A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Horseshoe Gang. The Gang is a group consisting of four brothers from Long Beach, California and every one of them has BARS. When I say that these guys can spit, I mean that they can rap on every level of the art. They have rhyme scheme, structure, hooks, cadence, flow. Everything that an emcee is traditionally supposed to have, these guys have.
Growing up as the younger brothers of Crooked I, the group got to hang around legends like Tupac, Eminem and Snoop Dogg on the daily. In our interview, Dice (the oldest of the members) even shares a story about how he turned down $100 to smoke a blunt from Tupac. The gems that they drop in our half hour long talk are endless and their thoughts on the current state of hip-hop, lyricism, being legendary, trap music and everything in between are definitely worth reading. Without further introduction, here is my interview with the Horseshoe Gang. Enjoy.
RESPECT.: I was listening to the new album Anti-Trap Music and it’s dope. It seems like you all build really well off of each other in terms of flows and rhyme schemes. What is your writing process like? Are you usually all in the same room or do you send each other verses back and forth?
HG: “Thank you first off. It’s mainly because we know what angle each other are going to go for before we even approach this rap. But normally when we’re writing our music we’re not even together. We have so much going on that we have to handle other things while writing. We’ll be out doing some sh*t, handling our daily errands while having to write at the same time. We can’t all be together all of the time so most of the time we’re all separate writing our sh*t and then we book a session, go up to the studio, and then lay our sh*t down.”
RESPECT.: It’s cool that you guys have that much chemistry that you can do that. The brother thing probably helps with that (Laughs) But when did you know that this rap thing was real and that it was an actual possibility for you vs. just being an incredible gift that you have been given?
HG: “You know, we were real young (when we knew). Because our mother and her twin sister were seniors so they instilled music in us. And then our two older brothers, they rapped. So it’s just been like generation after generation. It was almost destined for us to be in this game. So we really took it seriously, even when we were teenagers at a young age. So it’s definitely in our blood and we’ve been taking it seriously ever since we were kids bro.”
RESPECT.: At what point did you decide to form the group? Did you see Crooked doing it and then you decided, “okay I can do this on my own”, or was it always a group thing?
HG: “Well since we’re real brothers, we’ve always been a group. We’ve never really ever considered being an individual artist. Because we are actually a group as brothers it was just natural to be a group as rappers.”
RESPECT.: It works well and it’s so easy to tell the cohesiveness within the group while listening. Does the element of competition between members push you to write your best verses? After you hear someone’s verse do you ever go, “damn I’ve got to re-write mine!”?
HG: “Yeah, every now and then it does. But that’s the beauty of it. We keep each other on our toes so no one will ever be weak. But every now and again one person will lay his verse down on a song and everybody will be like, “daaaaamn. I wish I would have heard his verse first!” So it makes you kind of go back and tinker with your verse and then make sure it’s hard enough to match the other guys verse. But that’s beautiful though. We motivate each other at all times. One person may not be motivated or down, or going through some personal issues. But we all rally around that one individual or those two individuals, pick him up and then we’re back to it. That’s the beauty of being first, brothers and second a group.”
RESPECT.: Music has always been within you and around you. With your brother’s success, did you get to meet anyone really cool when you were younger? Who was the dopest person you got to meet?
HG Julius: “We met Sway Calloway. That was huge for me. I remember Eminem; “I met a retarded kid named Greg with a wooden leg.” I remember he was spitting crazy bars and Sway was somebody who we looked up to. So we met him at an early age.”
HG Dice: “I was around, around, around. Probably Tupac. I remember he was trying to get me to smoke a blunt. He tried to give me $100 to smoke a blunt.”
RESPECT.: Tupac gave you $100 to smoke a blunt? * laughs *
HG Dice: “He was trying to… I don’t smoke.”
RESPECT.: So you turned down a blunt from Tupac?
HG Dice: “And $100.”
RESPECT.: That is an impressive thing to say. That is also will power. I never used to smoke at all and I always said that if Snoop passed me the blunt I would have hit.
HG Dice: “Oh I was with Snoop a gang of times. He tried to pass me the blunt 1000 times. Him too. I remember I had to stay bout two weeks at Snoop’s house, me and Crook. It was crazy over there. I remember Jada Pinkett was over there, Criss Cross was over there. So many people came through. So that was crazy. It’s just that I’ve met so many people. Even Jay-Z. I was with Jay-Z a few times. And Eric B and Rakim! Matter of fact, Eric B. and Rakim were with Dr. Dre and then we just bussed out in a cypher. Crook jumped into the cypher. And they just started rapping, going crazy.”
RESPECT.: That’s crazy.
HG Kenny: “For me though, it probably would be Sway as well. Because like my brother was saying, we grew up watching a lot of his work. So to meet him at kind of a young age was definitely an honor.”
RESPECT.: Well since you guys were around so many greats and all of these big names, did they give you any tid-bits or pieces of advice that you still take with you in your every day life to this day?
HG Julius: “Well to be honest, we met Suge (Knight) very early, you know when Crook was on Death Row (Records) and what I learned from dude was that, Suge was pegged as a super villain right? But to be honest some of the stuff we learned from being around him is that dude gives turkeys on thanksgiving, he’s a humble dude, he’s a funny dude. So we learned that even though you may be perceived as a certain character within the industry, that you can actually be a cool dude.”
RESPECT.: That’s kinda cool to see that everyone has the dark and the light side. So after seeing all of these people did you sort of become accustomed to it and didn’t think too much of being around stars?
HG Demetrius: “I think what it is, is that, we never were star struck because we felt like we were rappers years ago. Like when Cris Cross got famous we were like “aw man, they’re gonna get the shine for being the young rap crew even though we were young guys rapping.” You know what I mean? Even though we weren’t famous these cats were our peers. So when we finally got to be around some of these dudes, it felt natural. So it wasn’t so much that we were starstruck, we just thought this is what we were supposed to be doing.”
RESPECT.: So you guys felt like LeBron out of high school kind of? Even though you were the younger guys, you knew that you could ball with the league?
HG: “Yup. You put it perfectly.”
RESPECT.: That’s kind of cool. I was actually going to ask you about your thoughts on this newer generation of hip hop artists as well as fans and the gap that exists between the two generations. It seems like this generation has shifted away from hard-core lyricism. We still do have guys like Drake, or Kendrick that are considered lyricists, but even with them it’s not as “bar for bar for bar” as it used to be. Is it hard to deal with the way that music is shifting, and how do you feel about existing in this era while being true lyricists?
HG: “It’s definitely hard to accept because we’re cut from that Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas cloth, you know? So the fact that Hip-Hop is more watered down, like what the young cats consider true lyricism and real hip-hop is watered down from what we’re used to listening to. And also it was hard to accept at first, but we’ll just take the credit for bringing it back because we can definitely do that. We can bridge the gap. We can be the missing link between this era and the old-school era. So we’ll just do that and then the young cats and the young listeners can understand the true essence of Hip-Hop.”
RESPECT.: So you see it as having your own lane within the realm of music now? The newer listener may hear your songs and be like, “oh sh*t, this is what I’ve been missing!”
HG: “Exactly. It’s like how you put it. We pride ourselves on being able to do everything. We can make songs, have bars, be deep, have substance, have good song structure. So we want to incorporate this new era but at the same time bring it back to the essence: to make bars, and make real music mainstream.”
RESPECT.: Word, I think that’s a good goal to have. So with the way that we view people like Fetty Wap or Post Malone, someone who makes good song structures and has a few hits but is not necessarily a great rapper or lyricist, do you think what it takes to be a legendary artist is different now? Is the standard different now with it being more about the song than the lyrics?
HG: “Absolutely. Nowadays you have a catchy beat, catchy hook, you basically winning. And if you continue to feed them that, you will be almost known as a legendary rapper in their eyes. But the true hip-hop heads, and the fans from the old school, they know. They know what makes a legendary rapper. So that’s why, I don’t understand why more legendary rappers don’t come out and speak on today’s era. Because they have a lot of power and influence too, so they could help bring it back to where it’s supposed to be. But it’s just like, they got they money, they fame, they’re done. But we don’t want to be like that. We get in this game, become legendary. We want to help those after us you know?”
RESPECT.: Yeah! I think someone like Kanye seems to do that a lot. Embracing the new guys and bringing them into his world to make his sound relevant while still maintaining his creative integrity, but do you think that it’s kind of difficult to be from a different time where you know what that standard is and you listen to the new guys, without sounding like a hater? And do you have a problem with how politically correct our era is, where every time you do voice your distaste for something it is referred to as beef?
HG: “Absolutely. It is definitely tough not to be labeled as a hater. Because the listener today is definitely quick to label someone as a hater if they say that they don’t like somebody’s music. But that’s why you have to make them love real rap and understand what real rap is. Then if they say, “oh I don’t like this or that” you’ll be like, “oh, okay. You know what? We starting not to like you too!” You definitely have to popularize real rap, and then you can say what you don’t like. So it’s a fine line you got to walk.”
RESPECT.: I have had conversations with people about this, and my perspective may be a little bit different about this because I am a bit younger, but do you think there is such a thing as real hip-hop/ real rap, or is there such a thing as just an artist who feels that rap is an outlet? Is there quote on quote real hip-hop or is there just hip-hop and there are different lanes within it?
HG: “It’s a bit of both man. Because we kind of look at it like, if you eat Taco Bell, that’s real sh*t but it’s not authentic Mexican food. It’s acceptable. We all go to drive through and eat this ready-made Mexican food, but if you really want the authentic food then you’ll have to go elsewhere. If I want real rap then I’m going to go to Jay Z, I’m not going to go to “insert any of these new rappers”. We feel like they both can exist in the same culture, but it shouldn’t be that one of these gimmicky jingle rappers can buy his mom a house and then you have the real authentic rappers and backpack rapper struggling to pay his rent. It shouldn’t be like that. It should be a little more balanced in terms of the authentic rappers popularity.”
RESPECT.: So you think that there should be room for everything, but we’re being convoluted with too much of a certain thing?
HG: “Yup. Absolutely.”
RESPECT.: So what do you think can happen to change that? Because I don’t think that necessarily those guys, even though they are making money, are going to be held to the same standard as one of the Jay Z’s, Eminem’s etc. I don’t think in 5 years we’re gonna look back and be like, “he is the greatest!” We will probably say, “he was popping, he had a hot song.” And I think it’s very easy to see who the people are in this era who will be considered 5, 10 years down the road. How do you think we can break through and see past the right now, and see who is going to be great in the future?
HG: “Well that is one of the good things about today’s era. I would say maybe 10 years ago the rap game looked a little bit worse than it did now. So like you were saying, even though it is a little bit oversaturated, you can tell that like the Kendrick’s and the Wale’s and the J.Cole’s, they will more likely get the critical acclaim before some of these other rappers. So if you see on one of these shows like Jimmy Kimmel, if you see a real dope performance from a real hip hop artist, it’s gonna be one of those. It’s not gonna be from one of those real gimmicky artists. So it is I feel like a good thing, although rap is somewhat watered down a little bit, it’s still noticeable when you have those artists that are going to probably have longevity.”
RESPECT.: So this is sort of off that topic, but sort of has to do with a similar idea. You guys say you are “Anti-Trap”. And I was watching you in a couple other interviews and you all seemed to have the ideology of “there is room for everyone. Everyone can kind of do their own thing.” So why make such a bold statement with “Anti-Trap Music” rather than just letting everyone do their own thing? Do you think that there is a real negative impact that this music is having, or what is it about trap specifically that makes you want to publicly proclaim that?
HG: “You know what man, to quote the great Batman. It’s like he said, “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” You know? If you see certain things go on long enough, you probably will end up protesting against them. So it’s like, although we are kind of those “live and let live artists”, if we feel like certain aspects of this culture is getting too much attention, we kind of feel like it should be up to the gatekeepers to be like, “okay that’s not cool” but since they’re financially secure they are thinking, “okay why cause a wave when I’m making money”. We’re not financially secure. We’re struggling. We have nothing to lose. So if a couple feathers get ruffed by us saying that we don’t like too much trap, then we aren’t going to lose a label deal, we aren’t going to lose endorsements. We have nothing to lose. So in those previous interviews that we did we had to point out that we don’t think that trap music sounds bad. Some of it. There is a place for everything. If you’re a dude who wants to rap about chewing gum. Hip-hop is about expression. Whatever you choose, whatever you want to express, hip-hop is all welcoming. It’s just that the bubble gum rapper should not be someone who is played thousands of times a day who kid’s idolize. It should not be that.”
RESPECT.: So you think that there is room for everyone but the guys on top should be the critically acclaimed guys and the bar should not be the guys just making senseless trap music because of it’s negative impact on the culture?
HG: “Exactly. The trap music message is irresponsible because they’re rapping and singing about drug dealing. So the minute we hear our niece and nephew come in the house singing these irresponsible songs, that makes us say, “okay we have to do something about this.” Because this should not be dominating the industry, especially when you consider the fact that most trap rappers as far as skill-wise, are low on the totem pole. It’s like, if this was the NBA, the players in the D-League would be on the all-star team. It doesn’t make sense. You feel what I’m saying? So you have Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron sitting on the bench? That doesn’t make sense. So that’s why we feel like we have several reasons why we need to turn our industry upside down to where talented people in the underground can be in the mainstream.”
RESPECT.: So do you guys all believe that music can have either a really positive or negative influence on people and the community? So the fact that trap is so popular is having a negative influence on the children listening? And do you think the fact that it is lacking a conscience is the problem and that’s why it’s okay the way that Nas or Kendrick does it because it’s from an outside perspective. Or even someone who kind of reflects on it. But the trap music out right now is so much just about the gang banging and killing.
HG: “Definitely. It’s definitely all about negativity. It’s promoting the negativity and making it look glamorous. We all know that art imitates life, but in actuality, art imitates life and then life imitates art after that. Because what happens is, it starts with real life, but then you bring it to art. But if you’re irresponsible with your art, then you’re going to influence a younger generation with your art. So if you got that platform, even though you’re not technically a role model, you have to understand that there is a following and people looking up to you. So be careful what you say. And we are almost the rap police at this point and we are trying to clean up our streets. We are trying to make sure that no one is out here teaching the youth about irresponsible things. You know what I’m saying?”
RESPECT.: Batman. So what does Horseshoe Gang represent with their music? What do they stand for and what do they wish to represent?
HG: “We stand for everything that is hip-hop and real life. We’re not just one dimensional, we can do it all musically. And we’re brutally honest. We’re open book. That’s why people relate to us. We bring everything to the table, we air everything out. We fold dirty laundry, that’s why everyone can relate to us and feel like we’re family. That’s why The Horseshoe Gang, we want our legacy to be, not only were they real, but they were some of the best to ever do it because they can do everything.”
RESPECT.: The last question I had was just, whether you guys each as individuals had one piece of life philosophy that you kind of live by that you think would benefit your fans or people listening?
HG Julius: “What I’ll say is that I think everybody, in addition to trying to better yourself and trying to be on the road to righteousness, or whatever you’re trying to do in life, is that you always have to be a walking example of your own philosophies. So if you’re going to be giving advice or try to make other people around you feel positive, make sure you are doing everything that you preach so it will spread out to everybody else. So basically, be a walking example of your own philosophy.”
HG Demitrius: “What I would say is, if you’re a young artist these days, you basically can go on your phone, or go on your laptop or whatever and find out almost everything you need to know about hip-hop. Like if you’re an aspiring rapper or singer, you can find out almost everything you need to know. Us, sometimes Rakim would say a word and we had to look it up. Or he would reference something, and we would have to go look it up because we didn’t know what he meant. So I would say that I feel like, if you are a part of hip-hop, and you feel like you love this culture, then I think you should study it. To any up and coming rapper, or whatever even if you do graffiti or are a break-dancer or whatever, you should study this before you get into this. Now I’m not saying you have to be a scholar, but you definitely should know a little bit about it. Because sometimes, now I’m not going to say no names, but some of these young cats will disrespect you in their interviews because they’ll be like, “oh I was born in the 90’s so I don’t care about that.” Or they’ll say something like, “I’m not Nas. I’m not Jay-Z. I don’t have to be knowledgeable about this or that.” And it’s like, alright you don’t have to know everything, but I think you should know a little bit about the culture that you’re representing.”
RESPECT.: I was actually going to ask, because I have had this conversation before about the Vince Staples interview because I am 22 and one of my friends happened to grow up on Nas, and on Biggie and on Tupac. His older sister put him onto that stuff. But I didn’t. I happened to grow up on Kanye, I happened to grow up on later Jay Z and Drake, and those are my guys. And we have had this conversation before. I don’t think that it’s meant to devalue the things that those other guys are doing as long as you appreciate what they’ve done. But I think where it gets misconstrued is when someone says that ‘Illmatic’ is the best album of all-time and if you disagree then you are looked at as wrong. But to me, I didn’t have life experiences surrounding it, so it doesn’t connect with me. That’s why for me ‘MBDTF’ is my favorite album. I don’t necessarily think it is the best album, but for me that’s what I connected with. So do you think it also has to do with how you relate music to your experiences?
HG Demetrius: “Now I will say this. There are definitely some rappers, usually older rappers who kind of feel like there are certain answers that are just accepted as law in hip-hop. You don’t have to though. Especially considering where you were born or whatever, and what your particular take is on the period you grew up in. Only thing I would say is this: if you say that, “’Illmatic’ was not my favorite album, my favorite album is from Fabolous” my issue is when you say, “’Illmatic’ is not my favorite album, I’ve never heard it.” When you’re ignorant to whatever these legendary projects are, that’s when we have a problem. So study it so that you can say, you know what? That’s not my era, I wasn’t really into KRS-One like that. BUT I know he was a legend and I respect it. You know what I mean?”
RESPECT.: Right, give the props and know the research.
HG Dice: “I say, if you’re an up and coming rapper, if you rap and you haven’t made it, made it, get a second gig. Don’t let this be the only thing you do. Cause then you’ll wake up 40 and the only thing you can say your claim to fame will be is “I’m fresh!” “I’m fresh tho. I’m 40 n*gga. No job. I’m fresh though.” You don’t want to wake up like that you know? There’s no guarantees that you’re gonna make it. Back in the day it was like, if you dope and you could spit, you was gonna make it. But these days, who knows? Who knows who’s gonna make it? Albums ain’t selling no more. So if you ever been rapping, please get a hobby, get a second job, go to school get a different trade, cause this might not happen. There’s a high chance you might not make it at all, and you gonna be paying to do showcases and never make it in rap. So get a different job, learn how to weld, do something else and that’ll get you far. Cause this is not, I mean even us, we been rapping and this is we put all our eggs in one basket and just hoping they hatch. I’m sitting. We need everybody else to go and get a job. We wish we had some sorta different trade or something like that. But we finna make it. We gonna make it in general, us. But get a different trade.”
HG Kenny: “I would say though before we get up out of here is stay consistent. With consistency you can.”
Then the signal got cut out from the call. It was an incredible talk with humble and talented dudes and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to interview them. Go follow them on twitter @Horseshoegang and on Facebook HorseShoeGangCOB and please make sure to pick up a copy of their new album below.
Album Stream: https://soundcloud.com/seven13music/sets/horseshoe-gang-anti-trap-music