Born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York (USA) on 30 January 1975, John Forté studied classical violin, then graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1993. He returned to New York and started working as an A&R executive at Rawkus Records.
Forté began his professional music career when he was introduced to The Fugees by Lauryn Hill in the early 1990s. He co-wrote and produced several songs on their multi-platinum and Grammy-winning 1996 album, 'The Score'. He went on to tour all over the world with The Fugees, and lent production and vocal performances to 1997's 'Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival Featuring the Refugee All-Stars'. Forté partnered with former Fugee member, Pras, for the Top 40 hit single, 'Avenues', from the Money Talks soundtrack.
Forté released his debut solo album, 'Poly Sci' in 1998, which was produced by Wyclef Jean. The album featured performances by Fat Joe, DMX, 20 Grand Pikasoe and Jeni Fujita. It was met with critical acclaim but commercial disappointment, selling just under 100,000 copies.
In 2000, Forté was arrested at Newark International Airport after accepting a briefcase containing $1.4 million worth of liquid cocaine; he was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to distribute. He was convicted and sentenced to the mandatory minimum 14 years after being found guilty, and incarcerated at FCI Loretto, a low-security federal prison in central Pennsylvania.
In 2001, Forté released the well-received I, John, which was recorded while awaiting trial for the drug offense. Unlike his debut, this album takes a more serious approach to music-making. The second album featured guest appearances by Herbie Hancock, Esthero and Tricky, and included a duet with Carly Simon. Carly Simon and her son Ben Taylor were advocates on Forté's behalf, believing he did not receive a fair trial; they fought for an appeal of the mandatory minimum drug laws that remove a judge's discretion in a case. With the help of Senator Orrin Hatch, Forté's prison sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush on November 24, 2008. He was released from prison four weeks later.
Soon after his release from prison, Forté started recording new music. One of his first releases was a cover version of Running Up That Hill, based on the version by Chromatics and adding rap lyrics into the mix. According to Forté, "My exposure to ‘Running Up That Hill’ wasn’t exactly from Kate Bush. I didn’t actually know that Kate Bush sang ‘Running Up That Hill;’ my remix is based on a group called The Chromatics, who re-made the Kate Bush song." In July 2009, Forté released 'StyleFree, the EP', featuring seven new tracks that provided social commentary combined with hope and inspiration.
In the spring of 2010, Forté and his band participated in a successful 15-city tour with K'Naan, Wale and Tabi Bonney. Forté founded a production company called Le Castle in 2011 to manage the various projects that he has undertaken in music, film and other fields. In February 2011, Le Castle produced a 9-week tour through Russia. The tour took Forté and his band – including bassist Brian Satz, percussionist Ryan Vaughn and keyboardist Patrick Firth – across Russia.