Denmark Vessey doesn’t exactly take linear approach to Hip Hop. On his 2012 single, “Quit Smoking,” he linked his own inability to stop smoking cigarettes with police brutality and gentrification among other things. Much like a story told in media res or a typical Quentin Tarantino movie, it was a roundabout approach to storytelling that ultimately proved rewarding. There’s always a method to the madness, and in linking with fellow rapper and producer Scud One for their 2013 album, Cult Classic, the pair explored a different approach.
“The story came about on a whim like, ‘How can we make this cohesive and something special?’” Denmark says of the project. “Concept albums are really dope for me. It should be like a movie or a play. There are peaks and valleys…ebbs and flows.”
That might be a bit of an understatement. While adhering to a more traditional narrative arc, Denmark and Scud still managed to explore the spoils of a Rap career, the theory of creation (or intelligent design) and poke fun at the absurdity of celebrities and “jackleg” preachers alike. So it should come as no surprise that a conversation about the creation of the album isn’t exactly linear either. Particle acceleration, aliens, race relations, and a spot on impression of Sadat X followed by a run for donuts and pizza are all part of the equation. When aiming to make a cult classic, nothing is off limits.
Denmark Vessey Says “Cult Classic” Didn’t Start As A Concept Album
DX: Cult Classic is a pretty sharp departure away from I’d Rather Be Making Bread. Why go with a concept album this time around?
Denmark Vessey: It didn’t start out like that. We were just making some good music. Scud would have something done, and then I’d be like, “Yeah, let’s rock over this.” And then I slowly found myself writing around the same theme. At the very end, to sum it all up, we thought, “We can make it into a concept.”
Scud One: I think you came up with the concept a little bit earlier, and then it started taking that tone. A lot of the production was psych-rock and odd, which may have brought that forth a little bit. It was real organic. This dude came up with the name, and then that was the only name. It wasn’t like we sat there and picked through a list of shit.
Denmark Vessey: “Cult Classic” was the first song we did that really made things happen, so it was like, “Yeah, let’s just make it all full-circle.” The story came about on a whim like, “How can we make this cohesive and something special?” Concept albums are really dope for me. It should be like a movie or a play. There are peaks and valleys…ebbs and flows.
Scud One: Then we decided to do it in four different chapters to just try and make every aspect of the project unique in some way. Even the numbering of the songs…
[Fellow Crown Nation member Quelle Chris interjects]
Quelle Chris: As some nigga who didn’t know any of that story, the crazy thing about Cult Classic was musicians, rappers and stars all creating this cult. It’s the same idea. There’s parallels to being a Jim Jones and being a Jim Jones…
Denmark Vessey: No, that’s exactly what it’s about too! The title is a play on what we obviously want it to be—a cult classic. And there’s the back-story with the dude who wanted to gain the power and the fame. I rap because I feel like I have something to say, and I want to share my perspective. But it’s also a very egotistical thing to emcee. I always want to emcee about something and not just be like, “I’m dope, I’m dope, I’m dope!”
Quelle Chris: We check Twitter to see who’s praising us…
Denmark Vessey: You know what I’m saying? So it does have something to do with a cult following, and that definitely came into play. It’s good that was conveyed and people got the general message.
Scud One Details “Making A Mockery” Of Idolizing Rappers
DX: And Hip Hop is very much a victim of groupthink in some instances…
Scud One: It’s open to however people want to receive it. Maybe they don’t take it as that story, and that’s the beautiful thing about music. Not everything on the album is strictly, “Cult, cult, cult.” There’s some real life stuff on there.
Quelle Chris: But that’s part of what creates a cult; that’s what makes it crazy. With each song Lil B made—even if it wasn’t him talking about, “Let me fuck your bitch”—it got more people letting him fuck their bitch. Lil B is a cult leader.
Denmark Vessey: Right! He got dudes on Twitter sacrificing their women to him. That dude was a big inspiration for “Thank You Based God.” He’s a testament to what cult following can do and what it’s all about. My homies went to “Pitchfork Music Festival,” saw his performance and said it was really like a cult. That’s what I figured from that dude, because he’s fuckin’ weird. I fuck with Lil B, but he’s weird. I was also drawing on dudes like that who would say, “Fuck my girl.”
Quelle Chris: And not even Lil B. Look at the power someone like Jay Z has. When Jay Z says something, people all of a sudden start thinking about occult type things. It’s the power that’s actually in this music that people try to shut down a lot. Music is a fuckin’ cult. In the ‘70s you get, “I’m black and I’m proud.” Real movements get created, and it’s like religious pride and die hard type of ideas behind the music. You go back to the slave days, and they’re singing songs too. It’s the same fuckin’ thing of passing messages through the music. That’s why they take so much control of the music and it’s such an industry. People understand there’s some real power in this. That’s the same reason religion has so much control with the industry behind it. We create little cults, and there’s a lot of power behind a lot of minds thinking the same thing. Even in the Bible, and I’m not a Christian person like that. But when three or more minds come together, there’s a lot of power in that shit. They realize that, and that’s why they want to control, contain and monetize it.
Scud One: We’re building a cult, but we’re not persuading people to do negative things. In the same way, you can hear a mainstream song a million times on the radio, and maybe people will feel a certain way about it. We’re building a cult, but it’s not built around the same aspects the mainstream media is. Ours is going against that and making a mockery of it.
Denmark Vessey: Yeah, it’s always kind of tongue in cheek. As much as we may make a song like “Rappin Ass Niggas,” the music is a very powerful thing. That’s why if I do come out with an album—even though we touched on this and made fun of it on “Rappin Ass Niggas”—I’ve got to be saying something that people can walk away with. That’s how I felt when I heard Niggas Is Men. It didn’t have a story, but it was some Spike Lee shit. That’s how your albums should be, and that’s what you need to recognize if you’re coming out with something. There are mad rappers out, and you have to question yourself by asking, “Why do I like you? What am I getting from you?”
Denmark Vessey & Scud One On The Sacrifice Of Making Rap A Career
DX: Earlier we talked to Quelle Chris about rapping because you have to as opposed to choosing it strictly as a career…like this innate need.
Denmark Vessey: And if you’re really good, why not? I’m not gonna sit up here like, “I’m really, really good,” but why not? Why not do something that you really enjoy doing? That’s the problem with the world right now, there’s way too many people doing shit that they don’t want to do. Now that we have a forum to do something we dreamed about and worked really hard…there’s some aspects we might have mastered already. Why not come to the conclusion of, “Yeah, this is what I’m supposed to do?” With everyone respectively here, I feel like we’ve certainly worked hard enough to where this is what we do for a living. So this is both something we chose to do and were selected for. That’s how I feel. You sacrifice a lot of social shit, not going out, missing out on stuff in general.
Scud One: It’s a sacrifice, but it’s almost something you would rather do. When I was a kid, I used to get mad when motherfuckers would go out on Friday and I couldn’t go out. I’d be like, “Damn, I didn’t do nothing.” But once I started making music, they would hit me up like, “Yo, do you wanna go to the party?” And I’d say, “Nah, I think I’m gonna kick it.”
But it’s interesting because no matter what you do, you have to do something to make money. And, in doing that, you end up meeting people, right? For years I just did my music and whatever else on the side to make it by, but then I ended up working for a couple years. I would have problems with the people I was making music with, but those were nowhere near the problems you have working in a mailroom! So you figure no matter what you do, you end up having problems with different people in your relationships. But at least you’re like-minded in the music world. We’re blessed to do this.
Quelle Chris: Let’s say you went to school for computer engineering. Before you decided to go to school, you might have been into putting computers together. Your friends might’ve called you like, “Let’s hang out, Scud,” and you’d say no. You’re sitting there tinkering away putting an old MacIntosh together or reprogramming it. Then you go to college, and you spend all your time doing this, even though you go through a lot of shit over the course of those eight years. When you get out of college, you graduate in your field. But now you want to try your hand at different things.
I’m talking about being at that point with music, where you think, “I’ve done other things, but the one thing that I’ve stayed in school for this whole time has been this. That’s all I can do, and I don’t really have another choice.”
DX: There it is. You’ve been pretty outspoken about the major label industry. How can you make an admittedly flawed system work in your favor without compromising?
Denmark Vessey: Well, I don’t have to compromise anything, because I literally do what I want to do. That’s making music and making music the way I like so I can avoid compromising. It just so happens the person I’m doing music with also agrees with that too. If you’re doing stuff that you don’t really want to do, then it definitely resonates. If someone is telling you, “Nah, I want you to rewrite it like this,” that resonates in your music. So it’s about making sure you’re doing something heartfelt and genuine.