Anthony “Juggla” Minervino has forged ahead with a musical career centered around socially conscious lyrics that echoed life around him. His early inspiration? Listening to his mother spin Stevie Wonder records.
The Bloomfield firefighter and West Orange resident has been writing songs and performing with friends for 17 years.
On Saturday, the 1988 Bloomfield High School graduate and his Rage Against the Machine cover band, Unlearn, will perform in their ninth annual Michael Castles tribute show. The benefit performance will raise scholarship funds to honor Castles, Minervino's friend, former fellow Bloomfield firefighter and ex-Unlearn drummer who died in 2002.
The concert, at the Loop Lounge in Passiac, will feature some original songs that Minervino and his friends from town penned since they formed in 1994. It helps fund a $1,000 annual scholarship, which this year was awarded to 2011 BHS graduate Alexander Duncan. Proceeds from the show will funding the 2012 scholarship, which the Bloomfield Fire Department will match.
“The benefit is like a reunion: it's an event that many of my friends, my band and myself look forward to every year,” Minervino, 40, said. “It is great to keep Mike Castles alive - playing the songs we wrote together and performed for so many years.”
While Minervino is unsigned and not in regular rotation on hip-hop hot spots such as Hot 97 and Power 105.1, he is among the most eclectic and original performers on the local scene.
Unlike many of his contemporaries who pepper their rhymes with misogynistic and violent lyrics, the man known as “Juggla” (he is known for being a “lyrical juggler”) is about imparting positive imagery mixed with western philosophy over tunes heavily flavored by Afrobeat, Jamaican yard, rap and reggae music – combinations he dubs culture hip-hop, “raprobeat” (rap and Afrobeat) or “yard hop” (hip-hop and reggae/Jamaican yard).
It is a blend of styles he has crafted and steadily developed since his undergraduate days at Rutgers-Newark in his first group, The Big Top, in the early 1990s.
"I want to expose people to a new sound, a new fusion," Minervino said. "I'm not going to make it corny, but it's a contemporary hip-hop sound. We don't disrespect women, no curses. It's like grown-up hip hop.
"A lot of people are disenfranchised with hip hop," he continued. "This is grown hip hop, it makes you think. And it's a good-time show. You're going to get up, but it's also going to make you think."
Examples abound on his latest solo release “Leave Babylon”, which is available on amazon.com, iTunes and juggwise.bandcamp.com. The influence of reggae legend Bob Marley and rap pioneer KRS-One (with whom he has performed) can be heard across the entire release, but most especially in “Youts of Babylon”, a call to curtail gun violence featuring Wise the Intelligent from underground hip-hop legends Poor Righteous Teachers.
"Walk around the town you hear the distinctive sound/The same thing gonna happen 'til the gun store get shut down"
This is a big week for Minervino. Before playing the Michael Castles tribute show, he will play with his band, PidginDroppings – the Pidgin is for Pidgin English, while the Droppings provides a clever play on words – at the Hat City Kitchen in Orange.
Minervino and his band are six songs into cutting a CD at Orange Sound Studio at West Orange; he hopes to release the CD later this year. The sound will be a fusion of “raprobeat” and “yard hop” while the lyrics will examine the world around us, he said.
On Saturday night, though, Minervino and his Unlearn band-mates will rock out while remember an old friend.
“Michael was my best friend, his loss affected so many people,” said Unlearn bassist Greg Dabice, also a 1988 BHS graduate. “It's amazing that we're still doing it, nine years later, and it's bigger than ever. A lot of it has to do with Michael and people coming out to honor his memory. Probably secondary is that we put on a good show.”
To learn more about Minervino's music, visit www.juggwise.bandcamp.com
Unlearn will perform at the ninth annual Michael Castles Tribute Show, 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Loop Lounge, 373 Broadway, Passaic. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit www.thelooplounge.com
PidginDroppings will perform 9 p.m. tonight at Hat City Kitchen, 459 Valley St., Orange. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit www.hatcitykitchen.com