Whether you call it hardcore hip-hop, street rap, or reality rap, The Dayton Family have been at the forefront of the genre since the 90s. The Flint, Michigan, trio of Bootleg, Backstabba and Shoestring pride themselves on crafting music that simultaneously rattles listeners while making them think. As a solo artist, Bootleg (pictured center) is releasing a new single titled “Fantasy,” featuring Left Eye, on April 25th, the ten year anniversary of the TLC member’s passing, and RapReviews caught up with Bootleg to find out how the song, which we have a stream of in this feature, came together. Bootleg also discussed his love of Juggalos, the biggest mistake he feels he’s made professionally, and selling zebras in the street. Yes, you read that last part right, selling zebras in the street. Now THAT’S hardcore!

Adam Bernard: As a member of The Dayton Family you have been purveyors of hardcore hip-hop. When you turn on the radio today and hear what mainstream hip-hop has become, with the emo and the sing-rapping, what’s your reaction?

Bootleg: It’s weak as fuck. I mean, a lot of it is weak. I don’t want to come across as being a hater, but some of it is just watered down. I’m from the Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, slap a bitch, era, so I’m more into that kind of music. That singing and stuff? I think if you’re gonna be an R&B singer then sing R&B. If you’re gonna be a rap artist then be a rap artist.

AB: What can hardcore hip-hop accomplish in 2012? What might it be needed for?

B: First off it needs somebody to stand up for it and represent it. Everybody’s trying to get to the same place in the same vehicle in the same lane. Everybody’s trying to do the same thing. That’s why rap is so watered down. There ain’t no variety in rap no more. Back when I first started in rap there was east coast music; you had Das Efx and EPMD and Method Man, Redman. You could go out west and there’s Snoop and Ice Cube and NWA. Then you could go midwest and have Bone Thugs N Harmony, Dayton Family. You had a variety of music. Now it’s just all one sound, one conversation. Everybody rappin about drugs, chains, money and cars and liquor. That’s it. That’s the rap game. I can make a song about all that. That’s easy, though. I think it’s the cheater’s way out to go that way. I’m going in the total opposite direction. I’m saying, what happened to being broke sometimes? Ain’t nobody talkin about struggling no more. Every rapper (claims to be) rich. Where are the broke rappers? Where are the people that are hurtin and strugglin? Everybody life ain’t good that rap.

AB: And we are still in a recession.

B: Right. They’re glorifying shit that people ain’t got. I don’t see how you can ride around to a record about Bentleys and chains and mansions and shit like that when you’re living in the ghetto and can’t pay a water bill. That’s just how I feel.

AB: You’re readying the release of “Fantasies,” which is a single featuring Left Eye. How did that collaboration come together?

B: It was a girl named Tabeth, who recently passed from lupus. She was good friends with my group member Backstabba. At the time she was living in Atlanta, GA, and she was a close friend of Left Eye’s. She contacted me and told me she could arrange for me to meet Lisa. I flew to Georgia. I met her, and she was nice. I could tell you fifty stories. It was a beautiful experience, and after meeting her I paid her out my pocket and we did the record.

AB: You said you have fifty Left Eye stories. Could you share one that maybe captures who she was?

B: OK. This one is just, I don’t know… I’ma go this deep, fuck it. She had a male model living with her when I came out there. In the world of rap I’m used to men really being dominant and controlling the relationships and friendships. It was totally the opposite with her. She wore the drawers. When I got there she had a male model. This dude was chiseled up, cut, he ripped, he buff, but he ain’t got no self esteem. She’s walking all over him. We went to four or five clubs, and every club we went to she got in the car with a different gentleman and we went to the next club. At the end of the day a gang of us went to her house, and she brought company home, and she had a male model living with her, and he sat down in the basement with us while she kicked it with her other friends. She was doing things men usually do. That’s what I remember about her. She had a strong personality.

AB: It sounds like she wore the pants.

B: Definitely. 100%.

AB: You haven’t released a solo album since 2005. Is one on the way?

B: Yes, I’m working on an album I’m titling Viral. I’m about 12 songs in.

AB: How many do you want to have done before you start cutting things down for the album?

B: I’ma at least do 30

AB: You performed at The Gathering of The Juggalos in 2010.

B: I performed three years in a row.

AB: What was that experience was like.

B: That’s the best fan base in the world. I want to thank ICP for giving us the opportunity to be introduced to that world, because that’s a world of fans that was right under our nose that we didn’t even know existed. Once we got over there they loved us cuz we were hands on. We weren’t backstage in the campers, or in the VIP, we slept out in the tents with them and we kicked it. For three days in a row we were minglin, taking pictures, signing autographs, and kickin it. We love the Juggalos.

AB: I was going to ask what happens backstage, but it sounds like you didn’t spend any time there.

B: The only time I went back there was when there was an artist performing that I wanted to meet.

AB: Who’d you end up meeting?

B: I met Cube, I kicked it with Juvenile and Mystikal and Busta Rhymes.

AB: Has there ever been an artist that’s come up to you and said they were a fan that you were taken aback by, that left you feeling especially honored?

B: Yes, a lot. A lot of have mentioned us in their music and I would like to thank them, cats like Lil’ Boosie, and a lot of the newer rappers that done came up. I’m real cool with Bun B. Pimp C was my man. I’m sure we influenced a whole lot of the cats that’s new. Bizzy Bone from Bone Thugs N Harmony just sent me some love recently. A lot of the cats from my era, they respect. Dayton Family is the most slept on group that ever came out.

AB: As a group you’ve released albums on eight labels over the past 19 years. Is there ever a time when you haven’t been looking for a new label?

B: No. You know what, though… I’ma tell you one thing that I think has been a mistake that we’ve made. We’ve always searched for somebody else to believe in The Dayton Family. We’ve always had the vision. We know exactly what it takes to make The Dayton Family as big as anything you see on BET or MTV, but every time we get with a label they don’t want to bring the vision we got to the forefront. If we were financially stable at this point in our career we would do it ourselves, but we need a label right now. Block Star is a label that believes in what we do, and they’re a label that’s willing to put the kick behind it and bring my ideas to the forefront. That’s where I’m releasing the Left Eye song and it’s looking like that’s where I’ma release this solo album.

AB: During those 19 years you also spent some time in prison. What happened and how did you get through that experience?

B: You know, I think that was a time in my life that made me the man that I am today, and I got that out of my system when I was young. I’ve been in nine different prisons. This is something I like to tell younger people when I speak to them – I’ve been through every single phase, from A to Z, of the criminal justice system. I’ve been on juvenile probation, I’ve been in juvenile detention center, I’ve been on tether, I’ve been to boot camp, I’ve been to county jail, I’ve been on adult probation, I’ve been to the halfway house, I’ve been to state prison, and I’ve been to federal prison. I’ve been to everything that you can go through in the criminal justice system.

AB: There’s a shit ton of paperwork on you, man.

B: Yes sir.

AB: And you said it’s made you who you are.

B: Yeah, it made me a better man. It made me see things before they even come, because in prison you have to be aware, so it made my sense of being aware of my surroundings supreme. I see danger and trouble coming thirty minutes before it comes, and I pride myself on that. Prison also makes you be focused, and I can get a good read on people. When I meet people, from three words out their mouth I can read where they’re at. That’s something you had to have in prison because if you couldn’t read people in prison you probably wouldn’t make it out of prison.

AB: Moving back to music, is there any lyric you’ve written that, in retrospect, you now regret?

B: No! I like all my controversy, I like all my drug abusing. All that was me, and everything I wrote I stand by. A lot of it sent me to prison, a lot of it got me in trouble, but I still stand by it, and it made me the respected person that I am today because I had the balls to say it. I ain’t sugarcoat nothin. If I had a feeling about you I said your name. It wasn’t no nickname, it was directly you. You did it, that’s what I say.

AB: To clarify, it was the actions that got you in trouble, not the lyrics, right?

B: It was the actions, but the lyrics drew the attention. My actions woulda went unnoticed if it wasn’t for the music drawing the attention to the actions. We were under the radar. Our music cost my friend Matt Hinkle eleven years in prison. They didn’t know he was a drug dealer until we rapped about it.

AB: Is he not necessarily a fan of the group anymore?

B: That’s my dog. I’m with him every day. He never gave up on The Dayton Family. When I was on BET I sent him a lot of love that people saw in prison, so he had a chance to get some good connections off that. He did eleven years in federal prison, so he was around a lot of millionaires, so he had a chance to do a lot of mingling and people saw that he was a stand up dude. He didn’t tell on nobody. He went to prison and stood up.

AB: You said “did,” so he’s out now?

B: Yeah, he’s out. He’s been home for maybe two years.

AB: Finally, did you ever think your name, Bootleg, would outlive actual album bootlegs?

B: {*laughs*} No. Shoestring gave me the name. At the time I would sell anything. I don’t care if you wanted a zebra, you could come to me and I’d find it for you. That’s what it was.

AB: Were zebra sales big back in the day?

B: {*laughs*} No, but a lot of other things were, and I could find it. If you named it I could get out there and find it for you and that’s why Shoestring called me Bootleg.