Here's a chat with a duo which look set to put Rawkus back on the hiphop map in a big way. Producer Double-O and MC Naledge talk about hooking up, their debut album and what the future holds.
First up, who are you and how did you meet?
Naledge: Well plainly put, I am Jabari Evans and I met Michael Aguilar at the University of Pennsylvania. Together we are the Kidz in the Hall and the future of Rawkus Records. The re-juvenation of hip-hop, if you will.
Double-0: This is DJ Double-0, the DJ & producer in the group Kidz In The Hall. We met at the University Of Pennsylvania at a talent show Naledge performed in.
What were you studying at uni and how does the study effect your creativity?
Naledge: I studied Communication and study never effected my creativity. My studies only advanced my creativity. I believe that the more worldly a person is, the broader a person's subject matter can be. To me, Rap is like to have a conversation with a group of listeners. The more things you can talk about, the more people you can attract to you. Who wants to talk about the same shit everyday? Well, some very well may not mind doing that, but I am not that type of person. School is part of the process of gaining self identity, knowledge and life experience, all of which help me as an emcee.
Double-0: I was studying Systems Engineering in school. Study affected creativity a little but creating was a release to all of the work so they almost played off each other. The hardest thing to handle was time. Between music, school and athletics. it was a tough schedule.
When did you first start making music and who were some of your biggest influences and inspirations?
Naledge: I started at the age of 13, writing lyrics and poetry. My influences stem less from musicians than those people who are in my everyday life. My Mother and Father inspire me way more than Jay-Z. Many conversations with my parents have inspired my verses. Still, to answer the question, Common was my favourite rapper as a child but I also loved Nas, Outkast and Tribe Called Quest. For the most part I am a old soul. I listen to a lot of old soul records and jazz. I am a big Roy Hargrove fan and I love Al Green.
Double-0: I started DJing around 9th grade and producing in my second year in college. Some of my biggest inspirations musically have been Timbaland, Tricky, The Neptunes, Rza, Just Blaze and just music in general. Whether it is old or new, I can find something dope about it. Life is my biggest inspiration though. Experiences and environments bleed into my music constantly.
Where are you guys from and how do you think your environment has influenced your sound and content?
Naledge: I am from Chicago. This shaped me because Chicago is a really soulful and blue collar place. It is also very racially segregated and is home to many civic organizations dedicated to the cause of race relations. All of this makes me a more "conscious" emcee. Chicago actually made me more militant and educated on history of Black people than going to school did. College actually taught me to have more fun and to embrace the blessings one is given. Work hard and play hard was the Penn motto.
Double-0: Born in Brooklyn, raised in New Jersey. My family is from Belize and Suriname and I think all of that influences my music.
Can you run us by the key records you've put out in your careers so far?
Naledge: Um… We just dropped the 'School Was My Hustle' album and I'd say from that project there is no one record that is more important than the others. A lot of people seem to know me from the 'My Country' song that I did with Just Blaze, 'Clothes, Hoes and Liquor' but the 'Wheels Fall Off' single, that we just released recently, is considered by many the best 'Kidz' record..
Double-0: Well, this is our first album so it is most important, but we released a few mixtapes, 'College Graduate', 'The Amazing Race', 'Doogie Howser', 'MC' and 'Will Rap For Food'.
How much of an industry advantage was working with Just Blaze, and what's the biggest thing you learnt from the guy?
Naledge: Just makes people listen. It's then only our job to leave them impressed. Just has taught me that if you want to be consistent at what you do, you have to really love the music, strive for perfection and surround yourself with like minded people.
Double-0: It's a sizable advantage to have the biggest hiphop producer in the game co-signing you. You get looks that you probably wouldnt have recieved without the association, but if the music was wack, no association in the world could help you. The biggest thing I've learned is be prepared. You never know when opportunity arises.
How did you end up being signed to the legendary Rawkus Records?
Naledge: John Monopoly.
Tell us about what the label's like these days. Who's in charge and what's the parent company?
Naledge: Brian and Jarret are the company. Everyone else working for Rawkus is being outsourced. Sony Red is the dstributor for the label. We havent had too many issues with Rawkus. Everything is going smoothly.
Double-0: They cut a lot of the fat from the previous label so we are dealing strictly with the owners… Brian & Jarrett. They are distributed by Sony Red now…
Do you feel a lot of pressure being the first artists to come out of the relaunched Rawkus?
Naledge: Not at all. We make good music and good music always has a home. We haven't gotten co-signed for no reason. We make dope hiphop music. Whether the people choose to support it is up to the marketing and promotion of our music.
Double-0: No more pressure than we put on ourselves to succeed in this game. We will define what the new Rawkus is so we must succeed before the label is truly revived.
Out of all the records and artists linked to Rawkus over the years, what stands out in memory as being your favourite?
Naledge: I truly think Blackstar's record is the standout full album in the catalog. 'Soundbombing' one and Reflection Eternal are close behind. As far as singles, you have 'Get By', 'Simon Says', 'Miss Fat Booty' and 'The Blast'.
Double-0: Definitely 'Black on Both Sides' for me. I just enjoyed Mos Def's musical journey. He took chances and pushed hiphop's boundaries.
How hectic has your schedule been promoting the new album 'School Was My Hustle'?
Naledge: Nothing worse than anything I faced being a student athlete at an Ivy League School.
Double-0: It's been pretty hectic but it can always be more busy… haha. The way I see it, I need as many opportunities as humanly possible to let people know about our music and movement.
Tell us about the project. How long did you work on it and what can we expect on a lyrical and production tip?
Naledge: The project kind of just happened. We didnt have a plan. We just had years of material built up and decided to make an album out of it while waiting for the label to put my solo record out. Our music is the native tongues on steriods.
Double-0: It took us about two years to shell out the album that would be 'School Was My Hustle' and shell out the core songs for Naledge's debut.
Your DJ/MC format follows the likes of Gangstarr and Pete Rock & CL Smooth. How much do you think hiphop's been missing this?
Naledge: I'm not quite sure how much they missed the format so much as it misses cohesive albums. Like me and Double O are homeboys but he is also the most creative producer I know. We have fun doing what we are doing and those groups inspired our creative process so we hope to do it for someone else.
Double-0: I think this format is extremely important in creating real movements and carving a space in this hiphop world. With a unique sound and experience, you hopefully create a product that will mark a moment in time. Often times. people just go with whomever is hot in terms of producers and even though the beats are dope, the final product sounds more like a 'best of' than an actual album.
What are some of the recent records and artists you're really enjoying and who'd you most like to collaborate with?
Naledge: I loved Common's last album. I like Little Brother, Lil Wayne, Clipse, John Mayer, Outkast, Jill Scott, Lupe and Robin Thicke.
Double-0: Defintely The Clipse, Kardinal Offishal, Lil Wayne, J Davey, Outkast… I enjoy and would love to collaborate with anyone who takes this music thing seriously and isn't afriad to push boundaries.
People are always optimistic about the mainstream hiphop tide turning and things getting better. How healthy is it right now?
Naledge: Um… There's some good, some bad and some ugly. Every music has its phase in the cycle.
Double-0: Funny thing is, it almost doesn't matter. With the internet and the ability to instantly obtain music and store hundreds of albums on your hip, mainstream means less and less. But in terms of MTV hiphop, being properly represented, I think it has to get better. These large corporations won't support something for too long that is that full of fluff, especially when it doesnt sell.
Are you focused on the US market right now or can we expect a UK launch/promotion sometime soon?
Naledge: We love the UK market! They have embraced our music so much. We'd love to do some shows out in the UK. We definitely plan on spreading some of our promotion out that way on a larger scale but that will probably come closer to my solo record. In the meantime, we really just want to spread the movement organically.
Double-0: I'm just waiting on the word… I would love to come to the UK. I am anxious to interact with the fans and make new ones.
How often are you getting the opportunity to perform live and what goes down at a typical Kids In The Hall show?
Naledge: Shows are popping up more and more. We just get on stage, perform with same energy we felt creating the records. We love to have fun and entertain the crowd.
Double-0: We are performing more and more now, especially after the album dropped stateside. With a Kidz show you get a raw energy hiphop show. Be ready to rock out.
With all said and done, what do you want to have achieved when you're retired and looking back on your time in music?
Naledge: Musically, I just want to put out timeless hiphop albums over and over again. If I can tour the world spreading my word, inspiring others and still feed my family, I'm good. I plan to use rap as a platform for myself to venture in other forms of media and also help my community. I'd like to be seen as a innovator, prolific writer and a lyrical genius. Still, Grammy or two would be nice…
Double-0: I want to have pushed music, hopefully to a different level, and left a real mark in the hiphop lineage.
Have you got any shout outs you'd like to throw out there to wrap this up with?
Naledge: Shout out to Major League, Hustle, Rawkus and Chicago. Kidz In The Hall.com. Shouts to Stevie Willams and DGK and Dave Jeff from PHLI. 'School Was My Hustle' is in stores right now!
Double-0: Shouts to the fans and all the supporters. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak our voice in the music world.