When Kanye blew up with The College Dropout, rapper Naledge (also from Chicago) was actually graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he met producer Double-O. After forming Kidz in the Hall, the duo made enough noise on the mixtape circuit to get heard by such industry heavyweights as Just Blaze. They signed a deal with Rawkus and released their debut, School Was My Hustle, in 2006. Their second album, The In-Crowd, was released in May on Duck Down.
The video for your first single, “Driving down the Block,” premiered on TRL a few weeks ago. Are you looking forward to having teenyboppers stalking you now?
Double-O: Yup. Essentially, there is a level of success we’re trying to achieve where that kind of thing will be there, but, hey, it’s a great thing to be the shit to an eighth-grader. Trust me, there’s nothing wrong with that if the kids are into the music. In terms of them being teenyboppers or whatever, I don’t care about that. If you connect with them, you connect with them. Back when I was in eighth grade and Wu-Tang came out, the only thing you got was what was on the videos and on the records. Now, with MySpace and other outlets, there is much more in-depth interaction with the artist.
What does success mean to you guys musically and personally?
Naledge: Musically, I think it’s the freedom to do whatever you want to do and have people follow you wherever you wanna go. It’s having a loyal fan base, a core that will consistently buy your albums. When I think of successful artists I think of Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes — people who made a creative contribution to our society that lasted longer than their lifetime. Basquiat and Tupac weren’t alive for that long, but their body of work still speaks for them. I also want my music to allow listeners to accept me as a big brother, a father figure, or simply a role model.
Now personally, I wanna be a millionaire before I die. I wanna be the master of my own fate. But I do wanna be recognized by my peers for my music. Rap is a sport, and the rewards are definitely a part of it.
Double-O: Success to me musically is the connection. F the critics. F all the in-betweens. Success is when you’re performing a song onstage and the whole front row knows the words to your songs. It’s the people that come up to you at the merch booth after the show, and they know a song of yours that is three years old and was like number seventeen on the mixtape. Truly connecting with the fans and them getting what you’re trying to do is what success means to me, musically.
On a personal level, success is whatever I make it. I’m big on setting goals. My first goal was to be able to make music for a living; then the next one was being able to put out an album, and once I reached that I wanted to top it with something even bigger and greater.
How’s the vibe for you guys over at Duck Down since you signed with them?
Double-O: It’s been great. They’ve all been very open to us. We’re a brand new element to that whole family where you have people who have worked together doing music for fifteen-plus years. They respect what we do musically and they probably like a certain energy we bring to the table. It’s not like they signed a teenybopper act that is a shell of what they’re supposed to be; they signed two dudes who have a certain appeal. The vibe is great.
If seven or eight years ago, someone had told you you’d be on the same label as KRS-One and Boot Camp, what would you have said?
Double-O: I don’t even know. I couldn’t even have predicted the way the industry is right now. If the industry was the same way it was seven or eight years ago, we wouldn’t be on Duck Down. Not only is it right that we are on Duck Down now, but there’s a possibility that we could be this huge thing for the label. All I could’ve predicted back then was that I was gonna push my art into this music industry until it worked. From there, anything else that happened was just luck of the draw, I guess.
Naledge: I always knew that I was here for something special and my talent would shine. And I knew I’d be on a label, but a label with these people — wow. Duck Down meant so much when I was in high school, because it carried artists that really influenced me.
Do you think that five years ago an album like The In-Crowd would have been possible?
Double-O: I think it would have been possible with a lot of money involved. If we were on a major label, it would have definitely been possible. But the industry is much more open and different now, and it’s proven by the fact that we can make this project on an independent tip. It’s great.
Naledge: I believe that ten years ago it would’ve sold five times the amount of records it’s gonna sell today, but as far as the buzz I think it would be on an equal level. Five years ago, I don’t know. I think that if we came out before Kanye, we would be where he is right now. I always felt like that. When he first dropped, I remember everyone around me saying, “This guy came out with an album you would make.” I believe that if we dropped this record five years ago, we would be on top of the world right now. But I’m sure I’m not the only artist who believes that.
In terms of you guys being a duo, how important is that connection for you?
Double-0: The way things are, it’s more like a musical team than it is a duo. We just work together well musically. We have a creative bond that works, and as long as we grow together creatively, it’s always something we’re gonna do.
Do you see yourself as part of a new wave — along with Lupe, the Cool Kids, Mickey Factz, and others — that is redefining what is cool in hip-hop?
Naledge: Remember in high school there was always a kid that dressed a certain way, and everyone was like, “Yo, why you dressed like that?” But then two years later everyone is dressed the same way. That kid had to bite the bullet, had to be ridiculed and laughed at, but he knew as an individual that he was willing to take it because there was a greater reward in being himself than just following the crowd.
I think that we’re in a new place as a generation, period. In the future when they create a time capsule of this music generation, Kidz in the Hall will definitely be in it. I also think it’s interesting that a lot of these artists being mentioned are from where I’m from: Chicago. It’s strange because we grew up honoring hip-hop from the East Coast a lot more than people from the East Coast did.
Double-O: I was talking about it with Just Blaze last night. There is definitely something brewing. I remember meeting Jay Electronica like a year-and-a-half ago, and seeing him flourish is a great thing. The Cool Kids, Wale, everybody is trying to push the limit and break new ground. I think it’s a beautiful thing, and there should be a new generation of music. A kid that is eighteen years old today was born in 1990! It’s important for them to know and respect the golden-era stuff, but they need to have something of their own that speaks directly to them. Just like the thiry- and forty-year-olds have Jay-Z and Mary and all the other stuff that speaks to them.
How does your music translate into a live performance?
Double-O: We operate as though nobody knows who the fuck we are. The CD promotes the show and the show promotes the CD. For people who don’t know who we are, we wanna give them an energy and over-the-top feeling that makes them wanna find out who we are. I’ve always been the DJ/hypeman, but now we have a loose drum-kit setup, so we add that to the turntable, and microphones, and we also have a keyboard player.
What is the most beautiful thing about music in your eyes?
Naledge: The most beautiful thing about music is it doesn’t talk back. It’s so easy for me to love music because it doesn’t criticize me when I’m down and it’s always gonna listen. Any mood you can possibly be in, if you fall in love with music, it will always love you back. And we can all fall in love with her at the same time. We can all be married to her and all be cool with it. Music is a polygamist.
Double-O: To me it’s the fact that it can make you travel through time. Just hearing one song you love will take you right back to the first time you heard it or to a memorable time when you use to listen to it. It can make you remember so many things, take you exactly to a certain time and place.
And the ugliest?
Double-O: The industry. It allows you to have your music heard to a lot more people than ever before, but because of that it becomes a commodity and a product. It makes it watered down sometimes and takes the artistry out of it.
Naledge: The industry is ugly, but it’s ugly with a fat ass. You see it from behind and you’re like “Damn, I wanna be in that!” But when you flip her over and start to bang her you realize she’s ugly.
If you had a million dollars in your hands today, what would you do with it?
Double-O: I would pay off my student loans, pay off the mortgage for my parents’ house, and probably invest the rest in a money-market account.
Naledge: One hundred thousand goes right in the bank. Another hundred thousand would go into a business venture or several business ventures. I would also try to buy some property. And with the rest I would do charity work.
What is a dream destination for you guys to perform at?
Double-O: Dubai all day. I’m trying to get there. It’s a total free-for-all in terms of development, so it must be really inspiring. It pushes peoples’ limits mentally. It’s wild, man.
Naledge: Dubai: If you’re a life-aholic, that’s the place to go.
Here’s your Actor’s Studio question: If something happened to you today, what would you like god to say to you if you make it to heaven?
Naledge: That my best friend is waiting for me. He passed away when I was seventeen. And he would be there like, “Damn. We did it.” I’m living the dream for both of us, because he’s the one who really wanted to MC and he pushed me to do music. We were in a car accident and god chose to take one life and let the other walk this earth. I feel it’s only my right to live out his dream as well as mine.
Double-O: Good job, I guess. I’m not a very religious person, because in my opinion, religion was created by man. So it’s hard for me to believe that what a man says is the ultimate truth. But if that happens, I would like him to say I lived my life correctly and tried to do the best I could.
Can you recommend a good book?
Double-O: Read every religious book you can get your heads on so you can get closer to the whole picture, not just one perspective. I think that if you do prescribe to religion, you should read about all of them.
Naledge: A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind. It’s about this kid Cedric Jennings, who grows up in the hood of Washington, DC, and it talks about his struggles and how he made it to Brown University. He came from a background where possibilities were very small and he was being beat up every day for trying to achieve. Another book that changed my life was I Never Had it Made, the autobiography of Jackie Robinson.