SD: We met fucking years ago [when] I used to carry Pete’s crates to get in the club, man [laughs].
PR: Exactly [laughs].
SD: We met before Harlem got gentrified.
OKP: “It’s a vibe. It’s a painting. It’s a moment,” you say, Smoke. Can you explain how this project symbolizes these three things for you?
SD: I feel like [this album] is a painting that a lot of people haven’t seen in a while. It is a vibe that a lot of people haven’t had in a while. And it is a moment that people haven’t had in a while. It’s all of the three. I think it is probably the best work [that] I’ve ever done as a lyrical artist and the best production I’ve ever had.
Like I’ve never endured something like what I got—even when it came to the features. It was the first time where I went nine for 10 on the features that I wanted. You know what I mean?! It wasn’t something where I’m like, ‘Damn, I wish I would’ve had this dude on this,’ because I actually got it. So, it is kind of hard moving forward after I scored on what I really wanted to do.
Of course, you know [there’s] more shit that I wanna do and more artists that I respect and have friendships with that I’d like to have on this album, but we have a UNIW 2 coming soon. Sheesh, the lineup on this [album]… this is a dream project.
OKP: The press release states that this album represents a “pre-gentrified” Harlem. What does that sound like?
SD: Well, that sounds like…
SD: It sounds like soul, you know what I mean? You can’t even really describe the sound other than saying “soul”. That’s just where it comes from. That is the type of music [that] I love. That’s what I grew up hearing my father play. His 45s and vinyl of Marvin [Gaye], Al Green and Otis Redding. That was the vibe that I had in my household when I was a child. So, you know that is kind of embedded within me. Making this type of project with the Soul Brother #1 is like you can’t go wrong.
OKP: How do you think you managed to capture that sound? That feeling?
PR: I guess just like knowing what Harlem looks like and riding through the town… the blackness of it. What it was from the ’70s to the ’80s to now. It was a dramatic change, y’know? Because Harlem actually used to be way more dangerous. And you see all kinds of people living there now, so… it’s a good thing. I captured those times in this album—when hip-hop clubs were first starting.
In the ’80s, you had these hip-hop clubs like Club 2000, The Rooftop, Latin Quarter and The Fever. All of these places that hip-hop dwelled in—they’re landmarks and they’re legendary. It is history and that is kind of what I see and capture as I’m making beats or listening to the music that I make that I think Smoke would sound good on. Being that he’s from Harlem, I felt [it] was easy for me because I hung out in Harlem a lot. Like a lot, a lot.
OKP: Is there a war between the old and the new players in hip-hop? Or is it more of a collaborative effort between the two?
PR: Media can make anything possible, but it’s never [been] a war. Sometimes we have [different] opinions about music. Y’know, we kinda criticize the younger generation with their music. It [the music] has changed and we weren’t ready for the change. But you know what? I feel now that I’m in it, y’know? I like it because I love music and I’m [just] as passionate about music and production and beats [as I was when I first started].
I just want to melt [my style] with the young generation and let the world know that in hip-hop there’s more to be heard… and to never say something is “old school.” You can call it “old school,” but music is music and it should all be heard and appreciated. Smoke has had a nice period that he’s been working from and I’ve been around for years. So, you know, he’s experienced in one way and I’m experienced in another and we just combine.
I immediately wanted to work with Smoke after hearing his music, so I was excited to do it. I just knew it would be something.
OKP: DZA, you said as “diehard” New Yorkers it was important for you to make a record that “embraces what New York feels like.” How did you turn that into a sound?
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