Heltah Skeltah: Still Ain't Havin' That
Then again, Sean Price and Rockness Monstah have always made a habit of doing the unexpected. Despite his more mainstream leanings, it was Rock who spent the better part of a decade AWOL after his distaste for dealing with Priority Records landed him with DJ Lethals camp. During the same time, Ruck contemplated quitting rap altogether, only to flirt with the street pharmaceutical industry before returning to the rap game with a vengeance as a soloist. As a group their catalogue consists of only two bipolar albums, which sound nothing alike, but somehow are both loved by their fans.
Attempts to get Ruck and Rock together to discuss ending their 10-year hiatus with the release of D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team) yield as many random twists as their respective career paths. The planned meeting is almost aborted due to a few iPhone issues, causing Rock to offer, We could've texted the shit out of each other, 'cause thats the only thing going through. But once you hear them together, the chemistry from 1996 is recreated all over again. No wonder theyre donning capes and masks.
HipHopDX: Before we get into anything, whats up with this album cover?
Sean Price: [Laughs] You know the name of the album is D.I.R.T., and we couldve went with a dirty type of album cover. But, Redman had that on lock with Dare Iz A Darkside, which was excellent. Then on Muddy Waters, he was dirty as hell too. It was like, What can you do after that? Being that D.I.R.T. has two meanings and we just said, Fuck it. Thats what were gonna be, Da Incredible Rap Team. Were two super villains.
Rockness Monstah: Were the superhero rap avengersDa Incredible Rap Team. This is what happens when you take an idea and push it as far as it can go.
DX: Im guessing that was what happened back when most of us first saw you guys in the Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka video with the Fab Five?
Rockness Monstah: Youve got five niggas with raw chemistry who act silly. [We said:]
Fuck it, were doing a video. Everybody line up.
Hold on, how did The Temptations do it?
Man, it wasnt The Temptations. It was The Four Tops.
How is it going to be like The Four Tops when theres five of us, stupid?
DX: It seems like you guys always manage to have fun even if youre rapping about stomping somebody out.
Rockness Monstah: You dont have to overdo everything. Were hardcore and we rap hardcore, but thats only half of who we are. We dont wake up at breakfast ice-grilling the Fruit Loops. Niggas got jokes, and we kid around and all of that stuff too. Niggas talk about keeping it real, but ask the hardest rapper out how many people he had to slap last year. Theres 365 days in a year, and if he slapped a lot of people last year, I guarantee it wasnt any more than 15. What were you doing the rest of those days? So, without rhyming about me taking out the trash, eating dinner or shit like that, I can show that Im a regular nigga through the videos.
DX: Are those two sides hard to balance?
Sean Price: No because thats really me. If you really know me, you know Im the same dude that will say that street shitI really mean that and Ill go there. At the same time, if youre my peoples youll be like, Yo, this nigga Ruck is a clownalways crackin mad jokes. I try to bring that across when I rap. Im hardbody, but at the same time, Ive got a sense of humor.
DX: After seeing what happened with Rick Ross and Akon, do you think that type of honesty gives you two an advantage?
Sean Price: I dont know. Im just honest with what I do, but I dont know if that has nothing to do with it. Everything that I say on my album aint true. I make up some stuff, and I think youre allowed to do that. Its called having an imagination. But, when I say things, nine times out of 10, I really mean it. I say it with the intent to really go there if I have to. You shouldnt fabricate to the point where people are thinking, Okay, youre fronting. I just try to keep it 100.
DX: Over 10 years after being released, there are still arguments about if Nocturnal or Magnum Force was the better of your two albums. Did you feel the need to cater to those two different fan bases?
Sean Price: Nah, we aint think of none of that shit. Thats too much thinking, man. Thats the problem with motherfuckers. Theyre sitting around going, Yo, what about the fans who only liked this album? Fuck that shit. [Laughs]
Rockness Monstah: We just wanna cater to people who like niggas that rhyme good. We try to appease ourselves, because we pop a lot of shit. We believe in ourselves. If you ever ask me or my boy about our work, or you ask who we think is better than us, well tell you nobody is. We were more focused on showing niggas that. Whos better, or whos the best consists of different things, and its determined by the people. But according to my standards, aint nobody fuckin with me and my boy. Thats what I wanted to show niggas.
DX: You two have always thought of yourselves as two established solo artists as well as a group, and sometimes you butt heads a lot. Does that affect the recording process?
Sean Price: We dont really butt heads in the studio. You know what we butt heads about? Picking the beats. I like a certain type of beat and he likes a different type of beat, so we have to meet. But, once we find the beat, its all good.
Rockness Monstah: We know each other. The butting headspause, no homo. The butting heads thing is actually entertaining to me, personally. Its funny. The beautiful thing is that aside from being Heltah Skeltah, were also Sean Price [click to read] and Rockness Monstah. So, if I like this beat that much and he doesnt, fuck it. Its going on my album. We enjoy making fun of the whole situation.
If a beat comes on that I know hell like but I cant stand it, I know to hold up. Im thinking, Oh yeah, this is Ruck all the way right here. Its fun, and its not a strenuous process, although it might take up a little bit of time.
DX: You two represent a brand of Hip Hop that you dont see much of anymore, with New York no longer being in the forefront. What are your thoughts since so much has changed since you last group effort?
Rockness Monstah: Hold on, I just wanna remind people of one thing. People say New York isnt in the forefront anymore, but three of the biggest players in the game are representing us. Weve got 50 [Cent] [click to read], Jay-Z [click to read] and motherfucking Puffy all from New York. Thats Queens, Brooklyn and Harlem all right there. These niggas are some of the few multi-millionaires in the game. All three of them are from the same city, New York City. Thats more than a lot of cities that are popping right now.
A lot of cities that are popping, or that are in the forefront, they may not be able to say that. Granted, I didnt do the research on it, because I dont give a fuck about shit like that. I could be wrong. But I cant think of a place where you have three niggas on that level in one city. You might have three rich niggas in Cali, but thats probably the whole [state of] Caliit aint just L.A. If Im wrong, then I stand corrected and I apologize. That shit is very obvious to me that the giants play in New York.
DX: Good point; let me rephrase that. As far as the New York sound from that era is concerned, you guys still represent that. Theres no crumping or snap dancing on a Heltah Skeltah album.
Rockness Monstah: This is true. Honestly, I feel like theres a lot of different types of music out there. The forefront is the forefront, but weve got to do our part to change what the forefront is. That doesnt come from the old if you cant beat them, join them mentality. Youre not going to get there doing that. Im not going to reveal all our secrets, but niggas have been seeing us a lot more lately than they were four or five years ago. Mind you Boot Camp Clik has been in the game as a whole for over 12, 13 years.
We had a point where, for lack of a better word, we were off of the motherfuckin map. Something were doing is working. Im not giving away the formula for how we did that, because fuck yall niggas. Not yall in particular, but these other industry dudes arent giving us their secrets.
DX: If I started naming todays relevant artists who released material in 1998, it would be a very short list. How did you guys avoid becoming milk box material?
Rockness Monstah: First of all, were in everyhood, USA. Second, we not only do this for the love, but we do this for the money. Were not outside selling drugs, robbing niggas, knocking over banks or no stupid shit like that. We are rappers and this is our profession. So if you want to eat, nigga you better rap. Fuck that, you better do something entertaining. This is show business, and you better make it your business to show niggas somethingotherwise you dont eat. I might be skinny, but Im eating.
Plus, Im attached to the hood. Im always in the hood. Im around young niggas, the dice game niggas and the niggas who still do a lot of that dirtfor better or for worse. In some situations it does turn out to be for worse. Hint, hint: Rock filthy but not guilty. Im around all types of people, good and bad. I know what it is, and a certain amount of hood motherfuckers hear all of my music first. As soon as I get home from the studio I go holler at my boy Elroy, and we get up with the homeboys. Well try it out on them and see their reaction.
I know these niggas and they cant fake it. You can tell when someone thinks something is just alright and when they think something is knocking. Im attached to the hood, and I know whats what. That allows us to stay relevant and know what niggas is checking for. We know what impresses niggas, even though theyre being force fed a whole bunch of other shit.
DX: Given your pending legal situation, do the positive aspects of being in that type of environment outweigh the negatives?
Rockness Monstah: The pros do outweigh the cons in that situation. Like I said, I know Im innocent, but ho, Im innocent. I trust that the DA is going to do his motherfuckin best to come up with what I want him to come up with. Hes gonna do his best to come up with that nothing thats sitting there. Do your job and do it well. As long as he doesnt have a bunch of malicious intent in his heart, then he should se what I want him to see. If thats the case then Ill be vindicated.
With that in mind, wasnt nobody thinking about Rock from Heltah Skeltah a year agoat least not separately from Boot Camp Clik. Its starting to turn into one big publicity stunt that I involuntarily embarked on. Somebody justwell, you know the story and shit. A lot of motherfuckers were hollerin at me, and I got a whole lot of press. I probably got more press for Shell Shock than I was originally going to get.
DX: True. You guys get so much love from the fans, but that hasnt necessarily translated into album sales. If you factor in that with the industry politics, was there ever a time when you considered hanging it up or getting a regular job?
Sean Price: Yeah, after Magnum Force. I was definitely like, What the fuck am I doing, man? Let me get the fuck out of here. I had some jobs, but I never really had a career job, you know? I had bum shit like working on trucks, messenger jobs or a bullshit construction job. Either that or I was selling drugs, and I didnt really want to go back to that. The same effort I put into selling drugs, I said, Let me give this Hip Hop shit one more try. The same effort I put into selling crack, I put into working on Donkey Sean Jr. Monkey Bars and all that shit. Then it popped off.
DX: At one point, both of you were courted by other labels. Given the current climate of the industry, do you have a preference as far as staying independent or being on a major label?
Sean Price: Ah man, Im Duck Down for life. If you see me on another label or in another situation youll start thinking, Damn, I thought you were Duck Down for life. Yeah, Im there because Dru [Ha] is my manager and he wants the best situation for me. If he finds a better situation than what we have here, then of course hes gonna lead me to that. But were still on Duck Down.
DX: There were talks between you guys and Roc-A-Fella, right Ruck?
Sean Price: There were talks, but there was no coming to the table or nothing. It didnt happen, but its all good though. I was just with Jay-Z in Germanyme, Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek [click to read], Saigon [click to read] and Little Brother [click to read] did a big Splash! Festival out there.
DX: How about you Rock?
Rockness Monstah: My preference is money. And honestly its not just money, my preference is success. That comes in the form of money and personally fulfilling my own goals with this shit. Thats getting my raises, my oohs, my ahhs and my square faces. All of that counts to me. I can get those on both. On an indie or a major, I can get money. I can get people to say, That nigga gets busy. If I put out Monsta Music tomorrow and it lands me and Duck Down a major deal with somebody, were gonna make that work. It doesnt matter if its Koch, Universal or Interscope.
DX: One of the biggest things to change since you guys have done a group album has been the presence of the Internet. A lot of artists are against it, but I remember Rock being one of the first rappers with a page on BlackPlanet.com.
RM: Yeah, I mean the funny shit[laughs] Black Planet was good to me too. The funny shit is that Duck Down was fuckin with the Internet before it was a phenomenon. Im not just saying that to be tooting our own horn either. Before niggas was wrapping vans, we had our logo painted on the van. Back then you would only see tour buses and shit. The Duck Down van wasnt even wrapped, the shit was just painted on there. As we were launching the label, we were sending out care packages to everybody with little remote controlled, model Duck Down vans inside. Everybody loved it, and before you knew it, niggas were wrapping vans. But shhh, dont tell nobody I said that.
Big shouts out to Cavi. Im not even sure if Im saying the name right, but these niggas are charging hundreds of dollars for army fatigues. Act like that aint because of us? I told them on Shell Shock, on Me 2 Nigga. I said, Who made Timbs and camouflage a fad/now even fly bitches rockin dog tags. I aint mad, but that was us. Thats not saying we were the first people wearing army fatigues and dog tags, because I must say Das EFX was on that shit too. But before us, the only niggas you might have seen wearing army fatigues on the streets were either really in the military or they were some stone cold, killer niggas. That was a special breed of killer niggas in the hood that none of us had anything to do with. Now with this whole fad/phenomenon where you see even the bitches rockin camouflage spandex, we did that for yall.
DX: Since you guys are Da Incredible Rap Team, lets end it on this note. From EPMD, to UGK and Outkast there have been some great two man teams. Who were some of your favorite duos?
Sean Price: Definitely EPMD for sure. Nice & Smooth knew how to get it poppin. Greg Nice would set it off like [sings], Gregg Niiiiice, Gregg N-I-C-E. Of course theres my Brownsville comrades M.O.P. too. Thats my top three, right there.
Rockness Monstah: UmmI definitely was a fan of EPMD and I still am. Theres EPMD, Mobb Deep [click to read], Capone-N-Noreaga and even Big Pun and Fat Joe [click to read] They werent a full-fledged duo, but they acted as one. Theres [Raekwon] [click to read] and [Ghostface] [click to read], [Method Man] and Red andI usually dont mention no other rappers who dont mention me. So you make sure you ask every motherfucker I mention how they feel about Rock, man. I dont have a problem being a hater, and if you want to call that hating, then its hate. Fuck that. I dont be showing anybody love who aint showing me love. You caught me off guard with the question. It is what it is.