In 2000, BET executives felt they were taking a chance on Nelly and his St. Louis twang. (This is the same Nelly who would go on to sell 9 million copies of his debut album, Country Grammar.) The South had already had much hip-hop success, but coastal media elites still believed Outkast to be regional; Cash Money and No Limit, flukes. So if people couldn’t understand Nelly, they were less than enthused about Atlanta’s Ying Yang Twins and their distinct sound.
The Ying Yang Twins may not get the credit they feel they deserve — something noted on their new song, “Thundercat,” a team-up with Mad Decent DJ duo Pyramid Scheme. (The opening bars — over a snapping beat — are “Fuck you, nigga, you don’t like us/But you wish you had a clique just like us.”) Twins D-Roc and Kaine have a point, considering that they popularized twerking 15 years ago, heightened the importance of the ad-lib and, perhaps most oddly, collaborated with Adam Levine before Kanye did.
It’s hard to persist in the game for any amount of time, but the Ying Yang Twins are back after an extended period and are ready to fight for their place in history.
First of all, Pyramid Scheme are Atlanta guys — they did a song with Trinidad Jame$ — but I don’t know if they’ve been to Big Daddy’s on Old National Highway. What do you guys connect on?
Kaine: One of the guys in Pyramid Scheme actually worked at the Zone, one of the studios we did a lot of our recording in for our first three albums. Pyramid Scheme is made up of Adam and a gentleman by the name of Sterling. Adam used to engineer a lot of our sessions when we did the Thug Walkin’ LP. That was where the whole Pyramid Scheme came into play with the Ying Yang Twins. We were already knowing Adam.
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Did you guys ever fall out of contact or did you always stay in touch?
Kaine: Uh, no. We ain’t never lose contact, everybody was always just a call away, man.
At what point were you like, “Oh, you’re not just an engineer, you’re doing this EDM thing?”
Kaine: I don’t know how long Adam and Sterling have been working on the Pyramid Scheme thing, but I know he was always dealing with music with us. I know any type of job he was gonna have, it was gonna be based upon his love of music. In music, you might start out being a runner… as in, you might be asked to run to the store. Any time of day! It might mean you’re gonna be a videographer at the end of the day. You’ve gotta be ready to transition when they call you.
D-Roc: I can say, back when he was engineering our projects we were working on, he kind of put his feel in that he was interested in not just being an engineer for the longest time. ‘Cause you know, he could say, “Oh, you could say ‘pusha in the hood’ like this.” So that’s the first time I could see him going to step up. When he met Sterling, I think that’s when the transition came about. When he was like, “I could do this on this end; you could do this over there. We put that together? And we got a Pyramid Scheme.”
Atlanta has about six different hip-hop scenes going on at the same time. How is it that an EDM duo was the first to reach out?
Kaine: I mean, not for nothing, but we was in that lane before we started hitting the world hard. It was just all before our time.
D-Roc: I would say, if you really think about it and go back, we was already in that lane when we did “Shake.” Almost and probably popping into that EDM. Because it was different.
Kaine: “Shake,” “Drop,” then “Fist Pump, Jump Jump.”
D-Roc: And now you’re just acknowledging it with “Thundercat,” cause, like, the transition is getting better with what we’re doing.
Kaine: It’s the first actual official EDM track that the Ying Yang Twins are on. That’s it, just a new label. It’s new music from us, so it’s all the more better.
Kaine is sending a bunch of subliminals in that first verse. I know you were talking about biters a couple of years ago; is that still on your mind?
Kaine: You know, everybody has people that they idolize. Some people won’t say so. Some people may. It doesn’t matter. I think it’s this: My verse was merely saying that people looked at the Ying Yang Twins like we were outcasts. The way we are is we’re more abstract than any local artist. Or national artist, it doesn’t matter. The thing is, people try to figure out how to get the niche that we possess, and nobody can imitate or emulate us because we’re a hard act to follow. And that’s merely what I was saying in the verse. We ain’t never had to piggyback no artist. Ying Yang Twins have always been their own group. We drop singles the way we feel they should be dropped and we do things in a manner that’s different than any other rhyming artist in the game. So that’s basically what that verse was saying. Plus, I’m a lyricist anyway. That’s coming to the forefront of the Ying Yang Twins in the future, ’cause the industry likes to tag to our female records. We’re greater artists than just one thing.
I mean, but…well…nevermind.
I was gonna ask a follow-up about something from a few years ago, but I don’t think it’s a big issue anymore.
D-Roc: Go ‘head, go ‘head. Lemme hear what you were about to ask.
I saw you guys at Santos Party House here in New York your last time here. You all were saying French Montana had taken “Haaanh” for himself. Is that still a thing? I didn’t want to ask because I don’t feel like that’s what the verse is…
D-Roc: Hold up, hold up, hold up. I can speak on that. One thing I look at is, I look at him and say, “I appreciate you for taking what we started and branched out, made it bigger.” But the thing about it is, give recognition and give the credit where credit’s due. You did not start it. That’s not your word. You cannot re-spell it and say, “I spell it this way and I say it this way.” No. That’s still the same word. That’s the same word whether you’re saying “hannnh” or “haaanh.” You can say it low-key, high-key, mid-range. That shit is still the same word. That’s all I was saying. So, okay, if you want to look at it as a bandwagon and see how people do, now listen. He’s singing. Singing! Like Future or Rich Homie Quan. It’s like, get in your lane; stay in your lane. Find yourself. And that’s the only thing we were saying at that time. We were saying if you’re going to take something, don’t say you originated it. You originate something when you come up with something. We came up with that. We made that word big as it is. Just at least say, “Hey, big up to the Ying Yang Twins” somewhere. Anywhere I can see it. If you don’t do that, you are stealing. You’re a copycat. If you’re a copycat, I have to say something because you did not start that. Now, when you started it, I can’t say nothing.
“That’s the same word whether you’re saying ‘hannnh’ or ‘haaanh.’ You can say it low-key, high-key, mid-range. That shit is still the same word.” —D-Roc
Just to play Devil’s advocate: Juelz Santana and Jeezy say “Ay!” a little differently. So is it possible that there are two different ways of saying “Hanh?”
D-Roc: No. I did say there are different ways of saying words, but…
Kaine: Hold up, hold up, D-Roc. Hold up. I did an interview and a gentleman called into the show and said that word was a word that the Dominicans had since they were kids. I said, “OK, I understand that, but pay us that.” This is just some guy on an interview call telling us that. French Montana didn’t do that in the right manner. You know, it’s like, this country was built on taxation without representation. You could take the money long and nobody can find out unless they’re supposed to find out they’re taking it. That’s how I look at it. That’s how this country’s built. It’s a small thing to a giant. We the originators of that. And that’s where it lays. He wasn’t at the BET Awards in 2003; he was probably just trying to crack the door open.
He was selling mixtape DVDs then.
D-Roc: That’s what I’m saying. We didn’t sell mixtapes until now. We didn’t come up like that in the South. We didn’t come up selling no mixtapes. You took your ass to the club, got in with the real people who was getting fucked with; that’s how you got fucked with. Somebody who knows somebody. We do a lot of things that some people could consider bold. Once you get to the Major Leagues, you don’t go back to the Negro League. That’s been part of my hold-up being in this group, Ying Yang Twins, me and my brother. The things that we’ve done have always came out and hit massively. So that’s what we’ve gotta do. We’ve gotta come out and hit the masses. We can’t hit the peanut gallery and wait until it stacks up. That’s Negro League. We Major League.
That’s what it took this time and this type of production team in Pyramid Scheme and a group such as the Ying Yang Twins. Everything happened within the right timing. Everybody’s looking for a fun time again, but they don’t know how to acquire it with what’s been being conducted in the hip-hop community. So they need someone who has sense enough to bring fun back to music. All the music coming out is still not fun. It’s not entertaining. When gangsta rappers come up to me and say, “Hey man, you and your brother need to drop something,” it’s a sad day in the urban hip-hop community. All these people making money but the city ain’t doing numbers. Everybody ain’t happy. There’s something else going on.
“Everybody’s looking for a fun time again, but they don’t know how to acquire it with what’s been being conducted in the hip-hop community. So they need someone who has sense enough to bring fun back to music.” —D-Roc
Are there any specific gangsta rappers who are saying this?
Kaine: Yes, sir! There’s a lot of gangsta rappers that’ve come up to me and my brother we need to drop something. ‘Cause this new shit and these new rappers and these new attitudes gonna get people fucked up and killed.
Is that why you haven’t worked with a lot of Atlanta rappers recently?
Kaine: I mean, not for nothing, there’s a lot of people who don’t understand the Ying Yang Twins. It just takes a conversation. We just merely… no one’s really had that conversation, that’s all that is.
D-Roc: We have worked with Atlanta artists. It’s just that the artists we haven’t worked with are on a different level than the one we’re on. We have worked with Atlanta artists: we worked with Lil Jon, that’s where it started. We’re both Atlanta to death, so we have collaborated with Atlanta artists. It’s just a lot of lanes that everybody else in is not our lane. They feel they don’t want to do a song with us because we’re in two different lanes.
Pyramid Scheme is on Mad Decent — you just did a boat party together. How was that? What was it like seeing a very different crowd than the one you might be used to?
D-Roc: The boat party was off the chain. But you can’t say it’s a different crowd than what we’re used to; we’ve seen that caliber of crowd on the other side. We done seen more [types] of crowd than you think. We’ve been overseas, and that’s where it really started at. EDM started in Europe before it migrated over here. They party like that 24/7. Europe, China… everywhere we be in. When we leave the country, that’s their vibe. That’s the first thing you hear in the club — the bass “doots, doots, doots” and the sirens going “errh, errh, errh.” That’s what’s going on in the club. Now it done migrated over here and people are saying it’s new. No, it’s not. It’s new to us over here, but it’s been going on over there. That’s why we brought it back. Everybody wasn’t ready for it, but now that it’s at the forefront, people are like, “Okay, this new.” No. This the first thing I brought back to the United States. Cause Kaine wasn’t in that lane like that; that wasn’t his lane. He was like, “Aw, nah, Roc.” I would say, “Did you see that crowd though? Everybody loving that shit.”
You know, cause I go out and look. My wife was in my ear saying, “Aye, man. Y’all need to do this, cross over to a different lane.” “Nah, nah, nah, they ain’t ready for it.” But we did it, and that’s what made it thicken through the years. When we first started doing it, we was just practicing, fish in the water. But once we got started, now we know how to make an EDM track. The drive of the track is what gets you; I was saying we need to put some raps on there. That drive? Everybody was saying don’t put too much rap on it. Man, come on. If people listen to just a beat? Man. “Turn Down for What” was just a beat. That’s the only thing he said! “Turn down for what! Turn down for what! Turn down for what!” Take that drive, twist it a little bit, and I guarantee that’s what we have now. That’s what we were shooting for when we first started. We just didn’t know the whole format of how to make the track. We did it like an actual song when we first started; we were talking through the whole song. On an EDM track, you’ve gotta shut the fuck up sometimes and let the beat talk for itself. It ain’t nothing but an ad-lib going, “Yeah! Yeah, yeah! What? What? Yeah! Yeah, yeah!” The beat come back in. “Umph! Ayeee.” This is the shit I’ve been seeing overseas for years, years and years. Kaine didn’t understand what I was talking about. And at the point I was trying to explain it, I didn’t know what I was saying either. I couldn’t put it into words. I didn’t know how to make that kind of song back then. Now we do.
You just put the drop in the middle and…
D-Roc: I’ll say it like this: when songs come out now, who made the beat and whose name is first? The producer. Justin Bieber, “Where R Ü Now?” Whose name is first? Featuring Justin Bieber. MØ is on “Lean On,” singing the whole song, but who is the first name you see? Nicki Minaj, same thing with David Guetta. It’s all about the beat and the DJ first and then it’s about the artist on there. We the A1 sauce. You’ve just gotta make sure the steak is made well, seasoned like a motherfucker, cooked at the right degree and tasty like a motherfucker. When we come on, we gone make that motherfucker lovely. We make the gravy.
So Kaine, did it take seeing Flo Rida and Waka Flocka’s success to see the vision?
Kaine: To be honest, we don’t look at no other artist. We’ve really never had to worry about anybody else. We just had to worry about formatting a new team that the Ying Yang Twins would be working with, which we have moving forward. Before then, we weren’t really concerned with letting any more music come out because — on my end of the group — ain’t no way we were gonna come out with all the crooked paperwork we was up under the first time around. That doesn’t make sense. All the contract stuff we had wasn’t for the benefit of the Ying Yang Twins so we had to Chapter 13 that first, 86 them. Then come back 100 percent on some more shit. Then we had to restructure. Then it had to be the perfect time to release these records. Now it’s just the perfect time. “Thundercat” is the perfect song. The Ying Yang Twins are the perfect group. Pyramid Scheme happens to be the perfect production team. This is a perfect conversation!
“You’ve just gotta make sure the steak is made well, seasoned like a motherfucker, cooked at the right degree and tasty like a motherfucker. When we come on, we gone make that motherfucker lovely. We make the gravy.” —D-Roc
It’s a little-known fact that you guys had Adam Levine on a rap song before Kanye did.
D-Roc: Wait, wait, wait. Say what? Say it again, that sounded dope [laughs].
Kaine: We knew that. But it does sound good hearing someone else say it! How that came about was this: I’m a very well-rounded writer. That particular song concerned stuff that I loved about music. We wanted to reach something we weren’t quite known for, with the females. I talked to the production team behind that, which was Mr. Collipark and Billy Hume, who Adam from Pyramid Scheme was working under at the time. They had made the track and they wanted me to write the track about hardship, and I made them turn the whole track down. It wasn’t nothing planned but the strings: no snares, no other sounds. Collipark was like, “How the hell you gonna write to just that, dog?” I said, “That’s all I need!” I just proceeded into it. I wrote all of it, laid it out for Adam Levine, did the reference track for him to sing over. [Sings] “She’s stuck off in this little room/With nothing left to hold onto/The life of a stripper.” We was in the strip club when Mr. Collipark got Adam Levine in the studio to listen to it. They said he responded, “Who wrote this shit? Whoever wrote this, I’m finna lay this shit like it is! This thing is jamming!” And that’s how that went.
D-Roc: I like listening to you tell that story. Ain’t nobody heard that in a minute. So we gotta give it to ’em while we’ve got it.