Part One: The Joys and Pains of the L.A. Symphony Years
Contributed by Imade
Joey’s Dream has the conflicting success of an underrated legend. He experienced the soaring heights as a member of LA Symphony and the humbling lows as an artist misunderstood. Working with Will.i.am and Posdnuos of De La Soul, Joey witnessed what LA Symphony achieved and what they could have become. The years of endless touring and label struggles has made Joey an artist wise beyond his years. Now as a solo artist, Joey is a hungry experimental singer-songwriter determined to not be bound by any label. His current EP, Mold Me, is a deliberate step away from Hip Hop but a very intentional step towards musical freedom. In an interview with Joey, he vividly reflects on his Hip Hop roots and his current artistic journey.
Imade: As a member of LA Symphony since its beginning in 1997, you’ve had significant success recording albums and touring across the world. But the average LA Symphony fan doesn’t know your real name! What’s the origin of your legal name, Sarpong Boateng? What inspired you to name yourself Joey the Jerk and then Joey’s Dream?
Joey: My father is from Ghana and my real name is Sarpong Siriboe Boateng. As a teen I got tired of answering questions about my name, so when I met people I assumed I would never see again I would make up a fake name, never the same just any common American name: Chris, Billy, Josh, Joey. The day I met most of the dudes that would end up being LA Symphony I told everyone my name was Joey Lawrence, people believed me and I ended up seeing most of these guys again, and they all called me Joey L.
Then as years passed on they realized I was an opinionated harsh critic, some would call me a jerk, or a loudmouth hater, or a jerk, so they started calling me Joey the Jerk. As far as Joey’s Dream, I wanted it to sound like a band, not just a dude, and then calling it Joey, or Joey’s anything gave it a tie to me.
For the non hip hop kid who never heard of LA Symphony and all the back story, I would say in Genesis Joseph’s life was ruined and reinvented by dreams. Not really by dreams, but they played a significant role in his life, and I thought was cool how God used dreams in that way, lastly I thought it sounded cool!
Imade: LA Symphony experienced major challenges as a conscious, West Coast Hip Hop group. What was your most difficult experience in the music industry? How did you respond?
Joey: There was no most difficult moment, or experience, one day it was just difficult, feeling as if we had failed, feeling betrayed by one of your own, feeling like where is the Christianity in this industry.
I really don’t know how to answer this. I was young and had no blueprint to navigate what was happening. One day we would be in limos and in magazines, the next day I’m looking for work at Trader Joe’s, a job I had quit to go on tours, and do shows. So I had a lot of people looking at me like “you’re a liar, you don’t have a record deal, and you look like that guy that makes up stories” about this and that. I was definitely bitter and jaded, yet hopeful because I still believed in what we were doing, and the music never got whack to me, it only got better. I don’t know. It was hard.
Imade: Your current EP, Mold Me, is a lot different from your debut hip-hop album, Average Joe. What inspired you to focus on singing rather than rapping?
Joey: When I started making these songs I was ready to make moves in another direction, I was at peace with what I had contributed to LA Symphony and felt like musically I could do more.
I also felt like the market we (LA Symphony) were in (the Christian market) was not respectful of what we did as rappers. Maybe respectful isn’t the right word, but the industry didn’t, or couldn’t, or wouldn’t facilitate what we were doing. At the end of the day CCM has room for like 2 rappers really. At that time it was KJ-52, and John Reuben, now its KJ-52, and Lecrae. People now say “I think it’s changing”. It’s not changing. There are always going to give us 2 side show booths for the rap dudes. The only difference is KJ-52, and John Reuben didn’t have a crew of people they were trying to get in with them. Lecrae does, so it appears as if with him others are sliding into the building, but they really are not in.
I also feel like LA Symphony changed, we went from 9 dudes, to 5 dudes from doing all silly songs to less silly songs and more of a balance. But I am convinced that when people expect something from you and you give them something else it’s hard for them to accept what you are offering. So in a way I felt like L.A.S. was trapped. So reinvention was our only way out. I had started in 2003 (after the Average Joe solo record) making really whack demos of some singy ideas I had, but never finished them, and never really assumed they would be anything.
Then in 2004 Matt Kearney did Bullet, and Christian radio was playing rap music, it was all over Christian radio. “Undeniable” was the song and this kind of angered me, because we had been trying to make stuff (not a lot, just like a song per record) that would find its way onto these same stations that played no rap music. Plus I was bitter and just a jaded rap dude from all the L.A.S. stuff that went down…still am. But then I listened to his stuff and tried to see it from another perspective and was convinced that if it was going to work for me solo style then I couldn’t rap. We had built such great relationships in this industry, and it’s like the joke was on us. Everyone loves the music, but they know it can only go so far. Someone said it’s like trying to sell Volvos at a Cadillac dealership, you might be a great salesman, but you will only get so far until you realize CCM is trying to sell Cadillacs, and rap songs are like Volvos to them.
[…to be continued]
In Part Two, Joey’s Dream discusses his musical evolution after LA Symphony.