The Land of Make Believe, the third album from Kidz in the Hall, isn’t all fairy tales. Bluntly stated, the duo seem frustrated with their amount of success determined to make a name for themselves. Their breakthrough single, “Drivin’ Down the Block” off their previous album put them in the spotlight, but left things unsettled. Headlining a national tour with everything riding on Land of Make Believe, there is hope for a happy ending. SFCritic spoke to the duo (emcee Naledge and producer Double-O) before their recent show at the Independent in San Francisco.
SFCritic (SFC): You’ve described this album as a “make or break,” would you elaborate why?
Double-O (D-O): We felt there was still some contention as to who we were, and how we were different than anybody else, so I think this album is more a definitive album for us to let the fans know if you like it then cool let’s keep going, and if not that’s fine as well.
All photos by Victoria Smith
SFC: What is the confusion around who you are?
Naledge (N): It’s not confusion so much, as much as nobody has any idea who we are. We have been defined largely as underground backpack. Then last album we were defined as hipster. Those are broad statements. We don’t want that type of fan anymore. We want a person who is just in love with Kidz in the Hall. For that to happen, we had to be more personal.
SFC: I’ve heard you say that the character “Naledge” is different than Jabari. On the track “I Am” it’s a little bit more about you as Jabari than Naledge is that because you’re trying to be more personal?
N: I mean those are the types of songs and the types of rhymes I’ve always been able to write and wrote them. I just never put them out. I just don’t care at this point. You get one life, so why not just talk about it. I’m an open book. I’m just more willing to let that type of stuff be heard.
I think sometimes I’m apprehensive about how people are going to take it, but I do this for me at the end of the day. It was comfortable. I was at home and was really able to draw from reflection. It was the first album I ever recorded in Chicago.
SFC: You were saying that in the past you had tracks like this, but you never included them on this album. What was the change this time around?
N: We don’t have a space to put out a solo album. Kidz in the Hall is the vehicle. While before we put together projects that weren’t meant to be albums but ended up being albums, this was the first time that we actually put something together with the idea that we were going to make an album.
D-O: There were precursors with “Inner Me” on the last album. There was actually a decent balance of personal and anecdotal songs on the first album, but nobody heard it. We only sold about four thousand records in the US, so nobody really got a chance to soak in all of that. Everyone knows us from “Driving Down the Block.”
Since most people haven’t listened to all the mixtapes, then we have to give them that world condensed in thirteen songs and taken from the perspective of where we are now, which is very conflicted–often confusing and annoying world where the balance is of what we’ve aspired to be, where we thought we’d be, and where we are in reality.
SFC: That statement is interesting because that’s kind of what the critiques, whether positive, or negative, have been about this album. I mean who cares what reviewer’s say about the album at the end of the day, it’s more about the fans.
D-O: You know I love you guys, but I definitely think that journalists and reviewers have lost their strangle hold on the critical analysis of music. The fact that a leak happens four or five days or a week prior to an album coming out, it doesn’t matter what the magazine says, because the fan can listen to it themselves and immediately make their own decision.
SFC: I totally agree. As a writer I’m more here to show artists as individuals than to critique their work.
D-O: In the same way that the internet has affected us in some positive, and some negative, it’s done the same thing to every other industry associated with it. It’s changed the way we operate when taking in music as a whole, the way we think about it, and analyze it. Before five mics in the Source was a guaranteed purchase, but get five mics in the Source now and no one will buy your record because it means nothing.
SFC: It’s also a problem that all these critics are labeling you backpack rappers because you’re Ivy Leaguers and they have an expectation that you’re going to come out and sound like Vampire Weekend.
D-O: I agree. That is basically what I took from our Pitchfork review. You don’t really know what in their head they’re expecting, but I assume they’re expecting something that could never occur. Just because you spent four years at a college doesn’t mean you negate your entire upbringing. It doesn’t negate where you’re from. Straight-up and down, Naledge is from Southside of Chicago. At the end of the day, he has spent more time there in his life than he has at the University of Pennsylvania.
It’s not like a Harvard, in that it’s cut-off from the rest of the urban metropolis, kids get robbed on campus and there is all other types of stuff that go on. So there wasn’t like this, oh we’re going to come out and be these super hipsters with African rhythms over sampled beats and say quirky-interesting things because that’s not going to last that long.
Naledge was prom king. I was senior class president. We’ve been popular for a little while. At times if Naledge is bragging that’s just the way it is. You can be mad about it if you want. You can want him to be the weird nerd in the back of the class, but it wasn’t that. Well-rounded kids get into college too, not just the misfits.