Jersey boy emcee-turned-producer Hec Dolo made the move to D.C. and was introduced to indie emcee Laelo by a mutual friend more than five years ago. They were a collaboration waiting to happen.
The artists shared a deep appreciation for true hip-hop and began working on what would become their latest release, Deeper Than Plenty, Higher Than Most (DTPHTM). The goal “was to put together music that feels nostalgic yet sounds current.” And the positive response to the record, which was released on April 21, proves they accomplished just that. (You can purchase the album on iTunes or Amazon now.)
Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble was given the opportunity to speak with the guys earlier this month about forming a career in hip-hop, early influences and what the overwhelmingly positive response to their record means to them.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
Hec Dolo: My earliest memory of hip-hop has definitely gotta be Cold Crush, like in the eighties. I was born in Jersey City, so, you know, when I was coming up, hip-hop was just starting to flourish.
Laelo: My earliest memory of hip-hop is probably the Black Power Movement in the late eighties with Public Enemy and all those cats doing like the “Fight the Power” record and stuff like that. Around ’88, ’89 I guess is when I really, really got into hip-hop. I guess that would be my first memory. I smoke a lot, so I can’t really go back more than four or five years. I’m sure I heard something before then, but I remember distinctly being real into Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J when I was a kid.
When did you guys decide that you wanted to make music a full-time gig?
Hec Dolo: For me, I think it came around ’93 or ’94. I started making music at ’91, but it was just a hobby, sort of an outlet to get out some of my frustrations. I got really good at it over time, and folks started saying, “You should really consider really doing this as something real like a professional career.” It just started to grow from there. I think then was that whole time right around Tribe’s Low End Theory and De La Soul Is Dead and all of that. All of that coming out made me really look at, “Okay, yeah. This is something I could really see myself doing.”
Laelo: Well, I started writing when I was thirteen. I always envisioned myself as an entertainer, even as a young kid. I was like the best kid in my music class in fifth grade. I kind of knew what I wanted to do. I just didn’t know how I was going to go about it. And you know, when you’re growing up and stuff, you kind of get into school and different things like that. You start wanting to become different things. I wanted to be a teacher at one point, and then I wanted to be a sportscaster on ESPN.
I think it wasn’t until my sophomore year in college when I really was like, “I could do this for a career” ‘cause I felt like I was good enough at that point. People started actually telling me how good I was at rapping or whatever. It was probably around 2000, you know, when I really started taking things seriously. Okay, let me take that back. Not 2000. Maybe like 2001? ‘Cause I didn’t put out my first album until 2006, right? So, I had like two mixtapes before that. So, yeah, maybe like 2002, I was like, “Alright. I’m going to be a rapper.” I didn’t quit my job until I was twenty-six.
Well, that’s when it’s official. When you quit your day job, that’s when you’re official.
Laelo: Exactly. I haven’t worked a day job in about a year, so this is pretty much what it is. So, yeah, I think I’ll do music.
I’ve interviewed plenty of rappers and producers that still have day jobs.
Hec Dolo: Yeah, that’s real.
Laelo: I think I might go back and get one already. I need some extra cash.
I was gonna say, extra money. So, who would you name as early influences on your sound?
Hec Dolo: For me, Large Professor played a huge role in my production.
Hec Dolo: Large Pro. I just like that his production sounded so seamless. He would take like bits and pieces from all types of records, but when he put it together, it just sounded like it just all fit. It was just weird. I kind of just like that style. It was orchestrated very well, and I would always gravitate towards that, sort of how my music is. I try to have it to be orchestrated just as well, so everything sounds like it fit and sounds like a composition versus just a bunch of pieces of a sample or chops or something like that. Large Pro definitely an early influence for me.
And, of course, Pete Rock, you know. Pete Rock definitely played an influence as well with drum programming to his whole style of sample choices and things like that. And, of course, Premier. Like, all the greats, but Large was the heaviest of the influences for me.
Laelo: That’s just like Nas was for me. Nas is the god. Everybody knows that. When it comes to me, like nobody can’t tell me shit about Nas. He was the one who made me want to start writing. When I was thirteen years old, and I heard fuckin’ “Live at the Barbeque,” and I was like, “Who is this lyrical genius rappin with Akinyele?” You know what I mean? I was just getting into hip-hop real hardcore then, but it was like, I had never heard nobody rap like that.
The closest thing I had heard to it was like Kool G Rap or, you know, obviously Rakim as far as the wordplay and how they put their records together, their lyrics together, their bars together, whatever. So, it was really Nas man. I still hold Nas up as like the greatest emcee to me, as far as the standard bearer for lyricists. Anybody trying to be an emcee or a lyricist, like a real lyricist. I hold him as the standard bearer for that. But you know, Tupac was obviously a huge influence on my content. So, I would definitely go with Nas and Tupac as my biggest musical influences.
Okay, East and West.
Laelo: Yeah, yeah. You already know. East and West. I was born in the Midwest. I was born in Missouri.
Okay, so you have to give it to both.
Laelo: Yeah, we wasn’t on that East Coast, West Coast shit. I just liked whatever was dope. You know what I mean? Being in the Midwest, we got the West Coast stuff first, and then we got the East Coast stuff later, but I was always hip because all through school, I had a friend whose family was from New York, and he knew all about Wu-Tang and all this East Coast shit. So, he would always put me on, and that’s how I actually got hip to Nas when I was a young kid. I liked all kinds of music as a youngin’.
How did you guys meet?
Laelo: Through a friend. Through a mutual friend. Our boy DJ RBI, he was working with me. He was DJing for me for a couple years before then, and he knew Hec before me, and before I started working on my second project, he was like, “Yo, I know this producer that you should get up with. Y’all would make tight shit together.” That’s kind of how it happened, you know?
Hec Dolo: Pretty much.
Laelo: We started working from the break, right? Pump the breaks! We just kind of started moving from there. Once I heard the beats, it was a no-brainer. You know, and at the time, I didn’t have producers producing for me or anything like that, so to be able to have somebody that will make beats for me when I needed, so it was just kind of a no-brainer on my end. But DJ RBI made this whole thing happen. Shout out to RBI.
And when was that?
Laelo: That was about five years ago, wasn’t it? 2010, that’s when we started working together.
Hec Dolo: 2009.
Laelo: 2009. Yeah, exactly. 2009. Damn, dog. Time is flying.
That’s what happens when you get older. How does The DMV inspire or affect your style?
Hec Dolo: Does it? I don’t know. I mean, because my inspiration, you know, I have the past as well as some of the regulars, but I draw a lot of inspiration from myself, to be honest with you. I mean, it’s weird, Lara, ‘cause I’m not big on the radio. I don’t know how you are with the radio.
I’m not either. Don’t worry.
Hec Dolo: So, I don’t necessarily always have like, as of lately, someone to gauge and—
Laelo: Like an ear to the street.
Hec Dolo: Yeah, I don’t have someone’s ear. It just sort of comes from within right now.
Laelo: From the artist side, obviously, I do. I’m always out in the street. I know what’s going on out here. I just try not to let this shit influence me.
That’s more what I meant. It’s not necessarily the artists coming out of The DMV. It’s more like, when I ask someone from Detroit how Detroit influences their sound, they touch on how grimy it is and how that tough veneer affects their creative process.
Laelo: And that’s what I was going to hit on. It’s just the essence of the city. Like, it’s Washington, D.C. Like, there’s so many different types of people here. There’s every culture you could think of is down there in D.C. So, you’re influenced just by the energy that you’re around. I can literally walk down my street and come up with an idea for a song just by the things I see on a regular basis. I don’t live in the suburbs, obviously. You know what I mean?
Even still, if I did, The DMV is such a beautiful area and has so much culture and history in it. If you’re not affected by it, then something’s wrong with you. If it doesn’t influence you, then something’s wrong with you. That’s like being in New York City and not being influenced by New York City culture or California or something like that. You’re entrenched in it, which we are because we’ve both been here a couple decades now. You know, it’s what we are. Our sound might not reflect the general sound that comes out of D.C. because I was more influenced by New York rap than anything, but it’s more the vibe. My lingo, all the lingo I use in my songs, it’s all DC shit. You know, just shit like that. When people hear it, even though they might think that I’m from New York by my voice because when I talk for some reason, people think I’m from New York. But when they hear my lingo and how I use my words, they automatically ask if I’m from D.C.
Your debut album together Deeper Than Plenty, Higher Than Most dropped last month on High Definition Society. Are you guys happy with the response?
Hec Dolo: So far, yeah. It’s been a really positive response that we’ve been getting from the whole project in general. From the first single that we released, which was “City Life” featuring Carolyn Malachi to the current single that we just dropped, which is “One Time For Hip-Hop.” Folks are really enjoying the single a lot. We’ve been getting great feedback on the album.
Laelo: I mean, I ain’t really trying to toot my own horn or anything, but we put out a great fucking project, so it’s going to be hard for people not to like this shit unless they just don’t like good music. You know what I mean? Everything isn’t for everybody, and I get that. So, I’m sure there’s people out there who won’t like it or for who it’s just not their taste. But if you’re a fan of good soul music, good hip-hop, then you gotta like this shit. That’s why we worked on it for so long. We’ve been working on this album for four years just because we wanted to put out something that was undeniable. So, I try not to let the feedback overwhelm me ‘cause honestly, it’s been nothing but good, but then I don’t want that to give me a big head and make me think that I’m done, that I’ve accomplished something.
So, I try to just take it in jest, you know. Okay, people like it, they think it’s good, it’s affecting them in a positive way. We get so many messages from people, like people I don’t even know or I’ve met once in passing, who I might have hit a spark with one day who’s been Facebooking me and Tweeting me like, “Yo, Laelo. This album is getting me through the day. It’s such a good record. This song. Man, it touched me.” We’ve been getting so much positive feedback. I really haven’t heard one bad thing about the album, honestly. I’m sure some people don’t like it. They just haven’t spoken up. So, you know. It’s been all positive feedback. I’m extremely happy with the direction this project is going.
Hec Dolo: Agreed.
What can you tell readers about High Definition Society?
Laelo: The HD Society is a company that I started in 2010. It was kind of just a vision that I had of mixing hip-hop with the marijuana culture. You know, the type of hip-hop I do with the marijuana culture and using the brand because obviously I am a heavy supporter and proponent of the marijuana culture. I like to smoke weed, in short. You know, me being who I am and having the rep that I do as, you know, a stoner, I wanted to find some way of merging those brands and making it easier for me to promote my music, and there wasn’t a smarter move that I made because after I did that and my brand began to grow, that’s where I got to do a song called “Headband” with Smoke Dza and cats like that who are in the culture and doing the same type of shit that I was doing at the time.
So, cats like that started to mess with me, which got me in the door a little bit more as far as the industry was concerned. It was a concept I had. I wanted to create something for my fans to attach themselves to. You could be an artist and, you know, just be floating and not have any identifiable traits or slogans or something like that, but it’s just going to make it harder in this day of social media where everything is fucking hashtagged. Excuse my language.
It’s all good. I’m the same way about that shit.
Laelo: You have to have something that people can grasp onto and that people can attach themselves to. So, I came up with the High Definition Society concept. I didn’t want to do the High Society because that’s been done before, so I had to figure out a way to make my shit cool. So, we went with the whole High Definition thing, like “The way we smoke makes you see in 1080p, so you’re living in High Definition. Know what I mean? You’ll see life with a clearer view.” That was the whole concept. I have a whole mission statement, but that was basic concept of the whole HD life thing was, you know, seeing life with a clearer view and knowing what you wanted out of life and going after it. So, that was kind of the concept of the entire movement, and it kind of just caught on, man. We started calling our fans “lifers.” And then, immediately afterwards, Currency started calling his fans lifers. But that’s my homie, so I ain’t gonna hate.
But you know, I created something that people wanted to emulate, which was humbling to me, and it was cool because my fans were able to find some way to attach themselves to me. People started hashtagging #hdlife and things like that. We just grew from there, man. We started making t-shirts. We sell a line of high-end vaporizers, and we’ve got merchandise out the wazoo at this point. So, we’ve become more than just a music company, which was my idea from the beginning, obviously, because unfortunately, we aren’t making millions and millions off of music like it was in the good old days where everybody went triple platinum.
Why didn’t you drop the album on 4/20?
Laelo: Because everybody would have expected that. Everybody would have expected that. It’s not a weed album. The reason that we did this album….The reason, honestly, Lara, that I’ve been working on this album for four years, and I never put this shit out, is because I didn’t think people would appreciate it. I was like, “These songs are too real. These lyrics are too honest. People don’t want to hear this shit. They want to hear other shit. They want to hear some songs about weed and bitches and having a good time.” Because that’s pretty much all it was.
So, I kind of held off, and I literally stopped working on this album. I’ll tell you a secret right now. It’s not a secret because we’ve been telling everybody at this point, but eight of the ten songs on this album were recorded four years ago. I’ve put out three albums since I started working on this project because this was like my baby. I was like, “I’m not wasting these fucking songs. Somebody’s gonna know me before I put these records out.” And that’s kind of what I wanted to do. I wanted to establish myself before I put out what I thought had the potential to be classic or a masterpiece or something close to it, you know what I mean? A great project. I wanted to make sure that I had established myself to where somebody’s actually hearing this shit and I just wasn’t dropping it on deaf ears.
And my budget now is different than what my budget was five years ago. So, the shit wouldn’t have made a big impact. It was kind of just the perfect timing. The game has changed again to where people are wanting real shit again. They want to hear real music. It got oversaturated with all the bs and club music. Everybody’s talking about the same stuff. You go to a party. They’re literally playing the same song over and over. It’s not the same song, but it sounds like the same song over and over.
Hec Dolo: With the project, it’s always been that my philosophy on music is we’re trying to create the soundtrack to people’s lives. I mean, when I think of music, I think of shit that I’ve gone through, and I can remember every song that got me through a difficult point in my life. And that’s the type of thing we want to do.
Laelo: Not to stray off topic, but I was having a shitty day yesterday, a real shitty fucking day. I popped in that Joe Budden “Padded Room” joint.
Hec Dolo: Yeah.
Laelo: I was like, “Nigga, my problems ain’t that bad.” Know what I mean? That’s music.
Hec Dolo: That’s the thing. That’s music. That’s what we want to do. We want to make the soundtrack to people’s lives, the things that get you through the hard times.
Laelo: Someone’s going through what I’m going through right now. Thank you, Joe Budden!
Hec Dolo: Exactly. It’s true. That’s the goal. This is the soundtrack to people’s lives.
Laelo: Straight up. We want to make music that lasts forever, man. I feel like there aren’t too many songs that you could play ten years from now and they’d still be just as good. And that was our goal.
Pete Rock’s new album that’s coming out in June, Petestrumentals 2, has some tracks he made over ten years ago that he hasn’t ever released.
Laelo: That’s timeless music! That’s how you know it’s good though. Like, if it’s still dope that long after you’ve made it, it’s timeless. It might not sound like everything else that’s on the album, but that shit is timeless. It can’t sound like everything else, or it wouldn’t be timeless.
Will you guys tour to promote the album?
Laelo: That’s the plan. That’s why we’re doing this interview with you, so people get to know us a little bit more. When we put this package together, and we go to these different venues, we can put something together. I’m always performing. I do every big venue in this area like Fillmore, 930 Club and Howard Theatre. I’m doing Ramshead Live at the end of this month. So, I pretty much only do the concert venues out here. We just did the release party at Alife. Why didn’t we invite her?
Hec Dolo: I did invite her.
Laelo: Okay, okay.
Hec Dolo: She was out of town.
He did invite me. I can confirm that.
Laelo: That’s cool, that’s cool. So, yeah we just did the album release party at Alife. You know, I’m hoping to get out on tour, at the latest, by July, at the very, very latest. I’d like to be out on tour as early as June, but it’s just about finding somebody that’s willing to take us out on tour because I’m not a known enough artist to where I’m going to put three hundred extra people on my show.
When you’re on this level, even if you are pretty well-known, people pay to get on tours. I’m just finding out all this shit out now. Labels pay for artists to get on tour, so they can promote their fucking project that the label needs to sell. It’s all a game. It’s all networking and who you know. We’re just trying to meet the right people and have the right people hear this shit right now ‘til somebody’s like, “Yeah, I want to take those guys out on tour with me.”
How was the show?
Laelo: Oh, it was amazing. We had a packed house. The sound was great.
We were nice to you?
Laelo: Oh, yeah. New York, man. New York loves me because I make shit that y’all like. I make the type of shit that y’all listen to. So, everybody up there was like, “Yeah, this is my type of shit. You from DC? You sure you ain’t from here?” So, we got that a lot. They showed mad love. We got the recap footage online. It was a lot of love, man. The folks at Alife took care of us. We paid them enough, but they took care of us. It was a very good experience and worth it because obviously being in New York is a thing that I need to do a lot more often. I told my man Low Key who was hosting the joint, “Man, I’m going to just start coming up here releasing once a month just to link with you and find out what’s going on up here.
Being in D.C., the hip-hop scene is like the main stream industry, and then it’s like the super underground. There’s like no middle. There’s no place where they mix. You’re either in the industry at those joints, or you’re at the underground spots. Fortunately, I can get into both, but they never mix. In New York, you can go anywhere and see anybody at any time. That’s what I like about NY. I’ve just gotta be up there more to walk into those label offices and stuff, so they know my name. I’m not even chasing a record deal right now, but I just need people to know who I am.
That’s pretty much the mission right now, now that this project is finally done and out in the world. The number one goal right now is touring. We’re setting up some shows down in Cali right now. That’s like our next big move before the actual tour. It might end up being part of the tour. I know I’m really going on about this tour stuff, but that’s probably gonna be the very, very next move is the Cali stuff. We’re going to be moving.
We’re not going to be sitting on our asses trying to smoke out. I don’t believe in promoting an album on the computer. I know some artists just sit in front of the computer for sixteen hours a day and tell people about their album, but hat’s not how I’m tryng to go about it. That’s why I hired a publicist. She can do that.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or promote?
Hec Dolo: Yup.
Laelo: They can find all our music. Tell them to follow us on social media. We just appreciate the time, Lara. Any outlet that we can get at this point, especially that’s not in The DMV area, it’s just good for us. All exposure is good exposure at this point. We just need people to listen to it. If we get people to listen to it, then we’ll be fine.
Hec Dolo: Last Friday…you know, we have been lucky enough and fortunate enough to get the single over to DJ Premier.
Laelo: Oh, yeah. Premier played our shit last week!
Hec Dolo: He showed us love last week and played the joint last Friday.
Laelo: Yeah, we’ve got bigtime DJs hitting us up and playing our stuff. It’s been all good feedback like we said earlier. It’s just good that people appreciate fresh hip-hop, some refreshing stuff without no trap beats on it. You ain’t got to jump up and down to listen to my album. You can just chill, vibe, smoke some good and learn something, get through something. It’s that type of project. It’s not a rah-rah project. It’s grown man music. We’re two grown-ass men, so that’s what we’re making. We can’t make music for sixteen year olds because we’re not sixteen. So, it is what it is. I hope the kids like my shit too though.
You don’t discriminate. I like that.
Laelo: We don’t discriminate at all. It’s for everybody.