Dollar Coffee. For the Starbucks generation it’s an oxymoron, but there are still places where you can get coffee for a dollar. It won’t have whip cream, or chocolate sprinkles, or come in a size with a strange name. It’s one-size-fits-all, 100% pure coffee with nothing thrown in that will destroy its intended flavor. This is a perfect parallel to the Brooklyn, NY, hip-hop duo of BS and Albert Rhymestein (pictured L to R), aka Dollar Coffee. Their music is 100% pure hip-hop, all energy, lyricism and beats with no unnecessary additives. When they perform they motivate the crowd the way a hip-hop act should – with their skills. This week, on the heels of the release of their debut album, Nice Things, RapReviews caught up with BS and Albert Rhymestein to find out more about the history of Dollar Coffee, some of their most memorable moments on stage, which include a night performing at the famed Apollo Theater, and the last time either of them actually saw coffee for a dollar in NYC.

Adam Bernard: I know you both as solo artists. How did you come up with the idea to do the Dollar Coffee project?

BS: Well, it started with our bi-weekly “SWS” (Sunday Writing Sessions) at my old apartment with beatboxer Grey Matter and singer QV. The project was originally titled BARS (BS + AR = BARS) but after digging deeper into collaborating and exploring different types of songs, we decided that dropping a project titled BARS in NYC could lead to limiting assumptions about our music.

Albert Rhymestein: BS + AR = BARS was just supposed to be a short one-off collaboration, so once we actually started writing more music together with no definitive end in sight, it made sense to expand it into a full project. Plus, though the letters B, S, A, and R can be combined to Spells BARS, as well as BRAS, that little bit of an initials gimmick does not make up for the fact that dropping a rap album called BARS in 2011 is like launching a new candy called MilkyKat SkittlesBurst – it has already been done.

AB: How does the Dollar Coffee project differ from your solo work?

BS: By and large Dollar Coffee is fun, energetic, quasi-traditional hip-hop music infused with witty social commentary over diverse, banging beats. We strive to blend old school principles with new school flavor. DC is LIVE. As far as my solo work goes, it tends to be more abstract and has a tendency to dip off into darker directions. I’d say DC embraces the more traditional aspects of our musical preferences.

AR: Dollar Coffee mostly differs from my solo work in that it exists at all {*laughs*}. With the exception of one-off collabos or random joints recorded and dropped over the past few years, I actually do not yet have a solo record under my belt. That’s next on the horizon. But in response to BS, there are things I’ve been able to do with Dollar Coffee that won’t happen on my solo work. The musical intimacy you develop working with another emcee over the better part of a year and the natural repartee that then seeps into the music is not possible alone. Regretfully, on my first solo project, I probably will not be swapping bars with myself. Emphasis on probably. Plus, it’s just fun as hell to rock on stage with another emcee on a regular basis.

AB: What about your styles make it so you work so well together?

BS: We’re both goofy, dynamic, intelligent personalities who love hip-hop and love having fun. Under that umbrella, AR’s the flame-flow-er; he’s going to hit you with some crazy flows and musicality and really dope lyrics you’re going to want to replay immediately. My style tends to veer towards more verbose, denser writing and form-meets function dynamic flows and delivery. I love to hide easter eggs in my lyrics, for most they take some time to digest. I’d say the balance is struck between AR’s musicality and my density. He hits you straight on, you fall in love with his sound and writing, you catch a few of the things I said, repeat and continue to love AR and then catch more and more of the intricacies of my writing.

AR: Well, that and the fact we both used to rollerblade back in the day. Oh, also the Irish-Cuban connection – it’s like a Shepherd’s Pie filled with chorizo. Seriously, though, I think our styles work well together because we’re both very dynamic and interesting individuals. We get along well – that is, when BS isn’t preventing us from having Nice Things. Had to throw that album plug in there. {*laughs*} – but we also differ from one another quite significantly in our interests, experiences, opinions, ideologies. I think our varied individual experiences and random subject matter expertise combine and collectively give us so much material to work with. We both read and keep up with current events. We spend time with non-hip-hop folk and work 9-5s not related to music in any way whatsoever. A dope verse I write inspires BS to up the ante, and we enjoy engaging one another lyrically, which will be obvious with all of the back-and-forth bar swapping that is prevalent on the album.

AB: You just completed the first Dollar Coffee album. Give everyone the run down of what the listening experience is going to be like?

AR: We’re very excited to be offering (our album) Nice Things to the masses, but we’re hesitant to say too much because we want listeners to go into the album with as few expectations as possible. We’ve got incredible production on the album by K.O. Beatz, Willie Green, Spills, AM Breakups, brokeMC, Steel Tipped Dove, Mic-L, Manuel Silva and more. We’ve got unbelievably dope features by Rabbi Darkside, Deathrow Tull, PremRock, Dru the Monster, and DJ M-Tri. To top it all off, Jelani the MC recorded, mixed, and mastered the entire album to perfection. We’re going to take you a lot of different places on the album, and the most I’ll say is this – Nice Things will make you want to dance, drive around with the windows down, drink a beer, make a new friend, take the batteries out of your clock, go to a party, think twice about ordering Chinese food, and wear slippers to work.

AB: One of your songs is “C.R.E.A.M.,” which is a totally unique interpretation of the Wu-Tang song of the same name, your version being “coffee rules everything around me.” Do you know if anyone from Wu has heard your version and if they have what they think of it?

BS: {*laughs*} I have no idea. That would be dope, though. I hope it made them chuckle a little bit. I’m imagining Ghost and Rae two-stepping to the hook.

AR: “I brew atomically / Socrates’ espresso beans and steamed heavy cream makes Dunkin’ seem a mockery!”

AB: How’d you come to land on the name Dollar Coffee for yourselves?

BS: I’m not even entirely sure anymore how we came up with Dollar Coffee. We spent one night just brainstorming names, using a random word generator and all that nonsense instead of making music and out of nowhere AR goes… I’m pretty sure it was AR… “DOLLAR COFFEE!” We talked it out like, what do you do when drinking coffee? Read, write, listen. How do we start our days? Drinking coffee. What does coffee do? It wakes you up. What’s the best, and smartest, coffee to buy in NYC? Dollar Coffee. It’s the only place you can find all walks of life at the same time on a regular basis, whether it’s the Wall Street cat breaking a hundred or the homeless guy paying in change. Something about a Dollar Coffee, whether it’s the small blue cup or the larger variety, there’s a character and history to it, it’s very much tied to the racing pulse of the city that never sleeps.

AR: I have no idea what BS is talking about. D.o.l.l.a.r. C.o.f.f.e.e. is an acronym: Dinosaurs Once Lived, Lions Always Roar, Certain Opportunities Fade Fast… Embrace Each.

AB: You’ve been performing as duo for quite a while now. What have been some of your most memorable experiences from your live performances?

BS: Amateur Night at The Apollo was huge. At this point in time it’s easily the most validating musical experience of my life. We didn’t place, but we made it through our entire song and got some love at the end. Dollar Coffee made it through the most infamous “Hater-Filled” (show) in the world relatively unscathed. Plus, that was the first time my folks saw me do my thing on stage and all of the sudden it translated to them. After the Apollo, they “got it.”

AR: Since BS went the route of memorable-in-a-positive way, I’ll throw a little negativity in there {*laughs*}. We did a show once at the Bowery and the DJ for the night was dope. He was on point for all of the performers – quick transitions, tasteful cuts, but only occasionally scratching – one less thing to worry about, or so we thought. Well, as soon as we get on stage the DJ decides it’s time to put his friend behind the wheels since, clearly, it’s not like we actually rap and say words that are most effective when intelligible. Long story short, DJ center-of-attention just scratched during about 1/3 of our set, even after I called him out from the stage to cool out multiple times. We still rocked our hardest and put on a good show, but it just sticks with me as a picture-perfect example of the unprofessional behavior and disrespect that can occur in a scene filled with so many artists who also want to be seen and heard.

AB: Speaking of the scene, being that you are two of the younger artists making an impact, have any of the older artists who’ve been there for a while given you any advice? If so, who was the artist and what was the advice?

BS: “Someone you can trust as an artist: Gold. Someone you can trust as an artist AND as a human: Priceless” – Jesse Abraham

“Respect your audience, know what makes you dope, and kick it with the dopest people you know.” – Hired Gun

“BS, you’re a complicated, intelligent dude. Not a lot of people are going to understand you right off the bat. Don’t sweat that or let it discourage you. Keep doing you and they’ll catch up.” – Tah Phrum Duh Bush

“Get your ass to Europe” – iLLspoKinN

AR: The majority of the cats I’ve met since entering into this scene have been incredibly supportive and always willing to share their experience and the things that may have taken them years of trial and error to finally learn. The first few times I ever attended a show where Jesse Abraham was present he’d always ask me, after every performer, “What did they just do well?” and “What would you have done differently/liked to see?” They’re simple questions, but they naturally emerge when your attitude as an artist is to constantly observe and learn from others in a way that positively impacts your own growth. Though it’s not really advice, I very much look to an individual like Rabbi Darkside as a model of success on an artistic and human level. He is a teacher and a veteran emcee, DJ, and beatboxer, who tours nationally and internationally on a regular basis, and yet still has time to make dope music and support a broader culture of talented artists. I also remember the first Hip-Hop Subway Series I ever attended, which marked my initial foray into the NYC scene. Dyalekt was the first person there to spark up a conversation with me, and he made me feel like I genuinely belonged there, which was reassuring and exciting.

AB: Finally, when was the last time you actually saw coffee for a dollar?

BS: {*laughs*} This morning in Bushwick! Prior to that, I was mad cool with my cart-guy in South Slope. Dude hooked it up with a large coffee AND a bagel for a buck.

AR: When our mutual friend and fellow emcee PremRock texted me a picture of a styrofoam cup from a bodega with “1.00 coffee” written on the side in sharpie. It was like seeing an extinct species playing in my back yard.