On Talib Kwelis Right About Now, he chronicled the rise and subsequent fall of the largest independent Hip-Hop label of the late 90s: Rawkus Records. This label introduced the world to Mos Def, Company Flow, Kweli, and reintroduced Kool G Rap and Pharoahe Monch tragically faded in a flash of layoffs, mergers, and push-backs. But four years after its last success in Get By, the label is doing just that with a youthful duo.
Naledge and Double O claim Pete Rock & CL Smooth and Gang Starr as their influences. A Chicago MC and New Jersey producer, they met at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania, and clearly studied the classics from the crates, not the library. With the release of School Was My Hustle the group says that while first week sales arent any indication, the success of Rawkus may be riding on their polo rugby shoulders. Backed by a name that symbolizes grassroots success in Hip-Hop, see if this group has what it takes to stand out in a cramped fourth quarter, let alone your iPod.
AllHipHop.com: Chicagos had a big year for Hip-Hop, but the sales havent been there. Rhymefests numbers were frightening. Lupe didnt do as well as people expected. Looking at the marketplace over the last few months, has the vision for this album changed at all?
Naledge: I dont think it did at all. Rhymefest had his own vision: he wanted to carry out the Blue Collar theme. He had a lot of issues with people at J [Records] were trying to push him in a certain way. I think his second album will be a lot different, wherever it comes out. Lupe is more eclectic than anything that I would ever do. Were two different people, two different MCs. The union that [Kidz in the Hall] have, is music we made four and five years ago. We mapped this out a long time ago. I dont think anything thats happened in the climate of the game has changed it. I dont think its a Chicago thing, its a Hip-Hop thing. Cause Twistas album has nothin to do with what Im gonna do. [Laughs]
AllHipHop.com: But the industry lumps things together, and those I mentioned seem more likely than that.
Naledge: I think with my solo album, the climate will be different. Its coming out in February or March. Im still cuttin records. I just feel like what Im doing is pure Hip-Hop. Pure Hip-Hop fans, theyre gonna like it. Not only that, but me being on Rawkus, I dont have to deal with a lot of the major label bulls**t of havin a big first week. Ill win if I move 100,000. I dont think Rhymefest can say, I dont think Lupe can say that, I dont think a lot of these cats can say that.
Double O: Our in-thing is how do we get onto peoples iPods? Because thats where people are listening to their music. The people that are listening to radio are dropping off.
Naledge: The mixtape is almost dead, and the street team is slowly dying. The new guerilla marketing is the Internet and the computer. Its seamless. People arent leaving their homes anymore to get music. Rawkus bought into this theory, and its a theory we adopted.
AllHipHop.com: The same people who were in line to get Company Flow, High & Mighty, Mos Def dont feel like theyre the same people who would care about Procussions or Panacea. There isnt that market presence. Do you worry that the Rawkus name doesnt mean anything anymore?
Naledge: Its weird, cause a lot of people were left with a funny taste in their mouth when Rawkus left the first time. Sometimes, we face repercussions of that when we talk to people about Rawkus. But were trying to convince people that other than [owners] Brian [Brater] and Jarret [Meyer], its a completely new regime. People will ask me about A&Rs there are no A&Rs. [Laughs] None of those people work there anymore; theres two people at Rawkus. We just feel like were creating a new generation. Were creating a new Black Star, a new Reflection Eternal but were not emulating them, just spawning into something new.
AllHipHop.com: Youve got a record on the album, Move on Up that seems to speak largely to a Black fanbase. I dont have a sense that the releases that the new Rawkus has put out are being picked up by a majority of people of color. How much work do you both have to do to reach your intended audience?
Naledge: I dont view that as an issue. Public Enemy sold millions of records, Talib Kweli, dead prez even Mos Def. I write about my reality, and the issues that I had to fight for and speak about. Thats what drew the original Rawkus fans, authenticity and unwillingness to bend what Im saying. That is what people accepted before. Ill be real with you: I feel we are the future of Rawkus. Theres other groups on Rawkus, but I feel like if we tank, then this whole s**t is tankin. If you notice, when we came up, thats when people said, Rawkus is back. Those other [artists] records are out, and theyre not doing the same types of interviews that were doing.
Double O: It reminds me of the mid-90s era when Def Jam was real iffy. In that, it didnt have the strength in its brand, it didnt have anything. Then, all of a sudden, bam DMX, Jay-Z, Ja Rule changes the tide of everything. People bought Company Flow, people bought Black Star. It wasnt until later on that it was, Oh, its a Rawkus release, I have to pick it up. We cant rely on the fact that Rawkus had a strong name.
AllHipHop.com: You both seem to be interested in marketing. I know you guys were very active in the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity at University of Pennsylvania. People talk about the power of the Black Fraternity as a networking tool. Do you think thatll play into something as mundane as releasing an album?
Naledge: Im a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, and I feel like there will be brothers across the nation who would be like, Id support him, just on the strength. Hes real. Hes gotta be about some of the ideals Im about, because I know what it takes to be in my fraternity. I think it will help on a grassroots level. Seeing that its rooted in a college level, I think itd help. Id be a fool not to think that it wont. But Im not abusing that situation. Ive had a lot of brothers reach out to me on that strength already though. That speaks volumes when youre on a low budget. I dont know how people view me, I think people view me as like the Cosby kid or something. Ill definitely use it to my advantage. [Laughs]
AllHipHop.com: Double O, as a producer, what were you doing before Kidz in the Hall, and what are you up to on the side now?
Double O: Prior to Kidz in the Hall, I was grinding in L.A. I was doing the placement [of beats] in R&B. It was hard for me to find anybody that I f**ked with lyrically as much as Naledge, period, anywhere. This was always the plan since 2000. Eventually, doing things outside of the music, Id meet the people who would bring us [together] in Just Blaze and some other people. Other than that, Ive done some engineering work I was second engineer over at Sony [Studios] for Destinys Child, Changing Faces, Missy, Ms. Jade, Petey Pabo. Ive engineered a couple mixtapes for MC Lyte. Ive done some remixes with John Legend, cause we both went to school together. Yeah, thats about it. I made a specific decision to ride with the Kidz in the Hall thing and stop doing outside projects when we really focused on grinding this. The decision worked. Right now, Young Gunz have picked up some stuff. Other than that, Teedra Moses is writing to some stuff. I kinda want to make my way into R&B, and put my stamp in Hip-Hop with [Kidz in the Hall]. Im saving some stuff for the top of the year [Laughs] unless I get on the Jay-Z album.
AllHipHop.com: Is that a possibility?
Double O: Uhhh [laughs] thats a whole other story. Youll know about it soon enough.
AllHipHop.com: Just Blaze was initially billed to be executive producer of this album. Whether or not thats still the case, do you think his role in the group pulled focus from your abilities, and made people hungry for his element?
Double O: It wasnt that much. Truthfully, thats probably more [apparent] on Saigons project than with ours. Because theres so much riding on Fort Knox and Saigon, with Just doing the entire album. Whereas, with our situation, people knew about it before he became [involved]. Theyve definitely heard us before Just Blaze. Hes gonna executive produce [Naledges album], not Kidz. I mixed our entire album at Baseline [Studios]. Were always bouncing ideas off him.
AllHipHop.com: You talk a lot about alcohol on this record, something Common also did in the late 90s. What role do you think drinking played in making School Was My Hustle.
Naledge: You wanna live righteously, but you still gotta recognize your faults. I recognize that in the Hip-Hop culture, a lot of it is built off of youth and rebellion. Being young, you develop habits. Im from the Southside of Chicago, and I hung out with people that were drinkin and smokin at the age of 13. [On mixtapes, I had a song] Clothes, Hoes, and Liquor a lot of people associate me with that song. How this kid talkin this when he went to an Ivy League What the f**k, you think cause I went people from Ivy Leagues drink more than anybody I ever met. They got more money to go buy the drink. [Laughs] They worry about clothes more than mothaf**kas in the hood. The s**t just isnt on blast. I had more sex [in college] than after I went to college. Everybody has vices. I acknowledge my vices. Its a ritual. For me, it was alcohol. A lot of my memories, a lot of the stories I tell, I can almost name you the liquor that was associated with it. At the same time, Ive had periods of time where I need to focus and stop drinkin. I dont think I have a problem, but its times where Ill quit drinkin to get my mind clear. Like Common said on The Truth with Pharoahe Monch, Constantly I seek it / But I need a six-pack to speak it. But, at the same time, De La Soul [on Declaration] also said, I never use the weed as a ghostwriter.