Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, The Dean’s List members Sonny Shotz, Mik Beats, and DJ Mendoza have been creating a unique sound and style of music since the moment the three got together in a studio. The outcome of their time resulted in their first mixtape, The Drive-In, which was released last year to much acclaim and praise.
Fast forward to 2012 and The Dean’s List are preparing to release their debut album, Generation X, while touring constantly to help expand their fanbase and perfect their crafts. Molding genres to create one uniquely uniform sound is not as easy as it seems, but it’s a task that the producing duo of Mik and Mendoza have almost perfected as they lay the foundation for MC Sonny Shotz to do his thing on the mic.
AllHipHop.com spoke to the trio while they had some downtime from headlining the “Road To SXSW Tour” they’re currently on with fellow Breeding Ground artist Rockie Fresh. The guys talked about their background and influences, the impact that The Drive-In had on their careers, and what they have planned musically in the near future:
AllHipHop.com: How’s it going, guys?
The Dean’s List: Good, man, really good.
AllHipHop.com: So first things first, how did the three of you hook up and ultimately create The Dean’s List?
The Dean’s List: In my [Mendoza’s] senior year of high school, I was playing basketball with Sonny, and then we started doing music together and didn’t really take it to seriously. Then the summer before Berkeley, I met Nick in the dorm rooms and we were just doing a lot of Techno production and having fun with that. And then Sonny came into the picture, and we all started doing music together in the dorms; that led to doing music full-time.
AllHipHop.com: How would you guys personally describe your style and sound?
The Dean’s List: I [Sonny] think it’s just a mix of a bunch of different genres. I’d say it’s like Indie, Rap, Pop, Electro, I don’t know [laughter]. It’s a little bit of everything.
AllHipHop.com: That being the case, I’m curious to hear who you guys are most influenced by when you’re creating music?
The Dean’s List: I [Sonny] always looked up to and really respected Bob Dylan as a musician. I think he’s an awesome songwriter, and I love how he puts stories together. I’m also a big Jay-Z fan and a big fan of The Beatles. Mendoza is a big fan of a lot of classical music. Also Jay-Z and Kanye, I think the way that they connect with their fans beyond music is just amazing and also what their music stands for.
AllHipHop.com: Do each of you guys remember the first Hip-Hop related purchase you made?
The Dean’s List: First Hip-Hop record I [Sonny] bought was Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Actually, no, that’s a lie. It was G-Unit’s Beg For Mercy. I [Mendoza]didn’t listen to a lot of Hip-Hop when I was really young, but I remember really connecting with Kanye’s Graduation. I used to really listen to a lot of other music, and then I started getting into Hip-Hop later on.
AllHipHop.com: I hear you guys. So let’s get into the music that you three create. I want to start with The Drive-In, which you guys put out last year. I believe that it was the project that really elevated you guys at least in terms of having the industry take notice. In your own words though, what do you think The Drive-In did for your careers?
The Dean’s List: I [Mendoza] think it really helped launch us and gave us a really great start. We weren’t touring or anything like that before it came out and after The Drive-In. Even though the numbers at the shows were kind of small, it was really cool for us to be able to go all these different places across the country and have people know our music. That alone was really cool; that was really the breaking point for us.
The Drive-In really established us and helped us as artists. Especially because we were creating music, going to shows and seeing people recite our songs. That was also around the point where we were half in school and half doing all of The Dean’s List stuff, so it was kind of an interesting transition for us.
AllHipHop.com: So let’s fast-forward to your upcoming album, Generation X. This will be the first project you guys release that you all focused 150 perent on as a group. Is that fair to say?
The Dean’s List: Yeah, that’s fair. We definitely had a lot of trouble when we released The Drive-In since we were dealing with school and stuff like that, and we were barely passing classes at a certain point with all of the traveling and stuff like that. Generation X is really the first time we were able to focus completely 150 percent to a project and be committed to it.
AllHipHop.com: What is the difference musically between what you guys were creating when you were juggling school and music and what you have been able to create now? How has the sound evolved?
The Dean’s List: I [Sonny] think it’s just a lot more mature, the stuff coming from us, like the song topics and the things we’re talking about and also the production on Generation X is a lot bigger then The Drive-In. I think, overall, like lyrically and melodically, everything came together really well, and we kind of matured as we were working on it so it’s definitely a step up.
AllHipHop.com: And you guys produce all of your own music, right?
The Dean’s List: Yeah, we produce and write everything. It’s all in-house.
AllHipHop.com: Is that something that’s done collectively between the three of you, or is that more-so Mendoza’s job?
The Dean’s List: It’s Mik and myself [Mendoza] that do the production pretty much. Overall, it’s done as a collective. Mik might start working on something, and then I’ll jump in and work on it and we’ll just finish it up. Sonny will put his two cents in, too, on what he’s feeling or maybe not feeling so every track is touched on collectively by us. It’s a group process, for sure.
AllHipHop.com: What is the significance of the title Generation X to the three of you?
The Dean’s List: It’s basically saying that Generation X is the generation before us, and we are influenced by the people and music that came before us. And it shows through the music we’re making now, that the past is just as important as the future. That’s the message we’re trying to get across with the album.
AllHipHop.com: How far along in the recording process are you guys with the album?
The Dean’s List: We’re finished with it. We’re done with everything.
AllHipHop.com: So when can the fans be expecting to hear Generation X?
The Dean’s List: April 3.
AllHipHop.com: I know you guys had a select few features on the last project. Are there any features on the album?
The Dean’s List: There are 16 tracks on the album plus two bonus tracks. We didn’t really get any rapping features besides this vocalist Danny that was on our last project and Sid Sriram who’s on the single “Youth”. We’re not really too into doing features.
AllHipHop.com: Now, you guys have pretty much been on the road for the past year, and you’re now on the “Road to SXSW Tour” with Rockie Fresh and Casey Veggies popping up on a few dates. What is the experience on this tour like compared to the last one?
The Dean’s List: So far the tour has been going well. We look forward to rocking the stage every night that we have to perform. It’s always a wild time.
AllHipHop.com: If you could either make music or performing, which would you prefer?
The Dean’s List: I’d [Sonny] say the making music part of it, because that’s where you can be the most artistic and it allows you to perform. I [Mendoza] think it’s really cool to perform the music that I created and see the fans and people in the crowd respond to it directly. It’s definitely cool to be able to perform in front of people and get out there and have that one-on-one fan connection.
AllHipHop.com: And seeing as how the tour is called the “Road to SXSW,” I have to ask what your plans are for SXSW? Is there anything special going on?
The Dean’s List: We definitely do have some things coming up at SXSW that are pretty exciting, and we’re definitely looking forward to getting down there to Austin.
AllHipHop.com: Any plans to tour immediately after Generation X drops?
The Dean’s List: Yeah, we have a lot of college dates and a lot other stuff coming up in April that we’re excited about. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like once Generation X drops. There may not be an immediate tour, but we’ll be doing a ton of shows throughout the country.
AllHipHop.com: What do you feel sets you guys apart from everyone else who makes music and is trying to get their star to shine so to speak?
The Dean’s List: We don’t strive to be different or anything; we just strive to make the music that will inspire other people. I’d like to say that we’re the best thing out there and the most different group you’ve heard, but at the end of the day, there’s a million people making music like you said, so it’s really up for the listeners and fans to decide what’s worth listening to. Our fans love us and support us so much, and they also have a great taste in music and that helps us create and be responsible for what we make.
AllHipHop.com: Is there anything else you want the fans or readers to know?
The Dean’s List: Generation X is coming April 3, and we’re going to have a video for the single “Youth” dropping really soon. There’s actually going to be a video for every song on the album, so we’re really striving to bring the visuals to life. It’s going to be a great year for us.
AllHipHop.com: Great guys. I’m looking forward to hearing the album. Thanks for your time.
The Dean’s List: Thank you, man. We definitely appreciate it.
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