Rasheed Chappell is back with his first new album in seven years; First Brick. We talked to him about the new project, working with Kenny Dope, and how it feels to be in the studio with some of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time.
[This interview has been lightly edited for clarity].
First Brick is your second project with legendary producer Kenny Dope (the first being 2011’s Future Before Nostalgia). How did your working relationship start?
Kenny and I met through a producer named Maleet – they were both producing for the same label at the time. They hit it off and he decided to play Kenny some of the tracks we were working on. KD liked it, we met up, had a conversation, and a few weeks later we had our first session which included Kenny, Biz Markie on beat box, and myself. That was 2008 I believe, and we’ve been working ever since.
What’s interesting is, Kenny is an icon of House Music, but not as known for producing Hip-Hop. Why is it do you think he gravitated towards you as a Hip-Hop artist?
Kenny’s from the era of the one producer/one emcee combinations, as he’s really just been waiting for a certain type of emcee to come around. All his favorite rappers he told me where Rakim, G Rap, Kane and all the greats. So his words were that until he found an emcee that could give him that feeling, he might do a song or two, but not a full project. I’m a student of the culture and all those that have come before me, so maybe he saw my deep love for the music and the homage I pay to all those that paved the way. I’m also very serious about my craft, I show up, I work…repeat.
And was the process of working with him this time on First Brick different from when you collaborated back in 2011? Have either of your processes evolved or changed since then?
Yes, this is actually, in essence, our third album. We already started a follow up to Future Before Nostalgia with a project titled Brick & Mortar. The process in putting that together has taken longer than expected and this is why we have First Brick, which serves as a trailer to Brick & Mortar. As men we’ve grown and evolved, Kenny is a father now. I’m more seasoned as an artist now, and know the process of putting out an album and how to create a balanced project. So my ear listens more for what’s missing than what’s present.
You’re part of a wave of artists who’ve mastered a new style of street rap, some of which feature on the album (CRIMEAPPLE, Hus Kingpin, Daniel Son). It has the hardcore talk of classic G Rap, and Roc Marciano, but usually with stripped back beats and minimal drums. But Kenny Dope’s drums on First Brick are pretty heavyweight. Which kind of beat do you think suits your style best?
I respect all of the guys mentioned and that kind of music definitely puts you in a vibe, gritty cold weather East Coast Rap, I love it. I don’t think my style is that or has ever been. For me, it’s always been about the drums and the movement. I am a fan of the drum. As far as what style best suits me, I think I can adapt to anything that pulls me to write.
That said, the drums on First Brick also sound like they were played live rather than sampled. Was there much live instrumentation involved?
I don’t want to give away too much of KD’s magic so I’ll just say, he did his thing and there’s always room for live drums, horns, and instrumentation.
Seven years between albums is a lifetime in today’s world where people move on to the next thing way too fast. Why such a long break?
That break wasn’t intentional, we toured in Europe for two years after. We began working on Brick & Mortar and then life started happening. I promise all my supporters that I won’t ever be away that long again.
You’ve had a steady run of features on other projects in between, but does it feel like you almost have to start again from scratch after a seven-year break, to grab people’s attention again?
Yeah I feel like a new artist in that regard, however with all the experience of a veteran. I enjoy it, at heart I’m a competitor, so I want to throw my hat in the ring and have my name mentioned with all the current artists, while creating projects that stand the test of time like the OG’s that came before me.
Even with the seven-year gap, I read how you wanted First Brick to connect to Future Before Nostalgia, but also stand alone as a separate work. Can you elaborate on that?
This is my natural growth, so anyone familiar with Future Before Nostalgia will see that I didn’t sacrifice any of the lyricism or sonics that they appreciated on that album. However, you see my evolution in storytelling and progression in our chemistry. If a listener never heard of me before this project, then has a beginning, middle and an end, so it’s a stand-alone project that you can feel and dissect. I write every line as if it’s the only one a person will ever hear, so I’m very conscious of what I want my musically legacy to be.
You’ve worked again on the new project with DJ Scratch, in my opinion someone who doesn’t get quite enough credit for his contribution to Hip-Hop. Tell me about working with him.
Scratch is a genius, period. So working with him is an honor, he just doesn’t hop on any artist project or throw his support or co-sign on anything. EPMD is my cousin Lateef’s favorite group so being in studio with Scratch, Kenny and my cousin Marcus was surreal.
You also have a couple of rhyme icons on First Brick; Lil Fame and O.C. How did they become involved?
O.C. is in my Hip-Hop DNA, no way around it, Word…Life is up there with Illmatic, and Jewelz is as influential and DOPE as any “top five” emcee’s 2nd album. So when he said that the only two new artist that he listens to were Kendrick Lamar and Rasheed Chappell in an interview back in 2012 with HipHopDX, I was humbled and felt a sense of being knighted. Pushed me harder. We met at a Lord Finesse show and been OG/young lion ever since. We’ve discussed doing a project together. Now M.O.P., name a group that’s more live than Fame and Billy?! We had a song that just needed that energy, we reached out and he felt what we were doing, and hopped to the studio to help create this gem.
I’m intrigued to know what a successful album means to you. Not so much financially or units sold, more about the impact and how it resonates. How do you measure that?
For me success is people talking about the project, and touring to bring the live experience to my supporters. There IS money to be made if you have the right plan and proper execution, so fiscal success has been there for us with sales and especially the vinyl. I want those to hear it know that I gave everything I had. If they walk away with that feeling, it’s a success.
What’s up next for you after First Brick?
MORE MUSIC!! That’s my word. A few things in the works, but definitely expect more music…and more frequently!
Any last words or anything you want people to know about the album?
I just want to thank my team, the big homie KD, my team Wil and Dan from foundation DIGITAL FILMS. The amazing artist Wil Swink that created the album artwork. My graphic designer Kat McBride, my social media manager Steve Royster, and my manager DJ Eclipse, as well as all the work Diamond Media 360, has put in. For anyone that would like to support, click below.