Published Wed, April 6, 2022 at 11:43 AM EDT
There are few albums as distinct as Das EFX's debut project DEAD SERIOUS. The combination of Krazy Drayz and Skoob's signature rhyme patterns and inflection — coupled with the production sensibilities of Solid Scheme (Chris Charity and Derek Lynch) — the album results in nearly forty minutes of music that would shape early '90s Hip-Hop and beyond.
In season 3 of Chappelle's Show, the titular comedian — dressed in white face as newscaster, Chuck Taylor — delivers a stone faced rendition of Das EFX's "They Want EFX" from the group's debut album, Dead Serious. It wasn't the first time the comedian had turned to the Brooklyn duo as a source of inspiration. Chappelle, a true champion of Hip-Hop, often used Das EFX's signature rhyme style — often colloquially referred to as the "Iggity" style — as a wink at Hip-Hop heads who could appreciate just how funny — yet dope — that style was.
Krazy Drayz and Skoob could turn a traditional set-up and punchline into a game of Scrabble played without any rules. Vowels were extended, new words were created, and the confines of "rap" were completely obliterated. In a sense, Das EFX ran backwards and dared other groups to keep up.
The seedlings of Das EFX were forged on the campus of Virginia State in 1989. Drayz and Skoob started rhyming together and eventually won several talent shows. This eventually led the duo to producer, Derek Lynch, who resided in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
Lynch, the son of a West Indian DJ, had a house full of equipment and records. While he was aware of Skoob's prowess as an MC, Drayz was a complete unknown. He came away from the impromptu audition session believing that he had found a pair of MC's who were equally skilled as one another.
"It wasn't the Das that we know yet, It was still building," Lynch said in a 2021 interview.
Drayz and Skoob would go back-and-forth between Virginia State and Brooklyn during breaks in the school year. They would rhyme over looped breaks — specifically Gwen McRae's 1981 song, "Funky Sensation." Das EFX's earliest demos eventually found their way to Gang Starr's manager at their offices on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
"I remember Gang Starr's manager was like, 'Yo, it sounds like you guys recorded this in the bathroom,' so that was not a good," Lynch said.
They left the meeting wounded, but not necessarily discouraged. Undeterreded, they leveraged a neighborhood acquaintance from Crown Heights who worked in the mail room at Uptown Records who had a real studio. In reality, it was a few turntables and an SP-1200 in a bedroom at his mother's house, but to them, it might as well have been Calliope Studios.
During one of these sessions, they were all enamored with the song "Blind Alley" by The Emotions which had already been sampled on Big Daddy Kane's "Ain't No Half-Steppin,'" and LL COOL J's "Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed By Buildings." As they kept digging, they discovered the whistling section "Long Red" by Mountain. In four hours time, they created what would become "Klap Ya Handz" off their debut album.
The ultimate test of the song's impact came inside the tape deck of a friend's Ford Taurus.
"Dudes lost they mind," Lynch said.
As fate would have it, EPMD was going to be making an appearance at a club in Richmond which was about 25 miles away from Virginia State's campus in Petersburg. The group seized their opportunity at the talent show and performed "Klap Ya Handz" in front of them. EPMD liked what they heard, and said if they had other material of the same quality, they believed they could get them a record deal. Lynch thought it was all lip service.
"I was like, 'Skoob, they're not calling us. They're not.' I was like,'Yeah, all right. Whatever Skoob,'" Lynch said.
The goal was to create a five song demo. The production duo, Solid Scheme, didn't even own a sampler yet. With $1,500 in cash from Drayz' father, they set off to record at Firehouse Studios in Brooklyn where Gang Starr recorded their first album, and where Wu-Tang would go to record "Protect Ya' Neck."
The space itself was a 1,000 square foot, two-bedroom loft, with a living room for live drums connected to the kitchen, and a walk-in closet for vocals. From these inaugural sessions, they ultimately produced "They Want EFX" which came from a beat co-produced by fellow Virginia State classmates, Marcus Logan and Kevin Byrdsong, who weaponized James Brown's "The Big Payback" and ESG's "UFO." Other songs ike "Mic Checka", "Looseys" and "Jussummen" soon followed. The latter utilized a guitar part played by the engineer of the session.
"When they started doing vocals it was fantastic, ’cause it wasn’t easy for them to do the delivery in the beginning," recalled Firehouse engineer, Yoram Vazan. "They had to get used to that style – there was a lot of punches– but once they did it, we realized this was going to be big. I thought it was very entertaining. It was like American pop culture being put out – from television to commercials to life on the street – just attacking you and bombarding you with words! Every phrase was a different picture in your head of American lifestyle: Sausages and TV commercials! It was crazy. And like I said, they wanted to get it on tape so perfect, so we did it a bunch of times."
Those songs were done on very little sleep. There was times we went 20 hours working on music."
- Derek Lynch
"I was the dude that always wanted to go to sleep. I used to be like, 'Yo, Chris, I can't do this no more. I got to go to bed. I got to go to bed.' Chris would look at me — he used to smoke cigarettes — he used to be like, 'All right, listen. You could go to bed but I'm going to be up making beats.' And I was mad competitive, so I was like, 'Nah, I'm not going to sleep.' I'm not going to sleep.' So that's how he pushed me. Because I would go to sleep and he'd wake up with a masterpiece."
Drayz and Skoob had their own ritual of sorts. They would visit the local Chinese restaurant for some chicken wings and fries, drink a 40, smoke some weed, and then they were ready to get down to business. During one of these sessions, Chris Charity accidentally burnt a hole in the Jimmy Rushing record that was forming the basis of what would become "If Only."
There was no, "Just buy another copy." They ultimately called Sophia Chang who worked at Jive Records. Chang called around and they ultimately found another copy at a record store in the Village.
"Mic Checka" was recorded at the same attic studio where EPMD did Strictly Business. The engineer, Charlie Marotta, had a unique set up: JBL speakers hanging from a rope attached to the ceiling, and a homemade board with an 8-track reel to reel.
"We were like, 'There's no way EPMD worked in here,'" Lynch said.
The fact that it was 99 degrees — with no air conditioning — only added to what they thought would be a negative experience. However, the studios raw nature added a distinct "ruggedness" that couldn't be accomplished with a more professional set up.
"Straight From the Sewer" was the final song recorded for Dead Serious. Like many songs Das EFX would record in their career, the thought process was relativity straight forward: Drayz opened the song with the phrase, and others agreed that it was a strong concept which fit their aesthetic — which included 40 Below Timberlands and skull caps. The version that listeners would ultimately get was what the group considered a "remix" because they started from scratch on the beat once the concept was locked in.
As the group reflected on their debut in subsequent years, there were, of course, some nuggets that people haven't heard before. For example, the entire album was produced on a keyboard/sampler called the Ensoniq EPS 16 Plus. This meant they only had 22 seconds of sampling time for the entire album. To work around this limitation, they would speed up samples during the process, and then pitch them down during the recording. For example, an 8-bar loop might be sampled in at a two second rate.
"When it comes to making music, I've learned over the years that when you don't have a lot, you're forced to become very creative," Lynch said. "And I think that's why a lot of old school Hip-Hop songs are classic in that way."
We have to agree.