In the mid-1990’s, three aspiring artists from Brownsville, Brooklyn – blood brothers Smoothe Da Hustler and Trigger Tha Gambler, along with their childhood friend and hook provider, D.V. Alias Khryst - turned the Hip Hop world upside down by managing to make the most rugged records into radio smashes that should have catapulted all three into superstardom.
But unfortunately, D.V., the singer-rapper whose sanpapery soulful vocals drove “Dollar Bill” from Smoothe Da Hustler’s timeless debut, Once Upon a Time in America, suffered similar setbacks to those of Smoothe and Trigger following both his and Trigger’s botched deals with Def Jam Records.
Subsequent deals with Tommy Boy Records for Trigger (as one-half of the Smith Bros. with Smoothe) and Khryst (via Maseo from De La Soul’s short-lived label, Bear Mountain) also failed to produce product for retail. Now the CEO of his own label, DGSUP Inc (distributed by Rap Legends/EMI), D.V. is sidestepping the industry obstacles that once blocked his career progression and controlling his own fate.
In advance of the May 21st release of Is – the second EP available for free download via DgsupInc.com in a four-part series leading up to the September retail release of D.V.’s debut full-length, M.I.N.G. (Money Is Not God) – the east coast equivalent to Nate Dogg spoke to HipHopDX. Khryst discussed his musical tribute to the recently deceased hook king (and how he referenced a hook for Nate that went on to become a standout appearance for another singing spitter), how he nearly sang a Notorious B.I.G. sung hook for Frank White, how his time rockin’ with De La Soul was corrupted by the same foe the GZA once scornfully dismissed, and maybe most notably how D.V., Smoothe and Rhymefest came to be collectively constructing a song for Dr. Dre’s long-delayed Detox.
HipHopDX: In the Timeless feature for Once Upon a Time in America, I asked Smoothe [Da Hustler] about the origins of your rap-singing – if that began before Nate Dogg’s national introduction on [Snoop Doggy Dogg’s] “Ain’t No Fun.” Are questions like that what led you to remake “Ain’t No Fun” following Nate’s passing?
D.V. Alias Khryst: No. Actually, what led me to do that was literally to pay homage to Nate Dogg. And [also], because that was one of his most popular records …. So it just made better sense in doing a tribute to him to redo one of the records that he was most [known for].
DX: I understand you actually chopped it up with Nate at one point?
D.V. Alias Khryst: Yeah, I met him through a friend of mine …. She was doing work with Loud [Records] at the time …. She had spoke to me about her relationship with Nate and wanting to bring us together. So we had met at the Cutting Room sound stage … and we had spoke for a minute. I had a track produced by one of the producers in my camp … and he had redid the track that Ashanti used for “Rain on Me,” and I had this really dope concept that I wanted me and [Nate Dogg] to do and I spoke to him about it. And he seemed receptive, but then he didn’t. And we kicked it a few times after that, and due to just his touring with Snoop [Dogg] and stuff that I was doing at the time with Smoothe and them and just other projects that I was working on … it never happened.
She really pushed for me and him to do that record because she knew the importance of it. [For] me, I’ve always been funny about that whole “I’m the east coast Nate Dogg” scenario. Because, if you really think about it, nobody from the east coast of high stature ever really put me on their records. Jay-Z never put me on any of his records. Fabolous went to Nate Dogg for [the "Can't Deny It"] chorus. Me and 50 Cent did work with each other, but he never put that record out …. I was supposed to sing “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)” on [The Notorious B.I.G.’s] Life After Death album, and I don’t know what happened with that not happening .… I’ve only did records with east coast artists that were relatively on the underground scene. And so, for me to be called the east coast Nate Dogg is kinda a smack in the face to him, because every piece of work that he’s done has been with heavy hitters …. He’s done records that’ve achieved multi-platinum success. And me being a realist, and being honest with myself, none of the features that I’ve been on have seen [that level of success].
DX: You mentioned Biggie, did he reach out to you personally?
D.V. Alias Khryst: No, my attorney … had called me around the time of that project being worked on and told me that someone that he had spoke to – don’t remember their name – had inquired about me doing that record. I was very excited when I heard about that, because [I had] known Biggie for some time …. I was around Big and [Lil] Cease and them - and Smoothe was around these dudes - smoking blunts on the stoop with these dudes before a lot of this stuff transpired and went the direction that it went. So, to see his career go the way it went, and for me to had gotten an [invitation] to do a record with him on the [strength] of how our paths [had] always crossed – even from the “Dead Presidents” video shoot with Jay-Z, and showing Smoothe and everybody that was at the round table – I [thought it] would be a wonderful opportunity. But, when it didn’t happen I was a little funked about it because I felt like that could have been a great opportunity for the world to hear me and to give me the platform to really show people what I’m made of, [as] opposed to the box that I’ve been placed in.
DX: Speaking of great platforms, I understand you got it in recently with the legendary Dr. Dre? Are we gonna hear D.V. on that Detox?
D.V. Alias Khryst: Alonzo [Jackson] had came into town - who is an individual who works very closely with Dre. He had came to Quad [Recording Studios]. And, a friend of mine by the name of Chris Styles, from Dangerous LLC, had then introduced me to Alonzo [while] laying a chorus for the Detox project. In the studio with me was Rhymefest and Smoothe Da Hustler. … Smoothe is a profound writer. He wrote for Chuck D. and Public Enemy and Foxy Brown and a few other people. So I was like, “You know what? Rhymefest, [you and Smoothe] should write the verse for Dre and I’ll sing the chorus.” The [song] was called “Things Change.” And the beat was incredible! I can definitely say the chorus is incredible. If Dre doesn’t use this chorus … I don’t know, man. … Alonzo was impressed by the performance. So, we’ll see what happens. I did that for Detox like … I wanna say 2009. Like, when [Dre] first was sending Alonzo to New York to get people to start [contributing to Detox].
DX: I wanna take it back here …. I know it’s ancient history now, but I’m just curious to know, how the hell did Def Jam fuck up the buzz that had built for you and Trigger [Tha Gambler] after “My Crew Can’t Go For That” [in 1996]? Why didn’t they end up putting out either one of y’alls albums?
D.V. Alias Khryst: Well, it wasn’t Def Jam [Records]. And I’m not being political. … When you deal with subsidiary brands that are connected to these conglomerates, the subsidiary is pretty much held accountable for the actions of whatever happens with said artist that’s signed to these companies. No Doubt [Entertainment], being the subsidiary of Def Jam, who we were signed under – me and Trigger had a copycat deal, meaning we split $500,000. So we both had a budget of $250,000 for our deals, with I think a $60-$70,000 signing bonus …. [But], it was friction between No Doubt, Def Jam, and [D/R Period’s production company] Nexx Level. And D/R as the producer, who did all of the production on Once Upon a Time in America, who did all of the production for Trigger’s project that didn’t come out, Life’s a 50/50 Gamble, then to come to my project and only do half of it – because, D/R Period shaped the sound of Smoothe and Trigger; he didn’t shape the sound of me. He helped produce my sound. He helped me figure out, Okay, after you do 8 bars of rappin’, then you change it to the singing style that you have. He helped me hone my craft. Now as far as a sound, sonically beat-wise I didn’t have a sound, because the focus was primarily around Smoothe and Trigger.
The feud between Dante Ross, [who was] the CEO of No Doubt at the time – Dante Ross and D/R Period were clashing creatively, and even business-wise. There was a lot of things that happened – I mean, Tracy [Cloherty] of HOT97 had added “My Crew Can’t Go For That.” She added that record to HOT97 because our record was picking up a little bit more momentum than the other two records that were made as singles [from The Nutty Professor Soundtrack], which was “Touch Me Tease Me” [by Case] and “Ain’t No Nigga” by Jay-Z [featuring Foxy Brown]. Those two records, they had they own life, but for some reason people were gravitating to that Hall & Oates [reinterpretation of “I Can’t Go For That”]. [But] Dante Ross called up to the radio station and told ‘em to take the record off. And Def Jam had a lot to do with that too, because they felt like it was gonna hurt the other projects that were being worked on. And that was a smack in the face. It was like, every show that we did – and no disrespect to anybody [on Def Jam] at the time – we were taking the show. We was killin’ it! It ain’t too many people that can say that they performed with Busta [Rhymes] and was able to hold they own. Me, Smoothe and Trigger were catalysts at that point for just real Hip Hop.
Everything kinda got haywire in that situation, because it was a lot of I’s and T’s that weren’t dotted and crossed before entering that Def Jam building. So, poor business, lack of communication, lack of camaraderie amongst the company – me and Trigger were small peons in the middle of these big conglomerates going at each other ….
But for me, I am far from jaded as it pertains to this business and how things went. That was a learning experience. I was 17-and-a-half years old when I [signed] that deal [in 1995]. I’m 34 now. And I own all of my publishing, all of my masters, all my royalties … everything. I left Def Jam due to the miscommunication and the things that were going on, and in a act of good faith Lyor [Cohen] let me leave with everything. And I’m one of the few artists that has left Def Jam with they masters.
DX: I understand after that you got down with Maseo from De La Soul. I understand like GZA though, "Tommy wasn’t ya muthafuckin’ boy?"
D.V. Alias Khryst: No the fuck he was not. I had a conversation with Tom Silverman around the time that I did the deal, and he was like, “You sound like an animal inside of a cage.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m ready to get unleashed and you can cut the check!” … And with Maseo, I think that’s the only part of my career that I could say that I regret that didn’t go right, because I have a ton of respect for Maseo. He introduced me to the game in such a sincere and powerful way that with the way everything went between me and him, it shouldn’t have went that way. But see, when you let the devil in, with his suggestions, and you ain’t strong enough to fight that, you already know who’s gonna stand on top. [But], I definitely owe a hell of a lot to De La Soul and to Maseo for the knowledge and the support that I did receive. … I had a lot of great experiences [touring] with De La Soul. I think that in my whole career [that deal with Maseo is] the only thing that I could really say that I wish would of turned in a different direction. But my mother always told me that if something is meant to be it will come back, and I do believe that me and Maseo will have an opportunity to do what we weren’t allowed to do because it was just too much other shit in the way.
DX: At least you got “Thru Ya City” out of it. Over ten years later that’s still that joint.
D.V. Alias Khryst: Yeah, and not knowing that – God rest his soul – J. Dilla was gonna … that what was gonna happen to him happened to him, making that record even more [special]. I had the opportunity to meet the brother and hear him tell me how dope [the song was]. [Posdnuos] came up with the idea. He’s a genius with concepts and production. And he had the concept, he heard my voice, and he asked me to come and do it.
And funny enough, the [De La Soul] record with Devin The Dude on it, I’m singing underneath Devin The Dude. If you really listen to the “Baby Phat” record, I’m tucked underneath him. Pause. ‘Cause I had referenced that record for Nate Dogg. I guess Nate Dogg was … I guess he heard too much of himself. It can be a gift and a curse.