Georgia for years, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to get it done. They teamed with Ludacris and Jamie Foxx (channeling Ray Charles) for the updated tribute to their home state.
And in demand: Another sign that things are different with this album is the amount of publicity it is generating. "We never got a lot of TV before, and this is our third time on (BET's) 106 & Park," Smoke says. "People are really digging us this time, because we got a real team behind us."
A country touch: Their countrified sound has always set them apart from their more urbane rap brethren from Atlanta, Miami or New Orleans. Light Poles and Pine Trees describes the Albany skyline, where they say there's not a skyscraper in sight. Songs such as Smilin' and At the Park reflect a small-town lifestyle. "The park ain't nothing but a club outside in Georgia," Shawn Jay says. "You show off everything there. Anything that you can't take into the club -- like your pit bull -- you can bring it to the park. (The song) captures the whole ambience of being down South on a Sunday."
A personal touch: Smoke calls the track Blacker the Berry his "ugly-duckling-to-a-swan story" as he recounts how teasing about his dark skin made it hard for him to make friends as a child and people would bet that he would "sweat coffee." Says Smoke, who also goes by Chevy P (he loves Chevrolets and Teddy Pendergrass): "It talks about how I was picked on because of my pigmentation. It was a disadvantage then, but I've turned it to my advantage."
Rivals to partners: Shawn Jay and Smoke met 10 years ago while in high school. Shawn dominated lunchtime freestyle sessions until Smoke challenged him. They battled back and forth with neither keeping the upper hand for long. Eventually they decided to join forces. By the time they put out 613: Ashy to Classy, they were going by the names Kalage and Boondox Blax and making an impression with the single Project Dreams, from the first album, and Sick of Being Lonely, from the second.
And beyond: Now things are looking even better. The group is about to launch the F.B.I. (Field Boys Inc.) record label, and there's even a sitcom on the drawing board. "I've got more money now," Smoke says. "My apartment has turned into a house. You can't help but change. It is much, much better this time around."