I’m feeling pretty good.
You were born in Texas and lived in Chicago but you’ve spent most of your time in East Durham, NC. What was it like growing up in East Durham?
I moved to North Carolina in 1990. I went to high school Fuquay-Varina Senior High School but most of my summers were spent in Durham. It was kind of wild because it’s a rough city. I was used to it from living in Chicago and the whole point of moving to North Carolina was to get away from all that.
You earned a reputation as a fierce battle MC in Durham. How did that happen?
I started out going to a club in Durham called Jaguars. My boy was telling me I had to get up there. People started expecting me to rap every time they had an open mic. I called up the radio station one night for Freestyle Friday and I beat the champ. Once I won, I just kept winning. After about 13 weeks, they retired me because nobody could beat me. That’s really when everybody started hearing me rock and when local labels started giving me notoriety. 21st Records reached out to me and I started working with them.
What made you want to rock with 21st Records?
Another MC, P.Batters, heard me rocking and he was putting together a mixtape. He asked me to get on his mixtape. It was a great look for me because he had a name in the area. 21st Records heard me when they were mixing the mixtape and they put me on the Anti Tour. They started hooking me up with beats and I started really learning how to make songs instead of just rocking over industry beats. I already had a strong following from Durham and with their know-how, we just created a monster.
I’m still with them today. They really help me out with a lot of the decisions I make when going through this music industry.
You dropped your debut album Greazy through them. How was it making your first album?
It was a real experience. I was real excited about it. I came out with Greazy because that was my mindstate. Greazy, to me, was I didn’t have any money and I wasn’t doing anything. A lot of the people I was trying to work with weren’t really feeling me. They weren’t knocking my talent, but they didn’t want to take the time to get to know me. I don’t have that big-head mentality. I was going to just try to take the ball and run with it myself and not look out for anybody. 21st helped me dropped Greazy. We put it out locally in the mom and pop shops. It wasn’t on the internet or anything. What it did teach me was how not to do it the next time. There were only songs for the ‘hood on Grazy and I got labeled as a street rapper. I started making other songs to prove them wrong.
Even though you got labeled as a street rapper, you probably made Greazy exactly how you wanted to. Did you get the feedback you wanted from fans?
I did. I made the album I wanted to and the ‘hood loved it. People loved it. They were giving me a lot of notoriety as a street rapper. After I dropped the album and I started getting all the fame and started thinking about it, I realized I wanted to be known as a rapper, not as a street rapper. I said, “Let me start making some music to open up another audience to me.”
How’s that been going?
Actually, it’s been good. I learned a lot as an entertainer and I watch groups like Little Brother when they do shows and how they rock the crowd. They rocked even before they got big-time. They rocked and they had a nice fanbase and I challenged myself and started making other types of music and I started winning with it. I feel like I’m just all-around right now. Any way you want it, I feel like I can give it to you.
You just dropped Blockhuggerz Unlimited Volume 3. How’s that been doing for you?
Good. Charlie Cockpit from 21st went down to Miami for the Super Bowl and he put them out down there. We’ve been putting them out around here and it’s moving out. The iTunes release date is February 27. It’ll be on iTunes and we can really try to push it there.
You talk a lot about who you are and what you stand for on “Stand Up.” What was your inspiration for that song?
I wrote and recorded that in 2004 when a documentary about Durham was coming out. It was called Welcome to Durham. The people who were doing the documentary reached out to me. Even though Durham has a lot of gang violence going on, I tried to unify Durham with that song by shouting out every area. We may have a lot of violence, but in the end, we really need to stick together. We need to have unity.
How did you get discovered by the Hall of Justus?
There was a battle at a hip-hop conference around 2003. I was in the battle. Pooh, Phonte and Big Dho were judges in the battle. Kanye West was another judge. I was just cutting through competition. Everybody in the battle was real relaxed and I was real animated. Kanye stood up and told everybody in the middle of the battle that everyone had to come like me if they wanted to win the battle. That made everyone step their game up. I didn’t end up winning the battle, but I was remembered from the battle. That’s when they kept their eye on me. That’s when my name started buzzing in the hood.
I didn’t meet them, but I did meet 9th Wonder. He saw the type of crowd I brought. It’s amazing, as an unsigned artist, that I’m coming with 50 to 75 people and they’re all paying to get in. People couldn’t believe it and we were really rocking. I was up there really rocking good songs. 9th reached out to me and slid me a beat and started talking about me and Phonte, Pooh and Big Dho were talking about me.
Your style is a lot different from the majority of Justus League’s artists.
Yeah. I was a bit nervous at first about how I should rock, but when Big Dho signed me, he said, “I know what the Hall of Justus does and what you do are two different things. I don’t want you to change what you do. Don’t try to change your style. Just be you. That’s what I need. I’m looking for somebody with a street element that makes good music.” I said, “Okay.” I’m just doing me and making music. Sometimes they help me in the studio because I’m still looking for advice. I take their advice and I listen to what they say and their tips about breath control and my rhymes. It’s a good match. I’m actually on a song with them on their new album The Getback. When you hear that, you’ll hear that it’s pretty dope.
Working with the Hall of Justus, you can get the “underground” label. Are you worried about that?
Not really. When people first heard about me, I was a “street rapper.” A lot of Justus League fans had never heard of me. If you haven’t heard of me and you see who I’m working with, you’re going to check me out to see what I’m working with. The people who know me as a street rapper are impressed that I can lock into these guys’ music and still hold my own. The people who never heard me know I’m talking about a lot more things than street rap, so I’m on a fresh slate with them. I can make music now without having a label on me.
What has working with the Justus League taught you about making music?
When I first signed and I got my first couple of beats from 9th, there was this one beat that’s on my new mixtape. 9th said nobody could rhyme on it, so I had to get it. It was a challenge. It’s called “God You Hear Me.” It came out as a dope song. It was a challenge and now I got the reputation that I’ll try to rhyme over anything. That’s what they joke with me about.
Khrysis is a good producer too. He has a good ear and he mixes on the spot. He’ll tell me what he hears and he’ll give me ideas. It’s pretty good working with them. They’re both pretty good engineers and producers.
How was it working with Pooh on “Try Me Again” of the Hall of Justus compilation?
That was the first song I actually wrote with them. When I came in the studio, Pooh was doing his thing. He writes on his Blackberry. I asked him how he wrote a song on that, but now I found out a lot of people do that. I came in with my pad and banged out a verse in 15 minutes. I’m good under pressure. I had to step my game up because I was rocking with Pooh. I went in and did my verse in one take. That’s what Dho told me he wanted to see me do. It gave me a lot of confidence.
“Feelings” was your solo song on the Hall of Justus compilation. Did you feel any pressure recording that track since it would be the first big look the world would get at you?
I’m not arrogant, but I’m just confident in what I do. If someone gives you a shot like the Hall of Justus, then I feel like they believe in me so I believe in myself, so actually there was really no pressure. If someone on a major scale says, “I know you can do it,” then I know I can do it.
What other work are you doing in the Justus League?
I got a song with Joe Scudda on his new album coming out. I actually went on tour with Joe Scudda and Chaundon. We went on tour with Method Man representing the Hall of Justus. Joe Scudda is one of the guys I talk to the most because we went to the same high school. I’m doing a song with Joe Scudda and Chaundon. I’m doing a song with Little Brother on my album called “Lose It.” It’s pretty dope. It has a club feel. I have a lot of beats from Khrysis on my album.
How is your album, L.A.F., coming?
It’s coming. It’s pretty close to completion. We have three or four more songs to do. It’s pretty diverse. People who think it’s going to be a shoot ‘em up, bang-bang are in for a surprise. There is some of that on there, but I touch on so many different subjects that I really feel like people are going to be impressed.
When will L.A.F. drop?
We’re looking at late summer to drop it. We have a couple of distribution deals lined up. We haven’t exactly decided which one we’re going to go with, but whoever gives us the best deal, that’s where we’re going to sign. We haven’t committed to one yet, but we have a couple on the table.
What’s your focus going to be for the next couple of months?
I’m on the Mick Boogie mixtape that’s about to come out and I’m on Scudda’s album. My album is almost finished and my mixtape is out. I’m going to be working on a DVD to put out for promotion and to get my face out there. I think I might do another mixtape too. I’ll still be recording even when this album is out. I want to be ready to drop the next one and the next one and the next one. I never sit still. I’m trying to do shows. I’m doing shows to promote Blockhuggerz Unlimited. I have to stay in the studio. I want people to know me and I want my name to be heard.
What do you want to say to everybody?
I’m here now. You may have heard of me and you maybe haven’t, but you’ve heard of my crew and I’m bringing something good to the table. Durham’s on the map and I just want people to listen.