The sound of New York hip-hop has shifted numerous times over the past forty years, with each decade bringing about new trends and vibes that dominate the city’s streets and airwaves. However, two traits that New York rap will always hang its hat on are masterful lyricism and vintage samples plastered atop drum loops, which makes Dave East and Harry Fraud’s new alliance such a fitting one. The rapper and producer – both of whom are natives of the city – have joined forces for their collaborative album, HOFFA, which finds East dropping testimonials inspired by the streets of the Big Apple over backdrops crafted by Fraud, who helms the entirety of a whole project for the fourth time in 2021. East, who’s last project, Karma 3, dropped in 2020, says his working relationship with Fraud is organic and stems from his admiration for the boardsman sticking to his guns and carrying on tradition.
“That’s why I fuck with Harry,” the East Harlem rep tells VIBE via phone. “He’s not reaching, I’m not reaching, we’re both in our respective lanes and we created a sound that the city gonna feel. If don’t nowhere else feel that shit, I know the town is gonna feel it ’cause it’s the vibe that inspired me to even wanna do shit, to even wanna jump into this shit. That’s the type of music that made me wanna get involved with even being a rapper. And this is the first full-length project I did with any producer. So for me, just being a fan of Harry in the cut, from a distance, I’m like, ‘That’s definitely someone I’d do an entire album with. I feel like it happened at the right time.” First collaborating on the French Montana-assisted track, “Maneuver,” from East’s 2017 mixtape, Paranoia: A True Story, Fraud says his chemistry with East is also a byproduct of their shared affinity for New York and its cultural landscape, which played a significant part in the pair building a working relationship.
“Even the way me and Dave would cross paths would be out and about in a studio in the middle of Times Square,” Fraud explains. “This is just what we do, this is where we were raised. We’re not guys that, no disrespect to anyone, moved to L.A. We stayed around the town, because I think that’s where we both really draw our power from in a weird way, or our inspiration. Just the smell, the sounds, the everything. I think that’s all infused in our music kind’ve effortlessly.”
Comprised of 14 tracks, HOFFA includes guest appearances from French Montana, G Herbo, Jim Jones, Benny The Butcher, Curren$y, Kiing Shooter, Cruch Calhoun, and Steven Young, HOFFA is titled after labor union leader Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, who infamously disappeared on July 30, 1975 and is believed to have been murdered by the Mafia. The album includes various soundbites from audio clips related to the FBI’s search for Hoffa, who was ultimately declared dead on July 30, 1982.
Led by the singles “Diamonds” and the Benny The Butcher guested “Uncle Ric,” HOFFA is powered by East’s signature brand of raw reality rap and Fraud’s boom-bap inspired production techniques. According to East, the content on HOFFA, as well as he and Fraud’s other projects, are heavily influenced and informed by the city, which the pair has an undying allegiance to. “If you listen to the album you can tell we spend a lot of time in New York,” East shares. “We get our travel on, we move around how we move, but we spend a lot of time where we’re from. I know that’s where I got 90% of my stories. 90% of just the emotion that I’m coming with that shit is from being around what I know. Being around people I know, neighborhoods I know. And I done traveled the whole world, but for certain inspiration, I gotta go back to the trenches. And then when you got a producer on that same time, that’s not only trying to match your flow, but trying to push you, it’s perfect for me. I wouldn’t change nothing about it.”
VIBE spoke with Dave East and Harry Fraud about the making of HOFFA, East’s respect for the Griselda Records camp, Fraud’s hunger for greatness, and their quest to restore the spirit of competition in hip-hop.
Although you’ve worked with each other in the past, HOFFA will be the first time the two of you have worked together in this capacity? What’s the backstory between the two of you linking and deciding to record a full-length project?
Dave East: Honestly, we did “Maneuver” a couple of years ago with French. We might’ve done another joint here and there, but I’m a big fan of Harry, of his whole catalog, just him as a person. I feel like his style compliments my shit 100%. He honestly was on me for maybe the last two or three last years, like. ‘Let’s do it, let’s get in, let’s get in.’ I was just ripping and running so as soon as I really found the right space and right state of mind to be in to make that shit, we locked right in and did that shit in no time.”
Harry Fraud: I think Dave said it best, I think we had kind’ve crossed paths. Obviously, we’re both from the city and we both wear that on our sleeve so we crossed paths a bunch of times over the years. Like Dave said, we got to knock out the “Maneuver” song with French, which is really one of my favorite collaborations. And I knew that once we settled in and found a sound that we would really excel together because I think we were like-minded in that way, like looking for cohesion between both of us. And once we kind’ve locked in on that, it was really effortless. So it’s great to kind’ve think of a project [and] think it’s gonna come out great and then actually put it into practice and execute. And I think that’s what we did.
The artwork for HOFFA was curated by Westside Gunn, who’s grown into one of hip-hop’s go-to curators and tastemakers. How did he become involved?
Dave East: I personally reached out to him. I went up there to fuck with Conway, [he] had a birthday I think it was. I went up there and I locked in. I [had] already been doing the rap shit with Conway and Benny for maybe like the last two years. We been locked in musically, but me and Westside had never really connected and I was fan of just his take on different art. I just like how he’s involved in that shit, everybody don’t do that. So I was like, ‘Yo, me and Harry Fraud doing an album together, let’s put some artwork together instead of just going with the everyday regular cover art.’ I wanted to drop something that was a little more one-of-one, so he put it together. I sent him the picture I wanted him to use of me, he threw his clip on it, kinda got me in the courtroom and shit like Hoffa. But I’m a fan of them, I fuck with Griselda hard. I’m a fan of how Westside moves with the art and I just thought it would be a dope collaboration just to have them a part of it. ‘Cause I got Benny actually on the album, but just to have Westside’s outlook as far as the cover went, I felt like that was dope. I feel like a lot of artists don’t collab like that. It’s not really a lot of artists working on merch together or shit like that, so I just felt like that was a little something different that everybody ain’t doing.
Fraud, you’ve been churning out collaborative projects at a rapid pace, with numerous albums this year alone. How are you able to maintain the quality control and harness your inspiration to create at such a constant clip?
Harry Fraud: Honestly I think this last two years is really the producer I always wanted to be, meaning I always seen myself as this type of producer. Like those are the producers that I kind’ve grew up idolizing, the ones that helmed full projects for people. And I just had to really build myself into a space where I was able to do that and kind’ve gain the trust of those guys and I think for me, it was about showing, through action, that I could do this for somebody. That I could take somebody and kind’ve give them my take on their sound, so to speak, and this was really who I always wanted to be as a producer. And it took me a while to get there just because I think it was a matter of me showing like, Yo, even if you’re hiring me to do one beat on your album, I’m gonna come and show out. That beat is gonna be meaningful, that’s gonna be the song that people remember.’ And through the action of doing the projects and them coming out well, I think it allowed guys like Dave to kind’ve like just trust me and know that I’m gonna go hard.
Dave East: Definitely.
Harry Fraud: And the work ethic just comes from passion. This is what I love and it’s the thing that just drives me crazy, this music shit. Being the best. When I grew up playing sports, I always wanted to be the best in any respective field that I was on and now that I’m on this field, I just have the drive to really be the best. I just can’t settle for anything less than that. I wanna go down with the greats and I know that’s gonna require me putting in more work than everybody else. So that’s where the inspiration comes from.
Fraud, what do you feel separates East from his peers as an emcee and East, you can answer the same for Fraud as a producer?
Harry Fraud: I think what has always attracted me to East [musically] is the authenticity in his voice. I’m a big guy on voice, meaning your voice is the final instrument that marries to the beat to me. So with Dave, I’ve always just heard a trueness in his voice. It’s kind’ve hard for me to explain in such a simple term, but I would just say whenever I heard him, it just sounded like the truth to me. Like when you heard Nas or you heard Jay or any of those artists. The way he would describe something or the way that he would come across, not necessarily trying to over-say anything, just saying it in his real voice, speaking his real truth, I always felt that that came across. And then what I’ve also always loved about him is his ability to move around in pocket. So if you listen to a Dave record, he can get off on a 65 BPM record and he can get off on a 95 BPM record. And particularly for an artist from New York, I feel like oftentimes they get pigeonholed into making these mid-tempo kind’ve songs. “Or somebody says, ‘If it’s not 85 BPM and he’s rapping like Styles P., it’s not New York.’ And Dave never got put in that pocket often because he always had such a wide range and that always really attracted me his voice, man. His voice is incredible, it’s a great hip-hop voice. You know when you hear Dave East, there’s no one else. You’re not gonna mistake it.
Dave East: I appreciate it, beloved [laughs].
Harry Fraud: Of course, my brother, of course [laughs].
Dave East: It’s the same on the other side, bro. I love older music, like I’m more of a fan of older music than today’s music. And I feel like Fraud, I can tell on two or three fingers the amount of producers that have mastered the art of infusing that shit. Like infusing them samples, infusing today’s sound with past shit. I love shit I don’t even know I love until I hear the sample. I might hear the sample and be like, ‘I’m in love with that,’ and never heard the original song or nothing. I just feel like he explores music in different ways than most producers. A lot of producers find their sound [based on] if it goes up [and] they stick to that. I feel like his shit, you can’t really pinpoint what sound he’s going with, but when it’s a Harry Fraud beat, you know it’s his beat, but it’s not like one type of production he’s coming with. And I feel like that challenges me as an artist and makes me push my pen a little more, so it worked out perfect, bro. That’s the first tape I done did, like no bullshit, that I ride around really listening to. Most tapes I do, once I do it and I turn it in, I be onto some next shit. That shit is on repeat. We ride around to that shit everyday, that’s one of them.
And you know what else is ill with it, a lot of times you might do a record – Fraud, you might agree with this – you might do some shit and it’s fire in the moment. Like, ‘Ooh, I love this shit,’ and two or three days go by, you play the shit and you’re like, ‘Ehhh.’ It’s not one song on this shit like that I keep trying to find something to be like, ‘I don’t like it,’ I can’t find it. I can’t find it, bro, from the top to the bottom, the inserts, the actual Hoffa [cover], the whole shit’s a movie. It’s one of them things I feel where you can press play, close your eyes and you can see that shit. It’s really a visual.
G Herbo appears on “Go Off,” how did that collaboration come about?
Dave East: Oh, that’s the bro. I was just with Herb yesterday in Houston, but that’s one of the artists in the game that I’m close with. We actually have a real relationship, we actually talk to each other [about] more than just rap and shit like that. I met Herb right before XXL Freshman 2016 and then from that, we did our freestyle and all that shit together and we been locked in since then. Me and Herb probably got like 20 records [together], but I definitely wanted him on this project. Cause like I said, if you listen to my catalog and you listen to Herbo catalog, it’s totally different production. We might be talking the same shit but it’s just different styles, Fraud is one of those producers that can merge that shit, where it sounds cohesive than a motherfucker. Where it sounds like, ‘Okay, we both had to catch that beat.’
Speaking of Griselda, Benny The Butcher pops up on “Uncle Ric,” East, can you describe your chemistry with Benny and if the two of you are ever openly competitive with one another?
Dave East: Griselda is fire. I love the style they brought back to this shit ’cause honestly, that’s how I came in this shit and everybody was telling me go commercial. ‘You gotta get with this one, you gotta get wit that one, you gotta make these for the girls,’ and they come out talking straight street shit and they go right so I love that shit. I love the fact that they ain’t in it for the radio, they’re doing what they do. It’s like that word Harry used earlier, ‘authentic.’ That shit sound believable. If I never hung out with them or nothing, like, it just sounds very believable compared to a lot of the shit that’s out. But that shit is a battle. I came from playing ball, bro, so I don’t care if it’s Nas, whoever. Anybody gets it. I did the Beloved album with Styles [P of The Lox], we were battling. That shit wasn’t friendly. We wasn’t in there on some shit like, ‘Oh yeah, good verse, man, that was fire,’ nah. If I feel like his shit about to be harder than mine, I walk out the room, tighten my shit up. It’s a challenge.
I feel like that’s a part of the art that’s kind’ve lost right now. It’s more about, ‘If he hot, he hot, let’s collab and it’s just gonna be hot.’ It ain’t no real competition lyrically. Cause lyrically, I feel right now, isn’t the number one thing. I can’t lose that shit ’cause that’s what keeps me sharp. That’s what I listen for in other music, but that ain’t really the number one thing right now, so I feel like that’s kind’ve lost in the game right now. But certain artists like Benny, Conway, Herbo, even Jim [Jones], J. Cole, there’s a lot of people I’ve been recently working with that it’s a competition. That’s what makes this shit fun when you know, ‘Alright, this ain’t just gonna be a easy layup, I gotta really come with some shit ’cause I know homie gonna come with some shit.’ And when you play that shit back at the end it’s like, ‘Oh, you can play that shit back 100 times ’cause niggas was really challenging each other.’ It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, you hot, I’m hot. I got three million followers, you got three million followers, let’s just work.’ Like, nah, let’s go in there and get it in. We’re friends anyway, we gonna be cool, but I want the hardest verse on the record. I don’t care who on the song. Like he said, when he got a beat on somebody album, he wants you to know, ‘Oh yeah, that one, Harry produced that joint. Yeah, that one.’ Same with the rap, I’ma challenge whoever I get on a record with. Unless we just doing an R&B record [or] some cool shit, then I’ll just try to talk fly…but if we rappers, if we really taking it back to the trenches with this shit, we gonna battle.
Harry Fraud: And not to go back to the cliche, but it’s steel sharpens steel, you know what I mean.
Dave East: And I think that’s why we collab like that. Recently, me and Benny collab a lot. Me and Herbo, [too], these are guys that I feel push me. They push my pen. I don’t wanna get on a record like, ‘It’s not gonna be no challenge on this shit, I’ma be the hardest rapper on this shit.’ I like to work with people where I know they got their fanbase, I got my fanbase, but it’s still is gonna be that barbershop talk, ‘Nah Benny burned East’ or ‘Nah, East [burned Benny]. I love that. I still love that part of the game where niggas is comparing and you got this one saying this one raps better and that one raps [better]. That all comes out for a good song.
One standout from the album that caught my ear was “Money or Power,” which features Jim Jones and gives listeners a slice of that Harlem feel. Explain the vibe when that record was recorded?
Dave East: Capo, that’s another one. I’ve been around Jim since before I was rapping, he’s somebody else that really gave me a lot of game, a lot of insight on how to move in this shit before I even really got into this shit. So that’s another one. Jim, he don’t write nothing down, so he in there and he’s gonna push you, too.
Harry Fraud: And he’s gonna talk his shit while he’s doing it [laughs].
Dave East: He’s gonna talk his shit and he might record the shit himself. Jim is a lot doper than I think people be knowing. As an artist, he’s very inclined with what’s going on, he might be a little bit more advanced than most niggas think. He’s in tune with a lot that’s going on. He put me on to the quarantine studio shit. You can be in your bedroom recording with somebody in Alaska. And a lot of the records me and Fraud did was over the Zoom shit just ’cause of the pandemic and shit, so Capo kind’ve introduced me to that. But we were sparring on that shit, that was just a get in the ring and spar [type of song], it wasn’t no hook, nothing. The beat is insane, let’s talk some shit on this.
Fraud, three of the last four artists you’ve collaborated on full length projects with appear on HOFFA, is that cross pollination between artists on purpose or just happenstance?
Harry Fraud: Very intentional. For me, it’s about executing my level of curation, too, and aligning myself with the guys that have longevity and will have longevity and that is obviously Spitta, Jones, Dave, Benny. These are guys that are not fly-by-night artists and then to kind’ve put them together, I’m just taking a page out of guys like Dre, guys like Premier, these guys that I’ve idolized my entire life that kind’ve built camps in a way of like, ‘Nah, these guys are not signed to me or anything like that. That’s not what it’s about, it’s about these are like-minded individuals.’ Just like if we was doing business in any realm or doing anything, you wanna be around like-minded individuals that are all gonna elevate each other, so that’s how I look at these guys. These are guys that when they get on a song together, they’re gonna elevate each other, even all the way to Herbo. Like Dave was saying, he met Herbo in 2016, I was working with Herbo when he was 18 years-old, just wilding. He was just a kid from Chicago, going crazy and I just heard him and was like ‘No, this guy is gonna be here, he’s the only one that talks like this from where he’s from.’ So the cross-pollination is super intentional and I wanna continue it, I wanna keep it going. I wanna continue bringing these guys together cause I just know they’re inherently gonna make great music cause they’re great musicians. It’s like playing on a super-team. This is the super-team right here.
Dave East: It wasn’t nothing forced, that’s my favorite part about it, it just flowed.
Harry Fraud: And going back to that trust thing, it’s like to reach out to somebody that I just had incredible success with and say, ‘Hey come be a part of this next thing that we’re doing.’ They already trust me, like, ‘Nah, he’s going hard on it, it’s gonna be successful.’ So they’re trusting and all these artists, just like you respect them, they respect him. It’s all a circle and it all comes back to itself, man.
Kiing Shooter, who passed away last year, appears on “Yeah I Know,” one of his first posthumous guest spots to date. What was the origin of that track and can we expect any more material from Shooter on future projects?
Dave East: Hell yeah, that’s my best friend. For the last maybe 10 or 15 years, I went through it all with boy, from before this shit to doing this shit, everything. I definitely got a lot more different records with him, I got some shit hidden in the vaults, we got some joints, man. His death was so random and sudden and out of the blue, it fucked me up, and that was actually the first song recorded for this project. I got a song called “Handsome” on Karma 3 and the same day we shot the video for that, we left the video set and went to the studio and Fraud sent me that beat and we laid that that night. That was even before I knew we was gonna make Hoffa ’cause that song don’t really got nothing to do with the Hoffa vibe, it just fit the tempo and the sound. It just fit. But that’s before I even realized or talked with Harry that we was about to do what we set out to do, but I always had that song in the cut. That’s actually the last record I got to record with my boy so it had to go on there.
Do you see the two of you ever linking up for a sequel down the line?
Dave East: Hell yeah.
Harry Fraud: Already in the works [laughs].
Dave East: Yeah, y’all late [laughs]. Hell yeah, we gotta follow that up.
Do you have any plans to hit the road to support the project now that venues have begun to open up?
Dave East: It feels like the world is getting back to normal, so back to regular scheduled programming. We’re gonna have the merch for you, we’re gonna have the pop-ups, we’re gonna have the shows. We’re just gonna sit and put it together and see where the demand is at right now. I know I run around a lot, I know Harry’s arm is spread all over the motherfucking globe, but I feel like for one of these projects, I really wanna tap in with the core, the motherfuckers that love that. That love that from me and love that from Harry and wanna hear that collab. I wanna see those shows, so that’s definitely coming. Y’all should look forward to that in the next month. That’s coming.