Doseone and Mestizo have been around for a while, but don’t you dare call them old school. Their collaborative debut LP—under the moniker A7pha—is as forward thinking as anything gracing ears in 2017. When I spoke with the two of them, the only moment our cordial, engaging conversation turned chippy was when I told them that a rap duo on Anticon reminded me of the old-school cLOUDDEAD days. That shit didn’t fly. A7pha is as much the future as it is the past. To paraphrase Mestizo, they’re the only dudes able to push forward with enough knowledge to pay homage to the old heads. Dose and ‘Zo are both capital-r Rappers, experts in their craft who care deeply about every word they spit.
The duo teamed up with Letta and Alias to create the atmosphere for A7pha, and the former’s murky death dirges permeate throughout the album’s 10 tracks. I catch them both on the phone, and thanks to emerging technologies, we’re able to link Philly, Texas, and the Bay Area through the iPhone. Praise Jobs. We talk rapping with a day job, the art of collaboration, and the history of Anticon. —Will Schube
How did you two link up to do this project?
Doseone:‘Zo started it. He started all this shit. It’s his fault. Naw, he hit me up to rap on “Turning Tables” a million years ago. It just went like ice water and we started talking about this. We got the first song done, and everything started falling together.
‘Zo, what about Adam’s rapping made you want to do a whole record with him?
Mestizo:He’s kinda been an influence in my life since I was a teenager, whether he knows it or not. Basically, I just felt like reaching out to him for a song and it turned into a project. I’ve said it before, Cadalack Ron was the first one to mess with Dose when we were starting Machina Muerte. That gave me a drive to reach out to him. “Turn Tables” was originally gonna be with both Dose and Sole, but Sole never got back to me and Adam and Sole have some history so I just decided on it being Adam. The song came out well and had a good reaction, so we just took it from there.
Doseone:For me, too, I haven’t really worked with a rapper in quite some time. Working with ‘Zo, we just have the same ethic. The intensity level and devotion to the higher cause is the same in both of us, no matter what we’re rapping about. It just came out in the workflow when we started making songs. That’s all I care about. If something’s clicking, I’m in. It was a real pleasure. The shit just rolled out.
Mestizo:Vice versa, man. I feel the same way. If we didn’t click like that, I wouldn’t have fucked with him like that. But he’s like family to me.
Doseone:It’s interesting because that doesn’t always happen with rappers. You can’t just align, you know? Especially if you’re not in a group that’s just about smoking weed or some shit. It’s all very natural.
I’ve got to imagine it’s harder than it seems to do a record with another rapper because the details going from verse to verse are so intricate. Did you lay out a structure to adhere to before hand?
Doseone:That was kind of cool, too, because back in the day I put a little too much brain and not enough heart into how a song comes to be. With ‘Zo and I, we just kinda…We would have a beat and one of us would start it first and the other person would go next. We had a real symbiotic way that we approached destroying each beat and inspiring each other. ‘Zo and I had a really even level of friendly competition which I think is what makes rappers dope. That was really healthy. We just relied on that. We didn’t do anything like, ‘This one’s about Donald Trump in a race car!’We laid off the gilded shit.
Mestizo:I think also, with this being a long distance relationship, we didn’t write or record any of the songs together. That played into the album’s formlessness and it just sort of happening when it could. Especially since I’m out here in Philly working a 15 hour a day job on top of raising my family, so whenever I could get to something that’s when the shit would happen. We’d have a beat, I’d rap on it, send it to Dose, he’d give me the shit right back. We weren’t going bar for bar, sitting down and throwing concepts around, everything just came together naturally. It was free formed.
‘Zo what do you do for a day job?
Mestizo:I was a chef but I don’t do that anymore. Not enough time for family. Now I’ve got my own clothing line.
Dose are you still working with that after school program teaching kids how to rap?
Doseone:I don’t work with the kids anymore. That was all donated time, too. That wasn’t work. That was hip-hop joy! The folks that ran the program were wonderful people, but they closed down due to funding. For my grind I do music and sound design for independent video games. That shit has me busy like a mad scientist. That’s why it’s also been really refreshing. After I stacked my debts from making music selflessly for all my 20s and 30s, it allowed me to decide exactly what I wanted to be doing with my time and why I wanted to be doing it. I was able to get back to how I felt when I first started making music, but with all of my experience. Now I’m just making what needs to be made. That’s why I’m doing the A7pha stuff with ‘Zo.
To be honest, working with ‘Zo really woke up rapping for me. I went through having to get work to bail myself out of the debt I had making music. That shot my Peter Pan right in the head out back. I don’t brag personally—I’ll serve a motherfucker—but when I write a verse, it’s coming from a confidence base. I wasn’t able to get back to that for a while. Working with ‘Zo and Cadalack Ron’s passing really galvanized in me the ‘rapping is life’ mentality. It’s the most excited I am, it’s the most alive I am. A7pha has been pretty damn significant.
Dose it’s been a while since you’ve had a rap group. It reminds me of the old school Anticon days. Was it important for you to put the record out on Anticon?
Doseone:Yeah it was. ‘Zo and I keep it 100. I think we both realized that this record needed to be on Anticon and made the most sense there. Again, too, music doesn’t change your life monetarily. Music should affirm your life in whatever fucking way it can. So we made the music we wanted to make, and put it out at the place that felt the best. For me, yeah if I’m gonna come out swinging and do a bunch of rap, it’s nice to be on the Ant and give that back. I miss that in the universe. ‘Zo and I tried to make some music we wanted to listen to, without making nostalgic old people shit.
‘Zo, does being on Anticon have the same meaning to you?
Mestizo:It’s definitely one of the labels that opened my eyes to a lot of things. When I first heard Anticon in the ’90s, all I listened to was gangsta rap. When I first heard Anticon, it really opened my eyes. I was heavy into rap, it got me through a lot of hard times. When I was homeless with my pops driving cross country, all I did was write raps. I had some homies in Arizona that introduced me to Anticon and all of the other shit popping in the underground. It was big for me. It was life changing. Dose is one of those people that broadened my horizons in terms of writing raps and being a poet. To be on Anticon right now, I don’t see it any sort of way because it ain’t the same as what it was. But I do look at it as adding to a lineage that I really respect. That’s why I think it’s important to put an album like this out on Anticon. We’re pushing the boundaries in the new generation, while still paying homage to the old shit, too.
Just the concept of you two rapping doesn’t really happen too much anymore. It reminds me of old cLOUDDEAD or something.
Mestizo:I think everybody that has heard it is feeling the same way. But I feel like people are still looking at it like, ‘Ah man that’s some old shit.’ It’s not. I guarantee you there’s a lot of shit that can’t stand up to it. It can be a little demeaning when people say, ‘It’s just the old dudes on some old school shit.’
Doseone:I feel ya 100% on that. That can diminish it and make it seem more novel than it is. We just made a no frills record and that’s something you can’t even pay for these days. For me, I like this because everything’s different now. It’s not then, it’s not those days, there’s all sorts of boundary pushing rap now, but we’re starting this shit from scratch. Life never changed because of the way we were making these songs, so this is just right back to it. I’m enjoying that. There’s no shame in the game of still making the most of it.
At the end of the day, I really enjoy working with another rapper. And what we have is our respect intact, and our mutual respect. One of the things rap doesn’t do very well as individual artists and a culture is age. There haven’t been a lot of rappers who have evolved in interesting ways. I’m enjoying working on a rap record in this era with a different fervor. We’re just fleshing it out our way.
Mestizo:I think it’s a rap record but I also think it’s not a rap record. The choice of beats and how it’s arranged, it can fit in with Massive Attack or any of the new electronic stuff out there. There’s a different style on every song. Different beats and different feels, too. But it all coincides in a beautiful way. It’s still a piece of art. It’s not just some novelty rap shit. You know, esteemed underground rapper and 20-year Dose. We approach this as art. No matter whether someone buys this or not, I’m gonna keep doing it. I’m gonna be 80 years old putting out art.
Doseone:That’s the thing. Even working on this thing, the thing I’m most excited about is the 11th song we’re gonna make together. Everything got better and better, more integrated as we kept going. In the beginning, shit starts with communication and it ends it straight work. You don’t need to talk you’re just smashing those beats. It’s all about the fact that we have a path to make more music and it fits into an aesthetic. I’m all about finding a groove where you’re not thinking about shit and trying to do it.
Mestizo:Magic. Straight magic.
Did Alias do all the beats on the record?
Doseone:He’s going to for the next one. For this one, we had a collage. It’s interesting. It’s not easy to find anyone to be in a group with. But with ‘Zo and I, it took no effort to find each other but it took a little surfing to find the right producer to work with. But in the future we’re gonna be working with Alias a lot.
And who did the beats on A7pha?
Doseone:This fella named Letta. Alias did some, I did some, too. I would do more, but the thing I really like about A7pha is I don’t need to dress up the beat and fix the hi hats. I really just like being a rapper’s rapper. Touching up vocal effects and extra production is alright because I want us both to sound good. But not having to touch a beat is really nice. But Alias is the best dude in the world and never not destroying the beat he’s making.
Did you two discuss concepts or influences for the album?
Doseone:We did a little. Not much though.
Mestizo:Yeah not really. “No Brakes” was the first one we did. We picked out some beats and that was the first one I wanted to rap on. I rapped on it, sent it to Adam, Adam killed it, and that was the single.
Doseone:That’s the dope thing about working with ‘Zo. Before we knew it we were out of beats. That’s what I’m all about.
Mestizo:It was fun. Real effortless.
Do both of your experiences working on this album make you want to get back to making solo records, too?
Mestizo:It definitely does. I’m at a place now where I’m like, shit this has gotta be better than the A7pha album [laughs]. I’m marinating for a minute so I can really think and focus instead of just putting something out because A7pha is out. I don’t wanna make music like that anymore and I don’t plan on being a touring musician on a G4 jet going to my Mercedes. I’d rather put out some quality shit and take my time.
Doseone:Immediately after the A7pha record I worked on a record with Alias. The solo thing really snapped out of me and brought me back to rap. Getting back to rap with all my heart—this sounds like 100 pounds of bullshit—got me back to a better place as a human being.