The last time you turned on the TV, you probably caught the Kia car commercial with the rapping hamsters. It's one of the most popular ads out right now, and most recognizable to any Hip Hop listener. Anybody who was there when this song first saturated its way into the fabric of America knows that it means so much more.
In 1991, when the Black Sheep first hit the scene, they represented the highest element of Hip Hop at the time. De facto leader Dres and partner Mr. Lawnge's debut LP A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing was equally lyrical, visual, comedic and most of all- high quality. Black Sheep was more than just another group in at a time when new groups frequently introduced themselves with high marks. They were members of a movement that celebrated blackness, fun and life's essentials for wellness - with a few strobelight honies here nad there.
With on again, off again group status, a Rock label in Mercury Records and a three-year hiatus before a truly disappointing second LP, Black Sheep's pinnacle may be two decades ago. However, as always the case in Hip Hop, outside of the mainstream, there are treacherous emcees who kill mics for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Through it all, Dres has remained sharp in the shadows.
Constantly refining his craft Dres reemerges with new material, The Black Pool of Genius. Far from being an school call to Black Power, Dres is inviting cats to enter into the highest artistic plane of their own mind. In this interview, we talk to Dres about where he's been, the generation gap between the old school and the new school cats and if he's still in touch with incarcerated onetime protege Chi-Ali.
HipHopDX: You’re respected around the world as mic rockin’ legend. But where have you been since Black Sheep?
Dres: I’ve always been working. Always, even when stuff might not have been on the radar. I’ve been doing shows. Some years [have been] better than others. Some years a little bit more notoriety [comes] than others. I’ve been doing what an artist does. Which is, make art.
DX: On one of your songs you make the statement that you’re “for the hood.” What does that mean to you?
Dres: Officially, I feel like a lot of emcees are just for themselves. You know, “Me, Mine, I”...In my opinon, Hip Hop is much more about us, and ours: We.
DX: Talk to me about that Kia car ad. I’ve noticed a huge trend with companies using classic emcees and songs to help sell their products. How did you feel about that ad?
Dres: I’m still up in the air about the commercial. I do see how the using the old school artists has its pluses and minuses. Like, how I feel [the song is] depicted [in the commercial] might be one thing, but the response it gets is another.
DX: I haven’t found anyone from the older generation of Hip Hop that did not like it. Maybe it was a good thing. I felt like someone inside the company understands the importance of old school Hip Hop.
Dres: Yeah, I mean as long as it's seen in the genera of good music, like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin. [If that's the case], then that's what's up.
DX: I like the song you got called “Doin' It Wrong.” It points out a lot mistakes young rappers might make. At the same time, it might come off to today's generation of rappers as bitter. Like they might say “Y'all are just old now, this is our time.” How do you feel about that? How do we address the generation gap in Hip Hop and how do we close it?
Dres: Hip Hop is like a teenager. It thinks it knows everything, but it doesn’t. It thinks because it has a summer job and a little independence that it has the right to [have a big ego and not listen to its elders]. And it might. But that does not mean they are doing it right.
I too was a youngster, doing what a lot of these young cats are doing. Our walk is a similar one. But there were things that I was doing wrong. I think some of these cats just need to be open to be quiet and listen. To learn. The older cats need to not be so bitter in their approach. The older cats need to uncle the situation and do some mentoring. If a youngster is about to hurt themselves, you kinda have to step in. We just have to grow as a community and embrace it.
It's easy to manipulate a kid. So it's easy to get them to sign a 360 contract. These kids are signing away their lives for notoriety. At the same time cats are not paying respect to [Grandmaster] Melle Mel, [The] Cold Crush [Brothers], Fearless Four, Just-Ice. I felt like I didn’t make a lot of money. Those cats made much less than me!
Like [DJ] Kool Herc shouldn’t work for anything, as many millionaires there are in Hip Hop now. At the end of the day, these are the shoulders on which we stand.
DX: Aight, now I gotta ask something just so I can know. What the hell happened to Chi-Ali, man? Do y’all still talk? How did his situation get so bad?!
Dres: Me and [Chi-Ali] speak. We spoke about a month or two ago. That's my dude. Chi is unfortunately dealing with the results of a very bad decision. He made a bad mistake. He had to live with it. But he’s on the downside of that mountain. He’ll be home in a few years and he’s learned a lot. I just hope he’s given a chance to move forward and be the person he can be. But this is life. Sometimes things affect us way beyond our vision.
DX: Where is the "Black Pool of the Genius"?
Dres: It comes from a Donny Hathaway song "Superwomen," a remake of Stevie Wonder and he [introduces the song saying] “From the Black pool of genius...” And it stuck with me. Like, this black pool, not, that their person was or is black. But that thier creative souls can absorb light. Its a pool of people that can absorb light so they can share it with you - from Soul, to Jazz, not just Hip Hop. These are cats that can share light with you. Even an artist that has no vocals, but, your music offers a certain insight that you can share with the people....
Adisa Banjoko is a pioneer Hip Hop journalist and founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. Follow him @hiphopchess on Twitter.