You’ve come a long way in the last four years when we started posting your tracks and people were asking who you were. That has to feel good.
Yeah, it feels great. I just thank God for all the success.
Your debut album Politics is Usual is now out. On “Respect My Walk”, “I’ll show you what this pen can do.” Did you ever think that when you started out your debut album would have nothing but legendary producers on it?
No, definitely not. That’s high expectations right there. Just working with Premier alone was the biggest dream come true for me and then working with Hi-Tek, Alchemist, Nottz, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Buckwild and Easy Mo Bee, it’s insane because my favorite albums coming up were Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt and Ready to Die. Those are the same producers that helped create those albums and to have them on this album, that’s a blessing.
Were the albums you grew up on your main inspiration for Politics as Usual?
Yeah, definitely, that was 100% the inspiration to Politics as Usual. I knew I wasn’t going to come out off the top and sell 10 million records. This is for the fans and it was a personal goal for me to work with these producers and to have my first album sound like an Illmatic and a Reasonable Doubt. It’s really for the fans and there are still a lot of people that love that real shit and it’s not around anymore so I’m happy I can be that guy that can pretty much be the only guy doing it still.
A lot of classics hip-hop albums run under 60 minutes and yours is 45 minutes. Did you want to keep Politics as Usual short and sweet?
Yeah because usually when I do a CD, I aim for 20 songs. On all my mixtapes they’ve all had 20 songs except one of them had 22 songs. That’s mixtape stuff. It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re doing an album. So when I did it, I said, “All right, I don’t want no skits on this album. I just want to make good records. I want to make it record for record, back to back.” You know, 13 songs, when I heard it, I said, “Is this okay?” I had six more records that could have possibly made it because they were that good but I didn’t want to force it and I didn’t think it needed it. I thought 13 was the perfect amount.
Did you hold back on anything on this album?
A little bit. You always put something out and you wish you could have done something else. But 99%, I gave it my all. I tried to kind of make this CD be what I want the world to look at me as for the rest of my life and give it the principles that I stand for as a man and as an artist. When I do mixtapes I wile out and I talk a lot of shit. That’s kind of what rappers do to get people’s attention. We say crazy shit. But on this album I really did what I wanted to say. Some records that were really hot, I didn’t put them on the album because they only represented me at a certain time. They didn’t represent me as a person.
Even though it’s a over two years old, I know you couldn’t leave “Watch How It Go Down” off the album.
That was tough too because that song is so old and it’s the first song on the album. That’s the first song on the album coming off of the intro. That was a tough decision for me to make but I definitely put that as the first song because that’s definitely what I wanted the people to hear first. That’s my best song and my best rhymes.
Today you can look back on “Watch How It Go Down” with some perspective. How important was that song to your career?
It was the single most important move I’ve made in my career. Doing that one song, I said the right things on it. I said the right words on it to set me up for the rest of my career and Premier cosigned it and gave me the right beat. It was perfect. Sometimes when you do a record you never know if people are going to like it or hate it. To this day, I just did a show in Baltimore and when I asked them what they wanted to hear, it was “Watch How It Go Down.” I told them I would get to it at the end of the set and they wanted me to do it right then. It’s crazy, man. People really, really love that song. I’m happy I got it.
You’ve also recorded “So Amazin’” and “How We Rock” with DJ Premier. How did you approach those songs because you wanted them to be as memorable as “Watch How It Go Down” but you couldn’t recreate the same song?
That was the tough thing. “So Amazin’” came next. I knew when I did “So Amazin’”, the beat didn’t call for that fast Kool G. Rap and Pun flow. It called for a slow, smooth flow like Jay-Z or Dr. Dre. It called for a different flow and I knew people would say it wasn’t going to be as good as “Watch How It Go Down.” I knew people wouldn’t say it was better. It was tough for me. That’s my favorite beat on the album. That’s my favorite beat that I got from DJ Premier.
I wanted people to see the funny side to me because “Watch How It Go Down” was so serious. It touched on AIDS and it touched on violence in our communities and it talked about how you have to protect yourself and carry a gun to not get yourselves killed but you could end up in jail with the gun. It’s a real fucked up system and that’s what the beat told me to do on that. “So Amazin’” was talking about the label dudes that didn’t sign me and it was different. When I did “How We Rock” with Bun I got on a faster flow and that’s more of a party song on some Run-DMC type shit. It’s not totally serious. Those are three totally different records.
How did the song “How We Rock”, produced by DJ Premier and featuring Bun-B, come about?
We actually called Bun-B, me and Premier. We went in with Premier to do the song. It was the day Bun-B’s album came out, 2/12, and I told him to call him because he was probably on TRL or something. I didn’t want to bother him and Primo called him. He was like, ‘What up, man?’ He told him he was in the studio with Term and he had the beat for the record. We had something in the works for over a year. Bun-B wanted to call it “How We Rock” and talk about how we rock. Primo hung up and he got it. He said we were going to rhyme back and forth on some Run-DMC shit and he made the beat on the spot and he asked me if I liked it. I liked it and we sent the beat to Bun and he liked it. It was easy money.
Did you ever think that you would have three records produced by DJ Premier on your debut album?
I’ve actually done six or seven records with Primo. I’ve done stuff for Big Shug’s album and I just recently did “My Boston.” I did “Watch How It Go Down” and the “Watch How It Go Down (Remix)” with Papoose and Lil’ Fame. I did “So Amazin’” and “How We Rock” and I did the intro to Statik Selektah’s album that Primo produced. It’s crazy. If you had told me in the past that I would do six to seven records with DJ Premier, I would have bet you a million dollars that that never would have happened.
Can you tell DJ Premier what beats you don’t like and not feel pressured to rhyme over a beat you’re not feeling but don’t want to reject because it’s from DJ Premier?
Definitely. With “So Amazin’”, that wasn’t my first choice. I went in there and that was actually the third beat he showed me for the second record. The first beat he showed me was a crazy beat but Statik said that wasn’t the one for me. I wanted that one and it was crazy but Statik said no. I guess Premier had given the beat to someone else. So then we went back in and he made another beat on the spot which is equally insane if not even better. It would have been “Watch How It Go Down Part 2.” It was dark and dirty and I knew I was going to rap fast on it. Statik said that wasn’t the one also. I thought that would have been crazy.
Statik said I needed a beat from Primo that was like “Nas Is Like” that was upbeat and had the scratched hook. So Primo showed me “So Amazin’” and I knew that was the one. As soon as I heard the intro, it didn’t even have to drop. I knew that was it. I ended up taking that one. He’s the greatest producer of all time and it’s kind of tough to not take everything but it’s cool, man, because he’s my brother and I’m comfortable working with him now.
On “How We Rock” you talk about showing fans “the soul of Pun.” How much does Pun influence your rhymes?
He’s a big influence, man. I grew up listening to Fat Joe and Big Pun. They were my heroes just because they’re Puerto Rican and I come from Lawrence, Mass. I grew up there for half of my life and that’s kind of the way I was raised. That was speaking for me and my brothers and my cousins and my uncles and my boys. I felt like they were the only ones singing our story and at least for me and Joell Ortiz and Big Lou and Tru Life, all of us, we are the continuation of them and we have to tell the story to other cats on how we grew up. It’s an honor for people to look at us like we’re the main guys.
The Pun thing, man, I said it on “Watch How It Go Down” and I compared myself it him and it was a good thing in a way because I showed people that I was really nasty and I was standing to him and showing respect but at the same time it’s kind of a bad thing because now every interview I do and everywhere I go, they have to bring up the Pun thing. I ain’t mad at it though. It’s a privilege that people even compare me to my favorite rapper.
Fat Joe called Big Lou a “Big Pun clone.” Was that a fair accusation?
You know, that’s none of my business so I’m gonna pass on that question.
Okay. Are you happy with how far “How We Rock” went?
Yeah, definitely, man. Shout out to Jabari for coming through with HipHopGame TV. It was a monumental time shooting that video. It’s a monumental time for New York. There was no beef there and everything was all love. We all got out for one video for the sake of hip-hop. There were 20 MCs in the building that could rap their head off. Lil’ Fame was in there with Skyzoo and Torae. Uncle Murder and Bun-B were there. Joell Ortiz was there. There were so many rappers there. Smoothe the Hustler was there. It’s crazy how many rappers were there. ST. Da Squad was there, that’s my squad. If you really realized how many rappers was there, there were over 30 rappers that could go in. It was good for hip-hop.
I’m very proud of the song and very happy that we did the video. Shout out ot Bun-B, who made it happen. He’s the coolest dude of all time.
What inspired you to write “The Chosen”?
I had a beat tape with 17 beats from Hav. It was the sixth beat I heard. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy!’ I always wanted a beat that sounded like some Hell on Earth shit. That was my chamber. I was like, ‘This is it, man. This is the one that most sounds like it could have been on Hell on Earth.’ I knew I had to go in on this because it was some rugged shit. I came up with the first line that goes, “I am chosen, that means I am the one.” I was like, ‘Oh, shit, if I’m the one, I have to talk about how I’m that dude and how no one can fuck with me.’
You didn’t feature producers you came up with like DC the Midi Alien or Statik Selektah or your crew ST. Da Squad. How did everyone you roll with feel about being left off of Politics as Usual?
I think at first a few people were offended or whatever, but I told people years ago that I was going to do this and once I got in the position to do it I did it and I told everybody, “Listen, man, I’m going to do this one album with one concept and you guys don’t fit into the concept so you’re just going to have to lean back.”
Everybody knows that as far as Massachusetts goes, I’m that dude for putting people on. I put on more people from Massachusetts than anybody, ever, for real. I put 36 rappers on “MassAsaNation.” All of my Hood Politics CDs, they’re pretty much like albums and they’re all done by MoSS, Staitk Selektah, J. Cardim, DC the Midi Alien and others. These are all cats from around my way and I have love for them. Everybody knows that ST. Da Squad is on my CDs and I show love but I really had to do this CD on my own and I think everyone understands it and sees the bigger picture. My next album will have the usual suspects on it like Statik and ST and all of that. I just had to do the first one alone and they understand.
It was never a problem, it was just like, people felt like they were riding with me for so long and now I was gonna get so big and not work with them. That’s not it. I’m still the same dude. I’m still in the same ‘hood and doing what I do. I’m the same guy that’s just going to show up like it’s nothing so don’t look at me like that. I’m just trying to aim high. I got high standards for myself and high expectations.
Your manager used to work for Koch and still does stuff with them. I always thought you were going to come out on Koch but instead you’re coming out on Nature Sounds. How did that happen?
I thought I was signing to Koch. They had told me that they were going to sign me and every time I would show up over there, they would say that they heard I was signing over there and that was great. I went through that for nine months and I had a meeting and they told me that they were going to sign me and nine months was pretty much a whole year of stringing somebody along so me and Dan, we just stepped aside and started taking other meetings to see what our options were. It’s cool, man. Nature Sounds is cool peoples and they let me do it my way. It’s ST Records/Nature Sounds. I put together the music and this is my project. They just believed in me and they put up some paper and I thank God for that.
Five years from now how do you want fans to look at Politics as Usual?
I don’t know. I always wanted it to be my Illmatic. Five years from now, I’m going to have five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 albums out. I want people to have to go back and cop that album because they know that one is crazy.