How far along are you on the long-awaited solo album?
Oh, wow, the album should come out July 7. I’m just happy, man. It’s all mixed and mastered and ready to rock. It’s a bug-out. It’s really like having a baby, so to speak. (laughs)
Without morning sickness and stretch marks.
Well, you never know. You know how you get those worry marks from worrying about a bunch of shit? Those are my stretch marks. (laughs)
This album has been a long time coming. Do you feel like it’s overdue at this point?
Well, there’s a saying that God ain’t always there when you call but He’s always on time and that’s how I look at it. I can sit here and look at it and whine about the red tape and the stuff with the group. I could do that all day but really, it was supposed to be like this so I just gotta accept that and go with it and do the best that I possibly can. If I wanted to sit here and be mad about shit and comparing and be like, ‘Damn!,’ I could, but there really isn’t a reason. It’s not going to help the cause. I’m just happy that it’s coming out.
That’s a great outlook. Who did you work with as far as producers?
Bean One and Vitamin D from Seattle, DJ Babu, DJ Numark…Scott Storch did one. Nick Fury did one. Stephen and Damien Marley did one. Emile did a couple. It’s a cool little cast of people.
How important was it to you to have a variety of producers on this project?
For me it was important just because of the fact that I do so much work outside of what you know me from, whether it be collaborations with obscure artists, like I just finished a couple of tunes for the N.A.S.A. album, one of them is with George Clinton, which is one of my personal triumphs. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did a song with George Clinton!’ All these options and collaborations with different people have always brought me to a place where I could challenge myself and find something new in every situation and a lot of stuff came out really great, so I was like, ‘I need to be able to display this aspect myself on my solo album.’ That’s why I reached out to so many people who I liked and to have a common thread to link all of these projects together.
From Ozomatli to Roots Manuva to other artists, you’ve worked with a diverse group. Do you feel you have a global sound as an MC?
Um, I hope so. (laughs) I’ll put it to you like that. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself, so I’m always, constantly trying to find the next new thing to do, the next weird thing to do. It’s just cool to be able to do all of this stuff. I’m so grateful for all of these opportunities that I don’t know what to do. I’m trying to keep it going.
Why do you think you’re able to pull off so many different collaborations across genres and countries?
I’m the best rapper alive! No, I’m just playing! (laughs) I always wanted to hear somebody say that in an interview. I don’t know, man. I really don’t know. I think a lot of the time I’m in the right place at the right time and God is smiling on me. In a lot of these situations I’m just happy to be a part of the opportunity and be where it puts me in the middle of everything.
So what was it like working with George Clinton?
That was very interesting! (laughs) Very interesting! I acquired a new respect for that guy. He’s a genius in a lot of ways, man. The dude is a wordsmith, man. He puts together the right combinations to make magic and it seems so effortless when he does it. That’s what I discovered about him. It’s like, ‘Wow, this guy has been doing it for so long he knows it like it’s the back of his hand.’
Did you ever think you would work with someone like George Clinton?
I had hoped. I knew that it was possible but I never knew that it was probably with the every day downfalls and the every day ills of your life, especially where I’m from, the Southside of Chicago. To be immersed in this music and trying to do stuff from an artistic perspective and getting these opportunities and being able to stand up the best I can in these opportunities, it’s a blessing and I’m just glad that I’m up for the challenge.
You also worked with K’Naan and Mos Def on “America.” What was that like?
Wow. You know what was a trip, man? Just meeting him, man. Meeting him and Stephen and Damien Marley was a trip in itself. He’s a very humble guy and he’s very knowledgeable and he’s a regular dude still, so to be able to connect with him and hear that song, first and foremost, I was a fan of it before he asked me to be a part of it and then when I heard his plan that he wanted me and Mos Def on it, I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I got to knock out two birds with one stone with the people I wanted to work with. That was great. It was great.
When Jurassic 5 first came on the scene, you weren’t seen as very political but that started to shift with Power in Numbers. You’ve always expressed yourself politically on guest spots and solo songs. Do you feel like you’re doing that more now than earlier in your career?
I guess doing this for the better part of 20 years, I really feel like I’ve come to the realization that s music is more than people see. It’s more than meets the eye. It’s bigger than a genre. It’s bigger than a person. It’s like a language where I’m performing in front of 20,000 people that don’t speak my language and I don’t speak theirs but they’re singing my song. I learned that I can really touch cats with the things that I say and I didn’t always mean to do that. I thought it was just fresh and something for them to trip about instead of trying to change someone’s mind about the things in this world. Seeing the power of words is like having a sword. You have to be careful not to cut nobody or to get cut. Taking all of that into consideration, I don’t have no Mac 10’s or M-16’s to fight no wars. I don’t have no political influence to call no shots to make people bend to my will. All I can do is fight for justice with my hands first, my heart second and my mouth last. It’s a blessing to be able to talk to people and influence the younger generation, especially my enemy’s children, so to speak. It’s a blessing.
“America” was a fairly cynical song about what America is like. Do you think that with Obama as President that we may get some less negative songs about America in the near future?
Let’s hope. Let’s hope because, I mean, it’s a triumph that Obama is President but there shouldn’t be a “First Black” in anything in this day and age, in my opinion. If he’s in the office for this year and starts to play the game and ends up having to play it the way it’s been played as opposed to doing a lot of the major changes, people will probably be even more hopeless because he’s a Black dude. I hope. I know the day of the ignorant American is done from traveling overseas and people looking at us like, ‘Shoot, you guys are stupid!’ I got that in Europe a lot. “Well, y’all voted him in twice. Y’all stupid!” People looked at us like dummies and I feel like with Obama being elected into office, he beat a lot of the stereotypes that people had about African-Americans. Plus I gotta big up anybody from the Chi! (laughs)
Do you think that as you do more solo projects fans will see you as a solo artist and not as a member of Jurassic 5?
I hope so. I hope people see what I’m doing and don’t just see me as a piece and this album will let me display all of what I can do. I think this solo album will shed a light on it.
Do you think Jurassic 5 will ever get back together?
Groups that are bigger than us got back together down the line. I’m not a swami. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what’s going to happen tomorrow. God willing, that happens but as of now, if you asked me right now, I don’t think so. I don’t see the feeling and the situations that broke the group up getting better.
Do you regret the fact that you can’t have J5 on the big summer tours and festivals?
Well, I try not to regret shit. I try. I try my hardest not to because throughout my life, my mama was always telling me, ‘Yo, good things end. Be prepared for when they do. Enjoy them but be prepared for them to end and be prepared for the next thing.’ That was the philosophy that was always taught to me as a kid. I wasn’t even understanding but my mama was telling me and I was able to apply that to what we were doing as Jurassic. It all made sense. I knew that one day it was gonna end but I just hoped that it was one day way far in the future and when it did, I just had to accept it for what it is. I can’t really wallow in thinking about what could have been because there is alternate realities and possibilities so I just gotta look for the other possibilities and the other avenues that may be positive that may be something that I wouldn’t expect or something that I did expect.
In the end, it was still a good run for J5.
Right. Four albums. My only regret is that we didn’t put out more albums in the 14 years we were together.
What’s been the biggest difference for you today being a solo artist as opposed to being a member of a group?
It’s the songs and the performances and ad-libs, checking each other’s slack. With Jurassic, we were trying to move like a basketball team. One was the center and others were the guards and forwards. One of the things I’ve learned is that now that the other five cats are gone, those are things that I took for granted and now I have to do it myself. That's been the biggest difference, just stepping up to that challenge. You say you want to do something solo but you really have to do it solo and are you ready for that? That’s what I’ve been really working out and making sure that I do everything I need to do as a solo artist because I could easily take the lazy way out and rely on the label but things won’t get done.
Are you enjoying being indie right now?
Yeah, man! You know, it just feels great to be more personal with your label. I’m out here in New York and I’m staying at one of the label guy’s crib instead of staying at a hotel. That’s dope. And it’s better instead of putting my machine into a big machine’s hand that’s making doughnuts and hoping that mine comes out right.
When will we start getting some new music from you?
“Lock Shit Down” is on iTunes now with Talib. People are talking about that one. We’re going to be starting the whole campaign in a couple weeks with shooting videos and all that.
You also worked with Ang 13 on “Hyped Tonight.” How important was it to you to showcase her talent?
Being just from the crew of MCs that I’m from, she’s down with us and it’s just getting a lot of fierce female MCs out there. There ain’t a lot of female MCs out there, let alone fierce ones. She’s hot. She’s one of the real female MCs and she can hang with the best guy. I have a few songs with her and I thought we had to leak something and that’s so dope. But she’s a phenomenal chick, man, and God willing, she’ll get what’s coming to her.
What other new artists are you feeling today?
Brother Blu from L.A. is dope. I’m feeling him to the fullest. My little brother __ is going to be rolling with me as my hypeman and he’s sick as hell. I’ve been listening to a lot of Heltah Skeltah. Those are my dudes! And Sean Price is a fool! And Guilty Simpson and Elzhi and T3 are good from Slum Vill. Those are the people who I’m really listening to, who I keep in my deck.
You must be happy with how the Bulls looked this year.
Yeah, man! I did an Adidas commercial for Derrick Rose. It’s online. It’s like a cartoon about why Derrick Rose is as dope as he is. It’s for Adidas. But yeah, I’m happy about that for sure even though I’m immersed in purple and gold where I live at.
So we don’t have to worry about you rooting for L.A?
Nah, not at all. My grandmamma sold out. She’s a Kobe fan. “Oh, he’s so cute!” But she’s the only Lakers fan in our house.