How do you make fast friends with one of the most influential hip hop groups of all time? You’d have to ask the Kalamazoo trio Dezert Eez. The group will perform Saturday, December 10 at Bell’s Brewery at 9 p.m.
Emcee Mike Williams, aka 5-Star, says back in 2004 a friend of the trio asked Dezert Eez if they wanted to open for The Wu Tang Clan on a four city tour through Chicago, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo. Of course, they said yes.
Soon after that, that short tour led to another tour and then another tour
“So we just cultivated a friendship from the first time. Cause you’re seeing us in the van, we’re all eating at the same restaurant. We’re hanging out. We’re in the same hotel. And then the friendship grew and the respect for the music," says Williams.
Williams says Inspectah Deck of Wu Tang especially helped the group get the success they have today. He says touring with The Wu Tang Clan is surreal - like hanging out with The Beatles.
Since then, Dezert Eez and The Wu Tang Clan have been close. Members of Wu Tang have been featured on their tracks and even helped produce Dezert Eez’s album Witches’ Brew. Williams also joined two members of Wu Tang in the hip-hop super group The Almighty.
Like Wu Tang, Dezert Eez has an affinity for that old-school hip hop. It’s part of the reason the group started 12 years ago, back when the three of them were students at Western Michigan University. Willams says the trio didn’t like the commercial sound of new hip hop:
“Nowadays when you listen, the lyrics don’t hold any weight. So it kills the credibility of some of the artists. And the bad thing is that some of the artists don’t care, they’re just making what they call songs - party music. And that’s fine, but at its essence hip hop - when you look at Rakim and Nas and Chuck D from Public Enemy and all the KRS1 (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) - it was such an emphasis on lyrics. So now and its watered down, the beats are simplistic. Like before, you had to dig in the crates for samples. DJs took pride in going to vinyl shops and finding obscure samples that no one ever had."
It’s clear that Dezert Eez gives special attention to their lyrics. The group says they won critical acclaim for that in their very first mixtape, The Realness - which came out in 2005.
Williams says each member of Dezert Eez writes their own verses, just like traditional emcees. He says over the years more hip hop artists have gotten into songwriting - like Puff Daddy and Dr. Dre. Williams says that’s ok, but it’s not their style.
“We got the idea from EPMD, great group. They said they never share the lyrics upfront. They just go in kind of battling each other and it kind of brings out the best,” he says.
Williams says like the old-school style, some the art forms that were part of it are dying out:
“Everyone gives credit to the [break dancer], the graffiti artist, the DJ, and the emcee because they all make it. It’s like a culture, it really is. And each one holds - even though the emcees typically get more credit and are more visible - they each have a vital part in the success of hip hop. But again you don’t see graffiti artists anymore, you rarely see people break dancing anymore, so it’s…you know you want to keep those things alive because they’re so great and so important to the culture.”
Despite this, Williams says there are more rappers than ever. Through the internet, anyone can share their music. Williams says that can make it hard for any one artist to distinguish themselves. Dezert Eez has been fortunate enough to make connections like The Wu Tang Clan as well as artist and activist Talib Kweli.
Kweli was featured on Dezert Eez’s song Rolex Dreamin’ off of their latest album Late Night Cognac Sessions. Williams says Kweli’s activist background complimented the meaning behind the song:
“Rolex Dreamin, you’re an inner city kid. You struggle. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity or race is, it’s just an economic thing. So all these kids have dreams of doing better for themselves. And you know whether you’re just talking with friends and dreaming like, ‘Yo man, one day…’ or you’re actually in motion like, ‘This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to make it happen.’ So working with him on that track was just, it just worked out perfect.”
So what’s next for Dezert Eez? A performance at the SouthbySouthwest music festival in Austin, Texas, an international tour with Bronze Nazereth of Wu Tang Clan fame, and Williams says, hopefully, another album down the line.