Burnt Orange Juice profile: The M.I.S.F.I.T.Z. March 26, 2008Posted by rugwu in Concert, Hip-hop, Photo.
Tags: The M.I.S.F.I.T.Z.
Tal Bevins and Xzavier Leonard don’t want to work anymore. They aren’t lazy or looking for sympathy. They aren’t delusional or disgruntled, and they don’t want to build a cabin in the woods. Bevins, 24, better known as Tal-B, and “X,” 27, his partner in rhyme, are life-long rappers – born and bred in Austin, Texas.
“I just wanna be an individual,” says Bevins, with honest ambition in his voice. “We want to be our own business, our own entity.”
For two rappers in Central Texas, the road to autonomy has been long. Bevins and Leonard, who are close cousins, have dreamt of being full-time musicians since they were kids playing Tupac tapes on a circa 1994 radio. Now the two spend as much time as they can in a recording studio – between weekdays working their 9 to 5 day jobs. Leonard delivers roofing materials for a lumber company to support himself and his daughter, Mariah, and Bevins teaches math at an A.I.S.D. middle school.
“We can only half-time it right now,” Leonard says between bites of brown rice on the patio of a trendy Japanese restaurant. “Even though we think about music all the time, we’re working toward a point where we can really do it full time. Then nothing can stop us.”
On stage, Bevins and Leonard are known as The M.I.S.F.I.T.Z., a backronym that stands for Ministering Ideals Suitable For Impeccable Teaching. For cousins, the two don’t look much alike. In fact, Bevins is likely a foot-and-a-half shorter than Leonard. But their interactions are in-sync, and they frequently face one another while rapping fervently into the microphone. Their words and motions seem natural and effortless. Leonard steps forward, Bevins steps back.
After graduating high-school, the duo parted ways and left their futures uncertain.
Leonard spent a year at Praire View A&M before dropping out and spending a short time in L.A. Bevins attended the University of North Texas for a semester, but was expelled after being caught with marijuana. After a spat with his mother, Bevins decided to transfer to the University of Houston. Between classes, he continued pursuing his music dreams, rapping and recording.
“The last one or two years were like Rap 101,” he says. In 2005, Bevins graduated with a degree in marketing. He decided to return to Austin where he took up teaching and reunited with Leonard with the goal of taking The M.I.S.F.I.T.Z. to the next level. Like Leonard, his achievements have only fueled his ambitions.
“In 2008 the way I look at it is I’m a junior in the real world,” Bevins says. “Hopefully I can have another graduation next year.”
From a town to a city
Despite Austin’s reputation as the live music capitol of the world, the river city has not been a fertile ground for hip-hop. In truth, most fans of the genre anywhere outside of the city would likely not be able to name a single hip-hop artist from Austin if questioned.
“Austin gets looked over because we’ve been surrounded by cities that have been more major than us,” says Leonard.
In recent years, Houston rappers like Bun B., Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Chamillionaire have ridden a wave of national attention, appearing on MTV and BET and selling hundreds of thousands of records. They’ve helped popularize a Texas brand of hip-hop, marked by slowed-down beats and choruses and tough, accented vocals. In Austin, rappers like the M.I.S.F.I.T.Z. have bided their time, working and waiting for their own opportunities. However, some, to the duo’s disdain, have defected.
“We know some frauds who grew up in Austin, but if you ask them now where they’re from, they’ll say Houston,” Bevins says incredulously. “Then when Austin blows up they’ll try to come back and say they’re from here,” he says.
Bevins and Leonard are nothing if not proud Austinites. They’ve spent the best years of their lives here before and after South By South West and Austin City Limits brought thousands of world renowned acts to the city annually. They’ve called the capitol city home long before I-35 backed up and Town Lake became saturated.
“We support Austin to the utmost,” Leonard says. “We’ve seen it grow from a town to a city.”
“We’re Austin Ambassadors,” Bevins adds. “I’ve been to other places and it just makes me appreciate Austin more. It’s deep in the blood.”
Trying to eat
For an up-and-coming musician in Austin or anywhere else, reaching a point where you’re actually turning a profit from your craft is a milestone. The M.I.S.F.I.T.Z. have been fortunate enough to taste some of that success.
“It feels good to make a little dough off it,” Bevins says. “We’re not self-sustaining at all, but it’s important to have those early successes.”
Bevins and Leonard have never taken their eyes off the goal they’ve had since youth. On their long road, toiling to get over the hump has become a labor of love.
“We love making music. It’s almost like an addiction,” Bevins says. “But trying to eat off it – that’s what it’s about. The music side is easy, the business is the challenging part.”
The M.I.S.F.I.T.Z. cite family, spirituality and disproving nay-sayers as their primary motivating factors. But their ambition is rooted in something even more fundamental.
“There ain’t nothing promised in this life,” says Leonard. “I’m trying to do the most I can while I’m still here.”
Turning it all around
“I don’t wanna work no mo; just write all day twistin’ pounds of ‘dro. And then it won’t hurt no mo; put the pen to the pad and let the feelin’s flow.” – “No mo”
The M.I.S.F.I.T.Z. rap as if their souls are on the line. A sparse Emo’s audience is silent, fixated on the men confessing both vice and virtue, passionately pontificating on stage.
“The thing about the M.I.S.F.I.T.Z. is that they’re genuinely good guys,” says Ramon Ramirez, a fellow Austin rapper and friend. “Anytime we’re looking for someone to do a show with they’re at or near the top of the list. They always come through with hot stuff.”
“We wanna teach through the music – show people that they can live this life,” says Bevins.
“We’re not gonna tell people what to do,” Leonard chimes in. “We’re just gonna share our perspective and where we’re coming from.”
Listening to the M.I.S.F.I.T.Z. talk, its clear that part of where there coming from is a place of righteous spirituality. Ministering Ideals Suitable For Impeccable Teaching is both a mouthful and a powerful mission statement. Yet Bevins and Leonard are no ministers – at least not in any traditional sense.
“I’ve been smokin’ and I’ve been drinkin’ and I’ve been thinkin’ about turning it all around, about turning it all around.” – Untitled work in progress.
“A lot of the time our music comes from opposite extremes,” Leonard says. “And that’s because we never cut ourselves off from any discussion. We’ll talk about anything, whether it’s women, war or whatever. There’s a lot more going on in this world than what you hear on the radio.”
“That’s part of what makes us M.I.S.F.I.T.Z,” Bevins says. “A misfit is anyone who goes against the grain, anyone who’s unsatisfied with what they give you. I wanna shine. And the formula is, if you wanna shine, you gotta grind.”