“You have to have both testicles in,” implores Matter Ov Fact, half of the upstate hip-hop duo the Doppelgangaz. “You can’t uniball this.” Sitting alongside EP, his fellow MC and producer, he’s presiding over a platter of Korean barbecue at a spot on 32nd Street in Manhattan while expounding on the dedication that self-released music demands. If you’ve been privy to the Dopp Gang’s releases since 2008’s Ghastly Duo debut, this mix of gastronomy and biology is exactly how you’d imagine the group spending its afternoons: The Dopp Gang’s tracks blend bucolic food references with lyrical nods to peculiar medical ailments and freaky sexual peccadilloes. Dopp Hopp, their latest, references pear and kohlrabi salad (rhyming the vegetable with Napa Valley wine pioneer Robert Mondavi), swingers parties, and maggot biotherapy. In fact, the only thing missing from our Korean barbecue rendezvous is the Dopp Gang’s sartorial calling card: the hooded horror-movie garb that this Orange County twosome have fleshed out into a Black Cloak Lifestyle philosophy.
“For a long time we were caught up in what it is to have a rap image,” says EP, who worked as a residential counselor at a house for people suffering from personality disorders during the group’s early days. “Like, we would try and have the latest gear and sneakers. Throwing the cloak on changed everything.”
According to Doppel gospel, the black cloak was Matter Ov Fact’s creation. Originally, it functioned as a way to “mask some bum-ass clothes,” like the Walmart outfits they wore underneath in early videos. But for fans, the cloaks quickly became a signifier of a DIY ethos. “It represents being able to do things yourself and not waiting on other people,” says Matter Ov Fact.
Self-sufficiency is an ethos that’s paying off for the Doppelgangaz. Since 2010, they’ve released ten albums and four EPs on their own Groggy Pack Entertainment label. EP says they’ve been approached by several independents but have always reasoned “they haven’t offered anything we couldn’t do ourselves — so we’d be doing the same thing but splitting it with other people.” Since they’re not splitting streaming revenue, the dedication of their fan base — affectionately dubbed Shark Nation — means the metrics of streaming can work: EP says when a loyal listener locks into an album and streams it over and over, he can generate the equivalent of three or four album purchases. If you’re doing the math at home, 1,500 streams (or 100 plays of Dopp Hopp’s fifteen songs) adds up to the revenue of one album sale (about $9.50). But with tracks like 2013’s dreamy “Barbiturates” approaching one million streams, Dopp Gang’s deep catalog keeps them going.
As the Doppelgangaz’ spins have increased, their sound has expanded. Earlier work like 2011’s Lone Sharks is defined by rugged and moody beats (and, in the case of “Suppository,” eerie horror movie sound effects). But Dopp Hopp embraces a patina of crispness, with songs like “Roll Flee” and “Boston Beard” infused with elongated, mellifluous synth lines, woozy cascading keys, and warmer drum tones. The album’s melodic accessibility marks a new dimension to the group’s sound — and it’s one prompted by the confidence of self-sufficiency.
“Early on we tried to keep things in the realm of the conservative and play by the rules of what it is to make a raw hip-hop song,” explains EP. “That was certainly us — but now we’re truly being ourselves and including so much stuff that influences us.”
The evolved Doppelgangaz sound might be slicker, but what’s remained consistent is an ability to kick kooky and sometimes squeamish lyrics that nevertheless glimmer with a positive undertone. “We’ll talk about people with deformities, but you’ve never once heard us rap about someone like that and not embrace them,” reasons EP. “Is it sometimes over the top? Yep. We say it in a dark way, and on a first listen it can sound crazy, but it truly amazes me how everybody picks the silver linings out of it.”
“Our whole thing is to show love to those who might not get love on a daily basis,” adds Matter Ov Fact, breaking down both the concept behind “Strong Ankles,” which is a sultry tribute to securing a sexual partner “that’s twice my width,” and the crux of the Dopp Gang credo. “Certain people post one picture and get six-figure likes so they’ve got all the love they need, but we’re talking about the big momma with the single-digit likes. It’s real life.”