The cover of ALLBLACK's very first mixtape, 2015's No Shame, features a picture of his father kneeling in a Pop Warner football uniform. He wears the number 22 on his jersey, symbolizing the East Oakland street where ALLBLACK grew up. Football has always been a big part of the rapper's life, from playing as a kid to coaching as an adult. In his rap career, ALLBLACK has adopted the sport's intricacies as an often-used metaphor to talk about struggles in the streets.
It's appropriate, then, that his new project, a collaborative EP with workhorse producer Kenny Beats, is titled 2 Minute Drills. Over the past year, Kenny Beats has brought out the best in Rico Nasty, Key!, and many more, opting for extensive in-person collaboration over sending instrumentals through email. When it came to working with ALLBLACK, Kenny knew they both had a chance to transcend their individual sounds for something greater. "It was like, What can we do that I’ve never done, that he hasn’t done, but fits us both?" he says.
When they show up at The FADER office in New York City, ALLBLACK is carrying a fifth of Hennessy and a fifth of Patron, the ingredients for a lethal-sounding mixture that he's coined Patrennessy. If the drink sounds insane, that's because it is. But it's also the fuel that helped the artists make 2 Minute Drills.
Who was the first one mixing Hennessy and Patron?
ALLBLACK: Shout out to the Beastmode. Shout out to Fam First. You know they serve that in bars now too? 40 dollars a shot. Everybody off Patrennessy. But you gotta do a fifth. Little ass pints don’t count. Fifth or better.
KENNY BEATS: At the “John Madden 2” video, it was a good eight or nine gallons of Hennessy and you know that was mixed…
ALLBLACK: Christmas was cancelled.
Was this drink a fixture in the studio while you were recording 2 Minute Drills?
ALLBLACK: I just remember the first time I met [Kenny] he was hitting a bong and just blew all the smoke in my face.
KENNY BEATS: I do all the jobs myself in the studio so I need to smoke efficiently, drink efficiently, bong hit, shot of Patrennessy, focused.
Tell me a little more about that first meeting.
KENNY BEATS: Anyone who knows BLACK or how he moves and what his team is like, knows that he’s always gonna come with a couple personalities. When you’re playing beats for an artist at first, their whole camp needs to be as excited as they are. I knew much more about them than they knew about me ‘cause everybody I knew was putting me on to him. We got in touch and made this one song, “Mack House Marcus.” I play whatever hot songs I have in my computer for my friends and they were like, “You don’t even make beats like this.” And the people who knew BLACK were like, “I’ve never heard him do ad-libs like this.” What we did made sense to everybody. There’s a whole lineage to why he sounds like he does and where he comes from and I started to get educated to that.
ALLBLACK: You not gon’ get it unless you hang out around us. I learn from everybody I’m around. We pick up everything. It’s like we wear the same size clothes and shoes. With the lingo, how we move. I like to look at my team like D-Generation X.
Did you have to be like, “OK Kenny, you have to go back and listen to Mistah F.A.B., “New Oakland,” and this, and this”?
ALLBLACK: He was already on that shit, running his own plays. He wasn’t going, “Let go see if there’s another ALLBLACK.” I really appreciate that ‘cause he dedicated these sessions to me being me.
KENNY BEATS: I had just come off working with 03 Greedo and he had told me about him. Greedo’s a weirdo and goes places by himself and would tell me whenever he touched down in the Bay, BLACK would make sure he was good. That’s beyond the music, learning things about his character. But working with Greedo, the whole process was like, “Don’t play me no West Coast beats.” I started figuring out how to get across what he does best without doing something that sounds like his old shit. With BLACK, I had that in mind before he even came here. I’m not about to make a fake “Canadian Goose.”
After that first meeting and realizing what you had, what were the next steps?
ALLBLACK: I think I got home on a Monday. Rolla [ALLBLACK’s manager] had me back on a flight on Thursday. Like, “Get the fuck back there.” That was the priority. I got back in that gym and stayed in that muhfucka. The gym is the studio. Niggas say they buff but you’ll know when you cut the fuck up.
KENNY BEATS: From day one, we never didn’t finish a song, never got halfway through a song, every single thing we made you’re gonna hear. The first seven songs we made are the ones on the project. Every time he came back, we were fighting with ourselves like, “We gotta shit on that song.” And we were already stoked about the first song. He always says sports-related slang that relates to so much other shit. Once the songs started to fit in a certain way, and we were having these inside jokes around the slang and the language, it started to just form as a project.
From your very first project, football has always been the go-to metaphor for you.
ALLBLACK: That’s where all the discipline came from. I played Pop Warner football. If you’ve ever been part of a team, it teaches you that. How to put that grind in when you fuckin’ tired. Or, if you wanna be great, how to lean on your people. I used to coach Pop Warner but too many kids started to know what was going on with the music. I’m focused on getting another team this year though.
Were there any moments from the sessions for the project that really stand out looking back?
KENNY BEATS: A lot of friends of both of ours were in and out of there, but there’s a couple sessions that stand out where it was just me and BLACK. Not that the music came out any better or worse but there were just different conversations that happened. There was a day where we just both had some shit going on. I had some shit that I was never going to bring to the table; I’m there to work. BLACK was on a phone call and that phone call did not go well. And he’s getting dumb mad but he didn’t know me well enough to go the fuck off in front of me. I knew right where he was at. I was like, “Just go in the booth and handle that.” He was yelling so loud I could hear him through the soundproof room. We had a conversation after that about the point of what he’s doing, why it’s so important, why he doesn’t have time for no dumb shit. Then he went in there and made “76 Buccaneers.”
ALLBLACK: The worst team that year. And that was one of the worst days of 2K18.
KENNY BEATS: From there on out, we really understood the purpose of our relationship in the studio. When he starts talking about the shit he’s talking about on that song, you might take it like it’s light. But if you really pay attention, through the sports metaphors and all that, he’s talking about going through the worst shit you could go through and still making that play happen.
Kenny, you really like locking in and collaborating extensively like this. Why do you prefer to work like that?
KENNY BEATS: What are we doing this for if it’s just one hot song? It’s just gonna be like the last shit you did. I think my beats are 40 percent of why my songs do well. The other 60 percent is the fact that I do all the vocals and the fact that there’s a conversation going on throughout the process. Did you say that how you wanna say it? Are you sure you don’t want ad-libs? Asking questions, not telling people what to do. Once they start answering those questions, they realize you have their best intentions in mind. They understand that all I’m trying to do is make their favorite song.
ALLBLACK: That’s why I’m grateful to find producers like Kenny, who really sit there and give a fuck. He wants you to come out saucy. It ups you as an artist as well and makes you wanna be a demon. I just get to that pen and get deep. You might not know what I’m talking about 75 percent of the time but that’s just how I get it out.
Since everybody is hearing the first seven songs y’all recorded together, is there more in the works?
ALLBLACK: We got some gas.
KENNY BEATS: Now it’s like, Let’s open this up. He’s put me on to so many people. Who are gonna be the collaborators — and not just rappers, producers too — that are important for making the first real ALLBLACK debut album. This project is going to bring some awareness for people that don’t understand the context. It’s time to educate people. He’ll let shit go over your head. I don’t know if it’s humble or if he’s too smart, but he’s not gonna correct you.
ALLBLACK: I’m still trying to get better as an artist. This is the campaign. We don’t have no benchwarmers. You’re either great or you’re nate.