“People Who Think They Know What We Should Like, Don’t Know Us”: An Interview with The Doppelgangaz

Pete Tosiello sits down with the New York duo to discuss nostalgia, touring life, and inspiration for songwriting.
By    December 18, 2015


The Doppelgangaz revel in squalor. Since debuting in 2010 with 2012: A New Beginning, the black cloaked duo from Orange County, NY has relished vagrancy, poor hygiene, and heavyset older women. But if their lyrics evoke a buoyant poverty, their sample-driven production couldn’t be more lavish, drawing inspiration from the New York City boom bap of their youth and the eerie Hudson Valley backwoods in equal measures.

After the release of their new album Beats for Brothels, Vol. 3 on December 18, the childhood friends EP and Matter ov Fact will hit the road for tour stops across North America and Europe. – Pete Tosiello

Apologies in advance if I’m addressing these questions at both of you.

Matter ov Fact:  Nah, nah, we’re one and the same. Girls know, they get one of us, they get both of us.

You two have been friends since the fifth grade. What are some defining moments in your friendship that shaped who you have become as artists?

MOF: We fucked up in a talent show together one time. That’s where we got our stage presence.

EP: One thing I’ll never forget is seeing Hanson. You know, the band, the three brothers and shit? We’re the same age as the youngest one, the drummer. So what we said was, “If that little dude can do it? We can do this!”

MOF: Around that time, we had a friend, he said, “You seen this group? The three blond chicks? Hanson? Damn, those chicks look dumb good.” This perv thought Hanson was girls.

 You guys have managed to build a lot of your audience through social media, but you don’t reveal much more online than you do on record. How conscious are you of maintaining the brand across channels?

MOF: It’s just us, we don’t really control it.

EP: We never sat back and came up with this image. People see the black cloaks, but as far as our personalities go, the music and real life are the same old shit.

I think the nature of rap production makes true collaboration hard. For instance, we often hear speculation that beats credited to A Tribe Called Quest were really Q-Tip productions, or that Erick Sermon was behind beats credited to EPMD. How much of your production is really a collaborative process?

EP: So, it’s me and him, sitting as close as you and me are right now. We’re both at the keyboard, punching keys together. So if we play a chord, I play two notes and he plays one. [Laughs] Okay, it’s not like that, but usually one of us starts something off, whether it’s an idea, or a sample, or a sound, or just a feeling we want to go with. If I have a drum pattern or just a musical skeleton, he’ll come in and say, “I think you should arrange it this way,” or “Take this part out.” It’s the same way with lyrics. I’ll have an idea for a hook, and he’ll say, “Alright, I think we should approach this from this angle. Maybe we should do twelve bars instead of sixteen.” We’re always on the same wavelength, so if I start it, he’ll finish it, and if he starts it, I’ll finish it.

Your discography to date is divided between instrumental albums and rap albums with vocals. Do you know in advance what’s going to be a rap song, and what’s going to remain an instrumental?

EP: If something’s undeniable, we have to rap to it. That doesn’t mean it’s the hottest beat. We have beats we love, but don’t work out when we try to rap to them. If it’s calling for lyrics, it’s calling for lyrics, but we’re making so many beats on a consistent basis that we also want to make sure we’re showcasing ourselves not only as lyricists but as a production group as well. We want our music placed in film scores and commercials, that’s very important for us right now.

I remember hearing “Holla x2” on Ray Donovan last summer.

EP: Yeah, we don’t have a lot of artists hitting us up for beats, but we’ve seen some pickup from the film world. It’s not a bad lane to have as an artist—Hollywood cuts checks.

I noticed the Ray Donovan version was slightly different than the album version. Were there sample issues?

EP: Yeah, the album mix is a sample. So we made a new version, got this dude to actually do the vocals over. What’s wild working with Hollywood is the deadlines. They hit us up for the track, and we had two weeks to put it together. We laid the new vocals, redid the drums and sent it out.

With the producers we listened to growing up, their samples were really only as good as their vinyl collections. With so much more obscure music readily available now, where do you turn for samples?

MOF: Most of the samples we use are random and cheap as hell. When we’re overseas, we’ll take stuff out of the dollar bin. It’s never planned out, like, “Oh, we have to go get this rare record.” We use some samples that nobody would ever find—local acts, or specialty records pressed for a specific event.

So everything is cleared?

MOF: Everything is cleared. EVERYTHING IS CLEARED!

Where did you learn sound engineering? Was it just a function of being studio rats?

EP: As far as engineering goes, it would be an insult to professional engineers to call us that.

MOF: But we can tell when something sounds bad.

EP: We mix our records, but we don’t master them. But yeah, we spent a ton of time in the studio.

You’ve both voiced that you don’t want to be perceived as New York revivalists. What do you think are the dangers in being viewed as a nostalgia act?

EP: If people have a preconceived idea of how something is supposed to sound, they’ll make sure you only make music that sounds that way. If you do something else, they’ll say that’s not who you are, when it’s really exactly who you are rather than who they want you to be. We like so many different styles of music, not just rap, so we don’t want to commit. We listened to everything growing up. Sure we loved listening to all that underground shit, but I fucking loved Puff Daddy. People who think they know what we should sound like don’t know us.

When Lone Sharks came out in 2011, a lot of people compared your sound to early Mobb Deep.

EP: And we love Mobb Deep! But it’s really not such a direct influence. Where we’re from, we couldn’t listen to WNYU college radio. We were listening to mainstream rap. We’re only an hour away, but we weren’t picking up those signals. People think we’re these hardcore hip hop heads, but we’re just music fans. Being from where we’re from made us broader listeners. We weren’t coming up with these rappity rap graffiti kids from the BX. We listened to top 40 radio and Hot 97. I can honestly say Adele has shaped some of my writing as much as a lot of old school rappers. That’s how our minds work—the way someone in a different genre can inspire a feeling or the way I approach a subject.

You have a really insular sound and rarely have guests or outside contributors on your records. Is this by design?

EP: We’re worried about being upstaged on our own songs. [Laughs] Nah, but we always have a vision, so if we want to bring someone on a record, it’s because we have a very clear idea of what we want them to bring. When we were recording “Jail Weight” we said, “It would sound so dope if we had Jim Jones on this record just talking shit.” We didn’t want him because he’s a big name, we just knew Jim Jones talking shit on that would be money.

So you don’t have a lot of artists seeking you out for beats?

EP: No.

Why Not?

EP: I think there’s an initial sense that there’s something a little off about us, because of our subject matter and imagery. I don’t fault anybody for it, but that’s why we’re doing some instrumental projects, we want people to know us for beats.

There’s a very visual quality to your music that’s reflected in your art and videos. Are you big film buffs?

EP: I’m not even a movie head. I don’t have the attention span for it.

MOP: We’re just very descriptive people—it’s how we talk. If I’m describing a girl or something, I like to describe her to a T, so he knows exactly what she looks like.

You have a large European following. What about your music do you think appeals to audiences overseas?

EP: For whatever reason, I think that’s just where we caught on first. Over there a lot more young people listen to old school and underground rap than here. We see fifteen-year-olds that love KRS-One. It’s a different outlook. It’ll happen here eventually.

What’s the wildest memory you have of touring overseas?

MOF: We’ve seen some shit. We had a situation where we got hemmed up by cops, we nearly ended up in a German holding cell once. A lot of our experiences out there, we gotta keep on ice. But what I’ll admit, first time we went out there, we couldn’t believe it was real. The concept of being out there on a tour was so fucked up in our minds. It took actually doing a few shows for it to sink in, that people actually knew our songs and shit.

EP: Being on tour is the best part of making music. Obviously we love writing and recording, but sharing it like that is the best feeling.

MOF: It’s unlimited fun. People think college is great? I’ve been to college, he has too. For us, touring is like that times two hundred. It’s not for everybody, some people get homesick, miss sleeping, things like that. We love it, we have a blast.

What music have you been listening to in 2015?

MOF: Travis Scott. That was my favorite album.

EP: Yeah, me too. I liked Fetty Wap’s album, Future’s was good. But yeah, Rodeo is my favorite album. He just tapped into something. The craziest thing about him that we can relate to is that his music isn’t overly energetic—it’s very slow, but somehow his performances translate into that crazy energy. People mosh to his mopey songs.

What do you bring out of each other artistically? Will we see solo material anytime soon?

EP: We prefer to work together. It takes a whole crew. We need outings, we need to talk shit with the fellas. One of us will say something ridiculous, and then we’ll be like, “That’s a song right there!” What’s great is we don’t go to the studio to do it—that’s too forced. We’ll be out here, be like, [points at waitress] “Oh, she got a fat ass, that waitress.” We’ll be like, “This bar smells like B.O.” Next thing you know we’ll have a song like, “This bar smellin’ like B.O.” We feed off one another, but never in a calculated way.

After making music together for so long, what’s it like to listen to your oldest material?

MOF: We’ve been recording together since we were kids. I listen to some of our early shit now and I can’t front, some of that shit was hot. It wasn’t professional, it was sloppy, but there were cool ideas. That’s the most important thing. It’s like proofreading—if you’ve got a bum-ass essay to begin with, having good grammar don’t matter. We’ve had the good fortune to refine our craft.

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