Meet the egO anD The eneMy: M-Dot (Interview)

Boston is definitely in the building for 2020.

With a string of strong releases towards the end of 2019 – including Cliff NotezWhy The Wild Things Are, Big Shug’s The Diamond Report, Termanology’s Vintage Horns and Gang Starr’s One of the Best Yet to name a few – two months into 2020 has already seen Krumb Snatcha’s Unreleased  and DJ BeanzDeadly Venoms.

Yet M-Dot – the hardest-working, international icon forever representing Boston – and his sophomore release is perhaps the most anticipated project to-date.

egO anD The eneMy – the longtime MC’s official solo debut released in part through his Own Lane Music label in 2017 – was critically-acclaimed, star-studded and amongst many critics’ “Best Of…” the year lists. As the leader of his Experimental Mind State crew, M-Dot is nothing if not hard-working, sincere and obsessed with perfection; his attention to detailed matched only by his ability to have a hand in every single facet of his creative output.

At the end of February 2020, M-Dot released the first single off his highly-anticipated egO anD The eneMy Part 2: A Dissolute Paradise entitled “The Atonement”, produced by the legendary Pete Rock. If the rest of Part 2 sounds anything similar to the lead single – a head-knocker of menace and M-Dot’s unmistakable energy – expect another Album of the Year contender.

During a brief respite away from hard work and fatherhood, M-Dot spent an hour in Charlestown, Massachusetts and discussed his work ethic, the importance of authenticity and his upcoming egO anD The eneMy Part 2 project.

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Photo by Murat Bilir

INTERVIEW

You clearly make fatherhood a priority; you post “Daddy’s Home” and your kids are on social media. How did fatherhood come into your life at a younger age and how important is it to you now?

It’s everything. When you become a Dad, it’s the best job in the world. No, really! And you learn: you learn every day how to be a better parent. My parents always said to me, “There’s no real book on being a perfect parent.” So for me, I feel like I’m learning every day through experience with each kid. Each day and each week and each year, I’m watching them grow and I’m actually learning from them.

But they’re a priority to me because my parents raised me that way; family is everything. I’m Italian and people always associate Italians with being family-orientated. But there’s so many ethnicities that have that type of demographic or that type of upbringing. I’ve always been raised that it’s always number one; it’s more than money, obviously more than music.

When I see my kids, they make me sometimes a better person. I’m with my daughter and we’re hanging out with my two-year old and she looks at me and says, “Daddy, no phone.” And my heart is in my throat. I’m like, I got to put this down; I can’t ever hear her say that again. I’m on my phone e-mailing, booking a show in Europe and she says that to me, and that just grounds me. She can say one thing to me that checks me… and she’s two years old.

So I’ll put it down and I’ll pick it back up after she goes to bed. I’m not perfect, and when she sees that and I see that she sees that… holy shit, man. Like I said, man: a daughter can give a look and kind of melt the father, you know what I mean? I learn from my kids. I learn from my parents and basically I just learn from experience.

Every day I feel like when you’re a parent, it’s your job forever; you’re never not a parent. That’s it.

With my kids: it started when my son was born – he’s twelve. My middle daughter just turned eight; my youngest daughter is two. With each kid, it’s getting better and I don’t want to say easier but it’s starting to become more where the kids are helping with their younger siblings, too. I wouldn’t be able to do music properly; I wouldn’t be able to be a man properly if I didn’t have that type of relationship with my family. Because that’s the centerpiece; nothing else is good if that isn’t good.

What about where we are right now: this city. They might know EMS, they might know egO, they might know M-Dot – but they probably know this dude comes from Boston. That carries like a flag for you. So what does that mean, especially when you go overseas?

So for me with Boston…like, I’m wearing a (New England) Patriots shirt right now. I don’t know if there’s a video where I’m not wearing a (Boston) Red Sox hat. I know it’s cheesy to over-say it but I cannot over-say it enough: this is where I’m from. I can go to thirty countries – this is where I’m most proud to represent. This is where I grew up; this is where my family is; this is where I played basketball; this is where I went to college; this is where I broke bread; this is where I fell in love. This is everything.

I want people to know how proud I am of my city and Massachusetts as a whole. I don’t live in Boston currently but I’m just proud of Massachusetts as a whole. And (my tattoo of) the ‘B’ on the Red Sox hat is a representation of that.

People are proud of where they’re from; I love Europe and I love so many places in Europe. I love Italy, being Italian and having that heritage… my mother’s a citizen, still. But Boston is… this is where I raise my family.

It’s cool for me to go out there. Because New York: I see people repping New York and I see people wearing Yankees hats and that’s cool; I see people from L.A. and Chicago. Boston’s like a little brother. It’s big to us – it’s big in New England in that sense – but it’s not big in the sense of you could fit five Boston’s in Brooklyn – and that’s one borough. Think about that. I’m pretty sure that’s accurate; it’s something like that. Brooklyn is the size of like, five Boston’s. One borough of New York.

So we need to be proud of where we’re from and how big we are as a sports city, as a music city. Man, so much music came from Boston, so much history came from Boston and it needs to be put at the forefront. And there’s so many dope artists from here – we have the best underground scene in America, hands down. I’m talking about underground scene who go to Europe who have love, who have buzz, who have names. The original Gang Starr with Guru and Shug started in Boston; then they met Premier and went to New York and obviously that became something even more special.

So much came from Boston. It’s over-said but I’ll never say it enough: it doesn’t get the attention or the respect it deserves.

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Photo by Matteo Urella

So I don’t know if it’s part of being from here – I feel like it is for me – but whether it’s because of Boston or not: what does your work ethic mean? Because I feel like you’re the hardest worker and I feel like you value how hard you work; like you know it. You do it on purpose.

I want to be the hardest-worker ever. I want people to know me for clocking in and being the first in and last out, as people say in the workforce. I want people to know: if I have a crew, I want them to know I’m going to put in just as much work or more. I want to do it from leadership. I want to not miss anything that I’m scheduled for… it’s what I’m supposed to do! If I’m committed to this, it’s what I’m supposed to do.

If I’m away from my kids, I need to be being the most productive as humanly possible, because that’s time I could be having with my them that I won’t get back. So if it’s like two weeks – if I’m home for six months and gone for two weeks – I don’t care; every day for this two weeks, I need to do something. A show, a video, a song. Otherwise, what’s the point? Am I a rapper part-time or is this a hobby, or…?

It’s something I love and I’m not world-wide famous and I don’t have commercial success, but we have people that respect us around the world. There’s murals and I’ve seen tattoos and there’s really cool stuff that makes me know that it was all worth it. But it’s not worth it if I’m not putting in the work. If a day comes where I’m like, “Man, I’m not putting in as much work into it.” Then there’s no point in half-assing it. I just re-did a song for the third time on the new album because I wanted to make it better – and that’s the only way. We’re mixing songs for the third time because we want to make them better.

It’s forever. I guess in that way it’s narcissistic, but you’re leaving it behind and people are going to hear it and study it or God forbid something happens – that’s what people have to archive you as representation of who you are and who you were.

Work ethic is the most important thing for me. In music: you can be dope; dope’s easy. But if you’re working harder, the music will get better. If you’re working harder, more people will notice. If you’re working harder, people will respect that. That’s why we’re able to go so many places, because people see how much work we put in. There’s days we won’t sleep on tour, there’s times that we’re like…

Like I said, it’s a laborious process and not everyone wants to do it. And if you want to do it or if anyone wants to do it, I stress this: it’s all about consistency. It’s easy to rap and be hot for a couple months – try a couple years. Try a decade. And that’s what I want: I want longevity.

How did EMS come together?

We were just a group, meaning we started with me and Rev and then Mayhem came aboard – this was in college in maybe 2002 or 2003. We’ve been friends since we were younger. Rev and me started rapping in our college dorm inside of like, this egg crate I put in my closet and I was mixing the music myself. Back then, I always reference this: it was like Kid N’ Play House Party 2 – they’re trying to get in the studio the whole movie! Because it wasn’t that easy; not everyone could just get in the studio. You needed money or you needed to know somebody.

We had neither. So we just started recording ourselves, and we were like, “Yo, we don’t need anybody!” So that’s what gave us a jumpstart on this whole thing: we started off independent. Now sixteen years later – ten years after that – veteran dudes…legends… don’t know what to do because they’ve been put in the studio, their flyers have been made, their songs have been mixed, their videos have been made. We only did that ourselves from the beginning. So we had a step ahead when the playing field got leveled.

That’s the realest shit ever. We were doing it back then and we were behind; we caught up and a lot of others leveled out.

Because they didn’t have the major label anymore. So they didn’t know how to record a song without a studio, meaning with them setting up an amp, setting up a microphone, setting up the mixer, setting up the session, balancing the record… they didn’t know how to put out the blast to e-mail blogs. We were on 2dopeboyz “2 Dope 2 Sleep On” in 2008 – me and Casey Veggies. We were on DJ Booth Freestyle  Series – it was me, Joell Ortiz and Big K.R.I.T. This was like, 2009. Think about what I’m saying! We were on DXNext a little bit before 2010. We were doing this before – like these blogs were big, but we were catching them on their come-up.

And respect to all these blogs, but even us – who have a resume with them and have worked with them – not everything we send them they post. But we don’t get mad at them and flip out and write all capitals and Tweet at them; we respectfully send it, thank you for the consideration and we send them the next one. We don’t take that personal, and if we do we use it as motivation. It’s used for us to then go and be better and work harder and have a bigger record.

It’s going to catch, you just have to keep going. That’s all it is.

If you treat everyone with respect or properly and you build and nurture every relationship – when you blow up or someone else blows up, they’ll remember that. And that’s not an opportunist way of thinking, that’s like…maybe. Like if it happens, it happens but it’s not expected.

But EMS started with me and Rev in my college dorm. We started recording, then Mayhem joined on and then the next year I transferred to another school and we added KORE who’s incredibly talented. He sings now… he started off as a dude making remixes on his computer with acapellas from 50 Cent and stuff. Then he started to produce, then he started to rap and now he sings, he plays instruments, he comes on tour with me; he’s my right-hand man. Then Desco got part of the group; Desco’s brothers-in-law with Krumb Snatcha – shout outs to Krumb. Then Benefit Undo – and that’s it. There’s no more EMS. There’s plenty of DJ’s and affiliates and we have a big family of people, but that’s the MC’s: Benefit, Mayhem, Rev, KORE, Undo, Desco.

We’re family first. There’s never been an argument like, “Yo, how come I don’t get this shine.” We’re friends first. You see a lot of these dudes that are friends on paper or they have albums together but that’s just a monetary thing. I’m proud because we have a real friendship; I’ve been friends with these dudes since forever. We’re honest with each other. I made Mayhem re-do a verse and I’m not happy until it’s better than mine; I shine, you shine. And the way I look at is I want our whole group to be dope, because then it’s like I’m featuring somebody out of my group that’s a feature! Like when Vinnie Paz features Celph Titled – that’s a good look because they’re both names – but they’re in the same group!

That’s what I want for my group. I don’t want to have to outsource. I love that we’re the outliers and I love that we keep going – but I want my whole group to be big.

How did you come out as the leader of it?

By default. I am a leader by nature; my mother always said that’s who I am. I’m outspoken and I like taking charge and I like putting my foot forward first and I like being in control of making sure things end up perfect. Whether it’s booking or mixing – every part of it I like to be hands-on.

But it’s because these dudes have fallen back so many times. Rev stopped for like a couple years because he was going to do acting; Mayhem stopped for a little bit – now he moved to Alabama. He’s back – he’s putting out an album. Rev is the best he’s ever been. He never fell back completely because he still did all the internet promotion. KORE had a relationship for a little bit….

I never stopped – even with the kids. Because I feel like I committed to this; how can I stop? There’s no excuses. If I committed to this, I would be a sucker if I’m like “Yo…”. To me, it would be lame if dudes were like, “Yo, you said you were going to do this, you came to our country; we booked you here. Now that’s it forever? You’re going to put out music once a year?” No, man. I’ve got to stay consistent.

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EMS aka Experimental Mind State (from left): Undu Kati, Desco (Boston hat), M-Dot (center), Revalation (middle back), Mayhem (with braids), Kore (with the shades), Benefit (with Patriots hat)

So a couple of times you’ve referenced through all the different questions –  authenticity.

It’s the most important.

And you and I have talked about that before. Why is that so important to you?

It’s the most important. If you’re not who you are – who are you? There’s one thing people will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever take away from me: that I’m always who I am. I don’t put on a facade: I don’t tell people I sell crack, I don’t shoot people. We do tough records; we talk about beating people up. I have been in plenty of fights – I don’t want to fight any more. It’s not my goal. I’m not building a facade just to make money and sell records; I want people to like me for me.

It’s human nature to want to be accepted and loved, but I’m not looking to do it without it being genuine to who I am. People ask me all the time, “Yo, you’re smiling all the time in these Instagram posts. Yo, I love seeing that; that’s so dope.” Why is that an anomaly? Why is that not the norm? There’s nothing worse to me than being fake.

You’ve told me so many times, like, “Ah, I got this legend…” You’ve got beats from all these famous people, put it that way. I don’t think you’re seeking validation, but how does that make you feel?

No, you’re right! I’m looking for validation because I want people to press play on my record. And I feel like if I don’t have an image of shooting people, if I don’t look the part necessarily, if I’m not faking the funk, if I’m posting pictures of me smiling instead of me tucking like I’m going to pull something out of my waste – if I’m not playing that game, how can I get people to tune in?

And I don’t need to have all these producers on my records. But it’s like a basketball player or a boxer who’s a fan… As a kid, I listened to Pete Rock, I genuinely listened to Large Professor and Hi-Tek and Marly Marl. For me to work with them… I’ll never, ever get used to it. It’s not even on some nostalgic thing; I still think they’re dope. I still put them in the upper echelon.

I want people to press play on my record – and I feel like if they see these producers, they might give me that chance. On the outside, we don’t have a gimmick. Since we don’t have a gimmick, nowadays it’s all waves; it’s all about the hype. We don’t have necessarily a hype thing. So good music – we just want it to be sustainable and if you have good music for fifteen years, eventually it’s going to start picking up steam. Trust me: I feel it now.

But momentarily, the millennials and the young age: they want something for the hype and the wave. So I look at it like if we have these producers, a lot of people might just press play and then it will just take off on its own.

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Pete Rock & M-Dot

But it’s kind of dope, too. Because egO had so many different sounds and that’s why it was so good.

I appreciate that. Man, we spent so much time on that. So much time. So the new one has to be better than the last album; it’s going to be difficult but that’s the aim. You have to grow; second album, you have to grow. We got Pete Rock producing on it, Eric Sermon producing on it, Apollo Brown’s producing on it and there’s a bunch of other producers that might make it. !llmind – my homie, I’ve had beats from him for a while; M-Phazes; my man G-Koop produces on this album. G-Koop’s incredible. We got Method Man coming back.

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Photo by Murat Bilir