Another classic HipHopGame Interview. Check out Nature as he talks about his new mixtape and EP series, hanging with Latrell Sprewell, recording with 50 Cent and the Trackmasters, working with N.O.R.E., and much more in this exclusive interview.
You just dropped The Ashtray Effect 2. How’d you go about putting that together?
My man DJ Mickey Knox and Big Mike helped me put that together. We just thought that would be something dope to put out before the EP so I could stir up a little bit of buzz on the internet. I know a lot of people want their material on a mixtape to be all new but this has some older stuff and some newer stuff. We wanted to pick up where we left off with the first The Ashtray Effect.
What stands out about your tracks, and I don’t know how many artists can say this, but your old and new tracks blend together really well.
Yeah. I didn’t know about all of the music that was going to be used and when I finally got to listen to it, it was already put together. As a fan, I enjoyed it. With me being the artist that created the songs, when I saw the tracklisting, I wasn’t too sure about how it would sound together but it sounded dope. Everything I’ve heard so far and the response I’ve gotten has been good.
And thank you. Having your older music sound like your newer music can be a gift and a curse because people want to see growth. I put out the music that I’m a fan of myself and there seems to be a void of that kind of music. There’s still a lot of street artists and a lot of good artists, but that sound, I try to walk that fine line of where I came from and I still try to improve upon where I’m going. But those hardcore street fans, they’re never gonna go nowhere. It’s like a breath of fresh air for them.
What kind of line do you draw between making songs that you love and are true to your roots versus making more radio friendly songs?
It’s not really a concern to me. For me, I work with a lot of in-house producers and a lot of guys who are yet to make that breakthrough record. I know what a big sounding record sounds like, but at the same time I deal with what I’m given. Sometimes it’s kind of hard for me to stray too far because I’m also a fan of it too and sometimes when I hear certain beats, I envision certain MCs and think about how would they approach it. My songs aren’t really geared for the radio like that. I try not to give it too much though because sometimes when I’m sitting there and trying to write the perfect radio record, sometimes that’s not the record that takes off. Sometimes it’s the song that you make when you’re in your most comfortable element.
As a fan, I definitely appreciate that about you.
Word. Thank you. I don’t really know how it’s going to translate into sales, like in this day and age everybody’s driven by what the next man is doing and what can calculate to the big sales. Of course I’m interested in having a big selling record, but at the end of the day that’s not what moves me. I do it from the heart.
You’ve been doing more shows lately and it seems like there’s more unity today among artists that you came up with, like Cormega.
I actually got a show tomorrow night too. There’s a lot of people. For me to be in the game so long and for a lot of people to have never seen me perform or see me live, I feel like I’m a new artist up there. I also have to sort through a lot of records because a lot of them weren’t made for the radio or the stage. They were made for the listeners. Every day I get surprised by some of the people that are actually listening and show to be a fan. I’m still stuck off of that and I’m still cool with that.
Do you have fans going back to Wild Gremlinz, For All Seasons, and your other old material for the first time?
Yeah, slowly but surely. And once I drop these EPs, they should do it more. If you’re looking for the big name artist to drive the album, that’s not really me. I’m friends with a lot of big name artists in the game, but I’m like a hermit when it comes to that. I’ve been criticized for not going to play the clubs every night and not going to be in every DJs face every night, which is cool, but I’m just now getting my feet wet again. It’s a different game from when I first started. I appreciate any advice from anybody doing it. I’ll listen. I’m still a student.
I’m more of a laid back family man. I take care of my family. My main priority is to make sure that my kids have and that everything is cool. I’m a laid back guy. Anybody that knows me outside of the music can tell you that the person that you’re hearing is exactly who I am.
You’re dropping Seasons Changed, a series of EPs. What’s going on with that?
I was just trying to make music that fit what’s going on. Once the seasons changed, that’s something that we all look forward to in actuality and in real life. I’m just trying to make music that reflects these times. When you hit spring, it gets warm and there’s a lot less tension when it comes to things. That’s when everybody wants to be hanging out and nobody wants to go home. The club is jumping and things like that. I try to make something that’s all me and I was just playing off of [my album] For All Seasons. Since we’re doing this independent, I have the opportunity to drop them how an album would drop. Every quarter, expect some new music. Take what you like, what you don’t like, let it go, but I guarantee you the true Nature fans will appreciate it. And afterwards, hopefully we’ve created enough buzz where we can create a new project. Even though I haven’t been in the game doing interviews and shooting videos, I’ve been making music and I want the world to hear it.
It sounds like you have a lot of tracks in the stash.
Oh, man, every day I’m reminded of something that I’ve started. I’m known for not finishing a lot of my music. When I hear it, I’m like, ‘Why did I stop doing that?’
Who do you want to work with on this EP series?
For the majority, it’s a lot of unknown producers and in-house producers. I’m doing it with Deep Concepts Media. There’s a bunch of hungry young cats that are making beats and I just wanted to try a different sound. I came into the game with the Trackmasters and over the years I’ve worked with producers like Scram Jones and other guys that are known for having big sounds. But me being an artist, I just like to try new things, try new styles and new beats. I’ve met a lot of international producers. I give them shouts and I let them play beats for me and I find what I can use. I try not to make too much of the same kind of song, but you know, it is what it is. I just get in the zone.
But as far as anybody I might be willing to work with, I’m willing to work with whoever is dope. I don’t have a specific list, but there’s a lot of dudes out there. I like J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. I like a lot of these guys, but I try not to get into the trap sound because I’m a New York artist. I have to find the perfect blend.
What motivates you to keep writing and recording?
I mean, when I run into people who genuinely have love for me or they hold me to high standards and they tell me that I should have been in a different place at this point in my career. Just the fact that I’m still chasing and I’m still hungry. Some days are still harder than others. I have a love and hate relationship with hip-hop. It’s in my blood and I’ve been doing it for so long and I’m good at it. But it’s also a gift and a curse because if I wasn’t as good at it, I might have walked away. I’m still trying to find records that define me. I still consider myself one of the greats and I’ll mix it up with anyone. It’s just like I go out and I do these shows and I see the true fans and not just the actual people I grew up with tell me how much they respect what I do and that motivates me the most.
How does a Nature song come together today and has that changed from when you first came into the game?
For me, it was a little bit different since I came in on such a big scale. It was more so of me being directed on which beats I should rhyme on and what kind of image they had for me, whereas today, the music speaks to me and I’m able to do it myself. I don’t have too many people looking over my shoulders. I don’t have somebody telling me I need to sound like this and I need to sound like that. I just go with what I feel and the music just talks to me.
Are you still in touch with Poke and Tone from the Trackmasters?
No. I haven’t spoken to those guys in years. Are they still even called The Trackmasters?
I have no idea. I was hoping you knew.
No. I know Tone is a coach. He coaches little league football or something like that. I don’t know.
Didn’t you used to record with them in the Poconos?
Yeah. We’d go in the mountains. It was me, Noreaga, and 50 Cent and a couple of the other atists they had up there. We just had free reign of the studio and we did what we wanted to do.
What were those days like?
Those days were incredible, man. At any given moment, we had multiple houses up there. We had no stores. No cars. No distractions. It was way before social media. We just went up there to work. And at the time, me and 50 Cent, we shared the house. He would be in the studio, I would be in the studio, and N.O.R.E. would be in the studio. We’re all working on projects and everybody’s trying to outdo each other and trying to do their best. I didn’t really understand what was happening at the time. I was a student and these guys had such strong work ethics.
50 Cent was a beast. He had a strong work ethic. I heard 40-50 songs on him and N.O.R.E. was doing the same thing and I just felt like I had to keep up with those guys.
Exactly. We recorded, we went on our promo runs, and basically that’s how I bonded with my brothers. That’s how me and 50 got cool and how me and N.O.R.E. got cool, just being on the road and not being distracted on the projects. We were going to other states and doing what we do, ripping it down every night, and it was dope. If you ask them about that time, they’ll tell you how it was.
Did you find that isolation in the Poconos helped you make better music?
I haven’t experienced that in a long time. The closest I get to that now is when I go out to record way out in the boondocks in Long Island somewhere. But at the same time, now we have social media and we have families so it’s not like you can’t recapture that same time period. You just try to do the best you can. N.O.R.E. had to go all the way to Miami to put himself in a certain element. 50 Cent had to go through what he had to go through but I’m quite sure he has no problems recording right now. You just gotta keep yourself in that comfort zone. It was so crazy though.
Are there a lot of unreleased Nature tracks from those days?
Well, I’m sure most of the songs that I was on leaked or somehow, some DJ got their hands on it. But as far as 50 goes, I’m not really sure. I know maybe some of N.O.R.E.’s records too, because he was building up for the N.O.R.E. album. As far as the songs that 50 was rhyming on, he was not the highlight artist so after 50 Cent recorded, they probably thought they’d get a bigger response if Nas recorded on the record. Some of the vocals were probably removed and others changed, but originally it could have been recorded by 50 Cent.
How did you end up going first on “Banned from TV”?
Well, when that record was put together, we weren’t all in the studio at the same time. N.O.R.E. called us about it. It was originally supposed to be over a different beat and I wasn’t feeling it at the time. Then Swizz came in and played the beat it is and I was feeling it. I probably wrote my verse in ten minutes and laid it. N.O.R.E. took it and liked it. I think the session got late and we went home. The next time I heard it, it was a mege record and a super record and I thought maybe I needed to change my verse but it was mixed and ready to go.
Were you happy with your verse once you sat with the finished record?
I always was happy with my verse but once I heard the lineup of who was going to be on the record, I wanted to make sure that I put my stamp on it, but everybody already assured me that my stamp was already on it.
Did you even realize that when you led it off that it would be the song it is today?
Hell no! I just thought it was going to be a me and N.O.R.E. record. I didn’t know that everybody was in love with the record and that we would shoot a video and it would be a big record today.
And at the time, Swizz was still just Dee’s cousin, right?
Yeah. I didn’t know who he was when he walked in the room playing the beat. Now who’s ths guy? And he just walked in playing crack, and that was it.
Where did the first line, “Regardless of rain or snow, sleet or hail” come from?
I just try to be as visual as possible when I make my music. It’s not all about popping bottles or how many chains you have. I just try to be a little bit visual. I credit myself for being one of the first artists to incorporate sports and things like that into the music.
And in that record, you mention the Latrell Sprewell choking incident.
Yeah. With a sports reference, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. Not everyone can identify with being a gangster or selling drugs, but once you start talking about things that happen in real life, everyone can identify with that.
Do you know if Latrell Sprewell ever heard “Banned from TV”?
I was fortunate enough to meet Sprewell and be in his house and chill with him. He was just as stuck off of being around me as I was of being around him. These guys are so much into music and idolize us and we’re so intertwined when it comes down to it. He was building a studio and he was a big fan of the music and it just blew me away the same way it blew him away that I was in his living room.
You’ve immortalized his incident with P.J. Carlesimo too.
Yeah! At first, you don’t know how people are going to take it, the actual person that you’re using as a reference, but once it happens and the world knows about it. why not bring it out?
Was it a little awkward that first time meeting him without knowing how he’d feel about being a punchline?
We didn’t even talk about it that much. I was introduced to him by another NBA player that brought me over there. We ended up watching BET and 106 and Park and talking about the music. He was a big fan of it. I wish he was still in the league. He was a special player. I was fortunate enough to talk to guys like him and Allen Iverson and a whole bunch of people. Their lives are surrounded by hip-hop. Even if it’s a verse here, a verse there, the love is there.
Do you still get a big reaction performing “Banned from TV” live?
That’s a mandatory record. I’m just glad I went first and I’m not in the middle. I can see the fan’s excitement and it’s like, ‘Wow!’
I read on Twitter that you performed the song with Big Pun’s son behind you.
Oh, man. That was one of my personal highlights right there. I’m a big fan of Pun and to have his flesh and blood rhyming on “Banned from TV” right after I spit my verse, I can’t even put that into words. I’m sure he hears it every day, but I’m happy to know that Pun was a fan of mine and to have his son there, who looks just like him and raps just like him, that was big for me. I’m sure the fans ate it up and that they saw it in the same way I saw it. “Banned from TV” is one of my bigest verses and just to know that Big Pun was coming after me, that’s one of the only people where I had to make sure my rhyme was up to par because he was coming behind me. He didn’t even spit his father’s verse. He spit his own verse and I just sat back like, ‘Wow! Incredible!’ That was a night for hip-hop right there. I wish the whole world could have seen that.
How did his son sound as an MC?
I think he’s dope. I haven’t heard a whole album from him or anything. I know he has a record with Cormega. I was fortunate to see him perform live. That was monumental in my eyes. I’m quite sure that he can be the star his father was. And everybody knows how Pun was. Pun was a beast. And if he has any of that in him, he shouldn’t have any problems.
You brought back another great Nature and N.O.R.E. collab on The Ashtray Effect 2, “Magic and Bird.” Why do you two make such great music together?
We’re both from Queens. He’s from Lefrak and I’m from Queensbridge. We kind of came in the game surrounded by the same people. He’s like my brother. I would have loved to have him on my first EP but he’s doing his project. That’s my brother. I don’t have to speak to him every day or every month, but once I do speak with him, it’s just one of those things.
What have you been listening to lately on your iPod?
The songs that keep me drawn in would pretty much be like the other things. Mobb Deep, old Nas, old Cam’ron. I’m a real big fan of Kanye West though. He walks that line to me. You can hear the passion in his music and I respect that. I like more though. I don’t want to isolate anybody or make it sound like I only listen to people I know. I’m just glad that people in my ‘hood like Nas and Mobb Deep and Big Noyd and Trag are doing it. Those old songs still motivate me to this day. There’s still some of the new guys. They do what they do and I respect them. But when I’m really drawn in and you want to have my attention, it’s usually some of the older things when the guys were still hungry, before the big, giant checks came. I love some of that.
Even hearing it without a proper mix and the rawness…
Yeah! And I try to stay in tune with what’s going on, but I don’t listen to the radio very much. If I listen to the radio, I feel like I have to make the songs that go along with that and that’s never really been me. I’m a fan first. When I try to create, I don’t listen to the radio. I never made a song with autotune even though I like some records with the autotune in it, but I’ve never had to copy.
I think that’s why you’re still able to do this today.
You’ve gotta love what you do. No matter what it is you do in life, once you love it, it shows. I’ve just always felt like the public and my fans never got too much of me. It seems like when I got their attention, it was the rug being pulled from under my feet for whatever reason. It never got oversaturated or too much. With that being like that, I was always able to keep doing what I do because they never got tired of it. I guess when they’re calling for you, it’s kind of hard to stop. There was always something that wasn’t allowing me to give it 100%, whether it be family or personal issues. I don’t point fingers at anybody or that I’m not a mega-star because of something, but that’s why I’m still here with the music and it’s still fresh and it’s still Nature. My first passion has always been to actually make the records. It hasn’t been the pictures or the stage. Those are things that I’m still trying to perfect to this day. But as far as making the music and doing what I do, that will never change.