It’s been five years since underground emcee B. Dolan released his sophomore album, Fallen House, Sunken City. The Providence, Rhode Island native spent the last half-decade crafting his most ambitious effort to date, a full-length album titled “Kill the Wolf”.
Produced by Dolan himself, the album will be released on July 10. Kill the Wolf features contributions from Aesop Rock, Buck 65, Cecil Otter, Kathleen Stubelek, Alias, DS3K, Aupheus, Buddy Peace, and the late David Lamb.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to B. Dolan about his new method of creating music, his affinity for late Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and his new album, Kill the Wolf.
TRHH: What does “Kill the Wolf” mean?
B. Dolan: It’s an Italian expression. It’s like a way of saying “good luck”. The way they say it is, “In the mouth of the wolf.” It’s something you say to a performer. It’s the equivalent of “break a leg”. To performers they say, “May you see the mouth of the wolf,” and the response is, “Kill the wolf.” It came from something that people say to hunters. That’s how you wish a hunter good luck. It was something I heard midway through creating the album. I saw the image that we used for the cover art about halfway through creating the album too. It felt like it really expressed what we’ve been doing the last five years making this album – a struggle. It was weird trying to create something new. At times it felt like a real fight trying to make this one.
TRHH: Why would you say it was a fight or a struggle?
B. Dolan: Because when we made this album we kind of set out to reinvent what a B. Dolan album could sound like. We wanted to up the production value and the sound of everything. In the midst of that we built a brand new studio. I got really attached to recording my own vocals at my project studio where I live. I’ve done that for every album prior to this album. I started working with this engineer DS3K and he convinced me to bring all that stuff to a real deal studio with some nice pre amps and some nice compression. We physically constructed a studio in the middle of making this album, which is one of the reasons it took so long. We were just after something new and that was the struggle – to bring all the stuff from the past that we like into the future. Sometimes that was easy, but a lot of times that required some figuring out, experimentation, scrapping stuff, and going back to stuff. We didn’t take anything for granted with this one.
TRHH: How is this project different from “Fallen House, Sunken City“?
B. Dolan: The main way it’s different is I was responsible for the production of it. The Fallen House album was produced by Alias. I was purely the rapper on that one. I had some input on production but for the most part he did half the music work there. With this one I for the first time felt confident enough in my own production skills to give it a shot and see what we could do. I oversaw the production of 95% of these songs, with the exception of the last song that came to me finished. For everything else the production was mine or I had a very strong hand in it. There were situations were producers sent me a beat that was great, but we stripped it down and re-worked it to make it work with the sonics of the rest of the album. There are a lot of live instruments, and a lot of analog synths on this for sure. The other difference is I’ve gotten better as a songwriter since then. I think doing this and thinking about production has changed the way I rap. You don’t have to say everything with words you can just let a guitar solo happen [laughs]. Sometimes I can talk through the beat.
TRHH: What beat-making equipment did you use for this album?
B. Dolan: Man we used a lot of equipment. Most of the beats would start where I live at my project studio. I’ve got a pretty simple set up. I’ve got a turntable, a BOSS Dr. Sample – it’s an old beat box sampler that has really a nice sound that makes things kind of dusty, and a shit ton of records that I got on tour over the years. From there we would take it into the bigger studio where DS3K has a ton of Moog equipment. We used the Moog Voyager a lot on this record, also the Moog Slim Phatty, and a lot of Moog pedals, actually. I say overall production wise there is a lot of Moog on it. Then there is just live stuff. We worked with a guitarist, Adam Schneider. We worked with an upright bassists named Mike Brown. Aside from the analog synths there’s also a lot of live musicians.
TRHH: Tell me about the single ‘Alright’.
B. Dolan: [Laughs] Yeah that was the first single. That song came about late in the album. It’s a really spastic drum loop. It’s one of my favorite beats for sure. Scroobius Pip, who is releasing an album in Europe took a liking to that song, I think because the BPM is so fast. It’s a really fast BPM and it reminded the UK side of Grime. I like beats with really dynamic changes like that and I felt it was a really cool representation of what was in-store on the album. The drums are a break beat, but a weird kind of break beat. I don’t think you can find another song that samples what I sampled there. Actually no one has successfully guessed what I sampled there. There is analog bass and guitars in there. That was part of the freedom and the fun of this album, because we were working with live musicians we can do all this stuff. We weren’t restricted by a sample. We can have a breakdown as drastic as what happens in the fourth verse of that song, and it goes somewhere else and all of a sudden it sounds like some Led Zeppelin shit but with synthesizers. I liked how adventurous and aggressive that track was. I felt like it was a good lead-off for the album.
TRHH: Does House of Bees bleed over into a B. Dolan album?
B. Dolan: Yeah. While we were making this album I actually released two House of Bees tapes. In general I just kind of make songs. Especially in this last period of time I wasn’t really making stuff saying, “This is for the album,” and “This is for the mixtape.” I just kind of sit in the studio make a beat, and when I listen to the beat I write a song. When the song is a little further down the road you can make an evaluation about where it fits best. The mixtape is cool because it provides the looseness. There are less rules with a mixtape. If I have a big obvious sample I want to use that would be hard to clear for the official album I don’t have to worry about it, I can put it on the mixtape.
On the other end if we’re working on a song for the mixtape that starts to sound incredible and really special it’s like, “Well shit, maybe this should go on the album.” Each makes the other easier. The mixtape is a looser format and it taught me how to have more fun. Making an official album is a very heavy intense process that involves a lot of people. Making a mixtape is you making something and you give it to fans, and fans receive it in a different head space. I can hear the difference from Fallen House to this album because of those mixtapes in between. It’s cool when you’re having fun and as a result I’m having fun on official albums now. It taught me how to make different songs and change the way I approach songs.
TRHH: You have a great song on the album called ‘Who Killed Russell Jones?’ It’s obviously about ODB, but what exactly inspired that song?
B. Dolan: I’m just a huge fan of Ol’ Dirty Bastard. From a very young age he was one of my favorite emcees. My appreciation for who he was and what he did only has grown as I got further into rap music and become a part of it and a performer. During different periods of time you have different favorites in Wu-Tang, but who has the most lasting impact is that dude. There will never be another Ol’ Dirty Bastard in rap. I am the biggest fan that you can be of that dude. His loss is really tragic. There was a magazine, GQ or Esquire that went to talk to him when he was in jail and it made me think of his humanity. That was a very real person. We were all very entertained by who he was, but at the end of the day that was a real dude that probably needed some care, some attention, and some help that he didn’t get. It’s tragic to me that we lost that dude that young.
There is a Bob Dylan song called “Who Killed Davey Moore?” and it’s about the death of a prizefighter. My song borrows the format of the Bob Dylan song. The chorus is the question of who killed him, and every verse is another person who probably had something to do with it but they’re pleading their innocence. In pleading their innocence they’re demonstrating why they’re guilty. It’s a cool format.
TRHH: I’m glad you did that, man, because I’m a huge Dirty fan. You talked about his humanity and I think the same week that he bum rushed the Grammys he saved a little girl who had been hit and was trapped underneath a car in Brooklyn.
B. Dolan: Oh yeah? I didn’t even know that story.
TRHH: Yeah, look it up. Nobody ever talks about that stuff. He was a unique guy for sure.
B. Dolan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
TRHH: Who is Kill the Wolf for?
B. Dolan: Man, I think it’s for me [laughs]. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take into consideration the fans and the people that follow my music. Ultimately that’s what I’ve had to do up until this point. This is my third official album and if you count the mixtapes it’s like my sixth record. It would be easy for me to fall into a rut. I know how to make a song that sounds like Fallen House. I know how to make a B. Dolan song. To me that is how you get lazy and how you fall off. I’m trying not to do that. The way I’ve avoided that through the years is to keep doing shit that challenges me and keep putting myself in situations where I’m like, “Ah shit, I don’t know if this is gonna work!” or I feel like I’m right at the brink of my capabilities. When I felt like I had firm grasp on how to make a rap song, I think that’s a dangerous zone to get into. I gotta keep pushing and try to make it hard.
We tried to do the production, we fell down, we failed, and we fucked up. It took us five fuckin’ years to deliver the album, but at the end of it I’m confident that the work on there is me really fighting for it to happen and for it to work. It starts out as being about me but for the next two years I’m touring for this album. I’m going to bring these songs out and they’re going to take on a life of their own because people are going to hear them and certain parts they’re going to respond to. Certain songs are going to change because of the live show and how things are presented. It will be for everyone else in 2-or-3 years. It will become a different thing like songs do. As of right now I made it to challenge myself and see how good we can make it sound.
Purchase: B. Dolan – Kill the Wolf