Interview by: Martin Bauman
Buffalo emcee Mad Dukez may be an unfamiliar name to most outside of the New York State underground community, but he’s quickly making a name for himself as a talented freestyler and energetic performer. Dukez’ years of hard work came to fruition earlier this year when he was selected to join Blueprint on his Deleted Scenes tour across North America, performing with Fresh Kils and promoting their Monsters EP and upcoming album, Gettin Gatsby’d. The Come Up Show caught up with Mad Dukez in London during the Deleted Scenes tour, and discussed the Monsters EP, touring with Blueprint, how a game of horse shoes kicked off his career, and more. Read the full interview below.
TCUS: You’ve been on the tour with Fresh Kils and Blueprint, how many dates have you done so far?
Mad Dukez: So far, let’s see… we’ve had four dates. It’s just been an experience, man. Something else. Being four dates in, there are battle scars, and battle stories. [Fresh Kils and Blueprint] have both been on multiple tours, and they’ve both equally done their thing, so I want to make sure that I pick up a lot from them in these four days so far, and I’ve still got a bunch of dates left. [We've got] 21 to go.
TCUS: Is this the first tour for you, or have you done tours in the past?
Mad Dukez: Before, I was in the Bring It Back Tour. That’s next to the Warped Tour. I did that tour; I just did one date in Buffalo on the Bring It Back stage. And the previous tour I just came off of last month was with MC Phrym8 out of Minneapolis, where we went around to Iowa City, South Dakota, Michigan, [and] Wisconsin… so we travelled the Midwest, really, and it was cool to do all those dates in those places. So this is the second tour, really, that I’ve been on. That project with Kils started off with just a couple tracks. I was working with the label DTR in Buffalo, NY, and [I'd heard] just a couple of tracks from Fresh Kils. [The label] was like, “alright, well, he’s gonna be at an Atherton show.” And I was like, “oh, okay!” cause Atherton’s come to Buffalo multiple times and performed. I have a favourite story of Atherton; I’ll touch on that later. But being that it was an Atherton show, I ended up chilling with Kils. I didn’t even know of him, and I started to pick up [his music] and do my homework, and I was like “Jesus!” Being on the tour, four dates in, makes me happy. After all this started, just from me making a couple tracks, going to an Atherton show, meeting Fresh Kils, and now we’ve got an album on the way and [our] EP, Monsters.
TCUS: Tell me about your Atherton story.
Mad Dukez: Oh, this is crazy [laughs]. My child’s mother was with me at a show, and Atherton came to Buffalo – and this was like four, almost five years ago. And [Atherton] was onstage performing, and my child’s mother was sitting here [gestures next to him]. And I had already met Atherton, years before, and he just like reaches over, and he’s rapping his verse and caressing her face. And I was dying laughing, because I know he’s just joking around, and she’s just standing there. We still laugh about it to this day, Atherton rubbing her face. So that speaks to the style of Atherton [laughs]. But you gotta love him, man.
TCUS: You briefly mentioned the Monsters EP. What can you tell me about that?
Mad Dukez: It’s a collection of five tracks that will probably feature on the Gettin Gatsby’d CD. And those five tracks, basically, it’s just a little taste of what’s to come. We still want to go ahead and wrap up Gettin Gatsby’d with a few more twenties-sounding [songs], you know, that prohibition era-sounding music. We want to get more samples, [and] we want to get more horns, clearly, but as for right now, the Monsters EP is just a taste that came from Kils and I. [We wanted] to put together something solid, and something that, once you hear the songs [live], you’ll play them later on. Right after you get out of the show, you’ll put the CD in and keep jamming on. That was the idea with those five tracks, to give you a solid taste of what’s to come. I’ll be performing every song on the EP, so if there’s anything you want to hear again, it’s a very cheaply priced CD that we can give to you [laughs].
TCUS: [Laughs] Speaking of the roaring twenties, have you ever seen the show Boardwalk Empire?
Mad Dukez: I’ve heard about it! I haven’t actually got to see it. After the tour, I’m coming back to Toronto, and I have a week, so Kils and I are currently getting Boardwalk Empire, and we’re just going to run through the seasons to catch up, and really give it a good listen.
TCUS: I just got into the show a couple days ago, and it’s really good.
Mad Dukez: Yeah, I’ve heard great things so far. Where I’m coming from, the Gettin Gatsby’d [album], has that tie to the roaring twenties. And I’m coming from the angle where I just took it and flipped it a little bit, so the new prohibition is good rappers. Good hip-hop, that’s the new prohibition in my mind. So I approached that with the attack on each song, and that’s how we got it going. But yeah, that prohibition era was a big time, man. People lived big, they were extravagant, decadent… they wanted to go ahead and live it up to the fullest of their abilities. Even bootlegging. I just recently heard a story – I need to get all of [the details] together – but at one point in time, there was a party. I think it was [shown] in Boardwalk Empire. There was a party at the stroke of midnight, when prohibition came into effect. So they’re saluting, and drinking their asses off, while prohibition has just been put into play. That kind of attitude was something that Gatsby was all about. That prohibition era was huge, man. And it created a lot of character, with the attitudes that happened with it. I feel like it gives off an impression that still resonates to this day. Some of the same problems that were there in that era, by all the activity, and the way it went down in that manner, still resonates to this day. So we took those and we flipped them on this record.
TCUS: How did you get started making music in the first place?
Mad Dukez: I’ve always been writing music, since I was very young – like 10 years old. When I started recording with people, I started off of karaoke tapes and karaoke machines, with just the mic. You’d have like three people in a room, and we all wrote a verse, and you had to pass the mic real quick and make sure you get it on time with the chorus, so that we have a whole song recorded on this cassette tape. When we took it from there – it was like late nineties when that started – when we took it from there to start performing at high school events, that gave me my first bite at performing live, instead of just doing it for house parties. After that, it became more about me just perfecting my craft. I started really just focusing; I didn’t really put out projects, [but] I was making a lot of music [and] doing a lot of features with people – you’ll find them all over YouTube or Soundcloud. I do a lot of features, and just do music with people to tighten my skills and hone my craft.
Walking was a big thing. Where I’m from in Buffalo, I started in the suburb of Buffalo – Williamsville – where there are no buses, so you walk everywhere. [Laughs] You know what I mean? So I’d just walk, and I’d freestyle to myself – and the freestyles generally became more intricate and more detailed. I started involving, say, a movie I watched that day, and I involved that in walking at night with a scary situation [since] I watched a horror movie, and I’d come up with my own story while walking. That helped hone my craft, and really make a chiseled instrument that I’m able to depict a story to.
Next up, I started doing more shows in the city of Buffalo. A game of horseshoes actually got me with one of the biggest groups I’ve ever been with. [I was] playing horseshoes, drinking beer, and just chilling with the drummer and producer: John Hunter, in Buffalo, NY, is the drummer out of Type Nice and Typerelevant, and multiple other crews, and Covert, out of the Essential Vitamins Crew, [who] is instrumental in me being in that group. We were over there, drinking beers, and John wanted to go inside and chill. He just gets on his drum set, and starts banging it out. There was a microphone, [so] I picked it up and started freestyling to it. It meshed so well that we just kept going that afternoon. Now, I had gone and been doing music with Covert – I had been doing multiple things with him – he has so many tracks, and he has a real… sofrito funk is what he calls it. And he takes that and he puts it into this real hip-hop sound. Basically, he was that Spanish cat who had the African medallion [laughs], that’s what he was. You know, “what up, brothers?” The whole nine. He had a real dope hip-hop sound, and it was definitely something special.
After making a lot of tracks with him, I ended up hooking up with Typerelevant from that game of horseshoes with John Hunter, and then Morningside playing the drums. We ended up winning one of the city’s biggest competitions, called the B.O.O.M. Bash (Battle of Original Music), hosted by Art Voice. After we won that, it became [like] “okay, what are these guys going to do next?” We had a live album, but we didn’t really have any kind of studio album. Through whatever happened, one of the members had to leave for awhile, and I ended up going in, and they gave the studio time to me. I started crafting [some] of the first work that has been heard from me, working with Derringer. He’s a dope beatmaker, [he's] won a lot of battles in the city of Buffalo, and with that happening, I ended up working with Derringer, using up studio time… I started going out, hitting up different studios, [and] making more and more music that ended up becoming the Monster in A Man Suit Vol. 1 that I put out on Soundcloud earlier this year. It really was just a collection of songs, and I also picked out instrumentals I loved and rapped over them, and just gave it out for free. That was in January of this year. I had made all this music up to this point, so I just put it out.
And doing massive shows three years straight with Typerelevant, previous to Monster In A Man Suit being finished, doing show after show every Thursday, then doing shows at different locations like Ithaca College, I got the attention of Brown Man. Brown Man came and performed with Typerelevant, and Brown Man is a serious musician. Very, very poignant, right to the point, direct, but he gets wonderful sounds and results – and he’s also a fun guy, genuinely a good man. We started playing with Brown Man, and getting my sound out there, and now I’m going to be featured on his Groove Asylum EP – which is coming out later, so look out for that. He mentions it in the Villain magazine. So after getting his attention, I just kept producing, producing, producing… I started working with DTR around this time last year, as far as setting up shows. I wasn’t really affiliated with their label yet. And then earlier this year, after I put out Monster In A Man Suit Vol. 1, I started working with DTR and since then, [I've] been doing performance after performance, trying to increase the venues.
In July, [they] started talking about Blueprint, and I lost it. Ohhh man, I lost it! I was like “yo, what?! Blueprint?!” They [told me] it’s an opportunity that might open up, and lo and behold, the doors opened up. [Now] he’s got a date on Friday in Buffalo. That was the original [plan]: “Okay, we’ll set up a date in Buffalo. But hey, you wanna put my dude on, Mad Dukez?” He went online, I have lots of footage on my channel MadDukez – freestyles, a couple songs, I have music videos now… I just put out #MadWork – and Blueprint was like “yeah, I don’t mind it!” And that’s how I got to this point. The first show was just making sure he knew I came to be serious, and I came to give a hell of a show. If I’m gonna open for you, I’m gonna go off. That’s what you’re gonna see tonight. I try to keep my shows live, fun, energized, a lot of smiling people… you’re not going to feel dumbed down by my lyrics. That’s my whole story about how I got started doing it, and it’s just spiralling from here. I don’t have a ceiling at all; there’s no glass ceiling for me, I just keep rising up.
TCUS: What was it like meeting Blueprint that first time?
Mad Dukez: Blueprint’s from Columbus, Ohio, so we met up in Ohio, right in front of one of the venues – I think it was Skully’s. We met up in front of Skully’s, down the street a bit, and he just walked up, [very] personable, like “hey, how are you doing?” Shook my hand right off the bat. And we just chilled. We moved our gear from one truck to the other, and we sat in there. Firstly, it’s Blueprint. So it’s like “ohh shit!” And his DJ Raregroove [is there], and we’re just chilling in there, and [Kils and I] are looking at each other like “yo, this is crazy!” This whole union, and the way it came together is crazy, because I’ve only been cyber pals with Kils, so I’ve only really known him for about a week and a half. And it’s just kinda been organically thrown together, and Blueprint has been so down to earth and cool with us. We were talking about everything, just laughing, joking, and having a good time with each other. You still know that it’s Blueprint, the legend, [but] at the same time, he’s just right down to earth with us, chilling. Getting hotel rooms, talking, laughing, having jokes… But yeah, he’s a real cool, down to earth dude. Passionate man. He’s passionate about this music. He gets it right, and he comes out with that sound. I’ve been on this tour four dates, and I’m already singing almost all of his songs [laughs].
TCUS: You mentioned freestyling earlier, is that something that you do in your live shows as well?
Mad Dukez: Yeah, occasionally I will, but we’ve been trying to set up a distinct set, because Blueprint plays no games. I’ve seen him, a couple other people I’ve worked with, DTR, they’ve seen him, and they’re like “he is serious.” And we all conferred together that this needs to be a solid set. If there’s room for it, definitely. Without a doubt, freestyling, because freestyling is an art form to me that I practise – I do it everyday. So even though I’m practising my set, I [still] practise freestyle. Reading helps a lot with that too. Probably in later dates, I’m going to incorporate it in the set, and just let it go off for a minute. Especially with Kils behind, and he’s bringing the beats, I’m gonna bust something crazy.
Check back next week for our interview with Atherton, where we talk about his album No Threat, early influences, and what’s next for him.