Interview: Dallas Based Rap Duo Black-I Discuss Their Debut EP "The Starting 5"

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Black-I is a Dallas based rap duo comprised of The Black Depths and Ike-Q. They recently released their debut EP entitled “The Starting 5” and it goes without saying that it is one of our favorite releases of the year thus far, regardless of genre.

We connected with Black-I for an exclusive interview to discuss the new EP, as well as find out how the duo met, whether we can expect some solo work from each of them in the future, and how they stand out against their fellow rappers in the Dallas Hip-Hop scene.

After reading our Q&A with The Black Depths (BD) and Ike-Q (IQ), be sure to stream and share “The Starting 5” on Soundcloud and connect with them on their social media.

Congratulations on the release of your new EP "The Starting 5"; we're totally blown away by it. From start to finish, how long did it take to complete?

BD - Thanks man. “The Starting 5” is a bit of hodgepodge. “Ali’s Feet” was the second song we recorded together. “Intersections” was a reworked version of a beat I made on my laptop four years ago. The other three joints were from last year, back when I had my Roland MV. Outside of “Ali’s Feet”, all the other songs were written and last year.

IQ - Thank you so much for your praise. People often want to think of grassroots hip-hop as unpolished or unworthy of recognition - so we're truly grateful. The first track from the project was completed over 2 years ago. However, in retrospect, I'd say the other four songs were made in the past six months.

How did you two meet each other? Also, because your musical styles are diverse, does that make it easier or harder to develop new music collectively?

BD - We met in the library randomly, it was my first semester at TCU. I was working on a beat and Ike approached me, then we ended up building that bond the next summer and we became a group. Our musical styles are diverse, but we’ve built that chemistry over time where we can work together pretty smoothly.

IQ - A friend of mine told me about Malcolm [The Black Depths]. He spoke of him like some kind of mythical creature that emerged in the library periodically - with an MPK and headphones. One day, we all met by chance (in the library), talked shop, exchanged ideas and started laying down the groundwork for what we're building.

The Summer of 2016, Black [Depths] got a gig as a summer RA on campus. He set up shop and we got to work. At first, our styles didn't mesh too well. That was until he gave me some advice on rhyme writing and emceeing. Black basically told me that writing from the wealth of personal experiences you've gone through makes your bars richer in tone and substance - and my art has never been the same ever since. Now, we feed off each other's energy and creative inclinations - largely due to the chemistry we've built since then.

You've mentioned that you're currently working on this EP's follow-up. How will this forthcoming release be different than "The Starting 5"? And do you have a title yet?

BD - It will be markedly different, the EP is like our demo tape, but the LP, which we’re still throwing around a few titles for, is gonna blow the door off the hinges.

IQ - Our follow-up is going to be extremely different. For instance, the Black Depths and I will be taking more risks artistically and looking to showcase the breadth of musical repertoire. We're also looking to tell different stories and break out of any box that listeners might try to put us in. Also, the title for the next project is currently in the works.

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Are you working on new music as solo artists as well? If so, what can you tell us about your upcoming individual releases?

BD - That is definitely happening. All I’mma say is don’t expect it to be the same thing as what we do as Black-I.

IQ - Yes. We are working on solo projects as well. I think it'll shock fans to see how different myself and Black's solo stuff will sound. The title for my project is still in the works, but the first few tracks have been recorded already. With my imminent return to Nigeria looming, I feel like right now I'm just taking stock of what Black-i has achieved, what we hope to achieve and my feelings as a grassroots rapper seeking recognition. Then, I'll use those things to fuel the development of my record.

Describe for us how the "Ali's Feet" track came about. Also, how did you discover the Fela Kuti and Ali samples?

BD - That actually wasn’t a Fela Kati sample, it was from African group called the Funkees. Alchemist used that loop for Action Bronson too. I was just looking up random shit on YouTube. The Ali samples were all compiled from YouTube too.

IQ - Well, Black [Depths] brought up the idea of doing a tribute to Muhammad Ali after his passing. He then suggested we go back and forth the whole time. Up until that point, I had never done that with anybody and this was gonna be the second song we'd made. I think that track was integral to getting our minds and creative processes in sync. Also, in high school, a friend of mine told me a bunch of Muhammad Ali's craziest quips and one-liners. So, when it came time to make the song happen, the bars kind of wrote themselves. Black [Depths] always tries to make honor my roots when it comes to creative expression. So, I gotta go off when he samples the African joints.

How would you say that Black-I stands out in comparison to your contemporaries in the Dallas Hip-Hop music scene?

BD - There aren’t many duos or groups in rap as a whole, so us being a duo stands out in and of itself. Also, trap tends to dominate the airwaves out here and we’re the antithesis of that. We’re not on some backpack, let’s bring back the 90’s shit either. We emphasize telling stories on some Mobb Deep, Rae & Ghost shit. Storytelling is really lacking out here, and we wanna show and prove that it’s still important in rap, and we study the past but we wanna update and move the sound forward, and raise the bar.

IQ - Well, to echo what Black [Depths] said, we're a group and that's rare these days. The only current groups I know of right now - Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Earthgang, and the Underachievers. You'll be hard pressed to find anyone that can name more than 5. Also, we're from the South but we're two transplants (a kid from Maryland and a Nigerian kid with East Coast ties), and it shines through in the music. Most of the people at the forefront of Dallas hip-hop scene don't sound like us at all. We're not influenced by trap, and calling us "conscious" or "old school" would be extremely lazy. Although, we're heavily influenced by acts from past eras, we're not at all the same. I think Black-i's greatest point of differentiation is the emphasis we place on striving for the highest level of artistry and musicianship we can achieve. That way he can ensure our growth and rest assured that we're putting out art that we and our fans can be proud of. In fact, a lot of people would be shocked at how little care some of their favorite rappers put into their craft.

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