In the early ’90s, the Native Tongue collective influenced a generation with their thought-provoking lyrics and light-hearted, anything-goes presentation. Amidst De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest, there was the black sheep of the family—Black Sheep. The duo, consisting of Dres and Mista Lawnge (now known as Mr. Long), released A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing in 1991 to critical acclaim and widespread praise. The hit single, “The Choice is Yours,” can still have an entire party picking it up to this day. Unfortunately, the group didn’t maintain the same longevity.
After dropping the unsuccessful Non-Fiction in 1994, the duo officially split in 2000 to pursue their own independent projects. Eventually, they linked back up to work on their new album 8WM: Novakane, a soulful, surprisingly mature effort from a group that has been all but forgotten by today’s hip-hop audience. While the album was originally slated for a 2005 release, Dres took the time to establish his own label, Bum Rush, on which he finally dropped the album last week. Who’s a Black Sheep? What’s a Black Sheep? Dres sits down with XXLMAG.COM to talk about his relationship with Mr. Long, why hip-hop is finally starting to grow up, and why people need to give respect to those who’ve paved the way in hip-hop.
Black Sheep "Whodat?" (2006)
Black Sheep "Grew Up" (2006)
Black Sheep "Shorty" (2006)
All taken from 8WM: Novakane (2006)
What’s been the hardest part of starting your own label?
There was stuff that I had to re-learn. It’s hard to run your own label, when you’re one of the controllers of your own destiny. The labels don’t have respect for that or artists themselves. I’m a little bit ashamed of cats in New York. We’re all from the same place and we’re all worried about being a “king”. That’s sad, especially when no one owns any of these blocks, corners or buildings. I’m looking at hip-hop on a much more global level. Other places outside of the States are knowledgeable about the game and I just want us to grow up and do something more responsible with the power that we have. We’re frontin’ on ourselves so hard that it’s sad. We need to start talking about different things with the music that we put out. We don’t have to play those games anymore. If you got a hustle, there’s nothing that a record can say to make that any different. You got people out here looking at basketball and being a rapper as career options. There are a hundred ways to make money, instead of just aspiring to make a rap record for attention.
What were you up to before you started working on the new album?
Just living life. I bought a crib down in Charlotte. I stayed active in music. I did an online project. I was even fortunate to jump in a film with Laurence Fishburne called Once In The Life. I really was focused on getting myself back on my feet and growing up. I’ve bumped my head more than a few times, but it’s not how many times you hit your head, it’s really how you deal with it and pick up the pieces. I’ve never felt like hip-hop was validation for me like it is now. I didn’t feel like I had to do this shit just to be known. I wasn’t in it for the chain or glory. I never felt like I had to do hip-hop in order to be who I wanted to be. But the game is different now. People come in here now to validate themselves. Cats from my era must be cut from a different cloth. Maybe that’s why people rhyme about the things that they do now.
The album was supposed to be released last year. Why did it take so long to come out? Did it have anything to do with you and Mr. Long going your separate ways?
Nah, it was more that I was trying to find a [label] situation. On the real, Long and I were going through some internal stuff, but we also had some deal offers that didn’t feel right. So, I kind of backed up from it and started to retool the album. I wanted people to see the work that was being done. I felt like I wasn’t getting the help that should’ve been there, but it also led to me switching my mind frame. I wanted the album to come out on its own accord. I feel that it’s better because of the time taken out to work on it. It’s like how they say, “No wine before its time.” Now, it’s the time. I was able to get my own situation off the ground. Thank God, because Bum Rush is established to not only represent me, it’s there to represent my other artists as well. But with Long…he said that he was tired of waiting. And to me, it was just a funny statement because I felt like I wasn’t holding him back from doing anything. So, I didn’t want to be the catalyst for him not doing him. He wanted to do the solo thing.
How much input did he have in this album?
He didn’t have much input on this project. He was living in Miami and I was in New York. He got on his feet at the end of the project, but he also let his ego get in front of him, and that’s unfortunate. He wouldn’t allow himself to not have credit on the album. I thought it wasn’t that serious, but I wish him the best through it all. I hope that he doesn’t step out of character because, on the real, that’s my little brother. But people get caught up in the perception of who they think they are. I just feel that with the moves that he made…he made a mistake.
[Interview continued on next page]