Interview with DJ Double-O
Your new album The In Crowd is coming out in April. Are you happy with how the album is coming out?
Definitely. It’s a weird thing. With School was our Hustle and with this, we started out small. They were both supposed to be these real small, mixtape-type of releases that were supposed to come out prior to Naledge’s solo release Naledge is Power. Then they ended up being a big deal. When Naledge signed a deal with Rawkus first and they wanted a more radio-friendly single, that’s when we went back and we did the Kidz in the Hall street album to build some buzz up just so that it would seem like we were doing something. Once we got the XL from XXL, then it was like, ‘Okay, this is really like a big deal. We have to go push this a certain way.’ But initially it wasn’t thought of like that. It was just a real quick street album to put out. With this, it started out as an EP. It was only supposed to be seven tracks. When we went to go get Sean Price as a guest appearance, that’s how the whole Duck Down situation got started. We just kept on making bigger records and that became what this new album is. It’s weird, the things always seem to just exceed expectations. The people that have been contacting us wanting to be a part of it in the last couple of days has been pretty crazy as well.
Was it an easy decision to go with Duck Down?
Yeah, it was pretty easy. I already had Timbs in the closet and Black and Mild’s were cool. I already had a Jansport so I dusted it off and I was ready to go. (laughs)
With the whole Duck Down thing, I’m not gonna lie, at first I had my reservations about it. Like any regular person, you’ve seen this around forever. You think of Boot Camp and Heltah Skeltah and Buckshot. Up until now, they’ve never really reached up out of that realm of their family and putting out artists, but what I did also realize is that they did have success over the last couple of years with those artists and they were able to maintain a presence in an independent world that wasn’t really popping. They presented us with a real business plan, which no one had done with us before. They want to get to a certain level and they thought we could help take them there. When we saw how serious they were, we saw that it was something that we should seriously think about.
What exactly happened with your first label Rawkus to make you want to leave?
First and foremost, from a business standpoint, it was a one album deal. When we brought the Kidz in the Hall situation to them, we thought of it as something that was just going to be a mixtape thing that we were going to do with somebody else. It was only a one album deal and honestly, they pussyfooted a little too much on the first release and it was one of those things where we realized that you have to be able to pull that trigger when the opportunity is there because as soon as you take that extra week or month or two months, that changes everything and it messes everything up. For us, we needed to go with a label that we thought was really focused on selling records. I think that Rawkus came in and got pulled in a lot of different directions. They wanted to do the internet thing and the Rawkus 50 thing. We needed a record label that was really into pushing records and building stars, that was the other thing as well. That’s really what we were looking for going into this next album. Rawkus was still in consideration, but the reality is they didn’t jump at the chance to do a second project and they wouldn’t have been willing to spend the money necessary to take it to that next level. They’re definitely fans of the work, but sometimes your fans don’t equal good business partners.
What are you guys trying to show on The In Crowd that you didn’t on School was my Hustle?
Finish the album! (laughs) The biggest thing, honestly, for a variety of reasons that was mostly timing, but from the time Rawkus decided that they were going to put out the School Was My Hustle project to the time when it was coming out was literally a month. With almost no budget, it was like we couldn’t get a guest appearance or a bass player unless we were pulling favors. We weren’t in the position in the industry where we had people who were down to do stuff for us on the GP. We were trying to get it done as cheap as possible, which meant I was mixing the record myself with my homeboy at Baseline in two days without really listening and fleshing out the whole record and saying, ‘Okay, this hook is cool but I can make it doper’ or ‘This beat is cool but I could make it doper.’ The songs were done but I couldn’t fully produce them out like I wanted to. With this album, from the start of the first beat to the time it comes out, it’s going to have been a year, even a little longer than a year. Naledge and I have had the opportunity to say, “This beat is dope, now let’s make it doper.” And we’ve grown as artists as well. He’s grown as a lyricist and I’ve grown as a producer. Beatwise, everything is better from my melodies to the way I chop samples. It all happens with experience and it’s a natural progression, really. And we didn’t give a fuck about this album in the sense that we didn’t have a formula that we were following. This is going to break us to a larger audience to people who may know the name but never heard any music or they maybe never heard the name. This is like a new album to them. On this album, we can be whatever the fuck we want.
What made you choose “Drivin’ Down the Block” as your single for The In Crowd?
This had been an idea even before School was my Hustle came out. We did a show with Slick Rick in April of 2006. I had this idea, like, ‘Yo, I wanna chop up Fresh Prince’s “Fresh Like a Million Bucks”. So I had done it and Naladge spit a couple verses on it and I didn’t love the over all song. I knew it was a good idea though. A lot of times when you brush those ideas off a couple years later it’s easier to do. I worked on the beat a little bit more but didn’t worry about it. School was my Hustle came up so I didn’t worry about that. Then last summer I was like, ‘Okay, let me revisit it.’ So I revisited it and I loved the beat but I didn’t love the hook. I was looking for other stuff in the realm of hip-hop. So I pulled out some accapellas from the Beastie Boys but nothing really fit. Then I found an accapella to Masta Ace on iTunes and the rest is history. The chop came pretty easily. I wanted to make sure the Tribe part was in there to acknowledge the Native Tongues, but nothing of mine is fully premeditated. For us, that’s been two years in the making and it wasn’t really anything that was really, really new to us. Naledge dropped some new verses on it and we thought it may be the one as far as breaking us at a certain point. I still love “’Til the Wheels Fall Off” and I still feel that with more money behind it, it could have been on a much bigger level because lyrically and sonically it feels good, but it put us in our own space where we sampled some ’93 ‘Til Infinity shit. They assumed we were backpackers from that record. It’s always been a facet of what we are. I laughed at this the other day, but both of our singles are car-related to a certain extent. I find that shit funny.
Can The In Crowd get you a lot of new fans?
Definitely. I think the biggest thing that we’ve done from that first album to this album is perform. We’ve performed almost all around the world. We haven’t gotten the chance to hit up Australia and Japan yet, but we’ve hit up a lot of the United States. A lot of our music is experience and us seeing what the fans like and what they react to and what they don’t react to and what we like to perform and what we don’t like to perform. All of those things play into us making our album. As a true artist, you’re going to spend more time on the road than you will in the studio and you have to want to have great performances. That’s what this is. And in doing this, a lot of times you’re making songs that will appeal to a larger audience. The songs you make are going to be the ones that are instantly attachable in a performance setting. A lot of times when you make those records they’ll appeal to the fans on a broader level because they feel a certain way. I think that’s the biggest thing. We made great performance pieces as well as great songs.
You also made “Work To Do”, which was meant to be a theme song for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign
First and foremost, Naledge has had a relationship with him for awhile, with him being from Illinois. He sat in Naledge’s living room when he was running for the Senate. He had to convince Naledge’s parents that he was the right person. I think Naledge seeing that, he was instantly attached to him as a candidate. He knew who he was before any of us. For me, it actually took me a longer time because I was from the outside looking in and I saw his celebrity rise faster than anything else he had done. I saw him as being a good celebrity, but was he really going to do anything? The mnore I saw him talk and the more I saw him operate, the more I saw there was substance behind him and he wasn’t just a fresh face for politics. Regardless of where we go, if we get a democrat in office, it’s going to be a huge change and a historic event. Sometimes you need somebody in there who isn’t necessarily a part of the old regime and to have a fresh start. He’s not so left that the good ol’ boys, as they would say, around Capital Hill, will be so opposed to what he would do, that he would be able to get a lot accomplished in his term there if he is elected the democratic candidate and as president. With “Work to Do”, we realize that there’s a lot of work that has to be done on all levels in this country. We started with that song and it was one of those things. I guess our manager brought it up as a joke and then we saw if we could make it happen. We were able to get in touch with the people in the campaign and we took the initiative to record a new version of it and we pushed it online and they were like, ‘Okay, let’s endorse it.’ It’s just a great thing when any song that you make gets recognized on that level, on any level, really, because a lot of stuff, even with this album, “Drivin’ Down the Block” was recorded in my bedroom. To be recorded in my bedroom and then to be on national radio and MTV is ridiculous. But it just goes to show that if you put your mind to this stuff you can make anything happen.
What did you think of 50 Cent saying that America wasn’t ready for a Black president?
That’s the republican in 50 Cent! It’s weird though. I don’t think he’s that wrong. I think it has the undertone that people aren’t ready and I definitely think that there are people who are kind of like, ‘Well, if he gets the candidacy for the democratic side, he’s automatically going to lose.’ I don’t think it’s as extreme as 50 made it and even he said that he thinks in extremes. He said he would get killed if he made it. I think that if he does make it, it’s going to be a huge, huge boost for just the morale in America and definitely in minority populations that it can happen, but I still think there’s a lot of racism. Racism is not gone. It’s going to take the youth of America that has grown up on hip-hop and has grown up with a certain level of equality and diversity to really get him into office because the good ol’ boys, they don’t want that to happen.
Kidz in the Hall teamed up with Mick Boogie to release Detention as a free download. Was that project a success?
It was actually a weird thing. We signed our deal during that whole thing happening and we went on tour and I think that it definitely was a success in the sense that people got to see a side of Kidz in the Hall that was more current. I think that our fans needed to see that and we needed to have music out. I guess it definitely tied us over until the new album came out. It came out at a great time, probably a perfect time with all the great things going on like Obama and the deal and the Redman tour. It helped us stay in the audience. We didn’t have to shoot anybody to maintain a certain level of press. We didn’t have to do any Dirty Sanchez tapes or any of that. I don’t think they’re ready for my sex tape to come out.
I guess you’ll have to keep it on the backburner.
Oh yeah. I’m going to keep it on the backburner. I’m just going to keep on adding scenes until it becomes a Best Of and then I’m going to drop it on Koch with a soundtrack.
I’m going after the population that still buys records and that’s females! (laughs)
What do you have to do from here on out to make The In Crowd a success?
The video is a key component and getting that done. I think that once the video comes into play, it’s about getting into these tours. There’s some things that are in the works. At the end of the day, it’s just going to be seeing more of Kidz in the Hall and people seeing more of who we are. I think that we have great, I’m talking about four or five singles deep, in this record, as far as optional singles that we have. It’s going to be one of those things where we just kind of have to push harder. This is another first album for us. I don’t consider it a second album. We have a fanbase definitely, but the fanbase isn’t 700,000 people or 10 million people. Us, we’re starting over again. We have to win over fans and we have to go through the process all over again. We have to keep it moving. It’s inevitable the music is going to speak for itself. It just has to be in all the places it needs to be.
As a producer, will you be doing more outside production?
Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff in the works. Because I’m doing so many features on this album, there’s a lot of things that I’m probably going to end up doing. I’m working with more of the up-and-coming artists like Skyzoo and Dynas and Daytona, he’s Cipha Sounds’ artist. I’m doing stuff in that realm. There’s some stuff I submitted to Gym Class Heroes. I submitted some stuff for Nina Sky’s new album. I’m just doing it across the board. I actually just completed one of the remixes for the Mood Muzik 3 remix project that DJ Benzi is doing and they’re putting it out for Joe Budden. That’s another project that’s coming out, I guess pretty damn-soon. I’m actually doing the mix on that right now. And yeah, I’m definitely looking at working with a bunch of artists. The thing is, at this point, it’s one of those things where unless you have a smash hit, people aren’t’ going to be running, running for you and at you. For me, I think it’s different because I’m half artist, half producer. A lot of times producers can sit at home and make beats all day. I’m on the road. I’ll be in Slovakia or Prague and performing. I definitely have to select the projects that I know I can work with and just make sure that I can give it my best foot forward. My thing is not so much about working with 50 million artists as much as it is about working with the right artists. I see me doing more along the lines of a Mark Ronson or Danger Mouse. I want to do projects that are going to withstand the test of time instead of just “be there”.
You’ve been cool with Just Blaze for awhile. How has he helped you as a producer?
A lot of it was just me sitting in the studio. I came from the old school, New York, gritty-grimy sound that has all kinds of fucked up noise and sound quality in it with the sample and the drums that hit hard. When I got to the West Coast, one of the first things I learned was how to engineer well. Just was one of those people that had both of those aspects already. He was able to make the polished, hard-hitting but still very East Coast, still very sample-heavy records. So I think that me seeing what the completed product looked like and being able to see that, definitely helped me. And at the end of the day, I’m trying to make those kind of hits, those kind of hip-hop records. He’s just been a mentor to Naledge and I. We would make records and he would send back what he thought worked and what he thought didn’t and what he thought we could do to make this record bigger than it could be. So we took that nod applied it to what we thought could make our record even bigger. We feel our fans and we still study this game so we look at what works and what doesn’t work and how audiences are reacting to certain kinds of things and just random marketing stuff that we can apply to making bigger and better music.
What’s the next move for Double O right now?
In terms of the solo stuff, I’m doing a dance remix mixtape with my man out of Chicago, but that’s been kind of put on hold because we’ve both been busy. I’m doing the Mood Muzik 3 remix project that Benzi is doing. I’m just working on a lot of stuff. I’m submitting stuff for Nina Sky and John Legend. I’m working on the Naledge project. I have a pretty heavy hand in that. I’ll probably do between four and six songs. I’m really making sure that that comes out and that we do it right. It’s all about Kidz in the Hall getting to the right point because if we don’t do that, none of that other shit matters. That’s about it and fucking a little more celebrity girls, you know, the typical.