By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Jackson was impressed with him, but Wright wasn't sure how he'd fit into the group or how he could add to the then-duo's sound. Eventually, though, he crumbled and was convinced to help his new friends re-record their The Front Porch record.
"We almost kidnapped him," Jackson says.
"It was meant to be," Benjamin says. "We had a lot of people who came and went, but with Nate, it just clicked. We knew it was God's design, the way our music came out so pure."
Jackson introduced Wright to a friend who eventually became their manager, Daniel "Weav" Weaver. As they chatted, Weaver and Wright noted interesting coincidences in their family backgrounds.
"Y'all gonna be cousins," Jackson joked as the two rattled off family members. Finally, Wright broke off the conversation to call his grandmother, who confirmed it. They were cousins. It was another sign to the group's members: This was meant to be.
And yet, despite all their work, they lacked the funds to stay in the music game. So Benjamin took a gig in Iraq as a security administration contractor. While there in 2007, he got a dreaded e-mail from the Army.
"I had one year left [of inactive duty] that they could activate me [for], but I didn't think they would," he says. "I was being called from Iraq...to Iraq!"
He came back to Dallas for reprocessing, with precious little time to re-record The Front Porch.
All of a sudden, though, the group's songs about candy cars and drinking seemed childish.
"None of us were in that headspace anymore," Wright says.
After coming up with 10 or 11 new songs, the trio scrapped the re-recording idea and chose to make a new album.
They reached out to Nappy Roots' Skinny DeVille for a guest verse on the song "The Message" (the song for which the album was eventually named), and also to Royce Da 5'9", who was running a buy-a-verse-for-a-grand promotion. And although both collabos began as business transactions, the two national stars became friends and fans of Dem Southernfolkz after hearing the music. A talented church friend of Jackson, Terrance Young, provided much of the album's impressive instrumentation, with Benjamin and Wright adding some of the keyboard and guitar parts. The gritty saxophone parts came courtesy of musician Jeff Aycock.
More than a year later, much has changed. Sergeant Thomas Benjamin's final tour in Iraq ended in November, as did his Army commitment. After four years in Uncle Sam's ham-handed attempt to liberate the Iraqi people, he's now the one who feels liberated.
As for the group, Benjamin and Jackson are mastering drums and bass to complement Wright's live guitar work as a hip-hop power trio. They want to keep pushing the 2008 version of The Message, but plan to re-record it and add a few songs before a national release later this year.
At least, that's their plan. But remember what happened last time they tried to re-record an album...