Craig G – The 730 Interview
I Rap and Go Home is a genius concept. It’s what most rappers do. Spend a decade-plus interviewing MCs from all walks of life, and one quickly finds that life onstage and on the road is nowhere near as glamorous as it seems. Save for the few at the top of the pyramid, underneath that rare air is a host of MCs who were once there, so close but never made it, and those who have no shot at making it but haven’t realized it yet.
Fortunately for Craig G, he’s one that’s been to the top of the pyramid thanks to many seminal moments in hip-hop, from dropping “The Symphony” as part of the legendary Juice Crew to battling the freestyle champ Supernatural live with no theatrics. In between those moments and after, Craig G has embodied the spirit of hip-hop, crafting quality songs on his own terms and representing the principles that hip-hop has and should stand for at all levels.
In this exclusive interview, the Queensbridge product talks about his journey over the years, why he raps and goes home now, what it’s like to enjoy his passion on his own terms, his new project with Nottz, and the long-awaited Juice Crew reunion.
I’m definitely feeling the new album, I Rap and Go Home. If you look at your last album title, Ramblings of an Angry Old Man, it seems as though you have a sense of humor with how you present yourself.
The bottom line is that I’m not talking it that serious. Listen, I mean, of course the new era of hip-hop is not to my liking and of course that may not change, but at the end of the day, the way I see it is that I can’t not be just me. So I have a problem with it and I’ll discuss it but with the Ramblings of an Angry Old Man album, it was more about ageism. We’re not playing physical sports. Just because I may be in my 40s doesn’t mean my mind isn’t sharp. Calling someone an “old head” is disrespectful. So instead of beefing about it, I tried to do something comedic, like I’m the guy that’s shaking my fist. But you know, I just talked about how it’s not really about the artists. It’s more or less the machine to me as far as what these artists think is the standard and that main issue with me is just trying to sound like someone else. That was totally forbidden in hip-hop when I came up. That was called “biting.” You understand what I mean? So I just tried to make light of it.
Now as far as I Rap and Go Home goes, that is more about me being in this business thirty-plus years, feeling like I just display my art and then I go and live a regular life because I never really had that chance. I learned a few years ago that you can’t give everything to the entertainment business. What about your own life? What about going home and cutting your grass and paying your bills? Even with Ramblings of an Angry Old Man, I was still talking about issues. Sure there’s people popping Molly and moving weight, but that represents a small chunk of life. I wanted to talk about something other than that. And sometimes that makes you perceived as an old man.
It doesn’t sound like you feel old at all though.
Listen, I don’t feel old at all. The bottom line is that if you’re upset with what I’m talking about because you can’t relate to it, then maybe it just wasn’t for you. And what’s wrong with that? Does it have to make me bitter and a hater because I’m talking to people my age that have the same issue I’m dealing with? No, it doesn’t. So Angry Old Man was a joke to me. Really? I’m angry? No, I’m not angry at all. Life is decent. It could be worse. I’m not upset. I’m sitting on my porch with my vape. It could be worse. (laughs).
And you said, you never got to live a normal life. What is normal for you compared to your lifestyle as an artist?
Well, I mean, back then when things were popping at a pace that maybe it is for these new guys, I was doing shows and in the studio all day long. I didn’t go to my prom and I didn’t go to my graduation because I was working. I was 17. It was things that, you know, a lot of maybe, and I don’t consider myself a star, but famous child people lose sight of and that’s what happens.
I started as a child. My first record came out when I was 12 years-old. I just wanted to realize that at some point there was a regular real life out here and I had never, from day one, got into this business to become rich or become a millionaire. I just wanted to make a living.
But at the same time, when you’re working for yourself, there’s a lot of dedication and a lot of things you can’t do. The minute I slowed down in the business, around, say, ’94, I was having a child and I was like, Yo, man, I’m not going to be on the road doing 40, 50, 70, maybe 100 shows a year and not take my son to school. I just wanted to have a regular life and having a regular life doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice being an artist.
Do you have a regular job?
Fortunately, no. Fortunately, no because I was fortunate enough to never give up my publishing and the independent game is good to me. If I can put out an album and sell five, even ten-thousand albums, I make money. See, my thing is a New York City cop starts at $32,000 a year. I make way more than that and I live on my own terms. So fortunately, I don’t have to have a regular job, but I’m actually looking at the very moment in investing in some businesses and starting a business so that I don’t have to rely on hip-hop because that sometimes takes the fun out of it. So no, I don’t have a regular job, but I will have a business and it might be something that you wouldn’t think I’m involved with but I can say I don’t have to do this show or do this because it’s not going to make enough money. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop making music because I can still do things on my own terms.
The game changes when you need the money.
It stops being fun. Yes.
Were you reaching that point where it wasn’t fun and you weren’t getting what you wanted?
When it reaches a point, and again, this has nothing to do with doing bad, to be honest, it has to do with not preparing myself better that you’ll rely on a show to pay a bill and then the show gets cancelled. And that’s something that happens and it fucks up your month. That’s not good. I started to rely on the money because it was consistent and it’s still consistent but it’s never consistent because it’s the entertainment field and anything can happen. It wasn’t that it was less fun, it was just that I wanted to be free from it where I could create.
These may be weird examples for hip-hoppers, but Will Smith and Mos Def can do what they want because they have another source of income. They can make an experimental album. Maybe not more so Will Smith, who’s my man. Shout out to Will Smith. But, like, you can experiment. I like alternative rock. I like all types of different music but I have to cater to a certain fanbase because that’s the fanbase I created. And I have to rely on that for my bottom line. But the same thing is being that I was involved in a couple of classics that I have a track record of releases that I can make enough money to start something else and that’s where my mindset has been because I’m getting older. I may want to make records ‘til I’m 80. Who cares? Why should you care that I’m this age and making music?
Do you find people care about that?
I feel like just in any release I’ve made or anything, that’s a big part of it. Why should you base an album I made in 12 months off my whole career and immediately start saying that he’s this age and this and that. No. Every album is different for me. That’s why I don’t do an album every year. I do an album every couple of years because I have to live life. That’s what gives me things to write about. But the difference is that no one says anything it Sade but she does the same thing if you think about it. She just makes music when she feels like it and that’s what I want to do.
And it’s way more than a two year delay with her.
Yeah. And it’s so organic. I’m not into rushing things. But you also have to understand that it’s the generation and it’s not necessarily the generation’s fault. When we came in, the information and things weren’t moving as fast as they are now so people’s attention spans are not as long as they could be. When I grew up, we had five TV channels and I should be in my rocking chair saying this like an old man, but it’s true. Everything moves at a lightning pace now and that disrupts people’s attention spans. Remember working an album for a year? Remember guys putting out an album and not even going gold or platinum ‘til, like, the next year?
The slow burn of an album with three and four singles.
You only get that with albums like Beyonce now.
And that’s because she’s the one calling the shots. But at the end of the day, it’s not the people’s faults. It’s just a problem with too much information coming at one time and that may be something we never will be able to change. If people feel like that, then I’m really not speaking to you and that may affect my sales and that may not put me in the realm of what people think is successful, but that’s another thing. Who are you to tell me what my idea of success is? Say you’re getting $5 an album and you sold 10,000 albums. Someone on the sideline is saying I only sold 10,000 but maybe I want to make $50,000 and that’s successful to me. Just maybe. Who are you to tell me that?
Especially if it’s your name and you built it up.
When hip-hop started, there were no templates or “you should be selling like this guy and if not then you’re not successful.” You know, the beautiful thing about me and I won’t even act like I did it on purpose but a bulk of my real money, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars from hip-hop came, and I wasn’t allowed to touch it because I was only 15, 16, 17 years-old, so what I did was I got together with my family and got a house. From that point on, when I left Queensbridge and did that, I made it. Anything after that is a bonus to me.
That’s a great investment.
I still have ownership in it and I’m looking to buy another one now. And I’ll even go into the numbers now. The house cost $120 and it’s worth $4 or $5 now. But maybe that was my idea of success. Just maybe.
The reality of life is you could want everything but how many people actually achieve having everything? Do you sit out of having something because you don’t have everything? Is that what you’re supposed to do? (laughs) That’s the dumbest shit in the world to me. So what that I’m not doing Madison Square Garden but I can do a club that holds 500 people and 400 come and we charge $15 a head. How much did I make a night? $2 g’s? You mean I’m making $2 g’s after thirty years rapping? And there’s something wrong with that? If I can do that 50 times a year, that’s $100,000. There’s 365 days in a year.
Let’s be real. See, expectations got too great and you know, it changes everything. I’ve never had expectations. I just like rapping. You feel what I’m saying? And that’s why, even though it’s not popular to talk about the things I talk about, I still do. You know why? Because I have convictions and I’m not looking for everything. I always say this all the time – I just want my lane. Just give me my little lane. I’m not really concerned what the Futures of the world are doing or any of those guts. That’s not disrespect to them. Just give me my lane. So don’t get mad at me for not thinking of the lane you think I should be thinking of. That’s the dumbest shit ever. I thought this was America, people! (laughs)
I know a lot of what you say is tongue in cheek. How do you balance saying that without your fans thinking you’re grumpy and out of touch?
You know what’s fucked up to me about that? It’s that I just come from an era where there’s nothing wrong with talking about gangster shit and there’s nothing wrong with talking about anything we talk about, but there should be a portion of anything that you do that should be educational so if you’re not the artist that may have heard my song and didn’t sign a foul record deal, then that’s who I want to reach. Anybody else, I wasn’t really talking to you and I feel like you should appreciate that I’m warning people about bad record deals. it’s not that I’m bitter at this point. I’m really not.
Do I think it sucks sometimes? Of course I do, but everybody feles that way about their job sometimes. But at the same time, I’m just trying to hip people to the game. Don’t make the same mistake I made. Don’t get happy because you signed a $3 million deal for 45 albums. You don’t really get $3 million and they drop you after the first album and you owe them money. Actually, the playing field is level. You don’t need a fucking record deal. But to the game, that would be hypocritical for me to say that because I don’t know what your idea of success is and if it is, then by all means, go try to get one. It’s a sinking ship, man. It’s a sinking ship. Selling records and steaming, you can get streamed for a million times and get a check for a hundred dollars.
Do you mess with Spotify?
Of course I do. I get statements.
Do you look at that as a means of income or as a tool to get your music out?
That’s all that is. Look it up. You can Google it. You can search it. My guy Aloe Blacc, who made “I Need a Dollar” and “The Man,” one of his songs got streamed 50 million times and he wrote it with four people and he got a check for $5,000. You can look that up readily and find it. So you can’t rely on that money.
The fact that they made it into sales, I guess if you’re concerned about sales to that degree, but hey, I’m not in this looking to go gold anymore. I’d be happy if it happened, but I’m not into this for that. Listen, I’m talking to my people and if enough of them are into it and want to buy the album and I don’t lose money, then I won.
Do you also look at it as a way for people to hear the music and increase show attendance?
That’s another way. In this day and age, sales are shrinking. Hey, if I could put out an album and in the worst case scenario make $25, $50 g’s and do another $20 g’s in shows, then hey, I made $70 g’s in a year. And I’m not bougie like that. It doesn’t have to be an arena. If a show is paying me $750 and I can go away for a week and a half and come home with $10 grand, and you’re not making that a week, then don’t tell me what I’m doing wrong.
I don’t’ do much either. I go to the studio. Oh, you need a verse? Give me $500. And if I do five or six of those in a week with the shows, then of course I made $10 g’s. So if you’re not doing that, don’t tell me what you think I should be doing. No.
I appreciate how candid you are about that, especially with shows and your show fees.
Here’s the thing. There are murky show promoters. There are janky promoters, of course, in many areas, but I never envy their job. You can book Chris Brown tomorrow, who’s a hot artist and for some reason, people may not come. Their whole job is based on fate. Listen, to me, there are people who go to work at McDonald’s and slave over a hot oven for $300 a whole week and you’re going to give me $750, maybe a g, maybe $2g’s, maybe $3 to rap for 35 minutes after I’ve been in this that long, and I’m not trying to down the price. You can charge what you want. I just charge what I need to make for my bottom line.
If you weren’t rapping right now, what kind of businesses are you interested in?
I can’t discuss that because my girlfriend, my fiancé, has very good ideas and we’re talking about stuff like that. I don’t want to discuss it but I have some very good ideas that take a minimal investment. And I’m not looking to even get rich off of that. I just want a sustainable income. That’s all. That’s all you want.
Did what you learn in the music business apply to other businesses?
No. No. Because God forbid, it’s a retail business. You’re dealing with fate the way you want people to come and get your product, just like hip-hop, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a guarantee. So you know, you can apply certain rules, but it’s two different animals. My thing is whatever you’re doing should determine what you, yourself want out of it and if you listen to outside chatter about what you should be doing, you should ask yourself what you want out of it. And that’s not to stifle what you’re doing but everything should be organic.
With business, if you push too fast, you may overspend what you’re making and lose your business. And it’s the same thing with the indie game. I’m constantly being bombarded with why I didn’t do physicals for I Rap and Go Home. Well, we pressed 3,500 of Ramblings and we sold 2,000. Guess who had to eat the 1,500? Business, man. Business 101.
I’m going to do vinyl but right now the vinyl plants are backed up because vinyl is so popular, but we’ll get to that when we do. Right now I’m working on five or six songs that didn’t make the album and adding in the extra songs as a special release for whoever buys the album next. We’re actually in the midst of working on that now.
You’ve also described yourself on the album as a homebody. Do you prefer not going out?
You have to understand if you have been having to go to events or even clubbing on your own though the ‘80s, through the ‘90s, through the 2000s to 2016, it depends on the individual but if it’s not work, then it feels like work. Why would you work at a store that sells food all day and then go home and talk about food? That’s what it is with me and that’s where I Rap and Go Home comes from. Listen, I still love the touring and the lifestyle and all that, but I’ve always been a loner since I was a kid. I watch shows. And in the reality of my tax bracket, to go out for something that I’m not getting paid for unless I love it very much is going to cost me money.
Do you remember when music started feeling like a job?
It doesn’t feel like that all the time because I still love performing. I still love creating. The hobnobbing and talking to people about the same thing I talked about last week is not going to create any business, that’s the tedious thing for me. I don’t have to be an industry guy to want to make music and sell music. Do I really have to? Who made that rule? I can’t go home? Does it really offend you for my personal choice to not be interested in the after-party?
It shouldn’t be anybody’s business.
Maybe I made some turkey chili and I can’t wait to go home to eat it! (laughs) As funny as that sounds though, doesn’t that sound crazy to you?
Yeah. Everyone from your era is supposed to love rapping and be hip-hop all the time.
I can be one with the fans and all that, but why can’t I have a cut-off time? Why can’t I just want to go home and have some peace and quiet? I’m 43 years-old, my g, I’ve done it for 30 years-plus. Do I still have to or can I be an adult? Just saying. That’s all. I mean, other than that, I don’t have no complaints. It may seem like I come across as a complainer, but that’s just because the music that I love, the skill level completely vanished and that’s my thing, and that’s not even necessarily the artists’ fault.
I just feel like if you’re going to have crap rap, then the balance should be there also. I really appreciate all of the classic hip-hop stations now because why wipe out the history of a bunch of great music? Just because Lil’ Whoever is rocking now does that make “Peter Piper” by Run-DMC less of a great accomplishment, even if I talk about it? Like, the generation gap happened when instead of having disparaging thoughts about something you don’t know, we wanted to know more about it. Nah, nah, I don’t know nothing about Cold Crush. Let me hear something. Versus Nah, I Don’t’ want to hear that old shit. That’s my issue. Special Ed is not great because Young Such-and-such is rocking right now. Really? Why are we destroying our own history? You know?
I know what you mean. I know there’s not a huge demand for the history of hip-hop right now.
But think about it. What other genre of music does it? I’ve heard stories about the BET Awards how a young guy didn’t want to rock with an older guy. I don’t know who the young rock guy is, but he’d kill to perform with Guns-N-Roses. It’s like a divide. Don’t hate me for liking what I like and don’t hate me because I like something else.
Like with the Pete Rock thing. So he thought it was wrong to talk about having cocaine in your veins next to a kid. That was just his opinion but why does it have to be fuck him and he’s old because he feels that way? It’s like the minute you have a problem to another generation, you’re just hating. Do you have a kid? Do you want your kid standing next to a nigga saying they have cocaine running through their veins? Do you really want your kid to be around that? Did he diss the man’s’ music? No, he just said he didn’t like what he said in front of that kid. We’ve gotta do better than that. But he’s “hating.”
It’s a crazy divide, man, but it doesn’t bother me as much as I’m talking about it. Like I said, I’m not talking to y’all guys. I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the people who came up with me. I’m catering to my fanbase, whatever that is. I’m catering to that. And as much as you may not agree with it doesn’t mean other people won’t feel that way. Just dismiss it. Ignore it. It costs you nothing, pay me no mind.
There’s a lot of vets still releasing quality music besides yourself, like Sadat X. Have your hardcore fans stuck with you through the years?
I may not be as much as the guys that have a problem with it, but I’m still working, so apparently so. That’s all I wanted to do, was work. It’s not work when it’s something you love as far as performing. That’s not work. The music part becomes tedious and the expectations that people put on you becomes tedious. And no I’m not settling. Maybe, just maybe, hey, I’m not mad at Young Little-Whoever. I had my shot and I thrived on that shot.
But don’t get mad at me because I still want to do it. I’m not in your fucking way. You feel me? Let me do me. And if doing me has my opinion on the quality of originality in music, if you don’t feel offended by it, then don’t have nothing to say about it. If you are offended by it and you’re still making money, don’t have nothing to say about it. It’s not affecting you. But the people that feel the same way as me, that’s paying my bills, so leave me alone!
You worked with Vapor Worldz as the only producers on the album. What was that like?
There’s a few dudes and these are guys that are just friends of mine and with every album I make, it doesn’t start out that we’re making an album. We’re just hanging out and the beats come on and we just start recording and when we look up, we realize we got seven or eight songs and want to finish it up. That’s how it works. But I like the one producer aesthetic to a certain degree because a lot of the greatest albums in hip-hop history were…
One producer. Save for an album like Illmatic, which started to change that.
Yeah. I actually read an article where they said it destroyed hip-hop. But if you’re going to do that, at least he had a bunch of the top, top guys. But I mean look, it’s what you feel like. But I think it’s a more cohesive thing and that’s why after I already started it, but we’re going to finish it up, but I’m doing an EP with Nottz right now. We actually have three songs recorded and I’m just going to go down to Virginia and sit with him and finish it up. I like that aesthetic and that’s how I came in the game. Who knows, I’ll make an album with different producers, sure, but I’m comfortable in that zone. I believe I Rap and G Home, musically and cohesiveness wise, it’s one of my best albums in awhile because it all flows in one direction.
It worked well for you and Marley too on Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop.
Yeah. We kind of threw it together but I still like that album. I shouldn’t be held to one thing but I’m doing what I like and nothing stays the same with music. I feel this one way now and I’ll fele another way another time. Musica has always been that I feel this way now and I hope the people who are feeling that way will rock with me. I don’t think everyone should. That is narcissism to the twelfth degree. Oh, you’re hating. No, you just didn’t get it. Fine. Okay.
That’s good news about Nottz.
He was on my DMV album and we talk every now and then and we just decided to do it and he started sending me tracks and I started recording them in New York. But at the same time, I feel like I need to go down to him and just work. And we don’t have any expectations around it. Let’s just make some good music and everything else should come with it.
I always loved your work with Premier on This Is Now. Do you see yourself getting back with Premier?
Well, Premier’s a busy guy. That’s the only problem with that. Premier always has eleven, twelve projects on his plate. It’ll happen naturally again, like that happened. It’s never forced. I’ve known Premier since he got into the game and he’ll tell you that. I have tons of respect for him. But once again, even with your career, you can’t say, “Well, Premier’s busy so I’m onto going to do anything.” if it comes around, it comes around. You’re putting all your eggs in one basket in that sense. He’s a busy guy and a tremendous producer and I have tremendous respect for the quality of his music and the work he’s done with me but it’s not going to stop my music.
If you look at your last few albums, you’ve had great guest appearances. Why do you think you can do that?
Just mutual respect. That’s all. Mutual respect and not asking for much so when you do ask, it’s like, Well, this motherfucker doesn’t ask me for a lot so I got him. Listen, the general purpose of life is people will help you if they see that you’re self-reliant. You understand what I’m saying? It’s not hard to ask when you’re already still doing your thing and there’s respect. That’s all. And they can ask me the same.
What does it take for an MC to earn your respect?
Catalog. Skill level. And being true to themselves. That’s it. It’s not rocket science. Because even some of the bad music, hey, if you’re just being you, I can’t knock that. Who am I to knock that? But don’t think that I hate you or I’m hating because I don’t like it.
You’ve never had the desire to put on new artists or to build a label. Has that never been an interest of yours?
I’m just sour about the business and I don’t want to be a babysitter when things are rolling. The business is not good. Yeah, he may have talent, but a lot of people do not share my perception of what it may be, so you may get an artist that is very talented and he wants more than you think is success already because some people have a tendency to want more and more and more. But if you don’t have to get a job and you make a living from rapping, then I’ll take on that person, but I haven’t met that person yet. I don’t even know how to engineer, so I’m just an artist.
And if you think about this in the grand scheme of things, how many artists have successful artists? Not a lot. Not a lot. There’s the Dre’s, the Puffy’s, and the Jay’s, and that’s about it. Even Ludacris, who is successful, had problems with his artists. I’m not babysitting nobody. If you listen, you listen, if you don’t, you don’t. What am I going to do? You’re another grown man?
You know how I encourage it? Hey, if I like your stuff and you holler at me and you pay for my time, I’ll do a joint with you. I don’t do records with people I think suck. See, we’re in a society where you give somebody a million dollars and there’s always going to be somebody who says, “Hey, why didn’t you give him a million and one dollars?” You can’t be in the business to please people.
“Business” is the bottom line there.
Yeah. Business fucks up friendships. Why would I want to go that way. I started out being someone’s artist. I’’m good. Perceive it as selfish however you want. Hey, I’ll help you however I can, but I gotta help me as an artist and it’s not fair to you.
The business hasn’t always been straightforward with you too.
Yeah. Or most people.
Have you been able to maintain your friendships through the years, especially with your Juice Crew family?
Well, we’ve had rough patches, but we got over it. It’s like anything else. In the grand scheme of things, if you made history with people, whatever little bullshit doesn’t affect what the fans think of you. Listen, everyone has to grow up and everyone has to humble themselves at some point. That’s the bottom line. We’re going to do this reunion in December and we’re going to work on seeing what happens because it’s selfish to think about it for us, but there are millions of fans that love us as a unit. And when you think in the grand scheme of things that we’re all healthy and older and wiser, hey, let’s rock. I’m just happy to be a part of history. That’s all.
And you’re feeling good about this reunion show?
It’s going to be great because this is what the people wanted. This is what I get asked about constantly. So We’re going to give it to them. So let’s work it out and do it right. December 29, B.B. King’s, December 30 in Jersey, and from there, we’ll work on some more shows. But it’s a start and I’m just happy it’s a start. And everyone’s involved.
Was it easy to get everyone on board?
Even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t tell you. But it wasn’t hard, to be honest with you. It was just a matter of time. There’s really no disagreements at this point. It was just a matter of logistics because everyone was still working on their own. So everyone gets together and agreed on a number and we go to work. These things become harder than they should be and they’re really not. I’m just glad it’s happening.
Everyone’s done their thing outside of the crew, but do you think you’re stronger together?
This is what people wanted. They never got to really see this so of course it’ll be stronger. Units that created history together should be able to work together so everyone will work and be happy and do a professional show for the people to show how we feel about it. It’s not that serious but let’s do it for the fans.
When you do a show today, are you bringing back your old techniques?
I’ll be completely honest with you. It all just started coming together and getting confirmed so we haven’t discussed how the show’s going to be. And listen, me, personally, I don’t have any expectations. We’re going to go display the music that people heard us doing when we were coming up. Expectations kill shit, man. It should be like this. It should be like this. Let’s go have fun and give the people what they want. That’s all.
You know naturally the next question is if you’re working on new music. Has that been a bridge you crossed yet?
Let’s see. That’s all I can say about that. It’s not as easy for one person to discuss what seven other people are doing. Feel what I’m saying? I don’t speak for any of the rest of my crew. I’m just saying how I feel about it. So all I can say about that is we’ll see what happens. I hope so. But we’ll see what happens.
How do you feel when your old albums are collector’s items and selling on eBay and Amazon for really high prices?
It means that I did something right for the people who are purchasing and feeling that it should be sold for that. When I did that, I never knew that after all this time that some records would be revered. I was just doing music. It was just the natural order. Hey, I want to make some good music. Hey, these people still like it after all this time? That’s great. I didn’t make it thinking people would rock with it thirty years from now. I just did it because it was dope. This will be dope. Let me do this. That was all. Expectations, man. Oh, this is going to be a classic. No, you don’t determine that. The people do. Oh, this is going to sell… No, you don’t determine that. The people do. How ‘bout, Yo, I just did it because it’s a quality record to me and I hope people feel the same way. And if you don’t, thank you for listening. Thank you for supporting it.
How has your creative process changed over the years?
It’s never changed. I do it when I feel like it.
There’s no urgency there?
I write a verse a day just to exercise my mind but it has nothing to do with selling records or making records. That’s just me loving to create, you know? That’s all that is.
How do you decide what verses will make the album and what will come together as songs?
I have to make the song and take a few days to listen to it and then make my decision. That’s how it works.
When you write, how does your mind work and how do your thoughts become a verse?
Just my natural feelings. If the beat gives me a certain way, I’m going to talk about this and it matches with the beat, then my natural feelings will just come out.
Do you always write to a beat?
No. I don’t have to. Sometimes an idea just overtakes me and I just start writing. I might not even finish the rhyme. I’ll just write down the idea and go back to it. Or I’ll write something and hear a beat and go finish it.
Can you switch the beat for verses you’ve written?
Of course. Sometimes the beat may dictate that. It’ll be like, Oh, this is perfect for this. But I won’t force it.
Do you spend a lot of time on revision?
I may change a line or two here. But yeah, the way it comes out is the way it stays.
How many verses, if you were to estimate, have you written throughout your career?
No clue. Absolutely no clue. And to me, numbers and quality are two different things, so I can’t think ;like that because there’s tons of verses I never used. I just do what feels right, man, and doing what feels right doesn’t involve numbers. You dig what I’m saying? it doesn’t involve numbers. You just do what feels right.
Are you your own filter for what feels right or do you have people that you trust to tell you?
I have people that I trust. I’m going to listen to reason. I’m not stubborn. But as a songwriter, sometimes you’ll write a song and it came out just the way it was in your head. So I don’t need any cosign because I had the idea in my head and it came out the way I wanted.
With how much studio experience you have, is it easy for producers to work with you?
I’m not willing to not take direction, especially if I respect you as a producer. But if you have a track and you tell me you want it about this topic, I’m going to give it to you and when I do, if you don’t like something, I can change it. It’s not that serious because I can write. It’s not just my song. So if you felt like I needed to say this word different, hey, you know, sometimes I get so deep into it that I might not know I said something off, so of course you gotta take direction.
What newer artists do you respect right now?
I mean, there’s a lot of them, man. I don’t want to lose anybody out, but what I will say is this – one of the things I learned from Ramblings to I Rap and Go Home is that you can complain all day about the state of hip-hop but at the same time, do a disservice to the artists who are out by not bigging them up. So off the top, I can’t go by names but there’s tons of artists I love. I know I’m doing a disservice by not making them but I don’t want to leave anyone out.
But listen, man, there are a lot of great lyricists that are spitting. I like J. Cole. I like J. Cole. I like Conway. The other thing is I’m so deep in this game, a guy I mention might not be as old or as new as I’m making them out to be. Roc Marciano is a great lyricist and they’re relying on lyrics. Fashawn. Guys like that. Dave East. These are great artists but they put in their dues so I don’t want to say they’re new. I don’t hate everything. People get the perception I hate everything and I don’t want to put that perception out. There’s a lot of great music out. But the sad reality is that quality is not at the forefront of what is mainstream but who said you needed mainstream to be a successful artist?
Have you and Marley stayed in touch over the years?
We do shows constantly. We just came from Italy. We just rocked in Jersey. We always do shows. I’m in contact with everyone. I just played a charity softball game with Shante. But people are in different areas of their life and in different areas of the world and to be honest with you, even during the Juice Crew’s heyday, we didn’t hang out constantly. We were all separate entities. I hung out with Marley because Marley was from my hood and Marley put me on and I hung out with Ace because we just developed a friendship. Shan was like the older brother and G. Rpa, all of them, when I’d see them, everything was great but you also have to remember that during “The Symphony” and “Droppin’ Science,” I was 14, 15 years-old. I couldn’t hang out. I had to go to school.
Do you ever regret that the fame and business came so early in your life?
I probably used to but your life’s path is your life’s path and it’s not what you wish to happen but it’s what you can make happen. Oh, I wish this happened. But what are you doing right now? Let me use what I’ve can use to my advantage and still do what I’ve gotta do.
What do you think about the way the battle scene has exploded recently?
I think that it’s great and I think that all of these guys are great lyricists and it takes a lot to go head-to-head against someone but the thing that I don’t necessarily relate to is the battles being prearranged and you knowing who you’re going to battle a month or two before and gathering…I was more about the spontaneity of it because I freestyled. That’s the only thing. Other than that, much respect to all of them but I won’t get involved in it unless they’re paying me what they’re paying these guys now.
Have you considered it?
No, because I also felt pigeonholed by freestyling because I made “Droppin’ Science.” I made “You are not the One.” I made “The Symphony.” I made these songs and right after I battled Supernatural, I got thrown into a bunch of, Hey, he can freestyle but I could do that before and I made records.
I remember that and it followed you onto the This Is Now album.
Exactly. I don’t consider it at all because I was an artist before that. Being able to freestyle was just something I knew how to do and you accepted, look, according to other people, “Droppin’ Science” is a classic. “The Symphony,” which I am a part of, is a classic. So how can you say six or seven years after that that I can’t make records because you found out that I can freestyle? I found that was unfair so I shied away from it.
Does that still follow you today?
Sometimes. But as a songwriter and an artist, you write this song and it comes out the way you want it and you can’t wait to perform it and people are yelling, “Rap about shoes!” I’m like, Goddamnit, don’t you want to hear this great song I put together? So that’s what happened.
When people talk about the history of hip-hop and what that means, what do you want your place, your legacy to be?
A guy that made something out of himself by being himself. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s it. That’s all it is. That’s what I believe in. I think a lot of the problems of the world, just not even music-wise, is ‘because people aren’t comfortable with being themselves. That’s all. Why should you have to lie or make up a persona to entertain people? That’s telling yourself that you’re not exterminating as a person. Maybe you shouldn’t be entertaining. The one constant about me is that sure, it’s a great thing to expand your music, but it’s also a great thing to play to your strengths. And that’s what I do. I’m great at something and I do that one particular thing.