A Listener’s Guide to Cult Classic with Denmark Vessey and Scud One

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

Every once in a blue hip-hop moon, an MC/producer tandem comes along with the ability to create a cohesive masterpiece where each artist’s talents are showcased perfectly together. We’ve seen it in the past on classic LPs by legendary duos like Guru and DJ Premier, and Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, and even recently with dudes like Action Bronson and Party Supplies on Blue Chips 2. It goes beyond their supreme skill of matching up dope rhymes and beats to make timeless projects. There’s an intangible quality present, and though we just can’t quite put our finger on it, we know it’s there, because we can hear it in the finished product.

Well, it’s happened again. Denmark Vessey, a Midwestern MC originally from Detroit now based in Chicago, linked up with producer Scud One (who also spits) in the Windy City last year, and the two began working together on tracks. Slowly but surely, they started releasing music videos to the Internet featuring their collaborations, and those with an ear to the underground quickly took notice. Their sound was organic and thoughtful, political and soulful, and without being quirky or removed from the streets, everything they put out was way left of the bullshit. It was apparent to those who were paying attention that Denmark Vessey and Scud One were on to something special.

Then last week, over a year and a half since their first video hit the web, the two released their proper debut album Cult Classic, featuring Denmark Vessey as the lead MC with production handled entirely by Scud One, on Dirty Science. Executive produced by Exile, Cult Classic is the story of a fictitious cult leader’s rise to power, told through the sounds of sixteen remarkable tracks. Read below as Denmark and Scud break down their brilliant collaborative effort here with an official Listener’s Guide to the LP. This is the construction, and deconstruction, of a modern-day Cult Classic.

1. “Intro”

Denmark Vessey: “That song felt like something that was an intro when we did it. Basically, everything that I’m saying on there sums up the feeling of the album. I talk about the charismatic creatures, and how they’re just trying to get money. It just felt like coming to church in the morning to me.”

Scud One: “We also did that later in the [recording] process, so we were able to summarize the album a little, too, which worked out for the intro. We already had the whole concept, the topics, the idea of the story, and a couple of the joints done.”

DV: “The story is basically about a dude who wants power and likes money, and he sees that he can [obtain those things] through organized religion. The side-note of the album is that it’s a tale about fanaticism, and it speaks on the cult of personality thing, and how anyone can be a cult leader if they put their time into it and if they have an effective marketing plan. How influence and power can make you either a very good or bad person.”


2. “Just Talking”

DV: “This is the character in the album realizing his calling. It’s his conversation with God as well. He’s at a crossroads, and he doesn’t know quite what to do. He still wants power, fame, and money, so he wants to go about getting that. He has a conversation with God, and what he hears coming from God is, ‘Start doing your shit. Why you asking me these questions? You know the answers. Just do what you gotta do.’ So this is like his first epiphany.”


3. “Half a Gram” ft. Guilty Simpson

DV: “I got introduced to Guilty Simpson through my homie Mario Butterfield. Guilty is a real cool, humble dude, and he definitely didn’t have to do this, but he showed love. This song is the character in the album legitimizing why he can go out and be a preacher or a deacon or somebody of the cloth. ‘If the beacon from the lighthouse can be a deacon rolling White Owls, then let it be, Amen.’ He’s saying, ‘Yeah, I had a fucked up past, but that’s all the more reason why I can tell somebody not to do something wrong.’ It’s him pumping himself up to have his first sermon, and rationalizing why he can do this. And Guilty comes along for that ride, and talks about what he did in the past, and the experiences that he went through, and why that made him the man he is today.”

SO: “We didn’t do too many features on the album. And Guilty seemed like an important person to have on there. There’s nobody on here that’s not from the Midwest. And MC-wise, it’s all Detroit.”


4. “That One Thai Joint”

SO: “That was the first joint that we made off the album. We had a little studio out in Chicago, and I was sitting in the B room, and I made this beat. That’s kind of how the whole project started. Denmark heard the beat, had an idea, and we sat there and knocked the joint right out. That was our start of Cult Classic. It was the first joint we did together that I produced and he rapped on. And we shot the video right there, too, in front of the building of the studio.”

“I had a buddy who was really into all the Thai, Cambodian samples. And he left a couple joints for me. I kept it real simple, and looped the joint up, did some drums on the MP real quick, and it turned out real dope. And I was originally gonna use that beat for me, like, ‘Yo, let me make a little Scud joint.’ But this dude had a nice concept for it, so we just rolled with it.”

DV: “This is my character’s first sermon. Whoever was in the video was like the parishioners.”


5. “They Schweepy”

DV: “This is like the character getting mad that nobody is listening to his sermons and his words. He’s saying, ‘Everybody’s asleep, wake yo’ ass up.’ It’s supposed to be him putting his flag down like, ‘I’m here, I have something to say, and people should listen to what I have to say.’”

SO: “At that time, I was digging through a lot of psych rock compilation albums, and I pulled that [sample] out. I couldn’t pass it up. Between the drums, and the organs, that was a gem right there. Then I found some nasty ad-libs to layer over it. And that was also one of the original joints we did, too. ‘That Thai Joint,’ ‘They Schweepy,’ and ‘Cult Classic’ were the first three joints we did.”


6. “Cult Classic”

DV: “This is like the character’s breakout sermon. And that’s when everyone starts paying attention to him, which is kind of like what happened in real life when I did that video. It garnered a bunch of attention amongst people who were otherwise unfamiliar with me. The beat came out the same way [as the other stuff we had previously done together]. It was really organic. I think Scud was actually going to rap over that one, too, but then I was like, ‘I got something that’s really, really dope.’ [Laughs.] And it came out really dope. Everyone that was there that day that heard it was like, ‘Yo, this is really, really dope.’ It felt good.”

“We were doing this Leakly Weeks thing, where we were sending out new videos every week, and I needed to do something really quick. So shaved half my head, and wrapped myself in a Snuggie, and told my homie, ‘Let’s do this on the CTA.’ And he was ‘bout it ‘bout it, so we did it. We shot it [on the train], and it was really awkward because I had to mouth every word, but also do the actions, so people were looking at me kind of weird. But it was fun. I like stuff like that. We did it in like twenty minutes. Two train rides back and forth, and we were done with it. We shot it and edited it all that day.”


7. “Project Prog Rock” ft. Quelle Chris

DV: “This is like me meeting up with another cult leader, and the three of us—me, Scud, and Quelle—cooking up some brew. It’s a meeting of mutual minds, and us laying down the blueprint of what we’re gonna do, and what we’re all about. It’s not black magic, it’s the pitch black witchcraft. It’s dirty, and there may be some eyeballs in there, and the fingernails of a wise owl. That’s us getting ‘shroomed and making some dope shit, literally and figuratively.

“This album is fueled by E&J, DMT [Dimethyltryptamine], and a lotta weed. It’s sponsored by all of that. DMT is fucking dope. It’s natural. It’s the shit you secrete when you dream. It’s in a lot of natural things in the world, like grass, and a bunch of shit. It’s a natural substance. When it’s extracted, you get the actual DMT component. When you smoke it, a lot of people see aliens and mother spirits, and it fucks with them. But it not a bad thing, it’s natural. It has a stigma on it, but it’s just like, ‘Why does weed have a stigma on it?’”


8. “Do You Believe”

DV: “This is my character hypnotizing people. He wants to know who’s really down for the cause. His congregation is growing, and this is him putting the deprogram on everybody, and weeding out everybody who’s weak in his eyes and isn’t about his agenda. And he wants to let people know that he’s there to take care of them. What they don’t know is that he’s a little sinister. He’s there to take care of them, and he’s basically saying he’s their father, and they’re his sheep. Like, ‘Don’t worry about anything, just listen to what I have to say.’”

SO: “I was bugging out when this dude recorded that. I recorded the whole album, and when he did that end part on the joint, that’s what really made it my personal favorite on the album. It scared me. [Laughs.] And as far as the beat, that was something that I really wanted to chop up, but Denmark was like, ‘Dude, just let it ride.’ We put the little snaps and claps on it, and it turned out to be a real bold joint.”


9. “HoeininDaGaddaDaVida”

DV: “Scud was looping something up, and the shit was crazy. This was fueled by Hennessy. Scud was playing it, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna write something crazy to this!’ Just because it was so laidback. I was freestyling, and that ‘Hoein in the garden’ [chorus] came across. And, you know, keeping with the whole biblical theme, that’s a very popular story. Everybody and their mama know about Adam and Eve, but they don’t know about Lilith, which is another character that is talked about very little.”

“I didn’t want to get too deep into the creation of man and all that stuff. So I figured I’d keep it light. And there’s always something intriguing about pimps and hoes. It’s very symbolic, and they say [prostitution is] the oldest profession in the world, so I figured everyone can relate.

“And as far as the video, we wanted to make it like a fun, cartoon-type thing. We got the alien in there, and a dog and a monkey. Exile came up with the idea, and he also helped shoot it and direct it. The video is kind of like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The whole album has that feel to me. And the video is like some mushroom shit. Some alternate universe type shit. That’s why it works. It’s cohesive with the album.”

SO: “We shot the video on the side of a hill in L.A., which was much different than the Chicago terrain that we’re used to.”

DV: “It was cold, though. And I damn near didn’t have any clothes on the whole time. But it was fun. It was an awesome time.”

SO: “‘These fools made me wear a snake [in the video]. I was like, ‘Is it poisonous?’ And they were like, ‘No, but if it bites you, you just gotta break its jaw.’ [Laughs.] I never even touched a snake before. Super pause. [Laughs.]”


10. “Thank You Based God”

DV: “The character is a little drunk, and this is him being a little blasphemous. He’s getting a little more power and influence, and it’s kind of reflective. It touches on fanaticism a lot. It says, ‘They claim that they seen Mary in some burrito in Mexico.’ So it’s talking about how the fanaticism of religion can make you see shit that may or may not be there. To the character, it’s ridiculous. He knows what’s going on, so he’s just reflecting on how incredible it is that people believe something so much that they see it. It’s his drunken ramble.”


11. “Attack of the Skrilla Gettas”

DV: “That’s about the charismatics that I speak on. Some of the religious leaders focus on money, and money plays a role in how they celebrate. Like, ‘If God loves you, you’ll be rich.’ But that’s not the case. These people are out to get money, and my character is pressing that on the people that are a part of his congregation. He’s saying, ‘I’m about the money. God wants me to have money.’ It’s kind of a backhand thing, because he’s telling them straight up he wants to rob them and take their money, but it doesn’t come off that way. It’s like a robbery with a smile. And they’re okay with giving him the money that they have, because it’s going towards a ‘greater good.’”

SO: “Our homie Midas came through [on the skit]. We made him get in the booth and preach at the end. [Laughs.]”

DV: “He prayed over the money. At the end, when they’re done in some churches [after the collection plate goes around], all the deacons and the clergymen pray over the money. So it’s a satire of that. It was the first time we did a skit like that. I like that a lot.”


12. “Let the God Eat” ft. Scud One

SO: “I came up on this really dope bass line and drum break that were already together. So I took those, and chopped up the guitars on them. So I had let like four beats go, and I wasn’t sure at that point if we were going to do a whole project, so I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna rap on this.’ It was the one I finally got back. And then Denmark liked it, and I can’t turn this fool down on a track. Anytime this dude wants to do something, you know I’m already down with it. So I sparked it off, and then Denmark laced it with a ridiculous verse and the hook, and it turned out to be a beautiful joint.”

DV: “This is like us strategizing after we get the money. Let us eat now. Not trick the money off, but yeah, we got money now. Let’s go eat some dope ass shit! [Laughs.]”


13. “Ego Trip”

DV: “That’s my favorite song on the album. It’s super dark sounding. And the character is starting to get paranoid. He’s got all this money, and now he’s looking at the people like Scud’s character, like, ‘Oh man, now I can’t trust no one around me.’ But it’s for no reason. So he’s paranoid, and now he’s checking his ego, too. He’s trippin’. He doesn’t know what to do with himself, and it’s the first time he questions what he’s doing. But they’re still spending money and acting like assholes the whole time.”


14. “Dreams”

SO: “’Dreams’ was a joint that we came up with towards the end that we really liked, but we didn’t know if it would fit the way we wanted it to. So we actually almost didn’t even gonna put it on the record. But then, when we sent the record in, it was a joint that Exile was really vibing with, and he executive produced the whole album, so we went back and reevaluated and ended up throwing it on there. It’s a real relaxed type beat, with a snappy snare drum. Just another dope piece of the puzzle.”

DV: “It’s like a deviation. It’s another reflective joint. I would put ‘Dreams’ as another joint like ‘Project Prog Rock.’ It was like a breather for me, [like a pause from the story line]. It was a good song, and that’s the only thing that really matters. It felt good, [and it still fit sonically].”


15. “Deception”

DV: “The character is full-on paranoid at this point, and now he’s voicing his opinion on the people he can trust, and where he’s at. He just got a little too big, and now he’s trying to do some damage control, and reevaluate what his next step is. Does he want to continue to do this, or does he want to rebuild and destroy? He’s very clouded right now, and he’s looking for a life right now. And he also kind of sees that he fucked up.”


16. “Give it Up”

SO: “This came from an outro song to a movie. It felt like The Great Escape, and we felt it was a strong note to end it on. It felt like it was rapping the album up, and it wasn’t too downbeat either, because we had a couple slower joints at the end. So we wanted to end it on a louder note.”

DV: “This is the character saying, ‘I’m done with this.’ It’s played a role of destruction in the character’s life, and he sees it, and he’s repenting, saying, ‘Sorry for corrupting y’all. This is something I thought I wanted to do, [but now] I don’t want to do it. I got too much power. I’m throwing all this away.’ So he walks away, sneaks out the back, and walks off to figure out what his next step is.”


Cult Classic is available on iTunes now. Physical copies can be purchased on the Dirty Science website.

Previously: A Listener’s Guide to My 1st Chemistry Set with Boldy James | A Listener’s Guide to Masterpiece Theatre with Willie the Kid