Papoose talks about his Nacirema Dream album, finally coming out, his evolution as an artist, working with DJ Premier, Remy Ma and much more.
You just released a Biggie tribute freestyle in honor of his passing. What kind of impact does he have on your style?
I mean, he has a huge impact, man. Biggie’s the guy, when hip-hop was based on everything on the West Coast, he just came out and brought it back to the East. He’s influential. I’m born and raised in Bed Stuy, like he was. He had a huge impact on me. He let me know that no matter what people think about you, you know, he always said, “Fat, Black, and ugly,” that no matter how people might judge you, as long as you be yourself, you’ll be successful. He was still as fly as ever. So Biggie meant a lot to me. R.I.P. Biggie.
You also mentioned how you don’t care about the MTV “Hottest MCs” list.
I don’t pay it no mind, man. I don’t mind it at all. It’s funny to me because you see a lot of artists come out and complain about it, and to me, I get a kick out of hearing all the artists who didn’t make the list complain. A lot of artists are gassed up on a constant basis by the same type of opinions and the same mindstate that created that list. You know, a list like that is done with no consideration for hip-hop or nothing. How do you put Nas on a list, number four, if I’m not mistaken, and put people above him? If I was Nas, man, I would have my lawyers cease and desist me off that shit, like, ‘Get my name off that shit!’
To me, that’s so disrespectful. When you hear all the other rappers who walk around with their head in the fucking clouds every day and then when they’re not on the list they’re fucking crying. That’s so funny to me, because shit like that is a reminder of some of the things that they use to claim that they’re better than other people and then the list says other people are better than them. But honestly, I don’t pay a list like that no mind. When you put people above Nas on a list that are not above his level of creativity or level of artistry, you tell everything about your own list. And I like Future as an artist, but come on, man. It’s funny to me. I enjoy it every year to watch all the rappers cry. There’s only ten fucking slots! (laughs) That shit is funny to me. I honestly get a kick out of that shit.
A lot is based off gimmicks and hype, anyway, from MTV’s list to XXL’s freshmen.
Lists like that, they’re funny to me. I know what hip-hop is about. We like to think it’s about other things because they don’t posses the things that it’s supposed to be about so they gotta make it look like it’s about other things. But I know that and I’m comfortable in my own skin. You’ve gotta be kidding me. When you’re hearing them cry about not being on the list, you gotta hear some of the reasons about why they’re crying about why they should be on the list. That’s the game.
You’ve had longevity to where you’ve proven you’re a real artist that is here to stay. What does it mean to finally be releasing the long-awaited Nacirema Dream?
I feel good, man. I’m glad to be finally getting it out. It’s a sense of triumph, man. I feel good, getting it out and knowing that I did it on my own. I didn’t depend on nobody. It’s my own record label and I handled all of my own business. That’s just another example where if you want something done right, you do it yourself. I’m happy, man. I’m already in my glory already, just knowing that the album is close and that I’m finally able to get it out to the world. My fans have been asking me about it for years and to finally be able to deliver it to my fans has me ecstatic.
How many changes has Nacirema Dream been through from the beginning to now?
You know what? An album is a way of life, man. It’s a concept. It’s a body of work. And obviously as you get older, your appearance changes from the outside. On the outskirts, you want to change a couple of things, but all the major organs stay the same, the heart, the brain. The message in that album remains the same. But I definitely had to make some changes over the years but the core of that album, it remains the same. I love it. I really love it.
It sounds like you’re happy with the final product.
I am. I am. I wonder what made you ask me that question.
A lot of times artists say every album is the best album ever, and then when their next album comes out they’re slamming their last album.
Yeah, yeah! That’s interesting because back then, I had a lot of A-list producers and people on the album. I ain’t gonna say no names, but certain beats that I got from certain producers, I ain’t really like them shits. I wasn’t really happy with them. So yeah, I can definitely relate to that. But to answer your question, yeah, man, I’m excited about the album.
You’ve always done great stuff over Kay Slay and Sha Money XL’s beats. What producers are you working with on this album and what kind of a sound did you want?
I got Dame Grease on the album. I got Ron Browz. I got DJ Premier. The list goes on. That’s just to give you a couple. You know, for each song, I was actually looking for a different type of beat. I wasn’t trying to make my whole album sound one type of way. I feel like when you sign to a label, you’re an artist and you need to be able to talk about different topics and describe different emotions in life. You shouldn’t have every song sounding the same. My lyrics dictate the music and the music dictates the level of energy. The music’s going to deliver that. The music’s going to put you in the mode and the zone of what you want to rap about and the pace you’re going to rap, but the lyrics are what the music’s about. The lyrics are the most important. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.
You’ve done a couple tracks with DJ Premier in the past. What was it like working with him on “Turn It Up”?
It was definitely a monumental experience, man. Growing up as a kid and looking up to Premier, him in hip-hop and me just a regular kid in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, me being able to do a track with him is a dream come true. Follow your dreams. People don’t understand that people try to judge me and shoot down my talents and what I bring to the table, but what they don’t understand is that I’m already in my glory. Everything that I considered as successful as a child and looking up to artists like Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, and Rakim, and being able to meet all of them and getting my message and my beliefs out to the world, like “Law Library,” I’m successful and I made it. I did it already, as far as the music’s concerned. Whatever happens from here is all extra.
And you’ve got guys that say different things and they front. They don’t want to admit that they love hip-hop. “I ain’t a rapper, I’m a hustler. I’m a gangsta.” Cut the bullshit. Why are you rapping then? Get out the game. This is something that I love doing. I’ve been able to travel the world. They don’t even speak English is some places and they know my music. Getting my music out to the world and if I can change one person’s life with “Law Library” or “Monopoly” or “Charades,” then I feel like I made it already.
Is it becoming a bigger trend to make rap music while saying you don’t put time into it or that you love hip-hop?
I feel like a lot of dudes, they’re so stuck up in projecting a certain image or lifestyle that they’re claiming they live that they’re neglecting their talent and neglecting what they do. That’s why you get the album from those dudes and the album is trash and a year or two from now, you don’t remember those guys. Fifteen and twenty years is not happening for a lot of these dudes. Look at the cold-blooded lyricists like Big Daddy Kane, 2Pac, G. Rap, and Nas. The list goes on. These dudes can never be great with that type of mentality, delivering one type of record that anybody could do. You could walk down the street and a bum could make a hit record. The wise man can play the part of the fool, the fool can’t play the part of the wise man. I’m putting a message out there to people to change their mentality and their way of thinking. I feel like you’re going to remember me. I could say a few dudes’ names now and you won’t remember what happened to them.
Even thinking back to six years ago when you had already signed to Jive, there’s a ton of artists that have just disappeared.
(laughs) It’s real. It’s real, B. You know why? The fans are in love with their record, but not the artist. When that record dies, they don’t even know who those guys are. That’s different from what I bring to the table. My fans are not a fan of one particular record. You don’t want that. There’s no longevity in that.
What separates artists like you that have a loyal fanbase versus artists who don’t have the longevity?
What separates me from them is that I do this shit for real. Hip-hop is in my blood. Hip-hop is something you live, rap is something you do. This is something I live. There are people who are a part of this for different reasons. Maybe they see someone else doing it. Maybe they have to make money. We all do and we all got mouths to feed, but you still gotta perfect your craft. It’s not all about the money. What are you leaving behind for the next generation? That’s what scares me. The new generation coming up doesn’t know nothing about hip-hop and they don’t have morals, values, or principles because they’re listening to these dudes who talk about getting money all day. It’s just party and bullshit all day. Party and bullshit is cool, but what else are you bringing to the table? What separates me is morals, values, and principles. Believe me when I tell you, a lot of these kids coming up, bro, they don’t know nothing about this culture, man. They’re not being educated. They’re not being taught properly. They might see a dude who has real talent and they don’t know he has talent because they don’t know talent. All they see is “my chain and my rims.” Teach these kids something, man. So I think when you just worry about your money, that’s good for you right now, but you’re not leaving nothing behind. That takes talent.
More of a testament to your quality is the popularity of your older mixtapes.
Yep, yep! (laughs) Things like that speak for itself, man. These people scream out “good music and it’s a good record,” but no. Great music is timeless. Shit from ten years ago and seven and eight years ago these guys are on the internet quoting from me. And they go back and listen to this shit now. That shit is being sold and I think great music is timeless. They don’t understand that and honestly, I feel like I always was ahead of my time. You’ve got some people that are just catching up on my older music now. They’re calling me up now and telling me, “Yo, that was crazy when you said that,” and I’m telling them I did that five years ago.
But to answer your question, real music is timeless. Look at “Alphabetical Slaughter.” I’m going to be real with you. Every day of my life there’s not a person who doesn’t come up to me, whether it’s at the mall or online or wherever, and they’re talking about “Alphabetical Slaughter.” I wrote that in 1994. 1994! I wrote that in 1994, bro! To be real with you, I had that shit that long. And my cousin, me and him were talking the other days. We grew up as kids. Our mothers were identical twins. He said, “You know how I know you wrote it in 1994? ‘Cause I was locked up and you sent that cassette to me with that on it. I remember that like it was yesterday.” These dudes don’t understand. They’re judging me on very old rhymes and criticizing them. I be laughing. But “Alphabetical Slaughter,” I appreciate all the fans out there that give praise to that record, but I want them to know how far ahead of my time I was. I got “Part 2” on the album. I wrote that shit almost two decades ago. That’s crazy.
I don’t think a lot of people realize that.
I had it in ‘94. The first time it came out was in ‘98. I met Kay Slay in 2004 and we put it on his album. It never gets old, bro. It never gets old.
Do fans reference other classics from yours too, like the “Law Library” series?
Oh yeah, definitely. “Law Library” keeps going. I always go to a different aspect of the law and break it down. On the album I have “Law Library Part 8” and the “Alphabetical Slaughter Z to A,” rocking it backwards. Those songs always stood out. There’s not a day that goes by, I got people coming up to me in the street, telling me, “Thank you, if it wasn’t for “Law Library,” I wouldn’t be home.” I’m going to keep those records going.
How long does it take you to do the research for a “Law Library”?
With “Alphabetical Slaughter,” it took me three months. I read that Malcolm X read the entire dictionary and as a kid, that inspired me. “Alphabetical Slaughter” is actually the only rhyme that I ever wrote down on paper. Real talk, I never wrote a rhyme. I mean, that was the only rhyme I ever wrote. As far as the process, I would read the dictionary, wake up, and fall asleep and write “Alphabetical Slaughter.” For months. Both versions.
For “Law Library,” I researched it and read codes and I always gave dudes advice and it was effective and it helped them beat their case, so I figured I would share that with the world and help others beat their cases.
Do you have a favorite Papoose mixtape?
To be honest with you, I’ve never had a favorite mixtape or song. But I finally have an answer for my favorite song and that’s “Chill” featuring Erykah Badu. That’s my most favorite record that I’ve made in my entire life. I talk about a lot of records on the album in detail but I’m not going to say anything about this one. At my release party on March 27th, we’re going to do some performances and you should come out to that. That’s my favorite record.
I also want to talk about another record on my album, “Pimpin’ Won’t Die.” “Pimpin’ Won’t Die” is a continuation to 2Pac’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” 2Pac left off with her leaving the baby in the trash can and I talk about how the mother grows up to become a prostitute and the third verse is a continuation of Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story,” how he was only 17 years-old in a mad man’s dream. He grows up to be a pimp. So “Pimpin’ Won’t Die” is about not judging people because you don’t know their background and where they came from. I want people to look out for that record on my album too.
What’s your process like today when you make music?
Honestly, I don’t sit down with paper and a pen to create my music. I create my music throughout the course of my days and my lifetime experiences, the things that I go through, the things that I see, and the problems that affect the world. I talk about it to where you can feel it, like you’re in that situation. I’m trying to make you feel like how it is in that situation. I just take notes throughout the course of my days and the course of my experiences.
You also put a high volume of music out. How do you ensure quality control with so much coming out?
You know what? I can’t explain it. I don’t know what you might love doing. Is there anything that you love doing, like basketball or something? I don’t know. What do you have a passion for?
Writing. See, exactly. So you know what it is, man, when you write, it’s something that you enjoy doing. Me, I would do hip-hop without a record deal or cameras. I love doing this. When I’m doing something that I love, I actually got people that like it, so I’m blessed in life. I love doing this. So some people might try extra hard to write a good verse or whatever, but I’m lucky because it just comes out and it’s something that I love doing. That’s just how it is for me. It’s effortless.
How have you evolved as an artist from your first days at Jive and experiencing a major label for the first time to today?
A lot, man. I’ve changed and matured in a lot of ways. I’m definitely a smarter, wiser person. When I first came in the music business, I was fresh out the ‘hood and in the ‘hood, if somebody did something you didn’t like, you would feel like they crossed you and that you had to strike at that person. I found that it wasn’t really like that. It’s more of a chess game. I actually brought myself a lot of problems with that. I thought certain rappers were saying certain things. But if you’re coming in from the street, don’t bring that shit in here with you. You have to come in with a businessman’s mentality or you’re going to get kicked the fuck out.
Honestly, I’m not really mad at myself but I was young. And I grew up. That’s how we lived in the ‘hood. I’ve seen the music business and I’ve seen the snakes and the foul shit they were doing and I would tell people we were going to see that person and see if they meant that disrespect. You’re always going to have people that are hating and trying to bring you down. I matured in ways like that. I’m more business-minded with this shit. With this album, I was very, very hands-on. I was clearing samples and doing shit that I never did before. I’m more business-minded and I’m more mature now.
Do you have any regrets from those Jive days?
Yeah. I regret being signed to that label! I was my own machine. I was doing tours and I was reaping all the benefits of an artist that was on a major label and I didn’t really need them. If I had an independent mindstate and turned down those deals, I would have been a millionaire by now. I didn’t need them. Me, myself, and my team, we were doing so much work and we were covering so much ground that we didn’t need to go to a major.
What’s your relationship like with Kay Slay today?
Honestly, it’s like family, man. He’s like a big brother. As far as working together, we still work together. Ain’t nothing really changed. It’s more than family. It’s more than music. We build on things beyond music. That’s family right there.
Speaking of family, are you still in touch with Kool G. Rap?
I haven’t spoken to him in a while. I spoke to him a few months ago and he was good, but I haven’t spoken to him in a while. But everything was cool though.
How do you feel hearing the Click of Respect, the first album you were officially on, today?
I haven’t heard it in a while! I would love to, though! (laughs) When I hear certain records, for me, it takes me back to that era. Music does that. And certain things in life, it actually takes you back to a certain time period. That’s what those records do, to answer your question. They take me back to that particular time frame and it reminds you of how far you came in life and how short life is, too.
Are you able to speak to Remy Martin a lot?
Not a day goes by that I don’t speak to Remy. We talk at least two or three times a day. If I don’t hear from her I get worried and go up to the jail to find out what’s going on. She’s a part of every decision I make and vice versa. I wouldn’t even make certain moves or certain deals without running it past her and getting her opinion because that’s what marriage is about. That’s how we conduct business.
She’s getting out soon, too. How’s that feel?
That feels good, man! When the ball drops this year, that’s a celebration for us because we’ll actually be able to say, “She gets home next year.” There’s no lawyer or judge that can stop that. She’ll walk out of that jail.
The game’s not the same without her.
Nah! I hear that every day, man. (laughs) Remy’s got a large fan base, man, and they remind me of that every day. They want her back out here. I can’t wait, man. Everybody wants to see her come out here and do damage. I feel sorry for the competition. I hear some of the material she’s been working on and it’s incredible.
Whenever female MCs are talked about, it’s always like, ‘The other girls better watch out.’ It sounds like that’s not the case, that instead everyone should be watching out.
Exactly! Male or female, I think they all better watch out. She’s definitely better than a lot of the males out. I feel sorry for the competition. She’s been writing like crazy.
Have you been getting beats together for her?
I’m doing everything in my power, but you know, Remy’s a mastermind, man. Remy had a studio in her crib and she was always real business-minded. She actually taught me how to, to some degree, she actually showed me how to record myself and things like that. She was one of the first people I seen doing that shit, working with the studio equipment and all that. She was just doing certain things and being independent. She’s business-minded and she’s in good hands in there with herself, studying certain things. She graduates from college in May, about to get her degree and shit. Remy, she can use my help, but she don’t need it.
I’m just happy for her, man. I just want to see her walk out of that fucking jail. That’s going to be a big day for me. I told her on that day that we come and get her, I’m going to take a bottle of champagne to the face. I just want to see her walk out free. I watched her suffer for so long and that shit was hard, man. I just can’t wait to see the day when she walks out of that motherfucker and they can’t do nothing to stop her.
50 Cent and Keyshia Cole have also visited her. Is there anything in the works there?
A lot of people have visited her. She’s a real loved person. Shout out to 50 and Keyshia Cole. But she’s home next year and we’re getting a lot of calls. There’s a lot of interest in Remy but we’re going to make the best decision, me and her both. We’re going to make the best decision for her career. But she’s got a lot of options, like television, books, deals. We kind of expected this. The game is missing her. She brought a unique aura to the game and it’s missing right now. All the theatrics and all the clown shit that’s out there right now, they’re missing that realness. But everybody’s reaching out to her now.
Does she pay attention to the current trends in music?
Sometimes. Remy pays more attention to the business side of the game. She looks at Billboard and she looks at different things in there, like who’s viral campaign is heavy, who’s selling the most tickets at these shows, what companies are behind these people. Things like that she talks to me about. There’s different ways to grow. Me, I was always a person who worked on my craft. My lyrics were the most important thing to me. She taught me to pay attention to the statistics because that’s what’s really real. Some of these artists are hot but they’re not really selling out these venues and they’re not really doing what people are trying to portray them as doing. She pays attention to that but as far as listening to the radio, there might be a month that goes by where she doesn’t listen and then she listens for a month and tells me everything she thinks is wack and hot. She pays attention.
Have you two ever talked about doing a joint album?
Yeah, definitely, the Mr. and Mrs. Mackie album is definitely coming out. So they can look forward to that album. That is definitely going to be a problem. You know my new single is also featuring Remy, “What’s My Name.”
No doubt. Did you get the vocals from Remy for that before she went in?
A lot of people have asked me that. We’ll keep that off the record. But yeah, man, next year she’ll be home and I feel sorry for the competition. That’s what I got to say. She’s already got her whole shit planned out, how she’s going to make her entrance back into the game.
But I’ve been working on this album my entire life. I’m glad to finally be able to put it out. Peace to all of the fans that have been supporting me. I can’t thank y’all enough. Y’all are going to love this album. It’s going down. To all the haters that doubted me, eat shit now. I told you so! I’m just excited and I’m ready to go.
Nacirema Dream, in Stores March 26