When I first listened to your new mixtape The Rise of D.O.E. the first thing that really struck me was how much your flow has improved over the last couple of years.
I appreciate that. I’m just trying to keep elevating at all times and keep growing because if I stop, that’s it. I’m finished!
Did you make a conscious effort to improve as an MC or is it something that happened naturally?
It was a little bit of both because I really have a lot of passion about this. I’m always constantly trying to improve and a lot of people have been sleeping on me so it’s kind of like I have a point to prove so I just went extra hard and gave it that extra push, making sure the flows were right, the concepts, the beats, the hooks…I wanted to make sure everything was tight even down to the skits. Everything. Everything was right because when people are sleeping on me, you gotta give it that extra push because when you just give it half-assed, you’re just proving them right. I want to prove everybody wrong.
You talk a lot about fans sleeping in you and doubting your talents on “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Why do you think you have so many people doubting you right now?
I think it’s because people don’t see me as much. The one thing with this game, even with other artists who broke through, it was their constant push. They were constantly out there and they were constantly putting music out. The more people see you, their opinion of you sort of becomes biased and me, I haven’t put a lot of material out there but you hear me there and then you won’t hear me again and then you’ll hear me. The people didn’t get enough of me to really see that I am the truth but this mixtape will help. They will see me a lot.
When I was getting my deal with Tim, his whole situation was falling apart and he asked me to fall back from the mixtape scene because he didn’t have a situation and I was still on Interscope. He didn’t want me getting too hot in the streets and no album was coming out. You’ve seen that with other artists. They get the streets real hot and then no album comes out. So that’s what I did – I fell back. I definitely think the people haven’t seen enough of me. That’s why they sleep.
Was it hard for you to fall back and not release material?
Yes! I had a whole bunch of music and I couldn’t put it out. And then on top of that is I wasn’t out there so I wasn’t making any money. I wasn’t doing any shows or nothing. I was just sitting. That was the hardest thing to do. I was going crazy! (laughs) It got to the point where I was sitting so much that I wasn’t making any money and I was thinking about going back to the streets. My last case was seven years ago and I wasn’t going back to the streets. I was just sitting there broke. He asked me to fall back and that’s not my type. Financially it was hard.
What did you do to fill your time when you weren’t releasing music?
Well I was still making music. I just wasn’t putting it out. I started working with other artists just to pass the time. I was still being creative. I was working with artists that I knew and I believed in. I met a whole lot of producers. I stayed active but I just couldn’t do it in the public’s eye.
Were you able to record your debut album when you were on hiatus from the public eye?
Yeah. I did a lot of material but some of it is dated. Some people have songs that are just sitting. I can’t use the songs that I did two years ago because my sound is different. So I was just making songs and some of them might go to waste and some of them I might try to redo and use them. (laughs) I’m thinking back, I was really fucked up! I’m doing a little bit better now.
What’s your current label situation with Timbaland?
Timbaland is still at Interscope. The situation went south but two years later, him and Interscope worked it out. I’ve been on Interscope since they got me. They had to do the Nelly Furtado album and when he did his album, he told me he got me. I was like, ‘All right, cool.’ I was just going off of his word. That was another hard thing to do because you’re not supposed to put too much trust in any man but it was like, I put that trust in him. I was like, ‘All right, cool.’ He said he got me so I waited.
So when it came time to do his album he told me to come down there but at this time I’m super-fucked up. I had to rent a car and drive down there and when I got to the studio, I didn’t even have no money for a hotel so I slept in the car for three days. Every day after the studio I would go and sleep in the car while everybody else went to their hotels. They didn’t know. And then one day Timbaland caught me and I told him I was fucked up. He got me a hotel room and when we got to the studio he said he had the perfect song. It was “I ain’t got no money.” (laughs) Oh shit! That right there damn-sure was the perfect record for me. That’s how “The Way I Are” came about. That shit was perfect for me. That shit was a poor man’s anthem!
If you’re signed to Timbaland, should you really be sleeping in a car?
When I had got my advance, the whole label situation went sour so it was like, he asked me to cool off. I got my advance. I wasn’t putting anything out and nothing was coming in. I was living off of my advance for two years. Come on. That shit will go. I was like, ‘I’m not going to ask Tim for money. I’m going to ask for an opportunity,’ which is what he gave me on “The Way I Are.” If I had asked him for money he would have gave it to me but I’m a man. I’m not Tim’s dependent. He has dependents of his own and so do I so I have to make my own way. I wasn’t about to ask him for any money.
Is your debut album close to coming out?
It damn-sure is. I was actually down in Miami this weekend with Tim for Keri Hilson’s video for “Return the Favor.” We were in the studio and he said it to my face that I was next up. He said I was next. My first single actually leaked out. It has a real international feel to it. We’re about to service everybody with the record. Somebody hacked into my computer, took the record and put it out and it was on all the sites. I was like, ‘Damn, are people loving the shit that much?’ It’s an international record and the ‘hood will still love it. When you let the coolest nigga hear it, he’ll say this shit is hot and I’ll let the nerdiest white person hear it and they’ll be like, ‘This shit is rocking!’ I know with this single I’m going to really smash them with it and even though it’s an international-type of record, I’m still keeping my same message. I’m still D.O.E. I’m not crossing over and I’m not changing. It’s still me. It’s a different sound.
How hard is it making music that the masses can appreciate while staying true to yourself and your roots?
It’s hard. It actually is hard because at all times you don’t want to make the fans angry. Once the fans leave you you’re finished. You are done. What Timbaland wanted me to do was just be myself. Even when we did “The Way I Are,” truthfully, I didn’t want to be on “The Way I Are.” He had a record that was supposed to be me, him and Dr. Dre but he ended up doing the song with 50 and Yayo. That’s the record I wanted to be on. But he was like, ‘No, no, no, I need you on this record.’
When I did the record I didn’t know what to do. That was my first time doing an international and pop record or whatever and I didn’t know what to say. He told me to just be me because once I was just myself the people were going to gravitate to me. If I was being fake and phony he said after awhile it would blow up in my face. So at all times I’m just being me. I told niggas on the CD how fucked up I was. I was broke. When I hit my rock-rock bottom, I had to get a job, like, two months before “The Way I Are” came out. When it came out I was working. I got two kids. I can’t do nothing. I can’t do that. Even the rappers that have jobs, they don’t tell nobody about that shit because they’re fronting. Tim told me to just be myself whether it was international record or an underground record. I can just be D.O.E. and if you don’t like it, hey, it costs you nothing, pay me no mind.
Are you happy with how “The Way I Are” did?
“The Way I Are” did more than I expected it to because I didn’t expect anything, like, dead serious. I had no clue of the type of effect that this type of record was going to have until it came out because after I recorded it, I didn’t hear it until the album was about to come out. All that time…We recorded it at the end of November of ’06 and it came out, I heard it for the first time after that, in February of ’07.
I had no expectations for that record at all. I didn’t know it was going to be No. 1 but once it came out and the radio stations started playing it on their own and top 40 stations started playing the album version on their own, every time I turned around the song was going to the radio and the label wasn’t even pushing that song. The label was pushing a song with Justin Timberlake. I started pushing it on my own and sending out email blasts and just doing marketing on MySpace and hitting people and once I seen all that, then I knew it was going to pop but I still didn’t know that it was going to be No. 1 in over 30-something countries. This was some shit!
This record…I’m the first rapper that was on a soap opera. I was on One Life to Live because of this record. I closed out the VMA’s with huge artists Nelly Furtado and Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. I toured the road off of eight bars! I performed on the stage of Madison Square Garden! I stood on stages around the United States and the world for eight bars! I made more off of these eight bars than anything else I ever did.
So yeah, it exceeded the money. And screw the money. Screw everything else. It opened my eyes. Before I was in the ‘hood mindset. I wanted to be one of the street, gutter dudes. That shows you where my mind was at. Now my mind is totally different. Not only is it financially healthy now but mentally, just seeing the world and being around different types of people, it opened up a different type of crowd. If you’re performing in those places, you’re around different types of people who get certain types of money and the knowledge that they were passing around and me just being next to them and hearing them talk off of that record, hell yeah it exceeded my expectations.
How did the record’s success change your personal goals?
Even though I came from the streets with it and I was doing underground street mixtape shit, I was never the bang-bang shoot ‘em up killer rapper. I was never that. I was always the street dude that wasn’t totally ignorant, for lack of a better word. I was never like that. When this experience happened, it just broadened my horizons.
I could still have my same message and get it to the world and let them see what we see in the ‘hood and show them our perspective on the world and at the same time be super-‘hood but show other sides’ perspectives, which is hard because now I gotta play the middle. Now I got fans all across the world and they don’t know me as John Doe from the streets. All they know is D.O.E. and then I got niggas in the streets who know me as D.O.E. and they respect me and that I’m cool with Timbaland but these are two different audiences and I gotta satisfy them both because I would be a fool to say fuck you to the international crowd and the streets, because that’s where it started. Now I gotta play that middle, right down the middle, and I just gotta cater to both sides and at the same time still be me.
So I might be on the international beat but I’m kicking shit that the ‘hood can relate to. Internationally, they don’t care about lyrics too much. All they care about is if it makes them move and if it has a good vibe. The streets are the ones that care about lyrics and content. Cool, that’s what it is. Now I have to make sure that my beats can cut through on both sides and have to make sure that my content is good enough for the ‘hood’s perspective.
Can you appropriately balance making music to please your hardcore fans while satisfying the pop fans that love Timbaland and Justin Timberlake?
It’s going to be a task but where there’s a will there’s a way. As far as the streets, I did this mixtape just for them to explain to them where I’ve been all this time. I haven’t been out there consecutively like a lot of these other dudes have been. I’m explaining to them why I haven’t been out there and who I am and what I’ve went through. For the streets, nine times out of ten, the streets aren’t buying records. As long as I keep something for them…
Let’s say you’re hustling weed in the ‘hood. You’re pushing Arizona. You’re not going to make enough to keep your head above water. You need an ill connect for the kush because this other nigga has an ill connect for the kush. He’s going to get mad clientele. What are you going to do? Are you going to focus on the kush connect or other connects? You’re going to focus on the kush but you do have some Arizona customers who have been with you from the beginning so you keep enough Arizona to keep them happy.
And you focus on your kush. So that’s what I gotta do. That’s the world. The streets are a fly on an elephant’s butt. The mixtapes, we’re a small market now. We’re a small market so mixtapes are not going to go that far in New York. That doesn’t mean I’m going to cut it off. I’m going to keep enough for them and make music for the world and keep the content on the mixtapes with where I’m coming from. It’s going to be a hard task but at the end of the day that’s who I’ve always been.
I’ve never been the ignorant street dude. Never. So for me to walk that fine line, that’s who I’ve always been. I never explained this to anybody because they never asked and when they did ask, I didn’t care to do it. Who John Doe is, that’s my fine line. That’s my medium. In the streets, niggas called me Doe Boy and they called me D.O.E. for short.
Now people who are real close to me and people at school or people when I had a job, they called me John. Same person, two different personas. You know what I mean? When you’re in the streets, you’re talking reckless and you’re cursing. You’re not bringing that to your job and in front of your mama. There’s always been that fine line and I’ve always been right down the middle. Basically I’m just being who I am. It’s going to be a hard task because you gotta make sure that the music is right, that the content is not off. It’s just me being me. I can’t lose being me. I just have to make sure that I have the right beats.
Do you get enough time with Timbaland and get the right beats from him?
Well I don’t really need too much from him. Tim is such a great coach and such a great teacher that when you’re around him you have no choice but to learn. So even when Tim’s not there with me he’s there with me because in the back of my head I’m thinking about what would Tim do. Would Tim like this? He’s real critical so at all times I make sure that that’s with me. I don’t need too much from Tim. He’s given me enough.
And plus on top of that, it’s like me explaining the whole Arizona and kush thing. To Tim, I’m Arizona and Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado and Madonna, that’s his purple. But he gives me enough time because I’ve been with him and once I grind it out and get to that point where I become his purple connect, then it’s going to be okay. He’s going to give me more time. But I’m good with the time they give me. I don’t need too much.
When you get beats from Tim, do you get his best stuff?
Of course! Tim goes in! When me and Tim are in the studio…Actually I was down in Miami a couple of times this summer. I was back and forth from New York and Miami because we’re working on his album. Tim doesn’t half-ass anybody at all. When he gives me something, he’s going to put his foot into it. He’s not going to half-ass anybody, whether it’s D.O.E. or Justin Timberlake. If you have his time he’s not going to half-ass you.
But he has to make sure that his situation is right because the first go around with his label, I’m not 100% sure and I don’t really want to speak on it, but the money wasn’t coming in the way it was supposed to be. Now we press the reset button and we started all over again and the money is coming in like there ain’t no tomorrow. His whole focus has changed and he restructured everything that he’s doing and he’s giving me his all so when Tim sits down with D.O.E. in the studio, he’s giving me his all. He’s not giving me his half-ass of anything. He never did that to me or to anybody else that he worked with.
How far along are you on your debut album?
Actually we haven’t even started mine yet. We did a few songs here and there but the songs we do might be for his album and that will introduce me to a bigger audience and we can piggyback off of that.
On the mixtape, I worked with two producers on the whole thing. I worked with Jock and Juggernaut. Those two producers did all the joints. I have my own in-house producers. That’s what Tim loves about me because he knows that I’m going to get out and get it and I’m not going to just lean on him and be dependent. I’m going to move. I’ve become more of an asset than a debt. He ain’t gotta focus on me. I’m going to focus on me and I’m going to get it popping and I’m going to just come to him a little bit for a little bit of his time and that way he’s focusing on making himself bigger. The bigger he gets the bigger I get. So at all times that’s how it’s supposed to be.
I see a lot of artists nowadays, especially New York artists, they don’t get that. They just want to sit around and wait for their label to do things. Nah. You can’t do that. There are a lot of New York artists that are putting out material and have an ill street buzz but they don’t have an album ready. You don’t think I got songs in the stash waiting to set the world on fire? You gotta be kidding me! Word. (laughs) What I’m sitting on is good, nigga. It don’t spoil.
What’s the most valuable thing Tim has taught you so far?
There’s been so many lessons that it’s hard to actually pinpoint it. Musically one of the most valuable lessons I learned was how to make a song and how to pick beats. How to actually make a record. He taught me how to actually make records and musically, that’s one of the biggest things he’s taught me.
Business-wise, he taught me to focus on your strengths and manage your weaknesses. Some people will just look at what they don’t have versus what they do have. He always told me to focus on my strengths because my strengths are what’s going to turn my weaknesses around. Don’t forget about your strengths, just manage it.
And family. He taught me that family is extremely important. Everyone around us is family. His best friend is his manager and his other best friend runs Timbaland Productions. His wife is his publicist and she also helps run his label. Two of his uncles run his label. He’s very family-oriented and that’s another thing that he taught me. I keep nothing but family around me.
Speaking of family, what’s going on with your group that you made with Navy Sealz and Nobi?
I’m actually not doing that anymore. I tried it and it didn’t work. What I’m focused on right now is family crew and that’s something that is near and dear to my heart because my brother died for that so I rep Family Crew to the death. Right now Family Crew is D.O.E., Precious Paris, Navy Sealz and Keke B. I tried. You can bring dudes to the well. You can’t make them drink. I don’t burn no bridges though. I’m here.
Do artists ever expect too much from you because you have a very good situation?
Yeah. A lot of people do. It’s just part of me being humble and realizing that at one point I didn’t have the information that they’re lacking so I might have acted that way towards another artist that I felt was above me and that’s the thing that keeps me humble when I get in situations like that.
I don’t look at them and spaz because I knew at one point I was them. SO when they come at me with unrealistic expectations, I try to break it down to them and show them exactly what’s what so they don’t get confused as far as what I can do for them or what I’m allowed to do for them. I make sure I stay humble because at one time I was these artists. So, you know, when those situations happen, I just try to handle it the best way that I can and sometimes they still don’t understand. At that point, they’re not understanding and there’s not too much I can do. When you do get it and you understand, I’m here.
What’s the next move for D.O.E?
Right now I’m shooting a video. I’m shooting a bunch of visuals for some songs that I’m doing. I got the single floating around the internet illegally but we’re going to make it legal and service that record. The record is crazy and we’re going to get that buzz up. I got a couple of shows coming up in the states and overseas. I got my company and my artists like Precious Paris. I got my man Navy Sealz. I got my producers, Jock and Juggernaut. We have a whole movement that we’re moving forward.
I just want to say this one thing – everything happens for a reason. That whole time when I couldn’t put out music, y’all didn’t see me but I was still moving. I was being active. I was working on other artists and helping them because I couldn’t put music out and it transformed me from being just an artist to an artist/C.E.O. because that whole time, I had people working underneath me. Now I got a whole company set up and I got artists, producers and everything and we’re all focused. We all know that D.O.E. gotta break through the door and hold the door for everybody else. That’s the main thing I’m working on right now. I’m making sure that everybody has the CD and downloads it off websites. If you got beats, email me. HipHopGame for life! I also need some new Lokken Load beats.