You just dropped your latest single “Fresh”…
That’s just one of many! There’s another version.
Did “Fresh” leak prematurely?
It got leaked a little bit before it was supposed to come out but it’s no biggie. I was about to leak it anyway. It’s just that I wanted to do it right. Usually we do the press release and we’ll have the titles and let everybody know what’s going on. But DJ Premier came first. He couldn’t help it. He played the joint and then Statik had it. He blasted it out. That’s why it was on HipHopGame, from Statik. Unfortunately some people gave it out and that wasn’t supposed to happen. Me and Jackie (publicist) were supposed to blast it out. But everything happens for a reason. We’re going to do the press release for the next version. But I’m glad that it’s out there because it lets people know that it’s not a game. The people want to know where the album is and the people know that I’m not going to release a song of that caliber and not have an album to follow up.
Having someone like DJ Premier leak your single doesn’t suck.
Exactly. Let me tell you something. The album is crazy. I just got another call from Primo and I had to tell him no. I have another song that he wants to play. He wants to play the song that he did for the album. He also did “Dirty Game”. That’s going to be on the album and that song leaked and it was never supposed to leak. So I have another song with Premier and this next song is real lyrical. It’s a real lyrical song. I had to tell him no, we’re not releasing that one yet. There are so many songs on my album that are crazy. You’ll see.
How did you put the legendary lineup in “Fresh” together?
I was lucky. There’s another version. I’m not going to have another version with a whole lot of rappers. But I’m not going to let the surprise out because it’s not done yet and I don’t like to talk about it until it’s done. But I’m going to add one more person. I’m going to add one more person for spice and it’s another element of hip-hop. It’s a blessing that I got these dudes.
I had a plan. I wanted to make a song that would rep New York to the fullest. New York has five boroughs and two places that are in the outer bounds of New York like Westchester and Long Island. I said for Brooklyn, we’ll get Kane and if we can’t get Kane, who are we trying to get? I said who else is dope from Brooklyn? Special Ed is one of the names that we wanted but Special Ed wanted $10,000 from what I understood and I busted out laughing. I ended up getting Big Daddy Kane and he didn’t even want $10,000. I was like a GM in an NBA Draft and I got a superstar instead of the guy that I was going to settle for. So Kane came through and that was a blessing.
I’ve always had a good rapport with Grand Puba. He’s always been a humble dude so I hollered at him and he came through.
And KRS-One, he was down with it. And KRS-One’s son, Rest in Peace to him, he’s the one that handled it for me. That’s also why this track is important to me. This is KRS-One’s son’s work as well. He played a significant role in this. PMD is my dude. He came in the studio and we vibed.
And Red Alert, he was thrilled. He’s the most humble guy that I ever met in this industry. Not only did I not have to call him 50 million times. This guy got on the train and came to the studio to do it. The studio we used was Power Play Studios and that was one of the most popular studios of that era. This is where Rakim did some of Paid in Full and KRS-One did Criminal Minded and it’s where the Juice Crew used to work. So Red Alert was familiar with it. This song that I’ve done is the song I’m most proud of. I’m a part of greatness. Even if you take me off the song it’s like, ‘Wow, look at what we have here.’
Looking at your catalogue, when you say you’re most proud of this song that’s a pretty big statement.
If you’re a hip-hop fan, not rap, hip-hop, think about it. I’m going to think about the boroughs. I said for the Bronx, there’s two of the greatest I was looking at for “Fresh” – KRS-One and Slick Rick. Brooklyn is Big Daddy Kane and somebody else said Special Ed. I wasn’t worried about Queens because I was on the song. And then we had Manhattan and Staten Island. Now the only person I didn’t have was someone from Staten Island which I’m trying to remedy right now. And then there’s Long Island. Rakim is very hard to get a hold of but I was not mad to get Parrish Smith, part of one of the greatest duos ever. And then from Westchester, there’s only two people that I would want, CL Smooth or somebody from Brand Nubian. It ended up working out perfectly. I ended up getting KRS-One. That was perfect. I got Big Daddy Kane. That was perfect. I ended up getting Grand Puba and PMD. That was perfect. And getting Red Alert was perfect.
It’s almost like a cross-borough “Symphony” for 2008.
Yeah, it is. The track is dope and everything but I think we need a different kind of track if we’re going to compete with the “Symphony”. That’s a flawless beat and that’s been done over by numerous artists.
From my experience in dealing with some of the greats, they make themselves very difficult to get to and then complain that no one wants to mess with them. That’s a side of the greats that fans don’t often get to see but it definitely explains why some legends aren’t in great positions today.
Yo, people do not understand. You are only as hot as your last record and performance exceeds reputation. That’s a strong saying that I always kept in my memory. Performance exceeds reputation. You could have been the dopest dude in the ‘80s or the ‘90s but it doesn’t matter now. The reason Scarface is so hot now is because Scarface is still rocking. You have to humble yourself. And for guys like Puba, et cetera, I would do a song for free on their album. They opened the door for me and they inspired me. You have to understand. Rappers were our big brothers at times. A lot of us didn’t have fathers and a lot of us were in the streets. A lot of us took rap seriously. Slick Rick helped a lot of people when he was talking about not trying to be a hard rock. He was telling you that you didn’t have to try to be hard. It’s like, ‘Wow.’ Some of the quotes that we got from these people, we applied to our lives. These people were symbolic in our lives.
When I speak to Biz Markie or when I’m in the studio with Grand Puba rapping, I got the biggest smile on my face like when I see my new car. These moments are timeless. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t have a camera to take pictures with these guys or to get autographs. That’s the biggest problem with these new rappers. Their egos are so big that they don’t want to give somebody their props but you can’t do that.
A lot of these dudes wasn’t raised right. They grew up in the street and/or they grew up with people who didn’t show them how to be men and how to respect elders. We would never sell drugs in front of the old people. You got kids now who used to sell drugs on the Hill and old people would walk by and we would hide it. We held the door open for old people and we carried their groceries. We wouldn’t do shit in front of them. The drug dealers back then used to do shit for the community because they knew they were doing bad and they were trying to balance out the scale. Now kids sell in front of the old people!
And a lot of kids use the age thing as an excuse. They’ll be like, ‘Yeah, man, the old niggas that been in the game gotta let the new niggas shine.’ It’s not about that! If you shine, you will shine. If you’re a diamond, you’re going to shine. If you got skills, you’re going to shine. You never hear T.I. or Lil’ Wayne or Juelz Santana complaining about older rappers. Soulja Boy don’t even complain. He just fights back. The people that are complaining that they’re not shining, they’re not shining for a reason. You gotta look within yourself. That’s the difference with now. I will do a song with any older rapper. If he’s 70 and he can rap, he can rap. Frank Sinatra sung until he died. Tony Bennett is still doing Vegas now. Anita Baker is still doing it. You don’t see that in rap. There’s nothing that killed rap. Rap is killing itself.
Do the attitudes of rappers like Special Ed frustrate you, especially when you’re reaching out to them with a great opportunity?
You know what? $10,000, I’ve only been charged that by only one other artist. There are some dudes who you might want to give close to $10,000 to work with. But you know something? The biggest artists, they’re not even charging that much. They’re not charging that much, $10,000. Everybody’s going to want their fee. Out of all the artists on “Fresh”, only one did it on the strength that if they ever needed me I would be there. No problem. I would have done it anyway.
I was mad when I heard $10,000. I was going to pay him and do something for him for free but they were like, ‘Nah, he wants $10,000.’ I’m laughing. They’re crazy. For less than $10,000 I can get somebody who’s popping. Styles P is hot and he won’t charge me $10,000. It was like, ‘Wow.’ That was an isolated incident, as they call those, but it just made me feel like, ‘Wow.’ And it comes back to haunt them.
There’s producers like that too. I forgot this dude’s name but I think it’s Rashad Smith. He used to do shit with Busta. Long story short, when I got signed to Def Jam, I got a big deal and a lot of people were greedy. They were going after my budget instead of being reasonable. This nigga tried to charge me $40,000 for a track. I didn’t get the track and I’m not paying that much for a track. He was basically charging me $40,000 for a sample. If you look at a lot of producers from that era, you can see why they’re not getting work no more. It’s like, ‘Fuck you. When I needed you, you tried to rob a nigga. And now that you’re not hot you wanna work. You tried to wreck me before.’
Or you might have an A&R at that time that was working with an MC and now he might be president of the label right now and he won’t work with that producer. So sometimes when you see producers not getting work, sometimes that’s the reason. That’s one of the reasons because when they were hot they were going crazy with their budget and now no one wants to fuck with them. That’s why I be humble to everybody, man.
I’ve seen a lot of that too, where an artist on a major doesn’t want to do interviews when they’re doing well but they’ll call up when they lose their deal wanting to do a “tell-all” interview.
They want to shit on people! They want to do the books and shit on people and that’s corny. That’s why I’m not with the beef shit no more. That shit is corny and it’s fucking up New York. What comes from that? You diss somebody and take them down and somebody disses you and takes you down. All it causes is separatism. You got people who like D-Block so they won’t fuck with G-Unit. That is causing separatism. That is 2008.
Imagine 2005 and if you had a song with 50, Cam’ron and Jay-Z. That’s the kind of shit that would have kept New York popping. That’s why the people wanted to hear. But there’s so much tension and drama. Don’t worry about the South. The South is unified. They may have their differences but they come together. We kill each other. We kill each other with our bullshit. That’s why I’m on the unity shit. If you got beef with a rapper, that’s your shit. I got a career and a family to maintain. That beef shit doesn’t benefit me. One thing I love about the song “Fresh” from the responses is that people are respecting that I got a bunch of people together. I think people are really excited about that and I think rappers should do that, not just with old school artists, but just to show togetherness. That’s an important thing.
Do you think your humility, besides talent, is a key reason as to why you’ve been doing well in the game?
I can’t say. If I can sell what I sold for The Realness or The True Meaning for Born and Raised (Cormega’s new album), I will be happy. I don’t have to sell 1 million. I just want to do me. I want to be me. I want to be cool with everybody. I don’t want the drama. If you’re from the streets and you want to get money, you have to know that money and drama don’t mix. At the end of the day, you’re going to go to a lawyer or a funeral. You’re not going to be alive to get the money.
I’m tired of all the dumb shit, man. The shit is stagnating right now because there is so much drama. This artist doesn’t like this artists and this artist doesn’t like that artist. I don’t have time for that. I’m working with everybody. People have to find ways to settle their beefs, man. All this hating each other, at the end of the day, you lose because you’re killing off your own ‘hood and the fan loses because the fan is the one who really respects your craft and you’re not utilizing them for the right reasons. You’re helping kill off rap.
Do you think Queensbridge will ever have unity and get the buzz back that they once had?
In Queensbridge it’s going to be hard. Queensbridge is the biggest projects in America, for one. Every block is like a different project and you have different crews in different areas. One person in one crew might have beef with someone from another block and if they’re both cool with separate rappers, those two rappers can’t coexist. Or you’ll have rappers that were never anybody and were never out there. They were just regular people and then they get a little position and then it’s like Revenge of the Nerds. They’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m in a position so fuck all of y’all.’ And then you have some niggas who just don’t want to fuck with anybody because they have their own issues.
You’ve worked with a lot of notable artists in Queensbridge. Do you think you can help bring back a sense of unity?
Pride will make people do stupid things. This is the time when you have to put your pride in your back pocket. I would rather put my pride in my back pocket and get money than to not have money. If you notice you haven’t heard Cormega diss songs in quite some time. I’m not with that shit. That shit is wack. And it takes away from you because some people will only want to know you for that. There are some magazines that will only interview you to have you talk about another rapper and to have you dissing somebody. Look at what’s going on. They’re playing you. They’re using you. They’re playing you for sensationalism to sell a magazine. There’s stuff like that that you really have to look at if you’re a self-respecting artist.
A lot of times artists say something stupid though and blame the journalist for not quoting him right or by saying that he was baited. Don’t artists also have to take responsibility for what they say?
Exactly. Some artists do that. Not everybody. Some artists just want to rap. There are people that can be baited but on a mature level you have to understand what you’re saying and if you don’t want to talk about something then you don’t have to. It’s an artist’s responsibility.
We all heard the rumors about Rick Ross and his alleged past job as a corrections officer. Should that affect him as a rapper?
Listen, I’m from the streets. I know a lot of niggas from the streets. I had a nigga tell me that Rick Ross was a C.O. probably three years ago. I been heard that shit. I said get the fuck out of here when I heard it. If he was a C.O., what can I say? That’s not how I’m living and that’s not my life. But if he was a C.O. and it caught up to him then there’s nothing that I can say that would hurt him more than the truth. There’s nothing I can say. Rick Ross is hurt already if that is true. I’m in Queensbridge right now. I came out here Friday and it’s Monday. I might go home tomorrow or the day after. I’m in Queensbridge right now. Think about all these rappers that rap about being out here. You’ll see some rappers out here. The only ones you see though are the niggas that don’t got no money.
But there’s no rapper with money selling crack and busting their guns and trying to unify the ‘hood and show love. That’s rappers. That’s why I separate myself from rappers. They’re all talk. They’re not built the way they say they are. There’s only two rappers I can vouch for 100% out here. Rick Ross ain’t doing anything different from what other rappers are doing. There’s no rapper that’s going to say they’re not tough or that they went to private school. You know what I’ve learned? I’ve learned that other people’s business doesn’t affect me. If he was a C.O., how does that affect me? What he eats doesn’t make me shit. That doesn’t affect my bank account.
If Rick Ross had initially told the truth about being a C.O. would this be a big deal right now?
Let me tell you right now, the truth is the illest weapon in the world because the truth is a bulletproof vest. If you’re telling the truth, when people say something about you, it can’t hurt you. The people already know! The truth can’t hurt you. If somebody alters the truth, that makes that person look fake, But if you tell the truth it can’t hurt you. That’s one thing I respect about myself. If I say I sold drugs I sold drugs. If I say I was in the street I was in the street. There’s nothing that a nigga could surprise you with about certain artists. If a rapper took a loss and they say they took a loss, you have to respect that like if a nigga says he won. If you say you didn’t do something and you did, you hurt yourself. It’s not about hurting other people. You hurt yourself because it’s hard to come back from that.
Can fans take hip-hop too seriously at times?
A lot of fans take rap serious. When I was growing up and I heard Kool G. Rap rap about his nine, that shit blew me away. But the first thing that made me want a nine was The Terminator. That’s the first time I saw one. But it’s certain things that you hear from rappers and you hold them to that. You think it’s real music and when you find out otherwise, it’s like, ‘Yo.’ You find out about certain rappers and I know a lot about certain rappers but there’s a word for those people who bring themselves up by bringing other people down. That’s corny. That’s not by business and I’m not that type of person. The niggas that’s fronting, they know they’re fronting.
You can’t lie. Certain niggas, like 50 Cent, like I knew 50 Cent before he fucking blew up like that. When I see interviews and I remember one time there was a rapper saying he wanted to fight 50. I busted out laughing because I remember being in Queens and 50 knows how to fight. He fights very well. He was in the gym boxing and sparring. He’s a good boxer. And the nigga’s in shape. So you can’t just be a regular nigga saying you want to fight him because you’re going to get hurt. That rapper must have done some research because he never said he wanted to fight him again. He probably found out that that nigga boxes.
I find out certain things about certain people, that’s why I respect people in different ways. I don’t know too many rappers that were rich before rap. I know a lot of rappers that project that because in this era you have to be a baller and it has to be visual. I don’t know too many rappers that were like that. Rap is for entertainment. I never in my life knew there was such a thing as rented jewelry until 10 years ago in the industry. I learned that from the industry. The rap game is an image. It’s an illusion. People tell people that they’re hard and that they’re rich and prominent. You see rappers with certain jewels and then when you see them in the streets they don’t got it. My shit is the opposite. The only jewelry I had on The Realness cover was my watch. It was simple shit. But if you see me in the street I’m usually heavy. I usually got on nice shit. That’s just how I am. As a rapper, I’m not a jewelry salesman for Jacob.
Those are priorities that artists have to look at. Lyor Cohen told me one thing one day that was real important. He said one out of 100 people makes it. One out of 100. So he was like, ‘You have to use this as a platform. How can you use this to accomplish other dreams that you have?’ I have to look at this more as a businessman and my priorities have to be for what I want to do as a businessman.
Are we going to see you making more business moves in the future?
Yeah, I want to do that. I want to do a blog. I did a blog once. I think it was for Elemental Magazine. I want to write and there is so much stuff on my mind that I want to talk about and that I have opinions on. I want to be a writer and I want to have a sneaker store. I just started taking the digital shit seriously. Prior to my album coming out, my album is coming out digitally before it comes out physically and you never hear of artists doing that, especially not in rap. That’s a door that I’m walking through before a lot of other people walked through. If I fail, I tried. If I succeed, wow.
When I went independent, only one artist came to me and told me I was bugging. That was Foxy. She told me to my face that she thought I was bugging but everyone else was talking behind my back. Now it’s 2008 and they all went indie themselves. The digital realm is a very serious realm because it cuts out a lot of bullshit. That’s the next thing I’m getting into. I also want to do a book about the industry. Not an expose but where I’m showing artists how I feel the industry is and how they can make money, how they can do what I did and do it better. After everything I’ve done, come on, B. It’s inspiring. I want to talk to the people. That’s definitely one of my plans.
In looking at the hip-hop media, magazines are definitely on the decline while new blogs are popping up every day.
The magazines are hurting right now. I wanted to do a magazine. One of my guys does a magazine now and he told me how to get distribution, et cetera, et cetera, but the internet is the way to go because it reaches more people. I want to have quality stuff to write about and I don’t want it to be controlled or polluted. When I say “polluted” I mean with corporations. With hardcore rap, you could always like something else. You could like N.W.A. and still like KRS-One. You could listen to Public Enemy but if you want ed to relax and chill, you had De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest. You had lyrics like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim. You had girls like Queen Latifah and MC Lyte.
Now you have to be balling and have girls in your video and the people will see you like you have this prominence and that’s corporations. Once corporations step in it gets polluted. Once you open a magazine nowadays all you get is ads. There’s at least 30 to 40 ads. There’s mad pages where there’s nothing but ads. It might be for sneakers or cologne. The corporations are doing that and the people strayed away from it.
And who’s hurt the most? The consumer. The people stopped buying magazines. The internet is not polluted yet but the corporations will be trying to buy all the banners and right now, the internet is more honest. I see how y’all do. You’ll have a Cormega on HipHopGame but you’ll also have an artist that’s bigger than me and you’ll have an artist that’s way bigger than me. But you don’t always see the artists that you see on the TV and on the radio all day. That’s the difference with the ‘net. They don’t have it polluted yet, but don’t get it twisted because they will. I want to write and I don’t want to write controlled. Being under control is when you want to write something but you can’t say it, like, ‘We can’t write about these people because Universal might be taking out ads with us.’ I want to do honest writing. That’s what I want to do. I want to speak from my heart.
Going back to “Fresh”, you shouted out the Patrick Ewing Adidas. What do you think of those shoes today?
They’re crazy. I got two pairs. I got one I wear and one I keep fresh. I might even sell that pair. Fuck it. I got the sneaker collection crazy. A lot of people have been on my back trying to get my sneakers. I love those sneakers. If you think about it, Air Jordan’s are the sneaker of our generation. That was for the baller and that was the basketball sneaker. That was for the hustler. The Air Jordan’s were the status sneaker. But the Patrick Ewing was for New York. That had the New York colors. If you go back to Paid in Full, Eric B has a pair of those shits on. Those were New York.
Do you have a favorite pair of basketball shoes in your collection?
Let me think about this. (pause) There’s like four shoes that come to mind when I think of a particular basketball shoe. I’ve always been a fan of Air Jordan’s so that doesn’t even count. I think I got every pair. I could wear a new pair of Jordan’s every day for a month. Seriously. Every day I could come out in a new pair of Jordan’s. That’s how many pairs of Jordan’s I got.
One of my favorites that comes to mind, you can’t front on the Penny Hardaway Foamposites. Those shits were revolutionary. They were the Smurf blue Foamposites. Those were crazy. Of course Patrick Ewing’s Adidas. I’m trying to contact Adidas because I want my own sneaker based on those. What else was crazy? Oh, the first Iverson’s when Iverson first came out and he had those Reebok’s. Those shits were crazy. And what else? And the Dee Brown Reebok Pumps.
I also can’t forget these three. The Converse Weapon’s. Those were the Magic and Bird shoes. I can’t forget the Converse that Dr. J was wearing and the Kareem Abdul-Jabaar Adidas were crazy. That’s it right there. My collection is pretty decent. Put it like this, my guy at the sneaker store told me he could make $25,000 off my sneaker collection.
As long as we’re talking about basketball, there’s a lot of speculation that Lebron may be a Net after next season. What do you think about that?
Teams like the Knicks and all these teams talking about how they’re trying to save cap space for Lebron, they need to cancel that because if Lebron doesn’t stay in Cleveland, he’s going to New Jersey or Brooklyn because him and Jay-Z’s relationship is so strong. He throws up the Roc sign at games. What part of that don’t you understand? If he doesn’t stay in Cleveland that’s almost guaranteed. Everybody knows that.
Do you think the U.S. Olympic team can win the Gold this year?
I think they’re going to win this year. They got too much pride at stake and there’s too many top-notch basketball players playing. But it’s like I said. Corporations have polluted the game. If you look at it, it ain’t nothing but a Nike commercial. If you take Dwight Howard off that team it’s an all-Nike team. Look at it. There’s no way in hell that you’re not going to put an Iverson on that team. He brings too many intangibles. How are you not going to put Iverson on that team? No one can control him in America so how can anyone else stop him? How can you not put Iverson on that team? Can you explain that to me? Look at them putting Jason Kidd on the team. Iverson is younger than Jason Kidd!
How far along are you on your new album Born and Raised?
It’s pretty much done. I can sit down with you this week and you can come and listen to pretty much the whole album. The only songs that are not done are not mixed but you can get an idea for how it sounds. You have a song by Easy Mo Bee that has to be mixed and one by Large Professor that needs to be mixed. But the songs by Primo and Ayatollah are mixed. The album’s pretty much done. You can listen to the album now and tell if it’s going to suck or if it’s going to be a good album. But I’m glad with it and happy with it and I’m glad that “Fresh” is getting the response that it’s getting.
There’s currently no release date for Born and Raised. When will we see the album?
It’s definitely coming in ’08. I just have to decide on the month. I was thinking of late fall. The only thing we have to work out is some business stuff but it’s definitely coming out this year. I’m coming.