Tek: Oh, man, I can not complain. I’m healthy and everything is good.
Steele: I’m pretty good. The weather is nice outside. I’m feeling great. I’m feeling great about The Album. I’m feeling pretty good.
Is this the best Smif N Wessun album to date?
Tek: I would definitely say that this is the best Smif N Wessun album to date, lyrically. Even right now, we got beats of everything that’s out there. I’m not saying that we went for a club song or we went for a chick song or we went for a politically correct song, but what we did, I think it’s definitely one of our strongest albums that we put out on Duck Down.
Steele: In a perfect world, this album would have come out after Dah Shinin’ and because we had to go through particular things in our life and the natural occurrences and the nature of things, it’s actually right on time. Everyone thinks it’s the fourth coming but we missed the second and the third coming. I would say this right here is the second coming because this is the second official Smif N Wessun album. You have the producers and you have the artists. The only other album we did that on was Dah Shinin’ where we worked with Da Beatminerz. On the Reloaded album, we worked with a bunch of official producers. On this album, we worked with one group of producers. A lot of cats are familiar with these producers. It’s the second coming, man. This is only the second coming.
”The Album” is an interesting album title. Why did you name it that?
Steele: First of all, we ran through a lot of options. This is our fourth album. You can only do but so many comeback albums and I figured we needed to do something artistic and simple at the same time and do something that made sense. And it seemed like titling it “The Album” was the next best thing to self-titling the album, which is kind of what we did because marketing is a tricky field. So you kind of look at it and the first thing you see when you look at the album is “Smif N Wessun.” It’s almost subtitled “The Album” and that whole theory is basically what we want to give to the people. We want to give illustrations of all of our experiences and drawing any barriers between each other and just kind of give you an illustration like you’re looking at a family portrait, a family album. You’re just reflecting on things and places you have been that were good and bad. We’re looking at all of this without saying all of that with a poetical title like a lot of artists try to pull off. We just tried to keep it simple.
What inspired the cover artwork?
Steele: First I have to big up my man Fugz for being able to bring that image forth. That was a concept that we had. That’s like having an album. When you’re looking at your family album and you’re looking at your mom’s family photos and your dad’s, your history is documented there but it’s only a photo. You only have a not even a fraction of time, so to speak. You have it all in your mind. It’s interesting. The book is actually The Album. We’re actually looking through our past, present and future in that particular photo.
Were you able to capture that essence on The Album?
Steele: Being that this is our fourth album, I think that when you listen to this, you get a broad spectrum of what we’ve been about from the beginning and if you haven’t been up on us, you can go back to our music and have your own personal experience with it. I was on the radio the other day and a caller said Reloaded was the first album he bought and then he went back and bought the other albums and realized that a whole lot of other things were going on and it started to make sense. That’s what we want it to do for everyone – make sense. We’re all going through things and we wanted to extend to our fans that we all have certain things that we’re trying to accomplish in life.
Steele: We have a song called “I See The Light.” If you get knocked down, you have to get back up. The No. 1 rule of making it is that you have to be tough. We’re not preaching it but you have to understand. We didn’t get here easy. I busted my ass and fell a lot of times and I have a lot of scrapes and scars, but I kept on pushing. It’s dope that it’s “The Album.” And we also didn’t have a whole lot of features on the album. It was personal for us. We wanted to keep it that way. On Dah Shinin’ album, we didn’t have a lot of features on that and that album is still deemed a classic to this day.
What was your state of mind recording The Album?
Steele: I think, if I can say this, I would have to say that it was similar to Dah Shinin’. You can’t leave the experiences that you have of traveling and meeting new people and the different things that you experience in the game. Literally, we went to the mountains to record this album and we talked about going to Miami or going to Jamaica because what we wanted to do with this album was get away from the excuses of not concentrating on your craft. You can be in New York City and be in the studio, but you’re concentrating on what club is popping or your baby’s mama might call you or your boy or you might want to go to the store and get a hero, but when you put yourself in the mountains where you just have nothing but what you have in front of you, you know there’s no food for another eight hours. All of these things begin to leave your mind and all of your energy goes into what you need to get done and the message that you need to get across. We put ourselves in training like how Rocky went into the mountains to just train so he could make his big comeback. I think that we were pretty focused on this album. We went through a lot of tracks and it took us a lot of time. We recorded 30 tracks and we had to narrow it down to 14, which was really tough.
Tek: It was definitely time for the Smif N Wessun movement to be back in effect. We were back in the studio and rocking out. We were focused with everything we needed in the studio and we just banged out some timeless music.
What inspired you to write the single “Gotta Say It”?
Tek: We were over there just locked out in the studio. We weren’t going to the hotel. We were sleeping in the studio and hitting up Blockbuster and hitting the mountain to see the different type of scenery. It’s like Kanye said, “You never give the people the flowers when they can smell them.” Once the music was there, we just turned it up and cranked it out. There are probably other songwriters that could write a totally different song to that music, but with Smif N Wessun, I don’t think there are other songs that could say it on “Gotta Say It” the way we did. I think we captured that in a beautiful way.
It looks like you guys had a good time shooting the video for “Gotta Say It.” What was that like?
Tek: Oh, man, that was beautiful! We were at the Honeycomb Hideout. It was crazy. We got on the boat, hit the water, had a nice barbeque and everybody was there together. The vibe was beautiful. We just really tried to capture the essence of what the vocals were saying about what we had to go through to get to where we’re at. We know that a lot of people’s definition of success is at different levels and we had to say that we feel successful doing what we’re doing. We made it happen with the Duck Down team and Rik Cordero directing it.
What inspired “Who Gonna Save Us?”?
Tek: I was just in the studio just vibing off of the beat. I had just lost one of my childhood friends to the war over there. We had to get the calling card and when I called home, I got the news that son passed away over there while he was at war. I was like, ‘Damn, I can’t really do nothing but put it in a song right now.’ That’s an ode not only to my man’s family but to all the other families who lost soldiers and warriors, not only in the war but in the streets, the 9/11 tragedy, the Jena 6 tragedy…There’s all sorts of crazy shit going on in the world. You got teenagers taking guns to campus and people are waking up to hate symbols. The only way we can put an end to this and make it stop is to stop it is to do it as a people, and when I say “people,” I mean all of us. The next generation coming up is going to be on some new world order shit, for real.
What inspired the heartfelt “Let ‘Em Sing”?
Steele: I think all the years of being fucked up…being fucked up and still being alive. Some beats you hear, it just puts you in a certain element and that was one of those beats that when it first came in, I think we were all just kind of thinking about some place where we would like to be in life and our travels and all our daily struggles and shit like that. It just kind of came. That was one of the easy songs. And once we came up with that, the hook was already there. So we kind of just followed the schematics of that and were like, ‘What do you want to say to that?’
You kept the guest appearances limited on The Album. How come?
Tek: The focus is on Smif N Wessun right now. That’s what we need to focus on. That’s not to say we’re on some comeback shit because we feel we never went anywhere. We’re still in the lab making Boot Camp music and we’re all over Sean P’s albums, but we still wanted to focus to be on Smif N Wessun. We might have fucked you up with the name change to the Cocoa B’s. We kept it focused on here. At certain times we were thinking about which artists to reach out to and get featured, but it reached a time when we were like, ‘Fuck that. We don’t need that. We can just rock out.’ That’s the way it was. I’m really proud of The Album.
Joell Ortiz is one of the only features on The Album. What made you want to get him on “Stomp”?
Steele: No. 1, relationships are important and he’s a guy that knows one of the producers that we work with and he also happens to be an artist who has a certain kind of respect for the game. The producer brought him across us. I knew him and I had met him before through different shows in New York City. The question came up if we wanted to do a track with him. Before we had him on The Album, we didn’t have anyone on The Album. It was a question of putting him on The Album and it was like, ‘Yeah, why not?’ Plus he reps Brooklyn thoroughly, and that makes more sense. If anything, Smif N Wessun has to let it be known that we’re not bitter about what’s going on in the game and at the same time, we have to let them know that we’re a legendary group in the game and work with the hottest artists. I think the fans can appreciate having someone like Joell, who’s from BK and who’s as thoroughly advanced in his lyrical skills, is conscious of what’s going on and appreciates what’s going on. It was a just a perfect match.
You guys went overseas to work with European producers. How did that make the recording process different for you?
Tek: I feel it really made it different because over there, hip-hop is still so pure and untampered with and untouched. They’re so focused on everything. These are not just names that we picked out of hats or names that we picked out of MySpace. These are names that have done things. Guys like Tommy Tee has already done music with us. This is not just random producers that we are picking or random relationships that we picked up. When we were over there doing shows and dates, we had off days and we were reaching out to producers and went to the studio. Every other day after a show we really locked in and got The Album popping and the magic happened.
Steele: I’ll say this – everybody knows that even if they haven’t been lucky enough to experience the overseas hip-hop experience, they can live vicariously through the ones who have and let it be known and it has been known that there is a great fondness, a great respect for East Coast hip-hop, West Coast hip-hop and hip-hop in general and for what hip-hop has done for urban youth all over the world. There’s not just urban youth in the streets in Chicago, San Diego, San Fran, Jersey and down South. There is also urban youth in Africa, Sweden, Germany and Belgium and they have voices as well, but they don’t have the access that we have so when they look at what we do, they just honor it. We’re like, ‘Wow, we have the ability to basically reach continents and they really respect that.’ They really respect the ones who put it forth and they respect the ones who have been keeping it alive all of this time. And when it comes to the production, we just happened to be around and be in the right places at the right time.
Are there any real differences between working with producers overseas and in the States?
Tek: I would say the major difference is the ego thing. The market over there is still untapped. You can go to a show and see somebody tagging a wall or breakdancing at a show. You have all the elements over there and there are no egos over there. Over here the producers wants to be the artist and this one wants to be bigger than that one. No one wants to brainstorm and they feel they’re too big-headed or advanced to take words or an idea that would probably make the song better. That, to me, is the main difference.
Do producers overseas have more respect for the Smif N Wessun name?
Tek: I wouldn’t say that. We still got our love and we’re going to get respect anywhere we go because that’s what we demand and that’s what we give. I wouldn’t say they have more respect. I think they’re more new to it and they’re getting certain music that we’re doing. They probably respect the art of the hip-hop more and respect more of what we’re doing because they’re not getting all the watered-down and copying stuff that we’re getting over here in the States. Great music is great music.
You talked about your relationship with 2Pac on “Gotta Say It.” What does that relationship mean to you today?
Tek: That relationship with me and ‘Pac, that was like two Gemini’s. At the time we were over there, we were in the middle of the so-called East-West beef. While that was happening, he was just extending us a hand and showing us love and we were showing him love as brothers in the same struggle. We were trying to make one nation of music happen. That was his mission. We were trying to have the music all over the world and make good music. We wanted to have that all over the world and spread the music out. It was something that just formed itself. You can’t pick your family but you can pick and choose who you’re going to have in your circle around you for the things that are to come.
Looking at artist relationships and how certain artists align with each other, how careful are you of who you associate with today?
Tek: I think we’re very careful on that level. Me, as an individual, I travel in a very small circle. As you live life, you learn and you experience things and you learn to read character, facial expressions, body language and other things. I have to think about everything before I deal with a person. I think that just comes from living off of experience.
Your last album Reloaded dropped two years ago. Looking back on that album, would you consider that a success?
Tek: I would. At the time Duck Down was on a downward motion and the Triple Threat movement with Reloaded, Buckshot and 9th Wonder and Monkey Barz made it strong again. I think that was a very successful thing that we did.
You guys all had similar comic book covers for the Triple Threat project and the music reached a lot of places. How effective was the Triple Threat marketing scheme?
Tek: I would definitely say it was good. As a fan, you could see the decline and you could see the marketing scheme and the music that was on those albums made it stronger and brought it back. That’s a successful movement in itself right there. That’s something that you have to tip your hat to.
Are you happy with Duck Down’s comeback in the last few years?
Steele: I am Duck Down and Duck Down is me. That’s the beautiful thing about the relationship that we have between Dru Ha and Noah and ourselves. We actually are a strong, family-based unit. It’s more than making the top dollars. It’s about making the right decisions and making sure our future is preserved. I’m very happy with the way Duck Down is going. All the things that we were doing before is now coming to life. Duck Down never stopped working and we never stopped looking for those deals. It just so happened that with the turn of the game, everybody has kind of used up their options and they’re back to their first place and they see that we’re still where we are. We’re able to put out real albums with no overhead and we’re not just putting it out on the block. We’re in the same stores as Jim Jones and Jay-Z. We’re using what we learned since we came in the game. I’ve been with Duck Down since I came in the game and I’ll be with Duck Down until I leave the game. Shout out to Dru Ha and Buckshot, the brains behind the machine that keep it moving.
What’s next for Smif N Wessun?
Tek: Right now we’re putting together the tour dates that we’re working on. We’re trying to get an M.O.P., Smif N Wessun and CNN tour popping off real quick. We’re trying to get that in the works. We’re back in the lab working on joints. Steele has his mixtape Hostile Takeover and I got my mixtape coming. The grind is there.
Steele: We’re also going to start working on a Boot Camp album. We’re putting together another Boot Camp album for ’08. Tek is finishing up his mix-CD Underground Prince. I have a street album out called Hostile Takeover. I also have a television show coming out on Bucktown USA TV. It’s a variety show and all different kinds of hip-hop. We’re going to stay prominent in this game and just keep going with what the Most High has put forth for us. There are a lot of things for us to be involved in. This is more on a grassroots level.
How important is it to you to be able to release solo material?
Tek: I think it’s very important because it keeps us on our toes and sharp as individuals. And then when we do stuff together, we have Dah Shinin’ vibe where everything we do is just unspoken. He does his thing over there and I do my thing over there and it just comes together, even if we’re not writing one actual song together. We’re still on the same wavelength when we do get in the studio and lay it down. We move the same way and when you know the other person’s movements, it makes it crazy.
Steele: I’m trying to get my company Bucktown USA Entertainment popping. We just shot the video for “BK All Day.” My DJ, DJ Bucktown, is putting out mix-CDs to keep our names buzzing. I have some artists that I’m working with. I don’t believe in nepotism. I’m trying to facilitate a basic training school. I have four different artists that I’m working with. I’m trying to solidify my show. I’m just trying to keep it popping and get some more production work. We’re trying to work on some DVDs and documentaries.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Steele: There are a lot of things I want to say, but I’m going to try and summarize it and thank God for all the years of support and for those who have doubted us, I thank you for encouraging us to work harder and to keep grinding and to show why we’re a substantial force in this hip-hop game. And I salute what HipHopGame is doing for getting it out to the folks, because we’re the ones that make this a billion-dollar industry. We’re the ones that can make it or break it. Shout out to everyone out there. We all have a voice. Through each other, we all have a voice and we always will as long as we have hip-hop.
Tek: Make sure you support the Smif N Wessun album on Tuesday. It is what it is and that’s what it’s going to be for the next couple of joints until you get something new from the Camp. Go get the Sean P mixtape and Casualties of War. Be on the lookout for the new Heltah Skeltah album Dirt. The new Smif N Wessun joint is in the works. The new Buckshot and 9th Wonder is in the works. That’s called The Formula. You can check out our new videos. Hit us up on MySpace. We keep it going. It don’t stop.