Hip-Hop Heavyweights Talk Trading Bars, New York City and New Tattoos

Interview by Dove Clark and Photos by Evan Kaucher

Sit with people over 35 and people under 30 in the same room together, and chances are you’ll have a full-scale argument on your hands in any given conversation about Hip Hop. Even if there is an agreement on lyrical skills, there continues to be a maddening debate about what is musically valuable to the culture. While Styles P was celebrating the release of The Lox’ debut Money, Power & Respect album in 1998, Dave East was barely 10-years- old. By the time Styles hit the scene with his official solo debut A Gangster and a Gentleman in 2002, an adolescent East was preparing himself for a potential career in basketball.

In 2018, as Styles P released his ninth solo album, G-Host, still riding high off of The Lox’ 2016 album, Filthy America... It’s Beautiful, Dave East was painstakingly preparing his official debut album on Def Jam. And then, all of a sudden, the two men united to bring the world Beloved, a surprise collaborative project that transcends the Gen-X / Millennial generation gap, both lyrically and sonically. 

Dave, Styles comes from an era where trading bars is a normal thing for him, where you come from the time of spitting a hot 16 and moving on. How did it come together as far as you switching up your style to trade bars? 

Dave East: Honestly, I was thirsty to do that with him. Just being a fan of him and Kiss doing it. I didn’t want it to be a traditional 16, hook, 16, hook. One of the elements of his career that always stood out to me was his back and forth, in and out. So, I said I wanted to do that sh*t, too. It just came out. Each beat we were getting on it was natural, fluid.

What about you Styles? Did you feel like it was something that would naturally happen? Styles P: Everything just really fell into place organically. We got in there, just said we’re sparring , and we were just focused, zoning out and having a good time and the music was coming out a certain way. Once you start something and the bar is set, and then you do it again and again, there’s no up and down, it just goes up. It was fun because he is the new face of what we do. He’s the face of street MCs, especially on the east coast. It’s like playing with the young baller in the league. I’m the old vet. Then it’s like we’re trying to put on for our city, too. We are just trying to put on for our craft and our city at the same time. It was super-organic and flowed very smoothly.

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How do you feel you were able to bridge the gap between the generations? 

Styles P: It’s a respect and a craft. We share the same craft. Usually, when you and a person share the same craft, it means you’re passionate about it and go hard at it. Whether it’s sports, white collar [career], blue collar, music, poetry, film, journalism, whatever the field of work is, there’s something about respecting the craft where a true craftsman doesn’t look at age. You just look at your craft. As an older craftsman, everything is a young man’s sport and you want to make sure you make your statements and put your foot down when you’re saying something. I think when you just really stick with the craft and to what you do and focus it all pans out. Dave East: I feel like when the focus is the actual craft, the age doesn’t matter. I can’t tell no difference in him from back in the day to now. I can’t be like “Oh, he sounds older now. Hell, nah.” There’s no difference. I don’t think age has anything to do with it.

What do you feel is so important about New York Hip Hop right now? And what do you want people to take away from this project? 

Styles P: I think the project is New York Hip Hop. I think when you hear and listen to it, it’s all-around Hip Hop, but it’s definitely New York Hip Hop. With that being said, we set the new bar and precedence for no matter what the age group is. Get your money and do whatever you want in your time, but if you ever have that feeling in your gut to where you just want to represent your own, that’s cool. Hip Hop in 2018 has been a pretty dope year in general from East to West to South. People have been putting out real banging projects in 2018. I think what you tell people is stick to your gut and make your sound. I think it [Hip Hop] is in a great place and could only go up. Dave East: One-hundred percent.

Do you feel like Tekashi 69 saying he’s the King of New York put the city in a competitive mind state? 

Dave East: I’m not gonna say he single handedly did it. I feel like he has a lot to do with the younger people feeling that way. I feel like it’s always been differences in rap in New York. You had The Lox and you had Onyx. You had different energies, dudes rapping dope, telling stories, and there were different lanes in it. I feel that’s what dope right now, that everybody’s not just saying, “To be a New York artist you have to rap this way.” I feel like it’s dope that’s it’s being spread across the board right now. If you don’t log into Instagram, you won’t see him saying that. You gotta go online to see and hear these things. I feel like those are two different worlds. You gotta mix ‘em because we live in an Internet world. But, with me, I like to stand on what I stand on and represent what I represent. Beloved is a testament to that with me and him. We both caught that wave and just ran with it.

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There is definitely a resurgence of great brands you guys are affiliated with, like Def Jam and RocNation. Do you feel this new era is creating more longevity for them?

Styles P: I believe there’s a chance for it. I feel like there were stronger crews back in the day. You had Ruff Ryders, Murder Inc., Roc-a-fella. They were a part of the label, but they were their own crew. I feel like now there are a lot more independent artists who don’t have to depend on the label. With you knowing that, I feel like that takes from those labels being the dynasties they might have been back in the day. But for the people who are on the labels waving that flag and going hard, they can have them. They can come back around. Dave East: My answer is kinda weird. I feel like that’s a good and dope thing only if they are gonna respect the artists’ brands. If they aren’t going to do that with building their artists’ brand and looking at it as a brand partnership then it’s a waste of time. RocNation is not an old one. I like them because their system is not integrated, it’s up to date. There are a couple of places in the industry where things are moving kind of fast and more up to date. Every label out there from old to new to independent, should just respect the artist’s brand, too. Especially if you got a good, talented, intelligent artist. Even if he’s not as hip on his game as he should be, respect and look at him as a brand too that you’re doing business with. I think what hurt a lot of labels before is the way they started treating artists like microwaves. They start throwing anything out there. No A&R is behind it, no story in it, and no care to the package or artist. If its gonna get back to that…we don’t need it. But if it’s gonna be where everybody’s getting smart and respecting brand partnership, perfect.

Speaking of old to new...are there any old tattoos you regret getting? 

Styles P: Not really. I do have, “Hope for the best, and expect the worst.” I don’t expect the worst, I just expect life. I don’t regret getting it, because at the time it fit perfectly. 

Dave East: Nope, because when I look at them they all bring me back to a time in my life. I might have waited, because I got a lot of tats when I was dead broke. I had to mess with the tat dude around the corner and the work he had and when I got a couple dollars I could get some official tat people. So I might have waited. I would’ve waited until I got a doper tattoo artist.