The Analysis of Naledge: A Q&A with the Kidz In Hall MC

Andrew Barber

Fake Shore Drive recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Naledge of the famed duo Kidz In The Hall. Taking some time out of his hectic schedule, we were able to discuss the release of his sophomore album with his partner in crime, Double-O, his debut solo album – Naledge Is Power, the Cool Kids comparisons as well as the “bookworm” stereotype. Smarten up, and check out what everyone’s favorite Ivy League MC had to say.

I know you’ve been speaking about the latest Kidz In the Hall album, The In Crowd, ad nauseum lately, but could you please give the readers a brief run-down of what’s going on with that?

Well, the synopsis of the album, or the cliff notes version, is that Double-O and I wanted to create an album that is encompassing of all the things we are, not just how people want us to be or have projected us to us be. We feel that with the last album we kind of got boxed in and we had a certain label placed upon us. It was cool because people appreciated the music, but this time we want to show them what else we can do. We don’t want to build a reputation as being a one trick pony, you know? So our whole intent with this album is to be more well rounded to ensure our longevity. By doing so, we wanted to create an album that is all things to all people. We felt the best way to do that is to show people that we can fit in anywhere, so in that respect it’s kind of like high school, where there are different crowds or different clicks. So every song is a different sound and a different experience. It’s really just us making really dope records with our friends and seeing how they come out. That’s what The In Crowd is – a new wave in hip-hop of people who just enjoy music – it doesn’t have to be a certain type of hip hop. There are certain types of hip-hop in my opinion – good and wack – and that’s all it is.

I kind of felt that you guys were typecast on your first album as being “socially conscious rappers” or “bookworms”, so I can see why you may want to break out of that mold.

Yeah, I think a lot of people bought into the whole resume more than they really listened to the music. I feel like if you really listened to School Was My Hustle, there were definitely overtones of school and school themes, and it was definitely spoken from the perspective of somebody who went to school. The beats had a certain feel to them, but the album wasn’t overly conscious – maybe with the exception of “Move On Up”. What I try to do as an MC, is to tell stories, and a lot of time, the stories that I tell are allegories or fables – but that’s the same shit ‘Pac did, that’s the same shit B.I.G did. I don’t see myself as any different than those cats, you know what I mean? I feel like I’m in that category, I feel like I’m in the category of good MC’s – period. I don’t want to be only plugged in with Mos [Def], Talib [Kweli], Phonte [of Little Brother] and Naledge. Don’t get me wrong, that’s great company to be in, but I also feel like I fit with Pusha-T [Clipse], I fit with [Lil] Wayne. When people name their Top 5’s, I want to be up there…even with the Lupe’s of the world, or the Kanye’s of the world. I feel like I fit and I belong in these categories, and this album is that statement. I’ve also stepped up my MCing like a billion times…

Exactly, because from what I’ve heard, it sounds like a new found hunger

Right, it’s a whole renewed energy. I had that energy on the first album, but it’s like, you gave me an inch and now I’m going to take a mile. I was able to see what this industry is. I thought the last record was under-promoted, it was wrongly promoted, it didn’t shift enough units – and there were just a lot of things wrong with it. But now I’m coming back, not just from the aspect of “I just want to have a record in stores, I just want to spit those 16’s and do songs that rep the ‘Go [Chicago].” After traveling the world, I want to make an album that the entire world can hear. I want to make a career out of this and build what the ‘Go is, and turn it into a worldwide style. There are already artists that are out there doing it, but I want to have my footprint in it too, and that’s what I’m really doing with this album.

With everything going on with Chicago’s hip-hop scene right now, you definitely need to be involved and held in that same light. Because in a lot of respects, all signs point to Chicago as the next city to really have a big movement – kind of like what Atlanta was 4 or 5 years ago.

I think, even more so, Chicago is like New York in ’93. People in Chicago love hip-hop and that’s something that people have neglected for a long time. We don’t have just one style of music, we are all around hip-hop. I feel like there are cats in Chicago that know more about the history of New York hip-hop than some of the New York rappers I meet. There are cats I’ve meet that have never even heard of Brand Nubian, have never listened to Leaders of the New [School], they don’t know any Public Enemy records. It’s crazy because we honored that stuff coming up – HONORED IT. Us younger cats would go down to [Chicago Record Store]Dr. Wax, and study the whole history of this thing, because that’s what we knew was dope and that’s what we paid homage to. Even the West Coast, with the gang-bang culture we have, but that’s a whole other story. But Chicago is finally getting its shine now.

That’s one of the great things about being from the Midwest, we kind of had to study the stuff the rest of the country was doing, and then create our own style and our own sound

We’re all individuals here. Like these days, you fall into a certain category…I call it TV rappers or individuals. Like a lot of these people now use the blueprint of what a rapper is “supposed to be”. The great thing about Chicago, and even if you go overseas, or down south there is no blueprint of what a rapper is supposed to be. But now the game is kind of stale…you go to LA or New York and there’s a blueprint of what rapper is supposed to be. Rocking wallet chains, or rock-n-roll belts, you what I’m saying? That shit is corny (laughs). Because two years ago these mother fuckers were rocking Polo’s for a second, and before that they were rocking throwbacks. Whatever they think the public thinks is hot, they do. They’re not original, they’re not trendsetters, and I feel like that’s what Chicago breeds – trendsetters and innovators – because we don’t have it any other way.

We just have to get our industry game right and that’s what we’re doing now is getting the business right. We need labels, and outlets of our own to distribute our own stuff, so I don’t have to come to New York or different places to be heard.

It’s interesting you say that because a few months ago, local artist Shala invited me to a panel held by the Chicago Music Commission, that
discussed how we can build the music industry in Chicago, without having to lose our artists to other cities such as LA, New York or Atlanta. So people can have industry jobs live and be successful here. I know this isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight, but hopefully it’s a work in progress

It’s going to eventually happen and our time will come, but that’s definitely something I want to be a part of.

Since we’re on the topic, how do you feel about the Chicago music scene – are there any artists that you’re a big fan of, in particular? Anyone from the new class, or what some consider the “New Chicago”?

I’m a fan of a lot of artists, but more so, I consider myself more of a peer than a fan. I look at myself as someone who looks for admiration of their peers who motivate me to do new things and try new things. I feel like the true innovators should always compete with one another and surround themselves with the type of people who work hard and always strive to push the envelope. I feel like my style is different than what a lot of people do, but I definitely love being around Rhymefest, I like what Lupe does, I love Kanye’s production and he’s even stepped his rap game up too. You have to respect what No ID has done. I really like GLC and feel like he is someone who is very much slept-on, even I slept on him until I really got a chance to listen to a wealth of his music. Twista is someone I’ve always looked up to, and his ability to master that flow, the rapid-fire flow that he invented, he actually should have a copyright on that (laughs). I’m also a fan of the whole, as I like to call it, the “scenester movement”, like the Cool Kids. Actually, me and Mikey are real cool and [Chuck] Inglish and I are getting to know each other now as well. They’re [the Cool Kids] actually on the “Drivin’ Down The Block” Remix…

Interesting you say that because some people thought that “Drivin’ Down the Block” was heavily influenced by the Cool Kids sound

It’s funny because there were so many haters that came up once “Drivin’ Down the Block” came out, not even knowing that we had the Cool Kids on the remix a year ago, before “Black Mags” even popped off. So a lot of these haters need to shut the fuck up about that one. We’re all cool people – they were actually in the studio when I made the record, so if there was really any type of beef, or if we were at odds with each other then it would have happened a long time ago (laughs). Mikey was on the original, original version of the song, like we’ve had this record for a minute, it was actually the starting point of the album. We really lucked out with this being the cornerstone of the album. The original version that Mikey was on was really stripped-down, but we went back with the intention of making the record bigger and getting more people on it. I did a version by myself, which is what everyone is hearing now, then we went back and did the remix and we threw Chuck [Inglish] on it, and we threw Pusha T on it. Now it’s turning into something even bigger than that, because now we have a full-fledged all-star remix.

Can you elaborate on the remix?

That’s information from a secret cave and something I can’t divulge at this time (laughs). It’s a monster though. Definitely one of those classic posse remixes, but featuring a lot of people that you wouldn’t expect to be on the same track. It’s not like I ran out and got Rich Boy and Jim Jones. I mean just getting Pusha alone is a major feat, because Pusha doesn’t do features. We toured with the Clipse and we built with them dudes and they respect what we do, and we respect what they do. You know you’re not going to hear Pusha on too many records unless it’s Star Trak or Re-Up affiliated – definitely not an indie album (laughs).

Are you shooting a video for the solo version or the remix?

We’re actually going to do two videos – one for the original and one for the remix. We’re keeping it in tact because my version is the version we want people to hear. The remix is just the icing on the cake – so I’m excited about the whole situation.

That Masta Ace “Born to Roll” sample is classic though….

No doubt, it came together real nice. At first we were just using the vocal sample, but we ended up running into Masta Ace in Europe and he re-spit the hook for us, so we were able to dodge a lot of problems with that (laughs). While we were in Prague we saw him at a festival and we played him the record and he loved it, so we paid him to go ahead and re-spit the hook, which was a lot easier than going through publishing companies (laughs), but it was very ironic and happenstance, you know?

So getting back into The In Crowd album – Double-O produced the whole album, correct?

Yeah, he produced the entire album with the exception of one track that Black Milk did. It was a concept because there is a track on the album where Black Milk is rapping over a Double-O beat, and then later in the album I’m rapping on a Black Milk beat, so it’s kind of like a idea we worked on and it came together nice. Also on the track I have my artist that’s coming out, Fooch, so is Guilty Simpson, so it’s kind of like a Detroit/Chicago thing and it came out real dope.

But back to the album, it came out real great. We have a feature on just about every track, going with the whole In Crowd theme. Like I said, we played on the whole school thing, kind of like the lunch room – every table has a different clique, I’m sure everyone knows that scene in high school, where you have the jocks, the cheerleaders are over there, and the class officers are over here, drama kids sit here, etc. But we’re saying we fit in everywhere and we can hang with whomever.

We created a new genre – good hip hop. There’s no such thing as “Backpack” anymore, it’s fly shit and wack shit! We are a part of this new movement and that’s what it is, just fly. That’s our whole point. I’m telling you, rappers are going to have to come way more versatile after hearing this album (laughs). I’m not just going to accept you giving me two singles and the rest of the album is wack shit. People are going to have to step it up and make real albums, and that’s what going on with this new movement. Lupe, Common, Kanye, Rhymefest, my solo record is coming, Kid Sister, Cool Kids – there are just so many, and each artist I named has their own distinct style and bring something new and different to the game. We can float to hip hop to house to that boom bap big beat shit – whatever.

Let’s get into your solo debut, Naledge Is Power, what can we expect from that?

It’s pretty much done now. I’m going to re-cut a few records because I don’t want it to sound dated. I’m sure some of the stuff will probably start leaking because it has been around for so long – you know, the studio interns always want to leak shit (laughs)…

So the studio interns ar
e behind the leaking of these freestyles that show up about once a week on various hip hop blogs?

(laughs) I mean, I have such a wealth of material that stuff could leak everyday. I look at this as a job. Some cats don’t like being in the studio, me personally, I live in the studio and that’s what I do. This is my job, this is my release and it’s very therapeutic for me. So I record at least three songs a week. Honestly, freestyle wise, I probably do about five or six of those a week. A lot of times we just filter it and let the best stuff leak out – sometimes my management will shoot it out there and when we get requests we kind of pick and choose what we want to let the public hear.

Tell me more about your new artist Fooch

He’s somebody who people need to be on the lookout for, and it will be very soon, believe me. He has a different side to Hyde Park, a different side of the Southside to him. It’s very hip-hop, but at the same time very grimey – that Chi-Town Heltah Skeltah type shit – so he’s real dope. If I’m like Guru, then he’s like Group Home, (laughs) you know what I’m saying? He has his own style and I love him for that. It’s so Chicago and undeniable.

It seems like the Kidz In the Hall are getting crazy press right now – do you feel that your buzz is stronger this go round?

Well, we got a lot of press with the last album, but this time around we just want the press to be pushing the agenda that we want pushed, and that’s the difference. The press will come if you have a valid release, a valid label behind you, and a good publicist or whatever. You’ll get your interviews, but it’s more about what’s printed and how it’s projected in the interviews. We want all of the reviews to be solid and we want things to get across the way they’re meant to be.

So how will Naledge is Power differ from The In Crowd?

Well, Kidz In the Hall is much more experimental. We have much more leeway with the topics, but to be real frank, we have two people on the album and not one. With my album it all falls on me as far as what’s on there, the features, the production, etc. With the Kidz in the Hall record, with Double-O being a producer, it’s 50/50 on everything. Sometimes, I’ll come in and Double-O will already have the beat and concept ready, like “I think we should do the record this way”, and then I’ll move from his recommendations. Or it may be vice versa, as sometimes I’ll have the topic for the song and what I think the beat should sound like and we work that way.

With the solo album, its just me seeking out certain sounds and certain beats and it’s much more personal. Most of the Kidz In the Hall stuff, what you get is not really that personal. It’s much more about me commenting on generalities on society and life, and me just being lyrical. My record is much more about who I am as a person – its very soulful and classic sounding, almost like going back to basics. First we’re going to hit them in the gut with the Kidz album and it’s like, don’t forget about this [Naledge Is Power], it’s almost like the orange juice and the pill from back in the days. Like when your Mom would try to give you medicine and you didn’t want it, you know? You have to give them the juice first and then the medicine – and Naledge is Power is that medicine. You have to ease it in on people, you can’t just force feed them. You don’t go out on a first date with a chick and tell them all of your history with past girlfriends and problems, you just don’t do that.

What can we expect production wise?

We’ve got 9th Wonder, Double-O, Just Blaze, we’re talking to Pete Rock, Sa-Ra – it’s just going to be very, very soulful. I have about four joints from 9th [Wonder], I’ve met with a few other producers, I’m sure you’ve heard of Excel, we work real well together. Also SC, I really respect his work as well. I’ve also been talking to [Chuck] Inglish about getting a beat, so we’ll see how that turns out.

Will the Naledge is Power album be a major, or independent release?

We’re really in a weird place with that right now. We still have an open invitation to go with the Rawkus situation, but it’s looking like that’s not going to happen. Honestly, I’m not sure where we’re going to go with it, but we’ve had quite a few offers. We’re going to feel it out and see where we want to go with it. So if any A&R’s are reading this and want to put out the best album of next year, holler at me (laughs).

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