You finally have a new album coming out in Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop. How does it feel having a new album coming out?
Craig G: It’s good to see your work getting out there. I’m real happy about that. And I’m real happy about what the message stands for. There’s an air of excitement. I’m real happy about it. That’s for sure.
How did you and Marley come up with the idea for this album?
Craig G: Well, me and Marley were just doing songs and what was coming out at me at the time as far as how I felt about the hip-hop industry kind of created the album. It was kind of a secret that we were creating an album. I wasn’t really telling anybody. I wanted it to come out like a secret project and could have people talking about change because everybody talks about it, but at the same time, when someone steps up and says it, the same people that talk about it complain about it.
So you want to provide people with a solution?
Craig G: Yeah. That’s pretty much what it is. Everybody’s complaining, but at the same time, I think we have to open up a dialogue about that.
Was any of this in response to Nas’ Hip-Hop is Dead album title?
Craig G: If you know me and you know the last few releases I’ve put out, I’ve been talking about where hip-hop is going and what I don’t like about it. I would say some of it is related to that, but I kind of go more in-depth, as far as song content goes, about how I feel. So yeah, in a way it is, but at the same time, it’s my standpoint on it.
Has anything changed working with Marley Marl in 2008 when compared to the ‘80s?
Craig G: Actually nothing really changed for me. Me and Marley do a lot of shows together. We spend time together on the road. So nothing really changed, man. The work ethic, as far as me and Marley goes, is pretty much automatic. We go to the crib, work, he’ll leave me to write, come back and the song will be done. It’s not rocket science. The chemistry of us working in the studio is pretty simple.
It seems like Marley Marl gives you a lot of space to do your thing.
Craig G: Marley is like a big brother to me. He’s going to tell me the truth if I deliver something wrong or if I say a line wrong. Not too many people will do that but Marley will. He brought me into the game and if he wants me to change something, I definitely will consider a compromise to make the song work for the both of us. What a lot of people don’t know is that Marley has an extensive stash of beats. I mean a whole, whole lot of beats. It’s just about me picking what I want and he’ll give it to me.
One of the standout cuts on the album is “War Going On" featuring Cormega. What was your state of mind recording the track?
Craig G: That song basically came about with the Sean Bell issue and how when you turn on the radio and turn on the videos, all the rappers are talking about material items when there’s a whole lot of stuff going on in the world that tells you that’s all meaningless. What happened is that I was actually writing a song and it was three verses. Then Cormega called Marley and told him that he had done a lot of songs with artists from Queensbridge but never Craig G. This beat was perfect for him and he came to the studio and knocked it out. This song is not talking about average things or the average crap that everyone is talking about.
Cormega has always paid tribute to the QB pioneers. What was it like working with him?
Craig G: Well, as far as Cormega goes, I have a tremendous respect for him. With how things went with The Firm, he came out on his feet and he’s succeeded in the independent game. I have a lot of respect for that. Plus me and his cousin were best friends in public school. There’s a lot of history when it comes to Queensbridge artists. It was a long overdue thing.
Does it inspire you to keep working when artists that are inspired by you want to work with you?
Craig G: Absolutely. I want to impress them. I feel like I still have skills, so I just want to impress the hell out of them when they hear it. It definitely motivates me to come 100% as far as how my lyrics go.
Are you satisfied with how Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop came out?
Craig G: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s a testament to someone like myself, who’s been in the business a very long time and someone that’s not as old as people think and I’m a fan still. I just wanted to express my discontent with what’s been going on and basically, honestly and truly, every song on that album is true feelings. It’s not nothing that I contrived for the sake of the song. It’s just how I felt. At the end of the day, if I can look at that, I can look myself in the mirror and be proud that I did it.
It’s easy for a lot of fans to say that they don’t like hip-hop today. What is it about the game that frustrates you the most?
Craig G: The balance is gone. The balance is gone. I could sit around all day and say this is wack and this is wack. We’ve always had wack hip-hop from day one. But the thing is now, they’re only focusing on one type of hip-hop. When I was coming up in the so-called golden era, you could listen to N.W.A. and if you wanted to chill out you could listen to Tribe and if you wanted that boom-bap you could listen to EPMD. Everyone is now doing the same thing and that’s ruining the balance. The funny thing is is that I truly don’t blame the artists. I blame the machine. And that’s why I named my album Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop. I think the people need to take the music back from the machine and that way we’ll have more choices. It’s almost like we’re in a Communist world right now as far as hip-hop is concerned.
Your last album, This is Now!, dropped in the spring of 2003. Why has it taken so long to get another Craig G solo album?
Craig G: Well, one, it took me and Marley a lot of time to get together to work on the album. In between that I was doing a lot of shows and me and my brother released and album Climate Control as Silent Majority. Sometimes I like to take a step back and not plug my brain with a million thoughts because I take this very seriously. Great work doesn’t happen overnight. And then as far as the situation as far as labels go, I don’t really have a trusting eye for labels. So when I got hooked up with Good Hands, thanks to you, I liked what he was talking about. I had other offers in between it, but none of them really moved me like that.
How important is it for you at this stage in the game that you find a label that will do what they say instead of promising you a huge budget?
Craig G: Very important because when you’re in the studio, that’s one less thing you have to worry about. I’ve been in this game pretty much for 23 years, man, since I was 13, an never once have I dealt with a label, up until now, that will do what they say, with the expectation of D&D. They did what they could, but I was on the tail end of the business going down. That was a great album but I didn’t let that discourage me. I went out to Vegas and I was doing radio out there. Then I came back to New York and I divided it was time to get back in the studio.
How frustrating was it when This Is Now! didn’t do as well as it could have?
Craig G: It’s frustrating, but it was a situation where I can’t really point fingers. It was just a matter of bad timing. The label was going out of business at that time and at least the album got out and at least the people who want to hear it heard it. You can still find it. That was a great album. Honestly and truly, that album showed me about being a songwriter and not just being a freestyle rapper. It inspired me because it showed me my skills were needed to make good records. It was inspiring to me despite commercially how it turned out.
Have you heard from Doug Grama of D&D fame lately?
Craig G: Actually I spoke to him last week. I spoke to him last week. He was just out in Vegas and I spoke to him in New York. We speak constantly. I speak to Dave also.
Was it hard for you being on the sidelines as far as having music out these last five years?
Craig G: No. Not really because everything comes in time. One thing I’ve learned in this business now and I’m learning it now is patience. Sometimes things are just not meant to happen when you think they’re meant to happen and it doesn’t always go according to your plan. When you think about it right now, there’s a big interest and resurgence in the Juice Crew so it couldn’t have been a better time right now.
How much did Marley Marl getting his name out again with Hip-Hop Lives, his collaboration album with KRS-One, help you create a buzz for Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop?
Craig G: It helped me a lot because one or two of those beats on the album Kris turned down. That’s what started the album and Hip-Hop Lives was a great album. A lot of people want to hear the real stuff. I look at what all these guys are saying on the internet. They don’t want to be a hater but you’re not a hater if you don’t like what’s out. It’s a democracy and you don’t have to hear that. It’s terrible because at the same time, what I’m speaking about on this album, it’s on the thoughts of everyone but no one wants to admit it.
Why weren’t any members of the Juice Crew on Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop?
Craig G: Well, that was like scheduling as far as anything else. As far as Kane, he’s constantly touring. Ace was working on the eMC album. G. Rap was working on the album. That’s just the way it happened. A few people told me I should have had Ace and G. Rap, but that’s going to come because I’m getting ready to start another album anyways.
(Marley Marl joins the call)
Marley, what’s up?
I can’t complain. It’s day-by-day shit.
Craig, getting back to what we were talking about, have you started the new album?
Craig G: Not yet. Not yet. We’re going to see where this course runs with it but I’m getting the ideas together now.
How much did being in Vegas help you come back to New York with a fresh and focused mindset?
Craig G: Well, Vegas pretty much helped me because I realized that if you want to do an album, you have to do it in New York. There are places you can just jump on stage and feel the energy. I got in radio in Vegas and that excited me. I’m probably going to get back into that later on. It was a cool thing to do something different for a hot minute.
Will there be another Silent Majority album?
Craig G: We were just talking about that. We’re probably going to do that at the end of the year.
Marley, how have you been feeling since your heart attack?
Marley Marl: Much better. I changed my diet up. I’m getting some rest now. I eliminated the stress. (laughs) It’s all good.
Was a lot of that stress related to the hip-hop game?
Marley Marl: No. It was really my diet and me not eating right. What kind of brought it on was when I was on a tour with KRS-One. I went out on tour with him and there were a lot of dates. During those dates I wasn’t really taking care of myself, health-wise, and that kind of caught up with me.
I’ve heard staying healthy is the hardest part about touring.
Marley Marl: Yeah. When you’re on tour, sometimes you want to be safe and eat American-type foods. I just made the mistake of eating KFC every day. Every city I went to it was KFC and tons of beer.
Craig G: And then you eat at the weird times.
Marley Marl: And you only get two or three hours of rest. It’s not really good.
Craig G: And the funny thing is that I’m actually trying to get in shape now. Marley said to me, “It’s okay to be hungry.”
Marley Marl: Sometimes you think you’re hungry and you eat just to eat, but it’s not good, man. You know, you got to try to get in shape a little bit.
No doubt. Marley, Craig G said that you have an extensive arsenal of beats. How did you guys decide what beats would make up Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop?
Marley Marl: Whenever we get together, we go in the lab and we’re always making stuff. I’m always playing stuff for Craig. I’m the type of producer where I try to give things to two or three artists and whoever rocks the beat, they can have it! (laughs) That’s how “Droppin’ Science” was made.
Over the years have your production techniques stayed pretty consistent?
Marley Marl: I’m always listening to new things. I’m not using the same equipment that I’m making the old joints with. I roll with technology. And I’m always trying new things and hearing new styles and finding new ways to loop things up and change notes and chop things up how I want to. I’m doing what I’ve always been doing, it’s just with newer equipment.
How do you balance who you work with on a daily basis?
Marley Marl: I try not to overexert myself with stuff. I just try to take it on a daily basis. Whatever I got time for, I definitely try to work it in. I’m definitely not going to try and overwork myself.
Your last two projects have been full albums with one MC. Would you rather work on albums as opposed to doing single tracks with artists here and there?
Marley Marl: Yeah, I do because it gives me time to really mess with the artists. I feel like one record or even two, they’re not really connecting. I feel like with a whole album, it’s more of a connection. It builds more of a connection. Anybody can rhyme on a track, but these are more conceptual albums. We’re coming up with things and I’m right there. We can make two or three different joints and they can flow with each other and you can tell. I like it better doing whole albums as opposed to doing one record.
Are you working on any new albums right now?
Marley Marl: Right now I might be working on mine! (laughs) Just playing. I’m just chilling. My mind is really set on doing movie soundtracks and trying to take it to the other side because as you can see, the music industry is really not as fruitful as it needs to be. I’m not going to dummy up that bad and make dumbass records just to make money! (laughs)
Can you make the transition to soundtracks and scoring movies?
Marley Marl: Oh yeah. No doubt. You gotta look at it, a lot of people used a lot of my stuff in movies and in games and stuff. So we’re doing it without doing it. We always recorded for a soundtrack or scored a movie. We always caught something on a video game or something. We’ve kind of been doing it before we was doing it.
Marley, what equipment are you using today?
Marley Marl: Logic and Reason. I’m a Logic and Reason person.
Will we ever hear a Juice Crew track in the future?
Marley Marl: It’s a possibility. I would love to have a Juice Crew record. That would be dope.
What’s holding it back?
Marley Marl: It’s not scheduling. With Pro Tools, scheduling is nothing. You can just shoot somebody the hard drive or the Pro Tools file. Technology has enabled you to do more. With technology, I can just send the track over to his house and they can send the vocals back. They all have their own studios and if it was ever needed, we could do it. Everybody has their own lab. Technology has enabled it.
As a producer who came up when MCs had to record with the producer, do you look at it as a bad thing that MCs can record without the producer?
Marley Marl: I look at that as evolution. I look at it as evolution because yes, I want the best performance from an artist but sometimes the best performance comes from where the artist is comfortable. I’m most comfortable in my house. Craig is comfortable in his studio. That’s where he did the whole Silent Majority stuff.
Craig G: Yeah. It’s a blessing. Everybody says it’s a curse but as far as sales-wise, it is. But as far as making music, Marley knows what he’s doing. If all you need is my vocals, I’m comfortable with leaving you my vocals. It’s not an issue. I know he’s going to do what he’s gotta do with it.
Marley Marl: You also have to look at some of the best songs that I ever made were songs that I kind of doctored to be what it is as far as fixing the vocals and all of that. Those are my best records.
What are your guys’ goals for Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop?
Craig G: I just want people to talk about it, man. I never did the album expecting it to be a huge commercial success. At the same time, I don’t want to be looked at as a hater when someone else shapes my thoughts and they just don’t want to say it. There’s nothing wrong with hip-hop. Hip-hop is not wack. There’s always been wack hip-hop. There’s just not the balance now and we have to have those choices. Otherwise hip-hop wouldn’t be on the decline that it is.
Marley Marl: I just want people to get into what we felt when we were doing it and rock with us. We’re not trying to change the world with the album.
Craig G: Not at all.
Marley Marl: We’re trying to get a few heads bopping! (laughs)
Craig G: That’s it!