When Question got signed to Epic Records in 2006, things were looking pretty good for the lifelong rap enthusiast. He had the support of a label, plenty of MCs and producers looking to collaborate and the benefit of coming from Texas at a time when Houston was garnering attention from rap fans worldwide. It seemed as though San Antonio finally had an MC that would put their city on the hip-hop map.
Unfortunately things wouldn’t work out at Epic despite Question’s unrelenting grind and collaborations with the likes of Lil’ Wayne. After Question left Epic, he found himself in a new place. He had seen the other side of the game, the industry side that we all hear so much about but never really know about. Now he was back where he started, but with a new hunger to prove his doubters wrong coupled with the freedom to make the music he always wanted to make. Today, Question is doing just that, releasing quality music that is 100% true to himself. With his latest project, The Question Remains, Question rips through beats that will surely leave the execs at Capital second-guessing themselves while new fans will be wondering why they slept so long on the burgeoning MC. Ask Question about his situation today, and he’ll surely tell you that things are looking even better.
Your latest project, The Question Remains, is getting a lot of great feedback but from talking to you about it awhile ago, it sounds like you think it could still be doing better.
Definitely. I won’t actually say that I’m not happy with it because the songs that were on there were completed and I was satisfied with them, but I felt like I had material that was definitely better on there. The thing is, I can always put out the better material. When I got with Heve Hitter and DJ Unexpected, we knew we were rushing it and we wanted to get it out before the holidays really kicked off, but the good thing is that Part 2 will be major.
From your beat selection to hooks to your lyrical content, you went with a real hip-hop feel on The Question Remains.
Yeah. From when I first started rapping, I’ve always been a hip-hop head. My influences were Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and Scarface. I came up battling and I was always a lyricist and always an MC. I still did southern music so I always had a nice blend with it but when I first started getting attention from people and putting out mixtapes, that’s when the whole Texas scene was huge with Paul Wall, Chamillionaire…I kind of got pushed in that direction, to just be a down south MC, which was cool but I always kept a pretty decent balance of staying true to hip-hop and doing the southern style of hip-hop that people were known for down south. Now that I’m not actually contracted to any record label and I’m actually in control, I’m just being an MC now. That’s why it came out the way it did and why it has a nice underground feel to it. That’s where I am in my life. I went through an ordeal with a record label and a lawsuit and I fought them in court and did all these things. It was just me letting out this side of me that I never felt I got to express before. People would tell me that that style wouldn’t work or real MCing was a dead art form and I had to do a certain type of music. It’s not that I agree or disagree. I just have to do me.
Is that where you feel like you make your best music?
Yeah. It’s funny that it took so long to realize that. I think I fought with myself over the years. I’ve always fought with myself. I had a record with Gucci Mane and a record with Wayne that was on The Drought is Over Part 2. I’ve always walked that fine line but now I feel like I’m on the other side and it took me awhile to really realize that the only way I was going to be happy making music was just to do what I feel. There’s going to be times when I make something that’s maybe aimed towards the ladies. I can’t say I’ll make a song for the radio because I’ve been down that route and I don’t really have any love for the radio at this point. It’s just about finding that balance and now I feel like that balance for me is about being myself and not having to please a radio programmer or a record label. I don’t have to worry about that anymore and the pressure is off me to deliver what I feel is profitable. Now I’m just doing what I’m doing.
What went wrong at radio?
It’s funny because I have some friends at radio and I’ve had success with Texas radio. I had 25 stations at one point spinning my record. I can’t say I dislike radio because the people working there are working a job and I have respect for them. I just don’t like the structure and I see how record labels push certain records and the favor for a favor stuff. We all know the payola and all that stuff exists. But you hear how the radio’s watered down and if you turn on the radio in New York City, you’re going to hear the same songs that you’d hear in Texas or Florida and that’s because the record labels control the airwaves.
I think that’s why hip-hop has actually grown and gotten a lot better to me. Artists know that without that major push, they’re not going to get the radio support. Now they’re making the records they want to make and you’re seeing these things and people are embracing it. There’s a whole underground cult following and the people buy into these artists and not buying into the gimmicks and the dance songs. They’re focusing on being a part of the artists. Look at a guy like Wiz Khalifa, who has built his following thought the internet. I think that’s where we’re at, where people are less concerned with the radio. The radio isn’t really hip-hop. It’s all dance stuff unless you’re a Lil’ Wayne, Drake or Jay-Z. I think people, instead of being mad about it, are doing something about it and choosing tools like the internet and being in the streets. I think that’s where we’re at. I’ve embraced that. Instead of making something to cater to the radio, I’d rather make something to make them cater to me. That’s where I’m at right now.
Was it a conscious effort to make The Question Remains play like an album?
Yeah. A mixtape to me has always been when you’re showcasing what you can do over an instrumental. I’ve put out more “mixtapes” that are more like street albums. I’ve always prided myself on that instead of just jacking beats. I’m taking stuff that’s original and working it out. This joint I did take a lot of Primo beats because I’m a big fan of Primo but I feel like it fit into the album. It definitely feels like an album and that’s what people told me minus the few where I’m just flowing over instrumentals. It’s probably better that I give people a street album instead of me just flowing over beats. That’s the approach I’ll take to it in the future and making sure it all flows together. It has that feel and it was conscious, of course, but I think it can be better in the future.
You got personal talking about where you’ve been as an artist and the struggles you go through in life. Are those records a challenge to you?
I think I feel more comfortable doing records like that instead of making bullshit records about popping bottles. The overglorification that you see in hip-hop because people feel they have to…I feel you don’t have to do that because I’m painting moments in time and not doing a record to impress someone. I just turned 30 years-old and I don’t feel I have to impress anyone anymore. I just wanted to make music that I’m proud of and I know is not some bullshit. That’s where I’m really at. It’s real to me and it is authentic and I’m trying to give a glimpse into what I’ve gone through and some of it is just educational. I’ve had people call me all the time and I’m definitely the poster boy for the failed record deal. Is it entirely my fault? Probably not but I’m not going to let it break me and defeat me. I want to make music and that’s what I want to do.
What did you learn going through your situation at Epic?
Man, I learned a lot from the mistakes that I made. One of the biggest mistakes I made before I signed to Epic…I was a hustler and doing my own shows and doing my own shows and posting up my own posters and passing out promotional mixtapes and traveling and doing every show I could do. When I got the record deal, I think I got lazy because for some reason in my mind, I thought those people were supposed to help me do this now. And even though they’re supposed to, that’s where I screwed up. I should have just left it in my hands because I had success up to that point but I didn’t. I stayed in the studio and I let them promote and market me but they didn’t know who my market was and who my fanbase was and I feel like I let a lot of people down.
You also feel like a record deal is when you make it but I realize it’s not about a record deal but what you do with it when you’re given the opportunity. I bought a house and studio out of the record deal and I feel like I gained something from it, but I learned that nothing is promised. So if you get a big advance and I’ve seen other guys do it, and you blow it, thinking there will be other money coming, that’s the worst mistake you can make. Luckily I had good people around me who told me to buy a house and invest in something so that if it all fails tomorrow, you’ll still have something. I’m still learning. I’m learning that these guys are not your friends. They might smile in your face and say they’ll do anything for you, but the bottom line is, once they feel like they’re not going to make any money off, they’re done with you and they’re going to move on to the next thing.
It seems as though there’s more stories about rappers losing all their money with bad spending.
I owe it to my pops. It’s crazy. Growing up my pops was a heroin addict and he didn’t really give me a lot of life advice, but what he told me was don’t be stupid with your money. I’m not going to lie. When I got the money I was ready to go buy the chain and the car and take my homies to Vegas and live it up. I felt like I won and I felt like celebrating. At the time I was living in someone’s basement and he told me to buy a house because it was an investment and even if I didn’t live there, I could rent it out. The hard part is keeping the lights on. I didn’t do the stupid thing and run out and blow it. Trust me, I was tempted to, just like anyone else would be, but luckily I didn’t.
What’s your writing process like when you’re writing songs that have life lessons and substance, like “Free”?
I’ve learned this over time. When I’m trying to write songs that they want me to write, those songs are easy to make. They don’t really take a lot of effort. You’re not really thinking them through. You’re just going through the motions and you’re talking about how you’re balling and candy-painted cars and the trends and the gimmicks they want you to tackle. That’s easy. I think when you’re making songs that come from the heart, it’s not as easy to write them but they come off as more authentic and it’s just drawing from that, where you’re really creating something from scratch. I know when I write a song that I don’t really know where it’s going, it just comes to me and that whole creative process is probably the funnest thing to me. I like the writing more than recording. The recording is fun because you get to see the fruits of your labor from the writing, but I think writing, just sitting down and opening up and letting it go, that’s what the beauty of hip-hop is. It’s expression and I’m expressing myself.
Those songs really come from a real place and that whole process is fun. It’s challenging. It’s not like some sugar-coated bubblegum song that they want you to make. Those songs are the easiest to make. Those are the easiest ones to make. But really letting go, really doubting yourself, that’s part of the process too. When you doubt yourself and then you have to figure it out, that’s a challenge and I live for that.
Do you feel like you’re making the best music of your career right now?
I do, hands down. Hands down, I don’t want to say I’m making the best. Maybe that’s not the word for it. Just authentic. Authenticity is probably the most important thing to me right now. It just feels like it’s coming more naturally to me. It feels more natural and it feels more forced. I’m not doing anything that I’m against. Before I would record something and I ask myself if that’s how I really want people to feel me and approach me. Now when I make something I’m very confident in what I’ve done but it also makes me move on to bigger and better things. Right now I feel like I have so much head room and so much room to grow as an artist and it’s exciting because I don’t know if I felt that way two or three years ago when I was on a record label. I didn’t feel like I had room to grow. Now I feel like I’m getting better and better and better.
When fans think of Texas hip-hop, usually the first city to come to mind is Houston. What do you look at as the main differences between your city, San Antonio, and Houston?
You know, Houston is the Mecca when it comes to hip-hop in Texas. You look at UGK and Scarface and Devin the Dude. Scarface is my favorite rapper of all-time. I’m definitely influenced by it but San Antonio has a different vibe than Houston. It’s military so you have people from all walks of life from all over. Most of the people that are here and a lot of the guys doing music are not even born and raised here but they’re doing the music here. It’s like gumbo to me. It’s very different. Different sides of town even sound different, just the way they rap and the way they approach everything. But I have a lot of friends and people I deal with in Houston and Houston itself is transforming. That whole scene is huge and they made a lot of strides with that area. I think with Houston you can even see how they’re making strides that people haven’t heard. It’s just like San Antonio, where a lot of guys are making noise. In the past, guys from San Antonio wanted to sound like Houston and I’m guilty of that too. Now we’re realizing that our only shot is to stand out and I think that’s the only way we’re going to win, not following Houston but taking influences from it. I’m definitely influenced by it, but I think standing out is how you truly win and it took me a long time to realize that, but to stand out you have to be different and you have to embrace who you are and not try to be someone else.
Why do you think Houston’s run didn’t last when the spotlight was on them in 2005?
You know, I think it’s part of talking about where you get lazy. I’m not saying those guys got lazy, but Texas is a huge state. You can sell half a million records off of Texas alone, it’s such a big state. I think the guys were running the gamut here and they didn’t really try and take that as far as they could have nationwide. Even though it started to spread, like I heard about guys in Jersey getting grills and sipping syrup, but I don’t think it went as far as it could have. They realized they could tour Texas and make a living. I don’t think people tried to take it bigger. They were cool with the success and you didn’t see guys elevate like they should have. There are still some guys doing their thing but I think that scene can still flourish and still rise, but it’s not going to last just staying the way that it was. People have to try new things and let it develop. People put out the same type of music and it was working and they were comfortable and they just wanted to ride the wave out. It’s like that with any kind of music. People get comfortable and they just put the same kind of music out and after awhile, the supporters get tired and they move on to the same thing. It’s hip-hop. You have to continuously evolve and I don’t know if the evolution process was there. But I’ve been hearing different music from those guys and I don’t know if it will catch on but I think they’ll start to get plays again and I’ll never count out Houston as a hip-hop city.
What other artists from San Antonio do you respect?
There’s quite a few, man. I’ve taken it upon myself to try and take some of these guys under my wing. I’ve been working with Lil’ E aka yung etha for years now. He’s extremely talented, he sings and raps. And then I got Tony Stacks. He’s on The Question Remains. He’s another one that’s coming up. Guys that I’m impressed with is Bugsy, who’s just constantly on his grind, putting out videos. There’s some vets that have been around too, SOSA and Fade Dogg. There’s another kid named Millie Mars. I mean, his whole style is totally different. You wouldn’t even know that he’s from Texas or that he does hip-hop until he rhymes. But him and his producer C.J. From The Whiz Kids are Dope. There’s a lot, man. I’m excited to be in San Antonio right now. I feel like this is the start of something huge. It’s starting to have its own identity and for any city to have success, it has to have its own identity and that’s what we’re getting.
On Twitter you posted that your best childhood gift was Street Fighter II. Who was your guy?
E. Honda was my dude. I know people will laugh at that, but he had the hands and nobody could fuck with that. Chun Li and E. Honda were the ones that I ran with the most.
The generic answer is usually Ken or Ryu.
Nah. It was too easy to do that for me. Chun Li and E. Honda and even Blanca. I liked Blanca too. I used to beat the game with E. Honda. I used to skip school and go to the arcade, people probably don’t even remember arcades and all day long be Chun Li and just kill it.
You must be loving the new NBA Jam.
Love it! I’m a self-admitted video game nerd. I got a Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis in my house right now. I love NBA Jam.
Did the new version capture Tim Duncan’s hairline accurately?
I’m more impressed with Manu Ginobli’s bald spot! I think they did that well!
Can the Spurs make a run this year?
At 23-3, we have the best record in the league. It’s the best team that I’ve seen us have since the ’03 championship team. The ’05 team was great, but then we had scoring and we had defense. This is probably the best offensive team I’ve seen us have. I hate gauging a team early in a season because so many things factor into a season like injuries and guys figuring out how you run your offense. I don’t want to jinx it, but right now it’s the best Spurs team and I really think they’re going to make a run.
What are you looking for when you make your next business move in the game?
It’s crazy, man. The Question Remains is this mixtape I put out there with me rapping and letting all this emotion out. I have this new project that I’m working on that’s very different from anything I’ve ever done. When I was on Epic I told them I wanted to do that. Kanye was big and taking all these soul samples and I grew up on southern rock and I wanted to sample it and do something different. My dude Ev, who was at Epic told me it was a great idea but the label shot it down and told me to do what Paul Wall and Chamillionaire was doing.
I wanted to do this project for four years and I got this amazing musician, Harold Tolbert, that I work with and he brought in all these amazing musicians and slowly but surely I met all these musicians and I just said “Fuck it, I’m starting a band.” I wanted to do this four years ago but now I’m doing it. I’m working on the project and it’s called Clean and Sober and it’s something different. The industry people that I’ve played it for have said it’s crazy and to let them know when it’s finished. I’ve had meetings with record labels and I wasn’t 100% sure about the music but now I know how dope it is and how different it is. I feel like I’m opening myself up and I’m about to embark on a journey that I’m almost 100% positive is going to be amazing but I’m happy to be doing it and we’ll see where it goes. But I definitely feel like I’m on a path that I’ve never been on before. It’s the first time I’m excited about it and I’ve never felt that way.
What other questions do you feel you still need to answer for the listener?
One of the things I have to answer that everyone asks me is that I’ve had a lot of success and that I should be on and be up there with such and such artist. I think that’s the question I have to answer: Can I do that? A lot of people look to me for advice for how to put their music out and how to market it. I have great advice, but have I ever put those things in place myself? The answer is no. I’ve never put my own ideas into a project and decided the outcome of it. That’s the question I have to answer myself: Do I have what it takes to go all the way with this? I think that’s the question I’m trying to answer and that’s where I’m at. The biggest question is: Can I do this the way that I can and do I have the potential? Can I go to the top? That’s really where I’m at.