You recently linked up with Young Chris again on “Searching.” What’s it like working with him?
Like an older cousin. That’s like my friend on a personal level. We talk all the time and doing a record, we’re going to have some kind of chemistry. We mesh well together.
Why do you think you two get along so well?
Well, we have a lot in common and we’re around the same age. It’s just a real recognize real thing. I don’t want to sound corny or cliché but I don’t try too hard and he doesn’t try too hard. A lot of people try to show you how hard or gangster they are. It’s just a natural thing here. And Philly and D.C. aren’t too far from each other.
“Searching” had a verse he spit in his 30 Verses in 30 Days campaign. How did he get you to add a verse for it?
Me and Chris, man, we got like a pact. Whenever he sends something to me there’s not even a question just like when I send him something. It’s like a no-brainer. I send it back to him in a couple hours and he does the same thing so it’s never a problem.
In “Searching” you say, “I guess I can’t make music because I went to school.” Do you think there’s a stigma with rappers who went to school?
A lot of times people don’t know. A lot of times people don’t know. Nobody really knows who went to school and who didn’t. I embrace it. Unfortunately I didn’t finish school. I kind of embrace that fact too. I feel like college is a type of thing where people can figure out what they want to do. It buys you more time. And football wasn’t really as cracking as it should have been for me so I knew it was this.
What happened to your football career?
Actually, man, I think about this every day. I just wish I could have played one more season because I was back on my shit. When I went to Robert Morris there was so much shit going on. There was 17 running backs and I was fourth on the depth chart. There were two seniors ahead of me and there was a new recruit who had just left Miami so obviously he was going to be in the mix. And my work ethic was cool but I didn’t like to lift weights. I just didn’t really care too much for it. And then I got back in the starting lineup and I worked my way up but me and the coach did not get along. I would like to say a special fuck you shout out to Coach Faison from Virginia State and an impartial thank you because that’s when I started going all the way into hip-hop.
You don’t seem like a Brandon Jacobs-type back.
Oh, hell no! I was more like a John Avery type. He used to play for Ole Miss. Or a Percy Harvin minus a couple pounds. At the end of the day it was I-AA instead of Division 1. But I ran a good 4.5, which is pretty good for I-AA and my shuttle run time was one of the fastest that Robert Morris had ever seen. My size wasn’t great but I could get out there real quick.
Do you still have those wheels today?
Man, they gotta be somewhere here, man. I wish I had some tapes. I wish I had some footage from Virginia State. I was shining all over again. Everybody was good in high school. That was too easy. That was nothing. But in high school we ran a funky little formation so it wasn’t really popping like that. If anybody knows what the Wing-T is, it’s not a formation where you can get 20 touches a game unless you play fullback. I would get eight touches and three receptions a game, something like that.
What do you miss most about football?
The games, man. The games, dog.
Do sold-out concerts compare at all?
No, man. Not really. That’s one thing…I didn’t get the proper closure with football. I didn’t get it and it, like, haunts me. I remember my last high school game. I remember my last practice in college. I remember my last college game. I got visions of my last high school game. We were in the championship game and my friend was on the other team and there was one person to beat for the touchdown and it was my friend. He tripped me up and we lost by six points. I think about that every day. It haunts me. And my last play at Robert Morris, I had to run between the guard and the tackle and I cut it in tight between the center and the guard and I looked up and the hole I should have run through was huge. It would have been an 80 yard touchdown run. It haunts me.
Looking at how the Redskins are doing, maybe you’ll get another shot.
(laughs) Oh, man, the Redskins, they ain’t doing too good. They ain’t doing too good. But it could be worse. We could be Detroit.
There’s not a whole lot to be happy about if you’re a sports fan in D.C.
Yeah, man. The Wizards can’t stay out of the club. That’s part of their losing, but whatever.
Do you ever bump into them and remind them they have a game the next day?
We’re so used to the Wizards coming out. They could just lose by 20 and be in the club. They could lose by 20 at Philadelphia and be back at the club in a couple of hours. I’m not trying to judge them dudes. They’re richer than me and taller than me. I’m not hating but as a fan, I’m just like, ‘Damn.’
It is kind of a talent that they can make it back so fast.
It’s amazing. It’s incredible. They’re fast. But the star players don’t be there that much. Caron Butler is there very seldom. I’m not hating.
Have you ever bumped into Gilbert Arenas anywhere?
Yeah. He was supposed to be in the “Nike Boots” video and everything. I called him but his schedule was too busy. I went to his party a couple of years ago. I hear stories about him all the time. We have the same barber.
How far along are you on your long-awaited debut album?
Oh, man, closer than you think. Mark [Ronson] just finished touching up a couple of the songs. He wanted to do his Rain Man thing and touch up the Cool and Dre record and some others. We wanted to get this Mos Def feature popping. We’re just crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.
What do you have left to do?
Nothing, really, man. I only have two rap features on the album and that’s Bun-B and Q-Tip. Q-Tip laced me with a hook. It’s a crazy song. It might be my second single. And the Mos Def collab is tentative but I think it’s going to go down. I want to write a couple of hook ideas.
How important was it for you to not have a lot of MCs on the album?
You know, it’s not really that important because Game’s first album was said to be a classic and he had a lot of features on it. It ain’t really that important. As long as you come hard every time you come and as long as you do your thing every time you come, you can let the people know that you’re going to be around for awhile.
“Chillin’,” which was produced by Cool and Dre, leaked prematurely. How did that happen?
Man, if I could tell you I would be in jail right now. (laughs) I wish I could tell you. I just really don’t know. I really don’t know. I’ve heard that shit in the clubs now and all types of shit. That record ain’t gonna sound nothing like that. It’s crazy though. You work hard and you have a tight team and that shit leaks out. I’m thinking it was somebody in-house. I don’t know.
What was the first thing that went through your mind when you heard "Chillin'" leaked?
I freaked out. I freaked out. But then my team was telling me to chill and it was all good because the record wasn’t going to sound the same. There’s another verse to that and obviously there wouldn’t be no hook where somebody is just humming.
Did the leak speed up your project at all?
Nah. It was going to do what it did regardless. It’s coming in the spring no matter what.
If it’s really coming out in the spring you have a lot of work to do.
Yeah. I’m ready for it. I’ve been working hard. My priorities right now are my career and my album. My side project is kind of like my N.E.R.D. project is my U.C.B. project. That’s me working with the go-go band. We’re going to do an album together. We’ve been working on a couple of songs. We got about four songs and we’re going to shop it.
Do you change as an MC when you’re rocking on hip-hop songs versus go-go-inspired hip-hop songs?
I don’t. Rap is rap. My flow might be more in the pocket with go-go because it’s more of an obvious pocket.
Did you get everything you wanted for the album?
I mean, there’s a couple of producers and they know who they are. They didn’t make it. Besides that, I feel like I got stuff that’s just as good for a cheaper amount.
Did Mark Ronson put enough time into your project?
Yeah. Yeah. He did. He works differently. He works a lot differently. He comes in at the end and he goes in hardbody. He don’t stop. He stays in the studio.
What producers made the album?
Cool and Dre did the meat and potatoes of the album. Mark touched on a lot of things. We got them. TV on the Radio, I got two joints with them. Travis Barker is on the album. Sean C and LV are on there. And I think that’s about it. This is the thing – I got like 50 songs done. It’s going to be hard because I might say I have this producer but it’s not finalized and they might not be on there.
You got a song in the Saints Row video game. Are people recognizing you off of that one song where they maybe wouldn’t recognize you from being anywhere else?
See, I never even played that game. I’m about to go get it today, matter of fact.
They didn’t even send you a free copy?
I don’t know. I only play Madden and 2K9. I play Madden Moments, man. I got really good at them and then they gave me an impossible goal to do so I just stopped playing.
When you’re playing someone else, what team do you usually rock with?
You know what? My sleeper team if I want to catch somebody slipping is the Raiders because McFadden can get three yards every time he gets the ball. The Patriots are cheating. The Cowboys with T.O. is cheating because all you have to do is run a fly route and he can run past the coverage and the safety. That’s cheap. I really try to keep it funky. I’m either the Redskins or the Chargers. There are two different types of Madden players. Some people know all the blitzes and that’s how they play. I play it like a real football game.
You’ve been grinding for years and just got mentioned as an up-and-comer in XXL. At what point do you feel like you’re not up-and-coming anymore?
Actually I felt like I should have been on last year’s cover but everybody feels that way. This is a very realistic way of gauging their buzz. XXL is a very good way of judging where you really should be. And I’m more underestimated. It’s weird with me. Everybody feels I’m underestimated. Everybody says that.
How far away are you from blowing up on a national level?
Well, when the single comes it’s game time. A lot of people say I’m never going to blow up because I’m only known in D.C. and that’s stupid because 10 years ago an artist with this kind of buzz, nobody would know who he was. Once your single comes, that’s when everybody knows who you are. Nobody knew who Kanye was a few years ago. I remember his freestyles on the internet and I knew who he was but a lot of people didn’t know even when “Through the Wire” came out. It wasn’t until “Slow Jamz” that they knew who he was.
Do you think you still get a lot of hate in D.C?
It died down but I still get a lot of that. It is what it is. You get a lot of money, you get a lot of hate. A lot of my effort goes unnoticed in D.C. with me trying to help other people. A lot of it goes unnoticed. A lot of people don’t even know what I’m doing with U.C.B. They probably look at it and think it’s on a smaller scale.
Do fans want a reason to hate you?
Yeah. Nobody knows how to accept it. It doesn’t make sense to people. Nobody understands how this is happening because they never experienced this before.
Will your album help or hurt the success of future D.C. rappers?
It’s do or die. I feel like if I don’t do it right it’s not going to help anyone.
What artists in D.C. should fans be watching for?
Southeast Slim and X.O. Yeah. Southeast Slim, X.O., U.C.B….I know I’m missing some people. There’s a lot of people. There’s a lot of great artists coming from this area. And definitely Tabi. Don’t forget Tabi.
What do you think of the Saigon and Joe Budden beef?
Man, I can’t even call it, man. Both of those dudes, I’m cool with both of those dudes so I’m saying all the way outta that joint. Saigon is my man and Joe Budden is a cool dude. We talked a couple of times. I’m staying all the way out of that one.
Will “Chillin’” still be the first single?
Yeah, that will be the first single. You’ll probably get to hear the new version of that in a week or two.
What else should we expect from you?
Just more records. We’re going to be dropping more records. Just be ready, man.
Did you ever think you would actually come out?
Yeah. I mean, you gotta believe it. I knew it was gonna happen eventually.
What exactly are you doing with Roc Nation?
I’m signed to a management deal with them. I believe I’m the only artist that’s signed to them. There’s a lot of writers there and stuff. I got Elitaste management as well as Roc Nation management. They’re helping me on my never-ending quest for world dominance. So I get to learn a lot from Jay on the business side and I’m able to get some of the same connects, essentially. There’s also a lot of pressure though when your manager manages Jay-Z and Jay-Z has a show the same day as you and he has 30,000 people there and I have 2,000 at mine. (laughs) You just have to really pick your battles with what you want Roc Nation to help you with. I was with Jay the other night and last night as well.