This interview has been a long time coming. During the past couple of months, Boston hip-hop staple Black Element and DJ Ryan Durkin released a free album called Color Commentary. These dudes have been around for a hot minute - Durkin is a fixture at every relevant club in Boston. Black Element has even done a Christmas jam with Big D and The Kids Table.


Inevitably, I had a chat with these dudes about their recent album release. They had a lot to say.


ZAK BROMAN: Firstly, I just want to say the album is sounding tune. How long did it take to produce?


Durkin: Thanks! Color Commentary took about a year to produce. It was slow to start because we weren't sure what our "sound" was going to be. We just wanted songs that weren't too repetitive and sounded big enough to perform live. We also worked hard to avoid hip-hop cliches on the production and vocal side which is hard because there's so many. Once we banged out "Once a Week" and "Go!", we had more direction and things came together quicker. Overall, I am really proud of the end product.

Black EL: Off and on for a year -but really if you added up all the days it would probably be closer to six months. Durkin was finishing school and I was working a lot so our time was limited, and as Durk said we spent a lot of the time trying to find our sound. That process by itself took up a majority of that time, but after that it came together pretty quickly. We also did a lot of running around to different studios with Durk's trusty laptop because on certain tracks we needed some keys played. It's funny how this project was made with just a laptop and some old software, and recorded in my parent's basement and totally mixed in our boy Jelani's room. Biyaaaaaaaaaa!

 

ZB: When did you guys begin making music together?



Durkin: EL and I met through Jelani the MC a couple years ago. I made a few beats for his first album, A Major Minority. Soon after, EL started booking shows and needed a DJ. We worked out some pretty awesome live routines and realized we liked performing together. Then the idea of a Black EL album produced entirely by me came up. We wanted something that would allow us to keep doing live shows that were big, loud, manic and rooted in party-rocking. We wanted to be a MC/DJ duo that didn't sound like anyone else, on stage or on wax (is on wax a hip-hop cliche? shit...).


ZB: On this LP, it seems Black EL is speaking a lot about his personal background, with numerous mentions about graduating. Does this have any special place compared to your previous releases?

Durkin: While EL definitely touches on some very specific experiences in his own life on the album, I think the content of the album is definitely relatable for both of us. For me the album is about trying to do something extraordinary with your life and all the things that stand in the way of that, anything from student loans and day jobs to old habits and insecurities. It's about working hard to stay motivated when all you want to do is go out, get drunk and sleep all day on Saturday. In a lot of ways it's about straddling the line of childhood and adulthood, something I know most people in my social circle are struggling with.

Black EL: Pretty much the whole album is about dealing with life after college and standing on your own two feet. I've taken like 90% of the content out of my own life with the other 10% out of other peoples personal experiences that I know of. Sometimes I will just tell a story, like on "Sunday Drive" which is loosely based on one my own personal experiences. I think it does hold a special place though because this release is very personal. "Pride" is probably the most personal record I have done to date, and people seem to realize that this project is more of a insight into my life and my thoughts.



ZB: Any special meaning behind "Color Commentary"?


Black EL: Pretty much. Color Commentary means a few things, first me dealing with things in the world as a black male as well as being a art major in college played a role in naming the project. However, I still feel that this project is easily repeatable to anyone of any color, because of its wide range of songs and their respective topics. Anyone right now can relate to being broke and pursuing their dream, because the recession has hit everyone especially those who graduated college in the last 3-4 years. The album really focuses on taking that next step towards your dream, whether you're full conscious and have learned from your past (see "Pride") or you're currently lost (see "Sunday Drive"). Anyone can relate to the speed bumps and stop signs on the road to success, its not easy and Color Commentary tells that story. Not to mention, I'm also a huge sports fan and you can pick out the sports references that are sprinkled throughout the whole project, it's funny because I never intended on actually dropping those references... I blame SportsCenter.


ZB: How has the reception been for the LP so far? Any touring plans?

Durkin: We're doing ok. We've gotten a lot of hometown love. The video release party we threw at the Annie Mulz shop on Newbury St. was the first moment where we felt like we had people in Boston that believed in us. It felt great.

Black EL: People have really dug it so far, we want to take the more grassroots approach by getting people in the area aware of our music. So far we have had nothing but positive feedback, and honestly I'm pretty humbled by that. It just makes me want to work really hard on the next one, and continue to make good quality music with Durk. As far as the touring, we dont have any concrete plans but we are working on setting up some shows right now, stay tuned.


ZB: Your best way to pick up the ladies?
 

Durkin: Dudes, step your sweater game up and learn how to make a hot toddy.

Black EL: Get up on your smell goods.