Black Sheep, once comprised of Dres and Mr. Lawnge, flourished in the 90s. Their first single, 1991’s "Flavor of the Month," gave them a solid start in the game and their affiliation with the Native Tongue collective increased their notoriety. They were poised to have one of the biggest careers in hip-hop but unfortunately, their subsequent albums didn’t live up to the success of their debut, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, and the group seemed to fade to obscurity.
However, they left behind a slew of memorable singles including, “The Choice is Yours,” which nearly 20 years later, can still be heard at parties across the country, and was recently revived in a Kia commercial. The duo has gone through a lot of changes over the years, one of major difference being that Dres now carries Black Sheep solo. He plans to release a new album under the group’s moniker entitled, From The Black Pook Of Genius (June 29) independently but still in the spirit of golden era of hip-hop.
VIBE caught up with the veteran to chat about the commercial success of one of hip-hop’s most famous songs, Black Sheep as a solo act, and why the new era of rappers need to pay homage to their predecessors. ⎯Starrene Rhett
VIBE: What can people expect from From The Black Pool of Genius?
It’s a project I’m really excited about. It’s different for me in that I got a bunch of features on it and it’s the first time I’ll be releasing an album with more than a feature or two. I’m always of the mindset that the artist is the primary focus but going on 20 years, I’ve been following that and I thought it would be cool to do something different by working with artists that I respect artistically. As far as the black pool of genius, I borrowed the concept from Donny Hathaway. He did a live remake of a Stevie Wonder record, “Super Woman,” and it’s a live recording so you can hear it sounds like it’s in a tavern or something and he says, “From the black pool of genius, I got this Stevie Wonder record,” and I thought, "Wow, that’s a prolific statement," and it made me want to be a member of this pool so I started thinking about it and understanding that it’s not about the color of a person, black is essentially a color that draws light, so I took it as a pool of people that have the ability to draw light to give light that can enlighten you. And across the board it bought a whole gamut of artists from the Donny Hathaways to the Stevie Wonders, but also the Joe Samples and the Chaka Khans, the Minnie Rippertons⎯there’s a whole gamut of artists that I grew up on that enlightened me and I started looking at that as a concept to be able to subliminally enlighten people and make statements in artists that would have this ability and I felt that these artists including myself would be members of the black pool.
What was your decision to carry Black Sheep solo?
If you were to put one sheep in a field it can be plural and singular. I can still be one person and still be Black Sheep. Ideally, where my head is conceptually, I didn’t step away from the group. The group is something that me and Lawnge built [but] he decided to do something else. I felt like it wouldn’t be in my advantage for me to step away from something just because he decided to. He decided he wanted to go solo and I respected him. I wished him the best. But if he decides he wants to do something again with both of us as Black Sheep then I’ll be down. Next year will be 20 years and I hope that we would come together and maybe do a rhyme or put out a record that speaks to our 20 year run.
“The Choice is Yours” is in a new Kia commercial and some other classic hip-hop songs have been getting commercial revivals too. What’s up with the resurgence of golden era hip-hop in advertising?
I think it’s reflective of a time period of a certain level where it was good feelings. Certain songs just represent a good feeling and I think “The Choice is Yours” is one of those that was so fortunate to have that life. There are songs that⎯like with when Obama won⎯you knew where you were and what you were doing and “The Choice is Yours” is like that. I didn’t have any time to do any form of huge promotion globally so at this time that I got an album coming out, it’s such a blessing that so many people are turning their heads to notice, wow Black Sheep, what’s Dres up to? But it kind of goes to the walk of an artist especially from my era⎯everything was kinda young and this Kia commercial, I didn’t even have anything to do with it.
So you didn’t even know it was going to happen?
I wasn’t even contacted. I have yet to receive payment on it but don’t get it twisted, I will. I’ve been talking to Kia for the past week or two so certain things might be done moving forward in maximizing what we’re trying to do. But Universal, the record label, was basically the ones that signed off on it and gave them permission to use my likeness so that’s a different story that might wind up having a life of itself as well. I wouldn’t say that the label did everything that they were supposed to do but that goes to us being young artists and not understanding some of the things that we were signing. I would say to the artists today⎯and this is 20 yrs later⎯that I’m not the administrator of some of the things that I should be especially so far down the road. But God moves in mysterious ways and I see it as a blessing at the end of the day.
How do you feel about where hip-hop is today with more rappers singing than rapping?
Hip-pop. That’s what it has become. It’s pop music. And it’s evolution. It might not necessarily be something that I’m trying to do but sorta like where hip-hop was in its early days, folks are trying to do what they can. But I feel like mentally, a lot of us have become lazy. I think we’re capable of more than what a lot of us are going for. But I understand the grind. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of it but I understand it, especially for a younger generation. This is something that they can claim and each generation wants something they can claim so I understand it. I understand that my father wasn’t crazy about what I was doing. But I also see the value being diminished in some of the music. I learned so much from my parents’ music. I learned the power of words and how to speak to a certain degree and these days I think the courtship has been diminished especially between men and women in that the conversation is more from the wallet as opposed to from the heart. It’s much more about a purchase than it is about character⎯just being funny and having something insightful to say. [But] people are beginning to gravitate toward what they deem to be of substance. They’re starting to look for a Black Sheep, they’re starting to look for a De La, or something that may be more insightful than making the bed rock. And at the end of the day we all like to have a good time and everything has its place but I think some of the options have been taken away from us and the people are starting to miss it.
How do you feel about Drake?
The jury is still out. I’ve heard some stuff that I’ve liked a lot as far as him manipulating what it is but I’m not sure I’m hearing—he might not even write his own stuff. It all goes to entertainment, show business and the values that I find for myself aren’t necessarily the values that someone else might walk in and that’s to say that it’s important that I write what I’m doing. [But] I gotta take my hat off to the younger generation. The music might not be as strong but the business is so much stronger and the opportunities that lie in front of us are a lot more vast. Younger cats who are starting to reap the benefits of what was laid down years before them should start reaching back and understanding what homage is about and start understanding that they do owe something; that Kool Herc shouldn’t want for anything. Melle mel, none of these cats should want for nothing. Before you spend money on a chain or anything, you should seek these cats and make sure their lights are on, make sure they got food in their refrigerator. These are the shoulders on which we stand and those are the little things that need to start seeping into our community of hip-hop, it’s about us, it’s not about you.
Speaking of older heads, how did you manage to reunite some of your Native Tongue brethren for your album?
It’s definitely difficult to get us together for anything at this point and it’s sad because we’re one of the options that should exist for kids today. Even some of the offspring or the offshoots of what we were doing don’t have the unity that we should have. We made records that spoke to empowerment, unity, sense of self, just being up right and being able to walk your walk. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to be a microcosm of what he wanted the people to do. We didn’t walk the walk. We weren’t a unit and that’s unfortunate because I think the example would have been huge.
Are you still in touch with Chi Ali?
Yeah, that’s my dude forever. He’s in Sing Sing right now and he should be home within two years. I stay in touch with his mom and his brother, and I send him a little something where I can and that’s another point with Chi. Chi⎯we’re the Native Tongue. Chi is brethren and he has a bunch of cats that he came up with that aren’t even checking for him and making sure that he’s OK. It’s so unfortunate that he’s made a very big mistake. But he’s learned a lot and to speak to him you could definitely learn something about the walk of a man but I think he’s gonna be alright. Sometimes that’s life, you gotta do something that hurts in order for you to really grow.
Queen Latifah was your fellow Native Tongue affiliate who helped lay some groundwork as well. But why aren’t women in hip-hop today getting mainstream love like they used to?
It’s a few things. I’m not trying to come off as the authority on anything, it’s just my opinion, but I think Latifah hit it on the head. Latifah stayed true to who she was as a woman artistically. And with the coming of the mid and the late 90s, women really started trying to conform to what the men were doing and there’s a very big problem with that because Venus and Mars are very different so for women to go there as far as trying to walk a man’s walk⎯it wasn’t necessarily something that was a benefit to women or the music. It might have worked for the time being but today, women would look ridiculous talking about bricks and things that men would talk about. There are women that have the ability to put a woman’s spin on things like Jean Grae or what have you, but I don’t want to hear a chick talking about carrying a pistol⎯you’re lying and if you really are, you’re such a minute minority that I don’t even know who you’re making records for. But chicks bought into Kim and Foxy⎯not to say they weren’t dope for their time period but they weren’t walking their walk. They were walking the walk to where I think they felt they were doing what men were doing or wanted to hear. Although it may have been a little liberating sexually, it definitely came with a cost.
Are you still in touch with Latifah?
Not at all. I’m definitely proud of her. I knew her from much less notoriety but I’ve always liked her. I’ve always thought she represented something that was very cool. I remember, she wanted me to hook her up with one of my dudes⎯this was years ago. I wound up hooking her up with my dude Moon who ended up getting shot in Harlem, while he was driving her car⎯he was driving with her [laughs]. But I’ve always kept my eye on her walk and I’m very proud of her. She’s a very respectable lady and she’s always been conscious of how she’s perceived more so of how she perceives her self. She has a great sense of self. She’s a great woman.
What’s the key to success for veterans in hip-hop?
Know that you’re always just a record away. And it all depends on what you view as success. Some of them might have obtained it and just don’t realize but when it comes to making the dollar—because a lot of the older cats ain’t make money. We made a lot of notoriety like on Arsenio and Jay Leno. I was the first hip-hop artist on Jay Leno. That’s pretty cool but monetarily, that shit paid $300 so there was a bunch of stuff that wasn’t there monetarily but at the end of the day that’s still a part of my success. I don’t come from a place were we made a lot of money. It was like if you were able to make $5,000-$10,000 from a show you were huge. These kids now are turning down $150,000 for a show for an hour of their time. We didn’t come from that so if you’re looking for that to gage successful then it’s possible that you might never be successful. But if you’re able to find the influence of who you are in someone who does make that money, that’s successful. If money is the issue, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. It might not be for them to make the money the same way that they did but having the insight, they can grab a younger cat and show him how they did it or walk with him or get behind the scenes and start a company. There’s so many ways to go about it. And if it’s just money you’re worried about then don’t be afraid of getting a job. But I know that I’ve been afforded something that money just can’t buy you. Donald Trump doesn’t have enough money to have a record played everyday for the next 17 years. There are artists that are successful that don’t have that. Puffy doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have a record that’s played every day somewhere in the world. He might have a catalogue that does that. But I’ve got a record that’s played everyday somewhere in the world and that’s a blessing.