FEATURE: Kidz In The Hall, Almost Famous
With the industry continuing to change, hip-hop is vastly becoming a different world. With that being said you can call Naledge and Double-O the D’Wayne Wayne and Ron Johnson of the game. Replace the fictional Hillman College with the very real and prestigious University of Pennsylvania where the duo met and you have the makings of the indie darlings Kidz In The Hall. After releasing two critically acclaimed albums, 2006’s School Was My Hustle and last year’s The In Crowd, the pair has been largely heralded as a throwback to the classic ethos of pure beats and rhymes. Now after landing endorsements and increasing their visibility, the two-man crew is ready to show and prove and finally get the respect and notoriety that they deserve. XXLMag.com caught up with the Kidz to discuss their indie grind, the new album, having their own shoe and why they’re not sellouts.
XXLMag.com: You guys recently got your own shoe through Reebok. How did that situation come about?
Naledge: The campaign came about where they wanted to remix a classic sneaker and they wanted to identify a group that kinda embodied the same process with music. A group that personified that feel that made hip-hop dope at one point in time. They reached out to us and it was a no-brainer. Having your own shoe is the biggest thing you can do in the hood. That means something, it means you’ve accomplished something. And for us to have done that independently, it’s an honor.
XXL: You put a different spin on Special Ed’s “I Got It Made” for the campaign and made it your own but did you ever think people would think you were selling out by partnering with a big brand?
Double-O: The biggest thing for us is we didn’t just wanna make another “Driving Down The Block.” We knew we didn’t wanna do the same thing twice. The version you hear is probably the third version of the idea to where we put it out and were comfortable with it representing us. When you deal with a corporation, you want it to be where you don’t want to feel like they’re pushing you to do anything that’s hokey. It should still feel organic. So we just wanted to make sure we put the extra effort into it to make it our own but still do what the campaign was, which is make a classic for a new generation.
Naledge: Sometimes when people do corporate sponsorships, there’s a fear that it can come out as blatant advertising or blatant marketing. Like Nike came out with the Air Force One song and I didn’t really think it was very representative as dope as the line up that they had built for that record. So that happens a lot of times when you have corporate sponsorships and people get in and they see the dollar sign like, ‘hey, well let's just do this song real quick’ and then there’s an advertising campaign behind it. In reality, we wanted to say that this song could be on our album, and that’s kind of the statement that I wanted to make.
XXL: Speaking of albums, you guys are working on your third LP right now. Are you changing up the formula from The In Crowd or basically sticking to the script this next go ‘round?
Double-O: It’s going to be stripped down on a lot of levels. Feature-wise, we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish on the last album. This one is about us, about showcasing who we are. I’m deliberate with what I’m trying to do sonically and I think it balances out with what Naledge does lyrically.
Naledge: I think there’s a definite difference in the thought process for us going into this one and even where I was mentally from recording School Was My Hustle or The In Crowd. With previous work, we were traveling a lot but a lot of this album, I’ve been in Chicago, which is a major difference in my influence and my mindset. It’s almost like you go away to college and you’re the star basketball player but now you coming home and you got drafted. Now it's like I’m running around the city triumphant. It’s much different lyrically from the person who was working in PR doing School Was My Hustle and I’m writing rhymes and sending out resumes at the same time. The In Crowd was like a celebration for just being the plus 1 next to the famous friend, but now with this album, we’re on the list.
XXL: Not to put you in the OutKast box, but with you both being talented, are there plans for you guys to do solo projects?
Naledge: ‘The Chicago Picasso”, the mixtape I did with DJ RTC, Mick Boogie and Timbuktu was like my first foray into letting the vaults open on that. That mixtape should be on iTunes soon. But at the end of the day, Kidz In The Hall is the brand that matters.
Double-O: If we don’t make Kidz In The Hall get to a place where people really care about it, all of this other stuff won’t matter. It doesn’t make sense to do fifty other things if people haven’t first completely bought into the first thing.
XXL: Last summer you guys were in the news because Double-O was assaulted by a club bouncer and Naledge was arrested for trying to get you medical care in Arizona. There were lawsuits filed behind that. Has that been resolved?
Double-O: There’s still some stuff on the criminal side that I need to follow up on. In Arizona, getting in contact with the detective has been kinda hard to see what’s going on on the legal side with the felony aggravated assault that they charged the bouncer with. On the civil lawsuit side, it was filed and we just got in contact with the club’s attorney. It’s an interesting thing because still physically, I’m not 100%, which is annoying, but I’m just staying positive.
XXL: You guys have been able to have a nice amount of buzz and success and still be independent. You’re kinda redrawing the blueprint on how to succeed in the industry. Is that big label push obsolete now?
Naledge: See, my thing is to work smarter, not necessarily harder. You gotta be calculated in some of the things you do. Like, we work hard but we still have specific goals in mind and we’re realistic about the steps we take. Some of that comes with education, some comes with being around entrepreneurs, some comes with just natural instinct and charm. Like for real, sitting in the crib making music is cool but you gotta get out there and be social. That’s why a lot of these cats who have skill get mad when they see other people who they feel are wack get on, but those are the people that’s out mingling. Those are the people that’s out making relationships. Those are the people out selling themselves and sometimes selling themselves and their personalities is almost better than selling the music. – Anthony Roberts