“I Rather Be Behind the Scenes”: An Interview with Dreddy Kruger

“My dream was definitely to be in the music business, but I didn’t know in what capacity.”
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Born and raised in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Dreddy Kruger knows a thing or two about hip-hop. The businessman, A&R, solo artist, Wu-Tang affiliate (etc. etc. etc.), has been in the music game for decades. Best known for his work with GZA (2008’s Pro Tools) and his solo venture, Think Differently Music, Dreddy has a distinct resume, making him one of rap’s unspoken treasures. 

Dreddy calls me up on a March morning to break down the history of his incredible career. 

His story is one of making art for the sheer passion and finding your lane through hard work and hard-nosed efforts.

“It goes back to dancing for me. I’m sure you know, a lot of the older A&R and record label cats came from the dancing era. I used to dance with Puff. That’s how I ended up meeting GZA in a barbershop around the way. We grew up in the same neighborhood, but we didn’t know each other. From there, I started dancing for GZA. I went on the first tour with him when he was still The Genius. I met GZA in 1990; I was dancing another three or four years after that. That’s when the whole Wu-Tang thing was forming.

“At that time, I was in college. I had stopped dancing. Me and GZA [were] still cool. I was trying to get out the neighborhood and stuff. I went to LIU [Long Island University], and my first year in there, that’s when Wu-Tang formed. They were recording ‘Protect Ya Neck’ in Brooklyn. So, RZA, GZA, and ODB stopped by my school to pick me up for me to make a run to the record store to buy a cassette tape he needed. The LL Cool J Radio [album]. I was there when they recorded [their] verses [for ‘Protect Ya Neck’]. To make a long story short, that was my entrance into meeting Wu-Tang.

“I became an artist. I was in a group called Royal Fam with Timbo King. We signed to Wu-Tang Records and put out a couple records. We had a nice little buzz in the states and all that. You know how some cats grow up wanting to be a rapper? That was never my dream. My dream was definitely to be in the music business, but I didn’t know in what capacity. Being around RZA, I became inspired. Then, Loud Records, I used to be over there every day with Schott Free and Matty C, picking their brains and trying to see what is an A&R. Nobody knew what an A&R was, really. The more I talked to them, the more I figured out, ‘Oh, these are the guys responsible for putting these records together.’

“Somebody has to sequence and arrange ‘em, bring out certain elements of the songs. That’s when I started asking RZA questions. It became: ‘This is what I wanna do.’ I wanna put these records together. I rather be behind the scenes. I went to RZA, in late 2004 or 2005, and said I don’t wanna be in the group no more; I wanna be an A&R and eventually start my own record label. He was 100 percent behind it. The first record I did was a Killah Priest record, called Black August. [Priest] trusted me, and it was a great record. From there, I did Black Market Militia… I did about 14, 15 albums. I did the RZA album, Birth of a Prince. That’s when he started taking what I was doing seriously.

“That’s how I started with the A&R [job]. Cats within the Wu and outside cats… People started contacting me to do their records. I started my record label [Think Differently Music] out of me wanting to do a project that wasn’t out there. A lot of cats in the game loved Wu-Tang, but if you look at the history of Wu, they never work with a lot of outside artists. They were reserved with who they worked with. A lot of cats respected them, who I thought were dope, too. I thought it would be a dope collaboration if Wu started doing something with a lot of the independent cats that was doing great things. I’m gonna put the album [Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture] together myself, that’s when I had the idea to start my label, and the first thing I did was the compilation [in 2005].

“I did the GZA record, Pro Tools. I put Roc Marciano and Ka together. That was me and Roc’s first time meeting Ka. I brought Roc in because Roc was always a good friend of mine, we were both signed to Loud Records back in the day. Roc was my dude. Roc ended up doing a beat on there; he rapped on there. GZA said he wanted to do a joint with the cat called Ka; I got the beat. It was a Roc beat. Ka comes on, and in one take, he knocks out the whole song. He didn’t even leave no room for GZA. This shit is done. It ended up being ‘Firehouse.’ When GZA came, he felt how I felt, ‘I don’t need to put a verse on there.’ GZA ended up putting a hook on there. Roc Marci produced it, Ka rapped on it, and GZA just did the hook. That was dope.

“I didn’t want to do the same type of record again. I did a couple of other albums with cats I know, but I just wasn’t ready to do part two [of Think Differently] until one day it hit me: I love film and I love music. I wanna do something with both of them mixed in, and something that’s more me. I did Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture for the fans. This one, Think Differently Two: The Audio Film, I did for me. This is what I wanna hear. When I first had the idea, I wasn’t gonna do any lyrics on it, but I said, ‘Nobody will listen to it.’ If I’mma put rappers on it, I’mma flip the whole script around.

“I give a lot of credit [for my ability to A&R] to my conversations with Schott Free and RZA. All of those early Wu-Tang albums, RZA produced and A&R’d them himself. Those are some of the best records in hip-hop history, and they have a certain feel. He was always telling me how certain songs are meant to come out in the winter. I didn’t understand that, and to this day, I don’t think a lot of artists understand. I started learning how certain beats bring out certain feelings, and when an artist puts lyrics on it, it takes it to a totally different place. The most important part is my ear for the beats and sounds. An album, it’s like telling a story. I’m a writer, in a sense. I’m doing it with the music.

“And knowing how to get the best out of an artist… Every verse a rapper spits is not the greatest thing you’ll ever hear. Sometimes you gotta tell ‘em: ‘Nah, I think you could do better. You could spit it this way. You don’t have to do 16 [bars].’ It’s a lot of different things that play into [making a record]... I don’t go by a format: 16 with an eight-bar hook. I just wanted to always think differently. I’ll do a one-bar hook and go right back into the verse.

“Never [will I leave the music industry]. It’s funny you ask me that because I’m gonna answer that on this next record called Music And Water. Music and water are two things nobody could live without. I love music to death. I listen to music every day. I’ll even watch a film to hear the music. Yeah, some of the stuff turns me off from the music business, but I could never see a day where I’m not creating or listening to music. Never.”

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