Before dismissing the relevance of rapper Dres, consider that automaker Kia utilized the group’s 1991 classic song “The Choice is Yours” in a commercial to sling their 2010 Kia Soul. Perfect timing because Black Sheep shepherd is back with a new project entitled From the Black Pool of Genius.
Although billed as a Black Sheep album, From the Black… doesn’t feature any contributions from the duo’s other half, Mr. Long (formerly Mr. Lawnge). Instead, the project offers collaborations between Dres and an array of both old and new school artists and producers. With the album already garnering critical acclaim, it appears fans still got the fever for the flavor. In this candid interview with XXLMag.com, a mature, aware, and confident Dres speaks on everything from the new album and Mr. Long’s absence from it, to the group’s upcoming 20-year anniversary. He even offers an update on past collaborator Chi Ali, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence. Can you get with this?
XXLMag.com: What is the concept behind From the Black Pool of Genius?
Dres: Essentially, I heard a Donnie Hathaway record, in which he was doing a cover of a Stevie Wonder record called “Superwoman,” and he intros it by saying, “From the Black Pool of genius, I’d like to…” and it just got me thinking about artists that would be in that Black Pool. It’s really bigger than Black people, it doesn’t matter what color you are. I felt like, in whatever genre of music, if you share light with the people, [then] you’re in the Black Pool, because in order to share light, you got to be able to absorb light. So that’s where I put the Black Pool, where it’s not necessarily a color, but it’s artists that can absorb light in order for them to share it.
Who are some of the artists you worked with on this project?
Cats like AZ, Rhymefest, Jean Grae. I got a Native Tongue reunion track with Dave from De La Soul and Q-Tip, Mike G… I got a joint with Psycho Les. I got Rosie Perez, who’s on the album for shining light and various sorts, and my dude Mums, the poet from [HBO’s] Oz, he’s on the album as well. It’s just a bunch of cats that I felt were really talented, and regardless of their walks, just had a lot to offer.
You released the “For the Record,” video to the Internet this past summer, what was your motivation for that one?
I look at a lot of cats like they make all of these records about how fly they are, or their zip code, and what they’re wearing. But if it wasn’t for the people, they wouldn’t even have that. It’s like they’re taking money that someone gave them, and telling the person that just gave them money how much flier than them they are…and I really can’t respect that, sincerely… [So] I just feel like it’s for me to be an option, it’s for me to speak my piece. And regardless, cats gonna do whatever they do, and that’s on them. But I just felt it was important that I be a voice of the people. There are a lot of things that I think are not really being addressed as far as music goes, just because cats are making money. [Now] I’m glad that cats are making money, and it represents a lot, as far as hip-hop goes, cause there’s a lot of cats in hip-hop that really didn’t make money, especially the further back you take it, the less they made. But at the end of the day I feel like cats are really selling themselves short if they not passing forward the jewels that were passed to us. We all definitely got bills to pay and we’re all trying to enjoy the nice things in life. But one of the nicest things in life is your community, and when you’re taking care of your community you’re speaking in volume. And that’s how you really shine.
How is this album different from previous Black Sheep albums?
First of all, this album has all the guests, so that’s very, very different, to have so many guests on a [Black Sheep] project. It was something that I really took my time with. It’s on my own label, and I really slow walked it. As well, there’s no Mr. Long at all on this project. We been kinda talking about possibly getting together next year for the 20-year anniversary, so cats will hopefully see us together again at some point. [But] we’re both doing our own things. He just released an instrumental album of all of our songs. [From the Black…] is definitely a different kind of album, but at the same its reminiscent of where we come from. More than anything, the making of [this album] was just a great experience. I got a chance to really kick it with some cats that I’m a fan of. I’m a fan of most cats on this project.
Why call this a Black Sheep album and not a Dres solo?
I had to break it down like, if there is one black sheep, two black sheep, or 250 black sheep, it’s still spelled “Black Sheep.” So, it wouldn’t make sense for me not to keep Black Sheep affiliated with my name. At the end of the day, there’ll be a whole collection of Black Sheep projects, some of them us together, some of them aren’t, and it will be up to people to decide which ones they like or don’t like. I just like having stuff out there. It’s been too long since you heard Black Sheep… But I’m definitely not trying to fool the people! I’m quick to let everybody know that this particular Black Sheep album is [just] Dres and I’m sure there will be another one with me and Long, God willing!
Someone up at Kia must be a big Black Sheep fan, huh?
On the real, I give props to Kia for aligning themselves with what I feel is real hip-hop. But I really can’t speak on [that] right now. There will be a time when I can talk about it [in more detail], but right this second; I kinda can’t blow it up. The only thing I’m really trying to say about that is, I give props to Kia for aligning themselves with what I feel is real hip-hop. But as shit starts playing out it will definitely be worth the wait.
Speaking of waiting, what’s up with Chi Ali he’s been locked up for a minute? Do you still communicate?
Chi is chillin’…well, as much as he can be right now. He definitely on the short side of his sentence, and I hope to see him within a couple of years. He’s holding his head, and anytime I talk to him…I do wish he called a little more often, but he calls. He just got married and he’s in a positive space. He’s been writing. He’s definitely learned a lot, and grown a lot. He learned a hard lesson at the highest of prices. I can’t wait for him to come home. I miss him and hopefully he can pick up his life and move forward, and he’s given the opportunity to be the man that he can be.
How do you feel the reception to the new album has been?
I’m really, really happy right now, because it seems like everyone is getting the album and the reviews are just phenomenal. That’s kind of blowing me away. It’s been a long time coming, so I feel very good about the walk. I might not have the big machine to put it in front of you on the BET screen, or the MTV screen, or VH1 or whatever, but the people are talking about it, the word of mouth is big on it, the buzz is big on it, and even Kia aligning themselves with hip-hop is playing big for this album and I’m just appreciative. — Jonathan Bonanno