There are everyday setbacks, and then there are potentially devastating problems. When The Pirate Signal lost the masters to OneAlone—an album it spent four years working on—to a disgruntled former member, it was certainly the latter. Or maybe not: The ordeal forced the Denver hip-hop duo, MC Yonnas Abraham and DJ A-What, to tear into its newest effort, No Weak Heart Shall Prosper, with a newfound sense of urgency. And with the long-awaited release finally scheduled for this Saturday at the Marquis Theater, things are seriously looking up for the band—seemingly for the first time in five years.
The A.V. Club: What was it like to realize that OneAlone wasn’t going to be released after you worked on it for so long?
Yonnas Abraham: It was an apocalypse of sorts. It was the end of the fucking world. To me, the [new] album has a real strong post-apocalyptic thing, and the title No Weak Heart Shall Prosper is what we had to keep telling ourselves. It felt like we were cut off at the knees, especially right when I got the news that this dude was not going to give us our album without litigation. For five, maybe 10 minutes, I was really broken up, literally on my knees in the middle of my bedroom, thinking to myself, “What can I do? The world is over!” Almost instantaneously though, my eyes brightened because [then that meant] we were working on a new album. Working on any project for four years can become an albatross. I felt free at that point. I think it shifted the paradigm entirely for us.
AVC: Sometimes in live performances the lyrics get lost, but they’re much more prominent on this album.
YA: I’m very excited about that. This whole album is just mixed and mastered in such a way that the lyrics are really audible. I’ve always been more of a producer than an MC, in the fact that I was always much more concerned about the final product. I was always the one burying the lyrics because I felt like the lyrics were just a piece of it. Contextually in rap music, people got to hear the lyrics!
AVC: Do you think you approach songwriting and performing differently because you’re primarily a producer?
YA: Probably. I’ve never been a traditional musician. I’ve never played an instrument. I’ve never been in a band, per se. I’ve never had to compromise artistically with anybody with what it is that I want to do. I was never portioning parts of the music to be played by other people. I do have band envy, a group of guys hanging around all playing their songs. It’s all chummy and they’re a band of brothers. Maybe they have some blood-brother scars. I get the idea that they’re a little gang. I wonder what that kind of relationship would be like, but I’m such a very… [pauses] there are a lot of words you could use. Ultimately, I’d say controlling. I don’t know if I could work in that [band] context.
YA: There are at lot of signs that point to yes, and there are a lot of signs that point to no. Since last we put out an EP, a lot of things are different now. At that time, The Fray was very successful. I think 3OH!3 was pretty successful, but I think it was before Flobots became successful. The thing about it is, as much as I have a tremendous amount of respect for those guys and really love and are proud of what they’re doing, their success doesn’t really mean that we’ll be successful. We’re doing a different kind of thing.