Exclusive: Planet Asia, TriState and Killer Ben celebrate their critically acclaimed album and explain why they're throwing durags on everybody from Pat Riley to the President.
Very rarely does a group effort grab people’s attention in today’s bloated blogosphere of offerings from one-man acts seeking solo shine. But a three-man team comprised of Pacific Coast general Planet Asia and two of his Gold Chain Military lieutenants, TriState and Killer Ben, have managed to pull off the rare feat of making critics and casual listeners alike take notice of their unified force of relentless rhyming.
In HipHopDX Editor Omar Burgess’ review of the self-declared Durag Dynasty’s just-released debut album, 360 Waves, (courtesy of indie powerhouse Nature Sounds) he notes that Durag “offers a brand of intense tracks with hard rhymes influenced by the days when the singular act of rhyming and switching cadences was more or less revered as a sport.”
A throwback to the grimey sound and lyrical sword-swinging style of classic ‘90s long player’s, one of DX’s Most Anticipated Albums of 2013 is entirely produced by throwback trackmaster Alchemist (following his recent helming of full-length’s for Action Bronson, Curren$y and Domo Genesis.) Chock full of lyrical fury atop Al’s collage of eclectic samples (and yes, drums), songs like the chest-beating “DRDC Theme” - whose East Coast grit meets Westside slink sounds like it could have made the cut for The Chronic – serve as audible evidence that these durag dudes might just prove to be the dynasty they’ve billed themselves as.
In their brief but entertaining exchange with HipHopDX, the trio explained the meaning behind the Durag Dynasty name and the motivation behind the eye-popping promotional campaign for 360 Waves (which digitally draped the domes of legendary basketball figures, as well as the President of the United States, with a durag.) Asia, TriState and Ben also broke down their collective origins and the thought process driving their scientific shit-talking. And of course, no interview with emcees this enlivened would be complete without a rousing rendition of DMX’s “We Right Here” concluding a compelling conversation with quite possibly the most engaging group to step on the scene in quite some time.
Durag Dynasty Respond To The Critical Acclaim For 360 Waves
HipHopDX: I was just reading the review of 360 Waves in XXL, and “feels like a 21st century Enter The Wu-Tang” is some high praise. How does it feel to be getting this kind of feedback on the album?
Killer Ben: It feels wonderful, man. For all the hard work that we put in over the years, it feels good to be recognized [by people who] hear the music and tell us it’s good. That’s what we work so hard for.
TriState: I would definitely say it’s an honor to be compared to somebody who made such a mark in our genre. Wu-Tang is major, so…And that album was a certified groundbreaking classic, so that alone speaks [volumes]. That’s an honor.
Killer Ben: It’s more than an honor. It’s like, wow.
DX: Asia, when you spoke to HipHopDX in February of last year, you declared the album to be a “classic.” What sets 360 Waves apart from its contemporary competition to be able to tag it with that rare classic stamp?
Planet Asia: The level of talent throughout every song. You getting an uncut [product]. It’s nothing cut with this music right here. It’s straight pure. There’s no influence from outside forces on this album. You getting truly who we are.
And by having Alchemist give us the canvas to paint on, that just made it even lovelier.
Durag Dynasty Break Down The Origin Of Their Name
DX: Now, the obvious question: What the hell is a durag dynasty? And why are Pat Riley and even President Obama part of it? [Laughs]
TriState: [Laughs] Asia basically was using the slang “durag dynasty” a few different times. You can hear it in his past works. Him saying durag dynasty is something that he came up with creatively, and we just laughed and joked about it for awhile. Then when we came together to work with Al, we was like, “Yo, this is the Durag Dynasty. We the original. We cut from the original cloth.” The durag is like a staple in the hood, basically. You’ll find a lot of durags. But we flipped it and we making the durag corporate, just like Hip Hop did; it went corporate. So, we putting a durag on anybody. Nobody’s safe. We slapping a durag on you too, Paul.
Planet Asia: Yeah, we got the durag for the DX. Durag DX.
DX: There you go.
TriState: DX durag, indeed. You gotta have the long flap on the back.
Planet Asia: Super long.
DX: Whose idea was that marketing campaign; was that y’alls or...?
Planet Asia: It was the owner of Soul Glow; this company out of Mississippi.
Planet Asia: He came up with the idea. Killer Ben thought it was a great idea for braids, ‘cause you know you can wear durags over the braids. So I told the owner of Soul Glow to holla at Ben; he has to verify the flaps of the rags.
Killer Ben: Right, ‘cause they gotta be a certain inch level. The durag gotta have a certain cut to it or else you can’t use it.
TriState: Right. [Laughs]
Planet Asia: Exactly.
TriState: But yeah, it was probably a mixture [of input]. I would say it was everybody that was involved creatively, including Alchemist and the whole Nature Sounds movement over there. We all came together collectively and that marketing plan just came together like that.
We got a lot of ideas, man, and it’s a beautiful thing to be able to have the freedom creatively to give it to the world. So now everybody can be blessed with a durag: babies all over the world, homeless people, drug addicts, whoever.
Killer Ben: Diplomats.
TriState: Diplomats, presidents, royalty. It’s the everyday modern-day man crown – and woman.
DX: Let’s take it back for a minute, ‘cause Ben and Tristate, I don’t think too many folks are as familiar with you guys. So how did this new alliance of artists come to be? How’d y’all put this whole Durag Dynasty together?
Killer Ben: I’ve known Asia for years. Asia’s like my brother from another. So, for us, it’s just kind of like an organic movement. Me and Tristate, we had a group – which we still have the group – and when we all three got together we chose to do it under the Durag Dynasty [banner]. But, I been around Planet Asia for years. If you look at Asia’s records that he’s dropped, consistently throughout his career, I’ve actually had features on every one of ‘em. So the fans know me pretty much. They know if Asia invites someone over to the table it’s definitely business coming.
TriState: Ben pretty much summed it up. I met Asia through Ben and Chace Infinite and DJ Khalil of Self Scientific, basically. If you check the history, we’ve been doing this for years, man. It’s been Gold Chain Military for over a decade now. So, having this platform now, we finally get a chance for people to see exactly what we been doing all this time. It’s not new. It’s really not new.
Planet Asia: Yeah, the chemistry naturally, organically came together on its own. We didn’t force it. We got so many joints from in the past that we never even released – just random songs from being in the lab mixing these chemicals up.
DX: I understand these tracks though, Asia, were supposed to be like a solo album for you, and then you brought the guys in?
Planet Asia: Kinda, yeah. For years I was supposed to be working with Alchemist. I been knowing Al for a long time, but it’s just like we never got a chance to work together. [Me and Evidence], we had did The Medicine. And then I worked with [DJ] Muggs [on Pain Language]. Al’s been around this whole time. We always were like, “Yo, we gotta do something.” A lot of famous Alchemist songs that people know that’s out there, he gave me first dibs on a lot of those songs. I never got a chance to getting around to using ‘em. And, this is like crazy now; we got a whole album and I got my favorite emcees on the album with me. This is like … it don’t get no better than this!
I didn’t need to do no solo album. It was a great chance to get Killer Ben and Tristate over some Alchemist beats. I was excited about that.
TriState: Man, he said we was one of his favorite emcees, Ben.
Killer Ben: Yo, I feel honored.
TriState: That’s dope! He never told me that. It took HipHopDX for him to say that to me.
Planet Asia: Ain’t that a bitch. [Laughs] Nah, but it’s the truth though. I could’ve easily made up some whole other shit. But, we had to keep that GCM thing going. We was fresh off the Gold Chain Military thing; I wanted to keep that going.
And our other brother was incarcerated at the time. So, we had to do it for him too. Killa Kali was gone at the time. So we was still rockin’ it out.
Durag Dynasty Explain Alchemist’s Role In Their Music
DX: Let’s get into the sound of this album a little bit, ‘cause it’s a slightly different sound from Alchemist’s Russian Roulette album. Do you know if it was like a conscious decision to sidestep the “Junkyard Fight Scene” approach and put some smacking drums back in the tracks so y’all could have that harder bass to work from?
Planet Asia: Um … it was a collective [decision]. ‘Cause those tracks were made right in front of us a lot of times. And we was like, “Yeah, that one right there!” And that’s just how it usually went. Or, it’d be like he’d have a beat on, sometimes we might just be talking, building, and that might not be the beat so he’d start working on another beat. And it’d just grab us and we’re all looking at each other and we just know, “Okay, that’s one of ‘em. Let’s go.” That’s just how it goes when you’re in the lab with Al. He just be cooking all day. He never stops cooking. He falls asleep cooking.
DX: He did the whole entire album in front of you or just most of it?
Planet Asia: All of it.
TriState: He did the entire album [in front of us].
Planet Asia: All of that is fresh food.
TriState: Yeah, that’s freshly cooked by the ‘Chemist.
DX: Wow. I just heard a snippet of “Tetrahydrons On Mars.” What was the response when y’all heard that track, ‘cause that shit was fuckin’ crazy?
Planet Asia: Yo, that shit’s crazy.
TriState: Yeah, that’s ridiculous.
Planet Asia: Yeah, that’s a ridiculous joint.
DX: What’s that mean, tetrahydrons on Mars?
Planet Asia: The footprints of the gods.
TriState: Yeah, the god’s footprints on Mars.
DX: Okay. So y’all believing in the civilizations were there first?
Planet Asia: Nah, the civilization was in the mind of the Black man first. That’s where civilization started: within the mind. Everything came from the mind, which is the womb. Intertwined, the mind and the womb; it’s the same thing. And that unification of the mind and the womb is how everything started. From one drop of water, everything came from. But that’s a whole ‘nother subject.
DX: Yeah, yeah, that is. [Laughs]
Planet Asia: [Laughs]
DX: And most of what y’all are talking about on the album is just shit-talking anyway. [Laughs]
Planet Asia: Right, right, right. [Laughs]
TriState: But it’s mixed with the sciences too, because a tetrahedron is a mathematical shape as well. So it’s like, we dealing with the sciences as well. So, you just gotta dabble into what we doing and really capture the true essence behind the bullshit.
Planet Asia: To add on to what he’s talking about, is that, basically, we the Hip Hop scribes. We scribe all the cultures and we regurgitate it right back into the music. So all the great schools of thought, we incorporate that in our music.
Planet Asia: We just the scribes. We don’t really partake in any particular group, but we take notice of all of ‘em. Whether you Christian – orthodox, unorthodox – Muslim, Five Percenter, atheist, whatever you are, we tap into that.
Durag Dynasty Reveal Their Goals For The Group
DX: On the songs I’ve heard in full so far, like the funky “Spiral Event,” it sounds like you guys did have an intent agenda, a statement you’re trying to make lyrically about the state of the game on the album. Was there a strategic aim with the rhymes or did that critique of the competition just come out when y’all were each goin’ in?
Planet Asia: I think it’s a habit we have. [Laughs]
Killer Ben: We were able to touch a lot of different subjects and a lot of things that we felt made us unique … That’s what the Dynasty’s really about. The Dynasty’s about standing at the forefront of Hip Hop music. It’s our turn.
TriState: Yeah, ‘cause we truly believe that. Ben, you absolutely right. And it’s apparent that everyone else is gonna have to believe that. We put in that time, we put in that work, and that’s the objective. So, we real comfortable within our creativity. When we sit down and start creating, we look around and see who’s in the room and we know that that dude next to you is most vicious with that pen. So we gotta come correct. Asia, we know he gonna spit some crazy shit. Ben, we know he’s out of control, psychotic; words from everywhere and patterns ridiculous. So, we just trying to do different shit and just be ourselves while doing that.
DX: It’s the cliché question, but what do you guys want folks to take away from this album?
Planet Asia: That they can’t fuck with us! [Laughs]
Killer Ben: We want the streets to revel in the madness of Durag to know that we gonna see you over the years rockin’ those durags. We trying to do what Run-DMC did for Adidas with the durags. And we would like also to let the fans know that we trying to step it up every time on the mic; pushing the envelope.
Planet Asia: Right.
TriState: You know, I always thought about that question, and I always wanted my crew and myself to be recognized with the elite in history, period. Like, put us down in the record books. And that’s the type of hunger that we step to that mic with. So, we wanna be recognized in that circle. When you say the illest, you should be saying Gold Chain.
Planet Asia: Yeah, period. We a one-stop shop for everything that’s ill. We the one-stop shop for everything you need in Hip Hop.
TriState: And we not going nowhere.
Planet Asia: [Starts singing] We right here, we’re not going anywhere! [Laughs]