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Building with Dres of Black Sheep
3/21/06 - exclusive interview

rapper Dres of Black Sheep picture

Who's a Black Sheep? What's a Black Sheep? So begins the first bar of "The Choice is Yours", one of the most infectious and memorable songs of early 90's Hip Hop. From that golden era comes Dres of the legendary group "Black Sheep", and along with artist and producer Mr. Lawnge, the duo makes its much anticipated return to the forefront.  Once one of the most known groups in hip hop, Black sheep dropped off the radar in the mid 90's, seemingly out of the picture with the exception of an occasional solo release.

The Native Tongue family members have returned with a new album and plan on taking hip hop back to the essence, we speak with frontman Dres in this exclusive interview. Black Sheep is back with a new album, tell us a bit about it.

Well the name of the new album is 8WM/Novakaine, what it kinda means is everyone has their own agenda. Weíre the kind of society where its not on our agenda where 'If I'm not making money, I'm numb to it', thatís where the novocaine comes in. I guess its kinda a cool concept to say its just showing some of the growth, just trying to share our experiences.


Its our job to entertain, but also to enlighten, were trying to do twofold, you know, some of both without being preachy. Instill some knowledge in cats, even more so than partying at this point. But at the same time, were not negating that its about entertainment, we want you to have a good time with us, and cats know us for party joints and good times. We wanted to create that as well, but we felt it was important to leave cats with brain food.

Your last album as a duo dropped in Ď94, why was there such a long hiatus for Black Sheep?

We never stepped away from it, we kinda wound up going our own route for a few years. I can definitely say we broke up as a group, not that that was a bad thing, but we hit our pinnacle, we were really young. Not to say we managed it poorly, but it was a time when hip hop really wasnít the conglomerate business it was now. We never felt it defined us as people, money wasnít such a factor at that point, it was nowhere near the multiple millionaires we have now, getting $200,000 for a one night set, that just didnít exist.


At the end of the day, it just didnít seem like it equaled out. We were getting publicity, but not really making money to really trade in our freedom and have a regular life. We felt like the money we made at hip hop, we could have made at a regular job. It wasn't definitive that we had to stay in this group, we kind of strayed away from it. I remember doing shows with Biggie and Pac, God bess both of them, but we literally might not have been here.


Who knows, sometimes its good to stay away from something, I think God blessed us, he gave us the opportunity to share with a lot of cats at this point in the game, which is so important. Maybe God was saving us for now, I donít know, but I definitely feel great about us coming back out, itís a good feeling project. Its almost a needed project. Thatís something that you donít really see these days, projects that make you feel good. If they talk about something that makes you feel good, its something just silly.

Kind of like Laffy Taffy music.

Yeah, exactly, its not that I hate Laffy Taffy music. At the end of the day, its not an even playing field, music such as a Laffy Taffy gets preferential treatment as far as airwaves, and the kids not knowing what hip hop is. That shouldnít even really be in the same sentence as hip hop, there's a big gap between rap music and hip hop.


We definitely came to represent the MC, not the rapper, but we on a cultural kick, we want cats to embrace that as well and know what it does mean to be into hip hop, not just be into rap. I think rap is something that spawned from hip hop, we want to take it back to the essence more so, and let them know where their favorite music comes from, musically not just lyrically.

Wolf in Sheepís Clothing commercially made a bigger splash than Nonfiction, why do you think that was?

Well, one of the main reasons is because of the label, when we released Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, the whole label was basically on point with it, they got behind it, we had videos. This was when this stuff wasnít really happening. By the time the second album came out, it was a whole new staff, Mercury folded the same year, we kinda got caught up in the politics of big business. That was one of they catalysts of us stepping away from it.


We did a record for Mercury, which was owned by PolyGram, which was owned by Philips, we made music for a light company that doesnít give a f**k about our music. We feel like it wasnít definitive to who we were, and didnít have a problem stepping away from it. The money we made, it wasnít big money, we probably made in a year what some cats make in one night for a show now. It wasnít like we ever looked at it like this couldnít be done without music, there's plenty of ways to skin a cat, and for the money we made, there's a dozen ways to make that income.

What kind of numbers did the first Black Sheep album do?

Almost platinum, the album sold about 900,000, and it was a harsh reality to find out we made pennies per unit. We were splitting 30 to 40 cents a unit, and just recouping several hundred thousand before we even got money from the label. We were young kids, 19, 21, it was a lot to learn hands on.

How will your latest group album differ from the first two?

The latest one, to me, its so advanced as far as where we are, our mentality, how were delivering it. We definitely elevated our whole game, you can see the whole growth, I feel really great about It.

Whatís your favorite track on the new album?

My favorite track is probably Novokaine.

So does Lawnge do most or all of the production on this album?

Nah, actually on the new album, which is kinda different for us, we worked with all outside production. We rocked with some cats, one of the main guys that did the production was Bean 1 from out of Seattle, him and Vitamin D, Show Biz, Kwame, one from Lord Finesse, my man Window Panes as well. We really felt like it was kind of a good thing, we didn't have to do it exactly like we used to do it.


Lyrically I feel cats are a step behind, but production wise cats are a step ahead today. There are all kinds of tracks today, the music is diverse where you can get something soulful or damn near techno popping in the clubs these days, let alone the down South bounces, West Coast. There's so many different sounds now, there's a lot to play with, thatís not a bad thing, but certain cats be definitive.


Cats in New York kind of stepped away from what got them grounded, its kinda funny seeing cats in New York with bandannas on bounce tracks, merging into this one colorless music. Its like black people and white people f**king all over the world, beige people now, thatís how the music sounds like now, so much merging It isnít as definitely as it was. But I think thatís a good forum for us to step out and do what we do.

You know your core audience is going to cop your new music, do you feel that youíve evolved enough to create an album that youíre average high school kid would feel?

Without question, I think that the kid in high school is gonna be so appreciative because kids are smarter than we give them credit for. The music is dumbed down so much, I have a son thatís 18, at the end of the day, I got cats around me that are seeing first hand and appreciative. My son might be around me when I play something and my son's almost spellbound by some of the things being said.


My own son will be like this project is so important, it says so much that kids need to hear. Not in a preachy way, I feel like the first album wasnít preachy, but it said a lot in a real roundabout way. Wanted to give cats an opportunity to hear a part of the new project, we have a myspace page cats can go online and they can read about what's going on with us and hear about us


I think itís a good sport for cats, they can even order a t-shirt or get a sample of the album. Once the ball gets rolling, I think its gonna get a great look, I want to shout cats like Talib, Common, Black Star, Kanye, Mos. They donít do what we do, but they're in the same vein as what we do, its good to step in the right direction. Cats need to be themselves and not get caught up in what's making money as much as what's making sense.

You released a solo album a while back, what pushed you to do the solo thing?

Me and Lawnge had stepped away from each other, I can easily say that this is what we were born to do. I was in Carolina, I had a solo project on my own online, and I wound up getting a little distribution offer from California. Soon as I signed they folded, I was like I didnít do this for the money as much as having something to do. It was just an experimental project to stretch my arms.

Do you have any plans to follow up with another solo album?

Maybe down the line, weíll see how it plays out. My ambitions at the moment are for me and Lawnge to re-establish the group. You never know, hopefully be a better look than the last one, which was liberating, but not necessary successful.

From what I understand, youíve been on tour for a while with the Native Tongue family, is this right?

Touring with De La, doing a lot of shows with De La, but now weíre doing a lot of our own shows. When we first got back together, I felt like the best way to get word out was to jump out with our fam. De La embraced the new project and they were letting me run around with them a lot, getting word of the project out. Weíre doing our own thing, hopefully this Native Tongue tour, me and Prince Paul are trying to spearhead a Native Tongue project.

Guest spots used to be a minimum on the old albums, is that still the case today?

Mm hmm, no guests. And thatís just 'cause we want you to get so much a compilation or a mixtape. Lot of cats is like, the piggyback syndrome, everyone wants to do one verse on one record, we donít want to run that route. Maybe down the line, add one.

When you decide to add one down the online, and had to choose only ONE artist to do a guest spot on your next album, who would it be

Thatís kinda real.... Probably.Ö I like a lot of cats, but I donít feel like kids are proper to the game. I would love to do a joint with Nas, a Jay, a Kanye, Mos. For that matter, Eminem. Honestly, the hottest cat, but in my personal opinion, anyone with a sense of self. Even Jay and Nas really have a sense of self thatís reflective of the struggle as far as what the music is. Where we come from with it.

You made your film debut in Laurence Fishburneís ďOnce in the LifeĒ but hadnít appeared in anything big since, were you just not as interested in acting as you were with music?

You know what, I'm really interested in acting, but I think for the moment, I felt like I needed to concentrate on this new project. At some point I would like to push the envelope on that side, acting, but its good to put my foot down on music and concentrate. Maybe at the end of this year I'll start reading for roles. It was a dope experience, I gotta big up my man Fish on that one, first time acting and to have scenes with Laurence Fishburne is huge.

Are you doing anything outside of music right now?

Nah, thatís it. Music is my life, other than shows. Really prepping for the new album, been very fortunate, a charmed life Iíve been able to live. I've never been in it for the Bentley or a certain zip code, I've always been able to maintain, which is really a blessing. I kind of embrace the struggle, and enjoy seeing how far I can go from zero to sixty in how long.

A few weeks ago, I heard a local station was spinning ďFlavor of the MonthĒ, whatís it like for you today when you hear one of your tracks on the radio or coming out of someoneís system.

Like on the real, its always a great feeling, I'm so fortunate that I have "The Choice is Yours", and every single day for 15 years, cats have chosen to play it somewhere in the world. You can't pay for that, no artist has that. From Michael Jackson to Dizzie Gillespie, no one is playing an album of yours every day, itís a blessing. It always feels good to hear someone playing our music, I really know that they donít have to, they're doing it because they like it and it means something to them.

Do you ever find that you get more love from Latin fans who appreciate that someone like you was putting it down for Latinos?

Without question. Like Spanish people are very passionate, I'm half Puerto Rican, half black. The Puerto Rican side of my family is so passionate, they Ďre happy for anyone Hispanic thatís making sense or enlightening or just of substance, they put it on their shoulder. I've got that over the years, cats thinking I'm Dominican, I'm repping the Hispanic cats that only speak a drop of Spanish.


A lot of cats when the families get together, you have to be quiet, cats looking at you sideways because your Spanish is so bad. But that doesnít negate who your family is, you love them just as abuela, grandma, you embrace who you are, thatís just what it is. I'm one of those cats, even though I spoke Spanish before I spoke English, my parents separated when I was young, so I didnít speak Spanish, my mother didnít speak it.


So when I came to my father's family, I really was the black sheep, speaking to my grandparents was really rough back then. Its reality for a lot of cats, music brought me closer to those cats, half Spanish who donít speak Spanish for s**t, but that doesnít stop me from being who I am. Were all trying to be happy and live life.

So are you still holding it down for North Carolina right now?

I'm in New York, been back here for some years, but I got a lot of love for North Carolina, my moms, my sister out there. I'm definitely a native new Yorker. Carolina introduced me to a whole new life, it probably saved my life. I was a real fast kid and got into plenty of trouble, Carolina slowed me down and showed me a life other than my block and my building, it gave me perspective and introduced me to different types of people and how to be respectful without being threatening, how to earn respect.


I was in a marching band and played tennis, s**t I could never experience in New York, because I kept an open mind and wasnít afraid to experiment regardless of what anyone thought. Plus when I came down there, I was a cool New York kid, it didnít matter what anyone else thought. I already knew that they probably couldnít survive where I came from, I was kinda years beyond street cred, I wasnít moving for the authority of anyone, just trying to be happy, and thatís so much of what life is about.


Later for what cats are thinking about you, live your life, do what makes sense to you, as long as your family and friends understand you, and your friends understand yourself. And sometimes family and friends wont understand you.

Anything else you want to add for the readers and fans?

I guess maybe reinforce that donít be afraid to hold on. Even at this point in life, I'm an older dude today, sometimes your aspirations, you can only do part time for whatever reason. But its not for you to ever let them go regardless of what you want to be or do, always hold on to your aspirations. The day you let them go, they were never for you anyways. Its okay to spend your life in pursuit. There's plenty of ways to make money besides basketball, hustling or rap. Donít let money be the catalyst of your happiness, there's a lot more happiness than what's on a ledger.

And definitely stay tuned for this black sheep album, its gonna be a sight to behold, we got the whole world watching the floor for this one, no one's really extending themselves too much to make it happen, we really have to make it happen. Thank God for cats like you and DJs, cats not caught up in the system about who I run with or who I rock with, the cats that have a sense of self is who we reaching out to. All that glitters aint gold, the real gold is probably something that people arent gonna necessarily see because it comes from the inside, and thatís whats up.


Black Sheep on Myspace:

Dres on Twitter:        



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