You told me the other day that you had just heard “You’re a Jerk.” What rock had you been hiding under?
(laughs) I would like to call it the Rock of Social Consciousness. Once you’re there you try to stay away from certain things. You can’t really prejudge it if you haven’t heard it but when I heard it, it made it worse! Everything is about dancing. We’re back in the 1950s where all the hit songs are about dancing. It’s tragic.
Was your reaction to the New Boyz more horrifying than your wife discovering Tubgirl?
(laughs) I think they were about the same, to be honest with you! I think my reaction was about the same as her Tubgirl reaction! First it’s the look and the emotional and utter disgust and then guilt after having seen that. That type of rectal stimulation, or auditory stimulation, it’s sad. It’s first disgust then it’s guilt. Maybe they should do a song together, them dudes and Tubgirl. Everybody’s doing an album now so she might as well get on the boat.
How did you go about introducing your wife to Tubgirl?
I think it was like a conversation how you know when you’re speaking about something that you know about, you just say it really cavalier and really casually? So I was saying something and I made a reference to it and she had a look to her face like she didn’t know about it. “Where have you been?” The fact that she didn’t know about it, maybe I was just sick and wrong. I don’t know. I had to show her and she was like, ‘Oh no. This is horrid.’ Then she gave me the look of disgust like I’m an asshole like I’m the one that’s drooling at the mouth at that shit.
It’s a good thing you didn’t show her 2 Girls and 1 Cup.
Oh no, she had seen that and I explained it to her as Tubgirl being more along the lines of that. We had seen 2 Girls and 1 Cup and that was another bad situation. You try to wipe off your computer screen and make sure you don’t catch a virus from that.
Life in the UnLearn household sounds pretty interesting.
Pretty much, pretty much! It’s like a circus. It’s a three ring circus. You got a woman and two kids and it’s like a three ring circus. We try to make it work.
From listening to your music through the years, it seems like you incorporate a lot of your daily life with a witty and sarcastic edge. Is that a fair critique of your music?
I would say that’s fair because what I try to do is I try to take a new approach to the effect of the same way a comedian tries to give people social commentary through humor and wit and personal experience. Personal experience is basically the lens through which we see the world and society. We see all these societal ills and by giving people my life and showing that I’m a real person and not just trying to perpetuate the hip-hop lifestyle but trying to get down to some real life issues, I think that’s a real healthy balance. You have to let people know that you’re a real human being and they can relate to you and give them something that’s poetic and creative so they can see there’s beauty in living as a human being and you don’t have to escape yourself in order to find creativity.
You put a lot of gems in your songs that go up for free download or streaming purposes only. Do you ever feel like your lines get wasted?
I started to feel that way, kind of, recently, but at the same time, it’s weird because I put out so much music for free for so long that now it’s a situation where it’s like trying to sell the same shit becomes a different hustle and it’s a different technique and you have to do different things. Rap music is now so saturated and you have people coming out with mixtapes every month and trying to drop songs every day and no disrespect to any one of them, but what it does is it puts hip-hop music in a situation where creativity becomes so saturated. What I like to do is put out my music and hope that people discover it. That’s really the hope and I try to stay on my toes to be as witty as possible and as creative as possible. I can always come up with better lines because I’m always growing and I’m always expanding.
My whole thing is that I hope my new material prompts people to go through my old material and they hear things that way. We’re done with the era of artist having one album dropping and then having a plethora of fans. We’re log past that era of artists doing that. Now we’re at people hearing your new mixtape and then going back to your old ones. I think I really need to re-release a lot of my older stuff because a lot of that is still dope. With the exception of my voice getting deeper, it’s still me. I made the decision that I’m going to re-release some of my older mixtapes or songs in a Best Of situation where people can discover some of my older songs in one place without having to go through four or five CDs.
How’s your new music coming?
It’s crazy because I have the gift and the curse of being able to multitask. I have the vision that certain songs need to go on certain albums. So I’m working on my album at the same time I’m working on mixtapes. I have to listen and determine where they need to go and what the direction is. Working on a mix CD and an album simultaneously can be challenging because every artist wants their album to be the best album possible and most hip-hop artists, we’re so self-centered we want to have the best album in the history of albums to come out, ever. It’s the process of finding what the direction of the album is going to be and what the direction of that will be, so when you do come out with an album and it’s put out to an audience, you’re putting out music that’s gonna have the desired effect that you want it to have. The mixtapes are more for my fans and for the people who are already more familiar with me or who know who I am but haven’t really listened to it. The mixtapes are like a reintroduction for me to the hip-hop world. I stay under the radar and the album is going to be saying who I am and love me or hate me, for what it’s worth.
How is your debut album coming?
Right now I’m about three songs in. What I did was I spent the last six months just getting beats and just really trying to fine tune what the sound is so what I did was instead of thinking about the types of songs I wanted, I went to the producers that helped me develop my sound. I went to the producers who knew what an UnLearn beat sounded like and where I sound the best, so I’ve been going to my man Domingo and Denotes and Sincere Nobel, Street Level. These are people I’ve been working since my first mixtape Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and even some of the mixtapes before that. They know what kind of sound fits me. I’m going to them to get beats to go back to the essence of who I am and I’m also trying to branch out and get new producers and get new sounds. I’m not trying to get too experimental but leaning towards something that shows growth. It’s looking good. I got my intro and one Jake One track that’s crazy and I just got a couple of other tracks that I’m still working on and tweaking but it’s sounding good. I’m trying to make it flow seamlessly.
What do you need to do to be successful in this digital age?
It really comes down to what you define as success. That’s the main criteria. If you think success is to have wild women and then you have cars and you want to have music that reflects that lifestyle and generates that type of response, then that’s success to you. That’s not success to me. Success to me is being able to live the lifestyle that I live now, buy a car and buy a nice house and be able to raise my children and have that artistic freedom that most artists want to have and that most artists signed to major labels complain about. I always knew that I wasn’t going to have the breakout single or breakout hit because I do inspiration music, not entrainment music.
If this is an entertainment industry, that’s not where I’m at. Entertaining is a distraction. I would rather not make distraction music. I would rather do inspirational music that helps people. What the problem is is you have this music out here that’s being the most promoted and it doesn’t reconcile with the type of people that I’m trying to reach. We’re going through a recession and people are losing jobs left and right and you’re trying to not go crazy and I don’t think it’s beneficial to listen to artists who want to buy 410 carat chains, whether it’s real or not, or doing dance moves for physical fitness. That doesn’t reconcile with the people I’m trying to reach. It’s about doing music that’s inspirational.
You can still entertain and inspire simultaneously but I did the mixtape Enemy of the State and the whole point of me having that name was that I was an enemy to the current state of hip-hop. We haven’t really changed much since then but I’ve known and I made my peace with the fact that I’m an artist who marches to my own drum break. As long as I’m able to maintain my artistic liberties, then I’m fine because a lot of these artists, they get signed and they want to put out music that I put out and their labels aren’t allowing them to do it and so they remain in a stagnated place and they can’t say the things they want to say unless it’s on a website or mixtape. I continue to put out the music that I want and at least affect some type of change and give people some thought-provoking music.
How do you see your music with Jake One changing over the years?
It’s interesting because we’ve been working together for so long and I’ve been working on his beats for so long that I’m able to see my own artistic revolution and artistic development through a Jake One lens because I have different beats from him in different points in his career, like prior to having a beat with 50 Cent and after that. I’m able to hear myself develop over his tracks and from an objective standpoint see his career blossom and see a producer who’s talented from the get-go rise up and still keep his artistic integrity and still keep his soulful yet grungy sound and still keep it raw. It’s interesting. I wouldn’t want to say that we came up together but I will say that as long as I’ve been working with him, I’ve been able to see our careers develop in our own ways and we’ve been able to maintain our artistic voices.
Anytime one of your songs go up on HipHopGame, someone always compares you to Joell Ortiz. What do you think of that?
I’m not going to go so far as to say it’s a fair comparison. We’re two Hispanic niggas from New York, so with that you’re going to naturally get some sort of common ground. We both grew up listening to Pun. We come from two different types of environments. If you listen to it side by side, you’ll hear the difference. If you’re someone they’re not familiar with, they’ll always try to put you in a box, especially if they’re a website-like fan who hasn’t bought a tape in awhile. They’re always trying to accommodate in their own mind who you sound like or what type of music you’re in and putting me in that kind of box doesn’t really work for me.
That comparison is more for them that it is a critique of me. It’s more the fans trying to accommodate where my sound is as opposed to giving me a critique saying I sound like so and so. Sometimes I can’t help it. My voice is my voice and when you get down to what I’m saying and what I’m telling people and the music that I make, then you’ll start to hear the difference. You’ll hear a big difference. And I think Joell’s a dope artist. He’s one of the most talented artists out there and Slaughterhouse is bringing hip-hop back, in my opinion. To sound like someone who’s bringing hip-hop back, I’m grateful for that. And people were saying I sounded like Royce how many years ago. People would say that. People don’t know how to make up their minds and it gives me the opportunity to show them exactly who I am and it gives me the challenge of continuing to show people my individualism.
But I guarantee you if I sounded like Plies I’d be the nigga!
I would respect you more.
(laughs) Oh, man! Yeah, I think I got a couple of “Becky”-type records in the background. I’m going to send them to you.
How can you not love “Becky”?
I can’t understand it. I’m flabbergasted by it.
So you’re saying you don’t consider it a good song?
(laughs) It’s entertaining. It goes back to my whole point about entertaining. I feel bad for girls named Becky, to be honest with you. Now if you meet a girl at a party named Becky, you already know what it is. You already have in the back of your mind what’s going to go down at this party. She may not have a clue, but she’ll find out soon enough. That’s why I feel bad for all those Becky’s out there. I’m sorry for you. I’m sure some of them relish the idea and take it for what it is. But given a certain type of dude with a certain type of swag, Rebecca could be Becky very quickly!
Did you just use “swag” in everyday conversation?
I’ve been using that since 2000! I’m not going to go so far as to say I’m an originator of the word, but I’ve been using the word heavy for 10 years and now it’s the only word people want to use to describe themselves. Rappers don’t read and words like “charisma” and “pizzazz.” “Swag” is in my everyday vernacular.
Well, a rapper demanding listeners to “check my pizzazz” just doesn’t sound right.
(laughs) I want to know who’s the culture police? How did we get to the point where bright colors and tight pants are cool but if you want to say a word like “pizzazz” then you’re too far out of the mainstream? Maybe if I wear a spiked belt and say “pizzazz” that might be acceptable.
Now it sounds cool.
That’s my next move. I’m going to put it together for my next photo shoot. Watch.
Especially when you’re one of those rappers with more photo shoots than studio sessions.
Basically! UnLearn Pizzazz, that’s going to be my new name.
How am I not your A&R?
I don’t understand. I really don’t understand. And to understand is to condone a lot of the time, so by not understanding, maybe I’m in a good position because to understand is to agree or at least condone it, like I know where you’re coming from. I’m glad I don’t understand this. And first of all, I’m too big to be dressing in tight jeans. Tight jeans just don’t work for me. Maybe we’re overlooking the mystic quality of the tight pants movement.
That’s why we need The New Boyz.
How is that an original name?
They’re new to music and they are boys.
It’s a practical name. That’s to say the least. It’s a practical name.
It’s no “Gucci Mane.” That’s a name.
When I first heard that name, I was mad at myself for not thinking about it, like I can’t believe that I missed out of that. Out of all those names I’m stuck here with UnLearn and Gucci Mane is flying through the collectives of hip-hop.
You could be Prada Mane or Louie Mane.
Prada Mane might be good.
You should let HipHopGame give you a hip-hop makeover.
Yeah. Take socially collective rappers and turn them into hipster favorites. That’s because hip-hop is being geared to yuppies and the social climber culture. It’s not about gearing it to the poor because the labels realized that poor people don’t buy records even though that’s what we listen to and that’s our form of expression. It’s been co-opted now to be the soundtrack to young professionals and yuppies. On reality shows hip-hop is the fucking backdrop for these rich kids. It’s weird. How the fuck are Lamborghinis in the ‘hood? I don’t see that. I see crack heads and I see crack dealers but I don’t see Lamborghinis. From watching videos you would swear that the ghetto was Hollywood. If you were from another country and all you saw were these videos, you would think that the ghetto in the United States is the best place to be.
The realities that happen in the inner city are not being reflected in the music. It’s supposed to be urban music. That’s what they want to label us as. It’s called “urban music,” not “hip-hop.” I don’t see that it’s reflecting urban culture. It looks more like rich niggas spending their money on dumb shit.
How are you going to stay sane and in the game at the same time?
Well, it’s a matter of understanding what your goals are and what your agenda is. My goal is not to be a millionaire and I’ve kind of gotten myself out of that thinking a long time ago and it’s a matter of really trying to understand there’s a social agenda to my music and I’ve always understood that. I’m an adult and you grow up and you mature and you read and I gather a lot of information and once you gather information about the way life is and the way things are, certain things don’t matter to you so much anymore. A lot of these people, they don’t want to do the music that they’re doing. These people don’t have no respect for the culture. There’s a split in the community between the people doing music as a hustle and music for a purpose.
I’m not knocking it, but we have the ears of the young people at a time in society when we are the most confronted with excess and greed but also an opportunity to make change. Why not have this music that’s supposed to be for the people reflect that? I know a lot of people talk about it and the whole election process of Obama got people in a whole new consciousness. That’s happened in the last two years and it wasn’t just watching the election but it was really coming down to reading the news, watching the news and people got more involved. They got more involved in organizing and they got more involved in terms of being socially conscious and learning what’s going on in the world around them and with that energy being so vibrant, why not co-opt that energy and why not take that energy to another level and have it be that energy that we need to take people in another direction as opposed to getting a couple of Obama love songs and then you get a song about fucking Becky?
And maybe I’m being too critical and I should be wearing army fatigues, but to me I just think that we need to see more. You see the reemergence of lyricists and some of these artists who I’m complaining about, a lot of them are trying to step up their game and become actual songwriters as opposed to being the lowest common denominators in order to sell records. These artists know they have to do something more. These companies want to blame the economy and the poor record sales, but maybe it’s the fact that you have wack art. Let’s be honest with ourselves.
Maybe you shouldn’t be giving artists money for cars and jewelry and trying to get it back because they only sold 13,000 in the first week. Maybe we need a complete makeover instead of me needing an instant makeover. We all complain about it but no one ever wants to put shit on the line and say this shit is wrong and we need to change it because it’s going in a direction that’s not helping us. I’m the type of artist where I know I have a social responsibility and I’m putting it on myself to have a social responsibility. I’m giving you something inspirational and something relevant in my lyrics. You can drive around and listen to my shit and hear what I’m talking about and all too often we’re trying to get people to look the other way and not worry about it and act like it’s not their problem. We’ve developed that apathy because society told us it wasn’t our problem but sooner or later it’s going to be our problem and we were too unprepared to do anything about it.