Duck Down Records has always been synonymous with gritty, New York City, street rap and Smif N Wessun have been one of the label’s biggest acts since day one. On October 23rd Smif N Wessun, AKA Tek and Steele, will be releasing their fourth full length LP, simply titled “The Album”, and this week they sat down with RapReviews to discuss the recording process, which included going into seclusion in the Scandinavian mountains, how other countries viewed them as Americans, and in what ways they feel their age gives them a distinct advantage in today’s Hip-Hop scene.
Adam Bernard: You used Scandinavian producers this time around. What went into the decision to switch up the production? Were you bored, or did these guys just connect with you better?
Steele: It was time for a change, man. It was time for us to go in the mountains like when Rocky did when he had to make that strong solid comeback. We knew that cats was looking at the game funny and we couldn’t come with no fucked up shit because we already have people thinking the game is dead. Our position is we’re far from thinking that, so how could we add on but also go out and get in tune with what we brought to the game when we first came into it, which was Tek and Steele, which was Mr. Smif and Mr. Wessun, so we took it to place where we didn’t have no excuses, no distractions and we just went in.
AB: Where were these woods that you went in?
Steele: We recorded a great deal of the album in Sundsvall, up in the mountains. If you look on the map that shit is almost by the North Pole. It was extremely cold and icy.
Tek: It’s close to Scandinavia, by the mountains.
“You had to Google to get to us!”
AB: So you really did go up in the mountains to record the album.
Steele: Yeah, it was a great experience.
Tek: You had to Google to get to us!
AB: Did you have a lot of communication with New York and America?
Steele: We spent a lot of money on phone cards and internet.
Tek: But the thing about it, we weren’t really trying to make those calls home, we were trying to focus on the business at hand which was making this Smif N Wessun album and just tune out everything else.
AB: Why did you feel it was important to go into that seclusion?
Tek: I think as an artist there are times when you just have to focus, you have to black out, cut your email off, cut your telephone off and just get under a rock, so to speak, so you can put your best efforts forward.
“Word, we’re like diplomats, man. We need to get a check from the government because we did well in a lot of situations that were fiery.”
AB: You mentioned earlier there are people who are saying Hip-Hop is either dead or dying. As established artists who are still releasing work does that make you feel like the kid in class raising his hand like “I have the answer?”
Steele: Nobody has the answer, man. What you have to remember is you have urban neighborhoods all over the world and whatever color, whatever nationality you have, you need a platform to express yourself and it just so happened that Hip-Hop was born out of those conditions. So we don’t have the answer, we just gotta do our part.
Tek: Plus it was fun going right into towns in the middle of the hood, the projects, when we (America) were actually at war with these people that we were over there with and they were steady accepting us and we were learning about their history at the same time they were vibing us out.
Steele: Word, we’re like diplomats, man. We need to get a check from the government because we did well in a lot of situations that were fiery on that side. A lot of people look at America in a certain way and it’s like people think that we believe in everything that our president says. Not to get too political right now, but in the same sense every time you open your mouth you got a lot of people listening so you got to make sure what you say is what you mean.
“Don’t get it twisted, racism exists all over the world.”
AB: I’ve heard overseas race is viewed a lot differently and people are a lot cooler about it than they are in America. Is that so?
Steele: You got to think, man, people got bigger fights than race, race is such a small fight. We’re still stuck in the 60’s. In America our biggest fight is the power game. People are trying to position themselves in a place where they can take care of their families and if the people that’s jeopardizing that happen to be a different race, or a different color, or a different ethnic or religious background, I might start looking at their whole people wrong, and that’s what racism is. It’s not black or white, sometimes you have Latinos who don’t like other Latinos, sometimes you have black people who don’t like other black people. So it’s all about a bias in this class system where you’re trying to push your power up front. We’re always gonna have that man, but when you go overseas and just get to see the lightheartedness, so to speak, because people got other shit that they’re dealing with. Everybody don’t recognize that, you gotta be American, but we deal with this shit so much every day that we tend to forget.
Tek: But don’t get it twisted, racism exists all over the world. It was just on the news how in these cities that are like five miles from each other, they’re within walking distance of crossing the street of each other and they hate each other and they only thing that really might bring them together is sports. In this time the only thing that brings people together with racism is the music, that’s why it’s got to be pure, from the heart, when you do it.
AB: When you look at the industry that you’re releasing this album into and you see that it’s sort of being run by teenagers at this point, at least in terms of urban music a lot of the stars, I don’t even want to call them stars, a lot of the people recording music are 16-19 years old. How much of a leg up does being 10-15 years older than them give to you?
Steele: Great question. I’ll tell you one thing, man, it’s like looking at the city from a helicopter. You get to see how they formatted the blocks and then you start to be able to know your position and where you’ll be able to place yourself and how you can maneuver around the city. We just learned how to maneuver around this game a little better. We’ve been with the same component since we entered the game, Duck Down, big up Dru Ha, and we’ve actually watched a lot of these people that you say are stars study the game, so a lot of people that may be in a position now are only in the position because individuals like myself and my partners have chopped down so many trees that now you have a clear spectrum to place yourself in a position to be in the eye of the mass public. It goes around and comes around because now you hear people are constantly saying we need that real Hip-Hop, but what you fail to realize is that everything is an extension from that first initial seed that was planted. What we’ll do is continue to grow and when it comes back to us we got to show why we’re legends, why we’re able to put a fourth album out, who would even care about that. Some people can’t do that and they can’t sustain over the times and the turbulence that this game brings to you, so we keep our ear to the streets, we stay in tune with the current events, we be in the neighborhoods talking to the youth, so we know what that struggle is like, we know what it’s like being a teenager and feeling like nobody don’t listen to you, or nobody don’t care, or that people think they’re just kids that don’t know what they’re talking about. We communicate with each other and we try to do that through our music on a worldwide spectrum.
AB: I’m glad you mentioned a lot of people are calling for real Hip-Hop, but what happens when the albums drop? If the people are demanding it, which they are, and the albums come out, how come no one’s going to the record store?
Tek: Great question.
Steele: I’ll tell you one thing, man, you got what you call complacency. Cats get complacent with what’s on the radio and they say well if that that’s what’s popular then that’s all that’s going on. Then you have others that know that there’s so much going on that they tend to dig a little deeper. That’s why you have the internet which is a major competitor with commercial radio. The only difference between the internet and commercial radio is just that word in itself, which is commercial. The radio has people who now put more money into making sure that this is displayed where as on the internet it’s kind of a free for all, first come first serve, if you find it you find it, if you don’t you don’t. It’s kind of like a community that’s based on word of mouth and I’d say it’s almost good because with the position that we’ve been in, which is an independent company, we’ve always been tuned to how to work our albums, we’ve always had good relationships with cats at the radio, college radio, internet magazines and so on and so forth. Just like any other project, we put it together, we hit the streets and we work it.
“Smif N Wessun will always be known as trendsetters and that’s why we’re at where we’re at.”
AB: Hey, I’m community volunteer at a college radio station.
Steele: We used to tour the college circuit but now the college circuit wants to be like commercial radio a lot of times. If you’re playing music you want to be popular, you want your station to be popular, so if people are requesting what’s popular because they want to dance or party then you may succumb to that. At the same time if you’re a writer or a DJ who can break music then that’s your job and that itself may put you in a status like Smif N Wessun because Smif N Wessun will always be known as trendsetters and that’s why we’re at where we’re at.
AB: Personally, I spin the artists I enjoy, no matter how unknown they may be, and figure if I have one listener who digs the show it makes it all worthwhile. This leads to what will be my final question of the day; what were some of the radio shows you grew up on?
Tek: Before I started rappin I used to listen to Awesome 2 a lot and what they did for me was play music I had never heard before and I would record that on my cassette and I would take that to school on Monday. They came on at like 2am. The Hank Love Radio Show and the Awesome 2 radio show, they’d come on at two and four in the morning and I never could remember actually staying up for a whole show so I would leave my cassette tape in the whole night until it ran out. I would try to get a 120 minute tape so I could get as much as I possible could and I would go back to school the next Monday and I would have all of the new shit. When I popped up in school with the Walkman I would have to have the biggest headphones and I’d go and play it for my homies. They ain’t heard none of the shit before and they be tripping. When you first heard Slick Rick’s “Treat Her Like A Prostitute” with both verses you lost your mind. So you never know what’s out there unless the DJs play it.