Since leaving Rawkus Records, this Ivy League duo has given Obama a boost and signed a new deal with Duck Down. Is the hip-hop nation for them to change the game?
The term “Ivy League hip-hop” seems like an oxy moron, no? But when rapper Naledge and producer Double-O linked up at an University of Pennsylvania talent show, they proved that rap music knows no bounds. Their early tracks like “Wheelz Fall Off (’06 Til)” and “Go Ill” caught the attention of superproducer Just Blaze, who took an interest in the group’s development. The Kidz soon found themselves signed to storied hip-hop label Rawkus Records, where they dropped their debut School Was My Hustle to favorable reviews by the fans and journalists in 2006.
But one can’t eat off of critical acclaim alone, and the album’s lack of sales and overall marketing push led to the group to align themselves with another revered indie label, Duck Down. With their new single “Driving Down The Block” vibrating car speakers and their sophomore album, The In Crowd, on deck, the Kidz want to show why they’re less of a throwback to the past than a looking glass into the future.
What led up to your departure from Rawkus?
Double-O: I’ll let Naledge answer that. It’s his favorite question [laughs].
Naledge: It’s not my favorite question. It’s just the reality of the situation. They didn’t really want to invest what we needed put into it. We just felt like it was better for us to move forward. It was a one off situation in the first place. The first record was under-shipped, under-promoted, under everything except for underwhelming with the music. The music was overwhelming as far as I’m concerned. It didn’t get the proper placement it needed. Us being business men, we have to be realistic about the situation and look at the label we’re at. We can’t eat on the history they have.
How did the Duck Down deal actually happen?
Double-O: During the summer, when we first started working on this album, we wanted to get Sean Price on a record. So we reached out to Dru Ha and he started getting that ball rolling and in the process, our management and Dru started talking about business in general. He respected everything we had been doing up to this point. Dru’s had the relationship with our managers for awhile. He was like, “I don’t know what y’all doing, but what’s up with this new record?” So the possibility was up in the air. Naledge came to me and we sat and spoke and everything they were talking about made sense as far as a positive alternative to move forward. They were really into the music, into what we were doing, and they wanted to take it to the next level. So they presented a deal that made sense and we took it.
How did “Work to Do” end up becoming the official track for the Barack Obama campaign?
Naledge: By accident [laughs]. We were kind of joking about it being the type of record that could be a theme song for a campaign. Then it turned to, let’s try to make this a reality, and it all made sense. We’re supporters of Barack Obama anyway, so it all just came together nicely and the buzz on the Internet created a situation where the campaign reached out to us. It’s nothing for us to put our name behind him. We were just surprised that he wanted to put his name behind us.
What do y’all think about his chances to win the Democratic nomination and later the presidential election?
Double-O: To me, it’s getting better everyday [laughs]. If you look at anything from CNN to the political blogs, things seem to be going in his direction right now. He’s just playing a good game, and the support that he’s getting from the Kennedys and all the youth, it’s just ridiculous. I think he’s in a pretty good position to win the Democratic nod, but for the presidency we’ll see.
Naledge: He has a legitimate shot. I feel like he’s definitely proven that it’s not about race. It’s just about change. The one thing that’s different about his platform than any of the other candidates is that he’s trying get people to realize what’s going on, currently, needs to change and that he could be that vehicle for change. For a while it’s just been the Democrat/Republican cookie-cutter candidates, but he’s the one person that crosses those boundaries and transcends.
Double-O, you produced the title track from Freeway’s latest album Free At Last. How did that come about?
Double-O: I’ve known Freeway’s manager for a long, long time. He was one of the top basketball players recruited the same year I was recruited for Penn. He was from Philly, and one of Free’s good friends. Brian was just kind of around campus all the time so we had some rapport. Then I ran into him at Baseline Studios when he was over there and that’s how I found out he was Freeway’s manager. We kept in contact and we sent a couple of records that were either for Freeway or Marsha [Ambrosius] from Floetry. It was one of those things where they immediately loved the record. A few months down the line, I get a call saying Free just recorded to the track last night. It’s crazy, they love it. A couple of months later it was finally completed. It was a definitely a blessing because Freeway’s one of the dopest MCs out and I was glad to be apart of the album.
Since “Driving Down the Block” leaked, some people have suggested that it sounds different from your debut. What was your intention going into this record?
Naledge: Let me break it down as far it could ever be broken. For those people that say that “Driving Down the Block” is different from School Was My Hustle, they’re not really listening to School Was My Hustle because I got records like “Go Ill” describing my complete life. I got songs like “Bros, Hoes and Liquor” that have been all over the mixtape circuit and in these records I describe my life coming up, and at no point in time have I ever said, “Yo, I’ve never wanted a nice car or I’ve never chased after women.” All of these things I talk about in the record if you listen to it, lyrically, you can see it’s not a departure from School Was My Hustle. I think what people are getting twisted is that it has the heavy 808, the interpolation of OutKast. I think the beat has people confused. I don’t think they realize that School Was My Hustle was made in 2004, 2005 and it’s now 2008. Nothing stays the same. Everything evolves and we’re a part of that new wave and we’ve been part of the new wave. And if you listen to Detention, that’s when we tried to bridge the gap in the sound so they can realize that School Was My Hustle is over. We’re not going to revisit that again. That was a snapshot of where we were not where we are now. I think sometimes people really let the sonic soundscape distance them from the lyrics. That’s the funny thing because I have records on Detention that they love that and they swear are so jazzy and so conscious but, lyrically, it’s the same me [laughs].
Double-O: Me and the Naledge had this discussion. Everyone always love calling—with all due respect because we love them just the same—cats like Dilla, Slum Village and even A Tribe Called Quest to a certain extent…they love calling them conscious rappers, underground rappers, and all of that. But when you listen to some of their music, they say some of the most insensitive shit out. But because it’s on a jazz flute, they put the music in a certain type of realm. One of the things we noted from School Was My Hustle was that by making the music we make, we would be put in this nostalgic box. Obviously we don’t mind being put in any box because that means people are listening, but we wanted to make sure we evolve from album to album. At then end of the day, this is art and you don’t necessarily sit back and look at the canvas and think. It’s just a stream of consciousness.
Naledge: If the whole album was “Driving Down the Block” then I would be like, Alright, you might have something there. But it’s just a well-rounded album. I’d go as far as to say it’s the best hip-hop album you’ll hear this year. It has a wide array of guests and messages. It’s School Was My Hustle on steroids. It’s the Jose Canseco version of School Was My Hustle. It’s like some whole new shit. This is BALCO right here [laughs]. This is the shit that people are going to copy. Every song is a different experience. Every song is a different table in the lunch room. That’s what The In Crowd stands for. It’s like in high school, everyone sits at their own table and they have their own cliques. Every song we’re saying we can sit and eat with everybody. We can sit with the Cool Kids. We can sit with the Clipse. We can sit with Rhymefest. We can sit with Black Milk. We can sit with Travis from Gym Class Heroes. We can sit with Wale. We can sit with anybody, match them, spit with them at what they do and we’re all going to have a good time and make dope records. That’s what the album is from the intro throughout. That’s why I feel we’re so necessary right now. Nobody’s creating this new generation. We got the Commons, the Kwelis, the Soulquarians, the Roots, but to put it frankly, they’re getting old. They’ve been doing it for years. It’s time for our generation to band together and get this money as well as sharing the wealth creatively.
You guys worked with a lot of artists for The In Crowd. What was the most memorable collaboration for you?
Naledge: Just watching Buckshot rhyme…Me and Double-O was talking about how it was crazy to have Buckshot on one of our records. He’s a legend in the booth and he’s itching to get on one of our records. So that was like…wow.
Double-O: Definitely, the whole Buckshot thing was crazy because he’s still Buckshot and he’s still a living legend and he hasn’t fallen off at all. It was just ill to have him in there rapping over our shit.
What individual plans do you all have for 2008?
Double-O: I’m trying to impregnate as many different women in as many different countries as possible [laughs].
Naledge: Just trying to not be wack [laughs]. Additionally, I’m trying to get swole like 50. I’m going to have to start taking those Cansecos real quick.
Double-O: Just really committing and making this thing work for us as we know it should. You get put into the position but like I said, if you don’t keep working…All a deal gets you, at the end of the day, is maybe an advance and less sleep, because you need to work twice as hard to get to that next point. Your music has to be better in a shorter amount of time. Your clothes have to look fresher. You have to be dressed the part before you walk outside or get clowned for not having an ironed shirt [laughs]. Little stuff that comes with the fame just adds up to a little bit more work. We have fun when we’re doing it so we’re not tripping on that at all. It’s just continuing to move forward. Naledge will probably put out an album toward the end of the year. It all depends on this movement. If this movement does what we think it will do in terms of the new album, then that might push us to a December or January release [for the release of Naledge’s solo album]. It’s all a part of the same movement. As long as we stay out on the road and keep feeding the fans, then it’s all good.