Prolific Philly Hip-Hop collective Wrecking Crew are by no means new to the business of rap. The tightly knit group of friends, composed of MC’s Zilla Rocca, Curly Castro, and PremRock, as well as producer Small Professor, has been at it for well over a decade. They are indie veterans and have the catalog to prove it.

Not only do they come together to put out albums as Wrecking Crew (a la Hieroglyphics) they have a complex set of interpersonal relationships that form smaller groups within the collective — Career Crooks (Zilla and Small Pro), ShrapKnel (PremRock and Curly Castro), Grift Company (Curly and Zilla) just to name a few — and then there are the numerous solo projects, side projects, and features that are constantly in a state of creation. For them, rap isn’t a hustle, it’s a way of life, and a labor of love.

While COVID has sidelined a great many musicians (major label and indie alike), their bonds have only grown stronger. Unlike far too many of their peers, Wrecking Crew has thrived during the pandemic. The lack of touring and in-person events did little to slow down their momentum as they released an increasingly popular number of hip-hop albums that appeal to purists and adventure seekers alike.
Now, they’ve come together to release the group effort Sedale Threat, which just dropped on July 11th. I sat down with all four of them to talk about what makes them tick, the keys to their success, and the inspiration behind their most recent release.

Matthew Shaver: Over the last couple years, a lot of indie artists have been brought to the brink, but all of you, as individual artists and a group, have grown exponentially and released a lot of new work. You’re not going backwards, you are traveling forwards at a rapid rate. Fans and other artists want to know – what’s the secret sauce?

Small Pro: I don’t know who said it, but “steel sharpens steel.” That’s Castro. That’s a Castro phrase.

PremRock: That’s definitely a Castro phrase. I think being around each other, you can’t slack. Just watching people you know, that you’re close with, in the same collective, continuously churn out work that has a very, very high standard makes you want to hold up your end of the bargain and push harder. Everyone…all of us are prolific. We’re making stuff. When we’re making an album, we’re making an album, then another album and I don’t think that the quality ever suffers for it. We all just kind of picked each other up. Going through whatever it was.

MS: When the shutdown happened, was your first thought “we need to change trajectory,” or were you already on the path you’re on now?

PR: ShrapKnel [PremRock & Curly Castro] had our first two shows with Quelle Chris and Billy Woods, which were the Hiding Places and Guns release show. That felt historical, you know what I mean? Then we played the Johnny Brendas show with Moor Mother and Armand Hammer and clearly the trajectory was to do lots of shows. Potentially Europe, definitely Canada, all these different things.
You know, we were very excited, we know we didn’t know what to expect.

I still had the ShrapKnel release show in Brooklyn on the books for a while, because we didn’t know, you know, even when the shutdown happened, we thought maybe we’d be back up and running in, in a month or so. And then we realized it was absolutely not coming back anytime. And ShrapKnel came out March 13th of 2020.

MS: That was basically THE day.

PR: I mean, that was when everything happened. quite literally the day.

CC: So we thought it would be like a detriment, cause we had really planned to tour the record. And so we just had to figure it out. We learned, you know, on the fly about people having time with the record, having time with all of our material and taking that time and using it valuably. Everybody was scrambling, nobody knew what was going on. Then D-Nice popped off, Verzuz popped off, and so it was just people figuring out how to shelter in place. And that really helped our record.

I’m not saying that our record would’ve been unsuccessful if wasn’t any pandemic or anything like that, but it definitely helped give people time with the record. It allowed fans to have more time with the record, it made things a little less disposable. Cause people are still checking things out a year past. I was listening to an Elucid interview the other day, and he was like Haram dropped a whole year ago and they’re pretty much just now touring that record. It’s just showing your fans have a more…they’re just expanding their palette in terms like how long they’re allowing things to sit and be appreciated. So that happened to us. We thought it was gonna be a disaster. It was actually a blessing.

MS: You bring up a good point. With the shows canceled people have more time to sit with the records. Do you feel that, based on your interactions with fans throughout the last couple years, they’re getting more familiar with your music?

CC: They are. People will quote lyrics to you. I think you’ll get more people quoting lyrics than asking you what’s going on with the record, or what it means as opposed to asking you what’s next. A good friend of ours, Fatboi Sharif, he’s still pushing his record from like, what is that now? A year and a half ago, two years, probably two years now. And he’s just showing the value of the work

PR: Yeah. And he puts out other other stuff. In the meantime, doesn’t forget about the past record.

CC: The disposable arts, to take a phrase from Master Ace. I think people have parked that and they’ve learned to appreciate things over a longer period of time.

MS: Are you really looking forward to get back out there? Is that something that’s on the roadmap for soon, or, are you gonna kind of gauge the environment first a little bit more?

PR: I went out on a tour recently. It felt pretty good. It was definitely strange at first to kind of get back into it, you know? Once Castro’s fully able, we do plan on doing some stuff for the next ShrapKnel record and play it by ear. Unfortunately COVID is something that’s gonna be here for, god, who knows how long. It’s not something that you can avoid at this point anymore. That being said, you don’t wanna be the reason that anyone is getting COVID or gathering to spread it or whatever. So you gotta be careful with that. Different states and cities have totally different like outlooks on it.

CC: Smaller touring parties. Like the last one we did was just three of us.
PR: For sure.

Small Professor | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN

MS: Let throw out some stats. I think in the last two years you’ve released roughly 12 albums between all of you, all your group efforts, uh Small Professor your beat tapes alone…

PR: Probably like a dozen. Yeah. We gotta give him his flowers over here.

MS: Small Professor has had the most prolific output during this time.

SP: I just had it naturally, you know, that’s what I do. I just had more time to be in the house and make beats all day.

MS: That’s a lot of work over 2 years. You definitely took advantage of the time off. You’ve all got pro numbers coming up here. Are you worried that when you get back out, the world opens up, and other responsibilities come in that you’re gonna be able to maintain that momentum?

ZR: I think it’s been ill to think about. I know what it feels like to always be on. I feel like we’ve all been in a state of like constant creation, but I know what that feels like to not be in that space. When you’re in it, you’re like, “damn, like I gotta do another verse for this dude” or “I gotta finish this album” or whatever, whatever. 

But I know what it feels like when you’re not working and it’s like, “can I rap good still? Can I make a beat good. I don’t know.” When we were making Sedale, that was probably like fall of 2020. In the middle of that you guys [Prem and Castro] just started ShrapKnel and we [Zilla and Small Pro] were putting a finishing touch on Career Crooks. I was finishing up Vegas Vic. So we’ve just been going the whole time. There’s no “oh, I haven’t rapped in five months. I haven’t made it beat in seven months.”

MS: That’s a good segue into the new album Sedale Threat. Who came up with the name on that?

ZR: This man, this is a Curly Castro production.

SP: That’s a curly Castro original.

ZR: Like a Spike Lee joint. It’s a Curly Castro joint. That’s all him. His fingerprints are all over.

Curly Castro | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN

MS: Any comment on the inspiration?

CC: Sedale Threatt. It’s interesting. He was like the man after Magic Johnson. I get fascinated with some basketball players that step up after a superstar. When Jordan stepped out, there was this cat named Pete Myers, nobody remembers he was the starting shooting guard. And so sometimes it’s not direct, you’re not like the understudy to Bette Midler per say, but it’s interesting to see Pat Miller play. You know what I’m saying?

It’s interesting to see how the crowd deals with you. Like, you know, they want Magic back but Sedale was the staring point guard and he was one of the illest people going left shooting jump. He was still accomplished in his own right. So what do you do? You know, you still gotta play the world still spins. So, I felt like if there was a vacuum left by anybody or anybody that retired, we stepped up and we just took that place. Like, no problem, you know what I’m saying? Next man, up. And so the way we support each other is like next man up too.

PR: It’s also just a great name to have as a person, as a player. You know?

MS: If you’re a casual fan, you might not get it. You love a name that’s a deep dig. That needs some research.

ZR: Yeah. Well, I feel like we’ve been, we’ve been really incredible, like, no, one’s gonna do better basketball references than us. And me personally, I’m trying to get back into the baseball references. Me and Defcee were texting about that. We gotta do baseball. I got a Mike Trout reference. I got a Hal Morris reference. Kevin Seitzer’s on the new album.

PR: Doc Ellis gets a shout out on Sedale.

ZR: A lot of Doc Ellis. Taking it to that space too. On some early Action Bronson shit. I just think it’s like so dope, cause it’s like half of our listeners don’t follow fucking sports, and they’re in different countries, in different cities. So I’ve always wondered like what their experience is, cause they’re fucking with us but they don’t know like 40% of what we’re saying.

PR: I wouldn’t say complaint but it’s certainly a hurdle they gotta go through. So shout outs to you guys.

SP: It’s a hurdle for some people, but some people like the element of exploration and finding out. What’s the reason behind the title? I know I do for any lyrics or song titles I don’t know the source of. I have to go look it up. That’s what got me into MF DOOM and these guys, and Woods, and, you know, guys like that.

ZR: Woods says shit and I’ll be like, I graduated college, but I really, I didn’t graduate college. It’ll be like high literature and like African leaders, I don’t know. Or Countries I have no idea where they are. Then seven years go by and I’m reading an article and I’m like “oh, Billy Woods said that.”

I remember the first time I went to Brooklyn, it was like 2005. I was at a producer conference and I got lost. This is like pre-smartphones, so I had Mapquest directions to get through this hotel and I got lost as shit. I’m driving around midnight in my ex-girlfriend’s Mitsubishi Lancer, like “Oh shit! Smif-n-Wessun shouted that block out.” I saw Bull Park and I’m like “Mos Def talked about that park.” I don’t think I’m near the hotel but this is cool to be in a world that rappers have taught me. So maybe we’re doing that, you know, for the next year.

MS: What’s the Philly landmark that you want someone to drive by and say, “Oh shit, Zilla Rapped about that.”

ZR: South Philly. Anywhere in South Philly, everything.

Zilla Rocca | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN

MS: When you got together to create the album did you have a tried and true approach that you use as a group? Did you wing it, making it up as you go along?

CC: I mean, we had a little bit more than a blueprint. We knew what we was gonna do. The main thing was just all of us working on something together as opposed to little offshoots and different misfit combinations we had within the crew. We just wanted to do something with all four of us. It was pretty planned ahead of time in terms of like set it out as a goal to do it. As far as like the aesthetic and the concepts and stuff like that, that came within the creative process.

With COVID there’s a little bit more remote creating, people sending things to each other over a distance, nobody’s really in the studio with each other that much anymore. There’s just a little bit more digital communication and check-ins. We all help with the mixing in terms of notes and mastering and stuff like that. So we’re all tied in. We didn’t delegate anything. Everybody was together. Every level, you know what I’m saying? From getting the features to manufacturing, and mixing, mastering, like I said before. So it was, it was concentrated effort, but we definitely had plans to do a record. It wasn’t just happenstance.

MS: Speaking of features – on the second single Piranha Hands, you got Bruiser Wolf on the track. How much fun is he?

PR: Amazing salute to Bruiser. That [Dope Game Stupid] dropped in pandemic too, right? I used to walk to work. That’s about 40 blocks from my job. It’s a nice 45 minute walk if weather permits. So, I like to put a record on, I found myself playing that record, like a lot straight, like front to back. Hilarious, great delivery, beats are cool. By all accounts, a really cool person by like everyone I’ve spoken to. It seems like he’s just really excited to be putting out music the way he is.

You know how sometimes it feels good to put money in certain people’s hands? Certain businesses you like to support? I felt that way about Denmark. Denmark Vessey when I got beats from him, I’m like “this feels good to give this guy some money for some production and we’re gonna make some music.” I think we all agreed. It felt good to pay him and get, and get, get him on the record.

ZR: He’s that type of dude where I might post a picture of my son throwing a baseball and Bruiser would “like” that. Then when we dropped a single, he was sharing it, being like Wrecking Crew and all that. It was dope because he’s a guy that blew up later in life where he didn’t have the stain of “I was in the industry and I was getting an $80,000 advance. Why would I do a verse for you? Why would I promote this?”

PR: He doesn’t quote you something crazy that he knows you can’t reach.

ZR: He didn’t have a “base of expectations are up here and anything below that fuck off.” He was just like “okay.” Since then I’ve gone back to him for other people that want to work with more people on Bruiser Brigade. It’s bringing value to the table. You guys are moving, we want to work, let’s do something, and then he’s sharing and retweeting it, which is really fucking cool.

PR: He doesn’t have to do that.

ZR: Most people don’t.

PremRock | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN

MS: In the last decade there’s been a lot more people starting, and taking off, a little bit later, in their mid-30’s or later. KA, when people really started to know his name, was around his early 40’s. Is that where your fan base is at as well, or do you seem to be attracting a younger fanbase?

PR: I think both, but the older people tend to spend more money. So those are the financial supporters, which is what we need.

CC: But the younger people come out to the shows.

PR: It’s important to have like a 23, 22 year old comes to the show, who buys something, puts you on the Spotify playlist that all his friends listen to. That’s kind of equally important in some ways. A lot of people have kids and they don’t wanna go to a show or they can’t go to a show. They can’t make it like they used to and buy the t-shirt.

ZR: All of us we’re freaks. You know what I mean? Like, we’re music freaks, or sport freaks, or sneaker freaks, hat freaks. So we’ve been collectors our whole life – records, CDs, tapes, sneakers, all that shit.
But I feel like during COVID other people, and we saw it with our merch, they became collectors in general. Cause it’s like when you could stream every Disney movie ever, every fucking Peacock show, Paramount Plus. You don’t own shit. When you could own an Armand Hammer vinyl collection or Wrecking Crew collection, people now own our shit and take pictures, you know what I mean?
Separately, individually, all of our shit. Me and Castro have been comic book collectors for 30 years and we would, collect all the new X-Men books and all that. I feel like COVID gave people a chance to be like, “Yo! I can just sit here and watch Netflix all day and Stranger Things, but I don’t own stranger things. But I can own PremRocks catalog. I can own Small Pro’s catalog. I could own Castro’s catalog. It’s MY shit.” So we’ve done well. People, adults going back into collecting.

PR: It’s actually cool now to own vinyl. I work at a bar, so obviously I meet people from 21 up a lot of younger people, and the number one vinyl store in America’s Urban Outfitters.

SP: I was about to say urban Outfitters.

PR: These kids are buying vinyl. They place a premium on something that isn’t also in Urban Outfitters. There’s punk bleed over, there’s hardcore bleed over, and those people have always been collecting everything. I’m really flattered when I see like straight up punk kid, or like a kid in a Cradle of Filth shirt at my show. That just happened. Cradle of Filth, that I’m like “I don’t know the first thing about Cradle of Filth.” And he is like “you guys kick ass, I love your shit.” He’s like, “yeah, I love Hip-Hop. I like real Hip-Hop with real energy and emotion.”

MS: I think there’s a lot more crossover these days. You’ll see the number one Hip-Hop critic on Twitter might say their favorite album the year is this metal album.

PR: There’s that guy Lars, shout out to him, that does Viking’s Choice on NPR. He’s put some stuff on before and that dude is like a, I guess, a metalhead by nature, but his NPR playlist is insanely diverse and Hip-Hop and all that.

MS: Speaking of collectors, Small Pro, what did you pull from your catalog for this album? What was your artistic inspiration for this next record?

SP: So for this, I was really trying to find beats that everybody sounds great on. I’m always inspired by RZA in that regard because he makes beats that eight guys sound great on at the same time. He made it seem easy. That’s very hard to do. Making posse cut beats is very difficult to do so. Something I want to get better at and it’s something that, when we got together for this album, that was just my focus. Like the joint with Casual. That’s a posse cut beat, you know what I mean? I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I heard, I was like, “Oh! this makes sense.” This is a beat that, if you put it on, people are gonna start rapping.

MS: Zilla said your beats are “moody, but punchy.”

PR: So is he as a person. [group laughs]

MS: Were you going for a particular mood on this?

SP: Just something hard, you know, that was it,.

ZR: The good thing is that Smalls… I think you have like three or four beats, but Smalls has like the, the biggest meat on the bone. So he has a Casual joint, the Thirstin joint, some interludes. And then we all, like, shouts to Dropbox, Dropbox is an executive producer in this shit because all four of us know so many producers, and I make beats, Prem can make a fire ass beat. Castro was like “Yo, I know this cat Algernon Cornelius. He broke me off a bunch of beats and we were like, “Oh shit! I’ll rap on that.” Then it’s like Fresh Kils, Prems mans, was like “yo, I got something.” Then this cat Locust who works a lot with us. Everyone was just throwing shit in the ring like in Dropbox and we would pick. 

Smalls was cool enough to be like, “yo, these beats are…” Smalls wasn’t wasn’t like RZA.

PR: Rza would not let that side.

ZR: RZA is not letting Fourth Disciple and True Master on 36 [Chambers]. But by the time we get the Wu Tang Forever… You get those dudes with the credits. So, I feel like all of us sharing the resources and throwing them in the pot and Small’s being cool with that, not being like “No goddammit. It’s gotta be a Small Pro Wrecking Crew record.

SP: Yeah, that’s coming though.

PR: Word. I’m ready.

Wrecking Crew | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN

MS: People like to label everything these days and they like to label your music as “throwback rap.” How much of what you’re doing now is reverence for the past versus thinking about your future?

ZR: I mean, they ain’t heard the new ShrapKnel. I’ll say that. That shit is not the past.

CC: People, you know, to try to understand things they wanna label it to make it easier to digest. We are throwback in the sense that we’re just Boom Bap purists, for lack of a better term, in terms of like that’s where our DNA is. That’s where our bones are. You know what I’m saying? We’re well versed in Hip-Hop history. So, when you hear our stuff, you’re gonna hear ’85 drum breaks. You’re gonna hear NWA samples. You’re gonna hear Manny Fresh influences. That’s what I’m saying. So like throwback only in all of those people have led us to this point. You’re gonna hear that stuff influencing us one way or another. And we just like banging drums.

SP: Drums are coming back

ZR: I know! Actual kick drum is a throwback. Not an 808.

PR: Drums never left, really

MS: You do consulting as well on the side, right?

ZR: Me and Castro do.

MS: I’ll just close it out a little bit of wisdom. You have released a lot of albums over the last couple years, but you also have longevity. People are talking about you and you’re not slowing down. They’re continuing to talk about you. They’re not just sticking with the new work, but going back and discovering old albums. If you had to look at the musicians who are just now trying to make that move and take it seriously – what is your key to longevity?

CC: Key to longevity. [group laugh]

ZR: You gotta pay me and Castro.

MS: What’s the 30 day free trial advice?

PR: I’ll I’ll give some free game. That’s a nominal fee for them. First of all, I think if you don’t love it, that’s a non-starter. If you don’t love it, it’s like you’re in for a brutal kind of… like however long you choose to do it for without really loving it, you’re not gonna make it. The amount of money I’ve seen people dump into this. It’s a billion dollar industry to sell dreams to people who don’t have the actual talent to make it and that’s never gonna slow down. That’s recession proof. Someone’s gonna be like, “cool, I’ll get you on the playlist.” 30,000 plays, 30,000 people like me, 30,000 people follow me like Madison, you know…

ZR: But at the show two motherfuckers show up
PR: Two people might show if you’re lucky. You’re lucky two people are gonna come to that show.

 You’re breaking even at best. If you don’t love it, I think it’s just like a money pit. It it’s a dead end. If you do love it and you do have the skills, you have to just continuously challenge yourself, and surround yourself with people who think the same way, surround yourself with people who work.

The day of kind of being like an isolated loner is fine, but that’s still gonna be a little more rare. There’s a lot more strength in numbers, sums a lot greater than the parts, and don’t be an asshole. Just don’t be an asshole. It’s like life. If the pandemic taught us anything. Life is short. It doesn’t take much to develop some sort of interpersonal skills and give a shit about somebody’s time and their output and art.

MS: You seem to have cultivated a very positive fan base that spends more time promoting your music than talking about the music they don’t like.

PR: That’s a good observation. Feels good. And then people used to be like “I like your stuff. It’s way better than that shit at mumble wrap shit.” 

I’m like, dude, what does that do for us? We don’t care about that. We don’t want to detract from Lil Uzi Vert or whatever.

ZR: I love Moneybag Yo. Key Glock.

SP: I love when people do that. Cause I’m like “actually, their second album is pretty good.”

PR: I used to be kind of like that when I was 15 and then I read interviews with EL-P and he’s like, “oh, I actually really fuck with Gucci Mane.”

CC: Bottom line, though, be consistent with your blade. If you love this Hip-Hop and this is what you wanna do, be consistent with your blade, always try to be better. Get with artists that are better than you. That’ll always help you increase your output. They’ll increase your skill level, increase how you figure this thing out. You know what I’m saying? And it’s a learning curve. Nobody learns how to do this in a day. And don’t let anything on the internet fool you about overnight successes or a Tik Tok song going viral and stuff, you know, be consistent with your blade.

Sedale Threat is out now on digital and streaming platforms, as well as physical copies that can be purchased direct from the artists on Bandcamp.