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Smoke DZA and Harry Fraud ‘Battle the Sound’ on ‘He Has Risen’

It’s well after dark in an industrial recording studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn, but rapper Smoke DZA and producer Harry Fraud are still buzzing. Earlier, they wrapped a music video shoot for a track off their new album He Has Risen (out now) and got a surprise visit on set from a childhood hero. Fraud pulls up a photo of him and DZA next to an older guy wearing a plunging spandex tuxedo with a pink lapel. It’s Michael Jones, a/k/a Virgil, a pro wrestling icon who rose to popularity in the late 1980s. His manager is a friend of DZA’s and had arranged the visit. “I didn’t even know [Virgil was there] until on the way to the second location of the video,” says Fraud, who remembers seeing WWF Live at Madison Square Garden. “I was like, ‘naaaah.’ When I walked in and saw him in the flesh, I was like, ‘This is crazy.’”

As ‘90s kids who grew up in New York City — DZA in Harlem, Fraud in Brooklyn — there’s a kind of shared boyishness that comes out when they’re together. They discuss video edits over pizza marinara and weed, later sinking into the couch for a heated game of NBA 2K15 on PlayStation. Collaboration follows naturally for these two. “With Smoke, I know he’s not limited to one tempo or one bounce,” says Fraud. “I know he’s not gonna take a hit to his ego. I find it hard to work with people [with fragile egos]. I’m someone who likes to tear shit down at the drop of a hat and build it up a different way.”

Fraud, Virgil, and DZA
Fraud, Virgil, and DZA

Being receptive to criticism is an intentional decision for DZA. “My spiel for 2016 is, I like being produced. In order to be produced, you have to listen. I’m rapping. Fraudy’s building my theme music. In order for that theme music to be effective, I need to listen to this guy.”

He Has Risen is their first collaborative album since 2012’s Rugby Thompson, and DZA says it’s a new chapter. “It’s sonically straight-to-the-point. It’s good vibe.” The album shares its title with an episode from season three of The Sopranos, and the intro track is called “Badabing’s Theme,” but DZA clarifies that this isn’t an album of rapper-turned—Mafioso tales. What he and Fraud love about Tony Soprano is his humanity. “He has somebody whacked and he goes home and his wife is yelling at him,” says Fraud. “You love him. Everybody’s regular.”

That’s something DZA can relate to. After over a decade in the indie rap game, which includes working with high-profile artists like Wiz Khalifa and early Kendrick Lamar, he’s still regarded as part of the underground. He says that he’s comfortable where he fits—and where he doesn’t. “When they have conversations about New York rappers, they don’t talk about me,” he says. “I perform all over the world, [so] I’m at peace with them not mentioning me with the other guys. Maybe I’m not a person you can put into any kind of genre.”

For DZA, his focus is progressing musically—not being mired in nomenclature or rankings. “I’m not looking at anyone else’s success like it’s my spot. It’s alright. At the end of the day, my battle is not with any artist. It’s with the sound.”

He Has Risen was recorded over the past year-and-a-half. With so much material in the vault since their last album, finalizing the track list was an exercise in compromise. “A lot of times we don’t agree but we figure it out,” says DZA. Fraud adds, “I don’t want it to seem like I was pushing. Just because you have enough songs doesn’t mean you have the right songs that fit the right way.”

They whittled the options down to a lean, nine-track offering that was collaborative from start-to-finish. Fraud produces all songs, with Alchemist assisting on “It’s Real.” Snoop Dogg serves as the only guest, on “Morals.” Like the video cameo from Virgil, Snoop’s contribution was spontaneous. “I happened to be on the phone with him, just chatting it up,” DZA explains, “and I’m like, ‘Unc I got this record. He’s like, ‘Man send me this shit.’” A session arrived the next day, despite the fact that Snoop was on tour in Europe. “He did it in a hotel room,” DZA laughs.

At the end of the day, DZA hopes people pay serious attention to this record instead of just skimming. He Has Risen, says DZA, has a broader appeal than earlier work, and he hopes to cast a wide net. But whether or not that pans out, he can definitely expect support from his usual fanbase. “My fans like to smoke weed and listen to music,” he says. “I’m sure they’re gonna digest it.”

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Jason Derulo

If 2014 is the year of the booty, that’s thanks in part to Jason Derulo and his sexed-up, virtually inescapable presence with songs like the horn-trotting “Talk Dirty.” While Derulo initially hit the scene with slightly less overt hits like “In My Head” and “Watcha Say” (that one with the Imogen Heap sample), his latest release, April’s Talk Dirty, is chock full of back-end praising strip-club-primed jams (see his duet with Snoop Dogg, “Wiggle”). Derulo’s out to prove he’s got the swagger to hang with the best of them.

Mon., Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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BUILDING BLOCKS

Diplo is kind of everywhere these days. From rumors of romancin’ Katy Perry to a cameo in 22 Jump Street, he’s become the most immediately recognizable DJ since DJ AM. Yet it’s easy to forget how it all started: a collaboration with M.I.A. on her gargantuan hit “Paper Planes” and the success of his independent label Mad Decent. The label has hosted some of the hottest acts of the past few years, including Dip’s dancehall project Major Lazer, viral “Harlem Shake” producer Baauer, “Turn Down for What” producer DJ Snake, and Snoop Dogg’s reggae alter ego Snoop Lion. Its growth has been helped in part by the expansion of the Mad Decent Block Party, the once Philly-based showcase that has become a formidable traveling festival featuring artists from the label alongside some guest acts. This year’s NYC show takes place at Coney Island’s MCU Park and features DJ Snake, Dillon Francis and Diplo alongside Chicago’s Chance the Rapper.

Sat., Aug. 9, 3 p.m., 2014

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Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg—who’s currently taken the name Snoop Lion—needs no introduction. Snoop’s been the man since he was first introduced to the world on Dr. Dre’s 1992 debut album The Chronic. Since then, Snoop has sold more than 30 million albums globally and boasts a 12 solo album catalog. He continues to make music with a Wiz Khalifa collab on the way, scheduled for a 2014 release. And what should you expect when seeing Snoop? Him rocking out with a blunt in one hand and a bottle of gin in the other.

Wed., July 9, 8 p.m., 2014

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Boys Noize

Boys Noize is the performing name of German-born Alexander Ridha, a DJ and electronic music producer who also runs and curates the label Boysnoize Records. Blending everything from disco and hip-hop to French electro and house, Ridha has done produced and remixed for artists like Snoop Dogg, the Scissor Sisters, and Spank Rock. His DJ sets are constantly praised for being jam-packed with tracks from countless genres and countries—and if you go, expect it to be loud, as volume is what his 2012 record Out of the Black capitalizes on.

Tue., Oct. 22, 10 p.m., 2013

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Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine

It’s recommended that you temporarily raise your capacity for irony when you’re going to see Richard Cheese—the alter ego of comedian Mark Davis specializes in profane and alcohol-fueled Las Vegas lounge lizard versions of popular songs by the likes of Snoop Dogg, Slayer, and Britney Spears, all without spilling a sip of his martini. Cheese has had numerous albums over the years, earning a fan base devoted enough to pay $60 for advance tickets to this show at the Bowery ballroom. Consider him the the Weird Al Yankovic of big band jazz.

Wed., July 3, 9 p.m., 2013

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Reincarnated, An Ode to Snoop Dogg’s Consumption of Weed

Snoop Dogg travels to Jamaica to make a reggae album and be baptized in Rastafarian culture in Reincarnated, but mainly, Andy Capper’s documentary is about celebrating the iconic rapper’s fondness for smoking, smoking, and then smoking some more pot. The herb is inhaled freely and frequently throughout this nonfiction account of Snoop’s efforts to let go of his gangsta-rap past and, as “Snoop Lion,” connect with peace, love, and “the struggle”—which he defines as the universal plight of disenfranchised inner city youths. The film is as lightweight as the ganja-puffing is plentiful, little more than a vanity project that allows its subject to wax philosophical on his past triumphs, tragedies, and spiritual development (aided by Louis Farrakhan) from gangland pimp to nonviolent family man. Determined to prove that his shift to reggae isn’t just a “gimmick,” Snoop meets and collaborates with local legends like Bunny Wailer. Yet despite his sincere desire to turn over a new, positive leaf, his trips to mountainside pot plantations and through Bob Marley’s old Trench Town stomping ground still make him come off as a tourist. Regardless, he’s an engaging and amusing tour guide, never more so than when he slyly opines that, at 40, he’s now “bud-wiser.”

 

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Boys Noize

Compressed crowd-pleasing riffs have made Alex Ridha omnipresent on the American festival circuit, and his most recent release as Boys Noize, Out of the Black, included a guest spot from Snoop Lion amidst the guzzling electro. As part of his first-ever live tour of America, Ridha lords over the comparatively intimate terrain of Roseland Ballroom with support from Spank Rock.

Fri., Nov. 30, 8 p.m., 2012

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Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

A loose inquiry into the origins and craft of hip-hop, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, Ice-T’s enjoyably clannish, idiosyncratic directorial debut, features some big names: Snoop Dogg, Nas; Prada, Gucci. A more consistent and impressive source of anecdote than analysis, Rap travels from the East to West Coast via Detroit, while canvassing Melle Mel and Eminem, Grandmaster Caz and Kanye West. Ice begins with a baseline set of questions—about influences, technique, and style—and has each subject sign off with a few bars. (Kanye’s impromptu “Gorgeous” is riveting.) Styled as an antidote to the homogenizing effects of popularity, the film’s thesis—that rap lacks the respect given to jazz and the blues—feels thinly argued. Now a mass-cult phenomenon, hip-hop emerged from a complex respect-based economy (Nas alludes to the eff-you attitude behind ass-baring pants; KRS-One describes being drawn into rap by a public dissing); a sensibility, as the hyper-confrontational lyrics suggests, that revels in aggression, not acceptance. More persuasive when it explores the importance of place and brands to sound and identity (and the distinction between a rapper and an MC), Rap confirms the art of the form from the inside. Only time can sort out the rest.

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David Banner

The gruff-voiced Mississippi MC has a new one due out May 22 that he’s selling through his website for a suggested donation of $1. But if Banner’s business is going indie, the guest list on Sex, Drugs & Video Games suggests he’s still thinking mainstream: Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Snoop Dogg, the Game, and A$AP Rocky all put in appearances, as they may (or may not!) at this album-release party.

Wed., May 23, 9 p.m., 2012