News Local/State

C-U Rap Group ‘Forever My Brothers’ Promotes Nonviolence Through Music

Forever My Boys rap group

David Hoskins, Donte Jones, Kay Stubbs, Jaden Brown-Gates and Naszay Ellerbe came to the studio at Illinois Public Media to talk about their approach to writing rap songs that promote a message of nonviolence. Christine Herman/Illinois Public Media

A group of teenage boys in Champaign-Urbana has made it their mission to address the issue of gun violence through rap music. 

The group is called “Forever My Brothers,” or FMB.

One of the members, 16-year-old Kay Stubbs of Urbana, said he and his friends started off listening to rap together after school and then began writing their own lyrics.

“We used to walk home together and make up fake beats or something (and do) pencil beating at lunch," Stubbs said. "We would have rap competitions, freestyle beats at lunch, and I’d say freshman year we took it more serious.”

The group now ranges in age from 16 to 18.

16-year-old Jaden Brown-Gates of Urbana said he hopes the music conveys a positive message about peace to his peers and younger kids.

“There’s a good and a bad side to everything," Brown-Gates said. "But guns... there ain’t no good side to guns."

FMB will perform live for the second time at an “International Day of Peace” event at the intersection of Silver and Vawter Urbana from 2 to 5 pm on Saturday, September 21.

That community event aims to build relationships among community members and promote nonviolence through the arts. 

FMB members Kay Stubbs, David Hoskins, Donte Jones, Jaden Brown-Gates and Naszay Ellerbe came to the studio at Illinois Public Media to talk about their approach to writing rap songs and discuss what motivates them to promote a message of nonviolence.

This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity:

Jaden Brown-Gates: Really, it's because in 2015 my cousin was at a basketball tournament in Danville. And some people was out shooting and he got killed. He got shot in his head. Even people I don't like, I never wish death on anybody cuz like, I've had so much tragic experiences in my life. I just hate going to funerals and all that, I hate seeing stuff like that and hearing about stuff like that. So like, that's probably why I help out on this really, to like... it'd be good if anything could change it. 

Kay Stubbs: I'm not saying Caucasian people don't like die or go through the same stuff we go to through. But it's like, black people, we killing each other. It don't make sense.

David Hoskins: Right. And I think we're really going to get the message across. Because when adults talk to kids, normally they don't listen, but we kids' ages, they know what we're going through.

Donte Jones: Probably considering that we’re younger, we’re talking about it, it’s going to make them consider it more. Because you don’t see people our age doing the stuff we’re doing right now.

Jaden Brown-Gates: We're speaking their language.

Kay Stubbs: I feel like locally, we kind of famous. I get a lot of text messages every day, I got text messages from random kids saying that they look up to me and stuff like that. Or just random people want to talk to me for no reason. That makes me feel good, as a person. Family, too, like my little brother, he's like my twin. He look up to me too. That feels good. 

David Hoskins: The reason why we rap, in a way, we're advising people to put their guns down in this Peace project, not only because it's gonna affect their lives, but it could affect our lives, too. Because you never know, like, whether my mama's going to the store and then they start shooting because of somebody else's beef and she gets shot.

Kay Stubbs: I think guns should go away, period, like, guns is really unnecessary. Because once you kill one of their people, then the other people are going to retaliate, it's gonna be a cycle, the chain is just gonna keep going on. It's not just down here in Illinois, that's everywhere.

Jaden Brown-Gates: It ain't no good side to no guns. Either way it go, you having a gun, your homies having a gun, anybody having a gun, period. Especially young kids, I don't understand that, teenagers our age. Just having cousins and brothers and stuff that done play with guys are young ages, 14, 15 and stuff like that, and consequences that had happened. Guns are just not the way.

Naszay Ellerbe: You got to think about it. Kids. They're just kids, they will do anything. They're not registered 100%, they're just kids. 14-year-old will sue to somebody else and not really know the consequences because you got to think about it. Just two years ago, he was only 12. Just kids. 

Jaden Brown-Gates: For me, I feel like parents need to care more about their kids and teach them to not do stuff like that. And dads need to be in their son's life more, like way, way more. Because, like, some of the stuff I did in my past, I know I would never did that if my dad was still here. But that's how it be though.

Naszay Ellerbe: As a group of African-Americans in this town, specifically, you would normally think about gang violence. We not about gang violence at all. We about the total opposite. Money and music. Us five right here, you will not catch us going down a street with no gun. You will not catch us doing none of that. We normally, nine times out of 10, working. We all got jobs. We do not do none of that, we just write. And that's about it. We are the opposite of whatever they think black gangs are. My number one nightmare: waking up and hearing that one of us got shot. That's my number one nightmare.

Kay Stubbs: I'd be really hurt. Sometimes, like, I just get a feeling like I gotta check up on them. Sometimes I just feel like something's wrong. You could wake up and somebody could be calling your phone like, damn, your brother just got shot. Like that's, that's sad.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to the group as "Forever My Boys." The group's name has been corrected to "Forever My Brothers."