I’m doing good, man. I’m in good spirits. I’m enjoying this music thing and I’m enjoying life. I’m real good right now.
You’ve been quiet for awhile. What have you been up to?
People say I’ve been gone, but I think it’s just from the internet buzz. My label situation got a little crazy, but at the same time I still put out a lot of mixtapes, been on a lot of other people’s mixtapes and have been working on an independent album. I’ve been recording and trying not to deal with the business side. It’s just a lot of work trying to get everything right, figuring out what’s missing and figuring out what’s next. I’ve been working and focusing on my radio buzz. I had the video last summer too. I’m still working.
How hard is it to keep a buzz strong once you have one?
It’s hard because after you drop mixtapes and they get on the internet, the people give you that stamp that they like you. Then they want to purchase music. Enough is enough already. Enough with the freestyles. They know I’m nice. What’s next? It’s difficult being an artist and not having an album in stores and having the label’s support or the radio’s support. You’re still doing what you were trying to do for the past three years, which is release an album. How much more music can you put out on the net? How many more mixtapes can you drop? There are so many people following the same formula. I see how much music HipHopGame adds on a daily basis. It’s tough. The fans don’t need to wait for someone when there’s another new dude they can hear right away. It’s tough, but at the same time, this right here is how you build your core. It’s the most beautiful part, because when you have the album in stores and the video on TV, the people go to the store and that becomes your core audience. I love it.
Your last mixtape was New York State of Mine. How did that do for you?
Real good. That was an expression of what I felt about the state of hip-hop. A lot of people are talking about bringing New York back, but I enjoy New York being the underdog because we’ve never been that. I enjoy talking about what is going on and letting the artists know that they can still do what they do and be heard. It’s got to switch. The South and the Midwest were never really known for being lyrical and this was their time to hit mainstream rotation and become the hottest dudes in the country. I just thought it was messed up that New York radio wasn’t giving us a shot. I wasn’t bitter about it, but I felt that New York State of Mine was something that I needed to put out there. I was saying a lot of on the mixtape. I’m getting a lot of love for it too, so I can’t complain about that.
You sound pretty frustrated with the industry on the mixtape.
There was a little bit of venting on there. At one point, I got caught in a political bind and I felt the people needed to know about it. I had to say something. If I keep putting music out and you never see anything in stores, you’re going to want to know what it is. I was frustrated but I was also smiling. I want people to know that the record deal is not the end. The record deal is just the start and it could happen to anybody. The record deal is what gives you that push to the next level, but you have to have your team and music in place. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t have everything together.
Is it more together now?
Yeah. It’s definitely more together now. If you look at what you needed to get through, Virgin didn’t have the best radio promotions at the time. They had money and for me to be on that roster, a lot of the creative control was given to me and my team. So when we came with a certain record, I didn’t understand what was really going to be done with it. If a certain record doesn’t really represent you and it doesn’t really catch, they’re looking at it like it’s on you. You have to really have your marketing, image and what you want to say to the people down and give everybody a clear notion of the artist you’re trying to be. If you get confused and you try to make a party single and it’s not you, it gets confusing. I had to figure out how I wanted to come across and pray that I get the shot. I just got caught in-between labels. I have to give people a reason to purchase an album and give people a reason to not ask 730 where Stimuli is. I don’t have time for all that.
Do you blame yourself for the situation you’re in or did you get pulled in the wrong direction by others?
I look at the Laws of Attraction. Everything that’s around you is a part of yourself. Yeah, I got bad advice from people. I got people who told me to do this and they’d have me. That doesn’t mean anything to me. I put myself in this position and it’s not that bad. I’m still breathing, I still have a record deal, I’m still able to record and I still have people that want to hear me record and they like what I do. For the label situation, it’s one of those things where I could point the finger at other people, but I don’t need to. I see a silver lining at the end. This is helping my story out for when I’m on VH1. I can’t really blame anybody. For one label to say they want me and for it to become a long, drawn-out process and now I’m stuck in-between two labels and almost ended up with nothing, I can’t blame nobody for that. That’s the industry. When you sign up for it, that’s what you get into. No one cares about who you are as an artist. They care about dollars. If I get frustrated, I’m a jerk. I’m here to do music. I don’t blame nobody.
What keeps you motivated on a day-to-day basis?
Honestly, I started with this thing wanting to wake up doing what I love doing every day and getting paid for it. That was always my focus and motivation when my brother came to me and introduced the rap game into my life. He was doing stuff with BIG and Masta Ace and now I feel like something’s missing from the music. I feel like I can help. I’m not sure exactly in what capacity. They’re saying the people want something real simple and something that’s easy to follow, but I still think there’s a percentage of people out there who want something they can feel. I can still give you that simple formula when it comes to records, but I’m still going to give you something you can feel. I feel like I’m destined for this and I’m here for a reason. I can see this happening and coming to fruition. I have to keep going.
In your “HipHopGame Freestyle,” you talk about how you have to make a song you don’t like to get on the radio, but you’re still happy to be on the radio. How do you balance making the songs you and your hardcore fans will feel versus making songs commercial radio and its listeners will feel?
That’s one of the hardest things about being an artist, because we all want to evolve and get enough notoriety to put out a record. You have to get known. Look at “This Is Why I’m Hot” and Mims saying he can sell a mill without saying nothing on the track. It worked. I had “Clap At Ya” and a song with Punjabi MC and I didn’t like those. It’s tough, because when you’re creating, you’re thinking about what you feel, but you have to also think about the fans. They have to be able to follow your words and dance to your songs. Everybody doesn’t want to hear complex lyrics. You have to find a balance where you’re still saying what you’re saying, it’s not these crazy, big words and it feels right. That’s the main thing. “Famous,” to me, had a hot club beat and I still put enough wordplay in where it was me. Even though I don’t like certain songs I’ve done, there’s still pieces of me in there and they felt like the right thing to do. I think the balance comes from trying to make it feel right and not forcing things. The radio and labels want a smash record and you don’t know what the hell a smash record is. You have to find the people who care about lyrics and those who don’t care about lyrics and find that little spot in-between. Biggie was real good at that.
How hard is it to stay consistent today?
The reason I have the breaks is because I’m recording, but at the same time, a lot of stuff might not come out. I’m the type of person that records what I feel. I’m not going to throw away an idea. I’ll throw away a record where if I record it and I don’t like it, I’ll throw it away. I won’t send that to HipHopGame because I think it’s not worth anything. I have songs like that. And from a marketing side, to flood you with a whole bunch of music with no record in stores and the label situation, it won’t work for me. People probably don’t care about that, but you want to hit people when it’s time.
Are you still signed to Virgin?
On this current date, I am still technically signed to Virgin Records. I know they’re merging with Capitol and I have no clue what the next step is. I don’t have anyone on the inside. I’ve been focusing on music and we’ll see what the next step is. I should know very soon what’s going on over there. Who knows? Jermaine Dupri was one of the leaders for the whole political hold that was going on. I don’t want to make it sound worse than it is, but I’m still on Virgin until further notice.
Was Jermaine Dupri not feeling your music?
With Jermaine, I want to just say, and this is as political and as neutral as I can be, it was more of a thing where Jermaine wanted to keep me and he felt like I wanted to leave at one point. When it got out in the streets that I wanted to leave, he might have taken it personal. He might not have cared at all. He’ll probably never comment on it though. We spoke and he told me he was feeling the music, but he has his artists. I wasn’t So-So Def. He had Sun.NY and his artists. I got stuck. I’m not mad at him for it. I understand how this business works. This is the music industry. But it definitely wasn’t an “I don’t like what you’re doing”-type of thing. He heard about me from my journals and my music. It was what it was.
Lenny S brought you in and then he moved to Def Jam. How valuable was it having Lenny in your corner when he was still at Virgin?
Lenny is great, man. For me, Len is a great A&R. He’s worked with Jay all these years and I’ve known him since 1997 when I interned at Rocafella. I’ve been asking Lenny to listen to my music since 1999, just for feedback, not to get signed. We developed a rapport and by the time the Virgin thing came through, they couldn’t even fight it because there was so much internet press that they had never seen at the time. They had never seen an artist grind like that without the help of a label. Lenny was helping me get tracks from big producers. It’s just one of those situations that’s difficult now since he left.
Now that he’s at Def Jam, is there any chance of you going over there?
I don’t know, man. I don’t know. That’s a tough one. To me, Def Jam is one of those historic hip-hop labels that I think any artist would dream to be on because of the marketing genius that they provide, but I don’t know if it’s the same place that it was years ago for new artists. I think if you’re established and you have your fanbase, it’s a great place. I see what they’re doing with new rappers and it doesn’t seem like they’re giving anybody a fair shot. I think there’s other places that could give me that light. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not saying it’s definitely not happening, but I don’t know if me and Jay can ever coexist on a label, honestly.
What kind of relationship do you have with Jay?
It’s not a relationship at all. It’s a “What’s up? What’s going on?”-type of relationship. I know he heard music before he met me. We spoke a few times. We’ve had most of our conversations in clubs about past music. I told him he was coming back and he told me he wasn’t. When I rhymed for him that day it was a crazy experience. He said I overshadowed my records by rhyming live. I probably did. You always imagine getting to that point and rhyming for Jay and wonder what you would say. I can safely say that I have no regrets with what happened that day.
Why couldn’t you coexist on a label with Jay?
How can I say this and not blacklist myself? Marketing-wise, maybe his department might feel like I would be too close. I don’t think they’ve heard where I’m trying to go with this thing yet. The album records are more like a Kanye West or Common. It’s not in Jay’s lane, but I just think the image might be too close. Or maybe they just feel that this is not what they’re looking for. They might be looking for something grimier or something different. I just don’t think I’m something they’re looking for. That’s just my opinion. I don’t know. This is all my personal opinion. I really don’t know.
You worked with Just Blaze for the Virgin album Thee Emotion Picture. What was that like?
That was great. Just is an animal. He goes in and hooks the beat up right there for you. I gave suggestions on samples and he did that right away. It was a great experience watching him work and the sound that comes out is amazing. I’m happy for Saigon that he gets to do an entire album of Just Blaze beats. He puts it in like a scientist in there. I definitely admire Just and I would love to continue working with him.
Will you leak the tracks for the album?
Yeah. You’re definitely going to hear it. Definitely. I’m in leaking mode anyway. Give me a month or so and if there’s no contract resolution, I’m leaking everything. There are certain records that are made to be on an in-store album and I would probably have to wait until a budget is behind it, but you can’t just hold onto something because somebody produced it. When you’re behind the 8-ball, why not?
Is Thee Emotion Picture finished?
I didn’t finish it. It’s about 60-65% done. That’s all concepts and recording. Finishing it is a big production. I wanted to bring in choirs and all types of crazy instruments. I wanted to make it really musical. It wasn’t done, but I still want to have this cinematic story from beginning to end. It’s still going to come out. I’ve had to revamp and retouch some things. I’m working on another album, Cinderella Man, with J.Cardim. I’m going to keep it going like that. I’m not stopping.
How’s that coming?
It started out as a mixtape. J.Cardim had a joint on my album and I didn’t even realize that he did it. When his man sent me some tracks, that beat was on there. I was like, “I used this already.” Then we got on the horn and we said we should do a mixtape. When I started recording them, they sounded like good records that should be out there. The more we recorded, the more we felt that we could come up with 10 or 12 joints that could be put out. We’re going to Baseline and just knocking those joints out. The underdog is going to come out on top. We’re going to just let that rock.
We’re trying to drop that by summer. It might come out before, but we’re shooting for June.
It seems like you would be better off at an independent label. Do you feel that’s the best way for you to go?
I never really felt that way in the beginning. I’m a Leo and I’m greedy. I want to reach more people. The Koch thing is great to do the music and get paid for it. Right now I have no problem with doing something like that, but ultimately, I would take less of a dollar to reach more people because there’s nobody out there really saying anything. I think if I had that tool behind me and that major label says they’re going to put what I’m saying to the masses, I think that’s worth more than getting $7 a record. But maybe Koch is my best bet where I can get a core following and still do what I do. I wouldn’t be mad at it. Look at how Ludacris has evolved to not just doing party music but actually saying something on records while still having that fanbase. Outkast can sell more and more records each time. Those are hall of fame careers and you can’t get any better than that. So I’m not opposed to reaching the masses with that major push and still doing what I do. But at the same time, the independent thing is definitely something that I can foresee at this point.
Are you going to keep the title Thee Emotion Picture?
Yep. We’re going to still rock with that. Definitely. I’m still doing something different that hasn’t been done. I’m going to tell that story from beginning to end. It’s the cinematic tale of my life.
Ideally, when would Thee Emotion Picture drop?
I’m going to shoot for fall. Why not? All it takes is a record or two and for the label to show me some love.
Would Thee Emotion Picture come out on Virgin?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. As far as Virgin is concerned, I don’t know why they don’t see a diamond in the rough. I don’t know why they wouldn’t get wise and get behind something that’s got momentum. HipHopGame shows me love, so why not? I’ve spoken to other labels to see what’s happening and it’s kind of tough for them to touch you when you’re still on Virgin. At this point, it really doesn’t matter. It’s got to come out somewhere. I’m not stopping.
Bossman went from Virgin to Capitol. Do you talk to other artists like Bossman who are in a similar situation?
I talked to Sun.NY when he was going through what he was going through. I didn’t even know he was in the same situation with being stuck. I speak to Bossman’s A&R and they’re doing what they do. They have an inside dude and I don’t have no inside dudes. I’m in the streets. The streets are my A&R and music is my voice. I’m good.
Have you ever thought about leaving the music?
Nah. I can’t do that, man. The frustration comes and goes so fast because I honestly see the ending and I see where this is going. If I got negative feedback, I would go get another job. I’m listening to people that are doing it and I know that I should be doing it. The frustration gets wiped out. The world doesn’t understand when you get in a political label bind. That doesn’t concern them. They just want to know when the album’s coming out and what the hell you’re doing. I see the ending and the finale right now and I have to see that to keep going. I have to put out music that people are going to like. I can touch on the struggle and what’s going on just to inform people that it can happen. I’m always going to be a voice of the people so I have to keep going.
Where’s your focus going to be for the next couple of months?
I’m recording records that I want to say I can break to the radio and even to the clubs. I have some records that still represent me. I like flooding y’all so people don’t forget me. I want to give people more original songs and more braggadocios bravado like my first mixtape. I just want to give people more sides of me and just put it out there. It’s like I don’t have much time left on this earth so I’m just going to let it out. Every week you’re going to see something up there whether you like it or not. There’s a lot of people out there who can’t feel what’s on the radio and something for them is coming. I have to break through radio and I have to let the people know that hip-hop ain’t dead.
What advice would you offer to other artists after what you’ve seen happen at Virgin?
If you’re trying to get the major label deal, figure out where you want to be and what you want to say. For me, I figured out which label I wanted based on who was there on the roster and who was there as an A&R. You have to target where you want to be and once you do that, figure out what you want to say because once you get in, the days of artist development and the days of throwing out records to test them and trying to gather up some sort of momentum is gone. It’s dying. They’re waiting for you to do everything on your own. I see a lot of people doing haphazard things and just putting out mixtapes and throwing stuff out on the website. You have to hone in on exactly what you want to say and where you want to go. You have to visualize that song you want to hear on the radio and the video you want to be pushed. You have to see yourself as a major artist if you’re going to be on a label. You can’t just see yourself as rapping for your ‘hood. There’s a lot more going on than that. You have to understand how the dollar is behind everything and how you’re going to bring in more dollars. There is no formula right now. I don’t know if that makes sense to people, but it is what it is.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Y’all are witnessing the before picture. I’m really focused on changing the world and music is my tool right now. I know you hear a lot of artists and you wonder what makes them different and you wonder why you should be a fan of this person. I may just be another lyricist, but I’ll make it through this. I really feel like I’m a gift for people. I want to be that voice and I want them to use me. I’m not going nowhere. This music stuff is still something that we can turn to. A lot of people are feeling a certain way and feeling down, and to feel better they turn on music. The business side is taking over to the point where we look at Soundscan before worrying about if the person’s album is hot. We can’t go there. I’m going to keep hitting y’all with joints. Look out for me.