Monday, December 11, 2006

Kidz In the Hall Break Bread with Browneph

(Left to right: Smartness, Naledge, Double-O, Lightness)


So, a few weeks back Smartness and I offered our initial take on Kidz In the Hall, the PENN bred hip-hop duo that is set to put (the now Geffen independent) Rawkus Records back on the map. In the interim Smartness got on his MySpace grind, setting up a dinner interview with the Kidz. They were gracious enough to agree to break bread with the two of us at a mutually convenient time.

While preparation for our sit-down took the form of composing a laundry list of questions and putting School Was My Hustle on heavy iPod rotation, we most looked forward to breaking bread with these dudes because they’re representative of our blogging demographic: cats with formal schooling who expect more from hip-hop than what contemporary culture parades. A word of caution to those of you who would be quick to dismiss this seemingly Pollyannaish attitude towards hip-hop: it shouldn’t be mistaken as an overly righteous or condescending concept, but one that’s certainly refreshing when the popular hip-hop landscape regularly leaves you feeling like a foster child.

Punctual and unassuming, the Kidz got up with us at one of our favorite restaurants, all the while, Smartness and I desperately hoped they wouldn’t break open the wine menu or venture to look towards the seafood section of culinary offerings—this blogging hustle hasn’t jumped off like that quite yet and we’ve got school loans to handle!


Flash back ten minutes and I’m on the 2 train thumbing through the liner notes of School Was My Hustle. “Wassup Jo” is bumping through the headphones and Crackhead Jo is putting on a show for some pocket change. I’m dually enthralled by the latter’s performance and the former’s perfect amalgam of sound and lyric. Yet I’m mystified as I thumb through the credits because I’m certain that Just Blaze, hip-hop producer extraordinaire, produced a good portion of the album. The credits, however, seem to indicate otherwise.

When I arrive at the restaurant, Lightness and I briefly discuss the hearsay that circumvented the making of the “Show Me What You Got” beat. We would soon find out how the Kidz dealt with this pseudo-controversy and, more importantly, how they felt about it. In many ways the story behind this speaks volumes on the fierce musicality and calculated business savvy that these gentlemen possess.

Upon the Kidz’ entrance we recognized each other immediately, greeting one another with daps before being directed to our seats. With menus in hand they observed the options, while Lightness and I pulled out the pen and pad.

(Naledge and Double-O take the time to sign our liner notes)


After making reasonably priced selections from the menu --which my wallet truly appreciates! -- We broke into casual conversation that covered a range of topics from their history as a duo to the expected guest appearances for Naledge’s solo debut in the spring of next year. As expected, our discussion assumed a conversational tone, the exchange being one that solidified the Kidz as our peers with an extraordinary opportunity to distinguish themselves along a non-traditional, yet enviable, career path.

Notably, the Kidz came across as cultural enthusiasts first, artists second. With Double-O’s inspiration on the turntables formed after seeing the expressive power of the wheels of steel in Juice and Naledge’s lyrical ability conceived at adolescence through the outlet of poetry, it’s only fitting that their genuine passion for the art form would be further cultivated in their collaboration. The fact that artistic expression is their central and motivating factor speaks to their ability to break the popular mold of cookie cutter beats and easily digestible rhyme schemes (see: popular urban radio).


This passion for the art was not just evident in their rhetoric; to quote the Illadelph native, “it’s all in the music.” Double-O, whose alias was birthed after countless night-saving rescue missions as a for-hire DJ, was born and raised on the East Coast. Yet his commitment to his craft is evident in the soulful and distinct Chi-town feel of many of the albums’ beats. With bars like, “DJ’s is prostitutes, once you pay they fuck with you,” Naledge can be fiercely critical of the industry. But he manages to put forth a lyrically balanced album spitting about everything from his own hypocrisy on Hypocrite to tales of middle class drug escapades in Dumbass Tales.

When it comes to creating their music, the process often varies but the approach is always meticulous. Most hip-hop artists will often acquire a beat and subsequently conceive the idea which then manifests itself in the lyrics. The Kidz explained that their creative process can begin any number of ways, but that more often than not, one approaches the other with an idea that serves as the impetus for the creative juices to begin flowing.

The end result is a lyrical feel and musical ambiance that comes across as real. And the Kidz will be the first to tell you that their style is neither generic nor conformist. Don’t let degrees from one of the most prestigious schools in the country fool you into pigeonholing their symphonious cipher. When asked about how they felt concerning being put in a box on account of their ivy education, Naledge adamantly reassured us that the Kidz are the ones doing the defining in saying, “I define cool. I define Hip-Hop.”


While the Kidz distinguishing factor is their Ivy League pedigree, ironically, that is one of the last reasons anyone should make the effort to listen to them. They’d be just as credible having attended your local community college.

As more glamorized forms of hustling are littered throughout coke rap (see: Rick Ross “Hustlin’”) they consider school to be just as legitimate a form of hustle, emphasizing the veracity of their craft to the masses. The Kidz hustlin’ spirit was embodied in their account of a hip-hop industry e-newsletter written under the alias “Joe Scratch”. Addressed to an A-list of industry insiders in an attempt to establish their connects, their periodical ruffled more than a few industry feathers. In one high stakes scenario, their playful promulgation of the Ciara transvestite rumor got to a point where MTV’s Sway and Ci-Ci’s publicist had to personally follow-up with them to squash the buzz.

As for their take on contemporary hip-hop, they made it clear that the opportunity for fresh voices to be heard is expanding, with listeners seeking fresh perspective from unlikely sources (think: Eminem’s emergence, Kanye’s introduction to the game, etc.) and the internet leveling the playing field for who can be heard. Naledge cited one of the defining characteristics of a contemporary star within hip-hop as his or her ability to be identifiable to the masses while the aura of their artistry makes them appear larger than life (think: Jay-Z’s street demeanor, yet unattainable level of success and classic artistry).


More importantly, they recognize the necessity for realness in contemporary hip-hop. As they discussed the state of hip-hop with us, it became apparent that the revolution they speak of (“Let it be known the revolution is here”) is one of unfeigned and unique experience. Everyone has a story to tell, but as of late, a more and more homogenized narrative has emerged. One can only rightly assume that the uniformity is indicative of generic business model catered to what the industry and artist believe to be the demands of the consumer. But if there is one maxim in hip-hop that has stood the test of time it is that real recognizes real. So if you want to follow a business model, follow this: If you build it on realness, they will come.

For all intents and purposes the Kidz are staying true to themselves and true to hip-hop. When it comes down to it, hip-hop was founded upon the tenets of “keepin’ it real.” It is this principle that permits the Kidz to listen to both Talib and Lil’ Wayne, Little Brother and Jay-Z, Nas and Ghostface -- the list goes on. Real portrayal, as they see it, is synonymous with neither pontificating nor stuntin’; it has much more to do with the diversity of experience in hip-hop and the heterogeneity of the face of hip-hop as the movement grows older.

So when Naledge nonchalantly states, “my father is my hero,” those five words carry with them the potential to shake things up in the hip-hop movement. And a shake-up is desperately needed at this juncture in hip-hop’s life. Don’t quite see it? Then consider the following: when we asked Naledge whether he made a conscious effort to refrain from using the word bitch, he placed one hand on his chin and stared at his plate. It took him only a second to respond but from the way he looked at his plate, I gather he was just as intrigued about it as we were. “It wasn’t a conscious effort,” he replied, “It’s just not me…I’ll say broad quicker than I’ll say bitch…Having a mother and sister that’s like the ultimate slap in the face.”

While many of our inquiries dealt with rhymes and word choice, one of the more pressing question we wanted to ask had to do with “the rumor.” When we were finally able to ask Double-O how he felt about the whole “Show Me What You Got” situation, we were astonished by his response. On The business side of him saw the potential the beat could afford the Kidz while the hip-hop aficionado in him was elated to have Just Blaze tweak and Hove rhyme over a beat of his creation. The latter reaction reflected a type of humility you don’t see too often in the game. It’s a virtue that can only be attained when you study the very same craft that you work tirelessly to hone. Very much in the tradition of Sankofa, these men have knowledge of and respect for the forefathers in hip-hop; and the resultant humility is the root from which greatness is cultivated.

Keeping in the mood of revisiting the past, our discussion turned to days of yore. No conversation about hip-hop can truly be complete without looking back to step forward. As he led us through a nostalgic reminiscence about House Party and A Different World, Double-0 noted that, “back in the day college was in.” Given the facility with which the Kidz were able to recount the characters in these sitcoms/movies, it isn’t surprising that they would seek out a university that attempted to mimic the type of intelligent and diverse community that these shows personified.


The geographical backdrop of their undergraduate years, Philadelphia was identified by (former intern) Naledge as one of the main reasons he elected to attend PENN; not simply the fact that it was a prestigious ivory tower. Double-O confirmed such, recounting the industry connects that have come through the Illadelph ivory tower and the foundation of his friendship with John Legend long before he connected with Kanye. To be clear, these connects didn’t make things any easier for the Kidz’, but they did provide some of the inspiration needed to stay on their grind. As such inspiration is fundamental to any hustle, the Kidz made it clear that the backing of families, friends and coaches (see: Belize’s 400m hurdle representation in the 2004 Olympics) was major in keeping them on the less orthodox career path that is hip-hop.

With Naledge's solo album dropping in the middle of next year and potential collaborations with the likes of Jay Electronica, Rhymefest, Lupe Fiasco, Cornel West, Talib Kweli, Common, Ra-Soul, Pete Rock and 9th Wonder, the Kidz postgraduate years will be closely watched from the virtual windows of Postgraduate Musings.

School was also our hustle!


Brother Smartness said...

As an addendum, we should also mention that the Kidz are HipHopGame's "November Artist of the Month."

Brother Lightness said...

E said... guys are major! Now all you need is for ?uestlove to drop by the blog...

E said...

Celebrate Christmas early, Dipset style (if you don't have it already):