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BLACK SHEEP'S DRES, November 17, 2006

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To some artists, an interview can be like torture. The chances of pulling an honest or lengthy answer from their mouths -- let alone discuss the breakup of a legendary group -- are about as welcome as going in and yanking a tooth. That wasn't the case when The 411 Online caught up with Black Sheep's Dres, who opened up about everything, from where he's been since his last album in 1999 to parting with Mr. Lawnge for a second time during the production of the first Black Sheep album since '94. We not only didn't have to tiptoe around the hard questions, we hardly had to ask them at all. And how's this for inspiration? "I feel like I was meant to have Oprah money, just so I can show Oprah how to spend her money," Dres said. "In my opinion, I just feel like there's certain things that we're not doing as a community. Everybody wants to win and everybody wants the advantages of the good life and all that, but on the real, that sh-- doesn't define me." You can help him achieve this goal by going to the Black Sheep MySpace page and picking up the new album, and if his words aren't enough, check our review of 8WM/Novakane and hopefully you'll take our word for it. Dres also had plenty more to share,

So tell me about the new album. It's been a long time.

Dres: "It was definitely a long process. Over a year in the making. It kind of took on a few shapes and sizes. When me and Lawnge first kind of decided to put a project together, we were kind of limited on the funds side, especially initially. We were kind of restricted because it was just an MP that we had put some stuff together on and I had this vision. The music has kind of eclipsed MCing in my opinion at this point. You'll hear these tracks and just hear the most ridiculous sh-- on 'em. So as far as soundwise, we were really competing against some real producers in the game. And I explained to Lawnge that I felt it would be to our advantage if we went ahead and locked down with a bunch of up-and-coming cats that were really situated to our project. You know, had their own equipment or studio or what have you. And then we could come in and maybe give them some pointers on what we do.

"At the end of the day, I thought that was going to be our game plan and we could move forward like that. And I let him know that once we got on our feet, basically it'd be me and him for our next project or just moving forward. He seemed like he was cool with it, so we started working. Well, not even 'we' started working -- it seemed like I was the only one getting to know the cats we were going to be working with. I was introduced to BeanOne. I thought that Bean was just a beast of a producer. I wound up flying out to Seattle, working with him. I was introduced to Vitamin D. And it was just them and a couple of other cats around me and I was calling Lawnge for each and every session. I called Lawnge: 'Come meet me, come meet me, come work...' you know? Even song titles or concepts... I was really trying to bounce a lot of stuff off him. And he was just so closed to everything, but he wasn't expressing himself, that he really had a problem with the situation.

"Mind you that during this whole process, we were doing shows and what have you, so we'd be performing the new stuff and I'd be splitting the money in half with him. And I knew that he wasn't really on his feet. That may be a little wrong for me to say that. But I was like, 'Don't sweat it, I'll take care of the sessions and once you feel like you can really contribute, then just jump in. Don't sweat it, I'm not looking at it as any judgmental sh-- or whatever. It's us and it's not a real biggie.' Long story short, I wound up doing all this work on the project and it's taking these different shapes and forms..."

And the result is 8WM/Novakane?

Dres: "I'm feeling really great about it, but I know that it would be that much doper if his input was there. At the end of the day, I come to find out that I'm splitting this money in half with Lawnge from shows and putting the money back into a Black Sheep project for us, and he was doing him, doing a solo project that he wasn't even making me aware of. To this day, he's never even given me a copy of it."

So that was it?

Dres: "The thing that really led to the demise of us... it was a Black Sheep project up until we shot a video, which was maybe about two months ago. I called Lawnge and I had given him a month's advance and I told him, 'Look, I put together some money for the video... I got some relationships with a few different cats. We're gonna shoot a video and this is the date. Just make sure that you're on point for this date.' So the week of the video I call him and I'm like, 'The video shoot is this week.' So he's like, 'Well, I got a show this week. We got a show this week.' I told him that we don't have a show, we've got a video shoot. He says, 'Nah, nah, nah. Me and my wife.' And I said, 'What are you talking about? I put my own money out of my own pocket for this video.' And he said, 'Well is it paying?' It was at that point that I couldn't hold my thunder any longer and let him know like, 'Yo, dude, you've done all of this work for you when I've done all of this work for us. What are you trying to think? What are you doing?' And he said, 'You ought to just do you with the Black Sheep stuff and I'll do my own thing.' I was like, 'Word? You serious?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's where my head is at. Straight up. I need to take control of my own.'

"At this point, he had tried to hire the publicist that I had working the Black Sheep project to work his project. She gave me a copy of it and is like, 'Yo, your dude is buggin'... And I don't even want to work it because I don't like it.' And I was like, 'Wow.' So I listened to it and I studied it. Damn dude, this is crazy and at the end of the day I felt real f----- up because it's just me man. You can always talk to me. It's not like a bunch of us voting you off or saying your production is wack. I never said his production was wack, I just said he wasn't situated to put our best foot forward. I just wanted to make sure that we put our best foot forward. Essentially, I had to listen to his album, and at the end of the day, I really had to break it down that I don't feel like I made a mistake. There's not one track on that album that I felt would have made the Black Sheep project any better. I just didn't see it.

"I had even tried to keep the peace. I said, 'Whoa, why don't you take what you consider to be your hottest track and put it on this Black Sheep project. And when you decide to go solo from here, it will be a smooth transition when people are hearing you do your own thing.' He was like, 'Nah.' There's nothing else I could do. From this point forward, if that's how you feel, I'm not going to include you on anything I'm doing and you don't include me on nothing that you're doing.

"The reason it was so sideways, especially for a cat like me, was because it was like, 'Dude, I hold you down. Remember the shows we were doing and whatnot? I split it 50-50 with you and I never looked at you sideways or nothing.' All of the production and the mixing, the mastering, the video... I paid for all of that out of my own pocket. From money that I split with him. It was just so unfair to me, but at the end of the day, I felt like the music would be the vindication. Because my conviction was so strong in what I had done. And I don't think he even ever heard the finished mixed and mastered product. It's out, so I don't know if he's heard it at this point. But I was really blown away, and at the end of the day, it is what it is.

"So I just stood strong and locked down with the independent publicist that I had and me and her literally just grinded it out. By the way, her name is Nicole Price. She's got a company called Priceless Media. Cats like Bean and Vitamin, they just believed in me. My dude Showbiz. Just a few cats that were around me, really just believed in me. The few labels that I had relationships with... I felt they didn't really see it. Initially, maybe it was just a little too 'old' for them, but nobody lended a hand. It kind of gave me the mindframe that it's not for me to look for help. I stopped asking. I stopped searching for a way and I started looking for roundabout ways to get my product out.

"I was fortunate enough to bump into a situation with The Orchard, which is the largest digital distribution company in the world. And I felt that even if I'm taking a baby step, that at least it's my own step. Later for getting a deal for Black Sheep. Let me get a deal for Bum Rush, the label, and just make Black Sheep the first thing out on it. Even though Black Sheep is definitely being redefined now that's it's just me, I felt like my heart was in the right place.

"If Lawnge had even taken the time to listen to the album, where there's cuts like 'Heed the Word,' where I'm saying it's us, too. My whole movement was 'we' but I had to change my mindframe at the end of it to 'I.' It's still kind of new to me because Lawnge... I had never tried to push him away. I thought he was cool with the idea of what we needed to do for ourselves. Come to find out the whole time he was harboring these ill feelings that his name wasn't on the production credits. I guess it was something he couldn't get past. We hadn't been around each other and I really couldn't speak for his character. I know it's something that he's gonna wind up regretting for a lifetime. I was a better friend than he'll probably ever have. I was probably a better friend than some of his relatives. I guess it is what it is, ain't nothing I can really do about it.

"But as far as the album, it's been a long time coming. It's been a lot of ups and downs and trials and tribulations and tweaks. I'm the kind of cat who definitely had a vision as far as what I wanted to hear, so if I said one line wrong, I was going back in the studio and touching it. I didn't have a deadline or anything -- it's just me. I kind of felt like I knew what it would take to grab people's attention and I just tried to put that forward and hope that I was right. And God bless, cats have really been receptive to it. It's starting to take a shape of it's own. Word of mouth is becoming strong. Thanks to cats like you, we're getting some really cool press. It's something I felt that was needed. Without being overly preachy, I wanted to say certain things, and I think that people are gettin' it. I'm just mad grateful, honestly. I just feel like at the end of the day it just wasn't in vain. Everybody likes to make money and everybody has goals and all of the above, but it was a lot more to me. It was kind of like me getting on my feet, kind of like climbing a mountain. Once you get to the top of the mountain, you still gotta go down it. It ain't over yet. I feel good, because I feel like I got over a mountain."

Talk to me a little bit about what you have going on with the label. You said you were going to use the Black Sheep album to help launch some artists.

Dres: "Yeah, definitely. I got a few cats around me that are just ultra-talented. Using Black Sheep as the guinea pig, to get the label situated and off the ground... that it's a functioning pipeline and viable. It's my intention to definitely be the catalyst to some cool music, some meaningful stuff that's just relevant. That's in my opinion and I'm not going to say that that's a fact and that the way that I see it is the way that it has to be, because there's a lot of different ways to view the world. I just feel like I have some options to bring out and some cats that I believe in that I'd like to help facilitate. I feel that it's real important that certain things are passed down.

"When we came into the game, certain things were passed to us, even if the person who gave it to us didn't know they were doing it. You know, I learned so much about performing from De La Soul, or arrangement from A Tribe Called Quest or Jungle Brothers or just hanging with Show. Or just seeing the older cats, Kane or EPMD, and learning how to conduct yourself. Or that it is cool -- you know, these days everyone is grimacing at each other and looking at each other hard and nobody shouts each other -- I don't come from that. Even from the street level I don't come from that, whereas the crews I came up with, we might have been from different parts of Queens, but we was cool.

"All of the hostility and the bullsh--, it's just affecting us. When I say us, I say us as a community -- the hip-hop community, be it Black, White, Asian, Puerto Rican, male, female. All of the bullsh-- comes directly to us. And if we change our mindframe a little bit, I think that we could reap the benefits of it. Of us just giving a f--- about each other. Or of us just being cool enough with each other to let each other know that it's just a life, man. You're gonna do some sh-- well, you're gonna do some sh-- f----- up, but it's really all about how you deal with those situations that defines who we are.

"Let's put some sh-- in perspective, too. Ain't nothing wrong with caring about people or making sure that people are eating or making sure that people are learning. I look at cats that can't come home to their old neighborhoods because they're multi-millionaires now and they're not even accepted now where they grew up. And I feel like it's because they put these material items in front of the people that they grew up with. I'd rather see a daycare center in my community than see a $100,000 bracelet on my wrist. I know at the end of the day I'm helping my people -- cats I grew up with -- make money. A daycare center makes them money because it allows them the mother and the father to put their kids somewhere while they work and reap the benefit and know that they're safe and know that they're learning something. It helps take care of a community. Little things like that, in my opinion, will have your community embracing you. You don't need nothing else. People will love you for generations because you helped them raise their kids. That's worth more than any Maybach or Rolls or house on 'Cribs.' That's eternal. Not only the parents, but the kids will grow up to understand that you're a real person and you're someone that's worthy of respect. That's how you shine, in my opinion.

"I'm the type of cat that feels like I'm a type of person that was meant to have certain things just so I can put a different energy out there. I feel like I was meant to have Oprah money, just so I can show Oprah how to spend her money. Just so I can show Russell Simmons -- not that I'm going to show them so much... that I'm so profound or whatever. But in my opinion, I just feel like there's certain things that we're not doing as a community. Everybody wants to win and everybody wants the advantages of the good life and all that, but on the real, that sh-- doesn't define me. I learned that a long time ago. I'm the same person getting off the train as I am getting out of a Bentley. It doesn't make a difference who I am. It doesn't validate me. I can stand on the ground just as easily. I'm the type of cat that will be picking up the train and take a picture with the guy who just got out of the Rolls. It's all about who I am. They're not looking at what I got. I think that a lot of people need to learn that lesson. Your character can speak a lot louder than the materials of the world."

Definitely. I hear ya.

Dres: "Honestly, that's the kind of energy that I really just want to put out there. Seriously, I'm not trying to act like I'm God's gift to anything. I've bumped my head, too. But you've gotta stand for something at some point. That's just where I'm at in my life. I really feel like I stand for certain things and I'm proud to. I'm really proud to."

You mentioned some of the people that you worked with coming up. Is there anybody out there now that you want to work with or you think that there's something you can learn from?

Dres: "I look at a cat like 50 or Jay-Z or even Puff and I admire their business sense. These are some of the cats that made it possible for us to make the money that's available to us now. I didn't get into the game for the reasons of the money. But when I first started writing rhymes, that kind of money wasn't available -- to no one. That was never the reason that cats wrote rhymes or deejayed because we didn't have that. It wasn't there. We're in a day now where we've got hundreds of millionaires. That just didn't exist. I admire that on a certain business level, maybe not on an artistic level. But on a business level, I learned so much just being a commodity within yourself, to incorporate.

"To this day Native Tongues isn't incorporated. If someone wrote a million-dollar check to Native Tongues, we couldn't cash it, because we're not that business savvy. Maybe as individuals some of us are a little more than others, but lessons like that are so crucial to taking us and who we are to the next level. To us giving jobs out. To us really just standing on top of our craft. It is show business and as artistic as we want to be and as important as creative music is, it's also important that we be on top of our affairs. Certain things like if you come into the industry as a group and there's three of y'all, or even 10 or five or whatever, the day that you become a group and you become professional and you sign a deal, courtesy stops there. Y'all can still be friends, but don't rely on your friend to make sure that you get paid. Don't rely on your friend to make sure that your publishing is intact. Don't rely on your friend's word about what the lawyer said. You have to become your own commodity for yourself, even if you are a division of something. That's how real it is. Those are the lessons that are learned by the groups that came into it and said, 'You know, my man didn't make sure that I was in the paperwork.' You can't blame anyone but yourself at that point because it is a business.

"The object is to be prosperous in business. No one opens a business to have the business fail. There's lessons to be learned. And artistically, I think the next project I'm gonna do is called Wish List. Because there are plenty of cats that I would love to rock with or producers that I would love to have a track from. I think my objective is just gonna be to get up with these people. Like I would love to get up with Black Ice and Eminem. Or to have a Pete Rock or a Marley Marl track. Or with Rakim and Kool G. Rap -- whatever. I got plenty of cats that I can look at and say, yo, they affected me. They inspired me. And I respect them, whether artistically or businesswise.

"Another cat I want to give props to is my dude Chris Lighty. Chris was actually Black Sheep's first manager. He wound up going to Rush and I didn't really believe in Rush. That might sound kind of funny. But at the time, I had met them and I didn't feel like they were receptive to us as people. So when Chris made the move to Rush, we didn't make the move with him. That's how the Flavor Unit relationship started. I've seen this cat over the years. He believed in us from the beginning and I always wanted to thank him for that. Even though we didn't make that move with him, I always wanted to let him know that it wasn't a personal thing. I respected him so much and I'm really pround of the things that he's achieved in his career, regardless of what anyone else would have to say.

"Personally, I got a lot of love for dude and a lot of love for cats like Mase from De La. Certain cats just really touch me. I see their authenticity as a person. Sometimes the world might not see it the way I do because I'm definitely coming from a different walk. As you know, I'm probably one of the rare cats that have major Billboard success to being damn near oblivious. Taking this road back, there's a lot of sh-- that's beyond my scope of awareness. And I'm trying to embrace things today as I oughta do."

So now that you're back in it and you've got the album out there, how quickly do you think you'll be able to turn around another one?

Dres: "On the real, I'm trying to drop another one in '07."


Dres: "No doubt. Now that I've got an opportunity to get my sh-- back off the ground, I'm thirsty. I feel like I'm still thirsty. I feel like -- and this is my word -- that any cat that I ever had any dealings with, I always tried to hold them down. When cats didn't know what was going on with me or they presumed that I was X-Y-Z, it was really hurtful to see that a lot of cats really just didn't give a f---. That kind of has me in the mindstate that before I do a lot of other sh--, I'm gonna make sure I'm alright. Then it'll be that much easier for me to do the things that I want to do, either for myself or for other people. Once I'm there, then I'm grounded.

"It might sound a little selfish, but for one of the first times in my life, it was really time for me to make it all about me. I was a cat who, like I said, split every single show I've ever done for Black Sheep with Lawnge 50-50. I would always make sure about The Legion or an Imaj or a Chi -- whoever was around me. These are people that I love, that I sincerely love. And I'm sure they love me, too. But all of the people I just shouted, really didn't give a f--- about me. Not to say they didn't have love for me or to say they didn't love me, but on the real, they just didn't make an effort to say, 'Hey, are you breathing?' or whatever. Don't get it twisted, I'm not looking at it like they owed me that... but didn't they? Don't you owe some of the people in your life just a shout? Like, 'My dude, I ain't called you in a minute.' Like if you call that person a friend, there are certain parameters that you're supposed to walk as a friend. And I'm not shouting nobody in a negative light. I love all my peoples, sincerely. But it is just hurtful for me to see what didn't come back.

"It's not nobody's job to call me and make sure I'm alright. It's not nobody's job to make sure I'm alright. It's not nobody's job to get me a record deal. It's not nobody's job to put me in the studio, to mix an album, to shoot a video for me. It's my job to make sure I'm alright. And that's where I'm at with it. But don't think I didn't notice what didn't take place. I'm man enough to acknowledge it. Period. Would I do certain things again? Probably not how I did 'em. But you don't get to high school without finishing junior high. It's like for the second time I have to graduate. I feel like I know all the answers and I know what classes not to cut and I know what classes that I should be sitting in the front and taking notes in. I feel real blessed. At the end of the day, it wasn't for nothing. I've learned more. The streets have taught me lessons that Donald Trump could never afford. Sincerely. "

Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

"And I wanted to thank you for the review, man. That was so cool. I read the review and for the first time I said to myself, 'You got it' -- and I'd like to thank you for that. For real, my dude."

-- Mason Storm

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