Underground Report (La Coka Nostra & SoulStice)
It is difficult to properly introduce Danny Boy, creator and member of the '90s group House of Pain (with members Everlast and DJ Lethal) for his accomplishments surpass the accolades rightly awarded to an all-white Hip Hop group responsible for one of the biggest party tracks, Jump Around. After three solo albums (House of Pain, Same as it Ever Was, Truth Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again) and two EPs (Whos the Man, Legend), the group came to a halt in 1997 as members disseminated to pursue individual endeavors. For Danny Boy it was a time of discovery as he continued to pursue his creative instincts in the fashion and video production industries. A decade later, former members reunited to form La Coka Nostra, this time with two additional members, Ill Bill and Slaine. After three years in the making, they released a much-anticipated album, A Brand You Can Trust (a July gem featuring Snoop Dogg, B-Real, Bun B and Immortal Technique among others), and released a mixtape which easily receives heavy rotation status composing of intricate lyricism, hard core content, and a perfected mixdown only DJ Eclipse and Statik Selektah can be responsible for. Sit tight as we get into the world of Danny Boy, touching upon the new album, drug trafficking, and his former drug addiction.
HipHopDX: Tell me about A Brand You Can Trust.
Danny Boy: It just came out; took three and a half years to make. Were very proud of it, its like a baby. So far the response has been good. We wanted to bring back that style of Hip Hop that we felt was missing from the world at this point. I grew up on N.W.A. [click to read], Public Enemy [click to read], all that good stuff. I aint hearing that anymore, all Im hearing is autotune and people whining on public radio. Its the right time. Like I said, its been three years in the making only cause logistically I got a band thats spread out throughout the United States, and they [the group] also have solo projects and other things going on. So we agreed early on that we wanted to be in the studio all together instead of emailing tracks back and forth. We wanted to build a record off a vibe that was kind of organic; we wanted to capture that spirit being live in the studio. So it took a while but we tried to capture that essence.
DX: What do you mean by whining on the radio?
Danny Boy: When I turn on any radio and I hear what theyre calling Hip Hop is just not what Im calling Hip Hop. The state of Hip Hop in the last five years minimal, 10 yearsits just not what I grew up on. Im a Big Daddy Kane [click to read] fan, Im a Kool G Rap [click to read] fan, Im a Rakim [click to read] fan and I dont hear that on the radio.
DX: What is particularly missing?
Danny Boy: Credibility, one. Two, theres no danger in this music anymore. Heres an example: my mother has a comprehensive Motown collection and she loves anything with Soul. When I first came home with a Public Enemy record, she was scared of it. She was like I feel it but its powerful, its political, its dangerous. That kind of Hip Hop is whats missing from whats going on right now; and whats going on right now I dont relate [to]. Its not my cup of tea. Its oversaturated with dudes that I feel can fairly rap, who throw some autotune over a beat a mediocre beat at thatNegative emotions that I have over the state of Hip Hop and what we thought was missing was what we delivered.
DX: You mentioned Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Rakim. How does one go back to creativity and basics of lyricism while remaining innovative 20 years later?
Danny Boy: You have to ask Everlast or Ill Bill [click to read] those questions. Really, what I do is everything but that. Im the dude that builds the Ferrari, theyre my engine. Im the dude who comes up with the concept. Im the dude who keeps the morale high. Im the dude who comes up with the logo Im the booster club with these emcees. And what I did was feel like something was missing, start off with a few emcees which is what I did with La Coka Nostra with Slain. And I heard Slain spit and I was like, this kids ridiculous. And heres some kid in Boston that nobody ever really heard of; and hes like a diamond in the rough and hes spitting crazy. The stuff he was talking about is the stuff I only wish I can write about. And I gave up the writing part of it because everybodys game got so advanced. I hear kids nowadays - I meet a lot of emcees and they all have a real high level that theyre spitting at. This kid I thought had something that everybody else didnt have, and the stuff he was touching on was... there was something special in this kid. And what I did was bring him to L.A. and tried to make a record with him and slowly but surely everybody was feeling what he was doing and we all kind of got around Slain and made the group La Coka Nostra.
DX: You mentioned getting together with the group in the studio versus emailing verses. Much of Hip Hop is created via email today, which a lot of fans are probably unaware of. Is there too much of a difference with creating Hip Hop in the studio as opposed to utilizing email and technology to merge music?
Danny Boy: For this project, I think so, because were trying to make alpha-male rah-rah music and in order to have that vibe, you need alpha-male rah-rah dudes whilin out in the studio to get that vibe up - as opposed to getting it through the email on a Monday night and going home to wifey, trying to match the temp, you know what I mean? Over the years we captured this exact '90s swinging-off-the-chandelier type Hip Hop and thats something we were conscious of when we went back in the studio this time.
DX: What do Everlasts choruses do for the melody of a track? Is there a particular mood that is sought after or does it just happen?
Danny Boy: It just happens. I come at these records from a design perspective, I didnt get full creative control over this project. I never expected Everlast to sing some of those hooks; I figured he would just do his rhyming. Its like an all-star team. Everybody brought their thing Ill Bills got a certain knack for what he does. Everlast has a bag of tricks, he can not only rap, he can write songs well, sing well, play guitar well. We put a little bit of everybodys specialty into this record.
DX: Lets talk about the super-group aspect of La Coka Nostra. Are expectations higher as most of you are members of already notable groups? Are you worried about that?
Danny Boy: No, not at all. Weve got our plaques and spacemen, MTV Awards and awards on the wall or just about everybody. Or everybodys got credibility in their own thing. That was the whole point of this thing, there really was nothing to lose. We put our time and effort into it and everything thats come out of it has been nothing but beneficial to everybody involved. It wasnt like the '90sthere was no expectations at all like its incredible just to get on MTV. But nowadays none of those things apply. None of these people read magazines anymore, nobody watches MTV anymore; we did it for all the right reasons this time. Not that we did it for the wrong ones in the past, but everyone was like, Lets make a record.
DX: Is there a promotion or glamorization of drug trafficking on this album?
Danny Boy: Yeah, absolutely. [Laughs] Its tongue-in-cheek. Its a metaphor and when you listen to the record, youll come away with it. Drugs, one, its become a staple in Hip Hop just as anything, as an AK-47. Its one of those taboos. I grew up when nobody ever talked about any of that kind of stuff. Drug trafficking was what you said let me retract that were not trying to glamorize drug trafficking. But drugs have definitely played a part in all of our lives, and a negative part. For myself personally, Im four years sober. I was on methamphetamine. And prior to that I was doing a lot of cocaine and it totally fucked my life up, drugs. And drugs has been a recurring them in Slains life everybodys been affected by it. So its kind of tongue-in-cheek.
When we started out, the name came from too much partying in the studio when Slain was in there doing his demos with [DJ] Lethal. And I texted him one night, I asked him how everything was going, I couldnt come to the studio, I wanted to check in on them. I was acting like their parental supervision. And he says, Were all getting along good, were like one big family. I feel like its La Cosa Nostra. And I said if you guys dont slow down its gonna be called La Coka Nostra and it was like haha, all funny. And it stuck. It was a bad name I was calling these dudes and it became one of those Thats what youre gonna call us, were gonna be La Coka Nostra, and it stuck. To us now what La Coka Nostra means is the drug of ours, and our drug is the music. I dont want you to think were glorifying drug trafficking. Its a metaphor.
DX: Im glad you explained that, thank you. What made you decide to get sober?
Danny Boy: I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and I couldnt do it anymore. I never thought I was gonna be a drug addict. That wasnt in the cards for me. I was always hip, slick and sick and I didnt think I was always after clothes and money I got caught up too. Hip Hop for me originally was more than the music, it was the fashion. That was almost more appealing than just The Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash [click to read] at the time. And then I started seeing graffiti and oh shit. I was caught up in all of it. That was the appeal originally
So when I started doing music, I worked at a record store before House of Pain. I never thought Id be a drug addict. The fact that we did House of Pain was built on the fact that we were proud of who we were. We were Irish kids from New York who like to drink and like to fight but I never thought a drug thing would be in the cards. When you get that kind of success that Jump Around broughtwhen your jeans are small and all of a sudden you have multi-platinum records and Im hanging out with all my people I looked up to and I have a million dollars in the bank its a high but the comedown is even worse. And so in 97 when it all came to crashing down and I wasnt prepared theres nothing I can think of that can prepare somebody for that kind of success and that kind of comedown I turned to drugs to kill the pain. And I did it for four years, methamphetaminewithout stopping. That was the drug of choice at the time in L.A. with the kids I was running with. I got sober for a little bit, and then after three-and-half years I decided that I didnt have a problem with drugs and alcohol, I just needed to have a couple drinks once in a while and Id be alright. And immediately I found myself doing drugs within a week after leaving sobriety. And it took me three years to have my life crash and burn again. And now Ive been sober for four years and hopefully I wont have to make the same mistakes. I couldnt be happier with where my life is. And Im very happy to have the opportunity to not just travel the world, but I got my health, I got my group, I got a good bunch of people I run with
DX: Congratulations. And thank you.
Moving from the west coast, we find ourselves in the midst of Chi-towns winds where rapper SoulStice re-defines creative courage within an industry that seems to breed patterns, trends and gimmicks. He debuted with North by Northwest: Solid Ground, and followed it up with Dead Letter Perfect. This July, SoulStice is back again with an international concept and a thoughtful appeal to his and producer S-Bes Beyond Borders creation, an album created as a result of SoulStices travels to Europe and his choice to expand beyond what he knows and loves the US Hip Hop culture. Enlisting artists from various walks of life (including France, Belgium, Russia and Canada), as well as touching upon various universal subjects (love, gay marriage), SoulStice reminds us that there is a world of Hip Hop left unexplored beyond North American borders. HipHopDX sits down with the electrical engineer himself who works for the Department of Defense to discuss his international collaborations, the issue of gay marriage, and love and Hip Hop.
HipHopDX: S-Be he produced the entire album?
SoulStice: Hes one of the producers I work with; for the purpose of the album, he did the instrumental music for the whole album.
DX: Beyond Borders has an international feel to it, not so much beat-wise but definitely in your choice of features and diversity in languages. Why did you choose to go beyond Hip Hops mainstream borders?
SoulStice: I went to Russia and I studied there around the 2000 time frame; I studied Russian culture and language in St. Petersburg. I was still doing Hip Hop and I ran into some emcees when I was over there and ended up having a bilingual cipher with a Russian emcee. And I was rhyming in English and he was rhyming in Russian and we didnt know what each other was saying. [Laughs] It was dope so I started to get a little bit of a concept of how much this art form, this genre of music that we created here in the US, has really affected other places and how weve exported our culture to different places. Over the years I had a chance to travel more physically and tour some places and I went with different musicians; and what I noticed is that although we export our culture a lot of time, we dont always import the culture we helped create. So thats what Im gonna do on this project, its kind of an international concept album. Im exploring themes of global issues and also collaborating with a lot of different artists that I met along the way in these different countries.
DX: Speaking of different countries, the track Beyond Borders features Supastition and Angelina. I couldnt make out her accent, where is she from?
SoulStice: Angelina is actually from Russia. Shes got a hybrid she was born in Russia; and her family is a family of musicians. And in order to pursue artistic freedom that they couldnt find in Russia at that time, they moved to the UK. Its a hybrid accent, Russian and British.
DX: Ah! How did you end up collaborating with French rapper Kohndo on 2 Days in Paris?
SoulStice: This last November I got a chance to tour France; I had a really great time out there, did eight different cities. The last show I had was in Paris; I was doing my thing and I wore a t-shirt that said I am classic. [laughs] And I got a lot of love from the crowd, and after I got off stage this dude walks up to me and says Yo, you are classic, cause he was feeling the set. And later on in the night, he gets up on stage and does his thing. And it turns out he was a pretty famous rapper in France. And he was feelin the music that I was coming with and I liked his music; I met him on tour in Paris and we took it from there.
DX: Thats whats up. I assume youve seen Paris, Je Taime?
SoulStice: I have. Thats where I got the phrase from. I assume you have as well?
DX: I enjoyed it much. One gets a different perspective on life from international films. Lets get into Eternia whos on No Place Like It, also featuring Richie Filth and Stef, from Belgium. What prompted you to have a female on this track seeing as how that gender rarely gets shine today?
SoulStice: I go by talent first. Eternia happens to be female but shes just a dope emcee. I met her about four years ago in New York at a show we did up there and weve been in touch ever since. Weve been looking for an excuse to get on the same track and this was one of those. Shes living in New York right now, but she happened to be from Canada, and I wanted to get a different perspective on there. And when I approached her and [Richie Filth] about the project, I told them about the concept of the album and I said us US cats, we know about America but we dont know about other countries and things they go through. A lot of countries follow the US culture and US politics, but we in the US dont necessarily do the same in a lot of cases. [Laughs] I want the good and the bad about your particular country, about your experience in your country and what you love about it, and what you dont love about it. And thats the kind of a holistic view I was trying to get on Canada and Ireland.
DX: Thats dope. I met Eternia at a show last month in New York. She has crazy energy on stage. Canadas definitely proud of her.
SoulStice: Has she opened your mind to Canadian Hip Hop?
DX: She opened my mind to Eternia Hip Hop. [Laughs] Drake is growing on me also. Why did you write Strange Kind of Love?
SoulStice: I recorded that joint towards the end of the album and the straightforward theme of the album deals with the international concepts that we already talked about. I also wanted to make sure I captured some social issues that are relevant to us right here at home. And by definition they transcend place, they are relevant to everyone. I wanted to make sure that the album is not only about being beyond borders and visiting places beyond borders but thinking beyond borders as well. And one of the most pressing social issues of our time is the gay rights issue and issue of gay marriage. And being somebody thats in an interracial relationship my wife and I have a great relationship, she is white and I am black and us being from Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in America and doing the interracial dating thing while we were there, we just had some different experiences that I drew from to write that first verse and thats about my relationship with my wife.
The second verse is drawing a parallel and saying there was a time in American history where black and white people couldnt get married due to segregation laws. It seems obvious now in retrospect that people of different races should get married; thats a no-brainer, it was just stupid. [Laughs] Twenty years from now, were gonna look back at this time period and say, Yo gay marriage, its obvious. If people are in love and they want to get married, obviously they should be able to get married and enjoy the same benefits as everybody else.
DX: Why is the concept of love between a man and a woman often missing from Hip Hop?
SoulStice: Thats a good question. I dont even know if the song necessarily touches on that
DX: Whenever a rapper seems to make a song resembling a relationship between a man and woman, most of the time the woman is a metaphor for Hip Hop.
SoulStice: Thats a good question. I think new songs where Hip Hop is used as a metaphor for a relationship or whatever is pretty clich by now. [Laughs]
DX: Lupe Fiasco did it on The Cool. The concept is still popular among some
SoulStice: Somehow it became uncool to express genuine feelings for a woman. I dont know what it is. We already know Hip Hop is over-masculinized. And so it feeds into that whole culture of hyper-masculinity that we have in Hip Hop today where its all Gs up, hoes down, straight out of 1993. Ever since gangster Rap hit maybe I cant blame this on gangster Rap, Im not sure but ever since that period, weve just been hypermasculine, sexist in Hip Hop. And like you said, a lack of love songs, expressing love for a woman thats a central woman in your life, homophobia all that plays into it.