Back in the late-’90s, the Brooklyn-based Shabaam Sahdeeq and DJ Spinna formed something of an impromptu duo: Tracks like the Rawkus-released “5 Star Generals” showcased Shabaam’s studied flow allied to Spinna’s signature space-funk production. It’s a winning chemistry that’s back in effect with “Do You,” a bonus cut from S-Dub’s new Keepers of the Lost Art album (out April 22nd) which you can stream below for your listening pleasure.
While you dip into the track’s endearingly abrasive charms, here’s Shabaam breaking down his history, explaining the difference between rappers and verbalists, and teasing about a possible four elements of hip-hop showdown with Spinna.
How would you describe the vibe of “Do You”?
It’s futuristic boom-bap. I made it with Spinna and it’s like he took a nice old-school sample and he put a futuristic spin on it. It felt good when I heard what he came up with. Spinna’s like my brother — we’ve been working for a few years now — so he makes stuff with me and my style in mind. The track definitely had the thump that I wanted — I was looking for tracks that lift me up and give me that energy.
In the song you have a line saying there’s a difference between a rapper and a verbalist. How would you describe the difference?
Well a verbalist is somebody who takes pride and time in putting words together and in explaining things. A rapper is just somebody who makes music to get money, you know? I think there’s a difference in the longevity and the quality of the music. I don’t just say stuff to say it — everything has a meaning behind it. I feel like a lot of rappers out there just want to make party music so they can make money, you know? There’s no longevity though: If you look at the timespan of whatever little dance they make up, once it’s done it’s over. But the records that me and Spinna make, you can play them ten or twenty years later if you’re still into hip-hop.
How did you first meet Spinna?
Oh, we got back to like ’96. Our first few records together were considered classics, like “5 Star Generals” which was featuring Eminem before he got down with Dr. Dre. Then we had the Polyrhythm Addicts album that came out on Nervous in like 1998 — that did pretty good for us and rose through the underground hip-hop scene.
What’s Spinna like to work with in the studio?
Well basically his studio is in his apartment — he has a basement that’s full of records, like thousands of records, so the vibe is like recording in a record store! He’s an avid record collector.
Have you ever been tempted to steal anything from Spinna’s record collection?
Nah, but I mean whatever records he has at his disposal, if I want to use them then he’ll let me use them. But he’s the beat wizard of beats and records and I’m the verbalist — I just make sure I write my stuff tight when it comes to his productions.
Is it true that you used to cut Spinna’s hair?
Oh yeah, I’m still his barber. Along with music I do barbering and I do graffiti — it’s all art.
Have you given Spinna many style tips for his hair?
Nah, he basically knows what he wants. He had dreads for a long period of time but he cut it down to a little afro so most of the times I give him a shape-up — nothing too extravagant.
Why should people check out your new album?
I think it’s a good blend of futuristic-type beats that also bring to mind some nostalgia and I’m talking about issues that range from family to struggles and enjoying life. I think it’s a well-rounded album. I have great production on there — along with Spinna I have Lewis Parker and DJ Wonder. A lot of deejays did most of the beats and I feel like deejays make the best producers ’cause they know about rhythms and how to get people motivated. I called it Keepers of the Lost Art ’cause I feel like we are the keepers of the culture. A lot of people are missing the four elements of hip-hop — deejaying, graffiti, emceeing, break-dancing — and all those elements come together when I put the album together.
If you and Spinna had a showdown in each of the four elements, who would win?
Well I got the emceeing and he’s got the deejaying, but I also do graffiti! I got one more element than him — but if Spinna can get on the floor and do a windmill then I lost!