Your Old Droog
Photo credit: Elle Schneider
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Ali and I are both big fans of a musician from New York who goes by the name Your Old Droog.
The lineage he occupies is that of some of our all time favorites: Big L, Lord Finesse, Sean Price, Doom. His style is reminiscent of their competitive intensity, visual imaginations, a certain flair with vocabulary, and an unaffected delivery.
Since arriving on the scene in 2014, which was after 10 years of hard work, Droog has progressed in his own time and on his own terms.
We’re impressed with him and feel good about the future of New York hip-hop now that he’s involved.
YOUR OLD DROOG: It's YOD. What up?
FRANNIE KELLEY: Thank you for doing this kind of out of the blue.
YOUR OLD DROOG: No doubt. I was hibernating, had to pop up.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Eventually.
FRANNIE: Ali, could you – so, I don't know how many people are aware of or remember this whole sort of origin story of Droog. Do you remember it?
ALI: No. I don't remember anything. I barely remember what happened last night at my show.
FRANNIE: OK. I feel like we should just sort of get this out of the way.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, I was the rap Encino man. And they taught me how to rhyme in a laboratory. Lyor shaved me.
FRANNIE: Yeah, you're tall like Brendan Fraser. That's –
YOUR OLD DROOG: Exactly.
FRANNIE: That's the closest comparison. So 2014, there were these rumors that Nas is rhyming in secret, putting out tracks under an assumed name or under no name or something. And then gradually it's revealed that it's actually our guest today, Your Old Droog. I don't really remember why precisely everybody thought you were Nas other than it was – I mean, I get what they're talking about. I think it was pretty clear that you were from New York.
YOUR OLD DROOG: I mean, I could tell you what happened.
YOUR OLD DROOG: I had a project that I did, and we just put it out with no videos, with no music. And I always was a weird perfectionist. I deleted all the old stuff, cause I felt like I was getting better. And Sacha Jenkins from Mass Appeal did a write-up, and it was like, "Yo, this dude is a mystery. He likes long walks on the beach, ping pong." I don't even remember. And people were just like, "OK. Mass Appeal." And they sped the tape up, uploaded a picture of Nas, and that shit just – and maybe I'm slow because I did not see that shit coming. Like, I never got that comparison before that.
FRANNIE: You never got that comparison before that?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Never.
FRANNIE: Nobody ever said that to you. Or you never –
YOUR OLD DROOG: First time I heard it, the producer who did most of the beats, RTNC, he was playing it for his man. He was like, "Oh, he kind of sounds like Nas," and I was like – like, we doing something right.
YOUR OLD DROOG: But yeah, I just think the lack of visibility let people's imaginations run wild.
FRANNIE: It was a time when people wanted more from Nas also, right?
YOUR OLD DROOG: We always want more. He's one of the greatest.
FRANNIE: Yeah. But being revealed like that, you didn't want people to figure it out.
YOUR OLD DROOG: It was creepy, cause it was a lot of stalkers popping up, and detectives trying to figure out my identity. I wanted people to focus on the rhymes and the beats, and there's just such a big emphasis on who you are, where you're from, all that shit, even though it was all in the music. I was rapping about my life. People are like, "Oh, he's making hints! He mentioned Illmatic. There you go." Like, I'm from New York.
FRANNIE: So then how did you – how did he get on your radar?
ALI: I just kind of remember the rumblings of someone sounding like Nas, and hearing him I was like, "Oh, I get that," but it was incredible talent there. And for the time of what was happening in New York, it was refreshing, cause it's – at that time, I don't know where music was going, from a New York perspective at least and its influence globally. And so, you just want to hear somebody who can really flow like that. At least I do.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Thank you, sir. For me, starting out, I always thought the objective was to get as nice as you possibly can, and that's all I cared about for years. I got my first check in like 2013, and I was rhyming for like ten years, for no money, battling, still writing. I don't know. I guess I stepped it up. Two thousand thirteen, 2014 was the nicest I ever was, and that's what people, at least a lot of people, got to hear for the first time.
ALI: That used to be the bar, of being as nice as you can be or greater. But the level of what that is for a lot of people now, I think, is distorted, because it becomes about just getting put on and the ease of being able to record and also at this stage the lack of competition from people who really are giving it an artistic like, "Oh my god, I can't achieve that, but I want to achieve that." And things are easily achievable from a writing perspective, so it's easy for everyone to hit that mark. But what were your influences when you say you wanted to be as nice as possible. So who's on the wall? Who's the target?
YOUR OLD DROOG: It's going to sound generic, but the first album I got into was Ready To Die, and I feel like that made me love hip-hop. This was the Napster days. I used to just write the word freestyle in and listen to everybody, but the Big L '98 freestyle, the Stretch and Bob shit – I found out it was Stretch and Bob later, but the "Ask Beavis I get nothing but head," I was like – that shit blew my mind as a young 13-year-old. And I just listened to everybody, man. That Common shit. "I Used To Love H.E.R." I used to want to hear every rhyme, from anybody, nobodies, different hoods, going to battle, public access, mixtapes. The most trash rappers, even good ones, aight ones. I was just immersed.
FRANNIE: Who's your competition now?
YOUR OLD DROOG: I feel like you, like, me. I'm my only competition for real. You can't really get caught up in that. I mean, steel sharpen steel. You hear good MCs; they make you step your shit up.
FRANNIE: Right. I think somebody like Danny Brown who you do a song with, would working with somebody like him help you step up?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Oh yeah. Nah, but, like, yeah. Listening to Danny, he makes me want to write. Roc Marci makes me want to write. This dude Mach-Hommy makes me want to write, even Wiki. My man Edan, he's better than me I feel like. But just yeah, when you hear great rhyming – but I don't know. Maybe I'm jaded. I don't even get inspired like that anymore.
FRANNIE: I was thinking about how the thing that you do that other people don't do, which Ali alluded to, is you are actually in your songs talking about being the best. Like, that is a lot of your subject matter. It's like, "I'm better than you." That's a whole micro-genre that –
YOUR OLD DROOG: That's how I feel. I mean, it's, like, standard New York braggadocious rap. I feel that way when I'm recording, when I'm rhyming, when I'm writing. I'm like, "Nobody could fuck with me." That's just the creative zone. But I don't walk around like that in regular life like a dickhead and shit like, "Oh, I'm better" – all these dudes are talented that I just named. But at least when I'm creating, I'm trying to be better than whatever's considered the best-type shit.
FRANNIE: That's kind of a classical approach for hip-hop, right?
ALI: Yeah. The best music was made from that being the target, and that's why every time I hear Droog, it's just like, "Yup." It's that thing – again I guess it just depends on the time period you're born in and the scheme or the realm of hip-hop, and if you're born, I don't know, ten years ago, then it may be hard to identify with the feeling that I have, because I was raised when, to me, I think all the best hip-hop was ever created. And so when you have someone like Droog come in in a way after the fact of that time period and coming with those type of songs and styles, it's just like – I don't know. It's refreshing.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I can't remember if this happened on mic, maybe it wasn't, but when we were talking to Shad, he was talking about making Hip-Hop Evolution, and how talking to all of you guys in the first season and the second one, that hip-hop culture is New York culture, and that braggadocious – that feeling of really being the best, not in a dismissive way of other people, but being like, "I worked for this. This is what it is," that's the root of it. And it's absence in other things makes it – it's a different – it's a whole different thing.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, battling was a big part of coming up, and I shaped my style and approach and a lot from that. Cause you would battle cats, and if you didn't have the edge and they had something, you would take it home. You wouldn't steal it, but you would take notes and, you know, try to implement certain things, whether it's humor or – even though I never set out to write a rhyme like, "I'm going to be funny right now," but subconsciously to improve you take things and you try to be competitive, but –
ALI: Do you – well, one of I think the best things to sharpen your sword is to freestyle, so do you still freestyle?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Like off the head?
ALI: Yeah. When's the last time you freestyled?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Me and Edan were having freestyle sessions trying to – cause I don't think I was writing a lot at the time and shit, so that's just a good way to open your mind back up to the writing process. And you might stumble upon a line like, "Oh shit. That's good enough to put in the fourth bar of a punchline." That's how I arrived at a lot of lines, just freestyling in my head.
ALI: Well, when you're actually writing, how far are you from that freestyle space?
YOUR OLD DROOG: I feel like when you're crafting a verse, especially the ones I write, you're trying to capture the essence of a freestyle. You have freestyle rhymes that – cats kick written verses on the radio show, but they had that freestyle feel. It's just like, recording music, recording videos, you trying to capture something, and the perfect written rhyme kind of gotta sound like a freestyle, gotta be effortless. We trying to imitate nature and shit when we make music.
FRANNIE: And how much does who you choose to keep around you affect that process?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Oh nah, absolutely. I'm glad I met Edan, cause I've been around people when they create, it's just like some paint-by-numbers, "throw shit at the wall; try to see if it sticks." And this is a dude who creates only when he's moved to create. We all got obligations. You might get a couple stacks from a wack rapper to do a verse and shit. That happens. Or a lot of money. But you can't just give him money and make him do stuff. He gotta be moved by the art first or see something in it. So yeah, I've been around people who just like, "a hundred beats a day, next song, just write some bullshit," not even write probably, and create like that. And this is a dude who takes time and crafts, just how I do.
And I think the pressures of being in the game quote unquote will take you out of that, that patience, and you feel like you gotta succeed and all that corny shit. I'd rather be not successful than do what those other dudes do.
ALI: Well, I guess that depends on what you define as success, right? And I haven't talked to a lot of the now generation to even know what success is, in terms of them going into the studio with their purposes. I've talked to a couple people, and it seems like people just want to get on.
YOUR OLD DROOG: They want to get money.
ALI: Yeah, they just want to get money. Can I go back a little bit? Can you tell us about your very first official studio session?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Sure.
ALI: What was that like? What was the room like? Who was in the room?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Are we talking somebody's bedroom or an official studio?
ALI: When you knew you were going to record with the hopes or aspirations that – this wasn't in the dojo, playground. "I'm really going in to record."
YOUR OLD DROOG: Alright. Bet, bet, bet. Cause I'm not going to talk about going uptown to record freestyles over industry beats as a kid. Nah. For me, the biggest struggle was finding a competent engineer to work with. I would go to studios, and no offense, they were nice guys and shit, but there just wasn't the chemistry. I needed somebody who knew how to record the music I was trying to make.
ALI: So the first time you're going, was it – someone didn't – I don't understand.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, nah, the energy just wasn't right.
FRANNIE: Wait. Be specific. Was it like the mics were bad? They set it up bad? They were fucking up? The room didn't feel – wasn't clean?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yo, recording is such a delicate process, man. If the energy just isn't right and the engineer's not tuned in to what you're doing – my whole – I'm sensitive with that shit. It affects me. When dudes are drinking and smoking and all, I'm like, "This ain't the vibe."
ALI: So you're paying for this time, and that's the feeling you're getting.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah.
ALI: So what was the outcome of that first session?
YOUR OLD DROOG: That's several studios. I mean, that was – a lot of sessions like that, some in Brooklyn, some uptown. There was one session where, yeah, we went to Harlem, some dude's crib, and just the energy was bad. Dudes were smoking. I'm like – I don't even like that, cause I don't smoke anymore, smoke weed.
ALI: Were you able to actually record something?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, I recorded something, but just even my presence on the mic wasn't – it was affected by the people in the room. I just felt weird energy.
And then after that, I hit up the producer/engineer who did the first project. That was the first good engineer I worked with. He made coffee and shit. It wasn't no extra dudes in the studio hanging on. I made sure I went dolo, and I just kept coming back. That was the first song – I did "Nutty Bars" over there off the first project. And I listened to that shit like 80 times when I got home. Like, "This shit is so fire, son, and it sounds good! I sound good!" Cause I'm not even technically savvy like that. I didn't know about EQ and compression and – I just be like, "Yo, turn my mic up!" And the levels were never right. I don't know what's up with dudes, man. It's amateurs before that.
ALI: So what changes did you make after that experience?
YOUR OLD DROOG: I was just trying to ride that wave of creativity. I did that whole project in a few weeks. I need to come back. 25 an hour, out of pocket.
FRANNIE: It's funny cause you sound really relaxed on that project.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Right. Yeah. And it's also a matter of finding your voice on the records. That was the first time I feel like I recorded in my actual speaking voice or just how I talk. I used to think you needed to have a rap delivery or shit, like Chubb Rock or something – not him specifically, but just extra animation – and you mess around with cadence and experiment. But that project, I kind of just kicked the rhymes, like how I'd regularly say them. And the mic sounded good.
FRANNIE: I mean, I think that's also maybe why people, even after that came out, were sort of like, "Oh yeah, it makes sense everybody thought he was Nas," cause you sound older than you were. How old were you?
YOUR OLD DROOG: I was 24.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I mean –
YOUR OLD DROOG: It's not that old. But in rap years, I felt like an old-ass man. I was like, "Yo, I'm at my fucking pinnacle right now. I need to copyright all this stuff. This might be the last, you know, great verses I write. Who knows?" But –
FRANNIE: Really? You thought that?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah.
FRANNIE: So how did you –
YOUR OLD DROOG: Whatever I write, the last shit I wrote, I feel like is my best, throughout my entire past, the writing. My last verse is the best verse I ever wrote, the one I wrote last week.
FRANNIE: Oh, I thought you meant, in terms of pinnacle, like, "It's all downhill from here."
YOUR OLD DROOG: Oh, nah, nah.
ALI: That's funny.
ALI: Like he's got a fortune. You're a fortune teller like that?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Nah, I just felt like, "Yo, this the best shit I ever wrote."
ALI: Well, that's good, to continue to improve and be better. Why hip-hop? Why is that your thing, and why do you still continue to do it in this stage?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Hip-hop raised me, man. It's like an extra set of parents told you what your parents wouldn't tell you. It's important. Your friends listen to it. Everybody – it was just a part of life. I didn't view hip-hop as an outside thing that I just signed up for. You know what I'm saying? It's in you. But I like music in general, so I tried to play guitar. I messed around a little bit. I took a little music theory class in community college, and I love music first too.
But hip-hop is just what I'm good at, man. I had to be realistic. What? Am I going to become Steve Vai all of sudden and shit? Like, I've been writing rhymes for the longest, and I got pretty good, pretty good around 2013. I mean, I was always nice, but I feel like that was the – that polish that was needed.
ALI: Is there something in your journey you feel you haven't achieved yet with the music?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Oh yeah, definitely. Nah, I'm not like – I'm always hesitant to do podcasts and shit, cause you feel like you're just reflecting, like you're done or something. I said no to a couple podcasts early on and shit. I was like, "This is way too early! 2014?" Nah, man, it's not close to being fulfilled. But there's little achievements that I can hang my hat on, if I told the younger me like, "Yo, Prodigy tried to sign you, son." Or Sean P, whatever.
FRANNIE: What about Sean P?
YOUR OLD DROOG: That's the first dude who embraced me. Early on I only listened to mixtape rap and what was popping at the time and shit, buying Clue tapes. And then there's certain MCs you hear, and it just changes your – you gotta rethink your approach, to writing, to everything. Sean P, 2006, I forgot it was Ruck from Heltah Skeltah. I was like, "Sean Price. Oh, shit." And he was just bodying everything.
And 2007 I heard MF DOOM for the first time, and that shit fucked my head up. I used to think fucking – no disrespect, I thought Fabolous was the pinnacle of rhyming or some shit. Lloyd Banks. No disrespect to them dudes, but when I heard DOOM – like, those are the real fathers of my style. And, you know, it goes back to Big L and Lord Finesse and G Rap and Rakim. Those dudes took all those influences and made something even crazier.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I was going to ask about lineages.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yo, Big L was – I played that first album so much, and looking back, it's really not the best songwriting or just I feel the beats and whatever, there were better albums out at the time. And from what I know history-wise, it was kind of overshadowed, but I was just listening to the rhymes on that album, but –
FRANNIE: But you knew he was going to get better. That whole thing is potential, beyond imagination though.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Right. That man, yeah. That was the real father of the punchline shit that I do.
ALI: And it's just a feeling though, not just a skillset, but in addition it's the feeling you get when all of those layers are just perfect and the time is perfect. Time is such a factor, and you're not conscious of it. Or maybe some people are conscious of it when they're recording, but timing of things.
FRANNIE: You mean what else is happening in the world or whatever?
FRANNIE: Yeah, that was something that I wanted to talk to him about, was – cause you seem like you're – especially in the ways that you critique the industry and the attendant industries, you're totally aware of everything else that's going on around. How much time do you spend factoring any of that in to your work?
YOUR OLD DROOG: I pay attention to it. The information comes in. But I also try to just stay in a bubble where I'm not really influenced by what's going on. So it's kind of a mixture of both. But I think the perspective and the feeling is the really valuable thing. Cause there's a lot of cats who could rhyme and got bars, but if the perspective is wack, I feel like that shit is negated. Like if you're a cornball, it's going to pervade your music, and I can't get into it. I think perspective is real important.
FRANNIE: Right. Cause it's not just like, it's all about playlist pitching nowadays or whatever. It's also about what's happening – how it feels on the subway, how people are relating to each other. Do you know what I mean?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Word.
FRANNIE: Like the mood of your city, but also of all of us.
YOUR OLD DROOG: It's weird though. New York is very antisocial, so I try to just stay in my lane and mind my business. I know that's cliche to say, but I really don't care about what anybody else has going on. And yeah, I just want to focus on what I'm doing.
ALI: And I was about to say, it kind of shows. I mean, that's a good thing. I'm not saying that in like a – nah. It's good to –
YOUR OLD DROOG: I'm not that enthusiastic and shit.
ALI: Yeah. It's good to be focused. I always had kind of just a closed perspective of – I mean, I was very aware, and still am, aware of the world and stuff like that, but just other things don't – I don't allow it to get in and penetrate my creative space.
YOUR OLD DROOG: That shit can affect you a lot, man, just outside people with their feedback that you ain't even ask for. I remember bumping into people and they're giving me career advice less than five minutes of meeting me, telling me what I need to do and shit. Like, somebody'll probably be like, "Yeah, do that NPR podcast. It's good for your career." That's not why I'm doing this.
FRANNIE: If you're not doing your work cause you want your career to be big, why are you doing it?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Nah, I want the career to be big, but I don't want to think in terms of like, "Do this, and this is going to help me get this." I just want to make what I want to make, and I feel like all that will naturally come. That's it. I don't want to be checking views every day, man. That shit is stressful.
ALI: Yeah, it can throw you off what you should be doing too.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Just read a comment that shits on me.
ALI: So what's up with the output though?
YOUR OLD DROOG: What about it?
ALI: One of the most bothersome things being – I don't know how you guys are taking what I'm saying, but I'm privy to a lot of material that'll have to wait – someone will play me something; it's like five years before it comes out.
FRANNIE: That shit is frustrating. I agree.
ALI: It is extremely frustrating when you know that it's so good. It's different if someone's playing something –
FRANNIE: I know who you're talking about right now too.
ALI: – you're like, "Yo, that's going to be chewed up in two seconds. Nobody's going to care." But when it's like, "Yo, this is what the world needs. What's up?" So what kind of creator are you, man?
YOUR OLD DROOG: When I'm in the zone, I work all the time, man. And then when I'm not writing, I'm down on myself like, "Damn. I suck now. I gotta get back on it." But when I catch that initial wave and I do a hot song, I try to get as much as I can from that wave of creativity. So I got albums done. It's just –
ALI: I know you do.
YOUR OLD DROOG: It's a business too.
ALI: That's why I'm like, "What's going on?"
YOUR OLD DROOG: You know, stay tuned.
ALI: He's one of those.
YOUR OLD DROOG: I might retire. I don't know.
ALI: You cannot retire. That is just not allowed right now.
YOUR OLD DROOG: I'ma work for Spotify. This is my in. They say all you gotta do is get in the building. I'm in the building.
FRANNIE: OK. So back when I was asking about thinking about the industry and whatever, I was also interested – in some of the ways that you start off some of your projects, you set up how you assume people might be listening to them, like the circumstances under which they're listening. Know what I mean?
YOUR OLD DROOG: What do you mean? Like interludes or –
FRANNIE: Yeah, some of the interludes and stuff. How do you assume people are going to consume a project? Are they going to be headphones by themselves? Are they going to be with other people?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Nowadays you don't know, especially at Spotify right now, playlists. Some people don't even consume albums how we did, how we do, where we listen to it front to back, and we care about skits and the overall arc of the project and the mood. They just play – I had a mastering engineer try to give me the sequencing advice like, "Yo, you should put this here, cause you know people stream and they play this first, so put your best song first." I'm like, "Nah. I gotta trust my own vision."
So I don't know. It's real arbitrary though. Yeah, I envision people with headphones. What I do is not for the clubs, but it could work in the car. It's kind of by yourself interactive. You're not going to feel it with your body. It's not glandular, like you be dancing. It's cerebral. Thinking man's hip-hop? That's corny, but yeah, whatever. Introspective.
FRANNIE: I mean, traditionally thinking man's hip-hop is also super entertaining and funny, right? That's Sean P to me.
FRANNIE: And Finesse.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, dissecting rhymes and peeping the little nuances as far as production, just that one little scratch, that little piece, it don't even gotta happen for more than three seconds. I'll just keep replaying that. I pay attention to everything when I listen.
FRANNIE: You have this line on "I Only," and I'm paraphrasing, but you're like, "The whites don't embrace me. The second they do, that's when I'll go platinum." Something like that.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Oh yeah. Yeah, I was just being a dick.
FRANNIE: Can you say what it actually is though?
YOUR OLD DROOG: I don't remember the line. I was rehearsing the other day. I had to Google fucking lyrics of my own. But some shit about – yeah. That was tongue-in-cheek though.
FRANNIE: Yeah. But do you think that was also a factor in the whole 2014 mystery? Like, "Oh, he turns out to be a white dude"-type thing?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, but I don't even know if I'm – there's levels of white though. I don't want to name names, but there's like real real white white rappers and shit. And I'm white, but whatever. I'm a fucking immigrant too. I came to this country when I was 4. I'm from Brooklyn. I don't – I'm not Middle America with it, but yeah, that's a reality.
FRANNIE: Right. That's what I'm trying to say. The business reality is that the majority population has money and spends it, goes to shows and stuff too. And so there's an influence, and that is a route to going platinum, or you can't really go platinum without the white kids.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, I don't know what to say.
YOUR OLD DROOG: I think I said something about whites don't – yeah, "whites don't play me."
FRANNIE: "Whites don't play me." That's what it was.
YOUR OLD DROOG: I don't know. It's – I'm not white enough. I don't fucking know. Yeah, I just – I think music, man, it's not even a color thing when I listen to it. But yeah, that's a very complex thing, race, especially in hip-hop. I was probably discriminated against by certain people like, "Oh, shit. He's a white kid." They spun that whole narrative. But I remember I used to pretend to be Puerto Rican and shit back in the day. I just – it took a while to accept who I was. So it's tough growing up in New York.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I think it's a part of – to me, it's a part of what makes you good at your job, is that you talk about these things. But it's not in a performative way.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Right.
FRANNIE: That these are facts. Did you want to talk about performing? Cause what I was thinking about is this way that race also plays into your narrative like you just mentioned and the way that people can take it away from you or just try to insinuate themselves into it. But a way to remove all that is to just get on stage, right?
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, I think skill and showmanship, musicality, that's what really shines through. But I don't want to act like I'm ignoring race either. It's a big part of it. And I'm not going to be that guy like, "Yeah, I'm a minority in hip-hop. White people" – nah. But I think what I hang my hat on is what I do with the music, and it's not even about me. I didn't even want to show my face in the beginning, if I could've got away with it. I didn't want to seem like I was biting DOOM or some shit by wearing a mask. Yeah, I just wanted people to focus on what I do rather than who I am, even though who I am is in the music. So it's a weird dichotomy.
FRANNIE: Well, it's kind of what makes – it makes music a very different art form from writing, and then hip-hop, that contrast is even more elevated because a lot of the music is personal, is first-person, revealing in that way.
YOUR OLD DROOG: It's my most intimate thoughts.
FRANNIE: Right. And then you have to get on stage, and you can be in front of people who don't know what the fuck you're talking about, have never heard you before, can't really hear you –
YOUR OLD DROOG: That's why you gotta stay true to your vision, whatever it is, when you made that song. I feel like a lot of kids, especially young kids, they get in the booth; they say something, and it might be fantasy rap. They talking about guns and drugs, and you get what you put out. That shit comes back at you, and you gotta live with it. I'm sure if Big L was around, he would tell you, "That was just shock rap." "Shot your granny through the peephole," and all that. You know what I'm saying? People mature.
I think I heard you mention the Biggie line, the Biggie "Dead Wrong" verse, how that was just messed up, but cats were just creating. But there's – it blurs the line of reality, so people take every word you say on the mic as that's your truth.
ALI: Well, words are powerful. Making music is powerful. And some people are aware of that and some aren't. And obviously if you are doing something at 19, and your thoughts are that of a 19-year-old based off of your perspective at that time, and you're like 29, it's way different. But once it's out there, it's out there. And depending on your level of maturity as an artist, you may want to go back – well, have a conversation looking back and just say, "OK. This was this moment in time, but this is the truth right now." People are scared of the truth though.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, it's stressful though. A kid was 17; he got in the booth and was influenced by his friends and, yeah, you might've been involved in some little street shit here and there. But then you get on the mic and project just straight murder.
ALI: Yeah, that's why I was asking what was your first session like? Cause – just in terms of the environment.
YOUR OLD DROOG: My first session ever I was an ignorant-ass kid. All I knew was my immediate surroundings, and friends who weren't steering me in the right path, not that they had to. I was kind of following, doing what I thought was the thing to do, and yeah, I'm rapping about guns and shit. Like, there might've been some guns in the mix, but that was just some corny thing to do on the mic. Cause if I hear those recordings now, I might cringe so crazy. That shit is just embarrassing. And a lot of people gotta carry that professionally. Not to name names, but yeah.
ALI: So I'm just thinking about – you're saying you just want people just to hear the music, and I'm thinking it's really about presentation, so have you thought any further about how you can get it closer to –
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah, I'ma tat my face. Yeah, I've been thinking about it, cause I'm not going to get a regular job, might as well just get like 730 on my forehead. Right?
ALI: I was thinking some way different –
YOUR OLD DROOG: Nah, fucking with you. What were you thinking though?
ALI: I know.
FRANNIE: Yeah, what?
ALI: I don't know exactly.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Some Parliament-Funkadelic type of vibes?
ALI: I mean, kind of. A little bit.
YOUR OLD DROOG: That shit is genius, man. Cause there's virtuoso musicians who didn't have that type of presentation. And that skill in itself too, man. I feel that dude 6ix9ine was a genius marketer. I heard Danny Brown say something about like, "They gotta be able to make an action figure of you," or something like that. And that's real.
ALI: Yeah, that's my level of judging certain hip-hop. It wasn't action figure. It was more like comic book hero. And if you can be –
YOUR OLD DROOG: Oh, I'm a failure in that department. Straight up. Like, look at me.
FRANNIE: Yeah, if you get a team.
YOUR OLD DROOG: My first show, I was mad regular.
FRANNIE: But yeah, you've talked about that before. The Tribe, just the way that you've always incorporated the three colors.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Genius though.
FRANNIE: It's genius.
ALI: Yeah, that's just for us to acknowledge our heritage.
YOUR OLD DROOG: How the hell were y'all so advanced, cause that was real young too? Right? Like 17, 18?
ALI: I don't know. I think about that. I think about that in this modern time when people are hitting their mark way later. They're 28, 29, even 30. And I wonder what is different for the 19 year olds or the 18 year olds of today, that in life what we had going on, we had difficulties, hardships, we had discrimination. We had limited opportunities before us. We had – the drug game was crazy, crazier I think back then.
YOUR OLD DROOG: How did y'all avoid – not to cut you off, but the trappings of that, to talk about that in the music, or just – cause I remember my first session, it was post-50 Cent, and everybody was rapping about street shit.
ALI: That's what I think it – also, in that time period, we are children of parents who've fought in civil rights, and also the music then was – like you said, it was a parent that taught you the stuff that your parent wasn't going to teach you. And so we had information that from the voices of the KRS-Ones and the voices of –
YOUR OLD DROOG: PE.
ALI: – PE, that delivered a way of being and what could be. And so that was really important, what's going on in your environment, obviously, but we weren't any of that. We had our own vision.
YOUR OLD DROOG: I remember being a kid, like 12, 11, I think it was a Def Jam compilation, I heard PE and the "Children's Story," the cautionary tale. That made me really love hip-hip too. And then came the onslaught of just what was current, and it's a lot of street-related content, and I feel like I just caught up in that in the early teenage years. And when I got up out of that mind state, I had to go back and listen to Tribe and De La and even Brand Nubian, all the stuff that I was too young to catch, all the little – the kids should know how ill Grand Puba was.
ALI: Yeah, it was a different time. There was marijuana, but there wasn't all the other kind of stuff that is out there now that kind of throws you in life, or it gives you a false of how to get through life. And I think back then we really felt that we can get through life on our own hearts and vision and wanting to be better, not just as artists, but just as human beings just trying –
No different than I think what kids are trying to get to now, finding their own identity and showing their worth, their value, as a human being, trying to deal with the world that is pretty much thrown upon you and the realities that a lot of things that you have to live through is controlled. It's contrived. It's not real. It's a lot of hustling going on from places that establishes law and governs the way you should live.
And at least back then it was covered. Right now it's in the forefront of our eyes. It's in front of us. Even in the headlines today, we're seeing that so-and-so politician is actually playing us. We're getting played. And I'm expected to live my life to a certain measure. We were dealing with life, I guess, in a different – I don't know. We had a different sense of getting over those obstacles.
FRANNIE: What about the ideas of success being different, or there being more options for what success could mean? Cause now I feel like winning is the number one. Winning, getting money.
YOUR OLD DROOG: By all means.
FRANNIE: Yeah, and that's totally acceptable. I feel like maybe some of what you're talking about is, like, that wasn't the only way.
ALI: Nah, for us, it was pretty much like what you were just saying, which I think that's why I really gravitate towards your music, is just being the best you that you can be. And we knew we were in the studio and our job was to be the best us. We had people like Jimi Hendrix, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Beatles to look up to and give us a vision of what that is, and then we went and tried to surpass that. And those particular artists, the one thing that was in the fabric of the music was just love and harmony. I don't know. People miss that mark, trying to be tough, trying –
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yo, your man Kanye was smart. Right after that post-50 whatever, he came with the positive wave that was obviously influenced by Tribe, and I think, Mos and Kweli and that direct lineage. But it's just a feeling from that type of music. It's like, you're not threatening the listener. You're not belittling them. It's not like, "I'm fucking your bitch right now." All that goofy shit. It feels good. It's inviting. It's positive. Even overly positive is a little gross too in my opinion, but there's a way to do it where –
ALI: It's just trying to be authentic, as authentic as possible.
YOUR OLD DROOG: And everybody's not for everybody. I don't feel like – my music may not be for certain people and that's fine. You can listen to something else. I'm not going to try to shove it down your throat like, "Oh, I gotta be the biggest artist ever." I got no aspirations to be Michael Jackson or whatever.
ALI: Well, you should overshoot a little bit more.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Right, right, right. Nah, I'm not down on myself.
ALI: I'm just saying.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Don't get it twisted. People will hear it, what I got coming.
ALI: Nah, I know.
YOUR OLD DROOG: But I don't want to be crazy, superstar famous. That shit is –
FRANNIE: Nobody wants that.
YOUR OLD DROOG: C'mon.
ALI: Well, I'm just waiting for the next installment.
FRANNIE: Well yeah, to close out though, I would like to hear what you are most proud of to date.
YOUR OLD DROOG: As far as career highlights?
FRANNIE: Whatever – there was a moment where you were like, "Yeah, I did that." If it's a song or a show –
YOUR OLD DROOG: When Scarface called in on the radio and bigged me up.
FRANNIE: I knew you were going to say that. I fucking knew it.
YOUR OLD DROOG: And then the subsequent phone call.
FRANNIE: So tell the story. You were on Statik's show.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yeah.
FRANNIE: On Shade 45.
YOUR OLD DROOG: I didn't even want to go that day. But nah, a few joints were played, and I kicked a little five-minute rhyme. It's on YouTube. And yeah, he just called in like, "Yo, Droog is awesome, man." And we spoke on the phone, and that was dope. But it's just like, yeah, meeting a lot of cats that I was listening to for a minute. In 2013, I was listening to Prodigy and Jeru, going back to those albums. And I got to meet P, got meet to Sean P, was in Germany with Jeru. It's so many though, man. Meeting Premier.
But then again, it's not even about that, man. I feel like getting heard is the biggest hurdle. Before nobody heard of me, it felt like – you question yourself like, "Why am I still doing this?" It's a weird feeling in your chest. "Should I get a regular job or something?" I mean, I might need a regular job right now. Who knows? But just the fact that I got heard by a lot of people, and I got fans who care about what I'm about to put out. I feel like that's the highlight, that I wasn't doing this in vain.
ALI: Do you remember why you didn't want to go to Shade 45 that time you went? Only reason why I'm asking is cause I find sometimes when you're in that state of not wanting to do something but you do something, and something really positive happens, and it makes you go, "Oh yeah. I should stop doing that 'I don't want to' stuff."
YOUR OLD DROOG: Nah, for real. Even with writing sometimes, I feel like when I create something that I consider – is great or whatever, if I didn't write that day, maybe I wouldn't've come up with that. So you gotta just do these things, man, and power through it. You can't get in your feelings with people, and you might not like a producer, but they might have crazy-ass beat for you that changes your life. It's work. I'm ready to work. I don't even gotta like certain people. It's just about the work.
ALI: Word. That's a jewel. It took me a while to figure that out, cause I'm –
YOUR OLD DROOG: I be in my feelings, man!
ALI: I be in my feelings too. I take everything personally.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Yo, you didn't respond and shit.
ALI: And I just – it's like, "You know, you just gotta stop that." When I decided, you know what? Just let everything go. Just go with it.
YOUR OLD DROOG: It was just funny, man. I remember hitting people up for mad long, not getting a response, and then my career started bubbling a little bit, and then they reaching out like, "This song you did four years ago is fire. I want to put it now." I'm like, "Nah. You had four years. If it was really hot to you, yo, you probably could've helped my career during that time." But it's just the way people are. They want to see you making waves before they lend their wave.
And it's a business. It's like Godfather II. Hyman Roth is around cause he makes people money. There's certain people like that in the game, and you might not like them, but they can help you. And there's a way to navigate that without being in your feelings.
FRANNIE: Thank you so much for spending time with us.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Man, I'm boring, yo.
FRANNIE: No you're not.
ALI: Thank you.
YOUR OLD DROOG: Thank you, man. Appreciate it.