You’ve been popping up every now and then with a song but you finally have an official project coming out. Has it been hard not having music coming out on a consistent basis?
Yeah. It’s been real hard. But I’m like my worst critic when it comes down to music being released and recorded. I’m just looking at how the game is changing and I’m like, ‘Wow.’ Being that I’ve been away from the game for so long, I could have came back as anybody. I could have came back as one of these T-Pain impersonators but I didn’t. I just do what I do and I’m just glad that the people are happy.
You could have come back as a T-Pain impersonator but your longtime fans would not have let you get away with that.
Exactly. I pretty much knew what they wanted from me. This music, to me, was still a lot of old music. That’s what helped me through all of the BS in the rap game. That was my painkillers at the end of the day. The album title has a double meaning. I’m just changing the sound back to the streets. Some people are going to appreciate it and some people are not. That’s definitely what it is.
You can tell some of the songs are older like when you shout out Ben Wallace being on the Pistons.
Yeah. That’s the thing with all of my records. I learned that saying the year on your records can come back and haunt you. There’s always little things that I make reference to so you can tell the time period of when I wrote the song. And I’m almost halfway done on the next project so I just wanted to start releasing the music that’s been sitting in my crib collection for too long.
Some songs like “Live Wire” were posted on the site a long time ago and even with that, I feel like this album is very relevant to the music scene today.
I definitely agree. That’s how I try to make my music. In the beginning I think I was known for being one of the first dudes to put sports and all kinds of current events in his raps. The only thing about that is that if it’s not released in a timely matter than you have to record some new records. But overall, the stuff that reflects the ‘hood doesn’t really change.
Do you consider Pain Killer to be a mixtape/street album or official Nature album?
Me, personally, I was treating it like a mixtape but then as I actually got progressing I started feeling like it was more of a street album because of the songs that I had and the time frame of the songs that I had. But then since the release I’ve been getting some good response so I don’t even know how to feel about it. I could have dressed it up a little different but I intentionally made this album for a certain group of people. People say you gotta have the singles and you gotta shoot for the ringtones. At the end of the day it’s still money and you don’t want to walk away from money but I have so much music and I have a story to tell and I can’t walk away from what I started. I have to just continue doing what I’m doing.
Where does Pain Killer stand in your discography?
This project right here wasn’t really meant to grasp any new Nature fans. Being like some of the music was a little bit older, a lot of people haven’t really heard some of these songs. It wasn’t really meant to pull in a new Nature audience. It was pretty much a jab. It’s like the jab. I’m just throwing it out there. It’s going to get a mixed response. Some people are going to like it and some people are going to hate it. But I think the new material that I’m working on is up there with my best material. This right here is just a reminder because if you don’t show your face every once in awhile there’s going to be somebody to take your place.
Will your next project grab some new fans for you?
Yeah. Except for the beginning, the first Nature album, For All Seasons, that was the only album that I ever put out with A-list producers at the time and we were working out of the best studios and we were having outrageous budgets. The game was crazy for me coming in and everything after that was pretty much in-house and me just doing what I thought was right. I was putting on some people from my crew and whatever. It never was really about sales for me. It was about putting music out and competition but now that I’m putting this music out on a smaller scale, I’m not even in the same boat as these dudes. I just want people to listen to it and take what you like and if you don’t like it let it go and if you do like it spread the word. I’m just trying to spread the word for 2009.
Were you making your best music with the best studios and a high budget or are you making your best music today as you work with your in-house team?
I thought it would be the first way but that’s where a lot of the friction with me started in the past because I had people coming up with me and they had requests to get on certain songs and I don’t feel like the music that I make would mesh with anybody. But there were people that were ringing bells at the time and I wasn’t getting no love and I didn’t have people making phone calls for me. It wasn’t a big change. The only feature I had on my first album would have been Nas and it was only eight bars so I’m not really big going to pay some of these guys some of these outrageous dollars when I feel like they’re not coming to the table with it the same way I’m coming with it. I’m like stuck in the twilight zone because of this but it’s all good. I’m loving it.
How was Pain Killer recorded?
This whole album was done all in-house. It was done just, how can I say it the right way? This album was put together and this album was recorded without the intention of making an album. These were always like the second and third songs that I would go to the studio to record. These were the extra songs that I would have at 2 or 3 in the morning when we were just sitting around and playing around. It was about what beats sounded dope and we were just playing around. I didn’t view it like it was going to be the best album ever. It was just me relieving stress. It was just my painkiller.
Do you think a certain amount of fans will not appreciate Pain Killer?
No. The whole rap game is crazy. When I first got put onto the rap game I learned that you can’t feel certain ways because you’re going to put out some records and they’re going to catch fire and some will not. You’re going to put out records that you’re comfortable with and you’re going to be asked to perform certain records. I’m basically a New York artist and I’m from the streets and ‘hoods of New York. That’s who I put first in my music. You have to walk with me for a little bit but there’s so much money in the rap game right now that a lot of people associate your images with if you’re successful or not and they don’t think that you’re struggling out there to sell.
Do you get the respect you deserve from fans today?
Not always. It all depends on who you’re talking to. There’s the “hip-hop fan” who only judges what’s good by what he hears on the radio and then there’s the diehard hip-hop fan that’s going to go on the internet and get music and knows all kinds of ways to get the music. I come from that era where you didn’t hear the music like that. You appreciated the music for what it was. You might only get new music a couple of times a week and I wanted to be the person to play the new records. Now it’s over-saturated and people feel if it’s not on 106 and Park then it doesn’t matter. I’m a street rapper but at the same time I’m a backpacker and I’m underground.
You came up on a lot of mixtapes way back…
(interrupts) I think I’m a pioneer of that. I think I showed artists how to utilize DJs and how to get your music heard. As the record sales were dying out and the music stores were closing. A lot of people couldn’t get music unless it was on their radio station. There’s an abundance of real dope artists who just don’t get that shot and I think I came into the game with enough of the biggest names to get people’s respect but right now I’m somewhere in the middle walking that line.
Why do you think that you’re not recognized as a trendsetter in the game?
Maybe it was the curse of me being too critical of the music that I was putting out. Maybe it’s a lot of reasons. I came in the game with superstars. I got to see the game from both sides of the coin as far. As far as me getting the respect, there’s people that no matter what, to this day, I still hear people commenting on my first album or they’re asking me when my new project is coming out. I guess for certain people I’m still with them but if I don’t have enough music out in the people’s faces, that’s where you get the holes in the game. I’m just trying to pass some of the holes in the game and show these dudes that you can do it. You don’t have to be 50 Cent but you don’t have to be Lupe Fiasco. Just try to be creative. Be dope. This music right here, it’s just for the time being. This right here is for the time being. I want people to appreciate and remember when this was what rap was about.
Have you ever held onto your music for so long that what you thought was once a good song got too old and you didn’t like it anymore?
I think you definitely can hold a song for too long. It’s all about you judging your music off of the newer music that you make. Every time you make a new song you want to outdo the last song that you did and you want to make a song that has an impact. Sometimes you might hold a song for too long. It’s like if you bought a pair of sneakers off of impulse one day and you never wore them and you just threw them in your closet and three years later you find your sneakers and they’re still brand new and clean but that’s not really what’s in so you might be in a funny position.
Music, it talks to you. I think some of my worst tendencies was as soon as I made a song in the studio I was never so fast to run out and play it. I let it marinate and I compared it to other songs. It’s a business and I would rather do that. I would rather be the dude gaining the attention than the dude that’s going to have all of the hype on him that’s not going to live up to his expectations. Music was meant to be heard and to be felt. Some of these dudes, they put out a song and it catches fire and it becomes No. 1 on the charts and it becomes an anthem and they try to base their album off of that and they’re not being true to themselves. I want to make music where I can still be me. I don’t have to put on the funniest clothes. I’m a poet. I was never really the most visual dude but as far as being heard, I appreciate being heard much more than I appreciate being seen.
Does it ever frustrate you when your career is compared to your former Firm partners like Nas and AZ?
That’s on my resume. As far as the music game, these are people that I knew before I got into the music business. Certain relationships got sour and it spilled out into the music game. It’s crazy to have known Nas and to have once been a part of the Trackmasters and running around with 50 Cent and doing promos. Before anybody even wanted 50 Cent on their record, I was with him. That as crazy. That’s for a DVD. I think I’m a walking DVD in the making. Some things I think I have to just hold onto the hat and let it be. I don’t feel like I have the same support as some of these dudes. I was always with them talent-wise but I see them going the extra mile. It’s a funny vibe when you see somebody you were coming up with and you both had respect for each other and one person succeeded and one person didn’t.
What was it like hanging with 50 back then?
That was my dude back then. Everywhere I went on the come up, he was there. Even from us recording, they had us up in the mountains and the woods where you couldn’t do nothing but record so I got to see his work ethic early. I knew he had the potential to make it but I had no idea he would make it this far. I congratulate him when I see him. There’s still a mutual respect thing. And as far as with Nas, I don’t think I ever got a free ride. I feel like I earned my situations, like with N.O.R.E. and being on “Banned from TV.” I feel like I can get it in with anybody but I get upset when I feel like I don’t get the same. If you call me to come and do your record I’m going to give it 200%. It’s the same thing with me. I want people to understand that there’s a lot of good music. You don’t gotta need none of these dudes, man.
I always wanted to ask you how you approached your verse on “Banned from TV.”
The funny thing about that song is when I first came in the studio, when Swizz came in, the original beat for that song wasn’t the beat that you hear. It was actually another beat that I wasn't really feeling. Noreaga at the time, he already had his verse. So Swizz came in and he started playing his beats and I was like, ‘Wow, watch this!’ After 10, 15 minutes, the verse was done. I recorded my verse and I thought it was just going to be me and N.OR.E. going back and forth.
The next time I heard the record it had all of these other guys on it. It had Cam and the Lox and all of them. I wanted to change my verse then because those guys had a chance to study me but at that time it was already mixed and it was a done deal. And that right there was enough to solidify my spot on the streets like, ‘Yo, who’s this guy?’ Every time I felt like I had the momentum built up something killed it. It’s all good. Stuff like that happens sometimes.
N.O.R.E.’s also one of the few cameos on Pain Killer. What's your relationship with him today?
N.O.R.E.’s really the one true person in the music business that I really got love for like that. We both came up at the same time and actually he put out records before me with CNN. But there was one time when we were all under the same tent when we were running with the Nas’ and we were doing The Firm. He was one of the first people we got outside of The Firm to jump on an official record. These guys were there and I can’t act like they don’t exist. Some people view me as a new artist but I’ve done a lot of things and been a lot of places.
Did you ever get a chance to talk to Nas about what he said about you on “Destroy and Rebuild”?
Never. Never! Nas completely changed up his whole entourage and everything that he was doing. Our issues probably started maybe a little bit before that but you know, I didn’t really feel like it was anything that couldn’t be mended. I don’t think it was anything that was that significant where we wouldn’t speak or whatever but our paths still haven’t crossed each other. He’s married and at Def Jam and doing certain things to keep his career alive and I’m over here in the same state of mind. I’m still connected with the same people and I’m still in the ‘hood. That’s what I do.
How did you feel when you first heard the song?
That hurt. For one, it’s about me. For two, it’s a bunch of BS. There’s lies all in it. And for three, he was always a bigger artist than me so people would instantly gravitate towards his side so I didn’t feel like I had a chance to say anything. I felt like this guy just came out, he made a record, he put a bunch of people’s names in it. I don’t know about the other artists in it but I don’t feel what he said about me. He drew my name into it and I didn’t know why he would do that. Just like with anybody else, you looked at it with a different view now. It’s just crazy because we all started out as one big crew and as time went on it turned into different crews. It’s crazy, man. It’s crazy to spend mad time coming up in the game with one person and then all of a sudden you’re in a war of words with that same person. It’s just crazy.
Nas got at you for moving to Marcy while Nas is currently living in Atlanta. Is that something that should really be held against you?
All I can really do is speak for me. At the time the young lady that I was dealing with was from Marcy. I never actually moved to Marcy. I used to be around and I knew a few people but he’ll tell you that Nature moved to Marcy and he’ll have so many followers that his word was final. That was it. Nature, you moved there. I felt like I couldn’t really defend myself in certain situations. Whether you’re successful or not, you’re only going to spend so much time in that same environment. You got family and kids. Bills come whether you got an album out or not so you gotta keep going.
You also responded to Nas but I remember hardly ever hearing that on the radio or mixtapes at the time.
I remember that. How are those guys taking sides? Why are you guys playing his record and not playing my record? How are you guys going to do that? That’s how I realized that there was a lot of BS and favoritism in the game. But once you get over that it’s all good. You just have to figure out what you really want to do and what you’re there for and figure out what you want to do and make the best of it. It’s just crazy that I’ve known enough successful people that didn’t want to help even though I was just as talented. What kind of approach was that?
Were some of the artists you worked with back then threatened by you?
Maybe. Who’s to say? I know that every time I was asked to show up and do something and perform that I always gave it my all. I don’t know what the conversations consisted of when I wasn’t there but I’m sure they felt the pressure, whoever. Whoever I was around with. Some dudes, you just can’t clean them up. Some dudes are just meant for the ‘hood. They’re just meant for the ‘hood. There’s a lot of people like that. If certain people didn’t change the game and have everybody thinking that you’re supposed to be this way, a lot more people would shine. It’s hard. It’s hard for a New York artist and it never was like that.
What was worse – Nas saying that you moved to Marcy or calling you an “old lady pocketbook snatcher”?
What kind of crap is that? At the end of the day all it did was make me laugh because how untrue could you be? I was like, ‘Wow, this dude is really trying.’ I already saw through it. It was what it was. It’s not something that we really talked about. Up until recently I wouldn’t even play either record not because of nothing that was said on the records but because of principle because these are dudes that I once considered friends. We could have easily got ugly. But at the end of the day I still respect Nas as an artist. I think he’s one of the dopest. He’s the reason why I’m in the position I’m in because he introduced me to certain people and at one time he had faith in what I could do. But I don’t know. Don’t make it seem one way. He acted like he was so in control of his own career and it never was like that.
Nas brought Cormega out on stage with him at a few concerts, including Rock the Bells, last summer. Do you think that could ever happen with you?
I actually was on Cormega’s project that he threw out. I still see guys. It’s still nothing for me to run into the core of us that came from the Bridge, whether it’s Screwball or anyone else. I would say never because of how the business was. Talent-wise, I know what I would bring to the table in any situation but it’s kind of hard when you already got the short end of the stick. Now you approach every station kind of skeptical because of how dudes acted to you in the game.
As far as Queensbridge as a movement, I’m all for it. There are dudes walking around that I feel are just as talented as me and Nas but I don’t think they’re ever going to get their shot. They can’t see the end of the picture. They don’t understand the music business. They just understand that they like music.
Was there ever tension between you and ‘Mega when you replaced him in The Firm?
There was never really tension. Everything came back to Nas. Dude was just in the position of power and being that we was on the come up, we just wanted to show everybody just how far we was willing to go. I never had a problem with Cormega or any other artist in the game. I didn’t really put myself out there. I didn’t make friends in the rap game besides N.O.R.E. A lot of dudes be full of shit. I just see them and throw them the peace sign. It’s all good.
How do you look at Nas today?
Nas is still the biggest artist coming from there so how would you preach it and not practice it? How could you sit there and tell people one thing but at the end of the day they’re looking at you? Nas, regardless of whether you respect what he’s accomplished, he’s not out there robbing nobody or selling no drugs, he’s out there trying to make music and trying to make money and why would he be the person to initiate that? That’s a lot of bullshit. Some people just believe their own shit sometimes.
What do you think is Nas’ biggest mistake thus far?
I can’t really say but just not seeing the overall picture early enough when he could have capitalized off of it because at one point everybody was ready to ride for Nas. The only person who might have been louder than Nas coming from Queens at one time was LL. And everybody was going through their slumps and he could have had the Mobb Deep’s, the Capone-N-Noreaga’s, the Cormega’s and Nature’s and LL’s and Kool G. Rap’s. Everybody was ready to ride for God’s Son but he didn’t see it. But right now he’s in a comfortable place financially but at the end of the day, the overall picture is like, ‘Damn, I could have done that five times.’
Is there any unity in QB today?
Well, there’s unity between the people whose resources are limited. We can’t sit there and go call an A artist or any producer to come to the studio. Of course we’re going to call the next best thing. We don’t have only but so many stores in Queensbridge so you’re going to run into whoever. You can run into whoever. And nowadays there’s a few studios sitting in people’s apartments and it’s just as easy to run into them and go and make a song.
For me it’s a little bit more complicated and there has to be a little more to it. I feel like everybody should have a fair shot and if I’m helping all of these guys out and nobody’s helping me, at the end of the day I’m going to feel some kind of way. The QB’s Finest project was the first attempt to have different artists of different ages and different styles to come together. I wouldn’t say we’re lacking unity. I would say we’re lacking leadership. Some people have to be directors and everything has to fall into place. As far as the future goes, I hope. We’re still breaking some dope MCs and there’s a 14 year-old or 15 year-old writing a dope rhyme as we talk. If we’ll ever have another MC as big as Nas, I can’t say that. Everything has to be clicking on all cylinders. Some dudes only know about the beat and the rhyme. They don’t know how to turn what they say into money.
What artists in QB can be next up to really blow up?
I don’t want to really say any names and get any dudes some big heads. There’s a lot of dudes who have style and as far as the lyrics, some of them have potential and it’s going to all fall into place like it did for Lil’ Wayne, who over time got better. But there’s a lot of dudes that have the attitude and they need some guidance and that’s where dudes like Nas should have came in to create an empire that was still standing when he put the mic down. That’s what it’s about because everybody that made it out never really came back like the Marley Marl’s. They talk about it like the politician but when the money started rolling in everybody was for they self.
Do you regret any of the career choices you made?
Nah. Nah. I came in the game hard-headed too. I felt like a lot of people were trying to compromise me in the beginning because I didn’t have a set style or a set vision of how far I wanted to go with it so I was being real resistant to it in the beginning but I figure anybody in my situation would be. I don’t have any regrets from the past. Whatever went wrong is in the past and I look back on it and I build on it. It’s the perfect story to tell my kids one day.
Where are you going to take your career in the next year?
I just want it to grow. At the end of the day, sometimes I still make music that I feel is not necessarily me and it’s more so what I think the people want to hear and then there’s times when I’m going to walk the line. I think the best thing to happen to the rap game in the last couple of years would be a Kanye West, somebody who actually can rap and who just does what he wants on his own. You don’t have to worry about listening to Kanye West. The range he has is ridiculous. It doesn’t matter where you come from or whatever, he finds a way to make his music work.
And I just want to make music that reflects more growth because I’m not some 19 or 20 year-old kid. I still want them to appreciate my music. I have to make songs that reflect more of who and what I am today and still show hints of the past. I just want to make music that’s well-rounded. I still have to feed the streets for the hard-heads and the knuckle-heads, but at the same time that’s not the only people that I want to draw to my music. I’m really working on toning it down. Back in the day it was more lyrical and now it’s more for the sake of the song.
I’m also halfway into my next song. I’m trying to send it out to the streets and let the streets have it. I want to have it out before the winter ends or by early spring. I’ll try to get a couple of music videos in there and see what the response will be. It’s been so long for me that I have to get it out there and take it all in. The funny thing is that people don’t think it’s dated music here or they’re hearing it for the first time.
I’m getting a good response and you never really know what the people will like. I’ve put songs together that I thought they would like but the song that they liked was the song all the way at the end of the album so I don’t really know. I just want the people to appreciate it, bang it and consider it an early Christmas gift. It wasn’t really too much thought or too much money spent on it. It could have been free but it’s not free. It’s from me. (laughs) I just want people to rock with it. It’s Pain Killer. I’m just trying to bring it back to the street. Pain Killer. We might be trying to kill that T-Pain sound and just bring it back to the streets.
How has Scram Jones helped you since you first linked up with him a few years ago?
For one, Scram is always, always working on something. He’s always working on something. He’s not the type of dude where he has to wait around for somebody to make a speech about how everything's going wrong for him to be motivated. When I connect with Scram it’s magic. He can have the exact beat that I was looking for without me having the words to the record and he brings so many different elements to the table. He’s not only a producer. He’s a DJ and he’s a rapper as well.