How have things been going for you since signing with Jermaine Dupri at Island Def Jam?
Grinding. I’m hitting these states and just grinding. I’m getting to know the people and letting the people get to know me.
For those who don’t know, how did you get signed to Island Def Jam?
After Hurricane Katrina, I relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. Where I was out there, I started doing music. I didn’t have anything else to do out there. FEMA was paying for an apartment. I would go out to the clubs and pass time. There was a club that was close to the hotel and I went there and they was doing an open mic night. I got to collab with a couple of new artists. They came through and they showed their talent. I had my producer from New Orleans out there with me. He went out and got my CD from the car. I did my thing on the mic and one of Nitti’s guys, who’s a producer and A&R, took my CD to Nitti and I guess he was bumping my music around JD. He wasn’t trying to get him to sign an act. He was just bumping the music around him and he told JD it was me. I got a meeting and he asked me if I would like to get on Island Def Jam and I told them hell yeah. I’m in it to win it, so why not go to the biggest and best label they got out? It’s the same label that puts out Mariah Carey and Lionel Richie and Janet Jackson. He’s the president and he gave me a shot. I signed the deal.
Were you not taking rapping as seriously before you got signed?
Not really. In a sense, anything I do, I try to take it seriously, but prior to this point, I wasn’t focused on music at all. I did buy all of the equipment. Let me get to how I got started. I got started when one of my partners, who’s still rapping, went to the studio and paid $75 an hour. I thought that was crazy, the price of it. He asked me to spit a couple of bars. I didn’t know how to rap, but I knew how to rhyme. I’m the kind of person who one day I might feel like doing this and one day I might feel like doing that. One day I felt like being a rapper and I bought all of the equipment. It was real expensive to buy all of the equipment to do recordings and to make beats. I told one of my partners to make all of my beats. He didn’t know how to make beats. He was just beating on the shit. We just got better and better at it. I had all of the equipment, but I never went in the studio really. I wasn’t that serious about it. And after the storm, that’s when I got real serious about it because I didn’t have nothing else to do out in Atlanta. I was sitting in a hotel out there.
Do you feel you got lucky signing with Jermaine Dupri or do you think you always had this talent in you?
I always felt like...I don’t believe in luck. I think it was something for me, just the fact that I had the equipment and I never rapped growing up in high school. It’s still shocking to a lot of people. I just left New Orleans and so many people came up to me and they were shocked that I was rapping. I’ve been out here on this tour and they can’t believe I really signed to a major label and that I rapped. A lot of people didn’t know that I rapped and they thought that I was just playing with it. I think it was inevitable though, not to sound cocky. With all of the music that’s out, I just try to do things that are better than other people and you can’t deny quality music. I would go out to open mics and my music would sound better than a lot of people’s and so many great artists have been signed from Atlanta. They’ve really been running the music game for many years, from the Outkast to the crunk music to the snap music to the swag music. I mean, it just don’t stop. What better place than to go to Atlanta? All of this was in the stars because I wouldn’t have rapped if my pops never taught me anything about it and the storm had me going to Atlanta. Everything was in place for me to be here.
You named yourself after one of the most famous Wards of New Orleans. Do you feel any pressure with that name?
Totally. It wasn’t a name that I chose. I do feel that. You’re probably one of the first people to ask me that question. I always feel the pressure from that. I stay on my label and tell them that every time we go to New Orleans, we have to do it right. I tell the people that I didn’t name myself. I put the blame on them. At the end of the day, I’m named after New Orleans and if I don’t do it right, it can backlash on you. If my name was just my regular name, Jamal or something, and I went to New Orleans, people could try and forget him. But to have the name 9th Ward, it’s automatic. It’s like somebody in New York calling themselves “Brooklyn”. He better be in Brooklyn every damn day. He better be representing hard.
One thing about me, I feel like Jordan do. At the end of the game, when there was two minutes or three minutes left in the game and the Bulls might be down with 20 points and people thought the game was over, he was phenomenal. He was phenomenal at the end. He thrived under pressure.
How did you go about putting your debut album I Ain’t Looking Back together?
Over time. We had a five or six month period. I tell everybody that this album here is probably going to be different than most albums out. Not probably, it will be different from most albums out. With this business, it’s hard sometimes to get into the studio as much as you would like because of all of the other things that you have to do as an artist to make money and with all these new up-and-coming artists, they have one song and a lot of labels are not doing the artist development. They get someone hot in their city that’s doing shows and they go and grab them and they rush an album that has 10 songs that sound like their single. With my album, I had five or six months to work on this with no interruptions. I was real busy and I wasn’t doing any interviews. I was in the studio and I had the chance to record 240 fucking songs. I got songs for every upcoming project I got and they’re all good songs.
There was no pressure making this album. The album is me. It’s fun. If I didn’t like something, we took it out and redid it. You got different emotions in the album. You go through so many things in the process of writing the album. I was even staying with my baby mama at one point when I was staying in the projects and I was going back to the hotel and writing in New Orleans and going back to Atlanta and writing more of the album. There are so many different emotions on it. You’re trying to make an album and you’re thinking about the anger that’s on your mind or whatever else is on your mind. We had fun. We had anger. I was pissed off. I’m home. I’m trying to make it. The album is really going to be a classic. To me, I think it’s going to be the best album of ’08. I’ve heard some other artists that’s coming out and I’m not going to throw no names out, but I feel like nothing is going to fuck with this album coming out.
Have you had the freedom to do what you want since signing to Jermaine Dupri and Island Def Jam?
That’s another thing. I give credit to them when it comes to allowing me and giving me the opportunity to show you that I can make this and make songs and stuff. And they did that. Honestly, I mean, this was something that God gave me and JD and Nitti allowed me to go in the studio myself and do songs. Just the other day I was in the studio with me, my engineer and my producer and that was it. I did the song and wrote the hook and I do me. That’s it. When it comes to the music, I’m a newcomer and if people discredit them for anything on this music, I don’t want them to get no flack on it because it was all me. The music won’t get no flack. Everybody’s going to say, “Nah, those boys did the right thing letting him do him and letting me be me.” I feel like an artist that’s been out before and I think that’s how they looked at me. They looked and said, “Man, he got this shit down pat and there’s nothing we need to tell him.” I was able to do all of the songs by myself.
What are your goals for I Ain’t Looking Back?
To be a Grammy award winning album and to go diamond and to do something tremendous and to change the way the music sounds. Music, right now, it’s so similar right now. Everybody wants to come out and be the next person and record labels are going out and getting other artists who sound like other artists. I want to change all of that and for record labels to go back to artist development when they would go get somebody on the street who nobody ever heard of and they just let him go in the studio and use your million dollar studio and just make good music. I want to bring it back to good music and alleviate the same, sad type music. I think everybody should have good, original music. I tip my hat top the Speakerboxx/Love Below album by Outkast because that album went diamond and they just went in the studio and had fun. My album is going to go against all odds. My album will not be a typical rap album that you hear in the streets right now.
Are you happy with how your single “Add Me Up” has been doing?
It’s in its beginning stages right now. Honestly, I’m truly happy for anybody that plays my songs. I will never say anything negative when it comes to how my songs are doing. All my songs, to me, are good and I’m just blessed to be a part of this Island Def Jam/So So Def thing. I’m just blessed and humbled to be a part of this and I’m just real happy. For the most part, I tell people, “Please don’t judge me off of one song.” I listen to people on the internet and they say it sounds like the same old shit, but at the end of the day, they have to hear me out. I’m a new artists and sometimes this is the way we break the ice. The people are used to hearing something, but the album will be totally different. I shocked myself on this album. As soon as you get the album, you’re going to be shocked. “Add Me Up” is just a single off my album. My album is very diverse.
Was Lil’ Wayne wrong for his “Fuck the DJs” statement?
Totally. You can’t say “fuck all DJs.” If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be no us. It used to be DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and others. They were in the front and we were in the background. But I do give credit because Lil’ Wayne did come back another day and he explained the reason why he said it and he explained that the day he said it he said it wrong. I don’t think we took it out of context because he did say it, but the next day he did apologize. He said he didn’t appreciate people stealing his music and we have to all be good businessmen. And with all the downloading and stuff, we don’t need another person in our pockets trying to make money off of us, but there would be no us if it wasn’t for DJs.
What’s the next move for 9th Ward?
The album. The album’s going to come out and I want to win a Grammy. Honestly, I do and I think the album deserves it when looking at all the other rap albums that are coming out. Not to take nothing away from them, but they’re sounding like I expect them to do and I’m coming to change the game. I think I should get a Grammy for this shit after listening to what these other artists are doing. And I want to get into movies. Hopefully I can get me one of them agents that can get me into some movies.