On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN welcomed Dres of Black Sheep and Chi-Ali of Native Tongues to discuss their rise to fame, fondest memories, and the current state of hip hop.
Known for their clever rhymes, playful demeanor and unique jazz samples, Black Sheep (comprised of Dres and Mista Lawnge) rose to fame in the early ‘90s during hip hop’s golden era. After spending his early years in Queens, New York, Dres moved with his family to North Carolina where he first met Lawnge. Years later, the two connected in NYC where they both aspired to launch their music careers. From there, they built a relationship with members of the fledgling Native Tongues and appeared on De La Soul’s 1991 track “Fanatic of the B Word.” Later that year, the group released their debut album, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, which spawned the singles “Flavor of the Month,” “Strobelite Honey,” and “The Choice is Yours (Revisited).” “The Choice is Yours (Revisited)” peaked at No. 57 on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts and No. 1 on the U.S. Hot Rap Singles. The popular track then went on to become a hip hop classic and has since played in countless movies, television shows, and video games over the years. In 1994, the group released their sophomore effort, Non-Fiction, but the project didn’t attain the same commercial success as their debut. The group disbanded shortly thereafter and Dres pursued a solo career for the remainder of the decade.
Chi-Ali was born in the Bronx, N.Y. and linked up with Native Tongues as a kid. His first appearance on wax was on Black Sheep’s Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing album. He released his debut single, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a #” in 1992, which peaked at No. 6 on the US Hot Rap charts. But after dropping his debut album, The Fabolous Chi-Ali, that same year, the rapper faded from the public eye. In the early 2000s, he ran into problems with the law and was convicted of manslaughter. He served 12 years in prison and was released in 2012.
Now, with over three decades under their belts, both artists are still creating art for a new generation. Chi-Ali released a book in 2019 called “Another Kind of Freedom” and is also gearing up to release an AMC documentary based on his life this year. Meanwhile, Dres is working on a forthcoming, posthumous collaboration project with the late J Dilla.
For this week’s “Drink Champs” recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from the Dres and Chi-Ali interview. Check them out below.
1. On Chris Lighty’s Death
Although authorities ruled Violator Records exec Chris Lighty’s 2012 death a suicide, many people in the music industry speculated on the truth of his demise. Dres developed a close relationship with Lighty thanks to the latter’s ties to the Native Tongues. On “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. asked Dres if he truly believed that Lighty committed suicide and the emcee said the action didn’t match his personality. “It doesn’t seem like the brother I knew,” he said. “But when I went to see Chris, we had a conversation that we never had before where he was talking about [what was going on at home]. Me and Chris knew each other a lot of years and we generally didn’t [talk about] what was going on in the house. So that kind of struck me. I’ll never forget that. I do know for me to have a conversation like that with him, he was in a space that I didn’t know him for being in. He was sharing a few things that he never shared before.”
2. Chi-Ali On Becoming a Rapper
Dres took the lead during most of the sit-down with N.O.R.E. and EFN, while Chi-Ali occasionally offered his takes throughout the conversation. However, the “Age Ain’t Nothin But a #” rapper did tell the crew a story about how he first started rhyming. He said he connected with Native Tongues as a pre-teen and got a chance to perform at a Queen Latifah show at the Apollo when another act fell through. In that moment, his rap career was born. “I was 11 or 12 years old,” he said. “I didn’t even know where the shit came from. That was my first time performing and I rocked the Apollo and the crowd was like, ‘Go shorty.’ I never thought about rapping and it was meant to be.”
3. On Ageism in Hip Hop
Hip hop has been around for nearly half a century and while platforms like “Drink Champs” seek to honor the legends who paved the way, ageism still remains prevalent in the genre. Dres spoke out about the disrespect that older rappers receive and said that his skills are on a different level. “I don’t dig the ageism that cats try to play in hip hop,” he said. “If you’ve been a mechanic for 20 years, you’re a master mechanic. These kids cannot compare. How you gon’ wash us when we are at our nicest?”
4. On The Creation of “The Choice is Yours (Revisited)”
In addition to becoming a major hit in 1991, Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)” has become a pop culture staple. As mentioned, the track has been used in countless movies, commercials, and video games and has also been sampled by a laundry list of artists. During the interview, Dres spoke about the creation of the classic track and talked about its legacy. “I remember when we were in the studio, turning to Lawnge and saying, ‘I don’t know what we just did, but I know we did something,’” he said. “Every three to five years, this record gets a rebirth of a major magnitude. And it’s introduced to a younger generation and now I literally have grandkids singing this song. It’s become multigenerational. One of the dopest things about it is that I get to be a part of my children’s lives when I’m not here. That means so much to me.”
DJ EFN later asked Dres if the group has been able to profit off the song’s success over the years and he revealed that while they do receive some compensation, he believes they should get more. “The [original] deal wasn’t a fair deal,” he said. “The number we took, [the execs] got paid in full the very first publishing check.”
5. On Tupac Shakur
The Bronx trio The Legion were signed to Black Sheep’s One Love imprint in the early ‘90s and Dres told a story about how the group once performed at a show, headlined by Tupac and featuring The Notorious B.I.G. At the show, Dres and Tupac butted heads after the “California Love” emcee wanted to leave early to avoid a few altercations that were happening. However, Dres didn’t believe that the incidents were as serious as Pac made them out to be. Later during the interview, Dres said that while he and Tupac respected each other, he believes the late rapper’s actions didn’t always match up to the public’s perception about him. “When people revere him, I don’t tell them some of the things that I might know that might be in contrast,” he said. “I don’t share those things because he’s not here to have the opportunity to become everything they think he is. Thank God we got the opportunity to go forward. To be better.”
6. On The Dungeon Family
Later in the interview, N.O.R.E. asked Dres who he believes the Native Tongues should take on in a Verzuz battle. While Dres suggested Death Row, N.O.R.E. on the other hand, said the Dungeon Family would be a more fitting opponent. Dres concurred and said he always admired how the group built off of the legacy the Native Tongues pioneered. “They did something that I wish we had done,” he said. “We made these records about Black empowerment and unity and pooling our resources. And then, we didn’t set the example that we asked the people to do. Native Tongues was supposed to be something so prolific. We made records on exactly what we’re talking about and the Dungeon Family did what they were supposed to. They positioned themselves on our shoulders and took it a little higher.”
7. On The Meaning Behind The Black Sheep’s Name
When it was time to name their group, Dres explained that he and Lawnge wanted to pick a moniker that set them a part from the other members of their crew. “When we did the demo, we realized the power of the clique we were in,” he said. “They were so powerful. We [had] to find a way to be as dope as them, but not sound like them.”
8. On Phife Dawg
Black Sheep frequently collaborated with A Tribe Called Quest and Dres got the opportunity to build a relationship with each member of the Queens quartet. During the interview, he reflected on Phife Dawg and revealed he respected him for his moral compass. “Phife made me better just being around him,” Dres said. “Phife was the kind of cat, if we all jumped a turnstile [on the subway], Phife wouldn’t jump it. I was stupid enough to think that the first time it happened, that he was scared. But that was me being stupid. Some people do the right thing when nobody is looking. That was Phife.”
9. On Owning Your Masters
As Black Sheep’s music continues to live on through each generation, Dres said he is aiming to one day own his master recordings. He explained that his contract allows him to apply for ownership after a certain amount of time has passed and he’s already started the process. “If you had a contract in the ‘90s, you have a window at 30 years where as long as it is addressed in writing, between 32 and 35 years, everything can be reversed,” he said. “If the paperwork is not done or not put in, it just rolls over. I’m already situated to get my shit back.”