good. I'm feeling real motivated and really blessed to get a second opportunity
to come in the music business and make my mark.
you feel about how American Me came out?
It came from
the bottom. It's really something that came right out of the street. It's
something that took a lot of pain and consciousness. It's part of the
movement I want to establish. I wouldn't change any of the pieces of it.
You can be independent, stay sharp and do what you do. To do that is something
you want to give people with this record?
to show people that established artists can still build off their history
and they don't have a "certain time." I feel that anytime I
put out a project, I'm valid. Society needs medicine right now because
it's poisoned and I'm the medicine man.
in your prime now?
in my prime. I retired in this same climate ten years ago. Now I'm feeling
fresh and motivated and more connected to the streets. I'm seeing everything
in slow motion. I'm calculating my moves and mastering my own destiny
and where I lay and plant my seeds in.
you feel about the mainstream belief that older hip-hop artists can't
do anything today?
I know the
obstacles that lie before me. I know that a lot of these great artists
with history and names come back and they tell you one thing and then
when you listen to the material, it's not valid and it doesn't coincide
with what they're saying. They may have the formula of redoing three or
four songs from their past, but they don't have a foundation. I'm showing
that I have the formula and the chemistry to put together a whole album
and not only dispel the myth that it can't happen, but also be more relevant
than the artists out now.
bother you that a lot of fans consider CL Smooth old-school?
No, it doesn't
bother me. What I'm sensitive to motivates me. I need that. I need those
odds against me. If it's one out of 100 or one out of 1000 or one out
of 1,000,000 and I win, what does that do for me in history? It puts me
at the top of rap music. I accept those odds and I'm motivated. I accept,
How can he do this? He's old school, he's new school, he's this, he's
that. When I conquer all those schools, what does that make me? Legendary.
I think it's
overdue and coming out at the right time. I think it's a combination of
both. It took a lot of time and motivation and living to really create
an album like this. This isn't something that you just wake up and say,
I'm going to take my imagination and do this. This is something that you
had to live first. I lived it and then I created it. I had to get my tools
sharp and transfer it into my craft and my gift. I had to work hard to
meet my medium of what I was thinking lyrically.
you consider yourself a perfectionist?
I would say
so. I'm a little bit of a perfectionist and a little bit of a neat freak.
Being precise and being clean and being heard and being understood is
more or less what I'm trying to project. I'm clearing up the misconceptions
of who I am and what I'm about and who I had to go through to get where
you name your album American Me?
a name that always stuck with me growing up with my family coming from
another country. My great-grandfather came here from another country and
tried to create the American Dream. A lot of family members would rise
and fall trying to make it here. Plus that movie always stuck with me
about prison and how you have to appreciate who you are and where you
are and the misconceptions here. It's the land of opportunity but it's
also the land that will get you killed.
happy with the response to "Smoke in the Air"?
People understood and they gave me the truth. They said it was a great
record and it really felt hip-hop. I shot my own video right out of my
pocket. It was a great beat and right now it really makes me feel happy.
I saw it on the 2 Minute Drill on ESPN. Being a big sports fan and seeing
them putting all the highlights to it, it was a great look for myself
and it really motivated me that I was on the right track.
in the Air" you said, "This is the type of heat to make Pete
squirm." Have things between you and Pete Rock gotten better?
I think it's
gotten better because I concentrate and put it into my craft, all that
emotion and all that dissension in the ranks. This is what I'm coming
back to for my motivation. It lit a spark in me. If anything you have
to thank him for lighting that spark and not being hungry enough to meet
that quota and make it right. This is what I wanted to make valid in my
own struggles of it.
did you want to address the Pete Rock situation?
I just wanted
to let them know that I make great records and valid records. When people
listen to this album, I want them to know that I was a heavy contributor
to the making of the Pete Rock and CL Smooth records. The music that I
picked wasn't the norm and my lyrics weren't the norm and my thought patterns
weren't the norm. American Me allows me to show what I contributed to
that great group. I had to live my life to make this record. Similar to
2Pac, I lived what I said.
Rock get too much credit for the legendary music of Pete Rock and CL Smooth?
I feel like
even if I thought that, my whole thing is motivated in proving it here.
This is checkers. It's not your turn, my turn. It's what you earn, what
you deserve and what you are rightfully shooting for. This is where I'm
coming from. This is where my credit lies, in my own work. That was the
body of work that was established in a different time when beat-makers
were maybe a little bit more under the microscope. Then you had more "let's
make a beat" vibe than "what's up with those lyrics." Here,
it's not really about music anymore. It's more "what are you saying?"
and I have something to say.
have doubters out there who think you can't win without Pete Rock?
Sure. I hear
it all the time. That's what motivates me. That's what makes me get up
in the morning. That's what makes me say, Let's run this six miles. Let's
hit this heavy bag. Let's do these 500 push-ups. Let's go to the studio
and let's not lollygag. Let's spit three to four records. If people are
not against me, where would my energy be? I'd be way too comfortable with
people saying, "Yeah, yeah yeah" to me. These artists or athletes
when they win their awards, what do they say? They say, "Do not give
up on your dreams." When somebody tells you you can't do it, do not
believe them. I live by that. I believe in the message.
like writing tracks like "Call on Me" which are more autobiographical
I like writing
whatever comes to my mind and whatever needs to be projected because a
lot of times things that you might not think are important are very important.
I go back and say, Maybe I need to write about this. People are not truthful
enough on records because they're scared they're not interesting enough.
What I'm going to do is give you all the weaknesses of myself, all my
shortcomings and weaknesses of my life. I'm going to have people know
that I'm not perfect so that when you see where I came from, you'll see
that it's not hopeless.
Outside" had a very mature vibe to it. Do you ever worry that too
much maturity in records could turn off potential fans?
No, not at
all, because my thing is what got me here this far is being different,
going against the norm. People appreciate it when you don't follow the
crowd and you create your own flock. My whole thing is establish who you
are. If you feel you need to make a mature, creative, understanding record,
that's valid because everybody needs to learn how to grow up at some point.
A man who makes mistakes at 24 shouldn't make those mistakes at 34. It
depends who you are and what you're willing to take on in your validity
in trying to create a great record and gain an audience. It starts with
being truthful to yourself. I'm working with the same guys who make Dipset
records and Mos Def records and Naughty by Nature records. I'm dealing
with anybody from America to Italy with this music. No matter what age
you are, you're never too young or too old to appreciate creativity.
on there that "hip-hop needs a new president." What did you
mean by that?
that my focus on the campaign is wide open right now. Seats change all
the time and what I want to do is campaign to be No. 1 in this country
and No. 1 in the world and No. 1 on all charts. This is my campaign, to
be anointed by the people. It's a seat the industry can't give you. It's
a seat the people give you.
album put you in the running to be the president?
because I'm well-balanced and thinking. I let you know that going to jail
and acting savagely is not going to sell a record all the time. It's about
empowering yourself and the people around you, making the right decisions,
learning from your mistakes and starting what you finish. It's not about
being preachy-preachy, it's about being balanced. People wonder why things
don't go right. It's because their balance is off. If we don't have anybody
in our corner to show us and prove it to us that this is the right path,
then your instincts are going to make your decisions. I happen to come
from a great bloodline of teachers of life and I'm not trying to hide
it. When the people approach me, I want them to know I come from real
you looking for production-wise on American Me?
I was looking
for anybody who wanted to work with me and wanted me to win, whether it
was Timbuktu or Jack in the Box. It's about, Does this guy really want
me to win? I could work with big-name producers but they might not want
me to win. They might just want to see what's up. I didn't want the burden
or the emotions of people disappointing me so I wanted to work with the
people who wanted to work with me. I did that and I was successful at
it. It brought the best out of me. I wasn't working with anybody looking
for credibility or a check. I just wanted to work with producers who wanted
to make great music.
was it to have a variety of different beats on American Me?
my whole career off one producer. That's real special. To give people
a new opportunity and work with people from different walks of life, it's
taking chances. I don't want to know what's going to happen. I just want
to be on the top of my game. These guys are real established and they
were instinctively aware of who they were dealing with. That's what made
it great for me to just let loose. I needed somebody who could coexist
with my creativity and really create the soundtrack of what I'm feeling.
If I got on a mink coat, I want this music to it. If I got on a pair of
gym shorts, I want this music to it. If I'm trying to lift three plates
off the rack, I want this music to it. I was deliberate with what I was
that variety lacking in today's music?
thing is that it's hard for me to listen to other artists when I'm in
the middle of my creativity. You're talking to me where I'm just now sitting
down with other artists because I'm so fixated on CL not sounding like
them or adopting their slang. It's hard for me to really project what
these other artists are trying to come out with because my whole natural
thing is being a commercial artist and making a mainstream record naturally.
If you listen to the radio like a normal person, you get the opportunity
to hear a hard rap artist make a mainstream record. You could say, That's
a great idea, but how can you take somebody who wants to bang out seriously
after they make a record like that? I ask, Who got in his ear? That's
the process I was trying to avoid myself. I didn't need a manager telling
me how to make a record. I naturally come to the big dance knowing the
formula. I don't need anybody showing me how to make a record or telling
me to make a record like that. If it's valid, I'll write it. I want certain
beats and certain instruments in my music. That's a part of who I am.
try anything different on American Me that you never did in the past?
I just kept
it more simple. When I was younger, my whole thing was taking things from
my grandfather and flipping it and bouncing it, his walk and his swagger,
and really just adopting that whole mannerism of enlightening people.
It goes above the average 21 year-old's head. I got a great history and
buzz from what I said, but a lot of people didn't understand what I was
saying. I'm breaking it down more simplistic now, but I'm still keeping
that sharp pen process. Now it's like A-B-C in chemical form, in biological
are you in the Mount Vernon scene today?
I try to
own the hood and buy things in the right amount and keep my reputation
clear and positive so people can see me and approach me and see my vibe
is right and my energy is right. Besides that, I don't see any use for
me in the hood because it's already hard enough to go to a neighborhood
that you grew up in. Anybody with a reputation and fame for what they
do always has a hard time going back. What keeps me motivated is owning
property in Mount Vernon. I'm doing something positive. I'll go to a place
that I own and rent out and make sure there's no bottles out front and
nothing mysterious going on. That's where my mind is at. That allows me
to live my lifestyle that this music has blessed me to have.
next for you?
together a lot of dates for tours. With school starting it's hard to predict
what college tour I'm going to be on. I do know that people can expect
a great show. Nobody's going to be saying that I have a horrible show.
I put all my energy and all my love and all my devotion into making records,
but I put more into doing a show.
you want to say to everybody?
I thank you
for your support and your patience. I know that people know that a great
artist can speak for himself and I aim to do that and I want people to
vote for me to be the best artist I can be. I feel I can hold that torch.
I've stayed as close to the Book of Job as possible and it never cracked
me. Everything that happened only made me stronger. This is what I have
to offer and I'm going to see it all the way through. I appreciate everybody
who supports me. I guarantee you nobody will doubt this project. I have
everything on there from the streets to the politicians to the standing
government, everything from Iraq to Harlem to the church. I have a song
called "Heaven is Watching You." That's a spiritual vibe of
CL and I'm showing you the balance of how I can bring it and how these
great albums are being missed. They only come once every ten years and
here comes another one.