Horseshoe Gang aren’t happy with the state of Hip Hop, and their new album ‘Anti-Trap Music’ or ‘ATM’ is an effort to correct that course. The outspoken, Long Beach crew consisting of the four younger brothers of West Coast heavyweight Crooked I refuse to stand idle. And a lot of people seem to be with them as the drop of ATM saw the project hit the iTunes top 50 in 15 different countries and sell out on Amazon within the first hour.
As comfortable going off on top of classic Boom Bap as the sonic backdrop of the sub-genre they are fighting back against, Trap, HSG are about their craft. With a focus on substance, lyricism, competition and preserving Hip Hop culture on the West Coast, the crew is willing and ready to step to the forefront and take on all challengers.
We got a chance to chop it up with two members of the crew, Dice and Demetrius shortly before the drop of ‘ATM.’ From the new album to politics, we talk about everything from how they approach music to their perspective on preserving Hip Hop culture and their dedication to the West Coast. We get into Tupac, the need to defend our communities from police and the importance of setting the right example for the long-term health of Hip Hop. We even get into how big bro King Crook got them started with bars before they were teens, and their own soon-to-be-released comic book.
Big year so far. You kicked 2016 off with the ‘Crooked I Robot’ single, right?
Demetrius: Yes – it was the single, and then just a lot of behind the scenes work leading up to album and even now. We’re in the studio working on music all the time. We’re always ready to go.
Right – You guys are constantly in the studio. I take it you keep it moving no matter how many pieces of the group are there?
Dice: Exactly. You know, if we need something for a missing member, we just leave it right there and they come in and finish it later on.
So what’s your creative process generally like then?
Dice: Really, somebody gets an idea and just goes in man. And you just hit the closest member if they are there or not like, I got this idea, and most of the time everybody is on board. We’ll try out anything – new ideas, directions – we’ll go in and lay down a hook or verse and follow the lead of whoever had the idea.
How do you pick music?
Demetrius: Same way! If something jumps out at us, the person who heard it first will probably just get on it and then the rest of us will jump on. We’ll make 15 songs like that and keep the best 10-12.
Dice: Sometimes we have some competition in the group. Two of us want to do the hook, for example, so we both do it and then the group votes. Then we go that direction and move on. We don’t even keep the version we didn’t choose for the stash.
I heard you’ve been rapping since you were 5 or 6? When was your first recording?
Demetrius: Probably about like 10 or 12.
All four of you? You’ve been a group that long?
Demetrius: Yeah – we’re all brothers. We grew up in the same house, started rapping at the same time. It was at such a young age because when Crook would go to school he would tell us to learn certain bars by the time he got back. And we were like 5 or 6, and he would go to school and come back and we’d have them ready to go.
So he’d do that each day and then by the weekend we had a whole rap memorized. We’ve been rapping ever since. By the time we were 10 or 12 rapping was nothing, and that was when he and Madman, our oldest brother, decided to put us in the studio.
Drafted right into Hip Hop, right?
Demetrius: Well we looked up to our older brothers so much; whatever they were doing we wanted to do. But quickly, we fell in love with the music. NWA, Rakim, and artists like that – it was instant. We right with them.
You mentioned Rakim – when I was reading up, I saw you all like more political, socially conscious rappers. It probably isn’t an accident that you gravitate that way looking at the type of music you make.
Demetrius: Right – we like music with substance and meaning. Not rapping just to rap. You know, Public Enemy they stood for something, NWA definitely had a message. We’re the same way. Our message right now is anti trap music – the title of our album. We’ve got to get this Trap music movement out of here and bring back real lyricism and real substance, storytelling and all of that.
You are definitely doing that with political tracks like Shoeicide Squad.
Demetrius: Yeah, so with that, you have the whole issue that’s been going on forever of police shooting young black people, and not just black people – innocent people. They abuse their authority and just kill people. So, we’re basically saying if you want that to stop, you might have to be just as evil as the police because they don’t see us as equals.
So if we as the community went out and killed them, then they would think twice about killing innocent people because they would see our communities as equals and not lesser than them.
That’s were Shoeicide came from. Just like the suicide squad from DC comics, they are villains who are doing something good, because there are no heroes. The people who are supposed to protect and serve us, the police, they aren’t heroes – so we got to bring the villains in – us, to do good and rectify what the police have done.
So kind of like the Black Panthers – protecting their own neighborhoods.
Dice: Exactly. Just like that.
Do you even think that would fly? I don’t even think the cops would play like that today.
Demetrius: We’d have to get back to that type of mentality, but we do need something like that to happen.
Dice: We don’t have the platform just yet. A lot of people won’t even speak on this stuff, people who are big. The top rappers in the game, all types of figures who can influence the youth – they aren’t saying anything. Even though we’re not as big, we’ll say the truth now and when we are as big as them we’ll say the truth then too.
Right a couple big artists made a donation to Mike Brown, but wouldn’t really speak on the issue in terms of taking a stand.
Demetrius: Yeah – its like they don’t want to offend so they can keep their status and just be quiet. Puppets or whatever. I’m not saying anyone specifically, but more broadly. People with that type of platform refuse to say something and we’ve had enough of that.
Don’t mess up the money!
Both: Exactly – that’s probably the main reason.
I believe homelessness is another big cause for you guys too?
Demetrius: Yeah – I’ve been homeless more of my life than not. Its something that is near and dear to us because our experience at shelters, or living in the Greyhound bus station in downtown LA, or just skid row – we’ve experienced it. We can relate.
Once we get in a position, we really want to give back to them (the homeless community). Create situations, whether its jobs, homes, shelter, so they don’t have to suffer as much because we’ve been through it.
Tying it back to your music – This conversation we’re having right now – cats listening to Trap generally aren’t thinking about this stuff. Can you bridge this to your anti trap movement?
Dice: Its crazy, I mean, so the thing is that the music is likable. We’re not mad at it because its catchy. Sonically it sounds good. The beat sounds nice, catchy hooks. The problem is the message. It’s irresponsible, basically. When you have that much influence over youth, why would you send that message?
If you’re in the Trap and it’s the truth – you can sprinkle it in here and there. But to focus all the music, the albums, the movement on that negative aspect is irresponsible.
Demetrius: Our nieces, nephews, you hear them singing these Trap songs talking about dealing drugs. They don’t even know what it means but they are singing it. We’ve had enough of that.
Right, with the Xanax and lean – people don’t realize how bad those drugs are. People die from that just like Heroin.
Dice: Right, losing lives, houses.
And then you see the interview where Future admits he doesn’t get as high as he says he does, even though he encourages it. Something even worse about that…
Demetrius: Exactly, it is worse. Basically, you are influencing people to do something you don’t even do. You’re putting loaded guns in kids’ hands, and being just all around irresponsible.
We basically are tying to put forth a movement to get rid of that and bring back the substance, the real rap – like Pac was still alive, you know?
So speak on that connection. You mentioned Tupac for a reason – the legacy of politics and Hip Hop on the West Coast.
Demetrius: Its no secret, if Pac hadn’t died the WC would be thriving much more. Actually, rap in general would be.
And the social influence of the music too…
Demetrius: Definitely. I wouldn’t be surprised…he’d be running for president if he was alive! We definitely want to keep that tradition alive. Not just for the state of Hip hHp but also for the state of this generation. Tupac stood for something. We stand for something.
But you have to be talented too so people want to listen. So we make good music. You know what we’re talking about and that we stand for something. We have the total package – it’s just a matter of breaking down that door.
Your style can be so diverse. I mean, in the single, you came with the rapid-fire flow – but then you mix in that classic West Coast sound, while still bringing the lyricism.
Demetrius: Yeah we’re trying to have something for everybody. We grew up listing to different types of music – not just rap, but R&B, Pop – we blend all of it together so sonically it will be pleasing to multiple crowds.
Dice: We don’t want people to put us in a box. We can do everything – that’s why we made the mixtape series. We made a mixtape every month for an entire year. Different themes, different all types of stuff. We wanted to show people we can do anything.
Demetrius: We want to showcase we’re well rounded artists – have substance to push the culture forward.
So is the anti trap campaign really kicking off with this new project?
Demetrius: Most definitely. We’re not going to let up. We’re not going to stop until the trap movement is gone. We’ve have enough of that. Not just trap though honestly. Whack rappers in general. 95% of the rappers are weak – weak rappers in general. Everybody the same.
Right, it used to be cool to be weird in Hip Hop. Tribe Called Quest – groups like that didn’t want to fit into any mold.
Dice: Exactly – turn on the radio these days and all the songs sound the same. You don’t even know who is who. They all sound the same. Like, what are you guys doing? Its not creative and its keeping the culture stuck and stagnant.
Tell me a bit more about the ATM album overall.
Demetrius: 11 tracks, and we’ve been working on it back and forth for a while, over a year. So, we’ve really been able to have a chance to take our time, and perfect it. We feel it is our best album to date all around.
With this we’re basically saying, instead of Trap, listen to Horseshoe Gang music. We touch on different topics, putting forth this message that we don’t just stand in one spot.
I like that. There aren’t tracks like ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby,’ songs for people to punch in too. We’re not all millionaires. We need real people music.
Dice: That’s exactly our point.
We’re like bring back the craft – chop off heads. We got songs for everything. We understand family problems, bills; it isn’t easy to just go to the studio. A lot of people can’t even afford to get in there. So we understand where people are coming from. We’ve done the 9-5. No Bugattis, no money to toss up at strip clubs, spend on fly shoes. Everybody don’t have it like that.
So, who is on the album with you?
Demetrius: We took this album to the face. Only Horseshoe Gang, but we got our big bro King Crooked on the intro. We understand that we’re trying to get the HSG sound out there, we’re pushing our movement. We want you to hear us – nobody can ride with the chemistry like we can. So we’ll be back with features, but right now its HSG to your face. We keep it in house. Eventually we’ll branch out more.
You were the crew that jumped on Hopsin’s 500K challenge. Its cool because I think, I mean they were ruthless joints, but it was still more love of competition than actual beef. Right?
Demetrius: Definitely, not even a beef. It was a battle. I take my hat off to them for responding, but not only do they know that they couldn’t rap as good – they basically admitted that on Twitter – but I also don’t think they were expecting it.
It was like a haymaker they didn’t see coming. But, that’s the thing. Don’t talk about HSG because we’re starving. We’re praying to get dissed. We’re itching. So don’t talk about us.
Dice: That was a cool back and forth. It took them like a week to respond to us, so…it was entertaining, it was whatever.
We need more of that out here.
Demetrius: Yeah – people don’t think the West Coast has got that. They think its all gang banging, simple raps – people don’t think we have this out here. They don’t understand we have true MCs and lyricists because most are underground.
Its not just gang banging, 6-4’s, palm trees, smoking weed and that’s it. We need to let people know there is a whole movement over here, and we’re leading this movement, and we’re going to bust down the door and show you what we got.
Dice: Like, we did a show in NY with Slaughterhouse, and we got on stage, and they didn’t believe we were from Long Beach. They don’t think cats rap like this out here.
So have you toured a lot?
Demetrius: You know, we just got off a tour with Crook and Rittz, 52-city tour with them. We were out there for two months grinding. Right now, we’re trying to figure out what the next tour to jump on is. We want to jump on with Slaughterhouse; people should be on the look out for that too.
What are your favorite joints on ATM?
Demetrius: The intro with King Crook is definitely one of the favorites. Also, Crooked I Robot, the single, I like that because the beat was crazy – we spazzed on that.
Dice: Falling – that one is personal. Yeah, those three are good ones to call out.
Would you say there is a pervasive theme to the album?
Demetrius: It’s more so, basically us showing people that there are multiple things you can talk about versus one thing like Trap. You can rap about a lot of things and that’s our point. We’re showing you what our movement is about – we’re all around.
You might here one song like Shoeicide, political, but then you’ll hear a song like Crooked I Robot we’re its just bars, and then you might hear a song and we’re talking about relationships. Multiple things that go on in life.
Dice: We also got a trap beat on there – but we show you how to rap on it. Topics are different – and you can understand us. You can’t even understand Trap rappers! It sounds cool, but nobody knows what they’re saying. You can understand us.
I think its meant to sound like they’re hella drugged out…
Both: On to something…
Dice: It’s almost insulting to the listener. You are bleeding my ears with some of these songs. People don’t even have to think about the music.
So this will be tough because we talked about how diverse your music is, but if you had to choose one song for a new fan, what would it be?
Demetrius: You know, like, so we got a song called Picture of Anger, on our album that came out in 2011. Digital album called Firing Squad. We really, its a deep song, we’re were expressing our anger about the ups and downs of life. But we still do it in an artistic way and showcasing our skills, but you can feel the words to. It’s a well-rounded song.
Dice: So that song, or something like Family Over Everything, or even Smallpacs. You know, what happens when you mix Biggie Smalls and Tupac? Its really showcasing our skill and chemistry – you get it all at once.
I like that. Is it true you are doing a comic book series?
Demetrius: Yes, it is true.
Who are some of your super heroes?
Demetrius: Funny you say that, either tonight or tomorrow I’m going to see Batman versus Superman. My favorite of all time is Batman. The Joker is my favorite villain. My favorite super hero movie is The Dark Knight hands down.
Dice: Well, Superman is my favorite. Batman shouldn’t even be in the same scenes! He’s a regular human with a tool belt.
Demetrius: But Batman represents the common man and the struggle.
Dice: Just don’t put them in the same room.
What about your series? Are you four the characters?
Demetrius: What’s funny about it, its us four, but the story and the drawings is entirely drawn by Kenny. He would send us pictures of ourselves that he drew, and asking if it looks like us. So I don’t know too much about the story, but there is some super heroism involved.
Dice: A lot of our fans on Facebook, we even put a few of them in the comic. We love our fans, so the real true die-hard fans will be in there too.
Hip Hop Super Heroes?
Demetrius: Yeah, I believe so.
Is it true – you get a lot of international love?
Dice: People hit us up all the time – we do features with people who don’t even speak English! Russia, the UK, a lot of people get at us. Sweden, Ireland, Australia – all the time.
Have you had a chance to go over?
Demetrius: Not yet, that’s something we definitely want to do – high on the to do list. We want to see different cultures, and what types of rap scenes exist in different countries.
Dice: We just did an interview with a UK outlet, and we said the same thing – we want to see what their rap scene is about.
Europe gives a lot of love to the true cats…they appreciate the craft and culture.
Demetrius: Exactly, like America, we’re spoiled. Fans overseas don’t get it like we have it over here and they appreciate it more. We’ll probably go over seas and sell better than we would here.
What does Horseshoe Gang have coming up next?
Demetrius: We have videos coming out for the album, and some videos for other projects. But of course new music, and then we’re looking for tours. We never stop working, we just keep going.
How do you balance everything? Recording, but still being able to tour.
Demetrius: Its tough – but if your passionate about something and love it, you’ll make the time. I put personal things on hold for this. It’s my passion, and I’ll never give up on that.
Anything else you want to say?
Demetrius: Thank you guys for having us. Also, the album Anti-Trap Music, ATM, out now! Dropped 4/29, and people can get at us on Twitter, Instagram on Facebook and then we all have our personal pages too.