In 2013 emcee UllNevaNo and producer Logic Marselis released their first official album called “The Protocol” under the Magnetik Moments banner. The duo has reconvened for a new concept album called “Dustin Grime.”
Dustin Grime is a 14-track album produced entirely by Logic Marselis. The album features appearances by Ill Conscious, Black Assets, London Boil, Illien Rosewell, Jamil Honesty, and DJ Jon Doe.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to UllNevaNo about his favorite rhymes from one his favorite emcees, MF Doom, why he prefers the 90s NBA over the current game, and his new album with Logic Marselis, Dustin Grime.
TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the new album, Dustin Grime?
UllNevaNo: Dustin Grime is based on a fictional character. Based off of the past previous projects that me and Logic worked on and released we wanted to give cats that dirtiness, grittiness, and rawness. They know that everything that we do is boom bap, sample-based, raw, and dirty. We try to push the boundaries of trying to keep it in that lane. When we decided to call the project Dustin Grime it was almost by accident. We didn’t have a title at the time. Logic was like, “Let’s make it a fictional character.” At the time he kept calling it “Dustin” and I was like, “Why don’t we call it ‘Dustin Grime’?” Once we started recording more and more songs things started meshing together I was like, “Yo, this could actually be a conceptual record based off of a character, so let’s just call the character Dustin Grime.”
TRHH: How is this album different from your first album with Logic Marselis, The Protocol?
UllNevaNo: Definitely timing. I think with The Protocol we were trying to figure things out and put something out. A lot of people knew we did a lot of previous work way back like Instant Messengers. The Protocol was us making an actual statement to the public. It was basically our debut. When we did Dustin we just wanted to smack people in the face with raw beats and raw raps, and kind of going left field with things. It’s been well-received and I think people are digging the project. I’m definitely happy about it.
TRHH: You guys don’t live too far from each other, right?
UllNevaNo: Logic stays in Norfolk, Virginia and I stay in Baltimore. Depending on traffic it’s about 4-to-6 hours. A lot of this project was recorded out there in Virginia at his studio. Maybe 2 or 3 records were recorded in Baltimore. When I collab with people I like to be in the studio, be in the vibe, and catch that moment. We can bounce ideas off of each other. That’s what we did a lot with this project. Even when the recording process was finished we were bouncing ideas off of each other like, “How are we going to market this?” and “What can we add to this record to elevate it more and make it stand out?”
TRHH: How did the single ‘Off-White’ come together?
UllNevaNo: That was actually the first beat that he sent to me when we started doing the project. Mind you, we started recording this project in 2016. I think he just ended up getting a new keyboard. Usually he uses Ableton and an MPC. Everything that you hear was all chopped up on the keyboard and that wasn’t even one of his favorite beats. That was the first one he sent me and I got busy and wrote to it. That’s what the song was called, it wasn’t no correlation with Virgil Abloh. I don’t know, but I just wanted to keep the name. I didn’t want to change it. I wanted to keep it as is.
TRHH: You have a lot of pro wrestling and basketball references in your music. How big of a fan are you of wrestling and hoops?
UllNevaNo: Yes sir. Im’ma be honest, I’m a fan of the 90s basketball and wrestling. I feel like that was a great era. That was a great era to see Jordan, Allen Iverson, and Stephon Marbury play and the WWE Attitude era. I try to incorporate that, but it’s not on purpose [laughs]. Whenever I write it just comes out like that. A lot of my projects incorporate 90s references infused with Hip-Hop. Similar to how Westside Gunn does with his wrestling, but he keeps it infused with that raw. It has nothing to do with wrestling. He doesn’t do a whole album with play by play about wrestling, but he is basically paying homage. That’s what I do with my projects. I let people know they shouldn’t forget about that time in the 90s when Jordan was popping, A.I. was popping, and Shammgod was popping.
TRHH: What’s your opinion of the NBA today?
UllNevaNo: I try to get into it. I’m not going to lie, I don’t really watch it as much as I was back in the 90s or early 2000s. One thing I can say is these players have gotten huge! I think now the game is all about self. A lot of these players that play the game are all for self. It’s about who can score the most points, who can gain these accolades, or who can break the most records. All records are made to be broken, but I feel like in the 90s people played as a team, as opposed to now where people are infatuated with star power.
TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Dreams Shattered’?
UllNevaNo: A funny story about that, when me and Logic were wrapping and piecing everything together, with him being in Virginia and me being in Baltimore he would have the rough mixes. When it was time to put the album out I didn’t even hear any of the album. The only time I heard it was when I actually recorded it, we were vibing, or rough mixes. Other than that, I never heard it. It was just sitting. He was like, “Yo, I can’t find Dreams Shattered,” and I didn’t even remember writing that. It was so long ago when I did that. I told him to send it again and I’ll re-write it. I’m glad I re-wrote it because I wanted to touch base on what’s going on in the black community with gun violence and other things happening in the world. I work in Baltimore, but I don’t stay in Baltimore. By me being on the county line you’re constantly hearing about shootings and killings. Why are these guns on the streets?
The premise of Dreams Shattered is you hear about these young kids that aren’t even at their primes yet, they’re 21 and 22, and their dreams are being shattered. They don’t even have the chance to become whatever they want to become in life. They never had that opportunity because maybe someone misguided them in the streets, or they’re just being a knucklehead, or don’t have that guidance to the right path to push them to be a successful journalist or doctor. Even having a regular 9-to-5 — there’s nothing wrong with that. I really just wanted touch base on how we need to keep those weapons off the street because it’s killing our black community. Even with the violence on the street among black people and the cops, I feel like cops taking lives in the black community, they aren’t giving those brother and sisters a chance to fulfill their whole potential in life when it’s cut short.
TRHH: I know this is a broad question but, what do you think is the solution to stop inner-city violence? What is the root problem and how do we fix it?
UllNevaNo: That’s a good question, man. I’ve been actually trying to figure it out for years. I was raised as a military brat. When I moved to Baltimore I didn’t’ really understand. I have friends that have been in that life and I’ll have an opinion on it and they’ll kind of defend that lifestyle or that person. They’ll say, “You really don’t know or understand why people do what they do on the streets.” I try to step into that realm and have an understanding, but I kind of don’t get it. We have laws and we have a governor and a mayor, why are these weapons still on the street? I feel like they want them to be on the streets. I understand that the police can’t be everywhere at one time, but it’s getting ridiculous.
They’ve tried to have solutions. They had a thing called Cease Fire. Every month for one weekend the organization tries to get people to stop killing each other. That’s sad. Why should it be just for a weekend? We need to stop it forever. To answer your question, it’s going to take time and it can’t just be on organization. I feel like we need the government and organizations to make it happen. During the riots we had the Coast Guard here. By me being a military brat and my father being in the military I saw it constantly growing up. It was surprising seeing the Coast Guard in the city and when they were around nothing happened. I think they were in the city for like a week. You didn’t hear about crime or nothing. Maybe that can be the solution, but something has to give.
TRHH: I’d be interested to know what a person like your father thinks. Like you, I can’t relate to a lot of it. I grew up in it, but I felt like an outsider. I never understood it. I wasn’t raised that way. I feel like a lot of this is choices. A lot of it is a chase for money, but it’s really fool’s gold. I saw Jay-Z on the Howard Stern Show and Howard said, “Man, you must have been rolling in dough selling crack,” and Jay was like, “Actually, I wasn’t.” He said he would have been better off working at McDonald’s given the amount of time, effort, and fearing for his life, it wasn’t worth it. I’m saying that to say, I think people need to step away from the quick money and look at the big picture. There is a way to make a decent living and be proud of it without risking your life or somebody else’s. I don’t know how that got screwed up. I think in general we hate ourselves and we hate each other.
UllNevaNo: I feel like there needs to be a conversation. I’ve never been in the streets. I don’t know what that’s like. I wouldn’t say I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, but my pop took us out of that environment and put is an in environment where we wouldn’t have to do that. I was in Fort Riley, Kansas for some time and I spent the majority of my time in Fort Ord, California. The funny thing is, people that are living in a good community were trying to be hard and live that lifestyle of people who have to watch their back and keep their head on a swivel every day! That right there is a whole different conversation. I don’t understand that, either. Who wants to live like that? I feel like there needs to be a conversation and some type of connection. I feel like we need to match regular civilians who aren’t in that lifestyle with people who are out there and hear where they are coming from, and also hear where the blue-collar man is coming from.
TRHH: We could go on and on about this forever. It’s so multi-layered and deep. When you write do you sit down and write to a beat or when rhymes come to you? Are you inspired by things that you see in everyday life?
UllNevaNo: Wow, that’s a good question. I don’t write like your typical emcee. I have tons of notebooks laying around. Thank goodness for the phone. I have so many memos and one liners and stuff that keeps me sharp that I could use for future records. Most of the time if I’m really focused on a certain record I’ll sit on the beat for three or four days. Before I start writing I’ll listen to the beat constantly on my way to work or at work just to get that vibe. Then I’ll go through the process where I’m thinking of random thoughts, random rhymes, or random punchlines, random wordplay, or random schemes to see how I can fit it. I’ll use that as a reference in my phone. When it’s time for me to actually write on a pad I’ll sit there and let certain thoughts come to me and by then everything has formulated and absorbed. Basically, it’s like a puzzle. I don’t know if you’re familiar with MF Doom, but his writing process is crazy. I kind of write like him. He actually has sticky post it notes on his wall everywhere around his house so he won’t forget. So, when it’s time for him to write he’ll go and pick out things and piece it together like a puzzle.
TRHH: Are you a big Doom fan?
UllNevaNo: Yeah, I love Doom, man. I think his best record is Madvillainy. Madvillainy changed my life.
TRHH: What’s your favorite Doom rhyme?
UllNevaNo: Oh man, you put me on the spot! It’s so many! He’s so layered. That’s the crazy part. I listen to him a lot. You know how you listen to an artist so many times that at times you forget certain rhymes?
TRHH: Yeah, I understand.
UllNevaNo: By the way, this is probably one of the dopest interviews that I’ve done in a while.
TRHH: Really? I appreciate that, man. Thank you.
UllNevaNo: One of my favorite records is ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ where he was like, “Hardly come sloppy on a retarded hard copy/After rocking parties he departed in a jalopy/Watch the drop top papi/Known as the grimy limey, slimy, try me/Blimey, simply smashing in a fashion that’s timely/Madvillain dashing in a beat, rhyme crime spree/We rock the house like rock ‘n roll/Got more soul than a sock with a hole.” It’s like, what? Who says that? I like the fact that Doom is random. It makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense. Who’s to say that everything has to make sense? You can just rap and have fun with it.
TRHH: The randomness sticks out to me. Like the joint where he’s like, “Yo, y’all can’t stand right here.”
UllNevaNo: Oh yeah, yeah! He’s like, “Yo, y’all can’t stand right here.” That’s how he starts the rhyme! What? Who says that? There’s a dude named Theravada, he’s a good dude, we chop it up on Twitter every now and then, but he hates MF Doom! He can’t stand him. He hates fans that praise MF Doom. He trolls MF Doom fans. Doom is dope, but in his eyes he doesn’t see it that way.
TRHH: Doom is not for everybody. My boy that lives in St. Louis is like, “I don’t get it.” I don’t know how to explain it. To use a wrestling analogy, there a fans who like the actual wrestling, like me, there are fans that like the talking and interviews, and there are fans that like the stories. Everybody watches for a different reason. I have friends that like the big muscle guys. If you aren’t a big muscle guy they don’t like you, which is mind boggling to me…
UllNevaNo: Wow, that’s different.
TRHH: It’s kind of suspect to me [laughs].
UllNevaNo: Right. Okay, pause [laughs].
TRHH: They’re my friends and in their minds a person wrestling needs to look like they can win a fight. To me it’s like, it’s fake, who cares? I’m saying that to say, there are rap fans, and I don’t want to get shot but, there are people who love 2Pac, and I like him too, but for the reasons I listen to Hip-Hop he doesn’t check off my boxes.
UllNevaNo: I’m right there with you. I appreciate what he’s done, but just from the way I was raised as far as Hip-Hop and writing with schemes and complexities, I just don’t get it. With Pac I just don’t understand how he’s praised as this entity. I know hundreds of rappers that can rap better than Pac [laughs]. Those conversations I keep to myself because then it turns into something else. I don’t like having conversations about who’s the best between Biggie and Pac, because I feel like you can’t compare them.
TRHH: First of all, people get emotional about 2Pac. They loved him. I feel the same way, but here’s the thing, and it goes back to the Doom thing, not everybody listens to rap for the fanciness and art of it. They want to be entertained. With music in general, most people if they don’t just like the beat they want to hear something they relate to. I think with 2Pac people related to his pain, his suffering, and his anger. He put his feelings on his sleeve. He didn’t rap that well, but it didn’t matter to those people because they could relate to what he was saying. And then you have a guy like Doom. My favorite Doom line is, “No, he’s not too fly to skeet in a skeezer eye,” [laughs].
UllNevaNo: [Laughs] “And squeeze her thigh and give her curves a feel.”
TRHH: That’s just ridiculous! It’s clever and it’s vulgar, but me and you listen for different reasons. Everybody is different, man. Who is the Dustin Grime album made for?
UllNevaNo: The Dustin Grime album is made for the boom bap heads. Just like we were speaking about earlier when referencing Doom, when we made this project we were like, “Yo, we want this for the vinyl heads, the cassette heads, the 90s heads, and the boom bap heads that appreciate raw beats and raw lyrics.” The cats that are fans of Madlib, RZA, and early Wu-Tang, that’s who we made it for. I try to broaden everything and let people be open to the project. If it’s for you, it’s for you. We made it to the point where everybody can listen to it, but mainly it’s for the heads that are true boom bap heads that are really going to understand. It’s really going to touch them.