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PHOTO: Joe Putrock

It’s Under Control

After reassessing, Dezmatic has some new priorities to rap about

By Bill Ketzer


Daniel “Dezmatic” Hulbert sits among empty shot glasses and loose change at the Lark Tavern’s aging bar, his broad frame looming above the other 20-somethings like a Russian woodsman in Tokyo’s Roppongi Crossing. As I arrive, a waitress brings him a double Jagermeister that is promptly hoisted into air like a trophy. “I drink,” he says, carefully pinching the glass with elbow out as we step away to find a table. “I’m a drinker. That’s what I do.”

Though he sounds sincere, this statement is somewhat facetious; between recording, touring, juggling two jobs and promoting live shows through local hip-hop collective Pitch Control Music, Hulbert certainly is better known in the Capital Region for doing hip-hop than for his love of powerful spirits.

“I’m still Pitch Control all day,” the Troy native says. “But I had to move away from it to invest in some national exposure for my own career. It’s a simple idea, like we always say, but at one point we had a crew, and now most of them are done. A girl got pregnant, someone’s got a mortgage, someone’s got a drug problem. . . . I can’t babysit everybody. I need to be in charge of me at this point.”

At a Dezmatic show, Hulbert’s words drop in acerbic bursts over the DJ’s beats, shredded from his mouth in ribbons of bold metaphor. But during a one-on-one chat, drinking in dim quarters, discussing his career, his voice becomes more careful—a throaty, articulate tenor. “I started rapping because I couldn’t play guitar, and I wanted to get better at talking to girls,” he admits, disclosing his age only as old enough to drink and fight in Iraq. “When I started writing, I wanted to be a psychologist. Now I’d rather be a carpenter—someone who nails shit together and builds houses and bridges and pyramids and villages. I respect work ethic more than I used to. I put my hands to the plow, because I want to say what I have to say—real loud—before I don’t have the voice to say it anymore.”

Enter downstate producer Chris “Nobs” Reisman, who planned to rap with Hulbert over music provided by Joey Beats of Non-Prophets fame last year. When that project was canceled, Reisman sent Hulbert some of his own beats, and Behemoth was born. Released in May on Westchester County’s Fingerprint Records, the CD (released under the moniker “Dez & Nobs”) impressed Capital Region fans like Mike Dikk from Albany’s Bystander Fanzine and, who calls the album “one of the best hip-hop records, mainstream or underground, that’s come out this year.” Accordingly, Hulbert feels that the heavy-handed material offers something to hip-hop fans on a national and international scale that the genre doesn’t currently provide.

“We created this beast you just can’t fuckin’ deny,” he says, chucking back the double with no discernable ill effect. “People want a villain. Or they want a superhero, so we give them both. We know it’s just two little human beings behind the curtain, but we create a single spectacle and people want to look at that, to find out about all the vulnerabilities and the strengths of that character.”

“I made the beats knowing that Dez’s voice is so powerful,” Reisman later confides in a separate interview. “I’m a huge fan of early-’90s New York hip-hop [and] I just knew that if I came hard on the production side of things, Dez would reciprocate. His delivery is in your face, and I accommodated. . . . I might be the father of the beats, but once Dez gets a hold of them he’s that evil stepfather—and he does hand out beatdowns.”

Hulbert’s subject matter has matured over the past few years; whereas early releases like Thank You, Fuck You were preoccupied with rage, sex and death (“my primary influences,” he concedes), his attention is now captured by failed U.S. foreign and domestic policies, a deliberately vapid media, the ludicrousness of popular culture and the horrors of organized religion, as excerpts from the song “Xenophobia” indicate:

“We raise the toast now drink up from pimp cup for the bible class simulcast, get synched up/Ring up your registers and count your cash drawers/We doin’ record numbers like it’s god’s last tour. . . . There’s a fire in the sky/So stick a needle in your eye/And further perpetuate the lie while the disease is eating you alive/Why?”

“I watch CNN, and it all becomes stream of consciousness,” he explains. “Watch George Bush talk for just one hour and you’ve got an album’s worth of shit. All the way through his first term, all these genres of music were speaking out, but everybody on MTV was still basically rapping about bitches, money, cars and drugs. Hip-hop has lost its hunger, and if you’re not hungry, don’t make music. Or move to Vegas. Mark my words, in our lifetime you will see rappers set up residencies there.”

“Meanwhile, the underground rappers talk shit about the mainstream rapper, and that’s just as bad,” he continues, indicating to the waitress that he’ll be switching to vodka and tonics, thank you. “Nobody wants to say anything real. They have nothing to say, so they talk about people who talk about nothing, so actually they’re more watered-down than mainstream.”

The marketing arms of that mainstream, in Hulbert’s opinion, have created homogenized tastes reflecting all other aspects of living. “There’s no palate anymore,” he says. “Kids only care about themselves and their emptiness, which is why you see all this emo-pop-punk-sad-faced shit. That would be OK if they also listened to Miles Davis, but they’re being funneled, like a cow gets led into a maze to get plunked. They don’t eat mushrooms; they eat Hydrocodone. Their food is processed. All the choices are limited to red or green. Stop or go. Bush or Kerry.”

The rapper recalls his excitement when buying new records as a youth—checking out the artwork, smelling the vinyl, and learning who guest-starred and produced. “But that whole sensory [enhancing] process has been replaced by iTunes,” he says. “Kids text- message each other instead of having real discussions. They don’t want to eat anything but chicken fingers. So, even if you hate my record, I just want you to try it. Try the squid. Don’t like it? Good! Now you know. But maybe next time I’ll prepare it differently and you’ll change your mind.”

It is this attitude that caused him to seek out jazz musicians like Brian Pateneaude for collaborative performances and local visual artist Tommy McGuire for cover art. “I’m a geek for all types of music and art, and we have so much right here,” he emphasizes with arms stretched wide, almost leveling one of the evening’s incoming musicians. “Let’s take advantage of it. Why are we scrappin’ over the same square inch of turf? Why are we eating chicken fingers? Let’s work together, influence each other, hit on all cylinders, let’s experience life . . . not eat it, shit it out and ask for another pellet.”

Nonetheless, Dezmatic craves success—to make music for a living—a goal not too far removed from that of the MTV poop de jour, with one exception: He wants it on his terms, which is why Fingerprint plays such a pivotal role in his career. “The Fingerprint ideology is similar to that of Pitch Control,” he explains. “They’re just friends helping friends, and I believe in them. At the same time, through them our stuff is available on Amazon, CD Universe and everywhere at retail. They have different resources than Pitch Control.”

Indeed, with the label’s help, Behemoth enjoys a strong U.S. presence courtesy of Redeye Distribution (Public Enemy, the Alarm, Little Feat) and some Japanese exposure as well. With a new album due in 2007 and an eye toward better overseas exposure, Dez and Nobs recently secured the management services of Timmy Grins, creator of the online hip-hop program Grins has connections to New York City label Definitive Jux, which can access European markets. Until that master plan materializes, fans can download a new, online-only Dezmatic album, Plays Well With Others, for free on his Web site.

“It’s my way of saying thanks to everyone who ever supported me,” says Hulbert. “This round is on me. Here’s to success, not just in relative terms, but at a broad, measurable level everyone can respect. I want all of it, New York City, Sweden, Japan, Australia, Germany. . . . Because I feel like it’s going to happen any day.”

And if it doesn’t?

“I drink,” he says with an infectious laugh. “But seriously, ask my friend Shyste, the best rapper in Albany. He’ll show you his arms. His tattoo says, “My life is my sacrifice.” To me it means, ‘What you love will cost you,’ and that’s the truth. There were times I could have bailed because I loved someone or something more than music, but now music is the most important thing. Not because it’s going to yield financial success. I love it. I don’t need to explain it.”

There are a ridiculous number of Web sites online to learn more about Dezmatic, Nobs, Fingerprint Records and its growing stable of artists, including www.dezmat, www.fingerprint, and www.myspace .com/dezandnobsrule. Behemoth is available at FYE, Borders and most other music retail outlets.


Got Rough Mix items? Contact Kathryn Lurie at or 463-2500 ext. 143.

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