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2XL biography

Bennett “Laze” and Justin “Royal” Talmadge Armstrong (2XL) strengthened their bond through their common love for music and have used rap as their salvation. Their father abandoned them. Their mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They were kicked out of school. They were forced to essentially raise themselves. With only each other to rely on, Royal and Laze poured their heartache and struggle into their moving work, showcased on their stunningly diverse and sonically powerful debut album, Neighborhood Rapstar.

On the somber "The Chapters," 2XL chronicles their tumultuous lives over a chilling piano- and drum-driven beat. The album’s most personal song is "Mama of Mine." Royal and Laze's mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, was determined to have another tumor in 2004 and, in early 2006, doctors detected a third brain tumor. While in an Atlanta studio working on material, the duo started telling a producer their life story.

"As we got to the part about our mom, he was like, 'Hold on. Stop,'" Royal recalls. "He turned on this beat and he was like, ‘Ya’ll have to do this joint about your mom.’ As soon as we started, it almost felt like magic. We get a lot of e-mails and comments from females and DJs about how so many people can relate to it. It's our struggle, but yet people are like, 'My grandpa just died,' or ‘My mom just got cancer.’ It was the first song where we were like, 'OK. This is on the album.'"

"Our connection outside of being brothers is that we have respect for each other on the work level and for each other’s talents and abilities," Royal says. "We have little arguments, but we honestly don’t fight. We’re fulfilling our dreams through each other. I need him to succeed and he needs me to succeed -- and we both know that."

Despite their struggle, 2XL's music also focuses on life’s enjoyable pursuits. In fact, when they sent their feel-good “Kissing Game” single to a few select radio stations, they were confident that it would be well received. But the avalanche of enthusiasm -- from fans and radio DJs alike -- caused the duo to put the song out as a single, one that was added to heavy rotation in Detroit and Minneapolis, among other cities.

Impressed by 2XL's self-generated buzz and independent hit, major labels soon came courting. They signed with seminal rap indie Tommy Boy Entertainment (De La Soul, Digital Underground, Naughty By Nature, House of Pain, Coolio, Everlast). Neighborhood Rapstar showcases their wide-ranging talent and pays homage to their rabid online fans, who have helped make the duo legends in their home base of North Hollywood, a Los Angeles suburb.

“We’ve had a pretty cool following for the past two years through the Internet and the mixtape circuit, so in our neighborhood in North Hollywood we’ve already been established,” Royal explains. “We’ll be walking down the street and there will be little kids on bikes coming out the candy store like, ‘Sign something for me.’ We took that and made it a national thing because there’s a lot of cats who are really on the grind and doing their thing independently. In their neighborhood, they’re superstars. Like Slim Thug, before anybody knew who he was nationally, he was a millionaire Down South.”

Even though Royal and Laze are only 16, they’ve been working toward Neighborhood Rapstar for six years. They started making music when they were 10, inspired by their mother, who filled their place with the soulful music of Al Green and others. When her young sons showed an interest in making music, she bought them equipment, even though it struck a blow to their finances. Laze recalls “When we first got interested in making music we asked our mom for a microphone. Things were financially really bad for us and with only so much money to cover what we needed she had to decide whether to buy us the mic or pay the electric bill. She decided to buy us the mic and it sat in the middle of our living room for a few weeks since our electric got cut off – but we learned how much she believed in us.” Indeed, because of a variety of circumstances, 2XL and their mother moved more than 15 times during their childhood.

Today, 2XL realizes that music can help them get past the struggle they have already endured. “We were at a point in our lives where we had two paths,” Laze says. “You can go the right way or the wrong way, but right now we’re being home-schooled and getting straight A’s, and we have our mom. We’re not looking to go the wrong way - we’re obligated to take care of her. That makes us work twice as hard."

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