Your Old Droog Reveals How Yasiin Bey & Other Legends Blessed His 'Movie'

Your Old Droog

Photo: Kumo Shai

A symphony of flutes, horns, and a Didgeridoo crafted by Just Blaze kicks off the opening sequence of Your Old Droog's Movie. In "Success & Power," the 34-year-old lyricist boasts about his 10+ years of success, calls out Ye, and dreams about using his powers to pack out Madison Square Garden. The long-awaited collaboration between YOD and the legendary producer helps set up the plot of his prizeworthy project.

The intro is one of 18 songs on Your Old Droog's ninth studio album, which debuted on June 21. In the next scene "Crescent Moon," Droog, which means "friend" in Ukrainian, provides a rundown of the main character before JAY-Z makes a cameo.

"I'm making what I want to make and telling my story, and JAY-Z... He's one of those people who wrote the Bible of Hip-Hop," Droog tells iHeartRadio. "I quote his verses all the time. I quote him in 'Crescent Moon' and 'What Else?' I don't even view it as an interpolation. I feel like just certain voices and MCs lay down the groundwork. It's almost like pulling something from holy scripture."

Hov's words act as a prelude to one of the most important tracks on the album, "How Do You Do It?" The Harry Fraud-produced record is inspired by scarring flashbacks to Droog's childhood as a Ukrainian immigrant coming of age in New York City. It's one of several tracks that put a spotlight on his tough upbringing like "Grandmother's Lessons," in which he applies what he learned from his grandparents' way of life during World War II to his come-up in Brooklyn, and "Mantra" where he reveals the story of how he communicated in school before he uttered a word of English.

"You're kind of asking, how's it coming so easily to you?" Droog explains. "And that's really the question. Or the dude who was selling a lot of weight and had a car when we were 16-17 years old. I didn't have a car until I was in my twenties or something like that. So those kids who had a car in high school, I'm like, 'Yo how do you do it?'"

Your Old Droog's Movie can be dramatic at times, but you'll find a few light-hearted moments scattered throughout. He calls on revered acts like Method Man, Denzel Curry, Madlib, Conductor Williams, and the legendary Yasiin Bey to appear on the album's stand-out songs. The leading man even gets the girl of his dreams in "I Think I Love Her." And that's just the trailer. As his parents would say, movie!

Your Old Droog sat down with iHeartRadio and opened up about his new album. We talk about collaborating with his co-stars like Bey, who blessed him with a rare guest verse. He also opens up about the inspiration behind his most personal tracks, the plans for his upcoming show, and more. Listen to the album here and scroll below to get a behind-the-scenes look at his Movie.

You just dropped your new album Movie. How do you feel?

YOD: I feel great. I was ready to drop it the moment it was finished. You got to do all the things around an album. I'm not mad at it. I think it's divine timing.

For real, man. You've been putting a lot of time and work in the game for at least a decade now. I recently saw your explanation about the album title in Variety's piece, but what was that exact moment with your parents when you decided to call your album Movie?

To me, it was just a memory. I don't know why I remember that specifically. It just felt like an innocent thing from my childhood. Just sitting around watching movies with your family, and it was almost like a motif where whenever there was a stunt or something was too good — things you only see in movies — they would say 'movie.' Sometimes when you just get a vision from somewhere else, you don't question it and you're like, 'Okay, I'm meant to do this.'

Facts. There are a lot of 'movie' worthy moments on this album. One of the songs that stuck out to me was "Crescent Moon" which ends with a quote JAY-Z said in an interview. What does that interview mean to you?

The song that comes right after is 'How Do You Do It?" To me, that song is one of the most important songs on the record, as far as telling my personal story. The gist of the JAY-Z quote is, like, nobody could really tell his story. But I feel that sentiment so much that I wanted to include it for that record in particular, because I'm not the only one who went through what I went through, but in ways I am. So I want to tell that story 100% authentically, uniquely to my experience. There might be other people out there who lived it, but I want to be the first one to tell it on the record. I haven't heard anybody talk about that subject in that way. That's my story. I don't worry about somebody else coming out and rapping about similar subjects after the fact. I just know I wanted to make a certain record. I'm not making records to impress other rappers and producers. You know what I mean?

So how did you recruit Just Blaze for the intro? That was a great way to start off the album.

Yeah, I mean I've known Just for a while. I think we met at South by Southwest years ago, and he always showed love and it's like a conversation of like, 'Yo, we got to work' and 'We got to do this. we got to get up and do songs.' And he just talked about it, but then it finally happened. I don't even know how it got done, but I think it goes back to the universe having a greater plan for you. And maybe this was the time to do a record and that was the right record to do.

You got another song that stuck out to me as well, "Mantra," where you speak on your upbringing. That kind of brought me back to your Jewelry days when you were opening up about your Ukrainian heritage. What inspired you to revisit that on this song?

I don't think I ever told the story of not speaking English in kindergarten and having to point to my mouth to tell a teacher I was thirsty. I feel like so much of my story, I might've alluded to it in a line or two here and there. I really just wanted to go more in depth and put people in my shoes. I literally didn't speak a word of English when I got here, so I felt like I just had to go a little harder with the English language. I had to learn more. I had to read more to eventually get to a place where I earn a living with my use of words. I just think that's the story too. I don't want to be on some corny, "Anything is possible" stuff, but I think anything is possible. You know what I mean?

Yeah, it stuck out to me because I also did ESE classes when I was in school. Spanish was my first language so I can somewhat relate, but I'm sure other people can too.

There's so much nuance to race and growing up in New York too. I got to school and I don't even think I recognized that I was Ukrainian. I'm also Ukrainian Jewish, but they were like, 'you're Russian.' I grew up speaking Russian so there was confusion there and you know what I mean? When you move to another country, part of you just wants to assimilate. You want to blend in, but you don't even understand the beauty of your own culture. I've talked about that in other records. It's like almost like I snuffed out my cultural history for what exactly? Four chicken wings and fried rice? There's just got to be more. There's a deeper story to tell and you can tell both stories. It's not just one thing.

There was one line where you said you used to tell people that you were Puerto Rican. As soon as I heard that I was like, damn, that's crazy.

Yeah I mean that's where it started though. What happened was people assumed I was Spanish or Hispanic descent so I went along with it, but there's a deeper history there with bullies and things like that. Just being a Big Pun fan. It was just like it all made sense at the time and I'm like 'Aight.' But then you grow out of it. I got to be like 17 or 18 and I'm like 'Nah I can't go along with it. I got to be myself. That led to me eventually picking 'Droog' as a stage name. I was like 'I can't run from it.' That's what I did.

There's another record on 'Movie' we got to talk about: "DBZ" with Method Man and Denzel Curry. You've got two generations of Hip-Hop on there coming together. Talk about how that collaboration happened and the music video, which is also crazy.

Yeah, it was pretty violent, but it was an ode to "Celebrity Death Match." I like interesting pairings that might look crazy on paper, but it works. At the end of the day, both of those dudes get busy on the microphone. And to me, that type of Madlib beat where it's raw, it's almost like RZA-esque in a way. Madlib got this incredible thing where it's just natural things might be a little off and a little rough on the edges, but that's part of what makes it work. It kind of reminds me of RZA. He's like the grand master teacher, so I wanted to hear Meth on something like that in 2024, just for selfish reasons, you know what I mean? And Denzel is just like a good dude, man. We've been overseas on the same show bills and festival dates and never had a chance to work with each other until now. But I think it was the right time. Both of them killed it. We did that.

Y'all really did. I used to watch "Celebrity Death Match" as a kid. Once the first 10 seconds of the video played, I was amazed. Where did that idea come from?

We had some concepts. I went back and forth with the clay animation dude. Once he understood the vision, it was on and popping. He got it.

Another song I like is "Yodi Dodi." That one gave me a lot of old-school Hip-Hop and even some MF Doom vibes. I know you produced that yourself with Roper Williams.

That record is for the anti-social community man. I mean, I don't mind going out, but after awhile I think you get to a point where it's like you've seen every party, you've seen all the social stuff, and you just want to be home or with your girl ordering DoorDash, watching Netflix and I feel like that's a lot of people's story. That's just authentic to me. I really took my time with that record just as far as, like, 'yo, I want to put down every emotion I feel about when I go out and you get to a place like, damn now I want to go home. I wish I was home right now. I'll be doing this.' But at the same time, I think you could have all the fun you have outside at the crib or in your own little circle. You don't necessarily have to go brunches, but at the same time, I like a good party as well.

Yeah I feel like you made that one for the people who like to check the emails in the club.

When I'm at a party, I like to keep doing something.. I don't want to call it networking but be there for a reason. You might meet somebody who connect with or someone you could make money with or whatever, but I've definitely been in the club checking my email by the bar or, I don't know, with my headphones on watching some news or something.

I know it's been about four years since Doom passed. How does he still impact your life and music today?

In many ways, I feel like he laid out the blueprint for artists like myself who aren't necessarily interested in going to these parties and being in the mix. I feel like I learned how to make my art and release it in a way where I didn't have to necessarily do press or even videos for that matter. And that was fine because I was just like people are still listening to the music. They were fans. They didn't need to see me all in the videos and everywhere in the mix and in photos. So I learned that you can still do your thing, be successful, and eat from it. Aside from him being dope and being one of my favorite rappers period, I felt like he showed me that there was a different style of rap that existed — even though I wouldn't even ever box his style in as "underground." I don't do that. So it let me know that there's other styles of rap that existed than what you hear on the radio or what's like shoved down your throat by these major label companies or whoever. Plus just working with him, that was a blessing too. I was up against a crazy deadline with Jewelry. He delivered that and killed it.

Rest in peace to Doom. You also worked with another legend Yasiin Bay for the bonus track. Talk about how that collaboration happened.

Man, we crossed paths and I was ready to fan out in front of him, but he was showing me love. He knew my stuff. He told me "'Bangladesh' is a classic" like he told me "Bangladesh" with Heems is a classic. Those were the first words he told me. But he said he heard me since "Nutty Bars." He was always hearing me through the grapevines and I'm like "Wow." It's always great when somebody you grew up listening to and you admire, appreciates what you do.

That's dope man. So the collaboration was a no-brainer for him. You passed him the record and he sent it back?

Yeah, I sent him a few records through iMessage and that one spoke to him. I remember him telling me his daughter was even feeling the sample. He was just going to take his time and lay it down. Lo and behold, I looked at my email and he sent it. That's not a guy you could just be like, 'Yo, here's some money for a verse' like he's blessing you.

Same thing with Madlib. It's not like I had to seek him out. It's just this thing that naturally happened. That's when I know it's meant to happen.

It was dope to see that come together. So like I said before, you've got a lot of different movie references. In one record you call yourself the rap John Cusack. Why do you call yourself that and what's your favorite John Cusack movie?

Things like that in the beginning, it's completely improvised. I'm trying to think exactly what prompted me to say that, but you know how it is — Raekwon would say Julio Iglesias in the beginning of a record or something. It was more of that like 'I feel like the rap John Cusack.' But there's a movie called The Sure Thing. Maybe I was in my John Cusack bag. I make fun of ["A Damn Shame"] because it's almost like damn another girl song or something, but whatever I want pack out the Garden with just women, you know, on some James Taylor s**t. I feel like rap shows need more women. I don't want no sausage fest. And that's what I love about my shows. Even before this album, it's never like it's for a bunch of dudes, you feel me? So I like making songs that touch on all facets of life. I'm not afraid to rap about love or lost love, toxic love, train love, whatever it is.

Speaking of shows, you got one coming up on July 10 with Che Noir and Conductor Williams. Is that going to be a glimpse at what your tour will be like?

I think so. I think it's going to give people an idea of what I do on that stage. That's what I pride myself on. I feel like that's the best way to expose somebody to what you do. There's no mistaking it. It's live, you know what I mean? You can trick people online with the hype, but when you see someone in person, that's when you know it's real.

I feel like the tour will be something fans can't miss especially with the movie theme you got going on. You've got a dope album on your hands. Let's hope for some more recognition this year. I'm manifesting some type of nominations for you, whether it's Grammy or Webby.

Put that in the article, man. Let's make it happen. Speak it into existence!

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