Das Efx: Baknaffek
One of the most innovative duos in Hip Hop history reveal their comeback plans, curious relationship with EPMD, and working with Marco Polo on his latest LP.
This year’s ingoing college freshman class were likely in utero when two Virginia State students abandoned their English majors to pursue higher learning off campus in the music biz. After meeting during their freshman year at VSU, Andre “Drayz” Weston and Willie “Skoob” Hines subsequently united their individual rhyme talents to form what would become one of the most innovative duos in Hip Hop history, Das Efx. After being courted by EPMD at a club in Richmond, Virginia in 1991 following a talent show that Das were competing in and Erick and Parrish were judging, Drayz and Skoob soon found themselves leaving the south and returning to their east coast homebase to record what would become their platinum-certified debut album, 1992’s Dead Serious.
Hailing from Teaneck, New Jersey, Drayz (a.k.a. Krazy Drayzy) and his partner-in-rhyme, Brooklyn, New York native Skoob (“Books” spelled backwards), instantly impacted the whole country with their gold-selling, James Brown-sampling debut single, “They Want Efx,” and immediately took the reigns of the hardcore rotten apple Rap scene. With their Timbs-and-hoodies, “40 & A Blunt” steez and “Straight Out The Sewer” sound (courtesy of Skoob’s childhood friends, production duo Solid Scheme), Das easily scored a second #1 single on the charts in ‘92, “Mic Checka,” and solidified themselves as the arbiters of their unique iggedy-suffixed rhyme style.
Being influential however brought biters, and so on their sophomore offering, 1993’s Straight Up Sewaside, Das demonstrated they could effectively “Freakit” without their signature delivery. But for the group’s magnum opus, 1995’s Hold It Down, not only did Das resume their iggedy rhyming, but they also assembled a legendary lineup of beatmakers (DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Easy Mo Bee, DJ Scratch) to supplement Solid Scheme, which resulted in one of the most potent street hop albums of the 1990s. A fourth, and final, major label album would follow in 1998, Generation Efx, but by that Diddy-dominated time Drayz and Skoob’s sewer sound had become passé, resulting in a more commercial-friendly direction being forced on Das by their increasingly indifferent label.
For the better part of the last decade or so Das Efx (short for “Drayz and Skoob effects”) have spent the bulk of their time hustling internationally, performing steadily for their sizeable European following. But now one of the ‘90s most important groups are preparing to reintroduce their music stateside, as they are currently setting up a 15-20 city U.S. tour for the fall back-to-school season to pave the way for a new Das album in 2011.
“Krazy Wit Da Books” spoke with HipHopDX on August 6th about their comeback plans, (and how classifieds juggernaut Craigslist helped to put Das Efx biggedy back in the game). The Q&A below is a must read for anyone old enough to remember the reign of EPMD and their Hit Squad protégés, or anyone of any age who can appreciate Das Efx’s remarkably nimble flows atop some of the grimiest gutta goodness the ‘90s had to offer. “If Only” Hip Hop still sounded like this…
HipHopDX: Why did y’alls ad earlier this week on Craigslist looking for management turn into such a news story?
Drayz: I’m always brainstorming, trying to get ideas and think of how I can reach out to people… Because music isn’t like a regular profession or anything else where if you want a fuckin’ bagel you can go walk and there’s the sign, there’s a bagel shop… With my situation you can’t just go outside, go to a club, and there’s someone with a manager’s sign around their neck or over their head. So, I’m like, let me think outside the muthafuckin’ box – Craigslist, I’m not going there to fuckin’ smut out, I’m going there to fuckin’ try and think outside the box and put the shit up there and let’s see what happens… I got no shame in my game. I know I been getting calls from people like, “Yo, you gotta check out these [blogs], they’re trying to kill you [for posting that ad]…” I really anticipated that, but my thing is, if I was to ask a publicist to get me some press ads and let ‘em know me and Skoob, we’re trying to make a move, we’re really reestablishing [ourselves], rededicating ourselves to get this album done, it woulda cost – my publicist woulda cost me a couple of grand for her to be like, “Alright, let me get this shit together, let me get you guys on all these sites and get the shit going,” especially with no [new] music ready to blast off right now… So, it’s actually working to my favor. My email is flooded for sure. I’m getting shows out the ass… And guess what? I’m going right back to Craigslist to post some more information that we’re trying to get shit [for].
DX: So do you even need a manager or are you just gonna coordinate all this shit yourself at this point?
Drayz: We definitely need a manager. We’re starting a new venture with [The Fat Boys’ manager Uncle Louie] and [Prince] Markie Dee right now, from Fat Boys. That’s one of the things that materialized outta the [Craigslist ad]. You don’t understand, I’ve spoken [to] people from Providence to Germany to Hawaii within the last three days because of a single post on Craigslist, so I’m actually patting myself on the back like, shoulda done [that] a lot sooner.
DX: I just presumed prior to this that y’alls management situation was already on point ‘cause I remember you guys were doing a grip of shows overseas a few years back. So are y’all still touring crazy?
Drayz: Yeah, definitely. We just came from Paris…Canada… Me and Skoob, and my deejay, DJ Rondevu, that’s all we been doing amongst us three every single day. We wake up, we have conference calls, [and] we brainstorm. A lot of our movements is just word of mouth: promoters, they booked us and then we do a great show and then the word gets around… So we just came to the realization like, “On the fuckin’ team the manager manages, the players play. So I need to write – do what I do, make the fuckin’ music – and we need publicists, we need a manager.” When you’re a artist, and especially a artist without a deal, you kinda get comfortable and think [doing everything yourself] is the way it’s supposed to be. But, I actually come from being on a fuckin’ major and [having] the luxury of a label [so] when shit needs to be done shit gets done by people who that’s their position. So, I just kinda got fed up trying to wake up in the morning, make my fuckin’ coffee, start off checking my emails and try and make some connects, make some shit happen, then by one o’clock dedicate [to] writing, then by five o’clock run to the studio, then by 11 o’clock check the emails that I sent out – you know what I mean?
DX: Yeah, I just asked about the touring because I think Das Efx is a perfect example of why artists need to make timeless music they can perform 20 years after its first released and not just this [microwave] music for the moment bullshit, you knowhat I'm sayin’?
Drayz: I got’chu, man… I mean, why not do it like the Aerosmith’s and them? That’s one of my big gripes about Hip Hop is that, shit, when I was getting into this game I was about to drop out of Virginia State University and people from my parents to classmates to homeboys was like, “Nah, don’t do it!” After we did it they was like, “Oh shit! Yeah, do it…” And then when you get a certain age in Hip Hop they’re like, “Yo, you gotta retire, leave the fuckin’ game alone.” But I don’t see them saying that to fuckin’ the Rock dudes and the Country dudes. Dolly Parton been doing this shit forever! Nobody’s like, “Dolly, hang it up, do something else.” …I think it’s just a crazy double standard for Hip Hop artists.
DX: You mentioned earlier your daily schedule, have you stayed recording or did you guys set that aside while you were doing all this touring?
Drayz: …Unfortunately, we have kinda dedicated more of our time to shows and shows and shows. And when you spend let’s say two weeks at a time in Europe, [and then] you take a ten hour flight back to the states, it’s gonna take you three days to recuperate, and then on the fourth day you really wanna get your head right and say okay, let me get back to that previous schedule I just told you about. So, it kinda got into that kind of rut.
DX: And this situation you mentioned earlier with [Uncle] Louie, does that mean we’re about to get a new Das album?
Drayz: Yeah, that’s definitely what we’re rededicating [ourselves to doing] right now. Skoob and myself are like, “C’mon man, let’s really focus.” And it doesn’t help that we’re in different states: he’s in New York; I’m back and forth between Atlanta and Maryland. So, when you gotta choose tracks, and then send each other tracks via email, and record my verse and send it to him and vice versa, shit slows down the process… We’re about five songs deep [into a new album], and we’re only gonna do about 10 [songs] just to give ‘em a basic 10-12 [song] album. It’s been forever and ever, so -
DX: Let me go ahead and give you my wish list real quick: Premo, Pete Rock. [Laughs] Is that kind of lineup do-able at this point, or you guys more in-housing it?
Skoob: It’s a huge chance [of working with them again], but…I’m the type of dude like, I don’t care what your name is, as long as you got a dope beat, let’s rock. So I’m not really big on the name thing. Easy Mo [Bee], I just spoke to Easy Mo. Those is my dudes, but…if we can’t make it happen right now it’s not gonna happen. But hopefully at some point we’ll be able to do something… I’m leaning on [DJ] Scratch too. Scratch got joints…Matter fact, I spoke to [DJ] Premier the other day too. And [so] hopefully we’ll get the chance to make more history together.
Drayz: Premo is hard as hell to get up with. His daily schedule must be crazy. So he’s on everybody’s wish list... And in terms of in-house, because of the Internet it makes getting beats that much easier. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to Europe, but there’s a lot of talented kids over there… Because of guys like Premo, a lot of these kids in places like Germany, they stepped their game up because they admire guys like Premo, and Pete [Rock] and Easy Mo Bee so much that if I came to you with a CD [of their beats] on any given day you might think it’s a Premo CD. And I’m like, “Nah man, it’s a freakin’ white kid from somewhere in Germany – Berlin.” I’ve just learned not to discriminate because you don’t have a big name. And I’m a definite fan of giving the underdog and the unknown a shot, because someone gave me a fuckin’ shot. EPMD gave me a shot back in the day, ya know?
DX: Yeah, that’s one name I forgot to mention: E-Dub. Is there any chance of that at this point?
Skoob: Yo E, I need some beats, E. [Laughs] Yo, I’d love to have Erick Sermon on board. That would be a great asset to the album.
Drayz: Erick Sermon? Um…you know what, man? Erick is a real interesting character. I have my history with Erick. I haven’t seen Erick in a couple of years. I mean, we’ve had a couple of EPMD shows that we’ve done with them, but he’s just a real interesting guy. That’s probably as far as I should go into that. He’s just a real funny guy and…I’ve seen him saying just crazy shit on the Internet when I thought all of us had put that bullshit behind us, let’s just say that.
DX: Well let me ask you about that ‘cause I did a feature interview with Erick in 2008 and he told me a Hit Squad/Def Squad album might be able to happen, “But now Dre and Skoob are having some troubles…” You know what the hell he was talking about?
Drayz: Really, we’re having some troubles?
DX: He didn’t elaborate…
Drayz: You shoulda did a follow-up question on that, because I’m not sure what he’s really referring to. But, that’s what I mean, he’s just a funny guy and I’m a straight shooter, man. If I holla at you on Monday and we’re choppin’ it up, and then when I call you on Wednesday I expect the same kind of shit when we was choppin’ it up on Monday. Don’t get all…funny.
DX: You guys weren’t on We Mean Business but Redman was on there, Keith Murray… Is it just more Def Squad at this point than Hit Squad?
Drayz: Um…those guys, they have a different relationship. I’ve only spoken to Keith Murray maybe a handful of times. And he’s actually a cool individual. Over the years we’ve had our differences, but…everybody matures. When I got into the whole Hit Squad back in , Keith was already there, Redman was already there, and what I came to learn was Erick and Parrish [Smith] were already having their issues. So by that time, when I fuckin’ dropped out of college [and] came around these guys, sides had already been drawn. And I think what happened with Erick and Redman is they felt that Parrish was more the dictator, the leader. So once you have a muthafuckin’ revolt, the guys that wanna revolt, they have a strong bond [with each other]. [Like], “Yo, remember when we were down and we used to eat crackers and soup and it was just us?” [I know] because that’s how I came into the game with me and my partner Skoob, and our two producers [Solid Scheme]. We all were down and out [while] doing that first Dead Serious album. We used to do music and all four of us walk to the damn chicken wing spot, the Chinese spot, [and] scrape our money together to get one chicken wing box with rice and then listen to our demo that we’re trying to put together. So we had that kinda bond that they had.
DX: I just think it’s kinda fucked up for the fans that we haven’t formally heard y’all with EPMD since “Intrigued” way back on Back In Business.
Drayz: Yeah, I mean, I would of loved to have been on [Out of Business and We Mean Business]. Like I said, I think Erick was maybe – And I know [Parrish], he’s a real cool dude, so I just think for the sake of keeping everything cool, for lack of a better term, [I’ll just say] I just think they slapped the album together, [just] did what they were doing. [And] Redman is always there for Erick so [his appearance was] probably just a phone call away – [Keith] Murray I believe the same thing. But, me and Skoob had kinda drifted away from P. We didn’t have no beef with P, but we just kinda drifted away from P, did our own thing and…I guess we were doing us while they did the album.
Skoob: Actually, we were supposed to be on [We Mean Business]. My nigga 9th Wonder did the sick beat [as "Left For Dead"], B. I don’t know exactly why it didn’t go down, but it was supposed to go down. And whatever politics was involved with that, that’s what it was. I don’t know the exact reason so I can’t even tell you… Everything is good with us [and Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith]. We don’t really deal with each other for the most part, like on a personal level, but when it’s time to go out there and get money and eat, we all get together like the Transformers and form Megatron and it’s all gravy, everything’s good. All that bullshit that happened in the past, that’s over with. That’s the past, man. We just trying to eat. We grown men trying to feed our families. It’s too much of a short life to live to hold on to grudges. Life’s too short.
DX: Let’s switch gears to a few loose questions I got written down here for y’all. First, “Set It Off” was my shit back in ’98 and I always wondered why that Tumblin’ Dice tracked gem wasn’t made the single from Generation Efx instead of “Rap Scholar”? “Set It Off” woulda been like the summer smash that year if it’d been released as a single.
Drayz: Okay Paul, so you know your shit. [Laughs] The fourth album what happened was [our label home] EastWest [Elektra Records] was still chasing – as rightfully they should – the success of Dead Serious. So after we finally got the situation back in our ball court we put out Hold It Down, which we thought was our other Dead Serious with songs like [the album’s two DJ Premier productions] “Real Hip Hop” and “No Diggedy,” [but] it didn’t do the numbers that Elektra wanted it to do. [So] then the ball was back in their court and they basically took control [for Generation Efx]. So they called in all these producers, and Tumblin’ Dice was one of them. And we actually thought [“Set It Off”] was a good record to put out, but at this time people like [then Elektra President] Sylvia [Rhone] and everybody I think were kinda unsure of the direction of what to do with Das Efx. We still had underground roots and all that, but they wanted us to go so Pop. So, I mean you would think “Set It Off” woulda been at least a second single. But, I think what happened was we were at the point where we put out “Rap Scholar” – I think Parrish was really fighting for that record, because he wanted to keep up our [street stuff for our] core fans and then go commercial…[to have] that radio single. But, we were kinda at wits’ end with the label, as they were with us. And when “Rap Scholar” didn’t do anything in terms of single-wise they shut the project down.
DX: So then after Generation Efx doesn’t go anywhere they just showed you guys the door?
Drayz: Oh yeah, the lights was going off. It’s always a revolving door, because as we were going out Missy [Elliott] was coming in [at Elektra]. And Busta [Rhymes] was still up there…
DX: So then there was the five year gap until How We Do [in 2003]. What were you guys doing around the millennium?
Drayz: We just went tour-crazy. We fuckin’ could have literally bought a fuckin’ apartment over in Germany somewhere and lived over there because we were over there for that period of time…doing shows, coming home, going right back. I’m Jamaican and I have to get a visa every time I go to Europe, [and] I ran through at least four passports in that short time.
Skoob: [How We Do] was sorta like a mixtape. We picked up a couple dollars off of it. [Laughs] Went out and toured and got some money off of it, and it’s what it was. We just threw it together, pieced it together, and got it out there. Thankfully, we had a dude that was really interested in us and put some money behind it. So it wasn’t really like, yo, that’s the Das album that we waiting for [after Generation Efx]…like that should be the next [formal] release, it wasn’t that type of party. But guarantee you b, this [new album] is.
DX: Drayz, you mentioned Germany, I always wondered if you guys were like crazy huge over there just off the German-sounding name Das Efx [Laughs].
Drayz: Exactly, crazy huge. We found that out in the early ‘90s and I don’t think there’s a part of Germany that I haven’t been to [since].
DX: Skoob, let me ask you about this: how’d “How I Get Down” on Marco Polo’s The Stupdendous Adventures of Marco Polo come about?
Skoob: I was messing with an engineer friend of mine and he knew Marco [Polo], and he put me on to Marco like, “Yo, man, you need to listen to this dude’s beats.” So Marco and I got together, and I was working at the time on some music. [We] got together, heard that track and it was a go. I don’t know if you heard the original version or the remix version… Me and Marco got together and it was like two peas in a pod… I got a couple more joints with Polo too.
DX: Word? Anything that you think’ll land on the Das Efx project?
Skoob: Absolutely. We got a joint that we just did with Polo. It’s actually a remake of one of EPMD’s beats, and yo, it’s sick… I can’t [tell you which EPMD beat]. Not yet, man. [Laughs] Yo, Polo would kill me. [Laughs] ‘Cause he got another project that he’s working on right now and it’s kinda under wraps, but it’ll be out in a minute. [Our new joint with Polo] came out crazy though.
DX: Drayz, you mentioned earlier that Hold It Down was gonna be the album to match Dead Serious… Is Hold It Down the best full-length Das Efx album you think?
Drayz: If you ask Skoob I think he’s gonna say [it was]… I think that’s one of the albums where we all were feeling pretty…ourselves about it… That album we had to fight the label…because we actually wanted “No Diggedy” to be a single as well. But, the label was not having it. They were like, “No, the fans are gonna think ‘No Diggedy’ means no more iggedy [style rhymes]”… So that’s why if you look back [at] the “Real Hip Hop” [maxi] single…that’s why you see “No Diggedy” written on the side [of the cover] like that because that was the compromise we got. They said, “We’ll make it a B-side, and we’re gonna write it in graffiti on the side of the ‘Real Hip Hop’ cover.” I thought “No Diggedy” would have extended the life of Hold It Down.
Skoob: Ah! I absolutely do [believe Hold It Down was our best album]. Hands down. Because you gotta understand, just the whole magnitude [of that album]… Let’s just talk about the first single, let’s talk about “Real Hip Hop”: number one, you had the original [version] produced by [DJ] Premier, you had the remix produced by Pete Rock, and we had another remix produced by my dudes Solid Scheme… And then you could go on to talk about the whole [contributions on the album from] the Easy Mo Bee’s, [DJ] Clark Kent – yo, the combined creative force on that album was ridiculous. [DJ] Scratch, everybody, man. It was crazy!
DX: The classic Pete Rock remix for “Real Hip Hop,” the Mobb Deep [featured] remix for “Microphone Master,” were those the label’s idea or was that y’all?
Drayz: The label at that time was just, you say what you need, we’ll make it happen. So, [the label would be like], “We had like a wish list [for you guys],” [and] we were like, “Yep! Yeah, that would be great to work with Pete Rock.” Next day we’re in the studio with Pete Rock.
DX: I’m old enough to remember back in ’95 that the Pete Rock remix of “Real Hip Hop” got played on the fuckin’ radio! And not during some mixshow in the middle of the night, I mean during the eight, nine o’clock countdown here in Cincinnati.
Drayz: Wow, the good ol’ days. I remember coming into the office hearing it like, “Oh shit, Pete did his freakin’ thing.” Yeah, those were good days. I remember ridin’ in my [Mercedes] Benz in the city like, “Damn, this is going to be a good record.” [Laughs]
DX: I guess the last loose question I’ll ask to wrap things up…it’s something I been wanting to know the behind the scenes about for years, is it true that Das Efx and The Notorious B.I.G. almost engaged in lyrical combat back in the day?
Drayz: [Surprised] Das Efx and Biggie Smalls? And I just put him in a rhyme that I’m writing right now too. Um…no, that’s definitely rumor. That’s a rumor…with the possibility of happening because I have a really, really, really bad memory [and can’t remember for sure]. [Laughs]
DX: I thought maybe the “I saw ya, tried to bit my style, get the balls / I guess you must be ready to die like Biggie Smalls” line from “Dedicated” [on Hold It Down] was a shot [at him].
Drayz: Who said that?
DX: That was your line…
Drayz: [Laughs loudly] Oh my God…nah, that was definitely not directed at Big. I mean, Big actually was one of the guys that was [for me like] wake up in the morning [and] put the Biggie shit on. So nah, [that wasn’t a diss]. We definitely admired Big. We were actually supposed to get on the Craig Mack remix with Big [for “Flava In Ya Ear”] but we only made it to the video… Because of politics we just couldn’t get on the record. But nah, Big was definitely a peer and [we would have] fuckin’ jumped on anything with Big.
Skoob: When Biggie and Craig [Mack], when they first started poppin’, we were at a convention… I wanna say we were in Florida, and this was the first time I ever ran into Big – God rest the dead – and Big…me and him choppin’ it up, [and] the nigga was like, “Yo son, listen, I don’t know really how you fucks with ya mans and all that, but yo, I’m about to do this joint with just all Brooklyn niggas and I want you to be on it.” So it was that type of relationship between us. It wasn’t no beef.
DX: He was talking about he wanted you [as part of an all-Brooklyn feature lineup] on the “Flava In Ya Ear” remix?
Skoob: Yeah, and it was some political shit going on with that… But nah, it was love with Big, c’mon man.