Rapdragons (composed of Greglan Ward and Nick Often) busted onto the Baltimore music scene in 2009 with enthusiastic party raps over lo-fi — and totally uncleared — samples. (Their first local hit, “Moon Rocks,” samples an mp3 of the Reading Rainbow theme.) And they hit the ground running. Embracing hip hop’s scrappy resourcefulness, grabbing beats from anywhere and everywhere and using “chilling” as a bottomless well of inspiration, Rapdragons have already created a sizable body of work. After their 2009 debut, Ten Stories High, they followed up with a Baltimore-heavy remix album, 2010’s Ten Stories Hijacked and a mixtape, Featuring Baltimore, full of samples from local groups. In 2011, they dropped the EP Natural Born Chillers.
On July 11th, Rapdragons released a video for “Nothin Changed,” the lead track off their upcoming mixtape End of the Weak. It’s a welcome hi-fi excursion for the duo, and a creditable summer jam. In true mixtape style “Nothin Changed” features a jacked beat. This one was originally produced by Don Cannon for the Young Jeezy track “Go Crazy,” but the laid-back horn riff, the hand claps, and the agitated field-drum rolls are perfect for Rapdragons, who, while heavy on bombast, never stray from a welcoming, party vibe. It’s all summed up by the Nick Often lyric, “There is no guest list. It’s an invitation!” You get the feeling that if these guys ever got the Camaro with 28-inch rims, they’d just pile all their friends inside and drive it to Prettyboy Reservoir.
I seem to remember you guys sort of coming out of nowhere fully formed in 2009. Were you making music before Rapdragons? What’s the early chronology?
Nick Often: Yeah, we popped up in 2009 and we had a whole set to play out and we were almost done with our album, working on the next. Rap is heavily about the recording: the final master that people bump at parties, in their room, on their iPod. And Greg and I initially, upon realizing that we both could rap, we were all about putting an album together. We both appreciate the notion of a classic album, the long player that you can return to again and again. I’ve recorded several solo and collaborative music projects, but a lot of them are more experimental and even esoteric. With Rapdragons, I feel like Greg and I are both accessing personal parts of ourselves, but the result is more universal than exclusive. And we’re very much wanting to entertain and to elevate and inspire.
I think I was at your first show — at the Zodiac? — and you guys were already rapping about how well-attended your shows are. That type of bravado is common to rap, but you guys have always kept it more playful and aspirational. What’s Rapdragons’ mission statement?
Rapdragons: Yeah, our first show was at the Zodiac, right across from where we met at the Charles Theater. We definitely were already rapping about how everyone comes to our shows. Ha. But we’ve always wanted to come across as regular dudes who just happen to rap. We want to be the dudes who used to be chilling on the block (Station North), then we blow up and come back to the block and keep chillin’ with all the homies, except we’re all on top now.
The sound on Ten Stories High is sort of lo-fi and raw. “Nothin Changed” is much more hi-fi, how has the production process changed?
RD: Our early sound started with a lot of lo-fi material: sampling mp3s and then even focusing on local bands and sampling their mp3s. Going forward we’re going to be releasing a lot more clean, hi-fi stuff, original beats produced in-house and also by beatmakers that we personally f*** with. End of the Weak is our first project using industry hip hop beats. We chose to go the traditional rap mixtape route with this one so that we can prep people for our more modern, more expensive sound coming up and to put the focus directly on our raps.
You put out a full remix album, and also a mixtape of Baltimore collaborations. Is the collaborative aspect of music important to you?
GW: Collaborations are probably my favorite part of making music. Rap collabs — without even trying — turn in to friendly competitions among the emcees. When you get a get a group of talented rappers in a room all with the goal of writing the best verse and killing the track, everyone wins.
NO: Yeah, we’ve really enjoyed all the collaboration and we’re trying to do more. Whether it’s featuring on someone’s track or sending out vocals cause someone wants to do a remix, when people are having that conversation with music everyone is better off. Recently, we’ve done tracks with 83 Cutlass and Disturbed Individuals, both of which will be on our mixtape, and we also did a new track with James Nasty.
End of the Weak comes out August 31. Rapdragons play Scapescape the next day.
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