Your new album Otherside of the Game is now out. What was your vision for this album?
Basically we function on the other side of the game. A lot of the game is pop and a lot of people don’t really have the true meaning or definition of hip-hop or show what good rap music is. It’s just what the system is. I make songs that represent that, the other side, the blue collar rappers and the rappers that have to work hard to make money in this game. That’s what my music represents for them and the people that work hard too and the hustlers and a lot of other things. It’s just that other side, you know? I wanted to make music and songs that touched on that. I got a song where I’m talking about the heartaches and you got a song about a guy who had a one-nighter with a girl and she keeps calling him. I got some things like “Better” where it’s talking about a better life and it’s talking about better situations and better deals. It just represents the other side as a whole.
Did you also want to show another side of you in songs like “Better”?
I’ve always been a rapper and even my emotional joints are hard. Each album and my evolution, I always keep improving as a lyricist too. No matter how long you’ve been in the game and no matter what you should do, you should improve so you don’t become stagnant. People know I’ve been growing. I’ve always been singing and I’ve always been rapping but there’s more of a lyrical level now with the music.
What was it like working with DJ Premier this time around?
Working with Premier is no different. It’s second nature because me and him have chemistry. A lot of people say they do but we really do. When I say it I don’t mean it’s just music. We’re friends as well. We joke around and eat and watch a little TV or something and then we knock the songs out. It’s never a long process. I’m usually sitting in there with him and we’ll find something and we’ll put it together. I’m always ready with my rhymes so we’ll get this process done in a couple of hours. It’s like second nature.
Do you have more space to work with Premier where you can be picky where other artists maybe can’t be?
We could do that but he’s never really given me a beat that I really didn’t like or nothing. We’re usually right there together as he builds it from the ground up. Other people might get a beat that he just did some other time.
Do you ever pick up any production skills being around Premier so much?
There’s things that I know he does but I really don’t zoom into the production because ultimately my thing is never to be a producer. There are some things that I can do. I’m a lyricist and an artist and there’s projects that I work on and different things that I’ll be doing in the future musically. I leave it to the musical people but I know my samples and I know my rhythms and beats that I like too. I’m usually able to pick out good music that goes along with what I’m doing.
On “Sound Check” you got a lot off your chest and let us know where your mind is today. Did a specific incident inspire that song?
Not really. I always got rhymes. Usually I freestyle first at a sound check to get the mics right and then I go into a couple of songs. I’m just letting people know that I’m still bringing a different set of skills and stuff that you might not have heard from me before. My voice was sounding a little rougher then so it just resonated. It was just letting people know that it was Shug and it was some hard-ass shit but I was really just checking the system and making sure it was ready for the show. I got rhymes forever and it’s never tough for me to come up with something. You get some things off your chest and the game is what it is and as I continue to participate I’m going to continue evolving as an MC. I really haven’t scratched the surface. I keep on going. This album won’t be like the last one where everything is the same. It’s just that way. Music is endless for me.
On “When I Strike” you talk about how you came up and how you’re still not changing. Is it ever a challenge growing and moving on while still maintaining your roots?
Not really because I suffered a lot of setbacks and different issues before I actually made it in the game and started coming out with records and stuff. I am who I was and what I was before any of this stuff took place. I went through the hard times and that’s why I’m not an artist that gets arrested and gets into all that stuff because I did that stuff before I came in the game. I’m still going to hit you hard with what I’ve been through. I got my people and my family around me. I couldn’t be no more secure than what I am and who I am and in my own skin so as I evolve and keep going, I’m going to hit them hard. That’s just a song that shows that I can articulate with anybody and I’m still Shug and I’m going to always be who I am.
Do fans underestimate your lyrical abilities?
I think they do. What happens a lot of times is if you make one album you disappear and the first album there was a whole bunch of songs on it and a lot of them was old but we just had to put them out. But a lot of people might have stopped there but as I made the second album, which is where I stepped out of Premier’s shadow and Gang Starr’s shadow and went with some new producers, that showed people some new things. I went with even more new producers and this one shows people that they might have underestimated me before but it’s coming around now. I’m getting a lot of new fans now and even a lot of MCs in the game, like KRS-One and De La Soul, they stepped to me and know my lyrics and my songs and that’s also a good thing too and a great feeling. I think overall everybody is still overall rolling with Shug and this thing is going to go to the next level and I’m going to keep on continuing to put out more stuff.
It sounds like “Like A Muhfucka” was a fun song to record. Was that a good experience?
I make a lot of songs and I’m always rhyming. I just wrote that down on a piece of paper and I called Premier. I just left that on his machine. I just said it. I wasn’t even looking to record it. I do that a lot with him and he called me back and wanted to do that. The album was basically done. It was fun because I could have went on all day with that. (laughs) I just wanted to give people a little hit and he said he wanted to do it. That’s why we did it. But it was fun, of course! The people who don’t know it, they get into it and the people that do know it are into it too so it was definitely fun.
You and Termanology have done a lot of work together, most recently on “My Boston.” What’s it like working with Term?
I also had my man Singapore Kane on there. He might have came up after me but he’s an up-and-coming artist and he had to come up in the movement that I was in already and now that I’m a solo artist I’m really just a couple of years ahead of him as far as being a solo artist. We vibe together too. It’s like a family thing. He works with Dan at Clockwork Music and I do as well. We already got a family base. Plus I used to work with some guys from his hometown so he knew about me for a long time.
You have “My Boston” and “Murdapan” telling fans about the environment you grew up in. Did you feel fans needed that picture?
Of course. It’s crazy that you would say that because people from other states would be bopping to them and getting into them. That’s a good feeling because that means that it’s resonating with people worldwide and in every city. That means that people can feel me. “Murdapan” is like a movie song. It’s like a story. You got the nice slow guitar and every venue that I perform it in, it’s really quiet and they can hear everything that I say. And I got a loud voice that makes people want to listen. It’s cool because both of those songs are on the new album and everybody’s going to get that taste and know where I come from and what I’m about. I can rap the verse and sing a hook and it will come across just as well. It’s just giving you the whole outlook on Shug.
Overall are you happy with how Otherside of the Game came out?
Basically. See, No. 1, I always put a lot of effort into my work. I never make songs on the fly or nothing. There’s always more songs that could have been on there. That album could have been 30 songs deep. It’s not about putting the better songs on. It’s about the numbers. That’s why I have a couple for the next one because I work hard on them. It’s easy to come up with lines for me. I go and record and the process is pretty quick and pretty easy in that regard. I put it together and no one is picking beats for me. I make sure that the right rappers are going to be on tracks and I put a lot of work on my projects. I’m always satisfied when it’s done and I always feel like each album is a step above the last. To make three albums in four years is definitely a blessing as well.
Singapore Kane has been rolling with you for a while now. What’s your plan for him?
Basically I’m going to put this album out and then I’m going to put out his album with Team Shug Records. I’m working on that with a couple of labels. It’s most likely going to be Traffic. I’ll put him out first and I’ll put myself out. In about two years he’ll be out as well. I’m going to have a whole lot of rappers in different situations. I have a project where I’ll be doing a solo singing album with 10 to 12 joints. It’ll be some soulful stuff and some edgy stuff as well, just representing myself on that side. I take it there and I can hit ranges and notes and different things and I got some good songwriting skills. I think that will catch a lot of people by surprise but then there will be some core people who know about that too. I got some things to come but Singapore will definitely be the first act.
Why have you held back from singing a lot on your own albums?
Well, you have to be in the right situations. When I was with Gang Starr I couldn’t really exhibit my strengths totally. People would see me singing at shows and me and Guru were tight and you kind of had to wait your turn. When the group is like that you might be a part of it but the focus isn’t really always on you. I remember after my first album that some of the critics were like, ‘This is the album we expected but Shug is old school’ and I was saying that they didn’t really know who I was. I was just a part of that Gang Starr thing.
On the second album people were saying that I stepped it up lyrically and it was a real solid album and I saw what they failed to realize back then was they were not seeing me. I told my son when they heard this new album what these reviews were gonna be and they’re exactly what I told my kids so that was dope in itself. And now that I got the opportunity to be in control of my own thing I don’t have to ask anybody or wait for anyone to do anything. It’s really easy to show the world now. And sometimes I do wish it was, like, five or six years ago but I was following what I thought was really different and by the time you find out something, it’s really too late and I realize now that I have to take charge of Big Shug. I actually have fans now that know more about me than they know about Gang Starr because Gang Starr has really been apart for five years or so. So the fans that got up with me in the last four years, they don’t really know about the history in that regard and there’s some that do and that’s a good thing.
You have fans that don’t know about your history with Gang Starr?
I have kids come up to me and they’re like, ‘Yo, you’re dope, man, I love your shit. I didn’t even know you did ‘so-and-so.’’ They’ll come to the show and they might hear “Militia” and I do my part at the live shows. It’s like, it’s crazy, man, but it’s good. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
Have you spoken to Guru lately?
Me and Premier are still together because we do a radio show and we get together a lot. Guru, though, he left the scene from us five years ago so me and Premier haven’t spoken with him or seen him in about five years. That was something he chose to do. It wasn’t really us. If he comes back in the fold I’m sure you’ll see another Gang Starr album but if he doesn’t that was always his choice. I think he thought the grass was greener on the other side and sometimes you have to do that. Hopefully it works out for him but if it doesn’t Gang Starr is always there and I’m going to continue to evolve and show the world that I wasn’t just a part of Gang Starr. I was an artist within and now I’m able to express myself and express my music.