Exclusive: The veteran rhyme and production pair talks about their first truly joint album, and working with Man Bites Dog Records, Scram Jones and Roc Marciano.
Since 2003, Double A.B. and Dub Sonata have been making music. Now, almost 10 years later, they are ready to give the best of their work to the general public. Media Shower, which released earlier this week - featuring appearances from Sean Price, Evidence and Rhymefest, among others.
The two first got acquainted at the State University of New York at Purchase in Upstate New York. There, they were deeply involved in the cooperative effort, Atoms Family which included Cannibal Ox and Hangar 18. They took separate paths when Double A.B. began battle rapping through popular media outlets like MTV. Dub Sonata stayed busy too, producing for artists like Dom Pachino, C-Rayz Walz and Sadat X. Eventually, the two were reacquainted decided to collaborate for an album.
The album is essentially a compilation of Double A.B. and Dub Sonata’s finest unreleased work, ranging over a course of 10 years. “A lot of these songs came together over many years…And this is kind of just a body of the best of our work,” said Dub Sonata during the duo’s recent phone interview with HipHopDX.
Both of the artists touched on a number of topics, including their previous work, working with new, veteran emcees, and their lessons learned under the guidance of producer/songwriter, Scram Jones.
HipHopDX: When did you two first get acquainted?
Double A.B.: We got cool probably around [the] late ‘90s, early 2000s. We both went to school together [in] upstate New York. We both from the city, but we both went to school upstate, to S.U.N.Y. New Paltz. I remember they had a poppin’ little scene up there. Like real Hip Hop scene, a lot of- Atoms Family, whose crew members eventually became Cannibal Ox, and Hangar 18, and you know, different Rap groups spawned out of there. That’s basically where we first ran into each other.
DX: Your new album is called Media Shower. What’s the significance of that title?
Double A.B.: The title basically is- we have a song called “Media Shower” featuring Rhymefest, that’s the title track for the album. That’s basically just saying how the current state of society is just: the next gadget to the next gadget. Everybody walks around with their face in the screen, looking at the next YouTube post. It’s basically a statement to that; how we’re bombarded with different types of media be it music, movies, television, YouTube.
DX: I hear that. What was the creative process like?
Dub Sonata: We’ve been working together for about 10 years or more, so we kind of just work fast and naturally. A lot of these songs came together over many years, adding different elements and arranging. And this is kind of just a body of the best of our work that would work as an album.
DX: How long is the [time range] of material, would you say?
Dub Sonata: Well, a couple of the songs probably go back to like ’03, right A.B.? Like “Drug Wars”?
Double A.B.: Yeah, one song is the old song that we kind of re-did. But besides that, I’d say most of the songs are in the last two to three years, and then maybe as far back as five for some of them. But yeah, like you said, some of them go back a long time.
DX: “Lord Knows What” is the first video off the album, and that’s a really hot track. What’s the story behind that one?
Double A.B.: That was a joint that we had Roc Marciano featured on. The song is kind of about that feeling where you want something more; striving for something more, but [you] can’t quite make it happen, as far as a feeling I think everybody could relate to. The video for it was really dope, man. We went out to [Los Angeles, California]. Roc is from Long Island, but he’s based out in L.A. now, so we went out there with him. And we went to this spot, Shamrock Tattoos, a famous tattoo shop where [The Notorious B.I.G.] got his last tattoo the night before he died. It’s a real dope place, it’s a real historical place, and they were super cool there, they let us shoot the video there. We’re drinkin’ [Hennessey], burnin’ it down, and shooting the video - they even tattooed our man Apathy for free, in the background of the video while we’re doing our little performance shots and it just came together real well.
DX: Yeah, I saw that in the video. That’s cool seeing Apathy in the back there.
Double A.B.: Yeah. [Laughs] He got the little cameo in the back; they offered me and Roc tattoos too. I don’t have any tats so I was out, and Roc was like, “I don't know. I want to do it, but that’s not just something I can do on the fly. I need to think about it.”
DX: A.B., you’ve been working with Scram Jones forever, and Dub, you did work with him as well on your Nights in Cuba album. What’s Scram’s role as a mentor of sorts been like for both of you?
Double A.B.: He’s just been around the crew for a while. Dub [Sonata] and Scram [Jones] shared a studio in the same building for many years. His work ethic and his approach to work was a-alike, and similar to ours. He’s a Hip Hop dude grounded in the street shit, grounded in the New York kind of Hip Hop ethic that we came up in. And just seeing him and his moves, I think, just inspired us to get on our grind too. And he’s always been a good ear, a good dude to play a song for and get his opinion. And just hearing what he’s doing is always an inspiration.
Dub Sonata: I could agree with everything you said. His work ethic and his skill level are very inspiring and it’s definitely been a pleasure to work with him and have him on the album and involved in things.
DX: And as well as him, you’ve also worked with more notable emcees on this album. What was it like working with Sean Price and Evidence; guys you haven’t worked with before?
Double A.B.: Sean Price, I met him through my boy [Shucky Ducky], through dudes at Duck Down Records. Real cool, like super...he really blessed and helped add another flavor to the album that it kind of needed. He’s an old school New Yorker, total Brooklyn real dude; he’s not going to bullshit you, he’s not going to beat around the bush. He’s going to tell you what he feels and that helped the process along a lot, and it was much appreciated, and it really fit into the mix of the album.
DX: The album is being released through Man Bites Dog Records, what’s going on over there right now?
Double A.B.: A lot of things poppin’ off at Man Bites Dog [Records] right now. The label has been around for a minute, but just now, this year particularly - 2012, right now- they’re getting a lot of things done. They’re signing a lot of new artists; a lot of people with a lot of buzz. We’re going to be doing a tour coming up October, beginning of November: myself and a lot of the Man Bites Dog artists are going to be on the road. It’s a blessing to have a label that still wants to put out real and interesting music. The record industry is in a funny stage right now, so to find a label that’s still actively looking to sign artists- and new artists such as ourselves- that’s a real blessing, ‘cause a lot of people don’t want to gamble.
So I think they’re doing a lot of good shit at Man Bites Dog. We feel they’re moving, so that’s why we felt that they were the best home for our project.
DX: A.B. this one’s for you: it seems like during the early years when you were on MTV and whatnot, you were portrayed as more of a battle rapper than a songwriter. Was it hard to change that perception when you started putting out albums?
Double A.B.: Yeah. It’s funny, ‘cause to me, I was always a songwriter first, and that was always my first love, was just to make classic, timeless music. That’s just unfortunately, the kind of way the public sees battle rappers now. It became such a thing- it was almost like a stigma to be a battle rapper. And I could always do that; I got into it when I was a kid, we used to do the lunchroom tables, or whatever. It was kind of like other kids heard you rap and it would be a kind of little friendly competition. And I always had that within me, it was always a chamber in my music.
Initially, I had a friend that worked over at Blaze Magazine, who brought me into one of the “Blaze Battles,” and I did real good, I was a semi-finalist in one of the early Blaze Battles And from there, my battle rep started getting bigger and bigger. I did a couple different ones on MTV and all that.
But the transition for me- I’m proud of it and I always rep that aspect of my music too. But to me, it was never a problem [to be] both. I make music, I’m a highly conceptual songwriter. That’s really what people know me for. And it’s funny because, even if you are, you could do the best song in the world and make the most thoughtful music, and somebody who wants to see you as just a battle rapper, the first line they’ll write about you is, “As a battle rapper-” you know what I mean? It’s like they want to see you as that first.
But I’m proud of it, and I embrace it.
DX: So you have no plans to stop battle rapping after this release comes out?
Double A.B.: Well I kind of switched gears anyway when I got out. The battle scene now, it kind of got away from my battle scene. My battle scene was like- to me there’s like three eras of battle rapping: there’s the initial; the first battle rapping was like party battle rap. It was like the Busy Bee style. Then Kool Moe Dee came in and beat Busy Bee with the more confrontational style. Then there was the ‘90s: the 90s battle scene is where I came from. Rapping over a beat, freestyling, you usually meet your opponent that day and you kind of freestyle about him, you might throw some ready-lines in too, but it kind of had to look like a freestyle. It was kind of a more, “at the moment” type of thing. Now the battles that take place are: you learn your opponent, they feed you stuff about your opponent, you know your opponent a month beforehand, you only battle one person- in the old battles, we would battle like five people in a day. You had to battle through round after round to be the champ, you didn’t know who you were going to battle next. Now it’s like a boxing match: you prepare for your opponent, you’ve got the one opponent, it’s basically all written. And I’ve done that type of stuff too, I was on one of the Grime Time battles. But it’s not my scene now, I feel like it takes- the kids are so nice at it- but it takes a lot of energy and effort to succeed in that battle arena, and it just takes me away from recording and other things that I like and feel are more valuable to my career.
But I’m not against it per say. I might dip my feet back into it again, but I’m not- it’s not my focus. I feel like I have my battle accolades and I don’t need to necessarily prove myself on that angle.
DX: Dub, prior to releasing Media Shower, you released Nights In Cuba and Bluntitled- two instrumentals- and you also released On the Arm before [those two, which was your] debut. Were the last two albums your way of staying busy, or were you experimenting with your sound more than anything?
Dub Sonata: A little bit of both. Nights In Cuba came out of a trip to Cuba, where I brought back a bunch of records and basically used them for source samples to make an instrumental album.
Yeah, I guess it was a little of both, but after doing it, it’s something that I want to keep doing. I got another instrumental album called You and I that I’m trying to wrap up and situate for next year some time. Doing instrumental albums is really fun; it allows me to let the music be the voice.
DX: You provided some production on Sadat X’s Wild Cowboys II. How does it feel to be on the same album as Pete Rock, 9th Wonder and just a slew of other Hip Hop stars?
Dub Sonata: Yeah, I mean…crazy. Crazy and definitely a blessing to have worked with Sadat [X] and to have been on a project with so many other really ill artists that I’ve looked up to for such a long time. Artist and producer, that is.
DX: Last question is- I know you talked about a tour- what else are you guys doing after this album drops?
Double A.B.: We got tour dates lined up. You know, just a lot of running around. A lot of radio appearances. Just promoting the shit out of the album right now. Wherever you can hear me rapping, you’ll hear me, Dub - who’s going to be running around, doing his thing too - and we’re just going to be spreading the word. ‘Cause we’re doing this from the bottom-up, so we buildin’ a wildfire just trying to get this buzz going. So doing a lot of grassroots legwork, running around. You’re going to hear us on the street corner pushing this shit. Wherever we’re at, it probably involves us pushing this project for the next undisclosed amount of time.
Dub Sonata: We also got an EP that we’re putting together. It’s going to be a little free EP called Grassroots that we’re probably going to put out over the next couple of months. It’s going to six or seven songs that are based off of old Country and Folk records, which is real cool. We’re just trying to wrap that up and we’ll give it out to the people when it’s done. It’s really cool stuff.