In keeping up with the trend that’s been dominating rap recently, Dave East and Styles P released their first collaborative album Beloved on Friday (Oct. 5). For the album, Styles and East promised to deliver a combination of pure, uncut New York City hip-hop that any fan of the genre can enjoy. Given their history, fans are expecting the gritty street rhymes and vivid storytelling that have long captivated listeners.
Beloved features production by Scram Jones, Chase N. Cashe, and Styles P’s son Noah Styles with appearances by Dyce Pane, Jazzy, and Styles’ Lox brethren Jadakiss and Sheek. For the Yonkers native, Beloved is business as usual as he released joint projects with Curren$y (#The1st28), Berner (Vibes), and Talib Kweli (The Seven) in the past. East, who had only done song collaborations, feels right at home pairing up with one of his favorite rappers as he tells Billboard, “It was the most fun I ever had making a project. It was dope getting to work with Styles and be able to build a relationship outside the music.”
The album title references the Hebrew translation of David (both Styles and East’s first name) and its contents display the tough battle that Styles and East face with the streets, drugs, and money. Beloved was teased a few weeks ago when the Big Apple natives dropped the Kehlani-assisted “Feel Good” on Styles P’s SoundCloud page. In the song description, Styles wrote “Beloved coming soon” with Dave East taking to Instagram in a deleted post to promote the single with “#Beloved” in the caption.
For both rappers, Beloved is a space for the MCs to engage in an intergenerational lyrical sparring match where they bring out the best in each other. Styles is sharpening his skills and proving his longevity rapping alongside one of the top young wordsmiths in the game. East, on the other hand, is standing toe-to-toe with one of New York rap’s most celebrated veteran MCs. It’s a moment that hip-hop purists will revel in.
Styles P and Dave East sat with Billboard to speak about their joint album, Beloved, the challenges they faced making the set, hip-hop’s recent obsession with collaborative albums, their NBA comparisons, and the importance of healthy living. Check out the interview below.
Styles, you’re no stranger to working with the generation of hip-hop that came after you. What makes you want to go in the studio with artists like Dave East, Curren$y, and Berner?
Styles: You gotta stay on point. The youth is the future. You have to respect who’s carrying tradition, especially if you from the streets and know the streets. It’s a certain time when the streets and [the] world are yours. There’s also a time for you to move on and still be in that world. I can’t be the wildest lion, I have to be the wise lion. It’s just about staying youthful and staying sharp.
I think a lot of old MCs look at it negatively, like they have no reason to embrace the younger generation. When you do that, you are disrespecting the rapper and a new generation of fans. It’s about mastering your game and respecting people who are doing what you already did. I had my time, there’s no need for me to step on anyone younger than me.
East, did you feel any pressure working with a celebrated MC like Styles?
East: Nah, more than anything I knew I had to come with my best shit. I didn’t feel any pressure. It was really me trying to get the best out of this shit. There wasn’t really room for pressure, we were high as shit. I feel like the weed broke whatever tension was there that whole time. It was mad easy, but it was also a competition, because we went back and forth with it.
How did you guys challenge each other creatively?
Styles: We went in there knowing there was no slacking off. I’m not trying to go on a track and have this n—a be better than me. We’re going in competitively, but we have the same goals and we’re really bringing out the best out of each other. You don’t want to be that person holding up the process or not deliver.
For me, as an older head, it’s like — can I play ball with the young thoroughbreds that are on the court? I’m the OG now, it’s no more live action. So I have to approach the process differently. For a veteran, this brings you new life and you learn shit. I learned how to balance out the music fucking with Dave. I can talk about the lifestyle and chicks on two different songs, but it’s hard for me to infuse it all and make it fit perfectly. You know me — I go hard and I go conscience, I don’t really have fun playing around with it.
East: For me, it was just his whole focus that caught on with me. I’m used to being in the studio with 30 n—as and there’s a lot of shit going on where you can’t really work at your best. I learned how to box all that out. We recorded this project over at D Block and the way the studio is set up, you have the area for n—as to vibe out and do whatever. But the studio, it was just me and him in there. So that 1-on-1 time I got brought the best shit out of me and the topics we were talking about were just flowing. He doesn’t write anything either. I never saw that in person.
You always hear rappers say they don’t write, but they’re not really talking about anything. You go back and listen to all of Styles’ shit and know that he didn’t write any of it, [that] makes you understand how serious he takes this. It made me up my whole shit, where I’m in the studio now with my younger dudes establishing what I learned from P.
Was there a moment or song in the past between you two where the idea for this album came together?
Styles: When he gave me “Arizona,” I thought that shit was ill. I was like, “Wow he’s staying in his zone but going left.” For me, I always had an ear [on his work], but when he sent me that track, I was like, “Yeah, I could fuck with him on some music shit.”
I like pockets where someone can be on some shit, but then go a little outside the box. It’s like looking at a form of intelligence that people rarely see where we come from. When you’re from the hood and come up a certain way, most people don’t know how to deliver their intelligence or creativity. They feel boxed in or scared because of judgment and you don’t get to see those people be themselves. I feel Dave was doing his own shit, and I admired how he was putting his shit together, so we made it happen.
Styles, what does East bring to the table in terms of skills set in contrast to Curren$y, Talib Kweli and Berner?
Styles: Dave’s background is more related to mine. Me, Spitta, and Berner are stoners. Talib, that’s my conscience brother. But with East, I feel like he was carrying the torch for us. The other artists I’ve collaborated with, although we have similarities, they’re not carrying that torch. Those guys are all my brothers, but we don’t talk that same talk. I feel like if me, Kiss, and Sheek were to quit today, Dave will carry that tradition — at least with the idea of what this fucking shit stands for.
It’s like watching someone do what I did, but in a better way. He gives out that intelligent street feel, and I always told him that. I respected his movement and I also didn’t want to see him make the mistakes I made either. There are hip-hop dudes and there are street dudes; there’s no solid mixture of both these days. East is balancing that out and working his way through it. It’s interesting to see and just watch him do it.
East: Styles is probably the only person, besides Nas of course, that actually gives me game. He’s actually telling me shit that’s going to help me. Before we did the tape, he would always drop gems on me whenever we ran into each other or spoke on the phone. With the way the game is, I value that shit, because there is so many “yes men” and so many motherfuckers that just want to big up every move you make. For him to really give me that look on things, I’m fortunate, and the respect level I had for him grew.
East, what was it like being on a track with The Lox?
East: It was insane. When the record was sent to me, I was told Sheek was on the hook and Styles and Kiss got a verse. I was like, “Nah. This is crazy.” I got songs with all of them individually, but I never did anything with all three. The shit bugged me out, man. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting left behind on the track, because you know that’s the track everyone is going to want to listen to. It was dope and when I played it for them, Kiss thought I went crazy on that shit.
The hip-hop purists are expecting bars and storytelling on this album. Were those expectations met?
East: You’re getting exactly what you’re thinking. It’s a project for the get-up-and-ge- it type of person. You’re getting a mix of the jail talk, street talk, the talk for the ladies, the conscience talk, the motivational talk. Everything that you would think of Dave East and Styles P is embodied on this album. This album is hip-hop. I feel like we didn’t leave anything out.
As it’s been noted, this isn’t the first time you guys have gotten into the studio. If you could pick your favorite verse of each other’s on this new album, Beloved, what would it be?
Styles: I gotta think about that. But the whole album is knocking to be honest with you. I was listening to it earlier and it had me going crazy. It’s refreshing and sounds like some real authentic New York shit that you want to hear from two New York dudes. It bridges so many gaps for authentic New York hip-hop.
East: It was a lot of back and forth, that shit was unorthodox. We were just going off the vibe of whatever the beat was. There’s a track on there called “Do You Know What Time It Is,” and for me, the way Styles did it, he set that up perfectly. He had it all mapped out. I never did a song like that before. So I’m not going to say that’s my favorite, but [it’s] one of the top joints to me on there. I fuck with that shit.
Why do you guys think collaborative albums are the wave now as opposed to back in the day where you’d rarely get a project like that?
Styles: Branding. I think artists have become smarter in understanding that they are more than just artists. There’s nothing wrong with saying you like someone else’s brand. If that’s your homie and you think he’s a dope artist, you should be able to appreciate his brand. If you get to the point where you’re a robot and the labels run you, you’re not going to look at your brand being bigger than what it is.
This is dope for me because this is the younger generation of New York rapping. This is the guy, he’s the LeBron in this shit right now on the East Coast. It’s a fun, creative thing as an MC, but as Styles P the businessman, I also have other ventures that are smart for both our brands. We’re bringing in fans from both sides into each other’s brands, and people have to understand that.
East: With this collab, Styles got fans that may be heard of me but his die-hard fans are attuned to whatever he puts out. So through that they’re attuned to me as well and vice versa. This merge is dope because it spreads everything we got across a lot of different ages.
East, I know you’re big on basketball. What NBA duo would you compare yourself and Styles to?
East: That’s a good question man, shit. I’m going to say Penny and Shaq in Orlando. What you think P?
Styles: That’s a good one. I was going to say Stockton and Malone [in Utah].
Who’s the big man and who’s the floor general?
Styles: Nah, I think when you’re in the lab, you have to play one through five. You have to be prepared and that has to be your mindset — because there were times where Dave took lead and played the one and five, and I took the three and four, and vice versa. What makes you good is having an all-around game. So I think we’re the Splash Brothers because of that.
East: Yeah, that’s even better. Anyone of us could take over at any given time.
You guys share a passion for healthy living. How important is for you two to be one of the leaders promoting healthy living in a time where drug use is being promoted in hip-hop?
East: It’s all the way important. With me, I like it more when I see n—as in the hood tell me they go to the juice bars and working out. I know almost everybody smokes and drinks, but what are you guys doing to stay right and stay in shape? I feel like it’s very important to see me and Styles doing it, because my first memory of rappers really working out was “Ruff Ryders Anthem.” Before that, nobody was really working out like that, it was all about getting fresh and wearing jewelry.
Like you said, the age and rap era that we’re in, there’s not a lot of dudes that promote healthy living. It’s like all that negative shit is being promoted more than going to the gym or watching what you put into your body. Everybody knows I smoke, drink, and be up in the club, but I don’t want that to be my entire thing. I want them to see me get up and go to the gym after a night of clubbing. I want to keep my foot on the gas and motivate the dudes around me, because you see dudes younger than me looking crazy. You want to be around long enough to see all the opportunities come your way.
Styles: Some people don’t understand the duality of the music and the streets, like if you really been on both sides. When you understand it you see where we come from, you see how they feed us, and you see what’s really going on. If I tell you right now go spend on the corner n—as is popping right there. If you got no money involved or they didn’t touch your homie or none of yours, you’re not going to spend that corner. You going the other way. If I tell you the same shit about food and shit that will kill you, you definitely going over there because you don’t see the death. It’s a slow death.
Being from the hood and being in rap you know what it entails. People want to be rich, but then you know where we’re really from, nobody can afford shit. When you understand the balance of what we saying in rap, how they’re listening to us and how the streets are actually living, you understand it’s your duty to try and balance some of the shit out. You’re taking care of yourself and you taking care of your family. That’s survival. There’s nothing pussy about survival, nothing is soft about that. That’s actually the hardest thing to do is discipline yourself to live right and spread the word.
As we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of a monumental year in hip-hop, I want to ask Styles first who East reminds him of creatively from 1998, and East’s favorite song off The Lox’s 1998 debut Money, Power, Respect.
Styles: If Dave would’ve been in ‘98 he would have been a special artist because he would’ve been himself. That’s what makes him so dope. That’s what the “it” factor is, when you could have elements of all the greats from the East coast and all over. For me, it’s just the story of a kid from the east side of Harlem that grew up on rap and loves that authentic rap that found his way and made his own shit. That’s what made me feel like we good, because we have someone to carry the torch. We all have elements of those who came before us but what matters is the originality, the hunger, the creativity that just wants to burst out of you.
East: I would probably say “Bitches From East Hook.” If you’re a fan of anything I do, I’m always telling a story. I’m into that — I like it when you don’t know if it was true or not. That’s my whole thing: I like the shit that makes you think if it happened because of who it’s coming from. If Soulja Boy do that record, you know he didn’t do that shit. Depending on who it’s coming from, it just makes you sit back and think about what really happened.