Your new album Hunger Pains is dropping November 10. Do you feel like your years of grinding are finally paying off?
I would say that. This whole journey has been kind of wacky but I love the music. I love hip-hop. This shit is my life, regardless and I don’t know. Paying off? I guess. For me, I’m just happy to be heard. I just want to be heard by people and that’s why I do this shit. If I was making zero dollars and heard by a million people, I would be happier than making a million dollars and only being heard by a hundred thousand people or getting a signing bonus and never having a record come out or having to make watered down music. I’m happy that I get to do what kind of music I love to do on Coalmine Records and get it out. It’s definitely a sense of accomplishment. If I could reach more ears, then I’ll feel like I made it.
You went through a lot of stuff to get to where you are today and you’ve been on MTV, BET and worked with artists like Inspectah Deck and O.D.B. What’s kept you motivated to keep moving when there wasn’t an album dropping?
I guess it’s just that hunger. Just like the record is called Hunger Pains, I guess it’s hunger pains. A lot of people take this shit lightly. I know a bunch of dudes how rap. There’s dudes who rap, who sing and they make music in a different lane but they have a dream behind it. I have a dream behind this. It’s my love and my art and I’ve wanted to do this my whole life. There’s something burning in me that makes me keep doing this shit. I’m not content and I don’t think I’ll ever be content because I don’t think there’ll ever be a point where I don’t want to do this. And I know at times it sucks but if you’re a real artist and you have that passion and that dream inside of you, you’ll find a way. I try to make good music for me and you, not the people that are living in dreamland, which is 98% of the shit that’s out and no disrespect to those dudes, I don’t have a problem with that, I just think we shouldn’t be overrun by that bullshit.
Did you ever think about leaving the game?
Nah. I don’t think that’s an option to someone like me or any real artist that’s real passionate about what they do. If I was living in a box and I wasn’t making no money off of hip-hop music, I would still be doing that shit because I need it to keep me normal. The dream would still be there, regardless. I would still be doing this no matter what and it’s not a matter of giving jump on the dream. It’s just a matter of doing something that’s a piece of me. It’s like asking someone if they would take a shit every day or take a piss. Of course you would. You have to keep living.
Did Hunger Pains come out as you envisioned it coming out when you first started it?
Well, hmm…I don’t know, man. We’ve been through a lot on this one. Me and DJ Dutchmaster on Coalmine Records, he helped me scope this record. I think people get the idea that if you get a record deal, whether it’s a big label or a small label, all of a sudden you can just make music and shit and do whatever you want to do but it ain’t like that because a lot of different people have to okay what’s going on and there has to be beat selection and all the little nooks and crannies and all the little nonsense has to be ironed out and a lot of different people have to be involved. Did it come out how I wanted it to? Yeah. The music is fucking flawless as far as I’m concerned. It’s one of the best projects I’ve ever been a part of. The name of the album definitely suits it and there were definitely changes with the project and it keeps it to the tone of what we had it when I first started.
How much of a challenge was it getting producers like Alchemist and Illmind down with Hunger Pains?
You know what the thing is? I guess it’s like, I’ve been through a lot of bullshit in the game and as you keep going, I think the dudes who keep doing the same thing with you, rappers, DJs, producers, people like yourself, there’s like a mutual understanding between those people of who’s really doing this and I think that allows and makes other people more willing to fuck with you and work with you. Because I put so much into this shit and so much time, I dissolved a lot of good relationships with producers and artists across the board. It’s a great accomplishment for me to work with great producers and artists like that. Especially some of those dudes, like my man J.R. Rotem, he’s so out the box that he don’t even fuck with dudes, I don’t want to say if they’re underground, but he’s on Billboard Top 10 and because I’m friends with his brother and they know me and what I’ve been through, they’re willing to give me beats that they could sell for $50,000 to 50 Cent and that shit is a blessing and I’m just happy and thankful that those dudes will work with me and do that for me. I think that says a lot about the grind.
When you get big name producers on your album, do you feel more pressure to come correct?
Hell yeah! Definitely, man. With certain people, I don’t want to say, because I don’t think anybody’s…It’s a little more rare. I’ll put everybody on the album from Bean One to Marco Polo to Illmind to my man Contagious out in Florida to J.R. I put them all on the same level in terms of I don’t want to take nothing way from no one and say one is bigger than the other but when you’re dealing with dudes like Alchemist and J.R., they typically don’t fuck with a lot of dudes and when you get that beat, the heat is on and you have to make sure that you make the best of it, not that you don’t want to make the best of the other tracks too. You know you can get a bunch of other tracks but you’re only going to get that one from that person for the album and you definitely want to make the best of that.
What inspired the Alchemist-produced “I Am”?
I’ll be honest with you. That’s a perfect example about the beats because we had that beat and it was picked out and it was crazy. The piano loop was just instant boom. We knew this was it and it was going to be a banger. We just had to make sure that I went in super hard. We had tracked it out and it was a totally different track and we were like, ‘Nope!’ I thought I was going in and they were like, ‘I don’t think you should be going in like that. You don’t go in.’ We were all saying that it wasn’t it and we had to change the topic or do something different so I scrapped the whole song, sat down, had nothing on and I said, “You know what? If this is going to be the single for the album and I’m going to get more burn on it than anything else I’ve ever done, it should be true to me and talk about why I do this and talk about something that’s lacking right now in hip-hop because I am hip-hop.” That’s why it’s called “I Am” and I feel like there ain’t that much of it going on. That’s why when I started writing with that idea in my mind, we laid it down and we knew right away that it was going to be the single. It was perfect. But I didn’t go into it with that idea. It just kind of came when I sat down with the beat for the second time.
Rapping about your love of hip-hop in today’s age isn’t the most popular thing you can do in terms of reaching a broad audience. Do you feel like you took a risk with “I Am”?
I guess to some people, yeah. You know me from a song like that. That’s real. And given Alchemist and DJ Revolution on it doing scratches and the topic being about real-deal hip-hop, you know that’s not really a song that’s going to be a commercial radio success but me, I don’t give a fuck and I have that liberty of not having to give a fuck about that. I think that’s the best feeling in the world. I don’t know if it was risky and if the people see it as risky because of that reason because you know it’s not going to get played like that and talking about real hip-hop is not really what’s popping, I don’t give a fuck. I’m doing me and I’m doing it the way I wish it was for the people who feel that way and the people who miss that music. I know there’s a whole gang of us and there’s a whole culture and we can keep that alive and keep that good music going and that real hip-hop alive.
What was it like working with Masta Ace on “Brooklyn Bridge”?
It was dope. Ace is a great dude, man. I work with a lot of people in the business and some dudes are considered bigger than Masta Ace on a commercial level but to me and to real hip-hop fans, working with Ace is the best thing. He’s one of the biggest dudes out to me. Ace, I still listen to Sittin’ On Chrome every day in the car. It was a great feeling and he’s a great dude. A lot of these dudes in the game are fucking dicks. Everybody’s got some sort of fucking bullshit with them and he’s not like that. He’s just a good dude. Besides rap, he’s just a good dude and it’s nice to come across somebody who’s so humble and for somebody who has so much respect across the board to be humble. And in the lab he’s a real professional. I had the idea first to show him and gave him the record with the Babu beat and my verse on it and I talked to him about it and he told me to come through, which I appreciate much more than somebody dropping just a verse and pasting it together. So we were there when it got dropped and I think that helped to add to the realness of the record and it helps that he’s a fucking professional and when I got there, he rewrote it. He said he was listening to my verse and he was going to redo some of his shit. It was crazy to hear him say that. It was great and working with one of my favorite MCs, the dude was giving me props and we got a great joint we could feel.
So who are the biggest assholes in the game?
The biggest dickhead who I’ve ever got the non-privilege to sit down with was Sean “Puffy” Combs. He’s the biggest. You know what? It’s a toss. It’s pretty close. He’s an asshole. Kanye West is probably the biggest dick I’ve ever met in my life. Fuck rap, he’s the biggest dickhead I’ve ever met. He did the beat for the joint I did with O.D.B. May he Rest in Peace. That was a great person. The joint we did was produced by Kan Man Productions. That was his beat! And he’s a fucking dick. I’d love to punch him right in the fucking nose. The top three is Puffy, Kanye and then Dame Dash. He’s a pretty big asshole but he’s nowhere near Kanye and Puffy. Puffy is just a real dick, bro. You sit down with him and just want to punch him in the face and get away with it.
Were you trying to go to Bad Boy?
They were trying to sign me. They fucked around with me. I didn’t let it get serious but it was a few months and then back again and the same thing. I didn’t let it go crazy the second round but the first round, they were just fucking with my emotions every three weeks. It was just a part of the segments I’ve gone through in trying to make it to another level and try to follow my dreams. I was always making music for the people and it wasn’t really my place, but I just feel like real hip-hop should have a bigger voice on radio and video and big companies like Bad Boy and I don’t feel like it’s represented properly. I was always hoping I could break that line between underground and commercial. I sat down with them a lot and they were bullshitting and they were talking about signing me. He’s a fucking jerk-off, man.
What happened with you and Kanye?
When the track was done everything was all right. Devo did the actually session and worked on the song and Kanye was there and that was okay. Then there was another time afterwards where I was doing an MTV battle and I had already worked with dude. I’m not even one of these little kids. You know who I am and shit and he was just like, he just treated me like a fucking dick. He was a judge of the battle so he shit on me in the battle. Then he shit on me after the battle and then when I went over to say what’s up and tell him we made a joint, he was a dick again. I told him he was a fucking dick and they threw me out of the building! (laughs) They threw me out! I get thrown out all the time. I got thrown out of the MTV battle, I got thrown out of Makin’ Da Band once. I threw a chair at Puffy’s boy and shit. I’m not someone trying to act tough but people are trying to follow their dreams and work hard and they treat you like cattle and like you’re a fucking joke and sometimes they get stupid and I freak out.
I’ll make sure there are no typos in this interview.
(laughs) Spell my shit right, yo! (laughs) Nah, it’s all good, bro. I’m a nice dude. I get along with everybody. It’s just dudes like that, they do well and they forget that they used to do this to. You don’t have to sign everybody and you don’t have to be everybody’s best buddy but you work with someone in the lab and then they diss you, it’s like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ It was okay eight months ago and now you think you’re famous or something? People get real funny when they get famous and they get money. If that ever happened to me, I’d be the same person. I’m the Larry David of rap. I’d be the same person I was before and after. Money’s great but it doesn’t change how you are as a person or how you make music or how you treat people.
I was always curious how the Ol’ Dirty Bastard collab went down.
Dirty’s my dawg, yo. Russell’s my friend. Not my lifelong friend, but after he came out of jail the last time, a couple of years before he passed away, my boy Sean from The Howard Stern Show, they call him Whitey, him and Dirty were real cool and I was kind of cool with his manager Jared.
I was doing a show in downtown Brooklyn and they were telling me they were coming out so we set up a table area for them and they came through and I was doing my thing and I did my set and Dirty gave me a lot of love and he asked me if he could get onstage with me so he just jumped up onstage and the dudes at the club were kind of hesitant but he jumped onstage and we just started going back and forth, verse for verse. Dutchmaster jumped on the wheels of steel and started playing Ol’ Dirty Bastard beats and the people were going crazy and we just started chilling after the show on some friendship shit and I wanted to do the shit but I didn’t want him to think I was dickriding or to make him feel uncomfortable because we were on a friendly level and I used to go to his crib. He lived ten blocks away from me in Brooklyn and I wanted him to do the joint but I didn’t want to bother him.
Whitey mentioned it to him and we were in the lab a week later doing the shit. He said I should have just asked him but I didn’t want to seem like I’m trying to act funny about it. He was a good dude. People think he was crazy and it’s not that he wasn’t very animated, but he was a nice, calm dude, like a sweetheart, like a teddy bear. If he didn’t like you, that was one thing but I was reading this book that someone wrote and I was freaking out about it because it was all bullshit from what I knew. People like to fantasize this crazy shit and to me, this guy was just a real nice guy and just a real calm dude. That’s not to take away from the crazy or the uniqueness of him because he’s a very unique dude and I don’t think there will ever be another one like him in rap or on earth.
When you look at how he’s remembered in hip-hop today, how accurate is his portrayal?
It is true but I remember him for how I knew him. I don’t know how fucking Angie Martinez remembers him. She might only have certain experiences with him where he was different. He was a very animated dude and obviously he lived up to that reputation of being a very crazy dude. I just think that the main public and most people don’t really know what he was really like and they just have this idea of a crazy animal or some crazy guy when in reality he was a really good dude and he was calm as shit. Obviously he would have fun and bug out but that’s exactly what it is – bugging out with one of your homeboys. But that holds true for anybody that you don’t know shit about. That’s life.
Out of all the collabs you’ve done, from O.D.B. to Masta Ace to Inspectah Deck, what collabs are you most proud of?
I don’t even want to fuck it up. I got this new jump-off with me and Kool G. Rap called “The Grimy Anthem.” That’s got nothing to do with this record so let’s not talk about it too much! (laughs) I like the joint with Words.
You were also part of the Rawkus 50. I’ve heard a lot of negative things from artists that were a part of that. Were you happy with how that worked out for you?
Oh, man. (laughs) First off, I would like to say I like Brian and Jared a lot. Brian’s my dude. I don’t know. (laughs) I don’t know, bro. I don’t want to…It was good. Hmm…Yeah, I’m happy. (laughs)
You don’t sound convincing.
Here’s the thing. It was good for what it was good for. For me, I’ll be the one to say it was cool because you gotta fucking do everything and there’s 49 other guys. Are they going to all get famous? Everybody knew it was a digital deal and it was for one album and it was seeming that all of us had to make on our own with no budget from them. If you knew that going into it, you shouldn’t be mad about afterwards. They gave a little bit of an opportunity and to show your talent under a name that’s associated with classic hip-hop music. If you can’t take that and do something, then you fucked up.
Did they do a good job as a label? No. They didn’t do a good job based on what a typical record deal would be but it wasn’t a typical record deal. You gotta take it for what it was. They didn’t paint it out like that. I think a lot of dudes are pissed off like they thought they got signed. I was already signed with Coalmine. It was a good opportunity for promo and everybody should just get their game up and stop hating on Brian and Jared and push their music. They gave us our music back. What label ever gave anyone their music back afterwards? After a certain time they put it out, the licensing was given back to the artists so you still have your music back. Dudes should not be as mad as they are. However, I understand the disappointment but if you take it for what it was, you could have done good with it.
What prompted your Uncle Murder diss last year?
The dude changed his name to B.K. and I’m not Jay-Z but at the same token, I had done something and dedicated my life to something for a long time and called myself that as a Brooklyn guy. I live in Brooklyn. We’re in the same corner of the world. We’re five miles away from each other. I could walk to the dude’s house. You know who I am because we used to be managed by the same people and then you go on Hot 97 and say your name is B.K. Either I’m not on your radar but you know who I am because we were managed by the same people. The other thing is he didn’t give a fuck and he thinks it’s okay. You know what? It ain’t fucking okay. That’s it.
Is everything good now?
I don’t even know dude like that. I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t even want to do the track. I didn’t even want to do it but I had a lot of people in my fucking ear asking how I was gonna let dude take my name like that and Brooklyn, da da da da da. I’m a lyrical dude and dude’s not about being lyrical and I wasn’t in the mood for that and everyone was in my fucking ear and not letting it go. People were telling me it was a wrap if I didn’t do anything and everybody keeps getting in your ear and it was like, ‘You know what? Fuck this!’ I’m a lyrical dude and I shred the fuck out of 99.8% of these dudes but some of these dudes don’t give a fuck about lyrics. I put my health in danger walking around the neighborhood with those same people I’m talking about where with some people, it could be a record beef on record and stay like that and there can be another element where it don’t stay like that and for me, it was about the music and I don’t give a fuck.
I ain’t pussy and I ain’t scared of nobody but for other people it ain’t about the music because they know they can’t fuck with me lyrically. They want to bring it to a physical level because that’s the only way they can probably get at somebody. I’ve heard a lot of backlash about that where I’ve been out and there have been a couple of little incidents and whatever. I kind of wish the shit would just fucking go away but whatever. (laughs) It is what it is and I stand behind what I said. It’s like teasing the lion and then walking around the cage with the lion. We’re right here. We ain’t that far. But whatever, dawg. You gotta do what you gotta do sometimes. I keep it lyrical. I do my thing. If a motherfucker wants to take my name in hip-hop, then I’m gonna fucking bury your ass in hip-hop, lyrically, about that topic and that’s what I did. And if dudes got beef and they got a problem with me, then put your fucking hands up and let’s go out front on Nostrand Avenue and let’s bring 100 video cameras so the whole world can see me fuck you up with my two hands in front of everybody.
But dudes don’t want to do that. They want to bring their friends and try to jump you at a show and bring their guns out. I don’t understand where that ever came into play as being a man. It’s like you tried to take somebody else’s shit and you have a personal problem with them, put your hands up. Let’s go on Nostrand Avenue. We’ll bring 30 fucking cameras and we’ll fucking fight in the middle of the street and we’ll see who’s going to get fucked up. But dudes don’t want to do that. They want to catch you when you’re not ready and shoot you. Whatever, man. I’m here. Brooklyn all day. I’m Bekay.
Who’s your next target now that Hunger Pains is dropping?
I don’t have them! Murder was not a target. Dudes come to me. I’m not even trying to beef with nobody like that in music! Most of these dudes, I don’t even feel like most of these dudes could compete on that level. I don’t feel like dudes are nice like that anymore. But I don’t go looking for that. I don’t want any of that nonsense and I’m definitely not scared of it and I’m definitely not afraid of none of that battle shit. I did it for a real long time and a lot of real MCs did it and you don’t want to fuck with me. Dudes don’t even fuck with freestyles. It’s not going to work that well for you. You don’t want to fuck with me and I don’t really want that either. I’m trying to make music for my peoples and I mean everybody with that .I just want to make music for everybody and that’s it but people always want to bring me back into some battle shit. I’m here for it but I'm definitely not going after it. I got no beef with nobody in the game. I don’t have beef with Uncle Murder. I don’t have beef with nobody.
How far can Hunger Pains take you?
I don’t know what it’s gonna do for me. I hope it does more for the people who buy it. That’s my goal. My goal is to keep it real for me and to make music that I love myself and that has meaning in my personal life and so people can relate to that music. I don’t know what it’s going to do for me and I don’t expect to have platinum plaques but it does deserve one. That’s not the nature of the game anymore but it is classic music and if you love hip-hop you have to love this one, man. This is real emotional and it has a piece of me in it. I think artistry and getting to know somebody as an artist is a big thing that got me into liking these guys.
There’s something where you learn something about somebody when you hear an album and that’s missing these days. Everyone’s doing the same shit but you’ll listen to this one and understand why it’s called Hunger Pains and I think that means something and I think for the people who can relate to that, this shit is for them. That’s the first thing it read in my liner notes. Everybody should read that before they listen to the first song.
How would you sell Hunger Pains to people still on the fence over supporting you?
Support or die! (laughs) Nah. The bottom line is, this is what I will say, I love hip-hop and I love real hip-hop music and whatever it is that I love, I don’t hear that shit. I don’t know what you want to call it. Some people want to call it ‘90s rap or old school hip-hop. I don’t know what they want to call it but I know that whatever I’m listening to now, with the exception of a few dudes, mostly underground dudes, something is not the same anymore and if you miss that sound and that real shit, you will get that on November 10 when you buy my album or steal it from whatever site you steal your music from.