Its a fact of life that once you make any kind of dent in this Hiphop industry that you automatically lose your ability to tell the time. It often seems that while Jacob The Jeweller can make million dollar watches that look amazing in photographs of your favorite emcee, the one drawback is that they don’t seem to work properly. Rappers never show up for interviews on time – its Industry Rule Number 4082 (4081 of course being “Kanye only opens his mouth to change feet.”)
Anyway, imagine my surprise when I scheduled an interview with Mr Long (formerly Mr Lawnge) and my phone rang precisely on time as planned. After I picked myself up off the floor, we got to yakking about his new album “Class Of ’89” and his role as one half of the legendary Black Sheep…
Talk to me a little about this new €œClass of €˜89 € album :
Long: €œClass of €˜89 € is an album I put together from the heart, because of the state that Hiphop is in today, and how I feel it should really be. I called it €œClass of €˜89 € because that €™s the year that I graduated : and back then, coming out of high school, that was one of the hottest eras in Hiphop music : you had Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, KRS-One, LL : that was the era of the €˜real €™ emcee. The music was dope, the samples were hot, the lyrics were ill : everything was fresh and original, and it was a sin to not be original. That €™s something that I based my new album around, and it €™s a topic I touch on a lot.
So is the album gonna be a flashback, musically, to that era and sound?
Long: I €™m sampling records, but its not really about me trying to mimic that time. Its more that the album carries the whole undertone of that era €“ yes, I €™m sampling records from that era and before, but everything is crisp and clean, and sampled in stereo as opposed to mono like how it was back in the day.
And is it a true solo album, or do you have any guests on the mic or on the boards?
Long: Strictly me €“ all production and all rhymes : fully produced and written by me.
No Dres at all?
Long: Nah. Not at all.
Ok. Well we €™ll address that in a second. Why did you switch the spelling of your name up (from Lawnge to Long)?
Long: Because when I first came out with that name, it was another aspect that carried the whole €˜Black Sheep €™ thing with it : spelled differently instead of being straight up. A lot of people actually think that €™s my real last name, but no €“ its just spelled how someone from New York would pronounce it. Many people in the rest of the world seemed to have some trouble with it : trying to pronounce it funny, and shit : so I just said €œfuck it € and moved to the straight up spelling. No misleading spelling nothing : just me : Mr Long : bam!
But even though the name has changed have you still maintained the same style and swagger : is the whole €˜Sugar Dick Daddy €™ tag still in effect?
Long: Well : I got one explicit song on there (called €˜Lickin €™ & Stickin €™) but that album is definitely not about my dick €“ its about Hiphop!
Sometimes you get the feeling that some people will be thinking that this is just €˜another artist from the late 80 €™s trying to make some money and stay relevant. € There €™s also the danger that other fans will try to hold your new material up against your classic older stuff. Did anything like this come to your mind while you were working on this album?
Long: Not at all because nobody really knew what I did within the Black Sheep group €“ I never had true shine like that, because I was never known as the emcee within the group, you know? I was pretty much known as the producer / DJ, and though I dropped some lines and verses here and there, nobody really knew I was truly capable of on the mic. So in that regard, I €™m almost like a new artist to a lot of people, because when I tell them I have an album, they €™re like, €œOh word? I didn €™t even know you could rhyme! €
As far as your comments about the older fans from back in the 80 €™s : I look at it like this. People are funny because : you can €™t do some shit that €™s too similar to what you did before : but you can €™t do shit that €™s too far away from it either. People €™s expections sometimes are kinda funny, man.
But how do you try to counter that?
Long: By simply doing what I do. I mean, I would never ever try to compete with whats going on today in rap music €“ I wouldn €™t try to mimic that, I wouldn €™t try to be that : because I feel that all that shit is wack. All I can do is what I do. Grab what I think are some hot ass records and throw what I think are some hot ass rhymes on top of it, and keep it moving.
Once you put too many expections in your shit, and you start anticipating this and that : that shit that you did anticipate never happens, and you get hit with something else instead. That €™s the unpredictable nature of the music €“ you can do what you think is the hottest album on the fucking planet, and it €™ll come out and brick, just due to timing, or what €™s hot, or whatever fad people are on at the time. So the best thing to do is just to fall in the studio, keep it Hiphop, and do what you do. At the end of the day there still are Hiphop-appreciators out there who will fuck with you. But if you come into this with the whole mind state that, €œOh I €™m trying to go platinum € and all that shit? Come on man : there €™s too many artists out there all trying to do the same thing, and there motive is money, and that €™s what usually fucks them up. All this shit that €™s popular and getting money is wack as fuck €“ why would you wanna come out doing that?
Its almost as if everyone is waiting for the next thing to change the game up. Like in €™88 when everything was going gangsta, De La came out with the Dayglo shit, and you had PM Dawn and Dream Warriors riding that style right behind them. You had everyone going G-Funk after Dre and Snoop, and everyone down with kung-fu flicks after Wu-Tang :
Long: Its like this.Whatever €™s hot at the moment, motherfuckers are coming out copying that and burning it the fuck out : and that €™s the way the shit has always been. Like you said €“ when De La first popped off, PM Dawn and all the copycats just in behind €˜em, and that €™s just saying that people are sitting around thinking, €œYo, we €™re waiting for the next original people to come out, so we can copy them and get the money. €
But how does that type of shit sit personally with you, when you see cats that repped the €˜real €™ stuff earlier in their careers coming out and switching their styles up? For example, Fat Joe came out reppin €™ DITC and the Bronx to the fullest, and now he €™s portraying himself as some kind of Miami kingpin biting the sound and style of Rick Ross?
Long: Well there €™s two kinds of artist man : artists who are in it for the money, and artists who are in this for the artistry. I mean, I €™m not a hater : but I wanna do some shit that €™s real to me and where I €™m from and if its not going platinum and double platinum and all that shit, then so be it. But I €™m still gonna keep it Hiphop, in the sense of where I €™m from. That €™s like me getting Rakim and KRS-One to come in the studio and rhyme over some southern styled bounce shit and put it out, because that €™s whats going on right now. People are gonna look at me and tell me to get the fuck out of here! They gonna look like old ass men, trying to be young on some bounce shit : and yet there are some people with that mentality who want to come out and try to do that, thinking that the audience don €™t want to listen to them unless they €™re doing that new sounds that €™s selling.
On that Rhymefest ‘Brand New’ joint, he was saying a lot more than people really thought he was saying, and touching on some real shit. That’s how my people are – they gonna take this shit, build it up as high as it will go, and then turn around and tear that shit down! As soon as a motherfucker get raised too high, we gonna start tearing him down, and getting ready for the next shit, and we don’t wanna see that motherfucker no more. That’s not how it should be! Its not like that with everybody –
But we know Hiphop fans are traditionally fickle – they just want to hear what’s hot…
Long: Yeah, so then why would you as an artist start second-guessing yourself, and go through all this bullshit to try to win new types of these people over, when they don’t have your back anyway? To use your example – Joe is rich, and it ain’t about the Hiphop anymore to him, its about the money. And he can turn around and talk about how he’s got love for the south, and throw money at the screen and whatever… but dude is just trying to stay current according to what idiots think is hot. Nobody in the game has loyalty to anything but a dollar. They don’t give a fuck about other artists any more. Nobody gives a fuck about Das EFX… “Awww them niggas is old school – fuck that. Gang Starr – fuck that. Them niggas is old school.” Come on man, you talking about some of the dopest groups that ever did it, but they’re being blocked by some of their own fans. Its crazy. That’s why I said to just fall in the studio and do what you do… there are Hiphop appreciators out there – more than they think… because for the last 7 or 8 years, Black Sheep has been performing for audiences that’s 98% white, and they ain’t old either. De La Soul are the same thing. They have 3,000 and 4,000 people rocking.
You think Black Eyed Peas give a fuck about what’s knocking in the hood? People might say that Black Eyed Peas aren’t even Hiphop any more – but look at what is considered Hiphop today… would you even want to be that? There’s too many wack motherfuckers getting put on because the focus is no longer on talent, its on money… and its been like that for the last 12 or 13 years. Rap music has been shining for that time and Hiphop has been in the shadows. People see it. They see the real stuff floating by here and there with Slum Village and Jurassic 5 and Little Brother and cats trying to keep it Hiphop and they usually don’t see one very important thing. These cats are trying to keep their music Hiphop and are eating a lot better than these dickheads doing this wack ass rap shit. These wack motherfuckers get maybe 3 or 4 months off their hot record, and then after that they’re over and they can’t do nothing else.
You mentioned Little Brother. They have a lot of critics (me included at times) who say that they’re trying to bring back the sound of the ‘golden era’ and not catching that vibe and that spark 100% accurately… that they’re almost Native Tongue ‘lite’ at times-
Long: And you know why? Because they’re not from that. That’s just like me, being from the 90’s, trying to hold the 80’s up – I wasn’t in the studio back in the days with Kane and Rakim, so I’m not truly from that, so I can’t genuinely give you that – but I can listen to all them cats, the way Little Brother might do with us, and give you my rendition, tweaked to my style.
And as far as critics go… is a critic a producer? Is a critic an artist? Or is a critic just a music appreciator? How much value does a critic hold? Little Brother as a group to me – at least they’re trying. They’re giving you their rendition, and keeping it Hiphop according to them – not following the bandwagon of today’s rap music and doing shit just to make money. I use them as an example because any time you hit them up on their website or whatever, those motherfuckers are steady touring, and they go out for months. And they’re worldwide – so what does that tell you? Someone’s listening to it, and someone’s buying it!
Why do you think that the stuff we tag ‘real Hiphop’ is usually purchased by a white majority?
Long: Because my people, speaking generally, will only check for what’s hot. You gotta have 3 or 4 hit records in a row to really make black people check for you. White people will cop stuff because they’re a fan of the group, no matter how good your record is – that’s why groups like U2 and Duran Duran and them will always sell. Its not like that in the realm of rap music. Understand this is just me analyzing the last 7 or 8 years of our audience, and discussing why the so-called ‘real’ Hiphop shit can be existing under the radar. I mean you have young cats… young skateboard cats… look at Lupe… what do you think about Lupe?
Personally? I think he’s wack as fuck. He’s trying hard to sell a gimmick, and to jump on the bandwagon that Kanye is riding into the dirt… and he’s already being found out (with these 3 and 4 year old tracks resurfacing on him dropping crack rhymes)…
Long: Well you know why that is? These are what I call ‘void fillers’. Niggas are not from that. They’re not really that. But they’re trying to fill a void in Hiphop. Kanye ain’t no ‘concious rapper’… but because there’s a void there for an alternative to what’s going on, and he dropped a couple of lines here and there, people are hitting him with that tag. Its like ‘let’s take this niche… what was hot… put a twist on it’… and now you have somebody who’s become unbelievably famous for doing that, so he can reach back and grab a Common and make the world look at him. People ask me what I thought about Common’s last album, and I was like “Its alright. It sounds like some shit I woulda did 15 years ago.” And you know what? If Kanye wasn’t around, he wouldn’t even have got looked at! And now you have Lupe stepping up to fill this void caused by Kanye not being around for the last little while… its void fillers, man! Not the real shit – just enough to fill the void, to be the alternative to the bullshit that’s going on. That’s how these dudes are winning.
Now check this out. If Kanye, Jay-Z, Puffy… all these motherfuckers with unbelievable fame would start pushing out the original cats… guess what happens? The game would change! But Kanye won’t do it because he’s too Chi-Town for that – he’s reppin’ that to the fullest and that’s why he came back to get Common.
But why can’t Kanye come back and reach out to Kane or Das EFX or Lord Finesse and do albums with those cats? It can’t be a question of skills. And it can’t be a question of new fans not recognising their faces, because he’s pushing unknowns like Rhymefest and GLC etc out to these new fans.
Long: Well you know, that’s all in the mentality of the man. That’s some shit that I would do, because I’m a fan of Hiphop – I’m not just an artist.
Ok, lets get down to real business. You have this solo joint dropping, and all the promo stuff around it talks about Black Sheep now being defunct – but at the same time there’s a new Black Sheep album “Novakane” scheduled to drop, and the promo mix cd for that came out over the summer. So what’s the deal with Black Sheep – are you and Dre still together and still cool?
Long: To be completely honest, that reunion will not happen because of exactly what we’re talking about right now. We’ve been trying to do a project since the first reunion in 2000 – we got in the studio, did some tracks, and Dres wanted to run around and try to get a deal. It didn’t work – there was no response. The labels said they didn’t know how to market us… blah blah blah – typical industry bullshit. The whole time I was telling him that we just needed to do it ourselves and drop it independently, but that’s not what his mindstate was. He said he wanted to rock with other producers, because he thought we needed a different sound. He starts doing shit with these other cats, and then starts telling me that maybe we need to do stuff with less samples in it… pretty much saying that we should escape and move away from what we’re known for.
So did this happen before the Novakane album or after?
Long: This is before. This is the lead up. So he goes out and starts working with other cats and getting different beats, and he finally gets enough songs where I guess he was satisfied. The whole time I’m like “OK man… you know I’m still fucking with you,” and we’re still doing shows and whatever, but I was always feeling that when we dropped another album we really needed to do it ourselves. Dres wanted to take it back to the whole industry and try to shop it – but the industry ain’t trying to give out no little deals like that on a so-called ‘old school’ group. So he goes back and starts working with these cats out of Seattle… shout out to BeanOne and Vitamin D – they got hot shit… so he comes back now with a bunch of shit with a bunch of samples on it and he wants me to come in and work with these cats to enhance their shit to his liking. I felt like that was a slap in the face. Would Guru run around and try to get a bunch of producers to make beats that sound like Primo, then bring those beats back to Premier and say “Hey lets put this together and push it out as a Gang Starr album?” That’s crazy.
And that came on top of a whole bad history between Dres and myself which I won’t even elaborate on – I’ll just say a bad history. I’m not one who’s always gonna keep second guessing myself, and try to do this and do that to try to appease the unappeasable. Don’t try to kill yourself by trying some shit that you think is gonna pop… trying to live up to expectations… because you never know what’s gonna happen.
So is it safe to say that the whole 8WM Collective is more of a Dres idea than a Black Sheep idea? Looking at the artwork for the promo it mentions Lord Finesse, Showbiz, Kwame, those Seattle cats, Yummi Bingham and a host of other cats as being part of the 8WM collective – but its easy to look and try to figure out where some of these cats fit in.
Long: Exactly. I mean the album is called “8WM / Novakane” now. I couldn’t tell you what the shit sounds like now, because its been remixed so many times. You’re trying to do too much to try to capture people that you are never gonna capture. I was speaking with Soup from Jurassic 5 on a tour we did with them and DJ Z-Trip last year, and he was telling me about his record company (Interscope) wanting them to do beats with Scott Storch and whatever. I told him that if that happens the core audience you have now are gonna look at you like you’re fucking crazy. You’re gonna fuck them off and the new audience you’re trying to grab are gonna look at you like you’re fucking stupid. You’re gonna end up getting dropped for doing some shit thats not even your fault! So why not just keep it Hiphop and do what you do? Keep your audience happy, and the rest can eat a dick.
Do you think Dres may be pushing this hard now to try to affect the sales of your own solo joint?
Long: Well I don’t think of it in that aspect… I just feel that if its a Dres album, then call it a Dres album. Don’t run with the Black Sheep name, when there’s just you on the promo artwork and shit. That’s why my joint is just under my name – Mr Long – and I make no references to Black Sheep or Native Tongues on my album. I want people to appreciate my shit without any expectations of what once was. Today’s artists – I don’t want them to do what I did, because there would be no room for me. I just want them to step up the lyrics offa this A-B-C shit and be more creative with the bullshit you put out.
How does it feel to have DJs in clubs, or on mixshows or mixtapes, still dropping your cuts alongside the Kanes, the Biz Markies, the EPMDs and the like?
Long: Blessed. Because all that shit was done with no expectations. We just did what we thought was hot at the time, and to see it still have this lifespan is dope. We did what we personally thought was hot – not what other people thought was hot… we did that shit for us! We never knew all this this was gonna happen… the shit could have came out and bricked and sold two copies for all we knew! We just did us.
What happened with you and Dres between the first and second albums? (Because there’s a blatantly obvious change to the whole sound between “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing” and “Non Fiction”)
Long: If some shit is not broke, don’t try to fix it. That’s what I live by. I produced half of “Non Fiction”, and for the other half we reached out to different producers, and Dres also wanted to produce shit. The whole overtones of that album were a little too laidback and jazzy for me – I preferred more upbeat, club-rocking types of shit, and that’s the direction I wanted to go in. Dres was feeling something else, so I let him do him… ‘”you’re 50% of the group – do you.” I wasn’t gonna be running around saying “Fuck that – we gotta keep it like this.” I wanted to see what he would come with – and that’s what he came with… wanted to call the joint “Non Fiction”… wanted to go in a completely different direction to the first album… I wasn’t feeling it, but I did it anyway.
That’s why now, on “Class of ’89” I’m doing shit my way on my terms. I’m not trying to talk about my car or about making some pussy pop. That ain’t who Mr Long is. To the young cats of today man, I’m sorry that they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that material possessions make you who you are, when that’s clearly not the case. A platinum chain that caused 200,000 and a half million dollar car are not making you who you are, man.
But with Hiphop in its current state, don’t you think that’s harder for cats like Mr Long to come out saying what you say? I mean, you got bonafide Hiphop legends like Flavor Flav and Ice T pimping themselves for VH-1 and shitting all over their legacies in the process, and seemingly not caring.
Long: That’s what I’m saying though! If their expectations were not to go in the studio and go platinum, or go onto these TV shows and try to reach all these idiots who don’t give a fuck anyway just to get some money, and they just did them like back in the days, they would get somewhere and keep their respect. They might not think so – but that’s true… because you got wack motherfuckers out there filling your void. Why are you letting these wack motherfuckers try to mimic and fill your void, while you’re still here and can do something about it? But their whole perception now is “I gotta sell units. I gotta sell units.”
What they don’t realise is that even if they make the poppiest shit in the world, they still can’t compete with the bullshit that’s clogging up the industry. There’s too much money behind that for the labels to let that happen. You think Flavor Flav is gonna ever outsell 50 Cent or Eminem? And like I said, what happens is that you blow up for a hot minute at the expense of your core audience – the people who have always been down for you – and then when your time in the spotlight runs out – nobody is gonna give a fuck about you. So why not just go in the studio, do you, keep it hot, and put that shit out independent? The underground will support it.
This whole project might not do anything except give somebody else some motivation to do their shit from my era and before. “That nigga Long did it – I can do it too.” My album might not sell shit – I have no expectations. I don’t give a fuck. I do it because I want to, not because I have to. I’m keeping it Hiphop. I’m doing me. And if you like it – much love.
Thanks to Mr Long for taking part in the interview and to my girl Dove at TygerEye for hooking this up. For more info on Mr Long and “Class Of 89” check out www.mrlongmusic.com