Dallas rapper, songwriter and producer Joe Mayberry remembers the first time he worked with the man he respectfully calls “Mr. Scott.” It was nearly 20 years ago, and Mayberry — much to his own surprise — drafted the older man to reprise some vocals on a rap remake of a song by his former group, a big band with a small name.
Flash forward two decades, and the pair have collaborated again on III, a three-song EP available on iTunes. “Mr. Scott” is Arlington-based Howard Scott, a founding member and former singer/guitarist for the platinum-selling band War. That group combined rock, R&B, blues, jazz and Latin sounds, spitting out hits in the 1970s, including “The Cisco Kid,” “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” “All Day Music,” “The World is a Ghetto” and of course “Low Rider.”
The pair reconnected more recently via Facebook, where Mayberry “bombarded” Scott with messages about working together again. They met at Scott’s home during classes and meetings revolving around Scott’s dream project to open a Texas Blues Museum in Arlington.
“I had some guitar chords and Joe started listening to them, and that was the start of it,” Scott says.
Mayberry recorded the music on his phone and immediately started trying to figure out what lyrics to lay over them.
“Things just started to flow, and it became the biggest production I ever became involved with,” Mayberry adds.
Scott says he wasn’t really planning on being part of a rap record. Most of his recent work has been playing the War catalog with the Lowrider Band, which includes original War members Lee Oskar and Harold Brown (Lonnie Jordan leads the current lineup of War). He also has the more blues/R&B-based Howard Scott Project. But he embraced the challenge, as rappers have long sampled the music of War.
Still, Mayberry knew he had to be at the top of his game working with such a legendary musician.
“Mr. Scott has such a welcoming spirit, I wasn’t intimidated," Mayberry says. "I have such a high reverence and respect, I just want to do my best around him, hold up my end. We grow. What’s special about this record is that it’s about real life. And real topics.”
III was recorded and mixed at Session Works Studio in Hurst, and the material certainly runs a gamut of subjects. On “New Day,” Mayberry raps about fresh beginnings and the importance of a firm mindset to achieve one’s goals, based on his own life. Scott offers a snaky guitar backup, and what sounds like a sample from a 1930s gospel preacher or field holler is actually Scott recreating his opening vocal salvo from War’s “Slippin’ into Darkness.”
“Bye Bye Baby” is an insanely catchy effort about a relationship on the rocks, with Mayberry begging for his woman to stay and grow with him. Scott sings the hook and plays some Spanish-inflected acoustic guitar while a woman coos in that language.
Finally, “Same Thang” takes the record into a social/political realm, with Mayberry rapping about poverty, war, prison, racism and discrimination with some chopped-and-screwed passages.
“The world keeps changing/But it’s the same thang,” he offers. There’s also a line that unfavorably compares the current U.S. President to his predecessor: “Pain to the brain while we tryin’ to gain/Tryin’ to reach and we gotta grow/But Trump is the chief and he think we slow/Pitiful his agenda throwed/44 makes him look like an im-ba-sol.”
Mayberry has been active as a performer, writer and producer since 1989 when the then-teen was known locally as Li’l Joe. After graduating from college and moving back to Dallas, he began substitute teaching with a concentration in special education and coaching basketball at Lancaster High School. He continued to work on his rap career, now recording and performing under the name of “Mr. Mayberry” (a nod to what his students called him). He released singles and records, including All Folks Music.
By this time, his raps had taken on a positive message with spiritual leanings — and no cursing. In 2010, a neurological injury left him temporarily paralyzed and unable to walk. The arduous experience inspired his next release, the gospel-infused Rehab for the Soul. After recovering completely, he returned to Lancaster and led the basketball team to their first-ever state championship.
Both men say that, while they know rap music about crime, sex and bragging may have a commercial advantage, there is a growing desire out there — especially from older rap listeners — to hear something with a more hopeful message.
“There’s an audience that wants that now, they have kids of their own,” Scott offers. “Look at what Snoop Dogg is doing now with more religious music. They want to be role models and do something different.”
He namechecks the rapper and Long Beach native who, as a pre-teen, would ride his bicycle by War band rehearsals for a listen. In fact, Snoop Dogg was recently filmed with members of the Lowrider Band while intoning these words: “If it wasn’t for War, wouldn’t be no Snoop Dogg.”
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Mayberry and Scott are working on putting together a live band that would play a combination of War songs and the new rap material. There’s also more recording down the line, and an interview project. And indeed, the two have developed something of a musical mutual love society.
“What I’m learning from Mr. Scott is that I have to slow down and give [the music] the time it needs, to get each step right before going onto something else,” Mayberry sums up. “To deal with the mission at hand. I’m blessed to work with someone like this. He was making hits before I was born, and he’s diligent.”
As for Scott, he says that he embraces the new direction of his music with both curiosity and a competitive flair. “I had to immerse myself in a style of music I wasn’t really familiar with, so it was a challenge,” he says. “I wanted to do something with today’s music, today’s hip hop, things I hear listening to K104. And I’m really happy with it.”
To purchase III, visit iTunes.