When rapper Dres' phone started ringing nonstop in late May, the main man behind Black Sheep figured it was to congratulate him on his just-released single, "Birds of a Feather," a reunion of the legendary Native Tongues posse-Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, Dave from De La Soul and Jungle Brother Mike Gee. Instead, most of the callers were bugging out about Kia-driving hamsters.
In an odd moment of serendipity, just as Dres was gearing up to release Black Sheep's strongest material since its gold-selling Mercury/PolyGram debut, "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing," the group's biggest single from that album, 1992's "The Choice Is Yours," was back on the airwaves as the centerpiece of an eye-popping car commercial featuring a trio of rapping rodents.
"I'm still up in the air on how I feel about the commercial," Dres says, "because I found out about it at the same time as everyone else. But the timing . . . I couldn't have paid for it. I would have liked to have been asked, but at the end of the day I hope I'd have been shrewd enough to say 'yes.'"
Black Sheep-originally the duo of Andres "Dres" Titus and William "Mista Lawnge" McLean-came out of Queens with "Wolf" in 1991. It was one in a series of major-label signings from a collective of rap groups called the Native Tongues, known as much for their clever, Afro-centric lyrics as for their jazz-influenced beats and off-center samples. "We would be in each other's sessions, everybody vibing and being pretty selfless, having a good time and making dope music," Dres remembers of the heady days of such tracks as "Can I Kick It," "Whatcha Waitin' For?" and "Buddy."
"There was a real bond. But with the successes came a division," he continues. "We should have come back to the formula of unity. We couldn't be a microcosm of the records that we made."
Dres and Lawnge released only one more album together, 1994's "Non-Fiction," before being dropped by Mercury and eventually splitting up. But with the June 29 release of "From the Black Pool of Genius" (Bum Rush Records), not only is Black Sheep a single-member act, but Dres is taking charge of every aspect of the album's release himself: distribution, promotion, merchandising, foreign licensing and publishing.
"You come into a major-label deal at 19, you don't really have any idea of what's going on," he says. "With the downfall of records and CDs and the rise of the Internet, now it's a level playing field. I know what good music is, and I can play. I can get to the finish line."