Kidz In The Hall Explain Collaborative Trend In Hip Hop, Thriving In Indie Market
Exclusive: The veteran duo of Naledge and Double O look at their new album "Occasion" and explain why they believe that Internet comment-section criticism is dwarfed by silent support.
“We don’t want to fall by the wayside and then 15 years later, there are kids who pick up our CDs and think, ‘The stuff Kidz In The Hall does is actually the precursor to everything that we ended up calling great.’ We want to be mentioned with the greats.” - Naledge, “Here Now”
This mention of greatness comes up often in the MTV reality show the Kidz In The Hall did this year. In fact, the trailer for the show noted that “Kidz In The Hall have one chance to go from indie darlings to Hip Hop greatness.” But, speaking to them months after the show first aired, they aren’t worried about any of that. In fact, they’re more interested in talking about how their evolution has come about and what is to come.
Double O and Naledge have been navigating through this industry for many years. As Double O explained, “We’ve done indie at every level that you can do it.” Through those years, much has been learned about the “trappings of the industry,” as they pointed out. During this conversation with HipHopDX, the Kidz In The Hall explained more about how they’ve evolved, how they deal with criticism and how “the heart” of their work has not changed. Plus, they explained what it’s like to be “mainstream music making rappers on an indie label.”
HipHopDX: It's interesting to see you guys progress and evolve over time. How would you describe your sound's evolution through the years leading up to this new album?
Naledge: Wow. I think the very heart of it lyrically has a lot of the same themes. The only thing that’s really changed is we’ve grown up. Going from a boy to a man, in general, the topic and subject matter is going to change a little bit. I think the music leaned a lot more conscious at first. Then, we got into this Hollywood industry so you started seeing the trappings of the industry seeping into the music. So, there was a little more innocence with the earlier work. Now, it’s just from the perspective of, “been there, done that” and kind of jaded, trying to talk about different things as far as the dichotomy of trying to live this industry life and trying to maintain who you were when you first got into this. That’s actually something I spoke to Phonte about recently when he was here in Chicago. I think that’s kind of what has always been the beautiful struggle element in our music, but also pointing out the fake shit that we see.
Double O: From a production standpoint, it’s just been me getting better as a producer. When we first started, it was very, I wouldn’t say basic, but because it was sample-based, it was more straightforward. As far as production, I feel like I have gotten a little better at creating soundscapes from scratch that can still evoke a certain feeling and shit like that. I think that’s become part of the growth.
DX: When you make that type of progression, even if it’s a natural progression for you as artists, fans feel a certain way about it. Some are cool with the progression and some are not. You can see it in your video comments or article comments. How do you deal with that as artists, to try to grow naturally but then have fans throw shots at the same time?
Double O: You can’t pay attention to it. The first thing you have to learn is that, that is not real life. The Internet is not that. More people are going to voice negative opinions and feel compelled to do so than there are going to be people that are going to voice positive opinions on the Internet. That’s just the way it is. If they like the music, they’re just going to groove with it. It’s a certain type of person that automatically even comments online. You can’t deal with it. At the end of the day, they unfortunately do not know where you’re coming from all the time, or where things started. There’s a lot of background information they may not get. You can’t hold it against them. You’ve gotta hope that if they go to a show or get to interact with you in person, that they’ll get it. That’s really it.
Naledge: It’s crazy because I’ve tried to separate myself from looking at blogs, even. I might look at Twitter or Facebook. That’s more direct to me. I like to deal with people as I see them, or fans and how they react to records or go to clubs around me and see how they react to records. Like Double O was saying, you could get fucked up by checking out the Internet and what they say. For real, when I go out in my city, I get so much love. It’s crazy. Sometimes, you don’t even know if people are listening unless you go out and do due diligence to shake hands with people and fans. Man, for real-for real, every time I go out, mad people are excited about the records that have been released. I do think that "Occasion," is the biggest change. Aesthetically, most people are hearing the beat, “Oh, these are different types of beats.” But, if you listen to the heart of it, there’s no difference between what I’m saying on “Occasion” or what I’m saying on “Clothes, Hoes & Liquor,” or what I’m saying on “Drivin’ Down The Block” . It’s kind of all the same. Not all of our records were conscious, even back in the School Was My Hustle days, they just had more grittier, grimier beats. But, the shit that I was talking about was the same. People forget that. People like to take the beats and hooks at face value and sometimes they don’t dwell a bit deeper. But, we got a lot more attention now, so when your shit is super duper underground people are rooting for you. But, when you’ve been around, people get more picky with what they want from you.
DX: Your video series on MTV, Here Now, was billed as your one shot to "go from indie darlings to Hip Hop greatness." How would you guys describe Hip Hop greatness? What constitutes greatness for you?
Double O: I mean, that’s obviously framing for the reality show. But, our biggest issue has always been and may always be, that we are mainstream music making rappers on an indie label, stuck in an indie level. That’s where sometimes some frustration comes, and even the backlash sometimes that may come from fans. I look at it like, to be real, if we had Wale’s budget, we’d be in a different position and I doubt the fans would hate the same way. I just think that they expect us, because there’s indie attached to our name, they expect us to be corky but that’s not who we are. We weren’t the goofy kids in high school. That era ended for us, early. Yeah, everybody has an awkward phase but we settled into ourselves much earlier than a lot of these cats. For us, it’s getting to a point where the music we make is matching the point where we think it should be. So, it’s not even so much Hip Hop greatness as much as it is getting that mainstream coverage we feel we deserve.
Naledge: Yeah, I was just about to say, that’s something our managers thought would be the dope thing to say about what I’m really living. At the end of the day, that’s always going to be from my heart. It’s just funny as hell to me when I hear comments one way or another, because I’m just doing what I feel like doing. As far as being Hip Hop royalty? That shit don’t really matter to me, man. I just want to make hella money, travel the world and make the shit that I want to make at the same time and not compromise my integrity. Everything about the game is kind of weird, because there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. It’s hard to tell between the indie and mainstream because of the blogs and Internet. People don’t really know what it takes to put out an album and that’s kind of what the reality show was about. It shows the struggles and pluses and minuses of being independent.
DX: There’s an honest moment though, where Double O, you say that if this doesn’t work out, it might be time to reassess the group. What are your current thoughts on that? Have things changed? And Naledge, what were your thoughts on that?
Double O: Well, what was it? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I think that this is one thing: It’s not as dire as the way that it’s presented makes it seem. The reality is, for us, we don’t put out enough projects as it is. We actually sit on so much music and then we try to present it in this way. That’s part of rethinking things, going into this new album, like, “Yo, we aren’t going to wait long. We can’t sit and wait to put any of these records out.” That’s one of the biggest things that’s changed for us. With some of the mixtapes, granted they’re free so they navigate the Internet easily, but when we do the no-brainer music and put it out, it’s always a good response, so rather than thinking long and hard about this album stuff, let’s just get stuff out constantly. If you didn’t like the album we just put out, then there’s something new coming out in February. You know? If you loved the album, there’s something new coming out in February. For us, the biggest thing was shifting to realizing that we have to constantly put music out, that we have to constantly be engaging with fans, and try to do as many videos as possible and do it on our own, not worrying about Duck Down [Music], not worrying about being on a label. But, then also exploring other options. This is album number four for us. I’m about to head out to L.A. and jump headfirst into the Pop/R&B shit for a little bit. But, we still have a new project coming out. We’re still working on new music. So, it’s really being able to start new ventures but being able to balance things out. The other thing we’ve been doing a lot of is deejaying. A lot of the records people like from us are club records, records that feel good in a club environment when you’re standing on a fucking sofa and drunk. So, we’ve taken the Kidz In The Hall show and made it a little more bare bones but took it back to some super Hip Hop shit with the emcee and the deejay. So, we’ve been doing a lot of club gigs and that’s what you’ll be seeing a lot of in the new season of the show, us in Europe deejaying and performing in clubs in Europe. It’s about making things effortless but still keeping the quality at a high level.
Naledge: It’s funny. So many people watched the reality show and picked up some of the same stuff, and found those things interesting or most honest or whatever. In perspective, I look at some of our contemporaries and friends. Just because it’s so recent, I had a real deep conversation with Phonte. Just look at that. A lot of people want the Little Brother thing to happen again but he went and did Foreign Exchange and then the solo project [Charity Starts At Home]. But, now I’m seeing him and 9th [Wonder] together and they’re talking about doing a project together. Everybody’s still fam, it’s all love but there are so many different avenues to do different types of shit. Now, with the Internet, we’re in the Jazz-era of Hip Hop, kind of, as far as the sense of the real shit. Somebody like Curren$y can just do an EP with Alchemist [in Covert Coupe ] and Freddie Gibbs can just do [the Thuggin' EP] with Madlib, and it just sits in that space and that’s all it is. That’s what I’m saying. By no means are we not going to do music together because we’re friends and brothers. That’s just what the fuck this shit is. But, don’t be surprised if there is a flood of material from all ends. With Double O doing material for Nina Sky and Pop records, there are certain things that as a rapper, I can’t always get accomplished for him on the production side. There are just opportunities, boundless, and now we’re not locking ourselves in to say, “We can’t do that.” We can do whatever the fuck we want and still do a Kidz In The Hall album. I just spoke with [Sir Michael] Rocks about this. People was tripping out about him doing his solo deal [with Jet Life] but they’re still doing Cool Kids shows and tours. Chuck [Inglish] is doing albums with other people and shit. You can do whatever you want in this era. As long as it’s cool, sounds good and people accept it, you can do whatever you want. I think us being from the old school, it sounds crazy to say it, but a lot of the younger kids see us as older. We look at it like, prep an album, put a single out, tour. That’s not how it works anymore. Look at somebody like Bun B who’s just on record after record after record. You’ve gotta just stay putting quality music out consistently. That’s what the comment was directed towards but the way they edited it was like m’fuckas are not going to make music anymore and shit.
DX: Yeah, it almost sounded like there was an urgency to make a hit or quit or quit the group.
Naledge: Well, it is entertainment, man [laughs]. Some of it’s gotta be dramatic otherwise it wouldn’t be interesting to watch. At the time, we wanted to get a deal. But, like I said, a lot of it was management wanting that [laughing] and that being a goal that they set. We had deals on the table it’s just that things went weird. The industry went weird. [We saw] A&Rs getting fired and labels merging so we weren’t going to just sit on our music. It’s like, we haven’t been out and we need to stay relevant.
DX: There was an emphasis placed on getting a deal on the show. But, in 2011 and now 2012, things have changed a lot, as you mentioned, Naledge. So, artists don’t always seem to need a major label to power them as much as they have in the past. How has that changed for you guys?
Double O: Well, the more and more I talk to people, the more I realize that that’s a blatant lie. I’ll tell you this, and you don’t need to turn this into an exposé story, but there’s a lot of quote-unquote “indie” artists, with quotes on both sides, that have popped up out of nowhere in this last year, that were never indie to begin with. That’s one. But that’s the new major label shtick. “Oh, I’m going to put money behind this new ‘indie’ artist.” They obviously can get into many places that others can’t because they still have the connections, but that’s neither here nor there. The thing is this: We have done indie at every level that you can do it. So, sometimes for us, the frustration is, if we had $250,000 behind “Love Hangover” or a radio budget behind “Takeover the World” , things would be very different. So, it’s one of those things. That was what our conversation was in the first season. There are a lot of people on major label deals that struggle in the studio. We don’t have that issue. So, it’s just like, these records on any other major scenario would be huge so we’re kind of always grappling with that. On the other end, we could easily be sitting for three years, not doing anything. The major label power is still radio, above all else. You can buy publicity, you can buy marketing, you can buy all of that but you can’t buy radio at an indie level the way that it works because that connection is still so strong between the Clear Channels and the major labels. That still breaks artists. Regardless of the little successes that have happened on an indie level this year. Radio still breaks artists. Wiz [Khalifa] and B.o.B and Wale and any of these cats have no career without radio. So, that’s sometimes for us where we’re like, “Damn, if we had that, I wonder what would happen.”