TROOP: Joe Roos pens hip hop song for soldiers
Yeah, I hear the word "Soldier" get thrown around a lot -- especially in hip hop. And it got thrown around so loosely that the meaning of it may have gotten perverted. Well, I'm more than just a Soldier, I'm a troop. And while there may be some similarities between a soldier on the streets and a real troop, the main thing -- the MAIN THING -- that differentiates them is that a troop does what they do for everyone else.
-- From "Troop" by Joe Roos
WORTHINGTON -- On Memorial Day this year, Joe Roos was interviewed via telephone by C-Span "Washington Journal" host Bill Scanlan. The subject matter was "Troop," a hip hop song and video produced by Joe during his time of service in Iraq with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division of the Minnesota Army National Guard.
"It's a song for soldiers, it's by a soldier, it's about soldiers, and it's just about being a troop and the kind of resolve it takes to be a troop in lousy conditions," explained Joe.
so listen to this and get it
while I'm givin' it back
this is my equal and opposite reaction to rap
I'm coming back on this track
To launch a massive attack
And I guarantee you this is gonna have a drastic impact
-- From "Troop"
The son of Bill Roos of Worthington, Joe grew up here with three older sisters (Jessie, Rebecca and Deborah) and two younger brothers (John and Tim). He was first exposed to hip hop when a friend began to freestyle rap about his shoes. He fell in love with the musical style and remembers rapping in the back of the bus on the way home from school.
Joe graduated in 2002 from Worthington High School -- following a brief stint at the Alternative Learning Center -- then headed for the Twin Cities to seek his fortune and fame.
"I was doing some stuff with my life that wasn't helping my life at all," he explained. "That became obvious when I was involved in a car accident in 2002 -- Feb. 10, 2002. ... I was in intensive care with a lacerated spleen, bruised liver. I was in rough condition. It was eye-opening. It was like, 'Does anyone even care that they know me?'"
With a desire to "do good" in his life, Joe enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard, training at Fort Jackson, S.C. and Fort Mead, Md.
"When you enlist in the Guard, most are not full-time until they get deployed, but there is a force that is active duty, and I was active duty for five years," he said. "I wanted to serve my country, and I wanted to make everyone proud of me. I wanted to be in the Army, but I also wanted to do something where I would be effective for the Army, so I went into communications in the Army. I'm a writer, write my own raps, music and stuff, but I wanted to learn about the news side of things and how it works. I was a really good soldier, and by nature I am a communicator."
Let me unmask where I'm at
By which limits I push
I'm educated by streets
Emancipated by books
And I don't play like a crook
A politician or thug
My attitude's only hard
'Cause my position is love
so when I push and I shove
limits to make it more evident
You'll know it's much bigger
Than Joe Roos or president ...
-- From "Troop"
Going in, Joe knew his military service would be a chance to expand his horizons, learn new things and maybe see a bit of the world.
"One of the coolest things I did was I got to go to Croatia and train with the Croatian army," he said. "Every state partners with another nation somewhere in the world and helps them to achieve their military goals in a way that is good for everyone. Croatia wants to be part of NATO -- and I think they may have already received that invitation -- so when I was there we were helping them to meet the regulations for that."
But Joe is most proud of his service in Iraq. He was deployed to Basra, Iraq, with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division for one year -- April 2009 to February 2010.
"When I enlisted, we had already invaded Iraq, and I went in with the mentality that at some point I was probably going to war," Joe recalled.
Joe is quick to note, however, that his job at division headquarters was a relatively safe one compared to many soldiers he knew who risked their lives each and every day.
"There are fellows in Iraq who every morning wake up, get in a convoy and know they are probably going to have to kill some people that day," Joe said. "I don't want anyone to think I deserve any credit that I don't. We would get bombed. We probably got rocketed or mortared about 20 times during the year I was deployed."
Is that you all know who
You are: you're a cold troop
And when most would be cold and jaded
A troop is so motivated
We know that our Soldiers need it
And know that his family's waiting
So hold on my fam, we'll make it
And get through to the end ...
-- From "Troop"
In his spare time from the Guard, Joe kept rapping and writing music, and just before he was deployed finished his debut album, "Just Glad to Be Here."
"I got it on i-Tunes, and everything was set for me to start promoting it, and it was time to go to Iraq, so no promotion occurred," Joe explained. "But I gave my brothers and everyone I knew a bunch of CDs -- I had 2,500 made -- and they passed them out to friends in Worthington. Every time I talked to someone back home, they'd tell me they'd heard my CD or they'd be riding in the car and somebody would be playing it. So my brothers and family and friends worked that promotion angle while I was gone."
"Troop" was also written pre-deployment, when Joe began to reflect about what it meant to be a soldier in a time of conflict.
"I had written this song in 2006, when I was doing public relations for the Minnesota National Guard back in Minnesota," he remembered. "When our 1st Brigade Command Team was deployed, a lot of these guys were starting to come home in caskets. People who were there doing the hard work, the soldiers who deserve all kinds of credit -- they had just lost their battle buddy yesterday, and it's a new day and they're about to go out in a convoy again.
"I know a lot of great soldiers, and I wanted people to know what I thought about being a soldier."
You hear me?
That's a troop!
Highly motivated; Highly dedicated
A whole 34th Infantry Division of Red Bull Soldiers -- That's a troop.
Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Selfless Service. HONOR -- That's a troop.
Integrity. Personal Courage -- That's a troop.
I guess my intent
Is to start a revolution
To begin its descent
On radio wave pollution
Not a single one of you can
Out-spit or outrun
The one who's swtchin' hip hop for a new outcome
So just move down, Son
A Soldier's stepping in
-- From "Troop"
Realizing what he'd written could be a pretty powerful public relations tool, Joe decided to show "Troop" to his commanding officer in Iraq.
"I always try to keep people in the loop about the work I'm doing, so I brought it to my commander, and he asked, 'Joe, would you be willing to donate this to the division so we could make an official public affairs thing out of it?' If that means more troops can see it and get motivated by it, isn't that the whole point of the song?"
With his commander's approval, Joe sat down and "storyboarded" the idea of what he wanted the "Troop" music video to look like. He'd already come up with the basic idea of soldiers lip-synching his words a couple of years earlier, and this was his chance to implement his vision.
"Obviously, it's my words in the song, but the idea is to show there's one soldier who feels this way, but how many soldiers across the entire Army must feel this way?" Joe explained. "So I had the idea, and I worked with one other soldier in my unit, Spec. Johnny Angelo, who was the technical guy, and I was sort of the director. We would get soldiers, give them the song, and if they said, 'Yeah, I'm interested,' we'd go get them at the end of their duty day and shoot as much as we could in the time we had."
All the soldiers featured in the video were deployed with the Red Bull Infantry Division.
"From start to finish, the video took about two months," Joe said. "It was something to look forward to. Iraq drags when you're there. There's so much involved waiting on somebody else, just the simple things that are supposed to work don't work. Everything takes longer, everything drags on you and wears you down. You have no idea how awesome it was to look forward to this at the end of the day. It probably got me through the days."
One shot one kill still means it's not just a game
Not done in vain
For just the freedom of speech
Or so folks can talk about
Who we need to impeach
It's for the feeble and weak
The ones who needed relief
And those back home who
we hope we're in their dreams when they sleep
all the people we need
and all the people we love
and everything that we believe in
below and up above
and that's a troop
-- From "Troop"
The response to "Troop" has been overwhelmingly positive from both the military and civilian perspectives.
"As soon as I finished writing the song, I knew it was something powerful, and I knew it was going to resonate with some people, but to the extent that people are feeling it?" Joe reflected. "The idea was to get the message out, and I am excited about how many people have seen it and responded to it."
So far, the C-Span piece has been the biggest national recognition, but Joe has also received some positive press in the Twin Cities.
"It has garnered some attention at the Pentagon," he added. "I can't say for sure that Robert Gates has seen it and enjoyed it, but I know it has circulated."
Back from Basra
That's a troop!
I will always place the mission first.
I will never quit. NEVER QUIT -- That's a troop.
I will never accept defeat. I will never leave a fallen comrade -- That's a troop
Do not misconstrue that -- That's a troop!
That's a troop.
-- From "Troop"
During his last couple of months in Iraq, Joe was on "stop-loss," which means his contract was up but he wasn't able to leave his deployment. Once he returned to Minnesota, he opted not to re-enlist.
"I thought it was time to for me to move on to the next chapter of my life," he explained. "The Army has been something wonderful for me, and almost at every turn the Army has held up its end of the bargain and I held up my end of the bargain, so I left he Army on a good note. The last thing the Army knows about me is the 'Troop' song and video."
Joe is currently living in Minneapolis and has a girlfriend, Sunita Vongharath.
"I have my own small business, Straight Shooter Productions," he said. "It's my company that I used to produce my original album, 'Just Glad to Be Here," and my buddy -- who I was deployed with -- and I build websites. I'm also starting college in the fall. I have 91 credits, so I'll be a junior at Metro State. My degree is in communications with a PR focus, so exactly what I was doing for the Army."
The "Troop" attention has given Joe some clout in performing at Twin Cities clubs, but he's most looking forward to performing tonight for a hometown crowd at the Long Branch Saloon.
"It's going to be a huge event," he said. "The last time we had more than 300 people, and I'm anticipating more than that this time," he said. "I want people to know that I am going to get on the microphone and absolutely rock it out and put on an amazing show. There's so much love that always comes out of Worthington every time I'm down there. I'm very excited for the show this weekend."
Joe Roos will perform a "Father's Day Hip Hop Show" along with Mickey Van Lo and Nikome Souvannarath beginning at 9 p.m. today at the Long Branch Saloon, 206 10th St., Worthington.