With HOUSE OF BEES VOL. 2‘s long awaited release finally upon us, B. Dolan releases his track-by-track breakdown of the album. You can now stream the album from Dolan’s bandcamp as well as that of his label, Strange Famous, and listen along before copping yours.
Early in the process of writing this album, I happened to meet up with Buck 65 on a shared tour date in Germany. We were catching up on what we’d both been working on, and I had just finished the song “Which Side Are You On?”
I remember telling Buck that I was a bit torn, because the song had originally been intended for a mixtape, but it had come out really, really good. Like, ‘official album’ good, and I was unsure how to handle its release.
“I’ve never bought into that whole idea,” was his response. ”What does that mean? That a mixtape is supposed to be full of crappy material? I’d say you want everything to be as great as it possibly can be, all the time.”
I’d always applied this ethic, but hearing Buck say it aloud gave me permission in a sense, and I kept that advice in the back of my mind while working on this album with Buddy. ”HOUSE OF BEES VOL. 2″ is the result. Its an album-quality mixtape that I spent a year crafting, mixing, and mastering as I would an official lp. Maybe time will prove that to be a disastrous or foolish idea, but at this moment I feel very goddamn proud of the work we’ve done.
1. STILL HERE
Is the album’s mission statement, in a sense. In 2010 my father was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of lung cancer and died within the span of 8 months. All of this happened at the same time SFR was releasing “FALLEN HOUSE, SUNKEN CITY” and I embarked on the most ambitious touring schedule of my career.
Needless to say, the effects of that year were devastating in every way. For the first time since I was 12 years old, I found myself really questioning what I do and considering giving it up. I’ve always taken pride in the ‘dues paid’ for my art, but in the face of a loss that great, everything can suddenly seem too awful, too futile, and too difficult to continue doing.
This beat was literally one of the most important parts of finally pulling me out of that tailspin… Something about those bagpipes or whatever that sound is that Buddy sampled. I remember listening to it for the first time and feeling the hair on the back of my neck stand up. ”They haven’t killed me yet.” is the thought I immediately had when the beat dropped, and everything follows from there.
Also, the phrase “you can kill the man, but never the Eyedea,” is included as a token of respect to another of 2010′s tragic losses.
2. KING BEE
This one is fairly self explanatory and, ironically, an exercise in ‘swag’. I heard this reworking of the old blues standard and immediately realized I wanted to rap to it. Chopped the song, made a demo and sent it over to Buddy.
On the Jay-Z and Kanye song “Otis” Jay starts off, “I invented Swag.” I was writing “King Bee” in Dan le sac‘s living room and told him: “I’m gonna start this verse off by saying ‘I invented Ugly.’
Dan’s disinterested response as he looked up from an email: “Mhmmm. And you kept it all to yourself, didn’t you?”
3. FILM THE POLICE (ft. Toki Wright, Jasiri X, Sage Francis)
A lot has already been said about this song, which was written in the wake of the Oscar Grant shooting. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
As timing would have it, the song happened to be ready just as the Occupy movement was reaching its peak, and thanks to an incredible video from Klepticenter Productions, this song grew legs of its own immediately. ”Film the Police” was picked up and share by the global Anonymous and Occupy network and sites, Michael Moore, Billy Bragg, and countless others, and quickly amassed 100k+ views in its first few weeks.
Since then, the response has been continuous, both negative and positive. A few months back I received a very credible death threat, containing my home address and stating an intention to burn my house down. Youtube and Google have refused to divulge the IP of the person making the threat, so for now I’m just continuing to stockpile weapons at said address.
We must be doing something right.
4. WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Maybe my favorite song on the album. I’ve been wanting to sample this song forever, and it has a rich and storied history of its own. (Check this video out: http://www.youtube.com/
Buddy’s use of the banjo to create a kind of bouncing reggae feel is nothing short of genius, and allowed me to lay a lot of things out more plainly than ever before. The song speaks for itself in a lot of ways, and the response to this one at live shows has been immediate.
It feels like it’s time in my life for a song like this, and I believe it’s also that time in the world around us. Desmond Tutu said, “if you are neutral on situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” As a working class heterosexual white man, as a feminist, anti-racist, LGBT ally, as an emcee and an American citizen, I feel that it’s my duty to be clear about whose side I’m on.
5. BAD THINGS [BP Remix] ft. Sage Francis, Metermaids
This is actually the Metermaids‘ song, which I originally threw a remix verse on to help promote their album dropping. Buddy remixed the three verses in a really clever way, and I put it on the album in the hopes that more folks will peep the Metermaids “ROOFTOP SHAKE” lp, which dropped last year on SFR. Its been quite awhile since hip hop has had a duo that rocks that energetic back-and-forth style as cleanly as the Metermaids, and these two guys can actually WRITE on top of it.
Their live act is also thorough, annnd they’re two of the most genuine cats I’ve met in the music business to boot. As a result of all this, I wanna do whatever I can to help spread their work. Strange Famous y’all!
6. 2BAD (EPIC BEARD MEN)
Speaking of the back-and-forth styles, Sage & I decided to try our hand at it and finally form the behemoth bad guy wrestler team we’ve always been joking about. Writing like this was actually a lot of fun, and we’ve been discussing doing more songs like this under the ‘Epic Beard Men’ name.
I have a memory of being in France with Sage and him telling me about one of the many rappers / producers / poets we know who have badly fucked up their careers / lives by being a shithead / egomaniac / flake, and responding by quoting that line. We kept this song short, like a good punk song, but believe me we’ve seen enough dummies come and go to write an album on this subject.
I made this beat in its demo form and sent it off to Reanimator, who punched it up sonically and sped up the tempo a bit. The result is ’2BAD.’
Coincidentally, just as this was about to drop the legend MCA of the Beastie Boys passed, and riffing on the Beastie’s influence was something Sage & I had talked openly about while penning ’2BAD’. I still can’t really believe he’s gone, and dude didn’t deserve to go out like he did. Fuck cancer, and hip hop will feel the loss of Adam Yauch forever.
7. COLONY COLLAPSE
Colony Collapse Disorder is actually a very interesting / horrifying phenomenon. Maybe Google that if you wanna read about bees and their role in the coming zombie apocalypse.
8. 100 BARS FOR SFR
Strangely enough, this is another one that came out of the time immediately following my father’s death. To listen to it, you’d think it was about as far removed from that as could be…. there’s a lot of MC bravado and stylistic stuff on display here.
The desire to make a track like this came out of that time period, though, and I still don’t fully understand why. I do know that this is how I used to rap in 1999, before I ever wrote a spoken word poem, conceived of making an album, or had an understanding of song structure or a 16 bar verse. My old crew & I would just spend hours upon hours writing 57 bar verses and trying to impress each other on some ‘cypher’ shit.
I think making this track was about re-lighting the fire in my belly, getting a lot of shit off my chest in terms of the industry and other rappers, and sort of drawing a line in the sand and defying people to sleep on our team and what we do.
The whole Strange Famous undertaking is something I’ve been intimately a part of since Sage decided to expand it into a larger label in 2005, and its required an incredible amount of work and personal sacrifice from everyone involved with it. At the end of the day though, I really believe we have made some timeless music, and contributed to hip hop in a way that’s as important as it is overlooked by gatekeepers and tastemakers. The fans remain loyal as ever though, and we continue to exist in spite of a whole lot of shit.
“No, fuck you. Now ignore this and I’ll be back with another hundred next year” he said, walking away from the burning building.
The instrumentals I rap over on this track are: Prolyphic – “Artist Goes Pop” (from The Ugly Truth), Buck 65 – “Benz” (from Situation), Cecil Otter – “1999″ (from Rebel Yellow), and Sage Francis – “Damage” (from Hope).
9. COME TO JAMAICA (The Lost Verse)
Keeping with the theme of re-upping SFR classics, we decided to include this additional verse I wrote for the “Earthmovers” beat. Buddy also took Alias’ original drums and added some mean new low end to this song, as well as the stuttered ‘Come to Jamaica’ chorus.
“Bugsy Siegel had a vision in the deserts of Nevada / long before the Tomahawk Apache helicopter…” is one of my favorite verse openers I’ve ever written, I think.
10. GRACELAND by KWESI DAVIS
Continuing on the theme of colonization from ‘Earthmovers’.
Getting this on the album was a bit of a personal coup for me. I like to make a break / create a big transition midway through an album, and we accomplished that on Vol. 1 with the poem “OPEN LETTER TO JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE”. This time, I wanted to use one of my all time favorite spoken word pieces, from an artist that almost no one purchasing this album will be familiar with.
Kwesi Davis is a poet who was a member of the Boston scene right around the time Sage & I were meeting up in Providence. He’s one of maybe four poets I came across at that time who I would consider an inspiration in my own work. The first time I performed “Still Electric,” it sounded so much like Kwesi I had to rewrite it and develop a different approach. The way this dude performed his writing was that stuck in my head, and I’ve never forgotten him for it.
I contacted Kwesi and got his permission to include this recording I found on an old harddrive. He’s no longer performing or releasing material, which made it even more important to me that this piece be perserved. I’ve made it clear that I think 95% of all spoken word poetry being made at this time is worse than shit, and taken pains to disassociate myself from what I see as a generally worthless community.
That said, this is what great writing and great performance can sound like, and it should be heard. The instrumental was shaped around the recording and provided by Buddy Peace.
11. FIGHT NIGHT
There’s a lot going on in this one, and I don’t want to impose too much on the writing, as I think this is one people will take different things away from and that’s purposeful.
The writing was largely inspired by Norman Mailer’s coverage of Muhammad Ali, and the idea of being a sports writer describing a cosmic struggle. The beat is a Gaslamp Killer instrumental that the writing just sort of fit over, and Buddy’s scratching on the end is a tip of the hat to Jeru Tha Damaja’s “Ain’t the Devil Happy.”
“All fail when the clock clips wings / and follow a forgotten instinct when the darkness sings / Drop their guard when God’s fists swing / Arms too short to box / In a box with sick dreams…”
12. TIN SOLDIERS
This is a very specific song, made for a very specific purpose. In that way it’s similar to tracks like “FILM THE POLICE” and “R.S.V.P.” from Volume 1. For a long time, I’ve wanted to make a song that directly addresses kids who are thinking of joining the military. I’ve also sort of danced around this issue in the past with the song “YOUNG AMERICANS” from the Failure, and Scroobius Pip contacted me to write “SOLDIER BOY KILL EM” at the same time I was doing this… so you could say its been a recurring theme.
This song will be the last time I speak on it, though, because I feel like I’ve finally managed to lay it all on the line and provide people with a crystal clear argument on the subject.
I don’t expect this song will be for everyone, and I intentionally put aside the ‘poetics’ for this writing. This is just me talking like I really talk, and trying to provide people with something they can play for their cousin or brother or friend whose thinking about enlisting.
The beat for this one was provided by me and inspired by something Big Handsome put on a mix of his own awhile back. Buddy put some finishing touches and scratches on it as well.
13. FEEL SO DIFFERENT
This is the first song I recorded after my father passed. The taped message you hear on the beginning is his outgoing voicemail message, which is still active. I wanted to record it and put it on the album in case that line ever gets disconnected or I ever lose that recording for any reason… My albums are the place I put things that I want to hang onto “forever”.
The computer this was on crashed, so this demo is all that remains of the song, and is my own beat / mix. For that reason it won’t sound as ‘good’ as the others, but I felt like it was important and had a raw quality to it that people might be able to appreciate. It also felt like a fitting closer to this album, as a marker of the time period that has just passed in my life.
Track 14 is a live recording of myself, Dan le sac and Buddy Peace performing our reworking of “LEAVING NY” from the “FALLEN HOUSE, SUNKEN CITY” lp. This track was recorded in Lincoln, England in late 2011.
Track 15 is my favorite remix to come out fo the Fallen House lp, and was provided by MUX MOOL of Ghostly International. He & I are in the process of working on some new material and I’m expecting him to join me on a number of upcoming shows as well.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE, I want to thank everyone that’s lent their support to the making of this album and the campaign behind it. Specifically I always need to big up SAGE FRANCIS, the fella who has enabled my career more than anybody who’s not me. BUDDY PEACE is always incredible to work with, completely egoless and a true musician, and has wowwed the shit out of me at every turn. It takes a lot of people to bring an album to life like this, and I’ll be thanking everyone individually in the coming months (and probably for the rest of my life). But I never forget the debt I’m in.
And lastly, thanks to the listeners who are still riding with me & Strange Famous. I don’t take for granted what it means to be ‘Still Here’, still doing what I’m best at for the people who give a shit… it means everything and I’m grateful every day for it. Love & good things to everybody in 2012.
Stay on the battlefield,