Dance

Zeds Dead Talk Genre-Hopping 'Northern Lights' Album and Deadbeats Label

Zeds Dead perform during the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
Josh Brasted/WireImage

Zeds Dead perform during the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 10, 2016 in Manchester, Tenn.

2016 is turning out to be a big year for the Toronto duo Zeds Dead: After a series of EPs and singles, DC (Dylan Mamid) and Hooks (Zachary Rapp-Rovan) are putting the finishing touches on a new album, which they hope to release by "the end of September, early October."

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The full-length features a star-studded guest list -- Jadakiss, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, Diplo -- and to put the record out, Zeds Dead launched their own record label, Deadbeats. On Friday, Jauz, REZZ, and more will help the duo celebrate Deadbeats at a show in Toronto.

Sitting with Billboard Dance in Manhattan's East River Park, the two producers discussed their new music and their love of classic hip-hop. 

This album has been in the works for a while?

DC: The oldest track on the album actually dates back three or four years. But the main focus has been the last year and a half or so. We decided to make an album as soon as we did Zeds Dead. It was always a goal of ours. We put aside other stuff as we were making EPs and doing singles. We just felt like now was the time. 

Hooks: We've also been touring nonstop since 2010. It was a year ago or so when we were like, we want to have a less crazy tour schedule for the next year so that we can actually work on this album and do it properly and not rush it. We still have to do it in hotel rooms and on planes, but we want to be in the studio as much as possible. That's what the last year has been like for us. Still a lot of shows, but less than before so we can be in the studio whenever we can.

Why did you decide to collaborate with so many vocalists?

DC: We wanted to not just do club-based music for the album — or any one thing. A lot of this album is just songs. Me and Zac don't sing, and we don't rap as much anymore, so we wanted people to complement our instrumentals. 

Hooks: As producers, we've always wanted to make songs for other people. In this day and age, you can shine as a producer and have your name be first. People recognize you for your work, while in the past, the producer was in the background.

DC: There were some albums like that when we were coming up, but they were few and far between, and not as big. 

Hooks: Also, this many years in doing Zeds Dead, we have more access to people's managers. It's easier to connect the dots now. When we started, it was very difficult to get in contact with certain people to send them beats. 

Between the two of you, is there a way that the beat-making often breaks down?

DC: We're both self-taught producers who started in our respective basements. Often we start something separately, work on it a bit, show it to the other one, and if the other person likes it, we'll take it into the studio. But for this album, we started more stuff together than we traditionally have. We challenge ourselves to be the best producers we can be, working on every aspect of the production — the lyrics, the songwriting. Doing an album like this is a good way to throw yourself into a situation where you're forced to learn new things. 

Why did you enlist Rivers Cuomo for this album?

Hooks: Someone from our publishing company worked with him too and suggested him. We're big fans of Weezer. We went over to his place in Santa Monica and played him some stuff. He was into it. He was a really nice guy, humble. It's even crazier that the track ended up being him and Pusha T. I feel like that's something that we made happen. 

DC: He's pretty open to whatever as long as he likes it.

Hooks: He liked a couple of them. He was asking if we had any pointers — I was like, maybe go on the vibe of "Island In The Sun?" He was like, "OK, I'll remember that."

The rappers that you have on here are mostly veterans — Jadakiss, Pusha T, Freddie Gibbs —

DC: We like good rappers. We're in New York right now; that's the Mecca of hip-hop for me. I like all sorts of stuff, but my heart is with the golden era, East Coast sound. These guys are legends to us. The type of hip-hop we gravitate towards involves good lyrics. 

Hooks: New York had a huge influence on the Toronto hip-hop scene. Now you're sort of losing the geographic-centered styles. People in Toronto are doing songs like people in the South. 

DC: Desiigner's from Brooklyn!

Hooks: It doesn't matter where you're from. I saw the same thing happen with graffiti. There used to be regional styles; with the internet, it's all global now. Which is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time. People don't care about rap anymore — if it's good rap. They just like songs. If you're a hip-head head, and you like bars [good lyrics], you like Styles P and Jadakiss. Now it's more about the hook then the story. 

And you're putting this out on your own label?

DC: Yes we're putting it out on our own label, Deadbeats. We just started it; it's something we've been planning for a while. It felt right to launch our own proper album off our own label. We have a really strong movement and fanbase, people that ride with us. It makes sense to center everything around Zeds Dead. 

Hooks: We've always done everything ourself. We didn't have any major labels or anything helping us out at any point in our career. In this day and age, if you have your own fanbase, what's the point of getting with a big label? 

DC: All the means are there for direct communication with your fanbase. That's not to take anything away from the labels that we've linked with. But now we want to be able to do it ourselves. 

Hooks: Shout-out to Mad Decent for being down with us for a long time. We had a great relationship with them. In the same way we looked up to how Diplo started his own label, we want to do that.

So do you have anybody you bounce your ideas off when they're finished, or is it just you two?

Hooks: Hardly anybody. 

DC: We've always had each other. 

Hooks: It's really hard when you play things for people, because anything they do will get in your head. And sample size is a big factor. If you play something for two people, and they both don't like it, that might not mean anything, but you're gonna think the song sucks. If both of us like something, that's a good sign.