I'm feeling good, man. I'm happy to be here.
You grew up in Corona, Queens, where a lot of legends have come from. Do you feel any pressure living up to the standards some of the greats have set from there?
I definitely have to try to live up to those standards. You got people like G. Rap, N.O.R.E, Akinyele, the Beatnuts and a lot of others. There are also a lot of people in the neighborhood that have been around and doing this for years. I definitely have to try to hold that legacy down and bring it back to the forefront.
How did your group Crown City come about?
“Corona” means “crown” in Spanish. It just started off as something I used to just yell on a record to rep where I'm from. That's pretty much what we represent with this shit. I pretty much came up with it with my dude Frank Diggs on the production tip and Camiliano on the business side. We came up in the same neighborhood and we had a mutual respect for each others’ talents. Basically we all just came together to try to put Corona, Queens back on the map and along the way started acquiring new talent.
How do you guys work together?
Right now, most of the team is based in Corona. Then we got some artists based in Maryland, like Diggs and Rod Da Blizz. And me, actually, I'm out in Orlando right now along with Evil Eye. Basically we all get together once in awhile. There's nothing like the chemistry we have when we're all in the same room. It’s crazy. But sometimes that’s not possible. That’s the beauty of today’s technology. We can send each other a session online and still get busy.
Is it ever hard for everyone to stay on the same page?
It is very difficult. It's difficult even when you're all in the same place and you're trying to work as a team when you have different personalities, different wants and dislikes. But we've been doing it as a team since '99 and we're still here doing it and it's a beautiful thing. We try to keep it as a family atmosphere. If we have some problems, we'll set up a meeting and we'll work it out. That's the reason why we're still here. That's why a lot of dynasties crumble. It's hard when you have a lot of different people working together. As a unit I think my team can compete with any team in hip-hop. We just don't have some of the same resources as others. That's why I think it’s key to remain as a strong, cohesive unit. Together we're unstoppable.
How important is it for you to be seen as a solo artist as well as a member of Crown City?
It's important for everybody to establish their own identities and at the same time, we're trying to build a brand with Crown City. That's what we're basically trying to do. Once we build that brand, I think that everybody can branch out and grow new branches to that tree and spread out to other fields and establish their own brands. We're just trying to build that foundation right now to where we can have everybody in the 'hood eating.
“Let It Reign” is one of my favorite songs that you've done. What inspired that?
That's just a ghetto anthem right there. What inspired that is just a lot of real shit. I've seen a lot of crazy shit and I've been through a lot of crazy shit. We lived in Southside, Queens during the height of the crack era. I used to see crack vials right outside of my door when I was walking to school and I would take them to school and my teachers would be like, 'What the hell is this?' On that record I say, "Picture the image, no light for more then a month/Southside Jamaica, Queens, out rollin’ a blunt/The candle's illuminating, the cooler’s refrigerating/By the corner bodega the fiends is still waiting." That's shit that I lived. We ain't had no light for a minute and the motherfucking sodas were in the cooler! My pops even got shot in front of the crib, but luckily the dude’s gun jammed.
Sometimes people just need that anthem to crank up the volume when they're upset or frustrated and they want to wild out. That’s what “Let It Reign” is. Basically I took things from different eras of my life and painted a picture. It's like a poetry version of some of the shit I went through.
You have a lot of different styles, from commercial songs to more street songs. How important is that versatility to you?
As far as making what some people would consider to be commercially-viable tracks, to me, I don't force it. It's actually something that I like to do. If people were to hear the songs on my MySpace page, they might say, 'Oh, he's trying to crossover.' Nah. There's just songs that I like to have fun with. Biggie has songs like that and he could still appeal to the streets. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm having fun with it. I'm not forcing nothing that doesn't come natural to me. I call myself the undisputed Hook Champ of the World because it just comes naturally. I got a natural, God-given ability to come up with crazy, melodic hooks. I don't force nothing. I let the beat tell me what to say and that's what it is.
How important has your producer Frank Diggs been to you?
Diggs has been everything. I put Diggs up there as being one of the greatest unrecognized producers that hip-hop has ever seen. This dude can name any sample for you. He's been doing it for a long time. He's just incredible. You could put Primo and Dre in a pot and mix them together and you would get Diggs. I owe a lot to Diggs. He lays that canvas down for me to paint my pictures.
What do you look for in beats?
My whole creative process is that I don't come up with any premeditated concepts. I just usually look for a beat that inspires me and tells me something. I look for something that I can come up with the hook for. The beat will tell me the hook. That's the kind of things that I look for. I don't look for anything that's typical. I just look for something that's capturing that old '90s-type feel, but I'm taking it to the new era. I'm not trying to recreate the past, but I'm trying to carry on tradition. That's what it is. I don’t come up with nothing premeditated.
Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito gave you props on their radio show. What did that mean to you?
That meant a lot. A lot of people would just call up their show and get destroyed. They were ruthless with that. For them to say what they said about me, that was real important. I'm sure a lot of kids were probably staying up 'til 5 in the morning to record it. I used to do that all of the time. I used to listen to that show all the time and I enjoyed it. Hip-hop is missing those outlets today. But that was a good look.
How hard is it for a new artist to get heard today?
It's very difficult. The game is so different now. I think that right now, the up-and-coming artists have to try to find different outlets, maybe even hit more places overseas. I have a friend of mine who recently got a royalty check. And that's an unknown artist. It says $0 from the United States. Everything was from different parts of the world. There's opportunities out there. You just have to find them
What do you have to do to succeed as an artist today?
I'm just grinding. I have to get my music wherever I can right now. I have to let the people know who I am through my music. Definitely with sites with HipHopGame setting trends, it really helps. There are not too many trendsetters in the game and I think that's why hip-hop is so stale right now. I think the music can only speak for itself and the people can relate to what I'm saying.
When are we going to see a Willie Maze album?
Well, right now I'm working on a mixtape that should be coming in September or October. It's called I Got 'Em Listening Volume 1. I called it that because I feel that I have a lot of people listening now and I have to get more listening. It's like N.O.R.E. said, "I can get one fan a day." That’s what I’m going to do while working on the mixtape and a Volume 2 to I Got 'Em Listening. The album should be coming out in the fourth quarter or in early '08. We also have the new Crown City mixtape coming out soon too. That's going to be crazy. That's going to be coming out within the month. We have the legendary DJ Doo Wop on there spitting some bars on the intro with us and also DJ Showtime and DJ Tito from the Core DJs. That's basically what we do. We work as a unit. Camiliano is coming. Gab Gacha is home and he's working on the new album. Trujillo just released a project. We're here, we're working and we're moving as a team.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Check out my music you're going to love it and then check out all off my Crown City peoples. I got links to all their sites on my MySpace page. If you feel like hip-hop has been missing something, I think that we have something for everybody. Me, I'm a fan first and I think we have something special to offer to the industry and it's been awhile since anybody has seen or heard anything like this. I think that everybody should definitely give it a listen and I think that we can grab you from there.