DukeDaGod Discusses AraabMuzik, Dipset Reunion, A-Mafia & More!
Dipset’s A&R DukeDaGod speaks with HipHopGame and discusses his latest album D.I.P. Agenda (in stores and online now), the reunification of the supergroup Dipset, the future of AraabMuzik and many more after the jump!
The D.I.P Agenda seems as though it’s been a long time coming.
It’s a long time coming. My last release was a couple of years ago. I’m so excited about it because we haven’t been in the stores, collectively, together, in a long time so this is a breath of fresh air to everybody. Not just for me, but for the fans too.
Did you fall back when some of the Diplomats were going through their squabbles?
Yeah. See, all that stuff kind of trickled on down to every member, to the J.R. Writers and the Hell Rells and it kind of slowed everybody’s process down a bit. Everybody wasn’t on the same page but luckily everybody is back together again.
What do you think brought Cam and Jim Jones back together?
I just think time. I’m a firm believer that time heals all wounds. Whatever you’re going through, time heals all wounds. It just was timing. Too many years went by. And Dipset was everybody’s favorite group. It just kind of brought everything back together, but it couldn’t have got back together until the wound healed. You just have to let nature take its course. It’s perfect timing. The timing is perfect right now.
How were you affected by Dipset falling apart?
For years it just kind of brought what I do down because I work with all the artists. And then it kind of brought me away because I wasn’t able to work with all the artists that I would like to. I’m always with Cam, Cam is my cousin. I couldn’t really do the things that I used to do because everybody wasn’t on the same page. It kind of brought me down a lot and brought down my whole morale just because I couldn’t do the things I used to do. It was like I was used to shooting a certain weapon and I couldn’t shoot that weapon anymore.
Did you consider branching out at any point?
Nah, I’m a loyal dude. But you know, I don’t believe in breaking away. I believe in reinvention and reinventing myself. I kind of did it through araabMUZIK. He’s not a Diplomat producer. He just produces for the Diplomats. I kind of did it through that and him.
You discovered araab at a young age. What drew you to him?
I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve been around a lot of producers. There was just something about him. I could tell when I met him that there was something special. It’s one of those things that you just know and it’s been good ever since then. He’s been talented ever since I met him but he started to get his notoriety in 2010. It just lets you know that no matter how talented you are, you have to wait in line and now things are moving a lot better.
Did you always have an ear for producers, even before you started working with Cam?
I’ve always had an ear and I’m a real critic of music. It has to feel good. It has to sound good and it has to feel good. I’ve always been into the music and I was giving Cam beats and a lot of our biggest records are beats I picked during our Diplomat reign. I definitely got a good ear for that. I eliminate all the wackness. It’s so populated now. It’s so commercial now and everybody does it now. I weed out all the wack producers and wack shit and I just try to get the nice sounds.
Is there anything specific you listen for in beats?
There’s nothing specific. It just has to feel good and sound good. Things could be off a little bit and it not be right. Like, it might be fucked up, like, ‘Damn, that shit sounds like it’s off somewhere, like the pitch is off,’ but if it feels good, it’s all right with me.
How do you notice your ear changing as the trends change in hip-hop?
There’s only but so much. I try to stay in the sounds of the future. I know how we worked and we were sample-heavy and we had a lot of soulful music but things have progressed since then and we’ve moved into more mainstream with a type of techno. It’s just a movement. I don’t want to be stuck with one sound like a KRS sound or Public Enemy sound. I try to stay in tune with the future and new sounds.
What are your favorite kinds of beats?
Technically, I’m a soulful type of person. I like the warm records. I generally like the sample stuff more so than the techno stuff but I understand how it is right now. You can’t just do the same thing. People want new things. They want a new sound. I like the old sound. I like listening to a lot of old music. I love old music. I listen to a lot of KRS-One and Public Enemy. I think a lot about how those people didn’t even have all that equipment that we have nowadays and all the MPs and the crazy speakers and all the plug-ins that we use to make music and they were still making timeless music that people are going to listen to forever. I do listen to a lot of old stuff but I’m not stupid. I do have a plan for the future and I do stay in the future too.
What are your favorite Diplomat beats that you’ve found?
The “Down and Out” beat. I picked that out years ago when Kanye was no one. Kanye wasn’t even Kanye yet. That was around 2003, 2002. I picked that out. That was one of the earlier one. That came out in ’05 but I picked it up in ’03. We changed it up a little bit like Kanye ended up on it and he wasn’t on it at first. I picked out “Gangsta Music” from the Heatmakerz. Even up-to-date and some of the last records on Cam’s last album. There’s a lot of them. Definitely the ones that stick out are “Down and Out” and “Gangsta Music.” There’s so many though.
Why do you think you guys didn’t do more work with Kanye early on?
Well, I guess it just was the time. At the time he was more of a Rocafella in-house producer and we were promoting within our ranks too with the Heatmakerz and our in-house production. We were doing our own things at the time but it would have been hot to have Kanye do more beats.
Have you had more big-name producers reach out since the Diplomat reunion?
Oh, definitely. We was always on an independent label. We put out our projects independently on Koch. We were on people’s radars and now that we’re back together there are a lot of bigger producers reaching out. I guess it’s pretty much the label and how it’s structured. But we’re definitely too big to be an independent. We need a big machine around us because so many people appreciate our music. With the independents, I don’t think everybody gets a fair chance to hear it.
Will you guys make a split from E1 in the future?
Oh yeah. Yeah. Definitely. I think we outgrew E1 as far as Diplomats. We did that when it wasn’t popular to go that route. We were innovators. Now we need to get it right. We need to touch the whole world. If we had a marketing budget of $200,000 on Koch, we need a $1 million to $1.5 million budget so we can touch everybody. Our marketing budget wasn’t big enough at the time. What are some things that you guys would do with a bigger marketing budget?
There are a bunch of things. There are so many avenues like radio and TV and that’s the most expensive thing. It’s all about business, like with anything. You get what you pay for. You have to spend the money to get the proper listeners. Nothing is free. All them look that you get, that you see major artists get, those aren’t free looks because they like the record. Just because Beyonce comes out with a record, it doesn’t mean everybody’s going to play it. It takes marketing dollars to get shit off the ground. All that shit you see on TV, those aren’t free looks. You have to pay to get those looks. When you’re in the game you see that though.
Even without huge budgets though, you guys seem to have a loyal fanbase that will find everything you release.
Yeah. I know what you mean and it’s excellent because if you spend $2 and you get $4 or $6 back, that’s great. It’s cool but there are so many people and not just in America but in other countries. That’s why we need a machine behind us so we can be in a conversation of the greatest groups. We are one of the greatest groups like Wu-Tang and Onyx. We’re like Wu-Tang where we had a lot of members and they got solo deals. The only difference is Wu-Tang was on a major label and we’ve been more independent.
How do you think things will be different with the Diplomats this time around?
We know what it is now and I just don’t think that everybody wants to be as petty as we were with each other now. We’re a lot older and a lot more mature. We were younger. Everybody’s had a little career. Everybody’s growing up a little bit more. We appreciate each other more than we did before and the situation. I don’t know about everybody coming back together and did everybody talk about why they stopped speaking to each other. I don’t know. But we matured. It’s like when New Edition came back together. I don’t know if they talked about what happened when they were on tour but they’re just moving forward and appreciating each other. It’s going to be a lot of that. Before, it was never genuine. I just think that everything is going to be a lot better. The respect factor is there and the appreciation factor is there. Everybody got a taste of what it feels like to be on their own and we realized that we’re a lot stronger together than separate and on our own. Everybody wants Dipset back.
What’s your process like when you put together an album?
This is my fourth album. I feel like this is my graduation record right here. I generally pick the beats anyway and I do put the records together. I put combinations together. It’s pretty much like we’re working. I love it. It’s the best feeling ever to make records and to have the artists respect you and to respect the artists. It’s real dope. The process is I pick the beats and the artists that I think would be hot on the record. I might not like someone on a record and put them on another record or take someone off because what they said isn’t hot. It’s like training camp. I love it. There’s some good things. It’s like planting a seed and watching it grow up. I love it. It’s the best thing ever.
You guys have been doing more work with McGruff. What’s it like working with him?
It’s dope. I’m with McGruff every day. He’s a little older and he had a taste of success. To me, it’s like he never did nothing wrong. He didn’t put out a wack album. Everything he did was hot, but he just got lost in the sauce. Sometimes you don’t have the right people with you and McGruff is a real street dude. I’m able to dust him off and get him back out there.
Are you looking to work with him more than just features on Diplomat songs?
Hell yeah! We’re working on some shit right now. Definitely, definitely, I’m working with him and A-Mafia and Hell Rell. We’re working. We’re definitely working. I got a lot of stuff coming out in 2011.
A-Mafia has been on the grind and moving up fast in the game. What stood out about A-Mafia when you first met him?
He’s been around for a minute. He did a couple records for Purple City and I snatched him up. He worked with Shiest Bubz and I snatched him up because I thought he was dope. He’s a pleasure to work with. He don’t smoke and he don’t drink. He’s focused. It was just a matter of time with him. Also, though, too as an A&R job, you have to be a good coach and you have to tell the artists what they need to do and give them confidence. He’s a real confident dude himself and he’s always working.
How do you decide what artists should go on each song?
I don’t just want to put people on songs. I don’t want them to just do beats and do music that they think they’re comfortable with. I want to take them out of their comfort zone a little bit. Me being a fan and working with them so much, I think I know what it is more than they know what it is, in my mind at least. Artists will say, ‘Why did you do this?’ It just comes out. It just flows. I just think that it’s just a combination. I try people on certain records but if it doesn’t work, I take them right off, no problem! And I don’t like anything. I don’t like a lot of shit. I’m definitely a hater. I don’t like anything!
Do the guys ever give you a hard time about that?
Yeah. They might call me a hater but they respect it though. They’ll ask me if I like something and I might say it’s all right. But if I like something they know I like it.
Are there any combinations in Dipset that you think work better than others?
I don’t do it off the voices. It just has to feel good. I don’t want to put a Hell Rell on a pop record. With certain rappers, it just has to feel good. That’s another thing. It can’t just sound good. It has to feel good.
Are you happy with how The D.I.P Agenda came out?
Yeah. I pretty much got everything for it. We were just coming together when I finished this so I couldn’t get all the features like Jim Jones and Juelz. I couldn’t get a couple of songs that I wanted to based on the shit that we was going through.
But if you were to put together an album today, would Jim and Juelz do it?
Yeah. Hell yeah. The next one’s going to be even crazier. This is one of my best albums but I just think that my next one will be even better. If you’re doing something and you’re not getting any better at it then you need to stop doing it and do something else. But I feel like my music is getting better.
How did you put “Real Talk” together with Cam and Jadakiss?
That’s an araabMUZIK beat. Cam had did the verse and we’re friends with Jadakiss and Styles P and Sheek and them. We had to stay on their neck to get it done. And also too, our record got pushed back so many times.
Is it ever a challenge not having the songs leak when you have so many people involved in the album?
Yeah, it’s possible but nothing leaked out. I do a good job of holding the music down.
You guys came into the game right before the internet really took off as a legitimate means for promoting music. What’s the best way for you to use the internet?
For promotion. I don’t think everybody’s on the internet. I don’t believe everybody’s on the internet. I live in Harlem and a lot of my neighbors don’t have emails. They’re not internet people. And I don’t believe that everything is on the internet. The internet is good for promotion and awareness and stuff like that, but as far as giving away the music, I, Duke Da God, am not one for giving away free music. You have to tell me why I’m giving away my music for free. It has to make sense because I think anything of any value should not be given away for free. You go to the store and they’re not giving you food for free. They might give you a sample. I’m one to protect the game.
What kind of potential does araabMUZIK have?
I think araab will be bigger than every producer out. I think his potential is unlimited because he’s really talented and it’s not a gimmick. He’s really talented. I think he’ll be bigger than Just Blaze and will be just as big as Kanye. He has a lot of potential. He’s really young and that’s why I don’t want people to put him in a box. He’s too talented.
Are you currently looking for other producers?
I’m not happy with where I’m at. I’m definitely always looking but I just think that for right now, I’m going to focus on araab and get his situation right. I don’t want to lose my focus. I’m just going to focus on araab and his production and his management.
How can up-and-coming producers catch your ear and change your mind?
You have to send me some shit. I check everything. If everything you send me is hot and consistent…I don’t just listen to araab’s music and I like when other people send me music. I’m definitely interested in listening. As far as me working with other producers, they have to impress me because I’m not easily impressed.
Cam and the Heatmakerz made a banger with “Fairy Tale.” Do you see Dipset getting back with the Heatmakerz on a more steady basis?
I hope there’s a couple Heatmakerz records on the album. But the music changed so much. I just hope everything changed with it. I don’t want to go back to the ‘80s and snatch up a B-Boy or no shit like that. I want the new shit. I don’t want a beeper. I don’t want old technology and I don’t want old shit. I want new shit. I’m going to give the Heatmakerz a call when I get a chance. I want to hear their new shit.