Earlier this year, the legendary DJ Premier spoke to HipHopDX about Gang Starr’s breakthrough sophomore album, Step in the Arena, for the first in the site’s new feature series revisiting time-tested Hip Hop albums with their creators to coincide with noteworthy anniversaries of those releases. That epic conversation was followed by Smoothe Da Hustler and Trigger Tha Gambler’s tag team discussion of their essentially duo debut, Once Upon a Time in America. And now, Dres and Mista Lawnge join the classic company of Gang Starr and Smoothe Da Hustler with the third induction into DX’s “Timeless” album series: Black Sheep’s A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.
Released on October 22, 1991, the critically acclaimed, and nearly platinum certified, long player has stood the test of time, sounding just as sonically and conceptually inventive as it did in the waning days of hi-top fades (Lawnge’s initial eye-grabbing flattop wouldn’t even make it all the way through the group’s second video.) The third in a trifecta of timeless full-lengths released in 1991 from Hip Hop’s greatest group of groups, the Native Tongues, following De La Soul’s De La Soul is Dead and A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, Black Sheep’s A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing was just as creative, comical and even confrontational as its in-crew competition. But while Black Sheep boasted a strikingly similar sound to that of De La Soul – combining multiple Funk, Jazz, Soul and Rock samples to create a collage of hypnotic head-nodding aural stimulation – Dres and Mista Lawnge were far more carnally minded than their “Jenifa” and “Bonita Applebum” adoring brethren in the Native crew. Like De La and Tribe, Black Sheep too ripped mics and took to task frontin’-ass “full of sheep” frauds, all while championing a confident “do you” message and flipping the bird to “Doz That Slept,” “Butt In the Meantime” Dres and Lawnge spent plenty of playful energy focused on the “Hoes We Knows.”
To mark this month’s 20th anniversary of Black Sheep’s ode to the many sides of man, the last Sheep standing, Andres “Dres” Titus, provided the background to the duo’s debut, revealing rarely known details about the album’s creation, including some surprising Native Tongues history. In addition to revealing how the track that came to define his career was almost lost to another artist, and how Big Daddy Kane almost made a deadly mistake by misinterpreting a flavorful line from his partner-in-rhyme, Dres also engaged in a much deeper discussion with DX regarding the role he believes he may have played in the miseducation of Chi-Ali, and how southern segregation and a bloody game of tennis affected his future role as a Rap star.
In sharing details of his movie-esque personal and professional story, Dres made several shocking revelations, including maybe the most stunning recollection of his entire interview: “Probably any day anyone ever saw me in 1991, I had a gun on me.”
So while the Q&A below is a lengthy read, it is definitely a worthwhile one. A must-read for anyone old enough to remember coppin’ Black Sheep’s classic cassette, or anyone of any age who is interested in learning why long before some hamsters sold Kia’s off of Black Sheep’s eternally energetic party starter Dres and Lawnge were “where it’s at.”
HipHopDX: Tell me about how the album that starts off with a mocking of Hip Hop’s then rapidly increasing gangsta posturing ironically began its journey to creation at the place Kool G. Rap immortalized in song where “just to hear the name it makes your spine tingle.”
Dres: When [Kool] G Rap dropped “Rikers Island,” I was [incarcerated] on Rikers Island. A year before A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing came out I was just getting out of a halfway house, coming out of Rikers Island, transitioning back into society. I was young and I was hustlin’, like so many other cats in New York City trying to find their way.
But there was a little difference in me in that I had just came from North Carolina. My parents are separated, and my mom moved to Carolina with my stepfather. So I went to high school in Carolina. So I had an opportunity to see a lot more than what my projects would of offered me.
And at the same time, I was the son of a hustler. My father was a big heroin dealer in New York. And so for some stupid odd reason I thought that it was my birthright to come back to New York after I graduated high school to hustle. As opposed to coming back to New York to find myself a career, and maybe school, or any form of a real life. So when I got back to New York, one of the first things I did was get a job, but I only got a job so I could situate myself to hustle. And it was just such a huge mistake on my part, such a huge misstep that – Don’t get it twisted, I had a great time with friends that I grew up with and that were all hustlin’ and we were all doing the same thing. And we made a lot of money, as far as street kids go. But it was just such a misstep considering I had this opportunity to see so much more.
And it was only after I bumped my head and found myself on Rikers Island for 10, 11 months – only to be transitioned into a halfway house for another 10 months – that I was realizing like what a big mistake I just made, and what an opportunity squandered.
So a year later, when I had the opportunity to be deejaying in clubs in New York and [doing] this thing that I had started before all the hustlin’ stuff, as far as me rhyming and hangin’ out with friends and cuttin’ – When I was in high school, a friend of mine had turntables. And so every day after school, the only thing we did was drink 40 [ounces of beer], smoke blunts and write rhymes. And deejay – all of us could. And little did I know that was the introduction to my life. That was the homework that really was gonna pay off for me. And it was coming from a place of love. There was no record opportunity. I’m in North Carolina, there was no – I wasn’t gonna make a record from there. There was no shows or anything. So every one that was in that room was there because that’s what they loved to do.
So after I got in all this trouble, I wind up bumpin’ into [Mista] Lawnge on the humble. And, he was running around with [DJ] Red Alert and the Jungle Brothers. He had been introduced to De La [Soul] and [A Tribe Called Quest]. And this was my little man that was in the room with me when I was in Carolina. He didn’t really have a place to stay, I was just getting my first apartment after all of this trouble I had been in, and so I was like, “Yo, you could stay with me.” I really didn’t think of it as a biggie, and little did I know that as well was huge and would wind up being the introduction to me to the Native Tongues. I’m finding out who he’s hangin’ out with and I’m like, “Wow. You hangin’ out with some real cats.” And, me and him had history as far as him knowing I could rhyme and knowing I could cut. And once I met all of them cats, it really opened the door to – Me and Lawnge are looking at each other like, “Yo, we should do something. We’ve got a hell of a history, even though cats might not know it. We could put some dope stuff together.” And we did.
As so then going to the intro cut for A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, I think out of everything that I had learned, as far as my walk up to that point, was that number one, cats really aren’t as gangsta as they would present themselves to be. I was just coming from a place where I saw it firsthand, where I had to walk it, where I had to live it. There was no “I’m just gonna do my time, don’t bother me and I’m not gonna bother you.” That doesn’t even exist. So my hands were pretty dirty ….
And secondly, one of the real things that I saw in what was going on as far as Gangsta Rap at the time was that there was just no – One of the terms of that day was “I ain’t got no love for that.” “No Love.” “That don’t get no love.” And it kinda hurt me to understand that we’re quick to look at each other and say “No love,” and even do something to one another. [And] when I really got an opportunity, when I was forced to sit down and look at my life, and even the life of my people, I looked at it to the degree that we’re so programmed and so taken out of the loop of who we really are that we could look at each other and instantly say “No love.” They broke us up as tribes, so this gun that I’m pulling on you, or the gun that you’re pulling on me, like we literally could be related. You literally could be a cousin, an uncle, a brother, a sister. They broke the basics: the mother, the father, the sister and the child. We were all sent in different directions. So, if we’re not gonna have that kind of an understanding about each other, then we should understand that the person that we pulling this gun on, about to do something to, could literally be a mother, a father, a sister, a brother. So that was really an undertone of the skit. Yeah, I’m poking a little fun at everybody, but on a much deeper level is that we’re so disenfranchised that we don’t understand that we literally could be hurting someone that we’re related to. So that’s where my mom, my sister, and all of that came into play as far as “U Mean I’m Not.” I really felt that would be making a huge statement that I’m not just hurting people that I don’t know. I’m hurting people in my own house.
DX: I’m just still a little stunned that you did more time on Rikers than Lil Wayne just did – and like you explained, you didn’t do it in protective custody. So was it a conscious decision not to talk about your criminal exploits on A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
Dres: Yeah, I would say it definitely was. I was coming from a place where it was much realer. And that’s kinda been my gripe with a lot of Hip Hop. Like, we’re quick to put cats in line for a line that we’re trying to get off. Like a Jay-Z, it’s sad in my opinion that Watch The Throne mentions him cooking coke. There’s never been the record made that tells how to make it without cooking coke. Or that cooking coke was a mistake. There was never really the ramifications of what cooking coke does for you. Don’t get it twisted, I’m very happy for your [success], you’re an exception, but you’re such an exception – if that really was your walk – because at the end of the day most cats that are cooking coke usually wind up in one of a few places, and none of ‘em include Beyonce’s arms.
The record that tells you how to get through a year on Rikers Island isn’t made. The record that tells you how to deal with your life once you come home from upstate isn’t made. The record that tells you how to deal with the realities of what you’ve done to your life isn’t made – that you can’t even get a job at McDonald’s. Those records aren’t made. We’re quick to put these young cats in a line that we’re not even on at this point. Cats are in a gated community talking about cooking coke. And, I understand where we come from – I come from the same place – but there’s a certain amount of reality that is missing from our reality.
It was very much a conscious decision for me not to put a cat in line for what I just got off a line of. And I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing or not, but it was just something that I felt. And I felt there was just so much more to talk about. And I still do.
DX: So was that the secret meaning behind the title, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, that you were concealing your wolf past until you were ready to get “Autobiographical” on Non-Fiction?
Dres: Yeah, I think so. First of all too, we were very much fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to be affiliated with the Native Tongues. And I knew what that meant. I think I knew what it meant even more than they did. Like, I knew what they stood for. I knew the possibilities of what was in front of me. And it’s sad that it hasn’t ever really played itself out fully. But I think I saw then and didn’t wanna be the cat that was trying to put them in a light that wasn’t necessarily to the benefit of the people. But I also felt it was important that cats know like, “Yeah, we’re under this umbrella, but we’re a little bit different.” At least I am.
There’s stuff that they don’t know to this day. I used to have a .22 in my boot sleeping over [Posdnuos’] house. He didn’t know that. He still probably doesn’t know that. Probably any day anyone ever saw me in 1991, I had a gun on me. Like, that was where I came from. But I didn’t write rhymes about it. And I didn’t brandish it for the fuck of it. It was more or less to protect me from the elements that I lived in.
And I’m not saying that today for props. I’m just saying that today because it’s the reality. But how foolish of me! I easily could’ve been a Lil Wayne or whoever gets busted with a pistol on ‘em, ‘cause that was me. I was just fortunate that I didn’t.
I come from the same place, but I think I had a little bit more understanding that it’s not for me to lead with that. That’s not really who I am. That is more a result of my environment and people, places and things, and maybe some poor decisions. And even a lack of restraint, and me trying to take the easy way out. That’s the easy way out. The real champ is the cat that gets up every day and goes to work and provides for his family, and looks at a check trying to figure out how to make that shit stretch correctly. I tip my hat to that dude, because they do something that so many of us skirted around. They take the long way home every day. And that’s just commendable. Especially as a 40-year-old man, I commend ‘em.
And [going back to “U Mean I’m Not,” I] actually had the opportunity to be flown to London and meet at the time the CEO of PolyGram [Records], who was Elan Levy. He had taken issue to the skit. But it pulled up in him some shit about the war, as a child of the Holocaust. Which blew me away, because I’m like, “That never even almost came into my mind-state writing this.” But for me to explain what I was saying with it was a relief to him. He was like, “Oh, for some reason it really kicked up my feelings about the Holocaust.” And I was like, “Wow.” … I was blown away too to find out that Korn performs it. That’s pretty fresh. I recently saw a performance of it and I was like, “Wow, that’s dope.”
DX: I understand you played “U Mean I’m Not” for the whole Native Tongue crew at the same time and they all collapsed in laughter listening to it. But besides Q-Tip talking about “anal tongue guards” on the cool-out groove about getting your groove on, “La Menage,” were any other members of Native actually present during the recording sessions for the album?
Dres: Oh, yes, plenty. We were around each other for the making of a lot of each other’s records. It wasn’t even about whose session it was, it was about are we in? So whoever’s session it was, you might find any one of us from any of the groups kinda chillin’ there, maybe writing notes on something we had to do later or just taking it what cats were doing.
There was a definite strong kinship, definitely a brotherhood. And I miss it. And I think honestly, it had a lot to do with the records that were made at that time. We’re now in a day where a group might not even be in the studio together making a record: I’ll do my verse, I’ll send it to you, you’re a hundred miles away, you send it to whoever who puts some cuts on it. But we were all there, and it was just a vibe that was created that I think had a lot to do with the records that came out. It was like, before it got to the public it had to get past the room. So if it could get past the room, it deemed itself public-worthy. But if you did something and the room wasn’t necessarily feeling it, you’d feel within yourself, “Okay, I gotta fix that.”
I think A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing probably catered more to the Native Tongue than it did to the public. I was probably the last one in the door [to the crew] at that time and so I really wanted to impress these cats. I really wanted them to feel like I was worthy of being in the room with them – even though we were all kids. I didn’t have the history of being in school and you saw me battle so-and-so at lunch and you know I’m nice; I was really being introduced on the strength of my relationship with Lawnge. So I took it pretty personal that these cats see like, “Yo, I’m nice, and I been rhymin’ for years.” And even though I’m still trying to find my way on a certain level – The record actually was the first time of me doing anything on that level professionally. So I think mechanically, I could’ve definitely [done] better. But, I also feel that just the creativity aspect was definitely at a high bar, and just the honestly levels … I think it was impressive on a certain note. And I was trying to. I was trying to show these cats that I belonged in the room with them.
DX: I asked about the presence of the rest of the Native crew in those sessions because you appeared on “Fanatic Of The B Word” from De La Soul Is Dead but Posdnuos and Dave don’t appear on Wolf. Why is that?
Dres: Um … no real reason. I mean, there’s other cats that aren’t on the album: like Phife [Dawg], or even Afrika [Baby Bam]. It wasn’t any real reason. I think if anything it was just who was around at the time when something was being done. We definitely was all around each other for many, many sessions.
And spending a lot of time with each other away from the studio – I can’t even count how many nights I’ve spent over [Posdnuos’] house, or over Mike Gee’s with his grand-mom …. There was definitely a friendship. And we all hung out with each other. We were very, very close. And I honestly feel like it had a lot to do with the records [sounding the way they did].
Even though we all do our own thing, and each group has gone their own way, I would love to do a Native Tongue project once a year, where maybe for one month out of every year we just got together and rented a house with a studio and made a record together. There was just such a bond that came out of it, that I think was a direct result of us being around each other, that just doesn’t exist today. And even the records we make, granted, I think everybody’s mechanics are dope and everyone has grown and blossomed into the artists that we are now – we have a lot to say and know how to say it – but there’s still something I feel like is just missing that resonated with the people.
Dres: One thing [I remember about that time] in particular was our first single, “Flavor Of The Month.” Lawnge starts off, “Do I want vanilla, or do I want a taste of chocolate?” I’m a huge fan of [Big Daddy] Kane. And Kane had the album Taste of Chocolate at the time, and so I specifically turned to Lawnge and I’m like, “Yo! Are you dissin’ Kane? Because if you are, we gotta take that off. We’re not dissin’ Kane on our first single, that’s just not happening.” To which he’s like, “Nah, I’m just saying there’s chocolate, there’s vanilla, but we’re something different. We’re a different flavor. We’re something new.” And even in the back of my head I’m like, “We should take that off. That’s kinda cutting it a little close.” But I listen to him, and I buy into it, and I’m like, “Okay, cool.”
Sure enough, when the record comes out everyone thinks we’re dissin’ Kane. Kane’s brother tells me about how Kane and Eric B. and a few other cats are sitting down in the living room somewhere and that [song comes on] and everyone turns to Kane like, “Yo, you gonna take that?” And I’m like, “Oh, shit.” Of course, it’s something that I didn’t even say, Lawnge said it. But no one even remotely looks at Lawnge, they all look at me like, “Yo! You dissin’ Kane?” And I’m like, “No! Not even almost, I’m a huge fan of Kane’s.” But his brother, Lil Daddy Shane, tells me, “Yo, Kane thinks you dissed him.” And, it just played so wackly to me that I didn’t even say it. But I gotta stand by my dude who did say it ‘cause he’s my partner. He told me he didn’t mean nothing by it, but if something happens to him it’s gotta happen to me too ‘cause this my partner. I’m not gonna stand here and let anything happen to him.
So, now I’m in a battle that I ain’t even have any idea existed. And it existed to the degree that Red Alert, who was a great friend of Kane’s, never even played the record because he wasn’t sure where we stood. He was our first manager! So it was serious … but at the end of the day I knew where I stood with it.
So the first time I see Kane, he wasn’t even gonna say nothing. I had to walk up to him and let him know like, “Yo, I’m catching the back-chat. Let me tell you, sincerely, first of all I didn’t say it, but I did confront my dude about saying it. And he let me know he didn’t mean anything by it. I hope you’re not taking this the wrong way.” I really had to humble myself like, “Yo, whatever it’s gon’ be it’s gon’ be, but let me set precedents and let you know that I have no gripes with you, I’m a huge fan of you, and honestly probably would not even be the artist that I am were it not for you being who you are.” And I remember, he was at a show and I even threw his name in a freestyle just to kinda reiterate like, yo, dude, I am sincerely hoping you’re not taking this the wrong way.
[Going back to De La Soul’s absence from our album], we were both around each other so much for the makings of both of those projects. Like, I’m almost sure some of who both of us are bled into each other’s project. Lawnge was all over the skits [on De La Soul Is Dead]. I actually helped Maseo write a verse or two on there, and I didn’t even get credit for it. So there is some of us on both of those [albums]. But honestly, there’s supposed to be. We’re family.
DX: Just out of curiosity, was Wolf recorded entirely after De La Soul Is Dead was done?
Dres: Nah, I’m pretty sure they were both done at the same time. Actually, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing was done a year prior to it coming out. We had to wait a year for sample clearance. So it woulda been out much earlier but we literally had to wait about a year for sample clearances.
DX: Prince Paul introduces the “lowlifes of the family tree” on the album. You said that there was a lot of bleeding between your project and De La Soul Is Dead, so were you intentionally aiming to try to emulate the Prince Paul sound, or was that just how the tracks came together?
Dres: There were definitely no intentions at all to sound like anyone, regardless of the umbrella that we all shared. I mean, honestly, I could see any of the Native Tongue records kind of having something to do with another one’s: just as far as the sound and the things that we were choosing to sample. We beat shopped together. We made records together. And we learned from each other.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing in any form or sense. Like, there’s definitely a sound that I think is unique to the Native Tongues. But, I think there’s also definitely individuality that each group possesses and differentiated them from one another.
[Q-Tip] and Lawnge, they beat shopped together all the time. Lawnge was around for much more of the makings of other records than I was. Like, I know that Lawnge contributed some beats to Tribe’s [People’s Instictive Travels and Paths of Rhythm]. To which he was just lumped in on a group thank you. I know he kinda took it as a small slight. But there were records that Lawnge personally gave Tip the beat to that are now classics. But at the end of the day, even the verses that I helped Maseo write, I don’t look at it as anything but the cost of me getting where I had to be. If him giving that beat to Tip was what enabled us to move forward, then give him the beat. If me helping you write this verse is what’s gonna help transport me to where I’m supposed to be, then let me help you. Because, there’s people that would love the opportunity to give you that beat, or to help you write this rhyme, and to push forward. I just looked at it as the cost of being in the room.
And something else that’s little known is that Lawnge did the cuts on [De La Soul’s] “Buddy.” That’s how far back their relationship goes. And, he never got credit for it. But, it’s okay to us at this point because it was just … sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to get where you going.
DX: Speaking of Lawnge and the collage of sampled sounds on the album, was Lawnge doing all the diggin’ and programming, or were you doing some of it?
Dres: I was doing a very small amount. I would say probably 95% Lawnge. I think one of the tracks that I really leaned on was [the album version of] “Similak Child.” I know I had a lot to do with “Similak.” Because, I remember I pause buttoned that main loop for maybe about five minutes just so I could write to it. And here and there I might hear something that I thought might fit. I think I had a lot more to do with the arrangements, as opposed to the actual tracking. The actual tracking pretty much was Lawnge. I was much more concepts, rhymes …. I definitely was buying records as well, but I wasn’t trying to take on the burden of producing. I just looked at Lawnge as a genius.
DX: So Lawnge can claim credit for “revisiting” “The Choice Is Yours” and adding that bassline that ensured you’ll still be performing that song when you’re 70?
Dres: Yes sir, he definitely can. And the track was originally given to Chi-Ali and Chi passed on it. When I heard it I was upset with Lawnge for giving it to Chi before he played it for me. “Yo, dude, are you serious?” It was the illest thing I had heard to date and so I was like, “Yo, do not do that again. Next time you gonna give something to someone, please play it for me first.” ‘Cause I woulda been sick if that – The first time I heard it, I knew what it was. I was like, “Yo, this is just incredible.” And don’t get it twisted, I love Chi, that’s my dude, but I’m glad I got it.
DX: So why did Lawnge decide to revisit the original’s more organ-driven sound? Just for a 12” remix?
Dres: Yeah, we had decided that was gonna be the next single. And this was a time when everybody remixed whatever was the single. There were originally three different verses as well, and the label upon hearing it felt like the first two verses from the original were cool and that just taking the third verse from the remix was the move. And we were kids, so it’s not like we were gonna fight for it. We were pretty open.
There definitely were things we wanted to be able to do as well. Like, we had picked the first two singles, so when the label came at us for “Strobelite Honey” to be the third single I wasn’t really feeling that at all. I felt like that was such a huge mistake, that we’ve created exactly the persona we want with the first two singles. “Strobelite” was originally a skit, it wasn’t even a song. It was just a skit where a dog played every time I spoke. Like, they’re saying dudes are dogs and you’re saying – It was just something totally different. “Strobelite” was a skit just talking about some ugly chick you might meet in the club, and the label liked it so much they asked us to make it into a longer version. So we make it into a longer version. Again, not caring, we’re young: “You want this? Cool, not a problem, we’ll do it.” And so they come at us like, “Yo, the third single is ‘Strobelite.’” And we’re like, “No, there’s no way in the world you’re gonna come behind ‘Choice Is Yours’ with ‘Strobelite.’ No, no, that just doesn’t work. Like, especially as far as what we’re trying to do.” And they literally forced our hand on some, “You can be at the video shoot or not. This is what’s coming out next.” And so, I literally was able to get a fourth single, “Similak,” by telling ‘em, “Alright, I’ll participate if we can get a fourth single.” To which they were like, “Okay, alright, we’ll give you a fourth single.”
DX: What did you and Elise Neal do after you got out from under them strobe lights? [Laughs]
Dres: [Laughs] To be honest wit’chu, I was there with a date. I was there with someone. But me and Elise are now actually working on a project, which is really cool. Fast forward 20 years later, she sings and I have my own little label, [Bum Rush Records], so essentially she’s gonna do like an EP for my label. And that’s a relationship that back then, after “cut,” I went my way and she went her way. We didn’t even exchange numbers. Like, there was no … there was nothing. She was also in the “Work To Do” video with Vanessa Williams that I rhyme in. She’s one of the dancers in that. So I got to see her again. But those were probably the only two times we’ve ever really been around each other. But, we always stayed cordial; anytime I see her it’s always respectful. Fast forward years down the road, I got my own little thing, I just did a project, [From the Black Pool of Genius], last year on it, and so I had saw she was trying to do her singing thing and I reached out to her like, “Yo, let’s do something. Would you be down to do five songs? And I’ll help you get ‘em to the masses; I’ll help you put ‘em together.” She seen me doing what I do for twenty years now and so she was like, “Yeah, sure, let’s do it.” So, sometimes you never know why someone is in your life. I might’ve met her 20 years ago for us to do this.
DX: Picking up on the theme of “Strobelite Honey,” there was an expectable amount of skirt-chasing from two college-age guys on the album, but did you ever just lose it with Lawnge like, “Enough about your dick already”? [Laughs]
Dres: [Laughs] I think everyone else did. And I definitely felt like that at times. But, it was kinda hard – in a relationship like that it’s maybe not for the partner sometimes to say it. You’d rather the people say it. So once I heard the people saying it, I made it a point to make sure he heard the people saying it. But, I definitely wasn’t trying to be the one leaning on him, especially if he’s looking at that as like, “This is my shit. This is what people gonna know me for.” Like, it’s kinda hard to rain on that parade. But did I feel like that? Yeah, definitely, at times. But I’m pretty sure there were aspects of my personality that he might’ve felt the same about that he didn’t confront. I think it was for us to kind of find our own way. I definitely had my inputs, but I definitely remember not really trying to be the heavy. Especially considering that I already got so much notoriety. It was like me and Lawnge could be standing right next to each other and everyone would run up to me. So I didn’t wanna turn to him on top of that and be like, “Yeah, that shit you’re doing, I’m not crazy about it.” And, it was who he was. It’s what he identified with at that time. I didn’t think it would stay. I always felt like as long as we’re given an opportunity to make more music, things will change. We’ll both evolve. I definitely saw evolution from the beginning. I definitely saw that who we are right now isn’t necessarily who we’ll be next year.
DX: Another female-focused track you guys tweaked for its single was the aforementioned “Similak Child.” I personally preferred your pause-tape original with the Jefferson Airplane sample, but the “Homogenized Mix” just grabs your attention for some reason when you’re watching that video. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s just something about that video that hypnotizes you. [Laughs]
Dres: [Laughs] Hmmm, wonder what that coulda been? [Laughs]
DX: Milk does a body good? [Laughs]
Dres: Yeah, but that ain’t milk in there. [Laughs] Plenty of mammary glands up in there. I think both [versions] are very dope. I think they’re both dope, but I probably would lean more towards the original myself as well. I think it’s a little bit more universal in scope, as far as just sonically. I think sonically it opens the door to cats that might not even be checking for Hip Hop music. Whereas, the “Homogenized” was definitely a little more urban feel to it. I love ‘em both. I perform the remix these days. But, I definitely loved the original. It’s just such a great feel to it. And even the arrangement – like I said, I had a lot more to do with the arrangement of the records than the actual loops. That would probably be my baby off the album.
And even conceptually, I thought it was just such a dope concept. At the time there was a crew of girls that literally got the moniker before the record. I was like, “Y’all are like similak.” They’re kinda where the concept came from. It was like a crew of thick chicks that were all young – all younger than me – but beautiful, just stunning, and I’m like, “Wow. What the hell are they feeding y’all?” [Laughs] And, hence, the similak.
DX: Well, like I said, that was a brilliant video. [Laughs] But your guys best video was actually your first, “Flavor Of The Month.” It’s interesting how from the very beginning you’re already peeping that your Hip Hop fame is gonna be fleeting.
Dres: Yeah. I’m a very musical cat. Like, both my parents sung in bands. Even my father who hustled had his band that he sung the lead in. They used to bring the bongos out in the park. One-half of my family is very Puerto Rican, and the other half is Black. And so, I’d be at the park with all my uncles and my pops, and they all had the bongos out and they singing. So, music was always around me.
And, one of the things I had noticed – My favorite artist of all time is Stevie Wonder. But even any artist that I liked, whenever they dropped a record you had to wait some time for the next one. Especially back when I was young, there was no another record the same year or another record even the next year. It would be like the year after that. Then you’d hear your favorite artist again. So during that time it was illustrated to me that like, Okay, Songs in the Key of Life came out in ’76, but it was ’79 until I heard him again [with The Secret Life of Plants]. So, there’s a slew of different cats in between there. And even when the artists that you liked came back out, it was almost like a reintroduction. If you knew who they were, cool. But if you didn’t, you were just learning and understanding why people even liked this person. So it kinda showed me even then that this light moves around. This limelight that everyone’s chasing, it’s not necessarily about me catching it, it’s about it catching me.
Even the groups that I’m around at the time in the Native Tongues, I saw that it could be any one of them on the top of that totem pole. And at one point it was us. Like, we’ve all gotten a chance to be at the top of that totem pole. And thank God I looked at it the correct way, because I’ve seen other artists that don’t look at it the correct way and it’s such a hurtful thing when the light moves. I walked into it knowing it wasn’t gonna stay.
DX: And you just made shit worse on “Gimme The Finga” when you’re actually begging for haters like, “Pleeease.”
Dres: [Laughs] Real talk. I thought that woulda been a dope single to be honest wit’chu.
DX: You were crazy creative with your flow on that song too: “It’s fly, gettin’ paid to do what ya want / Don’t believe me?/ [Belch] / See.” [Laughs]
Dres: [Laughs] Yeah. Like, definitely pushing the envelope.
DX: Speaking of spittin’, I know it’s not what I was supposed to take away from the social commentary cut, “Black With N.V.,” but your flow on that dishwashing part was fucking crazy.
Dres: Aw, love, yo. That’s definitely one of the things that over the years people definitely speak to, that particular part. But, we were kids, and I honestly know for a fact my mechanics today are so much beyond what my mechanics were 20 years ago. But, the creativity aspect of it I think came to me much easier then. Like, sometimes when you’re seeing things through young and new eyes you see a brilliance in things that in time you look at a scene and you’ll just take in the scene. I think when you look at a scene when you’re young you look at each individual aspect of layer and see something in it that I think over time just becomes kinda null. So it was cool, it was a young point in my life, where I was just able to speak to some of the things how I saw them – not necessarily right or wrong, just how I saw it.
DX: That sequencing sums up what made the album so special.
Dres: That’s something that’s kinda missing today. And I think that cats think that it wouldn’t be embraced, but I think they’re wrong. One of my problems with anybody these days is that if you’re making a record where every song on the album is the same, you making a mistake. Everyone is intelligent enough and gets that who you are in the morning might not necessarily be who lays down at night. And there’s so much of everything in your day: there’s the good parts, there’s the bad parts, there’s the parts you did so well, the parts you exceeded your expectations, and then there’s also the parts where you fell flat on your face. There’s also the parts where you’re like questioning the motive for your life. All of that exists, so for me to just make an album with all the same records saying I’m fly and I’m this and I’m that, and every album is the same thing, you’re not giving the consumer the credit that they warrant. We all wanna see more. And especially from some of the cats these days, because I think some of ‘em are so brilliant. I just think cats got so much to say on the other side of what they say.
I would love to hear a 50 [Cent] tell these cats how to get through a bid. I would love to hear him say that, because it’s something that’s needed. There’s kids today – like my little cousins even – that wind up doing a bid and they’re not sure if they should be a Blood, a Crip or Muslim. And a cat like 50 coulda kinda illustrate yo, you can do this on your own. Or even Chi. Chi’s done over 10 years, and he’s not a Blood, a Crip or anything. He did [his time on his own]. And God knows it was a hell of a mistake he made, but he’s learned so much from it. And he did it as a man. He did it as a stand-up dude. He’s in general population and he’s going through everything that everyone has to go through. But he did it on his own; he’s not leaning on anyone to get him through it. And those are the records I’d love to hear made.
I’m not a fan of the cat – especially the east coast cat – that’s jumping into a gang that they have no affiliation with, or even an understanding of, in order for them to get through a day. Like, yo, stand up, be the man that you were born to be.
DX: You speak on your uniqueness in contrast to the “same ol’ same ol’” on “To Whom It May Concern.” Did you know that Black Sheep, the Rock group, had a really ill song of the exact same name in 1975 about blazin’ one while brushin’ off haters?
Dres: Nah, just found out now. The Reggae group or the Rock group?
DX: The Rock group. So it was two more Black Sheep’s?
Dres: Yeah, we actually had to purchase the name for us to use it. And initially purchased it from the wrong group and had to repurchase it. It speaks to the naivety of kids. Like, we had no idea. I had never heard of the Rock group or the Reggae group. We didn’t even know they existed. And the album was pretty much done when we found out that we had to get permission [to use the name].
DX: And just for Wikipedia purposes, who actually came up with the name Black Sheep for y’all? Was it you, was it Lawnge?
Dres: I believe it was me. I’m about 90% sure it was me. Because, I remember a conversation where we’re talking about what we should name ourselves, and we’re talking about our affiliation with the Native Tongues. And so, we’re looking at … De La was kinda Afrocentric. Jungle was much more … khakis and what have you. Tribe was closer to De La, where they were … just baggy clothes and kente-cloths, and definitely very Afrocentric. And, I’m just coming home from Rikers. I had Bally’s and fuckin’ – I was much more of a silk shirt and slacks and Bally’s guy. Like, just much more of a New York urban cat. But, at the end of the day, I definitely identified with the Afrocentricity of the groups we were rockin’ with. And more than the kinship, the brotherhood, I was definitely down for the cause, but I just looked different. And I think Lawnge was probably leaning a little bit more on my look as time went on. He was much more of a chameleon. When I met him, he was running with them and so he actually had a lot of the kente-cloths and stuff like that. But once he started living with me, and kinda running in my circles – I ran more with hustlin’ kids, and I’m introducing him to friends that I grew up with, and he started to identify more with where I came from. And so, when we started to look at naming the group, I was like, “Yo, I think the messages are there, but if you look at us if anything we look like the black sheep of these kids. Like, we’re all saying the same thing, but we definitely don’t look like them.”
DX: One more “To Whom It May Concern” related question: Was the sample of Les McCann’s “North Carolina” more than just a coincidence?
Dres: Totally coincidence. And like, Lawnge was much more the North Carolinian than I was. I had moved down there to Fayetteville. My stepfather was in the Army, so we had moved to Fort Bragg. I started going to this high school called E.E. Smith, which was an all-Black high school. I didn’t even know something like this existed. And it opened me up to school. This was the school that made me love school. It was just an all-Black school. They were literally like maybe 3%, 5% White. And for me to come from Astoria Projects in Queens, New York and see all these Black people that were intelligent. Each sports team, they were the team. It was all Black. The tennis team was all Black, the golf team – The high school I would’ve went to in New York didn’t even have a football team. So for me to see all of this stuff, like, it blew me away. And then I’m in class, and these kids are intelligent. It took away any excuse that I could ever have not to be successful. So it made me embrace school for them few years that I was there. I really got into school. I started playing trumpet. Like I said, I always sung. My mom always thought I would become a singer. I was in the elite choir, “The Smith Sixteen,” which is like eight dudes, eight girls, that everybody tries out for from the school. I was one of ‘em. I played trumpet in the marching band. I played tennis. And I had never even played tennis before. I grew up playing handball. But the gym teacher was the tennis coach, and he saw me killing kids playing tennis and he was like, “Oh, you play?” I’m like, “Nah, this is just the same mechanics as handball.” He’s like, “Let me work with you.” First year he works with me, I’m a varsity letterman. Like, all of this stuff is happening to me that would’ve never happened to me back in New York.
So then, my stepfather and mother separated. We moved to a small town, [Sanford, North Carolina], which is totally the inverse. It’s an all-White school with about 5% Black. And the 5% that are Black are the 5% that I been hearing about – not to shit on the population, but half of ‘em were not doing what they were supposed to have been doing. So I’m looking at them and I’m like, “Wow.” And it’s almost an embarrassment, because now I’m in college prep classes but I’m literally the only one. And they’re offering me the chance to hear how my classmates feel about the other 5% of the student body.
So now I’m getting a chance to see – I’ll put it like this, I’m the only Black on the tennis team now, we’re playing an all-Black high school and one of the White kids on my team turns to me and is like, “Wow, we’re playing all of these niggers.” So I smacked the shit out of him with my tennis racket. I literally tried to take his head off. I couldn’t believe that he felt comfortable enough to say that to me. And the tennis coach had to break down to him what he said to me, because he didn’t even see anything wrong in what he had said.
But it showed me so much within my high school years about the walk of man, and the world that we lived in. And I think all of this was also homework for me to go forward and make these records.
DX: You just fleshed out the “L.A.S.M.” skit well beyond what you guys were mentioning in it about your North Carolinian roots. It’s ironic, considering he only appeared behind the mic for a few selections on the album, but Lawnge may have actually delivered the quotable of the LP on that skit with his “Ho is short for honey” line. [Laughs] “We just got lazy and dropped the ‘ney.’ Like, when you drop to your knees.” [Laughs]
Dres: [Laughs] Yeah. And Lawnge was much more of a North Carolinian. Like, he was born in Brooklyn, but to my understanding as an infant his mom moved to Carolina. So he basically grew up in North Carolina. I met Lawnge in high school. And I left North Carolina the week I finished high school. I think I was a Junior when I met Lawnge, so our relationship was just a couple years, but very intense. I met him when I moved to the small town where the school was now all-White as opposed to all-Black. And every day after school, I had a friend named Stan – who would have very easily been the third Black Sheep had he not gotten incarcerated and missed everything. It was his house that we met over at every day. It was me and probably about four or five other kids, and all of us were from either New York or Philly. And every day we met over my man Stan’s house. He had the coolest mom out of all of us, that we could drink a 40 around, we could smoke a little L. We’d be in his room cutting and rhyming for each other. Every day we were writing rhymes. Every day we were cutting. Like, there’s not a cut we could hear and not do. We studied Hip Hop. We were in North Carolina; there was nothing else to do. We studied Hip Hop every day. And there was no chance of making a record. We did it because that’s what we wanted to do, every single day.
It was the perfect foundation for a few years later for me and Lawnge to bump heads in New York – we had done all of this work prior for no reason. So I was able to walk into a studio and identify certain things, he was able to hear the breaks in what a De La was doing and even show them how to flip the beat or what have you. Like, we had plenty to offer right from the door. And I think they kinda saw that as well. It wasn’t necessarily them showing us anything, it was about a collective group of ideas. And it might’ve even shocked them that we had so much input because they weren’t in Carolina to see the formation. But we came to the table with plenty.
DX: You guys came to the table with plenty, but then you broke up to makeup only to breakup again. So is there any chance you and Lawnge will record or perform together again?
Dres: Um … I don’t know, to be honest with you. I can say honestly I’m not pressed at this point in time. Like, not to say that I don’t love him, ‘cause I do. That’s my little brother, and he will die my little brother. And I will die his bigger brother. But at the end of the day, sometimes the walk of a man is just … different than yours. And I think that there’s been things away from music that has us walking as individuals. I love him, but I also have family that I have to love from afar. I wish him the best, wish nothing but success and love for him. And whether or not we’re able to move forward musically, I think would be much more on him than me. I would always be open to reality. But unless reality comes across the table between him and I, it’s not an issue that I’m pressed about. I’m doing what I love. I hope he is.
DX: I wanna wrap up this walk down memory lane with the last full song on Wolf: the classic posse cut, “Pass The 40.” That song marked the rhyming debut of the aforementioned, then 14-year-old, Chi-Ali, aka “Jeff” from De La Soul’s “Brain Washed Follower” –
Dres: [Interrupts] Nah, Jeff and Chi are two very different people.
DX: That’s not Chi doing that?
Dres: Nope. Jeff and Chi are two very different people. Jeff is now a much older dude – as Chi – but they are two different people, totally.
DX: Wow. You just contradicted some misreporting on the Internets. [Laughs] Well Chi is the kid talking about pulling all the honeys at the beginning of “Have U.N.E. Pull,” right? [Laughs]
Dres: Yes sir, yes he is.
DX: And you mentioned more people now unfortunately know him from his America’s Most Wanted appearance than from his time as one of the most impressive underage spitters ever. What did you see in Chi that made you wanna become such an advocate for him and his career?
Dres: Well, from the door everyone thought me and Chi were related. Like, to just look at us: brown skin, curly hair kids. And I think we kinda just played into it. I actually met him through the Native cats, and he actually introduced to me a really good friend of mine, my man Molecules from The Legion. So it would be the four of us: it would be me, Chi, Lawnge and Molecules. Molecules went on to work with us on the road. And through that relationship, I wound up going on and putting out a Legion album, [Theme + Echo = Krill in 1994], on my little imprint, One Love.
But me and Chi just kinda gravitated towards each other. I just thought he was a really sharp, intelligent kid. And the fact that we kinda resemble each other a little bit made it easy. It was an easy friendship. He was younger than me, and so I even felt a little bit – It upset me when he got into the trouble he got into, because I started thinking back like, “Damn, did I play any part in his missteps?” Like, he was a young cat that was around me smoking weed and me doing things I might not necessarily had done around a minor. And so, he grew up fast. He saw a lot of things at a very young age. So, it even made me question my walk like, “Damn, did I have anything to do with his missteps?” And … maybe on a certain level, probably. But at the end of the day, each man has to be accountable for himself as far as the things that he does. But, I definitely know that you take in a lot, especially when you’re young and impressionable.
As well, he’s one of the cats that knew I had – there’s plenty of things that the public doesn’t know about me, but like I was an avid gun collector. I had a hundred guns. But I didn’t write rhymes about it. I also made it a point not to write about my fashion. Like, the things that kids do today – they want you to know I’m driving this, or my chain cost this – I made it a point not to do that. I did that specifically because I never felt that made me who I am. I didn’t think that made me who I was. And, it’s sad to see that unfortunately a lot of these kids really look at that as making you who you are. They respect you because of what you earn, or where you live, or what you drive. And I think that’s so unfortunate for the kid that’s in class that is witty, and sharp, and that has something to offer, as opposed to having a large bank account.
But, I look at Chi, and I’m proud of the man he’s grown into. Like, to have a conversation with him at this point, I hope some of who I am as well played into this. But I couldn’t help but think that some of who I was played into his downfall as well.
DX: Just out of curiosity – to bring this whole thing full circle – did you ever tell Chi about your time on Rikers?
Dres: Yeah, I did. Yeah, Chi knew about my time on Rikers.
DX: Did you tell him about that when he was 14?
Dres: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did. We were pretty close. We talked about a lot. Like, our families were close. Chi’s brother – Chi has an older brother who as well had done some time for a homicide. So, I mean, there were things to be taken that sometimes are overlooked.
DX: Damn … it’s like, I don’t wanna end on that note, but …
Dres: If I may throw in one last thing then, as far as what I’m doing right now: Me and Jarobi from A Tribe Called Quest are halfway done with an album that’s gonna blow cats socks off. It’s me and Jarobi – who no one has ever heard rhyme in their life – making an album together. And it’s just gonna be so dope.
DX: Wow. You guys got like a group name?
Dres: We’re playing with a couple, but I’m not even gonna go there right now. I’ll just let it be known that it’s Dres and Jarobi for the moment. So definitely stay tuned.