Van Buren Records put their hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts on the map. The 13-member group made of rappers, producers, engineers, creative directors, and designers arrived like a fully-formed apparition with 2021’s Bad For Press and its follow-up, BLACK WALL STREET. The group played with elements of gritty New York street rap, Memphis-obsessed horrorcore, and classic West Coast shit-talking. But the Seinfeld street gang name-checking posse distilled those influences into something fresh and peerless in the modern rap landscape. Their new album DSM—named for Dover Street Market—is both a victory lap and a defining moment, a celebration of what they’ve become and a clear statement that they’re not going anywhere.
The members of Van Buren Records were scattered about in the country, so much of the album was recorded the way the world now functions: remotely. The group’s ambitions are grander than ever before; a show with Griselda in Boston (plus a verse from Conway the Machine on DSM cut “The Source”) confirmed that they have the infrastructure to scale this vision into something sustainable and enduring.
In the brief period between their 2021 records and DSM, the group’s MCs—FELIX!, Luke Bar$, Jiles, SAINT LYOR, Meech BOLD, Invada, and Andrew Regis—released solo records. Their influence and popularity are growing by the minute, and their horizon is broadening. Even so, Brockton will remain home, remain the place that built them, and will be the reason this group even exists in the first place. To that end, they recently spent a day giving Converse and school supplies to the city’s youth. “It’s bigger than music for us,” says LYOR. “It always will be.”
“Now the objective is just to showcase more of Brockton,” Luke Bar$ concludes. “There are a lot more musicians, a lot more artists. There are athletes. We have people playing overseas. We have a lot going on in the city.”
Audiomack: In the days leading up to the new album, what was the prevailing feeling? Was it excitement, nervousness, or something else?
Invada: I’m excited, man. I can’t wait for the world to hear what’s going on.
Meech BOLD: At the same time though, there’s always an anxiousness, especially because we’ve been working on it for so long. In the days leading up, I was just like, ‘Bro, can it be Friday already? Let’s get it going.’
There’s an anticipation for this new album that maybe hasn’t been there before, just because Bad For Press and BLACK WALL STREET brought you new fans. What’s it like to put out a record that people are pining for?
Luke Bar$: It’s been a year now since we dropped a whole collective album and the fans and the people are really ready for a new one. Some people hit me up and they were like, “Yo, y’all still make music together?”
A lot of people missed us. We missed putting out music. We all wanted to. It’s just we had to get right artistically. We had to get our own personal music correct. It just takes time and music. Music years are different from human years. Music years go by in a snap of a finger.
It's only been a year and people are already asking you if you stopped making music together. Did you guys feel pressure to get back in the studio just to show people that nothing had happened?
Meech BOLD: I would say it’s different for everyone because you had some dudes working on their own personal albums and then you had other guys just kind of going through the motions of life. We had to come into DSM as a reflection of where we’re at. It’s just way more aggressive and it’s way more abrasive, in-your-face. That’s just how we are feeling as a collective. But I also know for me there wasn’t a sense of pressure because I was just trying to deal with life in the moment.
SAINT LYOR: I was eager because, since the last project, everybody was working on their own individual project. Everybody’s gotten better. Iron sharpens iron. Coming into this project, it was kind of easy because we were already in album mode working on our own stuff. So us coming together, the transition was really smooth. The raps are just 10 times better from the last project just because we’re getting the reps in.
Invada: I kind of felt the sense of urgency to put it out because I wanted it to reflect where we’re at as people and as a group. I wanted to capture that.
The record has a live energy to it. Are you all still in Brockton and recording together?
Invada: I wasn’t there for most of the sessions. I did all my verses remotely. I was probably there for one song.
That must make recording the project difficult, especially with such a big group.
SAINT LYOR: It really was.
Meech BOLD: Yeah. I’m going to let you in on a secret. There’s a little secret just between us. It was nasty. That song we did all together was nasty. In the beginning, we were like, ‘Yo, we’re just going to make two, three records. Let’s just do a little EP.’
Invada: I wasn’t going for that.
Meech BOLD: He wasn’t going for that. And then Felix was here for a week or two in Brockton before he went back to LA. We did a couple records and then once he left, he’s like, "Yo, we need an album.” And then it turned into this whole urgent thing because we were all recording and sending things back and forth. And that’s why I was very go, go, go because it was really like first come, first serve type shit. Until it got to the end. Once it got to the end, we started forming the shape of the project. It was a very simple process once it got to the last hours.
A lot of the press that came early on was about how you’re this group from an area outside of Boston not really known for rap. Now that you have members across the country, are you all trying to establish yourself not just as a Brockton group, but as a rap group that’s nationwide?
Invada: If you think about it, the way we ended up making this album is really just a sign of the times. Because you see how so many people who were on some regular life shit, their jobs started being remote. They started doing everything from home and then the world started feeling more global, like a global village of sorts. That’s kind of what happened with us. It wasn’t even like we wanted to do that per se. It was kind of just born out of a necessity. I don’t even know if this was intentional, but the title of the album even—Dover Street Market—means different things to different people. Dover Street to us, that’s the street in Brockton where our studio is at. To other people, it’s a high-end boutique.
By that same token, does it mean a lot to you guys that when people talk about you, they say you’re putting Brockton on the map for rap music in a way it hasn’t been maybe ever? Is that still important to you guys as a group?
Meech BOLD: Yeah, absolutely.
Invada: Absolutely, man.
SAINT LYOR: It’s bigger than music for the city though.
Luke Bar$: Just last week we had a backpack drive. We gave out over 60 pairs of Converse sneakers to the city, to adults in the city, backpacks to the youth. It’s way bigger than music. Way bigger. Even within Boston, people don’t fuck with our city. And now it’s crazy to see music being respected in Brockton because that wasn’t a thing literally five years ago. And to know that we’re a part of that, we’re the ones that’s leading the charge in that, it feels great.
Sometimes when a lot of MCs get on the same track, it’s hard to find chemistry. On this album, you are locked in as a group but also are able to showcase your individual quirks and talents. Does that just come from working together for a long time?
Luke Bar$: You want to know the truth? Because we’re friends. We actually like one another.
Invada: The early stage of DSM it was me, Meech, and Luke for the most part the first week. I remember we had back-to-back sessions, we made no songs. I was like, “Alright, guys. We’re going to go to the studio Sunday and cook out all day.”
Meech BOLD: We did absolutely nothing. We just hung out, got a little faded. It was great.
Don’t ever take for granted how rare it is to be able to work with your friends. It’s the best feeling on earth.
Luke Bar$: Trust me, we know.
By Will Schube for Audiomack