Saigon Interview (June 2007)
Saigon talks to HipHopGame about his current situation, explains his recent blog post and lets us know about his new project with a certain DJ. Don’t miss this.
I feel good, man. I feel great. I just came back from the UK. I was touring London, Norway, Brixton, Brighton, Birmingham…I’ve been all over Europe and I’m getting massive love and making good money, so it’s all good.
You just released a blog detailing your struggles with Atlantic Records. What motivated you to type that?
That was just being frustrating. I don’t have anything against Atlantic Records, but every label isn’t for every artist. If you look at all the great hip-hop artists, it didn’t really happen for them on their first label. 50 was on Columbia, Jay was on Freeze/Priority Records, TI was on Arista and DMX was on Columbia. A lot of times when you’re an innovative artist and you bring something new to the game that’s not going on, a lot of the time the label doesn’t understand. I just think that Atlantic Records doesn’t understand Saigon. With the climate of hip-hop right now, I’m different and I understand. Look at Alicia Keys – she got dropped from her first label. Ne-yo was on Columbia before he was on Def Jam and these are groundbreaking artists. I’m not at all discouraged by the situation. I just have to keep doing what I do.
Are you working on getting released from Atlantic?
I’m working on getting this situation better and coming to a table with them. If they still don’t understand it, then I feel that they should let me go someplace where somebody gets it. They hardly spent any money on me yet, so letting me go wouldn’t be a great loss for them, monetary-wise. If they could come to the table and say, “We get it. We can give you the support you need,” it’d be cool. I love the people up there. I love Julie and I love Craig. Everybody up there is cool, but it’s like if they don’t understand my vision and if they don’t understand my music, I don’t think they’re going to put the same force behind it because they don’t get it.
What did Just Blaze think about your blog entry?
I took the blog down because Just got offended by that. He hit me right after it went up and he said he didn’t understand it. It’s crazy that he doesn’t understand why I’m frustrated after being on Atlantic Records for two and a half years. It’s really confusing. It really confuses me. But everything’s cool between me and Just. We’re cool. Whenever you do business with somebody, you’re going to have your ups and downs.
Just Blaze has already made it, as he has a number of hits under his belt. You don’t have that right now. Do you have a different sense of urgency than he does over releasing your debut album The Greatest Story Never Told?
Of course there is that. Financially, Just is straight and financially, Saigon is doing all right. A lot of my money comes from different things that I wish I didn’t have to do to get money. Of course there’s a different level of hunger. Of course. A million percent.
Do you think you’ll be released from Atlantic?
They said they want to put it out and they said they’re interested in my project, but actions and words are two different things to me. Me and Just Blaze have only leaked one song in two years – “Don’t Do That.” I think we only put it on HipHopGame. People really liked that song and when I was touring, people were screaming for “Don’t Do That.” The album is fantastic. It’s not even the music (with Atlantic). If they would let me leave, I know any other label would take that album, a million percent guaranteed.
When I interviewed Joe Budden, he said that you can’t piss off the label people, otherwise they won’t handle your project correctly. Are you at all worried about that?
If I pissed them off now, what more can they do? If they’re pissed off, hey, I’m pissed off. Now you have two pisssed off people. This isn’t like something that just happened in one day. My album has been done. The album that we’re putting out is the same songs that I recorded a few months after signing my deal. When nothing’s being done, of course you’re going to get frustrated. I looked the president of the company in the eyes and he said, “You have 100% of our support.” It’s starting to seem like it’s always someone blaming another person, but I know it’s not me. I work hard and fast and I do my thing.
Has anyone at Atlantic heard The Greatest Story Never Told?
Yeah. Julie and Craig heard the album and approved the album, as far as I know. The album has been approved. But why are we in June and the album hasn’t come out? If you look at it, we’re almost in the middle of June and I don’t have a release date or a song out. “Pain In My Life” was not a single. That was a song that I pretty much put out on my own. We’re in June now and they say it takes 90 days to break a song on the radio. We’re going to go into the fourth quarter and they don’t put out new artists in the fourth quarter, so when are they going to put me out? In ’08? That doesn’t make sense to me.
Especially since you’ve been signed for so long.
That’s what I don’t get. That’s what I don’t understand. What I realized is that they don’t understand what they have. That’s how some labels are with artists though. They don’t get it until they see the artist succeeding somewhere else. Then they’re like, ‘We fucked up.’
What scares me is at this point, perception becomes reality and people begin to think that it’s me why this record is taking so long to come out, like I’m not good in the studio or I can’t make a commercial record. In the climate of hip-hop today, I don’t make records like everything else. But I make great records I’m looking at it from that standpoint. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m going to put the album out myself, because it’s not just my album. It’s also Just Blaze’s album. But at the same time, I want people to understand that it’s not Saigon that’s holding this album up. I have a great, timeless, classic album that I've been working on from the bottom of my heart. This is my baby. The first album is what dictates the rest of an artist’s career. When they start to play games with that, then it scares me.
Do you feel like Just Blaze and his team are fighting hard enough for you?
In the studio, Just goes hard. Outside, I really can’t tell,. But hey, it is what it is, man. Everybody has their own agenda. Some people are motivated by money. I’m not. I’m motivated by the music. I’ve been rapping for a long time. When I started, I never said, “I’m going to get a Bentley.” Shit, I have an S550 Mercedes. A lot of rappers with albums out don’t have that. It’s not like I’m beefing because I want trinkets and a new toy and shit. I have a message that I want people to hear. That’s my motivation.
Why did Atlantic and Just Blaze sign you?
Because Hip Hop, the guy who signed me up there, realized I have what takes to be a super force in this industry by making great music while maintaining my integrity. I think Just saw the same thing as well. I wish the artistic side of the music was more relevant. It’s just not right now, I’m not even sure if Hip Hop is still up at Atlantic anymore. And that’s the guy who bought me up there, so I may be in deeper shit than I think. (laughs)
Is your team falling apart?
I don’t know, man. I did my part. All I can say is that I did my part. That’s why I wanted to leak it to let the world know it. I’ve played my album for a lot of people and they’ve all told me that it’s one of the best albums they’ve heard in the last few years. It might be a conspiracy because my music is not like everything else that’s going on in music right now. I know the problem is not the music and I know the world will feel the same way once they hear that.
And that’s the beautiful thing about the internet. You can’t stop the internet. And I will still gain interest from people by doing that. The music is dope and I did my thing on the album and Just Blaze did his thing on the album. Nobody can say that it’s the music that’s holding it up.
Has the album changed since our last interview?
No, the album hasn’t changed, and that’s what surprises me. They say that one sample clearance is holding up everything, and the song is something that I recorded over a year ago. Why are we just finding out now that we can’t clear the sample? That doesn’t make sense to me. Every time I try to ask questions, I get different answers, and this is what is bringing forth my confusion.
Is the industry what you thought it was when you first got into the game?
I always hear artists beefing about their labels, man. Q-Tip said it the best, “Record company people are shady.” Their motivation is money. If your motivation is not money, then you’re probably not going to see eye-to-eye with them. Of course it’s a business and I want to make money, but at the same time, it’s the “music” business. I care more about the “music" part than the “business" part. I’m not trying to get a 15 or 20-car garage. What am I going to do with 20 cars? I can’t drive them every day. What do I need bitches for? I already got 10 beautiful bitches. What do I need this for? I get bitches off my words. I don’t need mad cars and jewelry to get bitches. I was fucking supermodels before I got a record deal. A lot of these dudes need that. I don’t need that.
With that same ol’ pair of raggedy Timbs.
Yeah. You feel what I’m saying? When you have the gift of gab, that’s something that God gives you. A lot of these dudes need that shit to get girls and it’s all about girls. That’s why they want that shit. I’m a different breed of man. That’s just that.
Can your confidence scare industry-type people?
Man, I am clueless as to why I’m still in this situation, but I know that it has nothing to do with the music. I don’t know what it is at this point. One thing I realized is that I’m the only East Coast artist up there at Atlantic Records. They have southern artists because that’s what’s popular. Fat Joe, Fabolous and Lil’ Kim are all gone. All of the East Coast artists that were there are gone.
Do you ever get frustrated when you see Atlantic pushing new southern artists like Plies?
That’s just what they’re geared towards doing right now. They’re following the trends instead of being trendsetters. They get mad at that but that’s what they’re doing.
Are there any labels that promote East Coast artists properly?
Def Jam is doing it. They got Tru Life. I was signed before him and he’s putting out more music than me. They also just signed Uncle Murder. They got Fabolous popping right now.
You may not say it, but you must feel that you’re better than some of these other artists getting signed.
Getting a deal is nothing. The hard part is getting these people to see your vision and getting the label to put that money behind you. A record deal is nothing but a bank loan with a high interest rate. They snatch you up and invest money in your project and they expect a huge return off of you. When you look at it from a business sense, a lot of it makes sense. But if you’re not willing to take a gamble, then you shouldn’t walk into the casino. How are these people going to know if the music is going to do well if they never put it out properly?
I love to use “Pain In My Life” as a gauge because that song has me touring all over the world. That song has me touring overseas and I have more gigs coming up. And I get good, good money going over there. I know it’s not because of the label because they haven’t worked one record of mine so all that is pretty much my own doing.
When I spoke to you before Memorial Day, you said you were about to release your single the following week. How powerful is your lead single to The Greatest Story Never Told?
Oh, man. I have some real powerful songs. I have some songs that can bring the East Coast back in two days. And DJ Enuff is my dude. I love the DJs in New York. I love Mister Cee and Angie Martinez. I have support in the tri-state area and all over. I have a lot of respect from the DJs who respect hip-hop. It’s not a South/East/West Coast thing anymore. It’s about who’s making genuine hip-hop and who’s making party songs. I can and will make a party song, but I don’t want that to be my foundation because that’s not who I am.
Speaking of Joe Budden, I think that’s what happened with Joe Budden. His foundation was party music and I think that’s all that people expected from him. He’s a great lyricist. He’s deep. He’s introspective. But if it ain’t a party record, the people don’t want to hear it. Meanwhile Jay-Z is great at making party records, but that wasn’t his foundation. He can make “Song Cry” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” and he’s not just that “H To The Izzo” guy.
It’s the same with Kanye. He can make “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and he can make “Gold Digger,” which are two different kinds of records, and he can make “All Falls Down,” which is a whole different song. Nobody understood Kanye at first. He had to write his own ticket. That’s what I have to do.
Have you talked with Tru Life about your label struggles?
Tru Life is the first person to put Saigon in a real recording studio. When we recorded “Bust Ya Gun,” it was 1999, because Tru Life said “It’s almost 2 G.” We talk a lot and I let him know that I wasn’t feeling my situation. I told him that if they give him a situation, I would go work with him. He’s like my brother. He’s my dog and my friend. Somebody’s going to fuck with Saigon. I’m not worried about that. Once they see that I’m not only in it for the dollar…Greed is one of the four devils and people act like they don’t see that. I don’t understand how these people can be so fucking greedy and call themselves righteous, religious people. They’re so fucking greedy.
You’ve talked about leaking your album online. How important is the internet to you right now?
It’s great. It’s been great. That’s another reason why nobody can stop me. That’s why I’m not worried about what’s happening at Atlantic Records. I probably wouldn’t leak the album out of respect for Just Blaze and Gee Roberson, but I still have my God-given ability that nobody can take away. I can get my own music to the masses through the internet. I don’t need to press up no vinyl. I got my man CL, who’s the CEO of Digiwaxx, and I can tell him I need every DJ to have my song and he can do that. He’s been my friend for years. With the way the internet and technology is, that’s why the independent route is what’s up. I wish I could be an independent artist right now.
Fans that use the internet aren’t known for buying albums. Does that worry you at all?
So what? If they like you enough, they’ll come to your shows. Unless you sell 4 or 5 million records, which hardly ever happens, you don’t make any money off your album sales. That’s what they don’t tell you when they sit you down. In order to recoup, you have to sell a few million records, and the way things are right now, unless you’re Jay, 50 or Kanye, that’s not going to happen. But as long as you’re fresh, the fans will come out to see you. Look at Immortal Technique. He does more shows than artists on major labels. It’s the same with Lupe Fiasco. Fans go out to see him. He stays on the road.
Would you go independent?
Unless somebody makes me an offer I couldn’t refuse, of course I would go independent. Plus I have a lot of investors. I’ve met a lot of people and I know that if Atlantic Records dropped me tomorrow, I know investors that would give me $150,000 to shoot a video. That’s why I’m not pressed right now. If Atlantic Records doesn’t understand who Saigon is and what I’m about and what kind of music I’m trying to make, then hell yeah, I want to get off that label. I already have Plan A, B, C, D, E, F and G. That’s what I do. I think ahead.
One of those plans is working with DJ Premier.
I just started working with DJ Premier, man. We’ve been talking about it for a long time. We finally got up in the studio. I’m working on a whole street album with DJ Premier. I don’t mean a “mixtape.” I mean an album with all original shit. He just sent me two joints and I just knocked them off and they came out classic.
I think the East Coast fell off when people stopped going to Premier for their records. You needed to have at least two Premier joints on your album to have that classic East Coast sound. A lot of people started saying, “Hey, I need to switch it up.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. DJ Premier never fell off. It’s just that the big artists stopped working with him. I’m a new artist we just started working together, but we’re going to make something very, very, very intense.
I have a lot of shit going on, man. I’m signed to William Morris Agency now for acting. My agent sends me almost five scripts a week. I’m a lot more into this acting thing. Nobody’s going to stop me, man. I’m destined for greatness. A record label not understanding it and not getting it is not going to stop me. I’ve gotten this far and a lot of people didn’t understand me when I was on the mixtape shit at first because I wasn’t a punchline nigga and I wasn’t saying what all the other artists were saying. But I broke the mold. And I’m going to break the mold again. Point blank, period.
How did the album with DJ Premier come about?
Actually, I went in there to do a verse for Teflon. There’s a song with me, Teflon and Papoose. He was playing some beats and I started writing to the beats. Yada, yada, yada. The shit was coming so easy. You know when you have a chemistry with a producer. It was coming so easy. It was like, ‘Send more.’ I don’t even think he realizes the vision that I have for this whole thing yet, but I know that he loves to keep working because he loves the game. He’s not motivated by money. He’s about making good music that will make people happy and that people can enjoy.
How is it working with DJ Premier so far?
It’s great, man. It’s great. He’s very hands-on. In one session, I learned a whole new way to do vocals. That was in the Teflon session. I learned a whole new way to do vocals in one session with Premier. If you fuck up in your verse, he just takes your best parts. A lot of times, you could kill a whole verse if you fuck up one line. With Primo, he might just say, “Resay ‘the.’”
Do you work better with DJ Premier or Just Blaze?
Probably Just Blaze, because me and Just fight a lot but the music comes out crazy. I couldn’t gauge Premier yet because me and Preem haven’t worked that much yet. But me and Just are like Batman and Robin, who argue a lot but get the job done.
When would the album with DJ Premier come out?
I don’t know, man. Whenever the shit is tight. Look, man, I just love hip-hop. You don't understand. That’s it. A lot of these young kids, all they’re seeing is money. They don’t love the music. I love the music, man. I love the music. I’m like the motherfuckers that still do graffiti even though it isn’t the in-thing anymore. I’m like the b-boy’s that are still breakdancing. I love hip-hop. My mom rapped. I was bred into this shit.
There’s a new Saigon mixtape with Scram Jones…
I didn’t know nothing about that. I didn’t know about that until somebody put it in my hand. Scram pulled a fast one on me. (laughs) That’s my brother though.
Are you cool with it?
I kind of wondered, but that’s Scram. Scram is my boy, so what can I do? I’m not going to get mad at him, but I wish he could have alerted me to the songs he was going to use and the sequencing of the songs. I feel it could have been a lot better with my input. But Statik did his thing.
You talked about Scram not being on The Greatest Story Never Told in one of our previous interviews. Is everything cool between you and Scram?
Yeah. Yeah. It’s just that the chemistry between me and Just Blaze is almost unmatched. That’s why I said it’s not the music that’s holding up my album, because the music is super-phenomenal. If you see the page Just Blaze put up on YouTube, he put up four separate snippets of four songs that aren’t even the best songs on the album. They’re five or seven-second snippets and people are going crazy over them. They’re not even the best songs we got.
Will you start leaking songs off The Greatest Story Never Told?
(laughs) Who knows, man? Nah, I don’t think I would without Just Blaze’s permission, But I just know that they have to come to the table and tell me something. I’m not one of those motherfuckers who doesn’t have to be told anything. There’s a cause and effect. If they cause me to do something, it may have an effect. I’m a man. I have a strong backbone. I pee standing up.
If Atlantic sees you working with DJ Premier, do you think they’ll step up and put out The Greatest Story Never Told?
No. This is the problem with Atlantic – they don’t understand what they have. That's not just the problem with Atlantic Records. That’s what’s wrong with every record label. They think and act systematically. They don’t think outside the box. I was doing pirate radio overseas and I never saw Atlantic Records at the underground radio stations. I only saw them when I was at the big radio stations. They don’t care about the grassroots level. They don’t understand that an artist needs a foundation to be successful. They don’t seem to believe that.
You’ve had an incredible buzz before from releasing mixtapes to being on Entourage. Were you in a better position last year than you are this year?
You have to strike while the iron is hot. I admit that I’m not as hot as I was last year. I was on Entourage for two seasons. We have the same records, and now there’s new dudes in the mix. There are a lot of talented artists in the mix who are working and trying to earn their spot. I respect it. You can see the reflection on the internet about what’s up at the time and who they’re talking about. Of course I’m not as hot as I was a year ago. I haven’t put out any music. Labels only care about radio spins, but every artist is not a radio artist. You have different artists. It’s just like rock and roll. You’re not going to market Bon Jovi the way you would market Ozzy Osborne.
Some artists, like Mims, have labels that do strike when the iron is hot. Can that fame always last?
If you can keep making 16,000 spinners, which I doubt can happen. It’s highly unlikely because when you hit the top on your first song, anything after that seems like a failure. If you’ve already hit No. 1, then there’s no room to grow because you’ve already hit the top. There’s nowhere to go but down because the record label leaves you with no room to grow. If you have a song that’s big, by all means, that’s a good thing, but you still have to establish yourself as a true talent because the fans are not as dumb as the record label people think, which is evident when you look at these artists’ sales. The labels blame the internet. Why is country music still selling? Why isn’t the internet fucking up country music? Why isn’t the internet fucking up R&B like that? Beyonce still did her 3 million and Justin still did his 4 million.
When will you drop your single?
Well, I don’t know, man. Apparently there are some business things and red tape that we can’t seem to fix. There’s some issues with sample clearances and all that. That’s what they’re telling me today. Tomorrow it might be something different. Today it’s sample clearances. Who knows what it will be tomorrow? I do know one thing - you will be hearing a lot of new Saigon. I’m about to flood HipHopGame. I’m about to put up some new songs and get it going again. You know once a year I have to drop some bombs on HHG.
How much longer can you wait for a release date?
I’m over the point of waiting. They have to shit or get off the potty. That’s where I’m at with it right now. Shit or get off the potty. The only thing I don’t want to do is getting locked up in a situation and then they don’t let me go. They’re spiteful and they can do that. Ras Kass was in that situation with Capital where they held him so that no one else could fuck with him. There ain’t no love. They’ll make you think there is, but there’s no love.
It’s not about the music.
Their part is the “business” part of it, not the “music.”
How much longer can your fans wait for The Greatest Story Never Told?
If I was a Saigon fan, I probably would have given up on me. (laughs)
Do you have to win your fans back?
Of course. Of course, man. Of course I do.
Will The Greatest Story Never Told be out this summer, “one way or another,” like you said in your blog?
It depends on Atlantic. If they can move and if they can deliver what they promised me, then I would be happy. But so far, no good. I’ve already reinvented myself six or seven times. There’s only so many times I can come out to get people excited again before I get to that next level. But hey, it is what it is, man. I’m still getting better. I still study my craft. I’m a student. I’m only getting better. I’m working with DJ Premier and me and Just already have a classic catalog. Whether you’ll get to hear it or not this summer, it’s there and it exists. Who knows, man? “Industry rule No. 4080, record company people are shady.” That’s not a gimmick. That’s real talk.
You’re going to Riker’s to perform with Littles. How important is that to you?
It’s hot. I was in Taft high school in the Bronx the other day with the kids. I was over there with the kids and I try to tell them not to fall into the traps that these fake rappers make you believe is real. I teach them to stay grounded with who they are and to stay with what they’re about.
Does that mean more to you than the fame?
Hell yeah! When a little girl came up to me and told me that “Pain In My Life” changed her life and led her to not be promiscuous like she had been, that means more to me than someone handing me another $10,000. Once you have a nice car and nice house, what else is there? Do you need a nicer car and a nicer house? I’ve already been to nine different countries. I would rather be remembered as somebody who changed lives instead of as somebody who made a lot of money.
What are your plans for the summer?
My plans for the summer is to enjoy being alive, enjoy being free and enjoy being free. I’m going to keep working on my craft and keep getting better. I’ve been touring all over the world. I’m going to Switzerland, Africa, Denmark and other places. I’m going all over the world. I have a great sense of hope. People fuck with me. How else do people know about me besides me getting my music out? It’s not Atlantic Records. They’re not doing anything for me. It’s the internet. I need y’all on this one.
As a matter of fact, there’s a street album called The Moral of the Story. It might be the album, it might not be. But I know it’s crazy. It’s not a Mixtape, it’s an album…
What do you want to say to everybody?
Keep checking HipHopGame. The leak is coming. I’m about to go crazy. Whether these songs are for the album or not, only I will know…
And I’m pushing my brother Tru Life. Breathin’ Ain’t Enough coming soon. And Rest In Peace to my boy Stack Bundles. He was a good dude.