Creative Process: A Look Into Upper Echelon with HS

Creative Process: A Look Into Upper Echelon with HS

Today, True and Apollo take a deeper look into their amazing duo album, "Upper Echelon". First, Speed On The Beat kicks us off with a brief statement on this landmark album.

Upper Echelon is one of those things that came out of nowhere, but no one was really surprised. I mean, True and Apollo have known each other for the latter part of their natural lives. So, it was inevitable that it'd finally come about. However, I did fear that, with this project, Exodus, both my and Axel's solo projects, and so on, we'd hit a wall somewhere along the way. Feelings would get hurt. People would start being stupid. 1960s Yoko Ono would come back in time and try to make me break up the team (Ed. Note: And Speed would catch several fades because of this). Y'know, typical musical group bullshit. And then I thought about it: we're DAR.

So, Apollo and True, during mixing work on Exodus, would work on this project. They were like fiends for the mic, since there are at least ten-to-twenty songs they recorded that didn't end up on the album. The work ethic was impeccable and the energy was great as well.

I know people are probably wondering "hey, Speed. Why aren't you on the album more production-wise?" Truthfully, I wasn't at my best mentally, and I'm a proponent of not half-assing and giving out bullshit tracks. And that's even though my bullshit productions can still stand toe-to-toe with others' quality tracks. That plus they were going for a different feel, a different sound. I feel like it paid off.

So, go ahead. Join the Upper Echelon. You know you want to. Now, without further adieu, HS...

1. Two Shades Deep (Intro)
2. Circa '94
3. Seize The Moment 
4. No Days Off 
5. Hallelujah
6. The New Testament 
7. No Way
8. Upper Echelon featuring TEAMDAR 
9. Soak 
10. The Glow 
11. Elevated (Going Up)
12. Black Genovese (DAR Business)
13. Pure Cashmere 
14. Transylvania 
15. End Of The Road featuring TEAMDAR 
16. Reset (Sunshine, Sunset)
* In Your Eyes (Bonus Track)

Favorite Songs
-If I had to choose 5 songs that are my favorite? I'd say No Way, the title track, Reset, Pure Cashmere, and The Glow. No Way because of how personal it is. The title track because its so smooth. Reset because its a beautiful track to end with. Pure Cashmere is that pure hip hop without a doubt and The Glow is just greatness. I'm proud of this album very much. I love the fact that every DAR album released sounds nothing like the last one. My solos go a different route from Apollo's solos. Axel's solo joint is different, Speed's music and his style with beats is so diverse, the DAR group album is in a different league. We are the most consistent crew in hip hop, indie or mainstream. Period.

1. No Days Off
2. Black Genovese
3. Transylvania
4. Elevated
5. Reset(Sunshine, Sunset)

Song Breakdown

Two Shades Deep (Intro)
Produced by Speed On The Beat 

-I knew that the first song had to be Outkast inspired. It was poetic justice. I've known Apollo for about 15 years now, and one of the things we had in common was that we were huge fans of Outkast. The dichotomy of Big Boi and Andre 3000 was very much so the basis of where HS began and there was that influence. For me, on this song, I just wanted to spit the realest lyrics that summed up this whole journey. We started from middle school pretty much, just trying to make something happen. From freestyling outside the school, to writing our first actual song, which was called "Smoking Dat Reefa", based off Outkast's "Crumblin Erb", which we sampled for this song. Its really just everything just coming full circle again for the most part. We've been through a lot as brothers and friends over the last decade and a half, so this was the perfect way to intro the first HS album.

The Outkast sample was flipped perfectly by SOTB. With Outkast being our favorite duo, it was only right to have them represented in the album. I kinda had to channel my inner Andre for this joint(laughs). True and I cleverly skated on this smooth production, it's the perfect introduction to our voyage, Upper Echelon.

The New Testament
Produced By Logic Marsellis

-This song, to me, is not even as controversial as its been deemed. I've discussed religion heavily on my solo albums, and we've been talking about religion for years as a collective, so this isn't that controversial, just more in your face. I believe in questioning a lot of things in life, religion being one of them. My verse was just intended to paint a clearer picture of what I see religion as. We've been led to believe in different depictions of Jesus and God, different denominations of religion, different beliefs, with each side claiming their religion is the truest. I am fine with just having a belief in God purely, or not, rather than blindly following a man made religion. I did the hook, in a sing songy style, from the perspective of being inquisitive about all that we are told to believe. Just that whole "we've been giving up the glory... Give it up without a reason... As you look up to the heavens... Ask who do you believe in..." section is all about challenging the standard. Think harder.

Touchy subjects and controversy are specialties to DAR. We like to discuss topics that are uncomfortable. Religion is very polarizing, so we address it in this crusading track. True and I point out the faults of the Vatican and call out the Pope(laughs). But you can't take this song for face value, you have to listen to the dichotomies and imagery. Powerful verses and a great hook by us and a excellent beat by Logic Marsellis.

No Way
Produced by Serg C

-I had been listening to the beat one day and started singing a repeating chorus of "No Way, No Way...", sort of similar to what Apollo came up with on the hook. We were in the car and I mentioned that I had an idea but was still fleshing it out as far as a full hook. One day, Apollo came from the studio and sent me this track with his verse and hook on it, and I was like "well, damn"... The melody, the harmonizing, the feeling of hope through loss and even small doubt. I wrote my verse in about 10 minutes, maybe less in the car on the way to the studio. My verse really hit home after I heard it back. I spoke about the situation of being kept from my daughter by her mother and having to work within a court system that's not really geared for fathers and the internal battle I face on whether this is the right way to go or do you just wait for her mom to come to her senses so we work this out like adults and parents. I even referenced the passing of Speed's mother, as we were all rocked by that. I listed a lot of what's going on around us, but ended my verse by stating that "adversity brings out the man in thee", which is really just my way of telling everyone to keep pushing. Never let your issues or what you are dealing with stop your life's progress.

-Painful track where we spill our hearts on wax. Singing and harmonizing, this song is a ballad for us. True talks about the situations with his mother and daughter, which are very personal for him, but I feel he needed to get that verse out. We can never stop reaching our goals because of everyday limitations.

The Glow
Produced By Old Beats Record 

-I'm a huge fan of the movie The Last Dragon, and that's what mostly inspired this song and concept. I had written the first verse and didn't have a hook yet, but I was watching the movie and it instantly hit me. "When I shine, you shine..." started flowing in my head, then I kept repeating it as the rest of the hook came to me. The song is really about just finding the woman you can love and cherish and growing together. Being a power couple, if you will, shining separately and together. It just represents the foundation of true love at its core. The third verse was just a back and forth that we wrote in the studio together really. We sat in the booth and I tossed out the first 2 lines, Apollo followed up and we just did that back and forth. The song has a lot of Ghostface and Raekwon inspiration, which is very evident in Apollo's verse.

This track reminds of some Wu-Tang shit. The karate-esque boom bap mixed with our relaxed vocal tones fit perfectly. We added the Last Dragon movie clips in at the beginning, to add depth. Pretty much the track is about equality with your woman. When she shines, you shine and vice versa. True came up with a dope hook, very smooth. We have a hit with this one, something mature for the ladies. I love the single cover too!

Elevated (Going Up)
Produced by Speed On The Beat

-I freestyled my entire verse on this song. I wrote nothing for it (laughs). I freestyled quite a few verses on this album actually, as I tend to do with every group/duo/joint album we have. We were literally in the studio, smoking and just going over other tracks, when we received that beat from Speed. I had listened to it once, started thinking of an idea for something that may have been on my 6th album coming up, then got a text from Apollo saying he had an idea for this one. We got to the studio the next day and I had no verses written, so I just went in and started rapping about my dating experiences and struggles. I named a few names, one you might not be aware of, one I mentioned on "Rejuvenated" as well. There was nothing premeditated about that first verse, I just went and spoke candidly about things. The third verse, I had the first two lines written already for my part, then freestyled from there. I think the concept of the song is relatable. Bad dating experiences are something we all go through, so if you've been through that and decided that you wanted better, this song might be for you.

Produced By Metro Boomin

-The beat itself was dark, which made the concept come along pretty easily. Apollo wanted to do something eery and this was the one. The hook is classic Apollo, as his verse was centered around some infamous vampires and that form of imagery. He had his verse already written I believe, so I just went in the booth and freestyled most of what you hear on my verse, which is why my verse might be a bit shorter than his. That beat is very sinister and I'm sure if you're a fan of Metro Boomin, you've heard that beat already. This is just our HS spin on it. However, nobody could do it better (laughs).

One of my personal favorites. This song is important because it foreshadows the dark, sinister sound of my forthcoming solo album, Survive the Horror. The hook is anthemic yet haunting. Metro Boomin killed the beat with the hard drums and Haunted House echoes and effects. This joint represents being lost and realizing you're in an unfamiliar world. Ways that I think all can relate.

Reset (Sunshine, Sunset)
Produced by Old Beats Record

-The final song on the album (besides the hidden bonus track), and it was a really smooth beat that I had received from OBR. I didn't really get a chance to sit down with it and listen as seriously as I would have liked, but I ended up in the studio with Apollo, and he had a verse and hook for this joint. I loved the hook and the flow of his verse and I wrote mine on the spot, in about 4-5 minutes. It was just the perfect song to end off the album with. Its reflective, smooth, soulful even, with a message that after all we've been through, all we've seen, we still move on. You may get knocked down, you may falter, you may fall, but you can pick yourself back up and reset. I felt like this album fully told the story, we've been trying to tell for the last 15 years and the future is bright for not only HS, but DAR as a whole. That moment when you truly become Upper Echelon.

Perfect outro to our album/voyage. Simple and refreshing. Reset (no pun intended) and replay this classic again.

16 tracks. 1 bonus track. An album that tells a story full of cohesion, struggle, life, love, the pursuit of women (and pussy), money, success, while living your hopes and dreams. Cheers to DAR, cheers to HS, cheers to reaching the Upper Echelon. Hallelujah.



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