A classic quote from American author, advertising executive, and politician Bruce Barton, reads, “When you are through changing, you are through.” So why has rap hated on Black Sheep? A part of hip-hop’s storied Native Tongue collective, the duo’s 1991 debut album, A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, garnered both critical acclaim and legend in rap circles with its playful wit and satire serving as a lighter, equally effective alternative to the angry political rap of its time. With their disc going gold (when gold really meant something in rap) and the Native Tongues going strong, Dres and Mr. Lawnge had quite the future ahead of them.
But then, the NY-born, North Carolina migrant MCs changed. Their sophomore album, Non-Fiction, turned off fans with a tone that was notably more serious and less whimsical than their debut from three years earlier, and their Mercury recording home folded, and Lawnge left the group to pursue a solo career. Dres has kept busy with a solo project and cameos elsewhere, but the new 8VM/Novakane shows Dres coming back like Jordan wearing the 4-5, reigniting the amusing, soulful Black Sheep fire while maintaining the meditative ripeness of their second effort. In an interview with HipHopCrack, Dres reflects on where he’s been and focuses on where he’s going.
HipHopCrack: So what have you been up to between then and the time the last Sheep album had came out?
Dres: Various things, to be honest. I had bought a crib down in Carolina for a few years, I was down in Charlotte, and it gave me opportunity to be closer to my family and just some other things. I stayed kind of busy in the music, I did a solo project that I sold myself online, five or six years ago. I did some stuff with other cats Handsome boy modeling school, some acting in a movie called “Once In The Life” with Laurence Fishburn. I mean just little things, nothing where I was in the public eye. But at the end of the day, I kept busy and just tried to be happy. It’s kind of like if people don’t see you, they feel like you’re not doing nothing. But it’s just life; everybody lives once, and I’m enjoying mine.
HipHopCrack: There’s a bit of confusion on my part—I thought you and Mr. Lawnge had broken up as a group, but he’s still on the album…
Dres: He actually makes an appearance on a couple of hooks but he decided to pursuit a solo career, so Lawnge is pursuing his own thing. I wish him the best, and at the end of the day that’s what it is, dude decided he wanted to pursuit a solo career toward the end of this project, and he went for it. You’ll hear him on a couple of hooks on the album, though. But a pro to it is that I get a chance to bring Sammy B, the DJ of the Jungle Brothers, I bring him on the road with me now. But at the end of the day, Lawnge just had ambitions to do his own thing, so I wish him the best with it.
HipHopCrack: So what is like with touring with Sammy B now as oppose to Lawnge?
Dres: I think its kind of cool, me and Sammy B are cut from the same cloth. We both have grown man perspectives on a lot of things, and we get along really well. It’s cool. There are certain situations that he was privy too and I wasn’t and vice versa, so we kind get to see things from each other’s perspective.
HipHopCrack: You are from New York but you actually grew up in North Carolina. How do each of those locations affect your music?
Dres: I think more than geographical would probably be our parents. Like you kind of grow up listening to your parents’ music. So at the end of the day I mean, I think just me having lived in New York and Carolina it kind of open me up to the diversity of music. When I was in Carolina, I would probably been more serious about hip hop than if I was in New York. I felt like in New York, you kind of take it for granted because you grow up around it, and you see that cats that do it, if you don’t do it yourself. In North Carolina you study a record. You knew where LL took his breaths; you studied a record, because that was basically all you had. So it kind of made us more deft at the art hip hop in my opinion, because that’s what we were in to. And us being from New York, we were very much into the purest form of what we knew hip hop could be—and that was straight coming from the hood. It was just a New York thing, totally.
I come from a place and I have friends, and all of us could DJ. All of us could rhyme. We were all into hip hop and I remember tagging up a board, a wall in North Carolina. It was probably a horrible tag [laughs], but it was just where I was from. I was just like, “Damn, it is just so clean out here. A kid would just love to be able to tag some stuff down here.” And I wrote my name real big with about eight different spray cans, and it was because that’s who I was a hip hop enthusiast. That wasn’t even necessarily who I was, I wasn’t running around tagging shit. That was probably the only time I tagged something in my life.
HipHopCrack: As a side note, what you think of Little Brother? There from North Carolina, too.
Dres: I got so much love for Little Brother, that’s my word. I think they are dope. I feel like they are younger cousins or siblings of ours, I feel like they were the young kids at the cookout my people was throwing who was studying what was going on. We kind of share some of the same terrain. And at the end of the day, I’m proud of who they are, I see how dope they are. I see them to be artists; alot of cats I don’t see to be artists. Regardless of what their records sold, regardless of who’s playing their video, regardless of anything, as a person, I see who they are and I dig them. I like 9th wonder a lot, (I like) his energy and I think he’s a dope producer, and I think them kids got something to say. Granted, when I say kids, we all evolve—fifteen years ago, I was a kid too. I like where they are, and I hope to do some stuff with them in the future.
HipHopCrack: It’s been a decade since the previous Black Sheep albums, and it’s been a minute since your solo album, too. What are some things you do now or some topics that you looked at on the new album that you can remember thinking about completely differently during the time span of your previous albums?
Dres: That’s a good question. I’ll say maybe something like a “Be Careful,” where I just hadn’t had those experiences yet, to be able to know…I think we’re all cautious as people of who we are around, but it’s only after you know certain shit in life that you know why you trying to be careful. Then a record like “Novakane,”where I’m talking about we’ve got to start choosing better options for what we do. Everybody likes nice shit, but at the end of the day. I’ve grown to a person who rather spends $50,000 on a day care center than $50,000 on a bracelet. To me, it just means more. And that’s how you shine, by taking care of yourself and by taking care of people around you, and helping each other. If you’re the catalyst of a cat being able to take his daughter to day care and go to work, or the woman being able to take her son to day care to go to work and provide for this child, you’re embracing a way that a bracelet would never to begin to have you endeared. That’s where I’m headed. Not saying I’m going to do that, I feel like it’s important to put that kind of energy in the air. It’s important for cats to know that those are options. I ain’t saying you got to do it, but I am saying you should know that a situation like that exists when you walk into a store to do some of shit that you walk into the store to do. Like, “Damn, what really make sense?” I’ve bought elaborate shit that I’ve lost; you can’t lose a day care, you cant lose a laundromat. It’s certain little shit we can start doing as a community to shine as oppose to shining for self. And at the end of the day, I like nice shit still. You’re going to see me and I look nice, and if you choose to price what I’m wearing, that’s on you. I’m not really the cat that’s gone make a record about it. I don’t really make a record about my attire and or my car. That’s shit that people who have nothing to talk about do, in my opinion. Whenever I’m in a conversation when someone is constantly talking about what they own or what they aspire to own, they’re not really saying shit. Those are people who don’t have nothing to say.
HipHopCrack: Why do you think your second album wasn’t received as well as your first?
Dres: For various reasons. I think the most important one was that the label we were on wound up folding. From us, to Vanessa Williams, to Tony Tone Toni, everybody wound up not having a label. If a label is about to fold, it means there is a going down process. It never really got the opportunity I felt like the first got. For the first album we shot four videos, there was so much more done to create (a buzz).
At a certain level cats kind of expected A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing Part 2, and that’s really what that record is. I think it’s a dope record in my personal opinion, but I think every artist thinks their shit is dope, so I’m not going to get caught up in that. But I’ve been approached by people that feel the same way, and then I’ve been approached by people who feel the opposite. So at the end of the day, I’m good with it. I feel like I achieve what I was trying to do; rather or not it does it for you, it’s your prerogative. But it was just who we were at that point; it was real, and it came from a real place. So I have no problem with what happened. I mean, yeah you wish your label had been a little bit stronger or whatever, but at the end of the day, that might’ve have been a blessing.
I’ve been to a show where the bill was us, Biggie and Pac, so I really understand that I don’t have to be here. Even taking a step back from the industry, it gave me a perspective I honestly don’t think I would have had otherwise. I think I was just as caught up in a lot of shit as a lot of people, and it was only when I removed myself from it that I kind of found myself a little bit. And I’m good with it. I don’t live for other peoples’ expectations of me. I’m real good with my life, and I enjoy it. I have aspirations. I wake up to try to do what I’m doing right now, and I feel good about what I’m trying to do.
HipHopCrack: I was asking that because it seems like this new project is really a happy medium between the both of those albums.
Dres: That’s true. I don’t think it’s something I consciously try to do, but I agree with you. That’s very true.
HipHopCrack: What was your main objective with the new album?
Dres: Honestly I wanted to make an album that each song could stand on the merit of itself. I wanted to make an album where the song that came on didn’t sound like the song that preceded it or the song that would come after. I wanted to make a record where it was just soulful, and a easy listen. Like I didn’t want to do something other than make some hot shit. Real simple—regardless of who produced it or what was going on, I wanted to do something soulful and reflective of who I was as a MC or what I was trying to convey.
HipHopCrack: Who do you look at as your audience these days? Your initial audience or some new listeners?
Dres: I think this is definitely something for cats that know of us and like us as a group. I think they will be very happy with the album, and I also feel like it’s a great introduction for cats that might be too young or not know who we are, or might not have even been into hip-hop at that point. I come from a place when I feel like we were one of the groups that introduced hip-hop to the masses. In the hood it was always there, but as far as suburban wise, I feel like were one of the groups that introduced. There was lot of more introduction after we left, so there might be people who are really kind of new to hip-hop, and I feel like this is a great album for them to really get a gist of what hip hop isEverybody is quick to say what is not hip hop or what we hearing now is not hip hop. Well if you look for some hip hop, I think I’ve got a dose of it for you, so that you can understand what cats talk about when they say why (current rap) is not hip hop.
I feel like this album is for anybody with a sense of self, and that kind of goes against age. Sometimes you can be a young cat and have a good sense of who you are as a person. And everybody with a good sense of self its kind going to listen to this record. I don’t feel like it is for everyone. At the end of the day, ignorance is bliss, and there’s a lot of bliss in the world. Not to say that those cats can’t get something from it, because I hope that they do, but its not really my job to make sure that they do. I’m really looking for the cat who knows who they are, and wants to carry a torch that lights the way to somewhere.
HipHopCrack: Something that stood out with your music, especially your first album, is that your music really made it sound like you were having the time of your life while you were recording. Was this new album just as fun?
Dres: Yeah, I’ll say so. This is me as a grown man. That’s a big difference. That’s not going to be as whimsical, don’t get it twisted. Certain aspects of who we were are always who we’re going to be, so I think that comes across as well. But there’s a lot of growth that people will see between the two albums, as far as delivery, enunciation and everything. It’s like a basketball player; he could be really dope in his rookie year, but he’s not really quite the player he’s going to be as a seasoned veteran. Even if his physical prowess isn’t the same, he’s just that much more learned, and has that much more of an understanding of the concept of the game.