Havoc became a rap icon as one half of Mobb Deep, the beloved rapper-producer duo. The legendary producer knows the ins and outs of collaborating on a project with an MC, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he sent Philadelphia rapper Dark Lo a beat (with a special flourish: a verse from himself). That track was “Mob Tales,” which ended up setting the tone for the three-week recording process of their collaborative album Extreme Measures, released today.
Havoc’s famously gritty production spans from the soulfulness of the title track with Styles P to the sinister synths of the aptly-named “Captivating.” He crafted a cohesive soundscape for himself and Lo, a cult favorite who all fans of gritty street tales should get familiar with. The OBH artist and longtime friend of Ar-Ab has a knack for dishing non-sequitur observations and unfiltered anecdotes that weave into overarching, unfiltered portraits of the Philly streets.
Lo has had a prolific year, with Extreme Measures being his third full-length release of 2021. But unfortunately, as he tells Complex, that work ethic stems from an impending seven-year prison sentence. In August, he was sentenced for allegedly threatening a witness in OBH’s federal drug conspiracy case. The judge allowed him to stay on house arrest until starting his sentence, which let him get his affairs in order and cook up some music to hold his fans over while he’s away.
We spoke with Dark Lo and Havoc about Lo’s love for Mobb Deep, the legal system’s weaponization of rap lyrics against artists, Havoc’s future plans and willingness to do a Mobb Deep Verzuz, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
After getting the first track, how long did it take to knock out the project?
Dark Lo: Man, the project probably took two weeks. Actually, I’d say three weeks, just to be fair. When I record, I record three or four songs at a time. So yeah, it took a couple of weeks. The beats were fire. The shit he was sending was different. I think almost every beat he sent, I used. There’s probably one or two I put to the side, but the rest of them were just like, “Yo, let’s get to it.”
There are two features on the album that I wanted to talk about, the first being “Extreme Measures” with Styles P. How did that come together?
Dark Lo: Me and Styles was doing some work, and that was one of the songs we did, but I’m like, “Nah, we’re going to send this joint to Hav, and we’re going to put the vocals on a Hav beat.” That’s how that came about. We sent the vocals to Hav, and he made sure everything was right and it sounded perfect.
So that was going to be on another one of your projects?
Dark Lo: Nah, that was just some shit that me and Styles was doing. We were just fucking with some shit. I don’t even know what I was going to do with it, actually. But when I hit Styles like, “Listen, I’m doing a project with Hav, we’re going to move this joint over to Hav’s album,” he was all with it, and everybody was all in. It blended real perfectly with the album.
How did “Make it Home” with Vado come about?
Dark Lo: Again, that’s my guy. I just told him, “Listen, I need you on this track.” It was as easy as that. He sent the shit back the next day, so that wasn’t really about nothing. These are guys that I talk to here and there, Styles and Vado, so that wasn’t really about nothing. They were glad to be a part of the project. It was only a phone call.
You talked about recording several tracks a day. What’s the recording process like for you as a prolific artist who has multiple projects going on at once?
Dark Lo: Nah, I’m just grateful. If you’re an up-and-coming artist, you can’t just be in the studio. I write mine on the spot. I got a studio in the house, so I can lock in and do five songs and be in the studio all night. But if you’re an up-and-coming artist, nine times out of 10, you probably can’t do that. You have to pre-write your shit, get in there, and get out. But personally, I write right there on the spot. If I’m in an outside studio, I’ve got everything pre-written, so I’m going in and out. I don’t got the luxury to just be in there for 12 hours. They want, like, $100 an hour in the studio, so I got a studio in my crib so I can do that shit all night if I want.
“My creative process and my organizing process are on point right now. My brain is sharp right now. It’s kind of sharper than it’s ever been, actually.” – Dark Lo
Do you work on multiple projects at once, or do you just lock in on one at a time?
Dark Lo: No, I definitely work on multiple projects at once. That’s just how my brain works. I can multitask. I’m locked in with Hav, I’m locked in with Daringer, I’m locked in with these producers. I can multitask, man.
This is your last project before you start your sentence. What’s your mindset right now?
Dark Lo: My mindset is perfectly clear. I’m free, my mind is not locked down. They got my body, but my mind is going to be free, and it’s definitely not the last project. I got a whole bunch of projects coming out when I’m gone away for a little bit. So I’m always strong. I’m 10 toes. Whatever they gon’ do to me, they gon’ do. Whatever gon’ happen, gon’ happen.
I know you’ve been putting out work all year. How has the music process been for you, knowing that you have a hard deadline to work with?
Dark Lo: It helps my creative process, because I know that when I’m gone, it’s not like I’m going to be here and split something up at the last minute, or do this or do that, so everything has to be perfect. My creative process and my organizing process are on point right now. My brain is sharp right now. It’s kind of sharper than it’s ever been, actually.
What do you attribute that to?
Dark Lo: Just like you said, I have to go in. I have a time I got to go in, so it ain’t time right now to just be going crazy thinking about things that you don’t have any control over. Right now, my brain is on go. My brain is so straight and clear right now. While I’m out here, I have to get my affairs in order, so that’s exactly what I mean when I say my brain is straight right now. I’m not getting side-tracked or stressing about what’s going on. Like I said, whatever gon’ happen is gon’ happen, so let the cards fall.
Do you feel like you’re on track to hit all your musical goals before going in?
Dark Lo: I’ve definitely got some music coming out, but there are some other things that I wanted to do, but I got enough music to hold the streets down. The other things that I did want to do, I’mma come home and do it. I’m on house arrest also, so I can’t really move around like that. It kind of be messing up my moves that I want to make. Being that I’m on house arrest, I can’t really go here or go there, so that’s kind of holding me back a little bit, but I’ve got enough music that I’m satisfied with. It could have been more, but I’ve got enough that I’m satisfied with, and the people that I work with are satisfied with.
I saw on your Instagram that you have something else with V Don coming out. Can you speak on some other projects that will be coming down the pipeline?
Dark Lo: Me and V Don got, like, two projects that’s going to be coming. Me and Daringer got a project that’s coming. Then I got three projects with all different types of producers that’s coming, so it’s going to be like I’m not even gone. It’s going to be like I’m still here.
Do you have an idea what you want the release schedule to look like?
Dark Lo: Nah, I don’t have a release schedule for it, but it’s in the hands of some people musically that I trust. I know they’re going to do the right thing with it.
I read that the prosecutor referenced your “Allegations” song as evidence. Can you speak to the unfairness of the legal system stripping artists of their artistic license and criminalizing rap?
Dark Lo: That’s just what they do right now. They do what the fuck they want, man. They’re referencing a song, and I was just saying who ratted on my man, and I got locked up for witness intimidation. They said, “Oh, he’s talking about whoever the rat is,” and they just brought that up. That shit is bogus anyway. The judge really wasn’t feeling that. He knew that was just rap. He wasn’t really feeling that, but you know the DA [District Attorney] is going to try and do whatever to paint a picture. They wanted to make examples of us anyway, so that’s how that went down. They gave me seven and a half. I was just looking at the news the other day, and this pedophile got two years probation. That shit don’t add up.
Dark Lo: We ain’t going to cry over spilled milk though.
I know that you’ve had health battles in the past. What have you and your team discussed with the system about getting healthcare and humane treatment while you’re inside?
Dark Lo: They don’t really give a fuck about nobody in jail. You can try, but they don’t care about that. I got COVID when I was in there. I came out, went to court, came back in, and kept in the block where everybody got COVID. I didn’t have COVID, but they still put me in there because I went out the jail. Now I get on the block, and I get COVID. I didn’t get two weeks or nothing. They weren’t doing nothing at all. I had to call my lawyer like, “Yo, man, tell these motherfuckers I’m getting ready to die here.” I couldn’t die in there. Dudes banging on the glass tellin’ them to come get me, too, so they finally took me to the hospital, and that’s how I came home, on compassionate release. Judge said, “We going to send him home until the case is over,” that’s why I have to turn myself back in now.
Also, it’s like the CO [Correctional Officer], I talked to him, and he was like, “I don’t want to come near y’all. I don’t want to catch that shit.” So the CO is really not coming to the quarantine block like that. They might bring the food, and that’s it. They trying to get off that block. They not trying to catch that COVID shit, so that’s another thing. I don’t know man, it’s just weird.