Here’s a nice track off of On The Strength called “Cheaper Than A Shotgun”
April 13, 2010 by milwaukeeup
DNA is something that every living, breathing, thing has within them. The Milwaukee Hip-Hop scene, which is very much alive right now, is fortunate enough to have its own DNA, living and breathing within it.
DNA (which doesn’t actually stand for Deoxyribonucleic Acid), is an outspoken and maniacal lyricist that calls upon the souls of the great authors, both living and dead, to assist him in composing diatribes against the music so many are bastardizing, as well as his own inner conflicts.
He is a solo artist, one half of Cups and Bottles, a seminal member of KingHellBastard, and a man who continues to put his best foot forward whenever he has the chance.
Having an active reading life is one of the things that is crucial to developing one’s writing. Are there any books that you have read that have served as spring boards for your lyrics?
Well, first off, the term “king hell bastard” comes from a Hunter S. Thompson book called “The Proud Highway”. It’s a collection of his correspondence over the years and I noticed the phrase pop up whenever he really liked something and wanted to recommend it to someone else, in particular I remember him referring to “Lie Down In Darkness” by William Styron as a “king hell bastard of a novel”, which subsequently made me go out and read that book, and it was true to the spirit of his description. Overall, anything you read is going to expand your abilities as a lyricist just by virtue of coming into contact with different words and turns of phrases. Moreover, though, reading continually refines and challenges your worldview because it thrusts it into conversation with competing ideas and divergent opinions. In this life, if you’re extremely lucky, you might find out what the hell you believe before you die, but it takes a herculean amount of effort to remain vigilant and not settling upon your own limited perspective. If I had to sum up what I tend to read, some of the main categories would be French authors (Celine, Camus, Moliere, Rimbaud, Baudelaire), Russian authors (Dostoyevsky, Bulgakov, Zamyatin, Solzhenitsyn) and the American Naturalists (Dreiser, Fitzgerald, Styron, Hemingway). Shit man, I could go on about this forever. Oh, and David Foster Wallace, hands down the best writer of our generation. R.I.P.
You are a true student of the written word and of Hip-Hop. Was rapping and writing Hip-Hop songs merely a natural progression for you from writing poetry, short stories, and your other musings, or is it a result of something else entirely?
I got into hip-hop pretty tough around ’87 or ’88 and it was over for me. Totally hooked. I can remember sitting in my parents’ basement and transcribing every word to “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” by Public Enemy simply because I really needed to know exactly what Chuck D was saying. I started writing bad poetry in high school and slightly better short stories in college. Wrote a play, tried my hand at a novel (thank god it doesn’t really exist anymore, embarassing), and even spent the better part of a year trying to write an epic poem in the traditional form of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, as in iambic pentameter/homeric couplets. Something about dissecting the rhythm of syllables and forcing myself to find suitable rhymes to push the narrative forward must have really sparked something in my brain, because it wasn’t long after that I began to write a lot of rhymes. This was in Madison around ’98 and me and my friend Adam (Animas from the original KHB line-up) were both English geeks at the university. Mix in a ton of booze, a handful of battles with frat-boys around State St. and…voila, suddenly I’m a rapper. Overall, the medium of hip-hop lyricism is great because of its malleability, you can literally talk about anything in a rhyme.
You are 1/3rd of the growing Hip-Hop force known as KingHellBastard. Who was DNA, musically, before KHB?
I grew up skateboarding in the early to mid-80s, so my heart will always belong to thrash metal and hardcore punk. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of hip-hop songs have moved me very deeply, but there’s just something about the rough-hewn, visceral impact of stuff like Black Flag, The Misfits, Dead Kennedys, early Metallica. Later on I went back to the British Invasion stuff that my parents listened to when I was a kid and found a similar spirit in stuff like The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Animals, etc. There’s an outsider, DIY thread that runs through the history of music and took me straight up to underground hip-hop, which is very punk-like in its ethos. I can’t play an instrument or carry a tune–it took me years of writing rhymes before I knew what a bar was–so MC was pretty much my only available entry point. Animas and I formed a group around ’03 called The Royal We and made about 50 or so songs, but KHB came about pretty quickly after that and it was a wrap.
Haha, I didn’t know it was polarizing, but good. I’m glad. Most people are chickenshit with their opinions, so I only heard the good reviews. As far as accomplishing what I wanted to do, I consider it a success. My personal measuring stick for a solo MC is how much of your self you are able to convey honestly to the listener, so in that regard I felt validated. There are songs on “On The Strength” where I had to beat back panic attacks while I was recording them, just intensely personal matter that was difficult to face and then divulge openly. On the other hand, I’m not always downtrodden or severe, so there is a liberal amount of shit-talking on that record as well. I consciously front-loaded the album with more accessible songs and then directed the narrative arc steadily downward. In a lot of ways, I wanted to bum out people.
In theory, KHB is having/going to have a big year. You’ve gained some recognition from local media for your work done in 2009 recently, you have a vinyl project coming out, a tour that is being built for fall (I believe), and you are releasing a new LP. When many are seemingly waiting around for their break to come, you are grabbing the bull by the balls and willing yourselves into successful situations. What is it all for?
Damn, that’s tough. What is it all for? If I can speak for the group, I think it’s all geared towards contributing to the viability and vibrancy of the Milwaukee hip-hop scene and maintaining it as a fixture in the underground’s constellation. After going on two wide-ranging tours and meeting so many people living the same life as us, we have committed ourselves to keeping Milwaukee linked in to that movement. Personally, I just want music to feel true and reflect the lives that are being lived in its service. No one is making retirement money off of this, most actually go into debt for it, so if this isn’t love then I don’t know what is. With KHB we just set out to hold it down and deliver product that would stand the test of time, so that if people wanted to know what it looked like on the ground in Milwaukee at that moment in time they could go back and get a sense of it. With Uni-Fi I really see a chance to create a self-sustaining home for grassroots hip-hop that will carry on after I hang up the mic.
You are a man who will speak the truth and not sugar coat your beliefs. How do you feel about Milwaukee and the Hip-Hop movement that lies within her landscape?
It’s pretty cool. More people ya know. Which means more talent and more garbage, probably somewhere in the ratio of 1/100. I get a lot of music thrown my way simply because I’m out and about all the time, and I listen to stuff that looks promising, but most finds its way to a couple shelves in my closet. I keep ALL that shit, so anybody who wants to front like they’re doing big things…well, I got that burn-disc sharpie joint you gave me that sounded like you recorded it in a tin shit-house. The people I dig know who they are.
Some of your favorite artists are Ice Cube (early career), Slug, and Sage Francis. What do they give you that other artists don’t?
With Cube there was a certain amount of voyeurism that was irresistible to a young white-kid from the burbs, primarily because the words and the beats combined into this incredibly cinematic whole that was more palpable than most movies. That’s one of the essential joys of ANY music, you get to be a fly on the wall in someone else’s world, a world that you likely have no chance of ever experiencing firsthand. I got the first couple Headshots tapes from a friend in Minneapolis around ’95-’96, so with guys like Slug it was kind of a wake-up call. At the time I had strayed from hip-hop, but to find out that people were making it in the midwest was pretty inspiring. Also, Slug was probably the first dude I ever heard admit that he got his ass kicked on a song. As much as I wish that I could be, I know that I can’t be “The Man” like Rakim or Kane. But getting your ass kicked, feeling frustrated and hopeless, that shit I understand. With a guy like Sage Francis I am just in awe at the depth to which he is able to examine a topic or emotion within a hip-hop song. A lot of people, including most of the guys in my own group, fucking hate him, but that guy is not playing around when it comes to his beliefs. It kind of gave me a green light to engage all the heavy issues which cloud my brain and make normal life really difficult for me on the day to day.
As the director of the music video for the KHB song “Danger” you were able to take the song and transfer it to a different media with great success, making the storyline even more vivid for those who take it in. What was the process like for you when mapping everything out for the video?
It sounds cliche, but I saw that video in my head before I even started writing the first verse of that song. Reason gave me the beat months earlier and I never really did anything with it, but one day I was sitting upstairs at Rochambo in a shitty mood and wanted something to accompany my misanthropy and I settled on that beat. So I wrote my verse first and then mapped out the narrative to Shemp and Coppa, like “Okay, here’s what happens in the end, what each verse needs to do is get from point A to point B”. They both brought their own distinct experiences and styles to the song and it worked. Most of the credit belongs to Reason though, since that sample conveys so much of the emotional weight to the song. Eventually I drew up a ridiculously over-detailed story board and D.Wood and Stan P. came through with the technical know-how to capture the images I saw in my head. Additionally, everyone involved contributed ideas and direction on the fly. All in all, it’s remarkably close to what I saw when I first heard the beat.
What’s going on with Cups and Bottles? Was that a one off type of project or is it something you and Dana feel like revisiting in the future? P.S. “Vinegar” is one of the best verses I’ve ever heard a Milwaukee artist drop.
First off, thanks. I’m pretty proud of that rhyme. Funny thing is that it evolved out of me doodling the letters DNA on napkin while on my lunch break. By the end of lunch at Comet I had it done. There’s no big meaning behind what DNA stands for, essentially it’s just my last name “Danahey” squished together, but when people ask I usually toss off one of the lines from that song like “Dance Now, Asshole”. Secondly, fuck it, I’ll throw down the gauntlet and say that yes, we WILL do another Cups & Bottles record in the future. In fact, I’d really love to get back to that vibe a little bit because it was really organic and fun. We set out to record an entire album over the course of a weekend, kind of like a lock-in, just to see what happened, and in the end it took about a week to record the whole thing. Something like 5 sessions. Just strip down everything, drop a beat and go.
Any shout outs?
The Moms and The Dads for letting their son be a weirdo, my KingHell brethren, LMNtlyst, Reason, my Uni-Fi family–Dima and Michelle and CJ do tons of work for us, House of M, Malicious, Kid Millions, Deadbeat, Strick, all my rockford Covert Empire homies, the Grown Man Collective folks are good people, D-Wood and Alphabang, all the MCs and DJs who love this thing, all the people who come out and support, all the shops that show me love, and all the bartenders who don’t make me pay. Oh, and JC Poppe. FEAR THE BEARDS.
Here’s a nice track off of On The Strength called “Cheaper Than A Shotgun”