I’m all right. I’m chilling. I’m tired.
What have you been up to lately?
Right now, I’ve been in the studio, trying to knock out this mixtape.
After all these years, is the U still smooth?
Of course! That’s my trademark.
Taking it back a little, how did you get signed to Cold Chillin’ Records?
Biz Mark had a production deal at Cold Chillin’ and they gave him a five artist production deal. He had four. This cat from my town let him hear something I did and he was like, Where he at? It was history from there.
What was that experience like?
When I first got signed, I was gassed. I was excited about that, but I quickly learned that the industry ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. I started seeing a lot of bullshit, especially from fucking with Cold Chillin’. At one point, they were the biggest shit. They were bigger than Def Jam. They had Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, MC Shan, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shonte…But the business with them wasn’t right. Niggas were up there smoking crack and sniffing coke. It was all types of dumb shit. They weren’t promoting our artists properly. That’s why that shit collapsed.
When you were over there, did you see yourself in competition with MC’s like Kane and G. Rap?
Not really. Me and G. Rap were cool off the bat. With Big Daddy Kane, there was a little tension between him and Biz. He felt like Biz had only brought me there to be on some bullshit with him. He had the “Big Daddy” and I had the “Granddaddy.” Biz put that in there. I was just Daddy IU at the time. He thought that was a secret blow. We’re cool now. That’s my man. But at that time…
Other than that, I didn’t really fuck with all the artists over there. Shonte was my homegirl. I had wrote and produced some shit for her. The other cats I didn’t really fuck with too much like Masta Ace. They had some other artists called the Little Bastards. I didn’t fuck with them. Then the Genius came and he got on some bullshit. He took a jab at me on the low on that “Protect Ya Neck” shit. I let that shit go. If you recall, he said, “The Wu was too slamming for these cold killer labels” and then he said, “But he don’t know the meaning of dope when he’s looking for a suit and tie rap that’s cleaner than a bar of soap.” Now if you recall, back then, I used to rock the suit and tie with the cane and the top hat. They were pushing me more than they were pushing the Genius. He didn’t like that. That’s why he said what he said, but whatever.
Looking back on your image now, was it a good move wearing the suit and tie?
That shit was some fly shit. Right now, to this day, motherfuckers still remember that shit like, You’re that smooth nigga with the hat and the cane. That went well with my image because I was on some smooth, laid-back shit. I wouldn’t do it now, but I wouldn’t change it.
Did you ever talk to GZA about that line?
Nah. I had seen him awhile after, but it was so long afterwards that it didn’t even make sense to bring that shit up. We both knew that I peeped that shit and I knew the time. It wasn’t nothing. I didn’t have no beef with him. We were on tour together and it was cool.
How was it making your debut album, Smooth Assassin, in 1990?
It was kind of easy. Before I even went to the studio, I fucked with records in my basement and I knew what records I wanted to rock over. I had everything written already besides two joints. Biz got all of the credit but me and my brother produced all of that shit. Biz got all of the credit because that’s what we signed up for. That was some bullshit.
Was Smooth Assassin ahead of its time?
Sure. Now everybody’s on some slow shit, but I did it 16 years ago. When we went to Texas, niggas were like, Oh shit! Now everybody’s doing slow music in Texas. I don’t know if they were doing it then, but when I did it, I didn’t hear nobody with that shit.
Do you feel like you birthed a lot of styles?
I have heard a lot of niggas say a lot of shit. Nore will say that Jay and Biggie took my style. I’m not going to say any shit like that, but the nigga Nore will tell you that shit right now and be adamant about it. I’ve heard a couple of cats with a similar flow and style, but what the fuck are you going to do about it?
Would you consider Smooth Assassin a success?
Yeah, because if it wasn’t for that, nobody would know who I am now. People are still walking up to me looking for that record. That’s $100 online now. I know that’s some classic shit. Fuck it. I don’t really like dwelling on that shit because I got so much more shit. Niggas right now, they think that because I first came out in 1990, they’re probably thinking that I’m on some back-in-the-day type shit. I’m telling you, there aren’t too many niggas that can fuck with me from any era. It shouldn’t be nothing to come take this shit over. You just have to get an outlet to get heard. When niggas hear me now, trust me, it’s going to be dangerous.
A lot of older hip-hop albums have been reissued, including some from Cold Chillin’. Do you think Smooth Assassin should be reissued?
Yeah. They need that shit so they can hear where a lot of this shit came from.
Your sophomore album, Lead Pipe, came out four years later. Why did it take so long to get that second album?
Because Cold Chillin’ was fucked up. We didn’t even realize that they lost their distribution deal to Warner Brothers and they were shopping to other labels. If we knew that, we wouldn’t have been stuck in our contracts. We didn’t know that at the time and we could have made other deals. Instead we were waiting on these niggas. By the time they put Lead Pipe out, that shit had been done for two years already. That’s bad business.
“Represent” on Lead Pipe has some very similar elements as Nas’ “Represent” on Illmatic. How do you explain that?
I don’t know. Everybody was saying that shit like, What the fuck is going on with that? We were in the same building because he was on Columbia and Cold Chillin’ was distributed by Epic at the time. We were all in the same Sony building. I have no idea.
Have you ever spoken to Nas about that?
Nah. He’s cool though.
What was it like writing for Biz Markie?
It was fun. You know he’s a clown. Biz used to be my man, but then he fucked me up. I didn’t know that the deal that I had signed with him, he was supposed to get half of my shit. If I had known that, I wouldn’t have fucked with him. That’s what put a strain on our relationship. The niggas from Reprieve gave me $100,000 and he got $50,000 off the top. I was like, Why? He didn’t do shit! I ended up writing some shit for him and he paid me.
Do you have a good relationship with Biz today?
I wouldn’t say that. If I saw him, we would say what’s up. Me and Cutmaster Cool V are tight. That’s the coolest nigga in the music business to me.
Didn’t he scratch on Smooth Assassin?
Yeah. He scratched on “Sugar Free.” He was the one in the studio with us the whole time. Biz wasn’t even there. He might have been there twice. We knew what we wanted to do.
1994 to 2006 is a long time to go without dropping an album. What was going on these past 12 years?
I never stopped recording, but shit was fucked up. By the time I got out of my deal with Cold Chillin’ and all that shit, I was basically played out. I haven’t had music out since whenever and now niggas are scared to fuck with me. I did a couple of tracks for people. I did two tracks for Heltah Skeltah’s Magnum Force album. I did “Hot” for KRS-One. I did some shit here and there. I was struggling, for real for real. I was struggling to keep my head above water.
What was it like recording “The Graveyard” with Big L and Jay-Z?
Jay wasn’t even there when I put my verse down. It was just AG but AG said he didn’t want to get on it after awhile. Party Arty and the rest of those cats were there. It was all right. Big L was a cool motherfucker. He called me up and told me I had to get on that shit. The beat was so crazy that when I heard it, I had to do it. Buckwild did that. I got in the booth and made it happen.
How has your production grown over the years?
I just do what I feel. I don’t ever try to copy some shit that’s out right now. I just stay with my basic elements. I still use the SP1200. Niggas are like, How the fuck do you get your drums so banging and dirty like that? It’s the SP. Niggas want to fuck with Fruity Loops but that shit is synthetic.
Have you ever thought about using other computer-based programs or machines?
I got an MPC2000 XL and a Roland 8000 but that shit was so complicated that I was ready to throw it against the wall. I got rid of that shit. I got a keyboard and shit like that. I don’t fuck with the Triton. The Motif is hot. But the Triton sound is cheesy. I like my sound knocking.
Do you feel like a lot of the commercial songs you hear today sound synthetic?
Yeah, like “Chicken Noodle Soup.” I don’t like that shit. It ain’t hip-hop no more. Niggas don’t have to have skills or nothing.
You recently did the intro track to Ice-T’s new album Gangsta Rap. What type of tracks did you want to give Ice-T to choose from?
Some hardcore West Coast shit. I wanted to give him that. What he used fit him so fucking perfectly. He had to fuck with that.
You’ve been in hip-hop commercially for 16 years. Has it ever been hard to keep your motivation up in a game that rarely shows respect to its veterans?
Yeah, definitely. Especially now. Now, my little nephew, the other day, told me Jay-Z is wack. They don’t fuck with anybody. If you’re not a Dirty South motherfucker, they’re not trying to hear you. Busta Rhymes had a hot album and he’s down with Dr. Dre and Interscope and he barely went gold. The game is in a sad motherfucking state. I know the shit I do is far from anything that you hear on the radio. Sometimes I have to think, Why in the fuck are you even doing this shit when you’re not going to get no radio play? I already know that off the bat because I’m not going to switch my shit over to accommodate the clownish shit they’re doing. I’m trying to figure out the best indie route to go to sell my own music, have my own money and create my own lane where I can still sell x-amount of records and I don’t have to go eight times platinum to see some bread.
Have you had to consciously change your style so you don’t sound like 1990 or is that evolution more of a natural one for you?
It was natural. I never got to the level that I should have reached which meant I had to stay in the street, whether I wanted to or not. Me staying in the street meant I was more up-to-date with what was going on as opposed to a motherfucker who might have a couple million and he hasn’t seen the hood in ten years. Even if I got the millions, I still would have seen the hood, but not in the way I am now. I’m still grassroots in this motherfucker. That’s what keeps me on top of my shit, and I never stop recording.
You’ve been working on your new album, Stick to the Script. How is that album coming?
I could say I’m done because I have enough music. But me being not a perfectionist, but I want to keep going because I want my shit to be there. It’s coming out good. I wish that I could afford to get certain motherfuckers on a joint, but hey, I just have to go in by my own self and next time around I’ll have the proper paper to pay any motherfucker that I want to get on my shit. But right now, it’s all me.
Did you produce everything on Stick to the Script?
Yeah, except for one track. I got this one track from these cats from France called the F.B.I. Other than that, it’s all me. I got DV Alias Khryst on a hook.
What are your goals for Stick to the Script?
I’m definitely looking to go independent. There ain’t no other way for me to go. The only way I would sign with a major label is that the check has to be right. I don’t care if they put the album out or if they don’t, I have to be able to eat off that check forever. You’re playing yourself trying to sign to a major. Look at all the niggas on majors that aren’t doing nothing. Meth didn’t even get a video for his album. What the fuck kind of shit is that? This is Method Man. He’s had platinum albums and they didn’t even give him a video. That’s fucked up. The Roots, I didn’t even hear their album but I know they got an album out. I didn’t see a video and I didn’t hear anything on the radio. It’s definitely the independent route for me.
How’s your album, Long Island’s Finest, released only on iTunes, doing for you?
I don’t know. We have to get our money for that. It’s just a matter of getting it to the people.
You’re around the same age as Jay-Z. Because you came out in 1990 and Jay came out in 1996, you’re looked at as more of an old-school artist than being relevant. How do you feel about that?
It’s kind of frustrating, but not really. I look at it like this: He just got a better situation and he was able to work what he worked. The man’s a great man, as you can see, business-wise and talent-wise. I really don’t put myself in other people’s categories. Me and him are the same age, but the motherfucker got better opportunities. Whatever he’s doing right now, if I could have the same shot, I could do the same thing. He’s not doing no shit that I couldn’t do. He just got the shot to do it. I always tell myself that. More power to him.
Why aren’t veterans afforded the same respect as younger MC’s and become more irrelevant to fans as time passes?
I think the fans are just fickle. On top of that, some of the motherfuckers that are my age, they don’t stay young. You look like a fucking clown trying to rhyme when your shit is wack and you’re old as hell. Look at Rakim. Rakim is the same age as me. I saw the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors and he seems like he’s still got it. He still gets respect. He’s still the God MC, The R. I don’t know. That’s a hard question.
You’re also doing an album with Vakill. Have you started that yet?
We haven’t gotten started because we haven’t picked the tracks out for it. I’m excited for it though. That’s my man.
How did that album come about?
That was my man Sincere’s idea. Me and Vakill had worked together before but never like that. We’re going to do it. We’re going to go in for real. Vakill’s in Indiana right now but he’s from Chicago and I’m from New York. We’re not going to be in the studio together making the whole shit, but we’ll get up. We’re also going to be sending some verses back and forth. We’re going to be knocking out a few joints when he comes to New York soon.
Can Granddaddy IU be successful in 2007?
Definitely. All a motherfucker has to do is hear me. If I was to get the spins that other niggas are getting on the radio, come on, man. I got certified hits in my belt right now. I just have to get those shits out there.
On “Pick Up the Pace” off Smooth Assassin, you said, “You ain’t saying nothin’ slick so go ‘head with that.” Are you surprised that quote still applies to hip-hop today?
Not at all. There were always corny motherfuckers. That’s with anything, including R&B. In hip-hop, you got a lot of corny niggas. The best in the game right now, to me, is Jay and then Jada. Other than that, I don’t really know. I heard some Lil’ Wayne shit today. I don’t think nobody’s been saying nothing slick for a long time if it ain’t Jay or Jada.
Who is your target fan-base today?
I can’t make music for kids because I’m not a kid. They don’t even know what real music is. I’m not fucking with them. The Dirty South has them niggas.
What advice would you offer to young MC’s?
I would just tell them to do their history and know music. Study music and study real MC’s. Don’t rush out there trying to sign with no major label because that shit right there is about to be a fucking wrap. Try to go independent and sell your own records and get your money. And if you’re from New York, don’t be trying to sound like you have a Southern accent. That shit is corny. If you’re from New York, why would you sound like anything but New York? Young cats around the way are doing that shit because the radio is programming them to gobble that shit up. It’s crazy. How can you live in New York and not hear no New York artists on the radio?
What do you want to say to everybody?
Look for some new shit for me soon. When you see it, cop it. Cop it even if it’s a bootleg, just so you can hear it. Tell somebody and they’ll tell me. And niggas are not fucking with me. Word.
You can download I.U.’s album Long Island’s Finest on iTunes