By all virtue of logic and reason, Duck Down Records shouldnâ€™t be in existence today. After all, the eighteen-year old management group turned record label is the dusty product of a supremely grimier era in hip hop that disappeared alongside the demise of triple-down bubble jackets and Timberlands.
However, while all else seemed to flounder and fail, Duck Down persevered while aggressively sticking to its original line-up and core values in the face of quickly changing times. The labelâ€™s resilience can be ascribed to the vision of Dru Ha, Duck Downâ€™s CEO and co-founder. Through the trying years, Dru Ha has shrewdly navigated the shifting topography of hip hop, launching surgical strikes on the music industry to cement Duck Downâ€™s relevance in an age where the vapor of hype rules supreme.
Join us as we sit down with the man himself to discuss Duck Downâ€™s current standing, where itâ€™s headed and why Sean Price would never stand for an ice cream flavor named after Heltah Skeltah.
â€œIce Cream Flavors are a little too sweet for any of the BCC Members. Sean Price would hit me with a Super Pause!â€
Format: For the readers who don’t know who you are, please introduce yourself.
Dru Ha: Dru Ha representing Duck Down Music, Co-CEO along with my partner Buckshot.
Format: There’s been much discussion lately about ‘the future of hip hop’ and how rap music is once again shifting direction. In an age where electronica and hip hop are playing off each other once again, where does a roster like Duck Down’s fit into the mix?
Dru Ha: We are not so worried about the “direction” people and press say hip hop is going in as we have always focused on what we refer to as our “criteria” and that’s just what we consider good music. However, we are making a legitimate effort to diversify our roster and have different aspects of hip hop music covered. That could be “extra” street in an artist like Ruste Juxx or street conscious music in Smif n Wessun, to ignorance at its finest in Sean Price. 9th and Buckshot have focused on what they have coined “adult contemporary” hip hop. Touching on new additions with Kidz in the Hall and at the same time paying homage with the one off deal we did with KRS-One. Don’t know so much about the Electronic but if we found the right group in our eye that represented it, wouldn’t rule it out.
Format: Rap, in particular, is ironically regarded as one of the most conservative musical genres in that it traditionally offers little to no room for aesthetic and stylistic deviance or experimentation. Duck Down’s artists are some of the last soldiers in this old guard of mid-90s hardcore hip hop, yet they are being embraced readily by hipster and scenester crowds around the world. How do you explain Duck Down’s continued reception in festivals that feature artists like Feist and Sean Price on the same day?
Dru Ha: I think that’s a tribute to our perseverance and resilience of continuing to put out music and remain relevant not just from our “classics” from the 90’s but also from our post 2000 works. Artists like Sean Price have stepped out on their own and began working with groups like Jedi Mind Tricks, Immortal Technique, and other underground groups of today that have helped reinvent and reintroduce himself to today’s hip hop Fan. Buckshot did much the same with linking with 9th Wonder and working and touring closely with Talib Kweli.
Format: Back in the day, Duck Down was one of the first labels to share apparel sponsorship with the then very young label, LRG. You had a few shirts with them as well as an ad campaign featuring Cocoa Brovas. Recently, streetwear heads have seen your work tied with Brooklyn-based King Stampede. What do you think about the very prolific pairing of rap with fashion today?
Dru Ha: Actually our fashion partnerships go back further than the LRG campaigns you mention. Buckshot and I were, and remain, very friendly with Marc Ecko and not only did we rock the Ecko clothing in early ads but Marc and the Ecko mind lab personally have designed several Duck Down album artwork campaigns including: Buckshot’s BDI Thug, Black Moon’s Total Eclipse, Boot Camp Clik’s Chosen Few and the entire Triple Threat Campaign which featured 9th Wonder & Buckshot’s Chemistry, Sean Price’s Monkey Barz and Smif n Wessun’s Reloaded. Obviously our artists are considered trend setters and if you will “trend” models to a demographic that these clothing companies want to reach. What better way for them to gain exposure than to have credible artists wearing their brands. In turn to have someone as talented and creative as Marc Ecko or LRG’s art department work on our album designs is priceless. For us it provides incredible cross promotions and unique artwork that our fans appreciate. It always has to be give and take though. We can’t just go around endorsing brands if there’s not something more than a few t-shirts and hats in return.
Format: Recently, Duck Down has undergone a palpable reinvention, galvanized by Boot Camp Clik’s first full-group release (The Last Stand) in years. What spurred the label’s revitalization, and are there plans to expand Duck Down’s reach beyond its hardcore cult following from the mid 90s?
Dru Ha: In our eyes we never really went anywhere or took time off, it’s just that when we lost our major label deal, in the form of Priority Records in 1999, the press and some fans had so written us off that we had major challenges to overcome. First we needed to secure a new source of distribution which took us a few years to land. During that time we remained active by releasing 12″ singles from Smif N Wessun “Super Brooklyn” and started laying foundation for Sean Price’s solo career. We were one of the first labels to land a deal with KOCH Distribution in 2002 and we came through the door swinging with the Boot Camp Clik Chosen Few album. That album featured “And So” and put us back in play at mixshow radio. Even BET was playing the video for “Think Back.” The Triple Threat campaign, led by the Sean Price craze is what we really breathed new life back into the label. During that time Little Brother and 9th Wonder were peaking with their underground buzz and working with them in those early years in the game (for them) helped attract some of those “new” underground fans to our artists and movement.
Format: Event promotion companies like Live Nation are starting to offer lucrative deals to both mainstream and independent artists who are seeking alternatives to record label infrastructures. How does a label like Duck Down cope with the fundamental changes the music industry is about to go through?
Dru Ha: Well we’ve been offering these type of deals for a long time ourselves now. Some artists or management companies bark at the idea of 360 revenue sharing but if record sales are hurtingâ€”which they factually areâ€”then as a label you have to ask yourself why you would spend significant marketing dollars to expose a group and then not have an interest in the other areas of the business which are thriving. Corporate Sponsorship, touring, features and endorsements for hip hop artists are at an all time high and an investment in a group today could be viewed as more than just for the album sales. As far as the lucrative advances we, of course, have to be more selective with the groups we can go after and as for cutting out the record label, well we like to believe that we offer a level of promotion, strategy and experience that couldn’t just be easily replaced.
Format: Duck Down has always been admired in part for not only the individual artists’ intensely unique personalities and styles, but also the unbreakable crew mentality that the label exudes as a whole. However, you’ve recently added new acts to the line-up, including KRS-One and Kidz in the Hall. Please talk about the reasoning, implications of, and process behind making decisions like these.
Dru Ha: Well we touched on it earlier but again, it’s to diversify the roster, stay current and as a label show that our world wide distribution deals, our staff and experience as a talented marketing company can not only service Boot Camp Clik but other artists as well. The KRS deal is a partnership with KRS where he and Buckshot will be working on a project together. Nobody can sign KRS One, he has too much history and rank in the game for that. As the opportunity presented itself to us, Buckshot and I jumped at the chance to work with KRS because we feel he fits in so well with our style and our message. That is still to represent the true lyrical MC’s, artistry and showmanship of hip hop music.
We also looked at the bigger picture of how exciting a tour with Buckshot and KRS could be. Putting Buckshot and KRS in the studio together is like a dream team. We’re incredibly excited about what that project is going to produce. Kidz in the Hall really are what’s “new” and “now” in hip hop. I hate labeling an artist and music but people are gravitating with this “hipster” movement that’s gaining popularity right now. To Duck Down, Kidz represented a group that we were lacking and another critical component to what’s an expanding roster. Also want to point out that we were equally impressed with Major League Entertaiment which is Kidz in the Hall management as they added an incredible marketing arm and their own set of unique promotion and A&R capabilities to the project. As an indie label you need acts that are not only talented but that have good people around them.
Format: If you were to release a line of ice cream with flavors named after the Boot Camp Clik members, what would some of them be?
Dru Ha: Wow, (laughs), I think I could have a lot of fun with this but Ice Cream Flavors are a little too sweet for any of the BCC Members. Sean Price would hit me with a Super Pause!
More Info: http://www.duckdown.com/