I’m good, man. I’m real good. I’m just working hard.
“Big Spender” is your single and features Jay-Z. Are you happy with the response you’ve gotten so far to the song?
Yeah, I’m good with it. We’re about to get the video done for it, probably within the next couple of weeks so that people can get the visual for it. It’s coming along nicely.
How did “Big Spender” with Jay-Z and Dame Grease come about?
Well, I got the beat from Dame Grease and I took the beat to Jay and I said, “I think this would be a good joint for us to do.” We did it and it came out crazy.
Are you doing a remix for “Big Spender”?
We got that in the workings. That’s crazy.
Will “Big Spender” set people up right for your sophomore album Free At Last?
Yeah, I think that’s going to do it. And I got more to come that’s dope, but I’m pretty sure that that’s going to do it. I’ve been away for a minute and it’s having a strong impact on the streets. They’re embracing it on the radio too. Hopefully it’ll get the job done.
How’s Free At Last coming?
It’s probably about 99% finished.
Are you happy with how the album came out?
Yeah, I’m definitely happy with it. I’ve been away for a minute and I definitely worked hard on it so that people could feel like they got their money’s worth. I’ve seen a lot of things and I’ve been through a lot of things. This is real hip-hop. This is that real, Rocafella, gutter music that you love.
When you were making Free At Last, was Philadelphia Freeway in your mind at all?
Yeah, because Philadelphia Freeway went gold and it’s definitely a classic album. Of course naturally, I tried to top that. Of course it was on my mind.
Did you top Philadelphia Freeway with Free At Last?
Definitely. The progression is tremendous.
A lot of artists fall into a sophomore slump. How did you make sure that doesn’t happen with Free At Last?
It’s been a minute since the second album was put together and ready to go, so I had some time to work on it. Plus I’m an MC. I know good music and I know what I want to hear. I just work hard and I make it happen.
How do you make sure that you stay on top of your game?
I work every day. I do shit every day. We have the Don Cannon mixtape, Live Free or Die Hard, that’s on the streets right now. If you can’t get it on the streets, you can go to my website and download it. And I’m working on a couple of more mixtapes as we speak, so we’re definitely going to flood the streets before the album drops.
How was 50 Cent involved in Free At Last?
50 Cent was co-executive-producing the album. That’s big for hip-hop. It’s coming out crazy.
What did 50 Cent bring to the project?
He brought ideas and a lot of excitement. Overall, he’s just a good dude.
How did you make that happen?
Me, 50 and Jay sat down and they were all with it.
Was there ever a chance of you defecting to G-Unit?
Nah. Me and Fif talked. He’s a good dude and he fucks with me. He was just excited about helping out my project. He was like, ‘Whatever I can do to help the project, I’m with.’ So we sat down with Jay and we made it happen.
You don’t see big artists like Jay and 50 working together, yet they did on Free At Last. Were you surprised at all by that?
Yeah, I was surprised because they’re two powerhouses. I was surprised that it worked out, but why wouldn’t they work together? It’s good for music and it’s good for hip-hop.
Did you work with Beanie Sigel on Free At Last?
Yeah. Actually, that’s one of the things that I wanted for this joint. We’re going to knock it out. I talked to him the other day and we’re going to get it done.
You haven’t had an album come out in a long time, but your fans are still there. You still have an enormous buzz online and fans are really waiting for Free At Last. What is it about you that allows you to do that?
I’m blessed. I try to make songs that people can feel, like “What We Do.” That was heartfelt and emotional. People still love that song. I do shows all the time and I’m on the road every weekend.
Is Free At Last overdue or is it right on time?
I don’t think it could wait another year. I think it’s right on time right now. But I still think it’s overdue at the same time. Every day I have people coming up to me like, ‘Yo, we’re waiting for your album. What’s up? When is it dropping?’ I think that it’s overdue, but now that we have it scheduled, it’s right on time.
There were rumors that you were going to be working with DJ Premier. Is that true?
Yeah. We’re going to try to sit down and do a mixtape. I had done some freestyles over his instrumentals and they were coming out good. I’m trying to reach out to him and do a Freeway and DJ Premier mixtape. So hopefully we can make that happen.
What would that mean to you?
Oh, man. That would be good for me and it would be good for hip-hop. I like touching current beats and old school beats. I think it would be good for me and I think it would be good for hip-hop. We would get Jay on it too.
You made your pilgrimage to Mecca two years ago. What was that like for you?
That was a beautiful experience. I definitely have to do that again. It’s hard to explain. That’s one of the requirements of being Muslim. You’re supposed to go over there. It was something that I dreamed about all my life. It’s something that I’ve been talking about my whole life. Where I come from, a lot of us are Muslim and it was a beautiful experience. It really humbles you. It really humbled me.
Did your pilgrimage change your perspective on music?
Being Muslim, you’re not even supposed to do music. It definitely changed my perspective on my whole situation, but you have to do what you have to do.
Did you ever consider leaving the game because of Islam’s requirements?
When I first came back from over there, I was thinking about it. When I first came back, for a couple of months there was a real fight within myself about if I should do it or not.
How did you make your decision to keep at it?
It’s like my song “What We Do.” I have to do what I have to do. I know in my heart what the right thing to do is. I pray five times a day and ask God for forgiveness. We’re all sinners, but we have to ask for forgiveness from God. The best of us is those that repent. I ask God for forgiveness for some of the things that I do.
Will we see a change in your new music in terms of spirituality?
All of my old music that I have, you will hear little things here and there about Islam, but you’ll hear more about it on this album. I have a song on this album called “I Cry” about this whole experience. You’re definitely going to hear more about that on this album. I’ve matured a lot and I’m more grown than I was before.
Is State Property still together today?
I’m State Property. Beans is State Property. Chris and Neef are State Property. Peedi is State Property. O and Sparks are State Property. It’s a movement. Things were messed up for a minute, but hopefully we can get together and put together a new State Property album soon. I’m coming, Kanye’s coming and Beans is coming. We’re trying to reestablish Rocafella to where it needs to be. Hopefully we can put together a new State Property album because the game needs that.
What do you need to do to get Rocafella back to where it was a few years ago?
What we’re doing right now. When I read the comments on “Big Spender,” the fans are saying that it’s what they want and it’s got the old Rocafella feel that they’re looking for. Basically we’re just going to stick to the script and do what we do. We’re just taking it back to the essence and we’re going to do it.
Ever since Jay-Z has become President of Def Jam, a lot of rappers on Def Jam have taken shots at him. Has that criticism been justified?
I can’t call it. Basically, you can lead a person to the water but you can’t make them drink. People have to do the work themselves. When I was working on my project, I did the groundwork and then I went to the big homie like, ‘I need this and I need that.’ He was like, ‘All right.’ He never got any handouts and he wants to make sure his artists do it the same way.
Would you say that’s a problem in State Property?
Nah. When we were doing our State Property project, they had a lot of input on it and Jay, Dame and Biggs were coming to the studio for it. I think it has a lot to do with the breakup and when Beans got locked up. People are people and things fall apart a little bit. Hopefully we can get it back to where it was. There’s no love lost. People still fuck with each other. But we have to get it done. Collectively, we have to come together and make it happen.
Have you stayed in touch with Beans throughout his trials and tribulations?
Of course. I stay in touch with him. I talked to him the other day.
Where would you be today without Beans?
I don’t know. That’s hard to say. He had a lot of influence on me and he took me to Jay. He was behind me 100%. The passion was there. I can’t call it, but I know that he definitely had a lot of influence on my career.
Cassidy recently released a track titled “I Run Philly.” How do you feel about that?
People say what they want. With Cass, if that’s how he feels, then let him do him. The freestyle was hot. I don’t want to be the king of Philly. I just want people to love me and to feel my music.
A lot of rappers get caught up in stuff like that. Why don’t you?
I mean, I just want people to feel me. Of course me being an MC and me being competitive, of course you want to be the best at what you do. If you don’t want to be the best at what you do, then you shouldn't be doing it. I’m not running around talking about this and that. I let my music show and prove. There’s truly a whole lot of talent in Philly with State Property, Cassidy and a whole lot of people in the underground that’s crazy. There’s a lot of crazy shit going on in Philly too with a lot of killings. I don’t want to be the king of a city that’s not even in control right now.
What needs to change in Philly to bring the murder rate down?
I don’t know, man. I can’t call it. People are just hungry. People have mouths to feed. It’s crazy. I don't know. I can’t call it. I can’t. I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t even begin to get into it.
You’ve really used the internet to your advantage lately. How important has the internet been to you since you started utilizing it?
It’s real important. I love HipHopGame. I’m on there every day. It’s part of my ritual. Sometimes I drop some freestyles on HipHopGame and the people love it and it’s motivation for myself and it also lets my fans know that I’m working and that I’m still doing it.
You also keep your MySpace updated. How important is it to you to be accessible to the fans?
It’s real important. I just launched a new website and it’s very interactive. I update it every week with video footage and different shows that I was at because I feel as though it’s good for the fans to be able to keep in touch with you and follow your career. I’m a fan too and I want to know what’s going on with the artists that I fuck with.
Five years ago barely anyone was online. What do you think of the way the game is changing?
I think the internet is going to have a lot of influence on record sales in the future because you can touch people that you can’t touch with radio promotions. I get emails from people in London and Africa and I never would have reached them without the internet.
What’s going on with Ice City today?
They’re still doing their thing. Once I get my album popping to where it needs to be, then maybe we can do another one. I wasn’t doing anything at the time we did the first one so it didn’t really get the response that it could have or should have gotten. It didn’t really grab people’s attention like it should have but the album was good.
Will you ever do a song with the Roots?
Definitely. Me and Black Thought did a track on my new mixtape that’s out now, Live Free or Die Hard. I love the Roots. So hopefully we can do some work in the future.
What do you have to do from here on out to make sure Free At Last is a success?
I have to do the street work. I just have to grind. I have to get the streets on smash and I’m good because the album is good. I have all of the singles in position. I just have to do all of the street work and let my real fans know what it is and it’s a wrap.
A lot of artists that were once on major labels are going independent today. Will we ever see you go that route?
I’m good. I like the push of a major label behind me. It just feels good. It feels better.
What advice would you offer to up-and-coming artists?
You just have to work. You just have to practice your craft. You have to work every day. If you don’t work, you’re not going to get better. If you see an opportunity present itself, then you have to take advantage of it.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Man, just be patient. I know it’s been a minute, but the album is crazy. Free At Last. If you need any updates, you can check out my site. And I got the movie coming too. What We Do, the movie, is coming around the same time as the album.