- Wed, 2011-11-23 15:56
Photograph by Carl Springs
After years of relentless touring and hard graft, US rapper B. Dolan is recognised by all who know him as a formidable talent, whether he put his efforts towards classic, boom-bap hip hop or spoken word storytelling. Following the release of his recent album Fallen House, Sunken City, he has joined Scroobius Pip on his tour of the UK and Ireland.
I Like Music caught up with B. Dolan to chat about the tour so far, a spate of on stage dance-offs, hip hop and punk rock, lyric writing and a brace of forthcoming album releases.
“I Like Music because…it engages the most important part of people’s spirit; the part of us that wants to transcend and change things. The best part of people.” B. Dolan
ILM: How’s the tour been going so far?
B. Dolan: It’s been really great! I met Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip when they got signed to Strange Famous and came over and toured the US. So I’ve toured the US with them, and England and Ireland last year, but this tour specifically seems more suited to the kind of music I make, because Pip went and made an album that sounds more ‘Strange Famous’. The specific segment of the Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip fanbase that I’m now performing to every night is already geared toward the kind of sound and performance that I do. It’s been really rowdy and hyped every night, and also there are a lot of kids who know my stuff now, and Pip’s given me a good 45 minute set.
ILM: What have been some of the best moments?
B. Dolan: I started doing this thing on this tour... For a long time I’ve wanted to cover this particular LL Cool J song - You Can’t Dance - that was on his first album. Everyone knows the hard LL Cool J stuff like Mama Said Knock You Out and The Bells, but I find that he said some of the most unintentionally hilarious things in his really old-school rap. This song You Can’t Dance has lines like “you dance like a fat old lady, not saying that fat old ladies ain’t nice!” So I’ve been covering that every night and picking someone from the audience to come up and dance-battle me while I’m rapping that song to them. It’s the part of the night where I don’t know what’s going to happen. Sometimes I’ve accidentally pulled up some incredible dancers who’ve owned me on the stage, and sometimes I’ve pulled up some drunken heckler that was annoying me and I just serve him with my dance moves.
ILM: How would you describe the rest of your live show?
B. Dolan: My career up to this point has been unique – in this time period anyway – in that I don’t rely on any kind of buzz or big label push. I’ve pretty much built what following I have on the strength of opening up for people like Dan and Pip, or Sage Francis, and making it my business to be the guy that you know nothing about when you turn up at the show, but you walk away with my CD in your hand, impressed. So the show is geared towards breaking the ice with crowd participation… There are very aggressive songs, very dancey songs, very laid-back almost spoken word pieces, there are straight spoken word pieces with no instrumental behind it. The set has a lot of peaks and valleys, funny and weird moments, and night-to-night it’s different. My live show has really been the fuel that’s made my career go anywhere at this point, and I think that’s unique among many artists.
ILM: What do you find spoken word offers you as an artist that hip hop doesn’t?
B. Dolan: I was writing raps for a long time before I discovered spoken word, then I stumbled into that scene and had immediate success with it, so I ended up staying there for a little while. It also happened to be the first time that I stepped on stage and learned the basics of stage craft. Like how to speak to a crowd in an intimate, heartfelt way as opposed to just grabbing your crotch or throwing your hands up. Communication stuff. How raising and lowering your voice can be used to keep attention and maintain the flow of stuff. It taught me a lot about what I do on stage at a very basic level. But at the end of the day I don’t think there’s a huge difference between what makes a good lyric and what makes a good spoken word poem.
ILM: I suppose it comes down to what form of delivery suits a particular lyric.
B. Dolan: Yeah. And a lot of the songs I do on stage I can also do as spoken word poems. On the first night of this tour, in Hull – the very first song of the very first set – we came out and there was a short fuse. The lights and sound-system shut down. There was something like 250 kids in the room and I had to stop and just do a spoken word piece unamplified. But it went off. The ability to do that stuff is something that myself, Pip and Sage Francis have on our side. We can perform at that basic level of storytelling. We don’t need anything; we can captivate an audience unaided!
ILM: How do you go about the writing process?
B. Dolan: I’m constantly writing. There are song ideas that just hang around for years. Because of the nature of being an independent artist I have way more song ideas and lyrics than I have time to write. I always have a list of song concepts, or hooks that I want to sample. Part of that might also be an incubation thing. I write songs when I’m ready to write them. There’s something there, but it’s not fleshed out, then six months later another piece of that idea might make it fall into place and I then write it very quickly.
But in general, in the course of making an album what I usually do is get a beat I like and then record a first verse and a chorus to prove to myself there’s a song there. Then I leave it alone and go do another one. Two or three months later I come back with a little objectivity so I can look and be like “that’s still cool,” or “that’s not as cool as I thought it was.” That’s generally how most things go, but then there are songs like Earth Movers or Joan of Arcadia that are written over the course of two hours. Those are some of my favourites. Then some songs like Border Crossing take me six months to write! You just reach this point of despair where you’ve lost yourself in it and you’re just like “there’s no way this can still be good! I must have destroyed whatever was good about this idea by now.” That one amazed me because I came out the other end and it’s still one of my favourites.
ILM: Are you working on anything at the moment?
B. Dolan: I’ve written a lot of songs in the last year, since releasing Fallen House. Probably more than ever before. At least two albums worth of songs. House of Bees Volume 2, which is an album that I’m doing with Buddy Peace, should be out really soon. It’s fifty percent done now, and as soon as I go home from this tour I’m going to knock out the rest of that. It’s just a matter of when would be the best time to release it, but it should definitely be out within the next six months. I’ve also been working on an album with Dan le Sac for the past year that will be more of an official album while House of Bees will be more mixtapey and where I’ve directed all my more boom-bap hip hop songs.
Actually, in the next couple of weeks I’m probably going to release a song called Film The Police. Buddy Peace reconstructed NWA’s Fuck The Police beat out of the original samples and we made a song about people’s right to film cops, and why it’s important to film them when you see people being arrested or when you’re at a protest. It features Toki Wright from Rhymesayers and Jasiri X and we feel it’s really relevant to the Occupy movement at the moment. So a lot of that boom-bap political stuff that maybe people have come to expect from me is going to go to the House of Bees release, and the Dan le Sac stuff is more in the direction of my first album. It’s more electronic and Moog-y and less rappy. It’s not quite spoken word, but it’s more intricate, poetic language. So I’m just in the process of separating it all and working out what song goes with what project.
ILM: Who are some of your favourite artists and lyricists?
B. Dolan: That list is really long! Kids always ask that and I try to explain that I’m constantly trying to keep myself inspired. I’m constantly inspired by the people that I’m around, and the stuff I go and seek out includes actors like Klaus Kinski and directors like Werner Herzog. In terms of hip hop it’s people like Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul and KRS-One. The usual suspects really. But also a lot of my contemporaries like Pip or Sage Francis, or Cecil Otter and a lot of the people that are on the Strange Famous label.
ILM: What is it about Pip's work that you enjoy?
B. Dolan: I’m really loving this album and his energy. It’s really great to see kids respond to it. There have been circle pits at every show! We were doing Soldier Boy in Bristol and there was a crazy mosh pit in front of us and when it got to each of our verses the kids would stop moshing, face the front and listen to what we were saying, and then when it hit the chorus they’d start moshing again. It’s really fun for me - as someone who is always thinking about crowd dynamics - to see music have that kind of effect where kids are simultaneously reacting in a very physical, aggressive way but their minds are engaged in the same song. The hip hop stuff and the punk rock stuff is happening at the same show.
ILM: It must be great to see people that engaged...
B. Dolan: Yeah. And I’ve been lucky that in addition to going out on my own and building my own audience that I can link up with somebody like Pip or Sage who have created their own audience as well. I was in Germany last month at a punk rock festival with a thousand punk rock kids who’d never heard this kind of music before, and that’s an important part of it too. But it’s always awe-inspiring to see Pip’s audience: this is work that Pip has done, and this is the result of it. These kids aren’t here by accident, they’re here because this dude’s been doing what he does. He’s built this fanbase that suddenly has this amazing potential to be really rowdy, be a great crowd at a show, but also really listen to what’s being said on stage. They engage in a deep way with independent music.