What's Black Sheep MC Dres been doing since his group released its last album a decade ago? Seemingly working on the cryptic title to the Sheep's long-time-coming third release, 8WM/Novakane.
The record, due October 24 as a digital-only release, is the sequel to 1994's Non-Fiction, and according to Dres, its title is a mash-up of topical tension and party preparedness. "It means 'Women with women with weed with wine with me," Dres explained in between tee shots at a Queens, New York, golf course. "Everyone has their own agenda. These days I feel like people feel like [they're on] novocaine, like they're numb to everything that's not on their agenda. 'If it's not on my agenda, I'm not feeling it.' "
Things have changed since we last heard from Dres and longtime partner Mista Lawnge, charter members of the '90s Native Tongues posse of positive groups, which also included the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. For one, Lawnge appears on only a few cuts on the album, since he has split the group and is working on his solo debut.
"He's on a couple of hooks, but we had definitely broken up before we got back together with the idea of bringing Black Sheep back," said Dres. "But toward the end, he decided he wanted to go solo."
Dres says the pair, whose personal relationship was never "all that" to begin with, originally parted ways following the release of Non-Fiction, after learning some harsh music-industry lessons about getting paid. "We were getting pennies on the dollar, and that whole Native Tongues thing was never what it was supposed to be," he said. "We're all friends. But we were making records about empowerment and respect and pride, but while we were asking people to do great things, we weren't doing it ourselves."
After retreating to his native North Carolina for a few years and working on a never-released solo project, Dres moved back to New York, set up his Bum Rush record label and began bankrolling the new Black Sheep album himself. Once Lawnge split, he brought on Jungle Brothers DJ Sammy B, who will tour with Dres later this year.
Lawnge's influence can be felt, but it's Seattle newcomer Vitamin D's thickly layered style on the first single, "Whodat?," which slows the group's signature quick-fire bounce to a thicker, grittier, Motown-fueled, horn-blasting stroll. Elsewhere on the album, singer Yummy Bingham lends her pipes to the song "Wonder," and her father, producer Dinky Bingham, helps out on production, along with Showbiz (of Showbiz and A.G.) and newcomer BeanOne.
Despite saying they didn't get paid much for landmark hits like "Flavor of the Month" and "The Choice Is Yours" (off their classic platinum-selling debut, 1991's A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing), Dres says he's been able to live off his royalties over the years, which he plowed into the recording, mixing and mastering of 8WM. The several-year process of recording was humbling, to say the least.
"When I came back to New York, I had to live with myself and get comfortable taking the train, but even though it never clicked for us monetarily, I'm grateful for the respect we have," he said. "People hold us in high admiration, and you can't pay for that. When I first started making this comeback, I had a perception of what would be done for me. I had delusions of grandeur, and I thought people would know who we are and help us get situated, which was far from the case."
After having his ego put in check, Dres decided to go it alone, though he said he's gotten some serious love from the "young cats," some of whom have been more supportive than his old-school peers. "I've got cats like Nick Cannon [giving] me a shout," he said. "And that sh-- is really cool to me. They're getting it. Even though they weren't there at the time, they've heard about it and they're going back and doing their research."