Your Old Droog is a young lyricist making a name for himself in hip hop. Since his infamous debut EP earned well-deserved comparisons to Nas after it was released last June, there's been a mystique around the Coney Island rapper. How could an unknown guy with this much talent have no record deal and no social media presence?
A little over a year later, I published the Zumic Review of his latest EP, The Nicest, and the MC retweeted my post of the article on Twitter. We made contact and it wasn't long before I was sitting at a table with the laid back and quick-witted Droog, discussing The Nicest, his past, his artistry, the state of hip hop, and much more.
At the age of 4, Your Old Droog and his parents left the country of Ukraine for the United States to make a new home in Brooklyn. Though Droog doesn’t credit his Ukrainian heritage as being a heavy influence in his music, his father was a player of the Russian instrument called the balalaika. “My pops was a musician. He plays a folk instrument [balalaika], and guitar, stuff like that. So music was always around. It has like three strings. It looks like a fucking flying V guitar. It's dope though,” describes Droog.
He continues when I ask about his Mom’s music interests, saying, “I don’t know what my Mom listens to. Yeah, no cool stories about my parents having vinyl and shit.” Droog does say what influenced him growing up: “Everything, I mean hip hop, early rap, like Fresh Prince, and shit like that, all the kid’s songs. The song “Nightmare On My Street,” “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Just little kid shit. Rock music. Whatever was on the radio at the time.”
I touch on hip hop and ask Droog what the first hip hop song he ever heard was. He replies, “Like ever? LL Cool J or Heavy D. I was like ‘What’s this?’ because it didn’t sound like the other songs.”
Listen to any track and there’s no denying Your Old Droog is a skillful wordsmith with an aptitude for storytelling. He first took interest in writing at around 12 or 13 years old. “I mean we used to write in school but I never really took it that seriously. And then, I would write little battle rhymes and we would battle. And from there on, started writing,” he recalls. Word to the kids who faced him in a rap battle in junior high. “Kids liked it, yo. Little schoolyard shit. Like, ‘Oooh’ . Shit like that. If I didn’t get that reaction, I would have stopped.”
The battle rhyming continued in high school, but it was a tough time for him and his peers. Droog talks about his experience:
There was no arts program. I dropped out with no credits. Kids were heavily influenced by drugs and girls and fucking chilling on campus, it had a campus. They shut it down because the graduation rate was so bad but while I was there, and the kids before me, you could just chill on campus and do bullshit all the time. That’s what it was. Dudes would come to the school to battle and shit like that, but it was normally just getting money and meeting girls in that school, and after that, just stopped going and hung out in the neighborhood. Everybody had goals and shit but no one was really moving. Not in that school.
Your Old Droog considers himself lucky to have linked up with producer DJ Skizz, who has been there from the beginnings of his first self-titled EP. “I knew the struggle before I met him so I immediately knew the difference. And I realized what he brought to the table. I consider him a good friend too. We recorded a bunch of stuff.” Droog has also connected with producers El RTNC and Marco Polo.
Below, you can read more highlights from my interview with Your Old Droog:
What challenges do you face with writing?
Finding great beats. I feel like that’s an important part, the music. If you’re a good rapper, you can take an idea and bring it up and you need beats to compliment you to bring you up. Finding good music to match the words is a challenge.
How do you find samples?
Well, RTNC, a producer I work with, goes digging a lot, and I basically dig through the shit he already digged.
Were you involved a lot on the production for The Nicest EP?
Nah, I was more involved with the samples on the first two. This one I was more there to tell them like, ‘Yeah, I like this' or ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘Move this part.’ But it wasn’t as crazy as the first two. The Nicest, I feel like the beats were done like they didn’t need me to change them. It felt right.
Any producers you admire that you’d like to work with?
Whoever got dope stuff really, yo. All the legends that I look up to. It was good to work with Al . I don’t know. I really have to think. Whoever got dope stuff, I don’t care.
That would be dope. We didn’t get to really work on tour because everybody was so busy and shit like that. Of course it would be great to get a Premo beat.
I’ve seen stuff that you’re getting ready for a ‘big album,’ is that true?
It’s coming, I’m not going to force it. It’s got to be the right situation. Everything got to be right. I could drop an album right now, I got enough material. I could drop two albums. But I’m not just gonna do that.
Can you tell me what the Russian nesting dolls on the cover art for The Nicest represent?
Yeah, you got the young on the right, just kinda evolving. It was just a funny cover, I had the idea and the dude who did the art, Marcoso, he hooked it up. He barred with me on the edits, I had like mad feedback and shit like that.
What is the 3rd doll holding?
One is a pack of cigarettes and the other is a cup of coffee.
You reference wrestling on The Nicest, do you see yourself as more of a good guy or a bad guy?
It depends. Some might view me as superhero, some might think I’m a villain. I don’t watch wrestling though, not in like 13 years.
You talk about record labels and deals on the song “Through the Nose.” Have people approached you with deals?
Yeah. We met with labels. We take the meetings, you know, we talk to them. It’s no rush to sign though.
On "Through The Nose" you play with the expression's multiple meanings, how did that come about?
That was just one of those songs that I did on the spot. I was just in the booth, I heard the beat, Skizz made it. I went on the balcony and like wrote the song in like an hour.
What about the meditation part at the end?
That shit was funny, that was my idea.
Do you meditate?
Yes. Transcendental meditation all day.
On the track "We Don't Know You," you say: "I'm killing off rappers and making space / They're more concerned with documenting what's taking place than what's taking place... I'm the opposite, barely even know what we got on air." You don't pay social media much mind do you?
When I did that song I was not even on Twitter. They had like a fake Droog page who used to tweet lyrics and corny shit. So yeah, you know I had people impersonating me, so I was like, 'I got to get on Twitter now.' That shit was after the fact for me. I just got on board because you have to. It’s sad that some people look at socials and stuff like that as like the main thing when they’re learning about an artist instead of listening to the music and really finding out what they’re about. Like now they just read tweets. Like, ‘Yo, he got dope tweets, let’s fuck with him,” or like, ‘Yo, your instagram videos are fire yo, love them shits.’
Do you like connecting with fans on Twitter?
Well I have a ghost tweeter, so… nah I’m kidding. Drake writes my tweets.
(Laughs) What do you think about Drake?
I think he's dope.
How closely do you even follow all that gossip, like the recent beef between Drake and Meek Mill?
Sometimes you can’t escape it, like people bring it up and tell you about it. But I don’t fucking check gossip sites. Word. I think Drake is dope, though. People debate, like rappers and ghost writers. He’s an artist, and [pop] artists who are more than just rappers can have writers and shit like that. He doesn’t just rap, he makes music.
You ever ghostwrite for anybody?
Any songs we’d know?
Not on the charts.
What’s your opinion on the Action Bronson, Ghostface Killah beef?
I have no opinion. I listen to Ghostface. I love Ghostface. I like Action.
How would you describe your style to someone who’s never listened to you before?
I wouldn’t describe it, I'd just play it for them.
What’s your message?
Sometimes I do but I feel like I’m not a dude with one cause. I got a song called “No Message,” its dope. We put it out last year.
What do you want people to know about Your Old Droog that they don’t know already?
Nothing really, I mean if they’re really listening to the music, it’s all there. I don’t want to spell it out for them like, ‘You need to know this thing about me.’ Just listen to the music and draw your own conclusions.
How has it been since you’ve started gaining recognition?
It’s cool. It’s whatever. I hate it when people recognize me , because sometimes you don’t realize, like, 'Do I owe this person money or something? Do you want to fight right now?' It’s not that bad. I’m not poppin’ like that. I still get around. I don’t really hate it. It feels good sometimes to be recognized by somebody who is fan. Somebody who I look up to is dope too. Especially peers that you respect, that’s good.
Would you rather be a cult guy that real hip hop heads love, like MF Doom, or more of a pop artist, like Eminem?
I don’t aspire to be a pop star. That cult thing is cool, whatever pays well really.
How do you feel on stage when you’re performing?
I feel good, that’s the most fun part for me. It also depends on the crowd.
Any festivals you’d like to perform at?
Lollapalooza. Just to say I did it.
What’s the best hip hop show you’ve ever seen?
I haven’t really seen that many hip hop shows. I wish I would’ve stuck around for Kane at RockSteady but we just left. I think he’s a great performer. I want to see him live. Danny [Brown] is dope. He’s got great energy.
The tour with PRyhme was your first tour? How was that?
(Nods head) It was great. It was good to watch them perform every night and just chill with them and talk, how we're talking right now.
Do you still smoke cigarettes?
Nah, I quit, I had to. It was corny. Plus I had too many signs, like I would go to the loosey spot and the door would be locked. Habib would be in there taking a shit.
Do you have a day job or are you a full-time rapper?
Do you remember the last time you had regular job?
Yeah, like 2011 or some shit. I was fucking washing dishes at a hotel in Manhattan.
Would you be listening to music and rapping while you were working?
I was rapping and washing dishes, that’s exactly what I was doing. I would make a beat on the dish. (laughs)
Keep up with Your Old Droog's latest music, news, and tour dates on his Zumic artist page.