Black Sheep

Hip Hop Icon Series

card_blacksheepBlack Sheep (Dres and Mista Lawnge) is one of the ill crews to step forth from the Native Tongues family. Debuting in 1991 with classic songs like,”Flavor of the Month” and “The Choice is Yours,” Black Sheep made noise in the hip-hop community and unleashed an unintentional classic, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing onto the unsuspecting public. Unfortunately, the good fortune from their first album didn’t carry over to their slept-on and poorly promoted second album Non Fiction. After the disappointing sophomore effort, the group disbanded with Dres continuing onto a solo career and Mista Lawnge fading into the background.

What you’re about to read is probably the last interview with Black Sheep as a group as they broke up after a string of dates on the road just prior to their comeback release and about a month or so after this interview took place. Let’s just say that wasn’t hugely shocking to us. The lack of production from Lawnge on the new album seemed to be one indication while the lack of vibe seemed to be the other. Maybe it’s just our imagination. Peep it for yourself as we get at the crew about the past present and the fu.. ahh forget it.

Halftimeonline: I heard you guys met back in North Carolina. How did you two meet and how did ya’ll both end up in North Carolina cuz I thought you both were from NYC?

Mista Lawnge: My immediate family is from North Carolina. My mother’s side of the family is from there so she went to NY, met my pops had me and then relocated back to North Carolina after my father died in ’74. So I was in and out of North Carolina because of that. I still have connections in both North Carolina and New York.

Dres: My stepfather was in the army and he wound up getting stationed in North Carolina [and that’s how I ended up there]. I went to high school down there and that’s where I met Lawnge. We had musical friends and we used to all meet over there everyday. I was only down there for a year but over the year we got close. It was nice cuz everything was over at my man’s house so we were scratching and rhyming. Lawnge was definitely a prodigy. He was younger but he was probably the nicest one.

Halftime: So I’m assuming you spent a lot of time honing your craft?

Lawnge: Yea, that was basically all I had. I was in a small town with turntables and that’s pretty much what I focused on. Anybody who put scratching on a record that’s where my whole style came from. I was stepping my skills up to whoever was putting scratches on wax since I wasn’t in the mix at the time being in Carolina. I wasn’t around the nicest DJs in Philly or NY so I had to work with what was distributed by those dudes.

Halftime: Did that actually help more because I’m sure you got noticed immediately when you started scratching?

Lawnge: Oh we were definitely the small town stars because we were all they had. Everybody from New York always associated together. So no matter what part you were from you were automatically cliqued up in an organization.

Halftime: How did ya’ll come up with the name Black Sheep? Was that something ya’ll had before you linked up with Native Tongues?

Dres: That was at the time we were being introduced to brothers as ideally being a group. We kinda looked at the groups individually and if anything we were in the same vein musically but the lyrical content was gonna be different as far as a Native Tongue family member. So we felt that we would be the Black Sheep of the Native Tongues. That’s how the name came.

Halftime: How did you guys first link up with the Native Tongues anyway and who did you meet first?

Lawnge: That was part of my in and out of New York travels. Red Alert came to a show in Carolina with Sparky D. He was djing back in ’84 or 85 and he saw me djing and he said you’re nice man if you ever come to NY give me a shout and he gave me his number. So I did just that. The next time I was in the city I called him up and he ran me around and introduced me to everybody and his nephew happened to be Mike G from the Jungle Brothers. So Mike was the first person I met. Then I met Af and then I met Tip before Tribe Called Quest when he was just forming Tribe. He was just doing guest spots on Jungle Brothers stuff. So that whole connection came from Red Alert initially.

Halftime: I read in an interview with Dres that you did the scratches for Buddy. Were there any other things you did during that Native Tongue era cats may not know about?

Lawnge: I gave Tip a couple of beats. I gave him records to use on a couple albums. I was in the background on a lot of stuff that happened. Just some little stuff nothing crazy that I really want to talk about. Nothing huge.

Halftime: Dres, one thing I’ve always liked about you is that your flow and style is unique. How would you say your style developed and who were your major influences?

Dres: I kinda give homage to two emcees really, one of them being Just Ice. I feel like Just was commanding lyrically and felt like he was intelligent. And he was hood. I believed him. The other was Tito from the Fearless Four because I always felt like he was mad witty and his delivery was nice. Me, Lawnge and our friends at the time all studied everything. Since we were down in North Carolina it was the type of situation that everything that came through that was all we had. We didn’t have radio and there wasn’t a block party coming through so whatever record that hit the turntable or that we could get our hands on we studied them. So those were two emcees I really, really liked. But as far as my style I just do what I feel and try not to get trapped in anything or feel that I can’t express myself in any form or fashion as an emcee. There was definitely an evolution as well. I feel like I have a long way to go but that I’m a nice emcee.

Halftime: Now on the production side I heard some of the stuff you were doing back then was real intricate at the time you were coming up since you didn’t have as much equipment as you got later on in the years. Could you go into detail about how you guys would go about putting a track together?

Lawnge: It basically starting from many different bits and pieces from many different albums and I’d fold them together like cards. Then I’d take them to the studio to use the equipment I didn’t have like Akais and all that and then direct the engineers on what I wanted to have done. Each piece of each record went down on its own track unlike today with the sequencers flying in and out. Everything back then we did manually. It wasn’t because the equipment wasn’t there that was just how I came into the game looking at the Jbeez and Tribe. That’s how they did it.

Halftime: How did you two go about blending your ideas together?

Dres: Different tracks just spoke and said different things. He would pass me different tracks and that’s where they went. I don’t know I can’t really put my finger on it. We were close at the time as far as where we lived. We live kinda far away from each other now. We always saw each other and it just felt like the track just spoke. I can’t call it.

Halftime: So ideas were never thrown up before hand it was just like here’s a dope beat? Ya’ll never bounced ideas back and forth?

Dres: I think it was some of everything. Song came about so many different ways. Sometimes we’d be in the studio or other times we’d be in the crib but not without music. It was a good thing. It was free. It wasn’t a time where we were stressing what other people were doing. We were just doing what we felt was hot.

Lawnge: Yea, it wasn’t no real science to it we just did what the fuck we felt like doing. We’re not following nobody’s format we’re just doing what we think is hot and keeping it moving.

Halftime: How did ya’ll come up with “Flavor of the Month”?

Dres: Man that was about 15 years ago. I was probably smoking a lot of weed and wanted some ice cream. I can’t even tell you. It was just some young boy having fun shit.

Halftime: What kinda message was ya’ll trying to send with the ‘The Choice is Yours?’

Dres: Basically, don’t feel that you have to be pigeonholed in any format of anything. There’s options to everything especially music. So making that song was like a statement. You can get with this regardless of what you’re messing with?

Halftime: I was reading in an interview that the label actually encouraged ya’ll to take ‘Strobelite Honey’ from a skit and make it a full song. That’s probably the first time I heard of a major label actually encouraging anything original or creative. What was the label situation like for ya’ll or the first album?

Lawnge: He can take that one.

Dres: On the first album I think they were involved a little bit. One of the guys was Dave Gossett and another person named Lisa Cortez. Dave was a young cat and I felt like he was pretty involved in the project. That being said when we turned it in that’s what it was. The label got behind us and that’s how it was. We had the option at that point but we didn’t feel threatened by it. We didn’t want to do it as a single but we didn’t feel threatened by it so we did it. That wasn’t really big but it wound up being something big.

Halftime: How did the situation change on the second album?

Lawng: Dave went to EMI.

Dres: So now Lisa was the new point person. I don’t know the label folded soon after the album came out and it was just a new staff. It was bad timing as far as the project. It really wasn’t promoted well in my opinion and it didn’t do what they wanted it to do.

Halftime: There was a joint around that time that came out where you guys dissed Hammer which I thought was hilarious. What sparked that and did you ever meet up to settle whatever started it?

Dres: He had some song that dropped. You know what I hated to do that song because I felt like we’re really not gonna get props for this but I also hated that he said our name in his song. I never looked at it as something we were gonna get props from but I was like if we’re gonna do it then let’s do it. I bumped into him a couple of times but he never said anything. It ain’t no biggy to me. We both were young and can easily be cordial. It ain’t no thing in my opinion. It was never anything that I felt threatened by.

Lawnge: I thought it was hilarious. Like he said if he didn’t say Black Sheep there wouldn’t have been a problem. That could have been anyone at the time if they had said Black Sheep then it was gonna be that. That’s hip hop. We ain’t run up in Hammer’s house and stick a gun in his mouth or all that other mess like the madness that goes on now. We kept it on records.

Halftime: Was there ever a time in your career where you felt like ya’ll should get a bit more raw based on what was going on around you?

Dres: Nah never that. I feel we’re from the streets anyway but we’re a little bit more intelligent in how we present it. I don’t think we’d be able to say some of the things we say if we weren’t from the streets. We come from a place where we don’t stress that stuff and it’s not by accident. Anybody who’s really real isn’t gonna say stuff like that.

Halftime: There was definitely a shift from the first to the second album where you had cats like The Legion. Was that a conscious change or were the lyrics just affected by the guys you were around at the time?

Dres: Some of both. We were definitely progressing as artists and because of the people we were around we were doing different things. We wound up putting some stuff together. Kinda reaching out to friends so to speak.

Halftime: Do you still keep in touch with The Legion?

Dres: Yea, no doubt I speak to my man Cules From time to time definitely. We just had him come onstage at BB Kings two weeks ago. I speak to Cules often the others, Smash and Cee-low, not as much but from time to time.

Halftime: How’s Chi Ali doing have ya’ll visited him?

Dres: I went to see him when he was on the island. He’s upstate now. I spoke to his mom the other day. I speak to him every once in a while but not often at all. He’s aiight. He’s holding his head and definitely maintaining. He’ll be a relatively young man when he comes home and the world is still there. He made a mistake and he’s definitely paying for it.

Halftime: How did you guys initially hook up with him?

Lawnge: Chi Ali was Chris Lighty’s lil man back in the days. Chris Lighty wanted a kid rapper and he put Chi on. Chi didn’t write or anything. He was just a little pretty boy. So Chris decided to get some producers and writers to put together an album. So it ended up that the Beatnuts did the album and I did the one single ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.’ Then everybody said he looked like Dres so that was the association. Everyone kinda really forced that relationship like is that Dres’ little brother? It was like no but we know him. That’s how we really connected.

Dres: There’s a lot of love though.

Halftime: I saw a turntable the other day hooked to a computer where you could scratch what’s on the radio with it but you can’t play records. As a DJ what do you think about them coming out with new equipment like that? Is it a shortcut?

Lawnge: As long as technology can be used in a positive way I’m not mad because today’s generation doesn’t even know what a record is. I’ve been in record stores where teenagers are selling vinyl and don’t have a clue what it is. So that might be there only link to what hip hop is. The bigger companies are trying to phase [vinyl] out and some people are holding on to it. For me I look at it either way. Technology could be good or bad. I keep a turntable because that’s what I want. We perform from CDJs because that’s clean, loud and dependable but at the crib I got turntables.

Halftime: What is your definition of an artist?

Dres: I would say soulful, harmonic and just capable.

Halftime: Nowadays the labels are really stifling creativity. What advice would you have for a young artist who is going to a label but wants to be able to express themselves?

Dres: I think every road is different. It’s more about who you know and how you know them. It’s about relationships so don’t be afraid to get out there and bump elbows with the world and make viable music. The music has to be viable and something the world needs. At the same time that’s not enough. You have to get out and make those relationships. That’s what it is.

Halftime: After you guys released Non Fiction the group split. What was the catalyst to the breakup and how did you guys get back together?

Dres: I think we were kind of disillusioned with the industry itself especially when we found out what an artist makes and with the second album we just weren’t feeling it. I think amongst each other we just got to a point where we had spent a lot of years together and we were establishing families and the music wasn’t necessarily validating us. We were making money but not the money cats are making now. It was cool but not enough to validate us to go through all of the bullshit we were going through. So we just stepped away from it. It was just that simple. Coming back I definitely grew to miss him. As far as hearing everything that kinda goes on now in music I kinda feel like I should create an option. I’m hungry to do something right now and that’s where my head is at. We have a lot of mutual friends and wound up being in the same circle a couple of times and we were just like this is a good time to come back.

Lawnge: I came into the game straight out of high school. When I graduated high school I moved back to NY and that’s when everything started. Like he said we were pretty much kids. I looked at it like I never had a chance to be a regular person and I didn’t live music. Some people live music but I didn’t want to live music I wanted a life as well. So that was the perfect opportunity for me to just live outside of music. Then I just developed a passion to get back into music. The music aspect is what I wanted to do not the whole anticipation of what ya doin or the in your business aspect. That causes stress and confusion and that’s the part I didn’t like.

Halftime: How was it when ya’ll came back to work on the new album? Were there any problems with chemistry or was it immediate once you got back into the studio?

Dres: As far as the new project we just reached out to a lot of new cats. We felt like we did what we did but the sound out there now is different. It’s a much more progressive and much cleaner sound. So we felt like we should just ease our way into the game so to speak with something that’s familiar. Let’s definitely use our ears and come up with something creative but we felt we should work with different cats we felt were talented and create other projects. From there we felt it would be much easier for us to do what we do as far as a group.

Halftime: What really had you take a step back from doing the production Lawnge?

Lawnge: Well’¦.

Dres: I just told you that’s what we decided to do. We decided to reach out to different cats. Lawnge does beautiful tracks and we have a project to come out right after this that will be a reintroduction.

Halftime: We rounded up a bunch of questions from fans so we’re gonna shoot those at you. The first is even though you guys were with Native Tongues you didn’t do too many collabs and were never featured on any Tribe or De La albums. Why was that?

Dres: I don’t know. When we stepped away from music we stepped away from the whole scene.

Halftime: What was up with the Van Damme and how did that become your trademark?

Lawnge: Rest in peace to the dude from X-Clan. He was always screaming that Van Glorious and to me I was like that’s enough of that. I was tired of hearing it and was pretty much just having fun.

Halftime: What had you be like I’m really gonna call myself the Sugar Dick Daddy Mista Lawnge and have people sing it?

Lawnge: A comedian cat that I met back in the days told me a joke about a pimp. Back in those days everybody had a title. This cat was named G. George and he was on the train telling crazy jokes and the pimp’s name was Sugar Dick Daddy. I was like oh that shit is kinda slick so I just took that and ran with it.

Halftime: Compared to back in the days what are some things in the industry you’re not feeling right now?

Dres: Just the camaraderie. Brothers have to learn to share what they’re fortunate to have. There’s room regardless of whose making what. There’s room for us all to make something. And let a cat know yo I dig that. Brothers aren’t giving it up to each other either which creates this bullshit tension. If we really evaluate what we have today we can make some real moves together. We really got it good but it seems like we won’t see that until after the fact.

Halftime: Are ya’ll still in touch with cats like Latifah and Treach?

Dres: Not really. We’re cordial with everyone and proud of cats but we don’t really kick it with them like that. Maybe every once in a while someone will reach out and say what’s up but not really.

Halftime: How many takes for “U Mean I’m Not”?

Dres: I don’t know I probably had to laugh quite a few times. I’m the type to really try to get it right behind the mic so it probably took a few.

Halftime: What did you mean in the second verse of “Black With N.V. (No Vision)” when you were like ‘˜Wish while I wash the water gets hot’¦’ Were you just playing with words?

Dres: I felt like I was trying to say I need to do something with myself otherwise it’s like time can do you if you don’t do your time. I guess I was trying to be a little slick but at the same time I was trying to say I need to make some moves with myself. It was just the realities of what I see at this time.

Halftime: How much did the skinz level increase after the first album?

Dres: Ahh man a lot. I’ll just leave it at that.

Halftime: What’s your favorite Black Sheep track?

Lawnge: I would have to say “The Choice is Yours (Remix).”

Dres: I guess I would say that one too.

Halftime: What would you guys point to as your most memorable moment of your career?

Dres: I guess the first time we rocked a stadium. That was in Miami and I was like whoa this is great. I remember the audience singing the words to a song that I never heard and I was like who is that onstage? It was DJ Quik and that was the first time I saw him and he ripped it up. I was like whoa. It was just crazy to perform at a stadium. I guess what coincides with that is the Apollo show on the Ice Cube tour.

Lawnge: Yea, that’s my most memorable moment the Apollo. That was crazy.

Dres: I thought the rafters were gonna break. I literally thought the balcony was gonna break loose. It was crazy.

Halftime: Similar to that what do you think has been your biggest contribution to hip hop?

Dres: Just being ourselves and sincere about what we do. It’s not like we do brain surgery.

Lawnge: Doing an unintentional classic record. That’s a contribution that will last forever. That’s one of the biggest marks we’ve made thus far.

Halftime: I heard Prince Paul is working on putting together a Native Tongues tour. Has he talked to you guys? What’s the status on getting you all back together?

Dres: We’ve been talking to Paul who’s spearheading the project of putting something on film about putting together the Native Tongue situation on tour and maybe even a record. We’re definitely in the beginning stages.

Lawnge: It’s very possible it could happen. I look at it as a money issue. As long as all the cats get what they want then it can happen but certain people want to stick to their numbers. They don’t want to negotiate their level of paper intake.

Halftime: So when can we expect the new project?

Dres: The album is called 8WM / Novakane and it drops digitally in October [Available now]. I say it drops digitally because we’re dropping it online exclusively and it will be available on itunes, napster and aol. We’re also going to drop a couple of singles over the summer. We’re trying to do the unprecedented in that we aren’t stressing the labels this time around. We’re gonna try and reach our people on a different level and create a situation where we’re doing our own thing. We’re gonna put it out in stores as well but we’re gonna do it online initially. You can check for some of the music online at myspace.com/blacksheep. The first single is called ‘˜Be Careful.’ There’s only about 10 or 11 cuts on the album and maybe a hidden track. At the end of the day we reached out to a bunch of new cats from Bean One to Vitamin D from Seattle. Kwame did a joint, Showbiz did a joint and others that you probably never heard of.

Halftime: Lawnge I heard you got a side project coming out as well tell us about that?

Lawnge: Yea, the outside project is called the Class of ’89 and it’s just me reflecting on what once was and what I cherished about hip hop coming up in hip hop. It is kinda a reflection of me talking about the times and what it really meant to me as an artist. Its different levels of what I call hip hop and not rap music.

Date: December 18, 2006