Tom Tuttle, Tim Conley, Justin Christensen (JY), and Jesse Booker started rapping together when they all played basketball for Case High School in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They started making CDs in 2003 as a hobby and since then, they’ve made four CDs as a group.
While producing their latest song, they realized that even though their lives had changed and the songs they were rapping had changed, their friendship hadn’t skipped a beat.
“If you had four pieces of rope with knots tied at the ends and you threw it the air, each rope is going to go it’s own way, but they all start back at that knot,” Conley said. “Sure, I made my own music with my brother, but I still didn’t pull away from these three guys. And this song is the knot. Right now, we’re back at the knot.”
When they first started as a four-man group, JY had just gotten into recording music. They made a few songs and put them up on MySpace, made a few connections and started getting gigs. They once performed with 3 Six Mafia and Dem Franchize Boys, and Lil Scrappy in North Dakota and Minneapolis, and at the MIMS Concert in 2007 and 2008.
Then, they all started to grow up. Tuttle left the group completely while the other three drifted occasionally back together. Eventually, Conley told JY and Booker that he didn’t want to make club songs anymore because he wanted to ride along with his three daughters and listen to his music with them.
“It was never like, ‘Hey I don’t want to work with you any more because I don’t like you,’” Booker said. “It was ‘Hey, I want to pay these bills and take care of my family.’”
Conley started rapping with his brother about his family, his daughters, and his town while JY and Booker continued to write club songs.
Now, Tuttle is a seventh grade English teacher at Starbuck Middle School; Conley works at an adult family home that his mother owns and coaches basketball at Case High School; Booker does technical support at Cree; and JY does graphic design and video production.
And they are back together musically – but only briefly.
Tuttle said his hiatus saved every aspect of their ability to work together as a musical group, but this time he wanted to rap about something different. He was done cursing and he wanted his songs to have a message, and the other three were already doing that.
“Watching them, it made me envious,” Tuttle said. “I had wanted to do good messages in our music when I was doing it with them, but they were doing good messages now. You know, bad situations can sometimes bring up good opportunities and what JY did with the song, ‘Halo,’ it was musically one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.
“After I heard that song, I thought, these are not the same two guys I had stopped rapping with years ago.”
Each of the verses on “I’m On,” tells about what they’ve been through together and accomplished individually from 2006 to now.
“I want people who are there just trying to look at what four guys did who decided to take it seriously to move and push our music,” Conley said. “We’ve had the plug pulled on us, we’ve had people doubt us. I’ve had people doubt me because I was rapping with three white guys, but at the time, I didn’t care. I told them, ‘They spit real life hip-hop. They keep it real in everything they say.’”
While there’s a chance they may do other songs together, it’s just not a priority right now. For Conley and JY, they will continue to make music together.
“These are the only three people I would ever let tell me, ‘No, that don’t sound good,’ and not get offended,” Conley said.
For Tuttle, every single year it’s a struggle to decide whether he’ll tell students that he was a rapper. So for the exiting eighth graders, when they are doing poetry in April, he pitches in and does a unit called, "The Poetry of Hiphop" for a day.
“I play a couple of our songs,” he said. “I go through the lyrics and the music, and explain how it is poetry. And then I drop the bomb on them, that I’m on these songs and these other people are people that live in Racine.”
Booker said their latest video is a ‘thank you’ to all of the people who bought t-shirts and music CDs, but he doesn’t want to rap anymore. He wants to help other rap groups get their start.
“I want to push others to the forefront and give them things we were never handed. Like Tim said, we weren’t given anything,” Booker said.