Dälek have been called "the most innovative hip-hop crew on Earth" by the music magazine XLR8R. After an amazing and hellishly loud concert at the Schocken in Stuttgart I met with Will Brooks, aka MC Dälek for a few words on Hip Hop, Fans, the state America is in and the new album.
R.: Hip Hop artists historically let all kinds of music influence their stuff. Nevertheless it’s quite unusual for a Rap band to say that My Bloody Valentine is one of their main influences. Was this a natural development?
Will Brooks: No, I mean natural in the sense of growing as a person and growing as a music fan. When you first start out – especially when you are 13 or 14 years old – you’re going to have more narrow ideas of what music you like. I think when you are that age music is more than just the music. It dictates who your friends are going to be, it dictates how you’re going to dress, it dictates a lot of things for an adolescent. But I think as you grow… you know just because I grew up in Hip Hop culture doesn’t mean I can’t listen to Metal or I can’t listen to Jazz or I can’t listen to Salsa and so forth. By the time I got to college I was listening to a lot of Classic Rock and Jazz along with Hip Hop and along with Salsa and Merengue a little bit. I met Octopus [second band member and Producer of Dälek] while we were in College and he was recording this band called All Natural Lemon And Lime Flavors who were very influential in where our sound went. They were fans of My Bloody Valentine as well and they were the ones that introduced me into the Shoegazer world. I just had not heard anything like that before. I bought their records and My Bloody Valentine’s. When I heard Loveless – that was it. That was… wow. Just the idea of vocals being buried in the mix rather than being so upfront which is a very big part of what Hip Hop is… It’s not that I’m trying to bury the meaning of my lyrics. I just feel that it’s more important to write a complete song than it is to have a beat and lyrics. I want to have a song that has good lyrics, you know what I mean? I want a good song that has good lyrics. That is the process really. And again – as you grow – I am 33 now - taste changes, taste evolves. You listen to more things, you listen to different things. Some of the things I used to love when I was 14 they don’t really move me the way they used to. That’s a process of growing as a person and as a musician. It’s natural in that sense. I understand that not every Hip Hop group claims My Bloody Valentine as an influence but it’s more about the mindset of Hip Hop. Hip Hop has always been influenced by different types of music. It’s the whole DJ mentality, the whole DJ culture that Hip Hop is based on. That is what we really hold true to more than anything. We obviously have the drums that “Boom, Bam”, the bass lines, the Hip Hop lyrics. And then everything else around it is obviously different than what you hear in mainstream but that’s the beauty of Hip Hop. If you listen to A Tribe Called Quest they did that and added Jazz to their equation. If you listen to Public Enemy they added more of a noise factor mixed with James Brown and Funk. That is the beauty of Hip Hop. You can have all these different types of it. I don’t think that what we do should be the only kind of sound. I just think it’s one of many possibilities.
R.: When I first heard your sound it reminded me of Godflesh.
W.B.: I think that’s absolutely fine. The fact that it’s Hip Hop only matters to me. It’s how it’s created. It’s what my culture is. It’s how this music was made. Honestly, I don’t really care what anyone calls it. I don’t care if the most dedicated Hip Hop head thinks that we’re not. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know where I grew up, he doesn’t know what I’ve been through. He doesn’t know my influences. He doesn’t know the fact that I started DJing when I was 13 years old, that I’ve been in Hip Hop since then. I started rhyming at 15. Hip Hop is my culture. It’s in my blood. It’s in everything I do. I’ve always said: I don’t care if I pick up a Banjo – what I do is gonna be Hip Hop because that’s what I am. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gonna sound like anything recognizable. That’s the starting point, the core of me. As a 33 year old man I would hope that my views and my tastes are broader than this box that is become what Hip Hop is or isn’t. Which is a funny thing when you think about it: Hip Hop was always about breaking the boundaries and always about being original. Originality is a big part of Hip Hop culture like expressing yourself and doing your thing. It is funny that now - 30 years later – Hip Hop has been placed into this box. And now it’s like if you’re outside of this box or on the fringes people are like “Oh no, that’s not Hip Hop.” But again, honestly, there is no other judge other than me. I decide what this is ‘cause it’s my music. People can call it what they want. Like you said you heard the Godflesh angle and I think that’s beautiful. The beauty of music is the fact that I created something 3000 miles away in Newark, New Jersey and I meet people in Germany, I meet people in France, I meet people in Japan that are connecting with it for whatever reason. I don’t necessarily know that we are connecting on every level. It doesn’t work that way. But the beauty of music is that there are these things that you hear in it that all of us could connect with it just as humanity. And I think that’s the beautiful thing in music. Man, when I started I’d never thought that I’s be here in Stuttgart sitting outside doing an interview with a kid rockin’ a shirt that we made, you know what I mean? [laughs] It’s definitely humbling. It’s a very humbling thing.
R.: So is it more about connecting with people all over the world than gaining some odd kind of credibility in the Hip Hop community?
W.B.: I got the respect from the people that matter to me. I got the respect from Kool Herc, I got the respect from Prince Paul, I got the respect from De La Soul, I got the respect from KRS and I got the respect from my peers such as Mike Ladd, Airborn Audio, Beans – and all these cats that we’ve played shows together and where there’s this mutual respect. That’s all that matters. I’m definitely humbled by the fact that people that I consider legends have embraced us and said “Damn, you’re doing something that is different and pushing the envelope!” And that’s what it’s about. Music can’t stay stagnant. Yeah, I could listen to whatever is on the radio right now and what people consider the most Hip Hop, whatever the fuck that means and I could emulate that. I could write a song that sounds just like Nelly or whatever. But does that make me more credible because you’re a carbon copy of what’s popular right now? I’d rather be an outcast, an outsider and be doing something that 15, 20, 30 years down the line people are still gonna be like “Damn, those kids where doing that?” and then “In ’98, in 2000, they dropped that record in 2005?” We did. When nobody… all these little trends and subgenres come and go and everyone tries to put us into “Oh, they’re Glitch Hop, oh they’re Trip Hop, oh they’re… Post Hop.” I don’t give a fuck what you call us. You know what? We’ve been here for ten years and we’re still doing records and we’re still touring. All those fake genres have come and gone. All those trends have come and gone and us – we’re still here and we’re still making records that – honestly – I’m very, very proud of and very happy with. That’s what is most important. The bottom line is that I just want to keep making good, good music. The day when I feel I’m making good music that’s the day I’ll stop.
R.: Is that also what you were talking about in “Culture For Dollars”?
W.B.: Yeah, pretty much. But people misunderstand that I don’t like mainstream Hip Hop, I do. I just feel that there is good mainstream Hip Hop and there’s bad mainstream Hip Hop just as there’s good underground Hip Hop and there’s terrible underground Hip Hop. My problem is that all the attention only gets shined on mainstream Hip Hop because there’s so much money behind it and there’s such a huge industry. But like I said, if you listen to A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy they don’t really sound anything like each other. If you listen to N.W.A., Gang Starr, Mobb Deep – there’s like all these different styles of Hip Hop and that’s what I loved about it when it started that you had the possibility to have all these different types of sound. And I feel like the sounds are still here, there’s a mad different types of groups but the only ones that get the attention are the mainstream acts. For better or for worse I think an artist like Jay-Z when he puts his mind to it he makes some unbelievable records. I think The Black Album is probably one of the best albums I heard in a long time. I think Timbaland is an unbelievable producer. I really like the work that he does and that’s mainstream as hell. What I was talking about in Culture For Dollars is that you need to know what you are. In my eyes you shouldn’t try to do something just for the money of it. If Timbaland is making beats because he really loves the way that shit sounds which I think he does and he can make a million Dollars or whatever per track – God bless him. That’s the way it should be. But I feel that I’m not gonna change my sound to try to make more money but my sound evolves naturally the way it has on its trajectory. And if by chance for one of my songs someone wants to pay me million Dollars, shit, I’m gonna take it. I hate that when motherfuckers in the underground are like “oh no, fuck that!” Man, yeah it’s about the love but let’s get realistic about this: We all gotta eat and we all try to survive. There’s nothing wrong with making money. But there is something wrong with changing your sound just to make the money. If you’re doing what you’re doing and people dig it and they want to buy it, shit - good! Why not? Culture For Dollars is more about that side of it – people selling their culture for Dollars. If you keep your culture and you make Dollars that’s fine.
R.: There is this story about his German band The Notwist – I don’t know if you heard of them…
W.B.: I know them.
R.: …and they were offered a pile of money by a phone company in Germany who wanted to use one of their songs for an advertisement. The Notwist declined but the company kept calling back raising the offer but the band still declined. To this day they still don’t want to make a big fuzz about it.
W.B.: If they are already in a financial position where they don’t need the money - cool. If someone approached me and offered me half a mill. – I’d take it. Honestly. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take care of your family, wanting to take care of your bills. We’re artists and it’s a rough business. You make the money when you can make it. It’s like a sports career. Very narrow window, you know what I mean? [laughs] So again, if they are in a position they felt they didn’t want the song being used for whatever commercial – it’s their song. There’s nothing wrong with saying yes or saying no. I think it’s cool that they don’t feel like they need to talk more about it ‘cause that is their decision, period.
R.: That was my point. It’s not important that they said yes or no, it’s just important that they said it was their decision.
W.B.: Exactly. It’s your music. You should be able to do what you want to do with it.
R.: Can you live off your music right now?
W.B.: Yeah. Lately it’s been better than it’s been. I don’t have an escalator and I don’t have a mansion. But I’m paying my bills. The money comes when it comes and sometimes it’s a fucking dry spell where there’s nothing. It’s just something that you got to know how to manage your money. I try not to buy bottles of Courvoisier [laughs] …or whatever. I know better. I don’t need gold chains, I need a roof over my head. What’s more important to me is paying my rent. [laughs] But I understand how lucky I am to even be in this position. There’s a million musicians out there. Just the fact that we’ve got into this level means a lot. There’s a million motherfuckers that would love to trade positions with me. I never take any of this for granted. There’s days when you don’t want to go on stage. There’s day when it’s like any other job. Maybe you don’t feel good, maybe you’re sick, maybe whatever - but you know what? The people that pay to come see you they don’t give a shit about that. They want to see you put on a good show. So you just suck it up and you do it. You gotta keep in mind that maybe you don’t feel like doing this but there’s a lot of motherfuckers that are starving and would love to do this shit. That’s always a motivating factor and that is always in the back of my head.
R.: Do you see a difference between the audience in Europe and the States? Here it’s more like 99% white males from colleges…
W.B.: I think that is just Hip Hop audiences anyway at this point. It’s white male college kids that are buyin’ records all over the world. That is the audience. It doesn’t make me happy and it doesn’t make me sad. I’m just happy anyone wants to listen. Would I like to see a more diverse audience? Sure! Of course I would but I think it’s a matter of economics. Who has the disposable income to be able to pay an extra amount of money to buy a record or come to a show? There is a difference because we’ve tended to play with more of a variety of groups in America so we’ve done a lot of tours with classic Hip Hop groups. We toured with Prince Paul. We did some shows with Kool Herc. We toured with The Pharcyde, we toured with De La Soul. We did a couple of shows with KRS. But again we played with KRS and it was in Vermont and I’d say 85% of the audience was white males. It’s not just a phenomenon because we have noisy guitars. Obviously that’s a factor. But it’s weird: I know a ridiculous amount of kids in the hood that are straight Hip Hop heads. I play ‘em the shit that we do and these kids they are lovin’ it, they are feelin’ it. But to them it’s more important… the roof over your head is more important than buying a record or going to a show. Sometimes that isn’t a possibility unless you’re playing a free show. I think that is just beyond music. I think that is a matter of economics.
R.: Because you also touch politics in your lyrics… what do you think about the current state of the U.S. or what do you think about the upcoming elections?
W.B.: I’m going to vote for Obama. I think he has a good chance of winning. I think he’ll be a thousand times better than Bush. And I think that that will change things about 3%. The person in power is not the problem - it’s the system. We got a democratic order republic and it’s big industry and business that have their claws in the government. And it’s what they want that gets done. It’s just designed for the rich not the poor. I think it’s a wonderful thing that we’ll have an African-American President, if that happens. That is a beautiful, amazing thing. More than anything – besides the whole race issue – I’m just going to be happy to have a president that’s eloquent. I won’t have to be embarrassed every time a president opens his mouth. At least I know that he’ll be able to talk to people correctly. [laughs] Not like Bush that we had for the last 8 years who sounds like a fucking redneck. On that side of things I think things will change a little bit for the better. Enough to placate the masses. To make them feel like things are going to get better. But at this point it’s like trying to turn around a fucking Ocean liner ship. The guy’s only get 4 years to try to correct what’s been done in the last 8, you know what I mean? And a lot’s been fucked up… Things are going to change a little bit but you can’t correct everything in 4 years. It’s utterly impossible. But it’s Baby steps. But again… it’s a system designed for the rich. It’s not like Obama is coming from the hood. I’m not saying the man hasn’t struggled and hasn’t achieved a lot in his life because he has. That is definitely an amazing, commendable thing but the more he stays in Washington is his concern really going to be the impoverished family in South Central L.A. or in Harlem or in Kansas? Or is it going to become more of a political thing where he wants to keep his job and keep everyone happy and make decisions that may end up hurting people? He’s in a rough spot, I wouldn’t want his job. But I prefer him over Hillary Clinton and I definitely prefer either one of them over McCain or over what we’ve had which has been a fucking debacle. I think it’ll be good on the surface level. And the world needs it. For everything that Bush did how Americans are viewed around the world – I think it’d be nice to have a person of eloquence, a person that can speak to be our leader. We’ll see what happens. I try not to be pessimistic, I try to be realistic. I don’t expect rainbows and sunshine just because he gets elected. [laughs] I don’t think it works like that.
R.: What can we expect from your next album? I heard Octopus talking earlier about including stuff from your childhood or something…
W.B.: It’s probably one of the heaviest albums we’ve done. The childhood reference is just ‘cause it sounds a lot like us doing - and this is very abstract, not to be taken literally – Black Sabbath mixed with Throbbing Gristle and obviously still some Gang Starr, Mobb Deep. But it’s ill man. It’s by far one of my favorite albums. But I think that every time we make a new one.
R.: What’s it called?
W.B.: It’s going to be called “Gutter Tactics”. The record's finished, we’re just waiting on the artwork. We have some mastering decisions to make with some of the versions we’re not exactly happy yet but everything should be resolved soon and it should be out on schedule January ’09. It’ll be good.