What made you want to release your DVD Who Am I? and give people a look into your life like that?
It’s something that my fans have been wanting. I know that as an artist, I have never been very outgoing. There is a lot about me that people don’t know. They might think they know, but they don’t know. Nobody has ever done a documentary about themselves where it was a real, full-fledged documentary that didn’t involve acting stupid in the street. I wanted to give fans real footage of me behind the scenes and in the studio, just how I see my life through my eyes.
Your music is very personal, but never see you too much of you outside of the music. Was this DVD difficult for you to film?
Not necessarily. One thing about me that people don’t know unless you know me is that I have a sense of humor. I’m not afraid to be myself. You’ll see me joking and laughing with my friends and being me. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It was simple. It wasn’t as hard as people might have thought it would be for me.
From seeing the trailer, it looks like you get a lot of love in the Bay and you also work with Jacka out there. What is it about the Bay that has you going back there so much?
I don’t know. The Bay has a whole section on my DVD. You’re going to see all of them on there. I met them in 2000, a year before I put out The Realness, and ever since then we’ve been real tight. They’re like my cousins. I love the Bay. They’re warm people out there.
Do you think the independent mindstate of the Bay has something to do with it?
It probably does. They put me up on some shit. I’m not the type of person that doesn’t get props when it’s due. In the Bay, I learned some things about the game when I was in there. Murder Dog magazine is in the Bay and I never knew that. A lot of people sell music independently up there. Master P started selling CDs up there. If you can’t go independent up there, you can’t go independent anywhere.
Are you going to be doing more work with Jacka in the future?
Jacka’s my boy. Jacka’s on my new soundtrack and my DVD. I might even do an album with Jacka or put out Jacka’s album because I want to see him get more known on the East Coast and that would definitely do that.
What is it about Jacka that you like?
I work with all the Mob Figgas like that. Me and Jacka are probably the closest because I’ve known him the longest and me and Jacka are the coolest, but I’m cool with all of them. I fucks with the Mob Figgas. I’m like an honorary member of the Mob Figgas. When they come to New York, I bring them out to Queensbridge. I had a hotel rented out for a month in New York and Jacka stayed with me when he came out to New York. Jacka’s like my cousin. We clicked and we got real tight. Those are my peeps. Every time I go to the Bay I’m with Jacka, every single time. There’s Jacka, PK, all of them. That’s my boys.
On the DVD you also mention how you have no security around you. What does that mean to you?
Honestly, that trailer that was made, that wasn’t something that I would have necessarily approved of, the way it said “No security” more than once on there. My man Jordan did that because he wanted to get it out there. When I say, “No security,” it means I’m in the area by myself, just me and my cameraman. I didn’t bring no security or entourage from New York. People don’t understand how wild the Bay really is. San Francisco is super-wild. So is Fillmore Avenue. Everywhere I go, it’s not something that I necessarily say, but my people used to say that. People say I’m a people’s person. You’ll see me in Far Rockaway and everybody knows that Far Rockaway is crazy. You’re going to see me in Fort Greene and in the Bay. If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen. I’m a people’s person. I walk with the people and that’s the difference between me and a lot of rappers. You don’t have to be tough to be loved or be amongst the people. All you have to do is be real and be real to yourself.
I know that you can’t fool a street motherfucker. When they see you, they know if you’re real or not. When they see me, they know what I’m about because they see me out there with them. It’s like everywhere I go I get love. I never say I’m a real nigga. Jacka says that about me on the DVD. Other people say that about me. It’s not about me bragging about having no security. It’s not me promoting myself as a real nigga. It was just me being in places and making moves. I’m a complex person and I have different sides. I said on one of my albums that I was an “emotional chameleon.” I can blend in with nerds or the street crowd or whatever kind of crowd I need to blend in with. On the DVD, you’ll see me going to hospitals and visiting with people that are paralyzed. You’ll see me chopping it up with my fans. I’m a complex and unique person, but I do have street credibility. I don’t base my whole career on street credibility because I’m an artist. Street credibility doesn’t make you an artist. You can have all the street credibility in the world and suck as a rapper. You’ll see on the DVD.
On “Sleep Walk” you talk about how people still question your potential. Do you still have doubters?
It’s funny with me. I know I started getting more and more recognition later in the game. I started getting the respect later in my career as opposed to earlier. I’m content with the fact that I’m an underdog and I’m comfortable with that. I know that I will be an underdog for the rest of my career and I have no complaints because I think there are artists greater than me who don’t get the respect they deserve. I’m basically telling people that I know I get slept on but I’m cool with that. At the end of the second verse, I say, “Even B.I.G. said I was ill.” Biggie gave me my props the first time he met me. As long as my fanbase is loyal to me and as long as I start to get the recognition from my peers, it doesn’t matter to me. I got a Source award and an Impact award.
I feel like for all the things I’ve done, I don’t get the recognition, and not just for what I’ve done as an artist but for the producers I worked with before they got on. I worked with Sha Money and E. Millz before anyone else. I was the first New Yorker to do a song with Lil’ Wayne. That was on the Violator Soundtrack. I was the first East Coast artist that really, seriously went independent. When I say “Sleep Well,” it wasn’t just about rap. It was about a lot of things. There can be stories done about independent artists and my name doesn’t even come up. I love it. Even mixtapes! I’m the first nigga to do a mixtape when I didn’t have an album coming out. XXL reviewed my fourth mixtape in 1999. When I was signed to Def Jam, I had a mixtape out in 1998, before then! When we were heading out to do that tour, people already had the mixtape. Most things I do, I’m never going to get my recognition and I’m cool with that. That’s why I say, “Sleep Well.”
In “Sleep Well,” you also talk about being independent. How important is it for you to be able to be independent and not have to answer to any labels?
You have to understand, look at major labels. Let’s be realistic. You take the majors, the music industry is the only industry, from my observation, where you could be a total fuck-up at your job and get rehired somewhere else, maybe even to an even higher position than you initially held. I’ve seen people get fired from Def Jam and get hired as an executive over at Universal. The music industry plays musical chairs with people. I don’t respect too many labels. I was on Def Jam between ’96 and ’98. A lot of people that were at Def Jam then aren’t there no more. Now they’re all at Atlantic. So if you’re a street artist and you sign to Atlantic now, you have to work extra hard because they don’t know how to market street music. They know how to market hit or club music, music that they consider a hit. They don’t know how to market an artist like myself, so why would I go there? It’s like being a talented point guard and going to a team that has three point guards. You have to go to a label that’s going to cater to you. Labels are catering to a target demographic. You have people in their 30s being told to make songs for 106 and Park. You can’t do that and respect yourself in the morning. If you can do that, then you’re different from me. I can’t do that and respect myself in the morning.
I’m trying to cater to 18-50. Why should somebody who fell in love with a Slick Rick or EPMD not have music catered to them now? What did they do to deserve to have that happen to them? We abandoned a whole generation. To be honest, a label needs to hire somebody like me or a Large Professor, somebody who understands how to cater music to the mature listener. Look at Common Sense. Kanye West reinvigorated him. Common Sense never fluctuated and he never fell off, but Kanye West invigorated him and look at where Common Sense is now. The labels need more people like Kanye West at labels. We don’t need to have Common trying to make records like 50 Cent. People that would try to have him do that, we don’t need them. We don’t need the person that’s going to try to have Common make a crunk song. There’s no direction at major labels. They just follow whatever direction the game is going. I can’t fuck with no major and I don’t want to. It’s a no-win situation.
And I make over $5 every record. I don’t want to say the exact figure, but I make well over $5 off every record, so why would I want to go to a major? The best I could do on a major is gold. Let’s be realistic. If you go platinum, you’re not making no money. If you make 70 cents off a fucking record that goes platinum…If you make $1 off every record and go platinum, you’re still not going to make any money. It’s not lucrative for an artist. I’ll just be breaking even. All major artists make their money off shows. If you go gold or if you go platinum, you’re not going to make no money. They spend $500,000 to $1 million to market artists. All this money has to be recouped before you make any money, and then you’re only making 40 cents. I can sell 50,000 records and make more than the nigga that’s selling 1.5 million. I think I’m cool on that right now. And right now, I’m in a situation where I’m able to control my marketing budget and I know how to carry myself. I kept myself alive. I came out last in 2001. I was supposed to come out on Def Jam in 1997 and I’m still here. I’m good where I’m at. All I need is the right marketing behind my indie shit and I’m good. I don’t need a major.
From my perspective it seems as though you have very loyal fans. How would you describe your fans?
My fans are dope. I love my fans, for real. When you think about it, your fan isn’t nothing but another friend. Your fan is another person who appreciates you for what you do. Your fan is your friend. Your fan appreciates you for the music that you do and as long as you make good music, they’re there. But as soon as you stop making good music, they’re not there. They keep you on your job. They’re like your friend and your boss. I appreciate them. Who else gives you motivation when nobody else does? Who else is there for you? My fans know. I have fans that met me that have my phone number and call me. I have fans that I’ve met on my website. They’ll hit me on my website and tell me they’re coming to the show tonight. They’ll tell you. You don’t even have to take my word for it. There are fans that have been on my VIP list just from them contacting me and I know who they are. I know them on site when I see them and I get them in the club. My fans know that I’m a real person and I respect them and I’m the real thing. I just hope that my hard work pays off for this next solo album I do and for this DVD.
How’s your new album coming?
My new album is incredible. DR Period did a song for me with Tragedy and Havoc on it. E. Millz did a song for me called “Fresh” that has KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Grand Puba, PMD and Red Alert on it. And Primo did a track for me. I have another Primo track that I’m writing to. I have an Ayatollah track that’s incredible and a Pete Rock track that’s incredible. The album is coming out so dope. The album is 97% done. I’m talking mixed and everything. That’s going to be a defining moment in my career. If that album comes out and it doesn’t make a believer out of people and it’s not appreciated, and I’m not talking about sales, but if that album is not appreciated, I might just say, “Fuck it” and go get a job. That’s how much work I put into this album.
When are you dropping the album?
Everything is really based on Who Am I? From a fan’s perspective, you could say you want the album to come out right after that. But from a marketing standpoint and from an executive standpoint, it doesn’t make sense for me to do that. The feedback that we get from Who Am I? might tell us that we have to market that for four to six months. We’re getting a tremendous buzz and tremendous feedback right now. The album depends on how Who Am I? does.
You’re also releasing a Got Beats? series of instrumental albums highlighting up-and-coming and established producers. What inspired you to do that?
So many people contact me on the ‘net and ask for instrumentals to some of the songs I’ve done. There’s also no lane for people who just want to rap over dope beats. I know people that buy instrumental CDs on the streets. I said, “I’m going to take hot beats and give up-and-coming producers a chance.” There are producers who have dope beats and I mixed it. I got E. Millz and Primo on there. I wanted to do that to give back to the listener. Some people don’t want to dance. They just want to listen. And they want to write to stuff. I just wanted to do something different. This was just an experiment I tried. I have to put out product and this was one of the projects that I was sincerely interested in doing. I’m already working on a part 2 to Got Beats?
There’s always been talk of you and Ayatollah doing an EP together. Honestly, will that ever happen?
I mean, honestly, Ayatollah’s my man and I love him and everything, but Ayatollah has to get his work ethic up because our work ethics are not on the same page. Kobe and Shaq worked well together, but there were times when they questioned each other’s work ethics. I need to be able to call you and get you on the phone. If we need to work, I need you to be in the studio. You can’t just get your check and disappear. You have to work hard. At the end of the day, you’re either a producer or a sampler. Just because you sample a dope beat and get a check for it, it doesn’t make you a producer. A producer is the guy who does the track and he produces it while the artist is there. The producer mixes the beat and he knows what he wants it to sound like. The song on my new album, Ayatollah is still supposed to do the scratches on it. How can we do an album when we still have to do that? When his desire matches mine, then we can do business. That’s the thing that holds me back with everybody. If you’re there and you want to work, then we’re going to get work done.
Check back on Friday for Part 2 of our interview with Cormega