New York emcee Your Old Droog sounds like your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. He first broke in 2014 with his self titled EP, and sustained momentum with the rock inspired Kinison in 2015. Both projects saw Droog as a student of the old school in terms of lyricism and delivery, yet his beat selection kept him from falling into the trap of orthodox hip-hop revivalism. What’s more, his increasing self-awareness, self confidence, and narrative skill has allowed him to evolve past the Nas comparisons that dogged him at the beginning of his career.
His songs potently fuse sharp wit, clever storytelling, and blunt-scorched gritty cadences. Recently dropping a collaborative effort with Wiki—What Happened to Fire?—Droog comes back just over a month later with Packs. On this project, Droog is as clever and creative as ever. His virtuosic rhyming is evident from opening cut “G.K.A.C,” all the way to “My Girl Is A Boy.” The beats offer a revitalized take on boom bap, with disorienting flourishes and chaotic melodies that remind you of a good old fashioned New York thunderstorm.
Droog and I spoke on the phone about his Ukrainian upbringing, some of his favorite artists, what it takes to be a “good guest in the house of hip-hop,” and the organic creative process behind Packs. —Donna-Claire
Let’s start with the name. My family’s also from Ukraine so when I see “Droog” I always have a positive reaction, since I know it means. Was that the goal with calling yourself an old friend?
Your Old Droog:Yeah, I mean, some people think it’s a Clockwork Orange reference. But, nah, it just means friend.
Sticking with your background for a bit, were your parents initially supportive of your music, or were they old world conservative?
Your Old Droog:I would say the latter. I was kind of a fuck up in school, I dropped out in eighth grade. It was just something I was doing through the years, I never took it seriously as a career choice until way later. During that early time it kind of felt crazy, talking about explaining a dream—not just to your parents.
Did that early resistance from your parents shape your music at all?
Your Old Droog:Nah, it had no effect at all.
Before you immigrated, were you listening to any hip-hop?
Your Old Droog: I was too young, I mean I remember hearing whatever was on the radio over there. It was a just mix of everything.
So who was your first favorite rapper when you came to New York?
Your Old Droog:Definitely Biggie; that’s what really made me wanna rap. Then Big L, I fucked with him heavy, but I was listening to everybody.
Who’s your favorite rapper now?
Your Old Droog:I really respect the cats I’ve been working with like Wiki and Edan. I just respect the shit out of them. They’re creative and talented writers, performers, and all that. I don’t think anybody really knows how nice they really are, too.
Since you mentioned Edan, how’d that feature come about, since he rarely raps? What was working with him like?
Your Old Droog:That’s just my man. We kick it, and it’s not always the situation where we get up and it’s like, “yo, we gotta get a joint done.” We’ll be kicking, and we’ll play some records and play around with what words might sound nice on this sample or this loop, and we just work like that.
Is that how the rest of the features came about? Did you hear a beat and immediately think of Wiki, Heems, or Danny Brown?
Your Old Droog:It definitely starts with listening to the beat and thinking, “You know who would sound dope on this? Danny.” Maybe with Heems it might be racially problematic to call the song “Bangladesh,” you know, Heems is Indian. But I just heard him killing it. The texture of his voice, he had to be on the track.
So talking a little more about Packs, how’d you settle on the title for the new project?
Your Old Droog:Initially, I had this whole format where we would do a two part project. One side would be “Reds” and the other side would be “Menthols.” It was just a working idea. Then it got hard to find certain beats and I was doing joints that weren’t really meshing well. The project was taking a minute to get done. Basically, if you want the real answer: I just got a contract and it said “Packs” on it and it came from there.
That’s perfect. I want to ask about your creative process. You tell some crazy stories across all your projects, “G.K.A.C” as an example. How do you think of your characters and your narratives?
Your Old Droog:I just approach writing from an author’s perspective. I think it’s very limiting to sit down and always have one voice in your music. You know, “I’m gonna be Droog on every song.” It’s always me, don’t get it twisted, but sometimes I wanna narrate a story. I think rap is very limited where you just have to write from one perspective and one ego all the time. You know composers can write for a clarinet or a trumpet, and I just like to have all these different songs and ideas come out. Sometimes the stuff rappers write is one sided, so I just wanted to have fun and tell a story.
Definitely one of the monikers of your style is how good of a storyteller you are, but do you ever sit down and you’re halfway through a song and get that writer’s block?
Your Old Droog:Yeah, that happens to me and usually if it’s like that then the song is not really meant to be. Or, if you get stuck and you really love the idea so much, you’ll make it work. No matter how tough the block is, sometimes it’s like, “Nah, I gotta make this.” When you push through like that, it makes the song more special when it’s done.
Would you say that some of your best songs come out of that creative struggle?
Your Old Droog:It varies. Sometimes the best shit is natural, you know, you kind of hear the song in your head before you even write it. Sometimes you already know what’s supposed to be said and you outline it in your head. From there it gets easy. You know, I listen to the beats first and that always determines what I’m gonna do with stories and lines.
Do you have a favorite song on Packs?
Your Old Droog:I like the whole thing, but “You Can Do It!” is probably my favorite song. Talk about creative struggle, it took a minute to fix the beat production wise. I had the basic loop done, laying around for weeks and multiple sessions. We we sit around and try to get the beat right, and it was at the point you would just wanna drive off a bridge; it was that frustrating. That made it that much sweeter when that song was done and I was listening back like “Ah, that’s it.”
“White Rappers (A Good Guest)” has you spitting and singing about being a white rapper, what else does it take to be a “good guest” besides beats and bars?
Your Old Droog:It’s not even about the color, it’s really about bringing a good perspective and high skill level, and really being who you are. Don’t be corny, either.
Any other no-nos to being a white rapper?
Your Old Droog:Constantly bringing up your race. I feel like it doesn’t matter what you are, but don’t constantly use that race thing to get ahead or play it in weird ways. You have to focus on your art and express yourself. It doesn’t matter who makes it, as long as it’s good.
On Kinison you had a distinct rock influence and on Packs you’ve got these really chaotic beats between “Grandma Hips” and “Help.” Do you see yourself going back to that rock influence on future tracks?
Your Old Droog:You’re gonna hear everything on future tracks. It really depends on the joints, I don’t really plan it on like, “I need beats with guitars in ‘em” even though I’m a little partial to that so I might lean on those beats when I hear them. You’re bound to hear anything as long as the beat and the song make sense, it’s not gonna be all over the place.
Where you a Sam Kinison fan before the project, or did you hear what’s now the opening sample and then dive in while making the EP?
Your Old Droog: I’m definitely up on Sam, you know, I like that Dangerfield HBO special and Back To School.
Lastly, what’s next for Droog? A tour?
Your Old Droog:Yeah, yeah, everything on the tour for us is sorted out. So it’ll be real soon, we just have to figure some final things out.
Aight man, thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.
Your Old Droog: I appreciate you for listening and for writing about this shit.