The Long Road Back for John Forte
-Posted by AGM -
It has been over ten years since Wyclef Jean introduced John Forte to the world with the unforgettable lyric “ah huh ah huh, John Forte, grab the mic and won’t you sway it this way…”
“I’m more than just a rhymer,” Forte proclaims – his distinctive voice smoothly contrasting the remade Bee Gees beat. And that has certainly proven to be true.
Forte is not your average rapper. Born in the notoriously tough Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, the young musician was awarded a violin scholarship to the prestigious Phillips Exeter academy in New Hampshire (fellow alumni range from Gore Vidal to Mark Zuckerberg). At Exeter, Forte rubbed shoulders with New England elite, making friends who would play an important role in his life many years later.
After graduating, he was introduced to Wyclef and the Fugees by Lauryn Hill and garnered a grammy nomination for writing and producing songs on the multi-platinum album The Score. Forte released two solo albums after the Fugees broke up, 1998’s Poly Sci and 2002’s I, John, but neither was well received commercially. It was an incident in 2000 however that threatened to keep the singer/songwriter out of the studio and off the stage for good.
In 2000, John Forte was arrested at Newark Airport after accepting a briefcase containing $1.4 million worth of liquid cocaine. The struggling rapper was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to distribute. He was convicted and sentenced to the mandatory minimum 14 years.
Through friends from Exeter, Forte befriended Ben Taylor – the son of James Taylor and Carly Simon. For a stretch in the late 90’s, the two were so close that Forte even lived at Simon’s house in Martha’s Vineyard. After his arrest, Carly Simon put up $250,000 of his $650,000 bail money and began lobbying on his behalf. Teaming up with Senator Orrin Hatch, Simon pushed to repeal the mandatory minimum drug sentence and to pardon Forte.
On November 24, 2008, President George W. Bush commuted John Forte’s sentence with a presidential pardon. Four weeks later, the rapper was a free man.
I caught Forte onstage with The Roots last Wednesday where he sang four songs and played guitar. The introspective artist crooned about his prison sentence and how it changed him and finished with a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang, Bang” (video below). It has been a long road for him, but it’s good to see his intelligent songwriting back on stage. He’s working on a new album; first single is below as well as a collab with fellow Brooklyn-native Talib Kweli.