Allow Kidz in the Hall to reintroduce themselves.
Rapper Naledge (pictured, left) and producer Double-0 (right) are spending the afternoon riding with me in a black SUV as their driver takes us on a full circuit around the island of Manhattan. Along the way they blast their third album as a duo, Land of Make Believe, which is due March 9. The University of Pennsylvania alums see it as their most personal release yet. “As an emcee, I’ve been good at expressing generalities and being playful and witty and telling allegories and fables and third-person stories,” says lifelong Chicagoan Naledge. “That’s not what this is. This album is me.”
Like Naledge, then, Land of Make Believe‘s opening jams sound upbeat, ready to party, confident verging on cocky. By the time its 15 tracks are through, though, an anxious edge creeps in, mirroring what both Kidz have been feeling lately as they assess the state of their career. “The dream of putting the first album out, it’s come and gone,” says New Jersey’s Double-0. “We still love to make music. [But] how can we dig deeper? How can we be more evolved?”
Naledge’s doubts along similar lines were thrown into sharp focus by the violent death of a close cousin last year. “I had just come from doing shows and being on the road. I put myself into the casket and I was just like, ‘Who am I? If I were to die today, what is it? Are you VIP tables and bottles and girls? My bio says I’m an Ivy League graduate and I’m the smartest guy in the world, but are you really living that way?’…As a rapper, I feel sometimes we don’t show that vulnerability. We’re real people, and there’s dimensions and layers to who we are, and we should explore them.”
Yet that aspect of mainstream rap has shown signs of changing in recent years, as Kanye West’s superstardom has opened the door to a new generation of introspective artists. “You see that self-reflection in what Drake is doing and what [Kid] Cudi is doing,” notes Double-0. Those newcomers’ success makes it conceivable that a fun yet thoughtful album like Land of Make Believe could actually spawn a hit single.
Whether or not that happens, though, chances are we’ll hear all about the Kidz’ thoughts on the matter come next album. “It’s therapeutic to talk to yourself and evaluate yourself,” says Naledge with a smile as we get ready to leave the now-parked SUV and part ways. “It’s an ongoing conversation. I just tend to do it on beats.”
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