I’m feeling good. Everything is everything. Divide and Conquer is out and we’re in the studio working on Drama’s album. It can’t get any better.
You grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. What was that like?
Grand Rapids is a small town in the Midwest. For me to be here today and be the premier artist in the Apphiliates Music Group, I’ve come a long way. A lot of the concerts didn’t come through Grand Rapids. You had to go to Detroit or Chicago. They’re both the same distance from Grand Rapids. Hip-hop wasn’t too big where I grew up. Some people were really interested in the culture but we didn’t have the outlets to exercise that. When I went home recently, I read an article about how a lot of high school students leave the city to attend college because the cloudiness and the weather was making people depressed and downtrodden. It’s even the physical characteristics that make it a real down place. It’s a real dreary place. There’s the drugs and violence out there and I’m not saying that to be “on some cool rapper shit.” I’m not talking like that. For real, it’s bad where I’m from as far as the urban community. We’re definitely at a disadvantage.
Your father was a DJ. How did that help mold you into who you are today?
That was the seed that planted the whole thing. It was that right there. Growing up in my house, it wasn’t about religion or sports or model cars or whatever. We didn’t go outside and play catch like that. My dad had vinyl and I listened to old disco, hip-hop and soul records. That’s what he did. We used to go to the record store and he’d let me get four CD’s that I wanted. That was when they came in those long cardboard boxes and you had to dig it out of the cardboard. It all came from my father.
You were 12 when your brother La the Darkman signed with the Wu. How did that change your perspective on music?
It just let me know that we could do this shit. We were little, rapping and running around the hood. That was cool, but to see my brother actually do it let me know that it’s a possibility that we could be out there among the ranks we admired. It let us know that it could be possible. You could see Biggie and Nas on TV, but my brother would come back with CD’s and promo flyers and t-shirts. We were in the car with Raekwon one time and it was crazy being there. My brother let me know that we could do this. We could be a part of it instead of being fans about it.
How did you feel hearing La’s album Heist of the Century?
I was with him the whole time he was putting it together. I heard it piece by piece. He did records with Carlos Broady. Now Carlos Broady is doing songs with Three 6 Mafia. I was like, We’re finally doing it. It made me excited. It made me realize we could do it. I always told him even if he wasn’t my brother, I would really be a fan of his. He really makes good music. Heist of the Century is a good album. Wherever we go, people know my brother from that album. That album really made a statement in the hip-hop community. It feels good to have been so close to the album and the creator of it.
How did your experience at Clark University in Atlanta change things for you?
That really laid the foundation for me and Don Cannon and DJ Drama. Where I was from, we didn’t have that type of access to the music. My goal besides going to school was to see if I could get on with this music shit. My brother was in New York and I was burning both ends of the stick. When I got down there, my goals were to make five songs: a girl song, a club song, a street song, a super-lyrical song and a down South song. Those were the five categories I wanted to make sure I covered. I knew that right there in Atlanta I could get it to somebody. There’s the story of how Mase went down there to find Jermaine Dupri.
I bumped into Don Cannon’s cousin. He had Don’s equipment at his house and I’d go over there and rap. Don wasn’t too impressed, but one day, Don was like, What was that? His cousin says, “That’s my man, Will.” From there it was on. Dram was down there DJ’ign and doing parties. He felt what I was doing and I felt what he was doing. Then I met Sense. They told me that when everything came together, they’d have me. I knew I just had to stay straight. I carried Dram and Don’s records into the clubs. I helped them and I made sure I contributed to making the Apphiliates name. I stayed down with my people and the rest is history.
At the time, did you feel Drama and Cannon were going places?
I knew. When I met them, I knew. Dram’s grind was crazy. He used to go sell records in between classes on the strip. He had down South shit. He had neo-soul shit. He had everything. Don Cannon is still my favorite DJ in the club. I definitely believed in what they were doing creatively and on the business side. We just didn’t have a plate to eat off of. I knew off of the talent and hustle, we would get that plate. I dedicated my talent and energy to help create the Apphiliates brand. I definitely believed in them the way they believed in me.
The Apphiliates are affiliated with Southern music. You’re not on that vibe. Are fans expecting you to sound Southern due to your team?
They definitely are expecting me to sound a certain way. I’m from New York and then Grand Rapids. We’re trying to be the best at what we do. We’re not trying to get caught up in the down South sound or the East Coast sound. We’re just trying to make good music and stay true to the craft. Producers will come through and they know where we’re from, but they play me all Southern beats because they think I might like them. That’s what they know the brand for. I tell producers all the time, “Play me what you like. Play me your best shit. Don’t play me what you think I’ll like.” People really expect me to sound a certain way. I just make good music.
How’s your new mixtape, Divide and Conquer, doing for you?
Sense just told me that it’s the No. 1 selling Apphiliates tape. The tape is really doing good and I’m getting good responses from the streets. We definitely have a good setup for this tape. I haven’t even really gotten a chance to go everywhere I wanted to go, but through the websites and through our mailouts, I was making sure I got it out. The response has been crazy.
This is definitely your biggest project to date. What did you want to give people with Divide and Conquer?
I wanted to give people a glimpse at what we came to do as far as the music and as far as marketing the movement. I wanted people to know who Willie the Kid is. If you like the mixtape, you’ll love the album every more. We have a lot of original ideas on the mixtape. It’s like an appetizer.
On “Villain,” you talk about being the bad guy. What is it about yourself that makes you the bad guy?
It’s our approach to the game. I don’t want to say “bad” like “evil.” It’s more like “rebel.” We put the sound first and some people might see that as an ant-thing. We’re about the stand-up quality of the music and the movement. You can hear the movie effects in the back of the song. It’s all about the movies. It’s really a concept about motion pictures. As far as me being a bad guy, it’s definitely in terms of being a rebel and desperado.
On “One Time For Your Mind,” Nas talks about watching flicks and rooting for the villain. Have you ever felt like that?
Yeah. I think the writers of the movies are like that too. That’s why the villains are always so cool. The good guy may win, but the bad guy was way cooler. It’s like in Gangs of New York. Bill “The Butcher” Cutting was so ill. He was better than the good guys. He was much iller. He had much better energy. The bad guys in the cartoons are always cooler. I think the writers make them cooler. I think we have a natural instinct to go against the system and as villains we can live that out.
You talk about arming yourself on “Get You a Gun.” Do you feel the need to be armed?
Not out of paranoia, but shit is real. With success comes adversity and people try to take from you. You have the right to bear arms in the Constitution. They knew how essential that was. I don’t encourage or advocate anybody going out and shooting anybody, but security is definitely important when you’re building an empire. The United States has Homeland Security. Security is definitely an issue. I’m telling rappers that before they buy a chain or a car to make sure they protect what they’re building.
Can arming yourself ever bring more trouble?
I believe that people attract energy. I do believe that. I’m not saying go get a gun so you can kill somebody. I’m saying to go get a gun so you can protect yourself. There are people sitting back at home watching. They want to take from you and see you fall.
How was it recording “Calico Flow” with La?
That’s like the little Vick playing catch with Michael Vick. We were sparring and doing our thing. It’s crazy because we had the Biggie Duets album and we wanted that beat. We couldn’t find the instrumental so Cannon chopped it up on his computer. Then we went to the record store and J.Armz had it on his mixtape. We used the one Cannon had anyway. We went in there and knocked it out.
Does La ever get on the big-brother vibe and try to give you guidance when you don’t want it?
(laughs) That’s what La does! I think La is everybody’s big brother. He’s done this before. This is my first time putting an album together and doing an interview with HipHopGame and being in the magazines. All this love is new to us all and we love it and appreciate it. La was with RZA back in the day and he’s going to share his experiences. Even outside of the music, he’s family and he’s going to make sure I’m in the right place where I need to be.
How big of an influence is La on your music?
Huge. It’s bigger than music. La is my mentor. Aside from the music, he helped my parents raise me. He’s almost like my third parent. His connection and concern and input is bigger than making music. He’s more worried about me living my life as a man first. I definitely see what he did right and what he did not so right. I’m learning from his good decisions and he’s watching me. He’s always in my corner pushing me, making sure I do the right thing.
How was it doing the Dead Presidents mixtape with him?
It was crazy. We were doing a lot of music and Cannon was like, Y’all should put a mixtape out. My brother’s thing is to do a lot of music first and then put the project together. La’s whole thing is to build a catalog. Dead Presidents was us taking a piece out of the catalog and we gave it to the people. We put it out for the Super Bowl and we kept changing it.
What’s going on with the Sing Sing Regime?
That’s my people in New York, Westchester County. That’s the security force for Embassy Entertainment and Apphiliates Music Group. Like I said, the United States has Homeland Security and they have their army. That’s what the Sing Sing Regime is to us. We have some rappers and producers being groomed out of it. It’s like our force-field for this music that’s making us invincible right now.
How is your debut album, Crown Prince, coming?
It’s coming along brilliantly. It’s better when I’m not thinking about it. When I’m working on it, I’m just going at it. When I listen to my songs on iTunes, I’m like, That shit is hard! I’ll be driving in the car and I’ll be like, Where’s this from? Oh yeah, it’s my shit. Sometimes people will be feeling something and I’ll be like, That’s my shit! It’s slowly creeping up on me and I’m getting real excited on it. Focus and Cannon are doing beats on there. I got a Scott Storch record we just did in Miami. I got Akon on deck. La is on there and Trey Songz is on there. Right now I’m just real excited because we’re getting the opportunity we wanted for a long time to take this whole movement another step further. And who better than me to lead it.
What potential does Crown Prince have?
I think it’s going to be one of those things where you’re going to start to see a shift in the movement after it drops. It’s like when Kwame and Kid N Play were doing their thing, partying and having a good time, and Snoop and Dre came and banged it for a while. Then Biggie and Nas came and shifted it. I think this is going to help shift the music. I think it’s going to express all that we love about this artform. From the beats to the lyrics to the artwork, I think we’ve done a really good job.
Who’s helping you with Crown Prince?
Everybody. Everybody from the street team driving the promo van through town putting stickers up to my brother to the producers to Don Cannon sending me crazy beats to Drama making phone calls making everything goes smooth. Big shout out to Trendsetter Sense making sure I’m getting the shows I need to get. AMG is a machine. It’s not just a bunch of people standing around wanting to be MC’s and DJ’s. We’re operating like a machine and it’s beautiful. Whatever everybody specializes in is what they do. We also have Drama’s album coming up and then after that we’re going to shift over and concentrate solely on my album.
Do you feel any pressure being AMG’s first artist?
Hell yeah. It feels good. That pressure is a good thing. The pressure always produces the best from me. It pushes me harder and it lets me see what’s at stake. The pressure is a beautiful thing and I love it. I’m glad it’s there and I’m thankful for that.
When do you want to drop Crown Prince?
I’m trying to put it out in the second quarter next year like April when it starts to get warmer and the skirts start getting shorter. I’m trying to hit them around that time. Right now we’re focusing on Drama’s album and hopefully his album will be a good opportunity to set my shit up. It’s all calculated. Everything is deliberate. We’ll see what happens next year.
How’s Drama’s album coming?
It’s banging. That shit is so hot. I think it’s going to arguably be one of the best DJ albums ever. That’s not to disrespect Clue or Flex because I like their albums. Drama has some of the best music from the people that’s on there. It’s not just guests doing throwaway verses. It’s probably some of their best work ever. We have people from all regions on there. We’re making sure we pick some of the hottest, most elite producers in the game. They recognize the movement and they’re giving us some of their best work. We’re not rushing nothing but we’re not procrastinating on anything. We’re also not forcing nothing. It’s a beautiful thing. I can’t wait to hear it myself.
What’s your focus going to be for the next couple of months?
Drama’s album. I’m working on the Gangsta Grillz album. That’s my main focus, whether I’m writing hooks on there or helping to pick beats. I’m also trying to get my shit together on Divide and Conquer and make sure every website, magazine and store gets Divide and Conquer. At the same time we’re working on my brother’s album. Right now the focus is on DJ Drama first and second is Willie the Kid and La the Darkman is after that.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Pay attention. At Apphiliates Music Group, we make classics.