I just wrapped up a mixtape with DJ Absolut called Niggaz 4 Life and we are getting ready to surface that August 5. That’s my focus right now and that wrapped up about two weeks ago. Now I’m back in the studio working on a soundtrack for this movie I’m getting ready to shoot called Silent War.
You are releasing a new mixtape Niggaz 4 Life. What made you want to put this mixtape together?
The reason it came into existence was, me doing the promo tour for Undeniable and I got so many questions about me to Nas. And I’m like, if Nas always do him I’m going to always do me and that’s my brother no matter what, regardless of whom or what or whatever we go through. No matter how we vibe, whether business or personal, that’s still my boy. With this album I got so many requests for Nas and I to do an album and I know that kind of sort has never really come to existence. I just said to myself, “you know what, I’m going to do my own form, you know he droppin’ the Nigger album so I’m going to drop the Niggaz 4 Life”. Then maybe that’s giving the fans what they want, you know we burnin’ the candle from both ends. I didn’t really hear the full way through his new mixtape. I didn’t know which angle he was attacking from so I just attacked this mixtape from my angle. My nigga is N-I-G-G-A, which means Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished.
What made you decide to do this mixtape after releasing an LP just three months ago?
Me being independent, I’m my own boss. After Undeniable was out, the video’s been done, the promo tour has been done, I still have time to go in the studio when I’m not doing these things. I stay in the studio now. That’s my new regimen. I’ve been recording and recording with Absolut. He loved Undeniable and he said, “Let’s do something together.” He actually said, “Let’s put a mixtape together,” and I was like, ‘Listen, even in my career right now a mixtape has to be big. Whatever I do I just want to make sure it reaches the masses and how I want people to perceive it.’ And then he was like, “Okay, well, let’s do this together and get it out there.’ He wrapped the mixtape up in two, three weeks and it’s all brand new material. Brand new lyrics, brand new beats, even though it’s a mixtape. It’s music that him and his producer Fredo put together. It’s original material.
What was your mindset while doing this project and what do you feel the tape represents?
Niggaz 4 Life is me being a nigga and being from the streets, I have a little history. There is a new generation with hip-hop just overall. I always drop jewels in my poetry so I wanted to bring some awareness to the table. I didn’t want to just be Preacher Earl, I more or less just wanted to educate and entertain at the same time and that’s what I wanted to do. Getting points across and give a little history lesson even though right now in this day in time is important. It’s not about black or white and racism it’s about rich or poor. In order to go forward you have to take a step backwards so that everyone can ride with you. So I just took a step backwards to freshen up peoples minds and educate a few people while at the same time entertaining. Then we can move fast forward. It was a good thing though, I vented real well, I spoke from a lot of different perspectives; from an ignorant perspective, from a scholar prospective and from my personal perspective.
Why did you want to show your support for Nas in this way?
I felt that that topic that he was on and then rapping, it’s awareness. Awareness is always good because you can constantly become aware. Once a person becomes aware they then be held responsible for their actions. I just felt like it was a good topic and it’s only a mixtape it’s not like I’m putting out an album. The climate was good for that you know with the Obama thing coming into existence and there are so many things that are going on like Sean Bell, so the climate was good. Being that him and I were cut from the same cloth and we’re from the same school, it’s really not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.
How is your relationship with Nas today?
It’s always been fair and it still is fair. We’re men so there’s never bad blood. He’s doing him and I’m doing me. Periodically we talk.
What do you think about his recent actions, words, and decisions?
The fact that we don’t talk that often I’m not too sure on his thought process. I know that he’s a strategic type of person so I know the moves that he is making are moves that are positive for the cause. He’s always trying to go left when everyone goes right and I think that’s a good thing. He does thing that others would want to do but don’t do, as far as music.
You said in previous interviews that an album with Nas has never come to existence. Do you think that it will ever happen?
I couldn’t tell you. My business tactics are excellent. I’ve ventured the majors and the independents. As a man I’m here and if the opportunity presents itself I’m here. That’s really not the focus for me now though. Everybody has a mission and points to get across. That’s what him and me both set out to do, get our points across. If it do happen it’s a good thing and if it doesn’t that’s still a good thing.
Your mixtape title borrows from N.W.A.’s release in ‘91. How did they influence you when you were coming up as an MC?
N.W.A. was a big influence to everybody. They were an eye opener. They didn’t give a fuck about the radio they just spoke their mind. They tried to get their point across and they were successful. Lyrically their content was heavy and they just influenced artists that came after them to express themselves. That’s what influence they had on me, to express myself.
Does any of the production feature any of the classic samples Dre flipped for N.W.A.?
We took a little from “Appetite for Destruction.” We did our own little version of that, I put my artist on there, which is Charlie Rock, and then I got Raekwon.
DJ Absolut is your partner on N4L, what made you want to release the project with him?
Absolut has always been in the picture. When he was at Hot 97 he always showed me love when I put music out. This is a music business at the same time and a lot of people in the business follow protocol. I, in these times, am not a priority because a lot of music fluctuates. He always showed that love to hip-hop and to me when I put out my music. I always appreciated that because he felt that I represented New York because I’m that nigga.
How did you guys connect in the first place?
He is from New York and I’m from New York and he was playing my records. I told him I appreciated his love and he appreciated that. He was signed to Koch and was supposed to do and album and I’m at Koch so we built from there, which lead to the situation.
Who else do you have featured the mixtape?
My crew, Charlie Rock, Starkim, Raekwon, Sheek Louch and there is a Trey Songz record on there.
How do you bring people in for a project? Do they come to you or do you seek them out?
Well, Raekwon was one of my homies from day one so I reached out to him. Sheek Louch and Trey Songz were the two that Absolut brought to the table.
Speaking of features, the first single off of the mixtape is called “The Secret” featuring Charlie Rock and Raekwon, how was it working with them?
Raekwon is family at the end of the day. Like, I’ve known before “Sugar Hill” came out. Charlie Rock and the rest of them are my artists so working with them keeps them sharp and helps them to sharpen their lyrics.
What is the AZ sound? What style do you try to bring to every track that you are on?
I try to bring birth to life on each track. I try to just bring a different feeling to every song I do. A different flow, a different conversation. None of my conversations are the same on any record.
Do you like hip-hop right now?
I speak on life because I’ve been in the scene for so long that my role is to never stop rolling. I motivate myself from my own past experience. As far as hip-hop itself, hip-hop is constantly moving like everything else. It shifts like the sun, on one side of the planet it’s dark on the other side it’s light. Right now hip-hop is in the South and they’re doing the dancing thing. We can’t be mad because it’s involving the kids. The kids are having their time but the gangstas had their time and the MCs had their time. It’s evolving and as long as everybody keeps doing what they do they’re going to get their shine.
So if hip-hop is always shifting how do you feel about ringtone rappers?
It’s crazy, but we can never forget that this is a business. It depends what angle you want to come in to it. If you want to come in to make a quick dollar then you know what to do. If you love the game and the art and you want to reach out to the ghetto and adding to the legacy then you are coming in on that angle. It is what it is and we know what it is so choose your side.
Let’s talk about your label Quiet Money Records. What new stuff do you have coming through QM?
Well Quiet Money has been around for awhile. Me starting this independent thing with Koch in 2005, I wanted to brand my label and get it out there. I had a few artists through the years that came and went and did what they did. Now I have these two new artists, Charlie Rock and Starkim, and we are going to see what’s going on.
Are you still working on Half-A-Mil’s album?
Well, rest in peace foremost. I mean I have a thousand freestyles from Half-A-Mill and I have some songs. But it becomes crazy when the person is not in existence and to put their music out like that. So I’m not sure how that’s going to work out business wise with his wife. If God’s willing it will happen.
How much unreleased material do you have of him?
About two albums’ worth.
Back to N4L, do you approach a mixtape any differently from an album?
That’s hard to answer that but what I did was just go in. When you do an album you want to sit back and hand pick all your beats and you want try to find what point you want to target. I feel that every album is a chapter of an artist’s life and how they want to express what they want to express at a particular time. That’s how all of my albums are and for every artist. On this particular one I wanted to express myself in this type of zone. From Undeniable to this mixtape it’s like right atmosphere and left atmosphere they are totally opposite. This is more that AZ you get from the ‘90s era, the flows are crazy, the beats are hard and it has a New York vibe. That’s the zone I was in when I attacked this one.
What would you like people to get out of N4L?
Well, first off which everyone already knows is that AZ, lyrically, is undeniable. Also that I’m adapting at the same time and I’m adapting to what’s going on in the climate of America right now. Know that my mind is in the right place and that I’m a workaholic.
Does the release of N4L open the door to a mixtape future?
Not necessarily. This isn’t anything that I’m banking on. I just want to express myself and get my music out there to stay relevant. I’m not too fond of consistently doing mixtapes.
Have you started working on your next album?
No. I’m working right now on the soundtrack for the movie Silent Wars. We should start shooting the movie in middle to late July. I’m working on the soundtrack simultaneously and that should drop in November.
How about after Silent Wars is finished?
I want to, but first and foremost I want to drop the mixtape and then the soundtrack. Then mixtapes for my artists, let them drop. Also, the fact that I’m a free agent right now, I can do what I want, I’m not contractually bound so I want to feel my options out before I jump into the new album. I do want a new album out though in the summer of 2009.
How important is it for an artist like you, who doesn’t get huge commercial support but has a very loyal fanbase, to release albums on a consistent basis?
It’s mandatory because I’m self-sufficient. I’m my own man I’m my own company so I got to stay relevant and I got to have love for the game in order to do this. So at the end of the day my love should be appreciated which means my art should be appreciated which means I should be appreciated. I’m never letting anyone down, as far as my hardcore fan base, I always deliver. That’s just my thing, keep it coming, keep it going.
What’s the next move for AZ?
The next move for AZ is to stay moving, constant elevation. Mixtapes, soundtracks, stay relevant on some remixes. Get ready to start working on a new album and to just stay relevant, that’s my whole thing.