You closed 2010 out on DJ Premier’s Live from HeadQCourterz show. That’s not a bad way to close out the year.
No, not at all. Clark Kent was there too. To be around them in a hip-hop setting, not out in the clubs or any of that, is amazing. It was really mesmerizing being around them in their environment and hearing their stories. Those guys actually go back on some personal stuff. It was a dope experience. That’s something that no one will ever be able to take from me, ever. That was one of the best experiences that I ever had as an artist. Like you said, what a great way to end the year!
You and Clark Kent go back to when you were 15 and in a random cipher. Did you know he was listening to you at the time?
You know what’s funny about it? I had heard all of these stories as a kid and I knew his history but I never knew how he looked because I never saw him. Things weren’t as accessible as they are now where you can just Google people. When I met him, being that I was just pulled into the record shop and just told to rap, it wasn’t a formal introduction. I just shook everybody’s hand and spit and then it turned into 8,000 bars and then I was introduced to Clark Kent. I didn’t know. I had no idea.
I thought it was cool how he told the story about that day on “Battle of Metropolis.”
It was excellent. It was magical how it happened in the studio. He one-taked that. And I was like ‘Wow, I didn’t know you were that good as far as laying down vocals.’ And he said “Why would I have any trouble when I’m not making it up?” That was exactly, verbatim, to a T, the quickest synopsis that you could create for that situation. That’s exactly how it went.
Clark said he heard the potential in you at age 15. Did you know you had that kind of potential back then?
Honestly, being that I grew up in a household where everything was about music or came back to music, it never was a hobby. I always wanted to do it as a career. My passion, I guess, it protrudes outside of my soul. Everybody can hear that conviction and they see it. But did I know that things were going to turn out to be like this? No, I had no idea.
At what point did you know you had a future in hip-hop?
I’m going to be totally honest with you. I really felt like that after I started my business with my two partners, Cash In Cash Out Records, and that was May, 2009. That’s when I really realized that this can really turn into something humongous, something larger than life. With a little bit of planning, strategizing and hard work, it can really happen. I’ve watched people go from hanging out to traveling places that you could never imagine going in life and I felt like ‘Hey, I can do the same thing too.’ I got good product, good music and now it’s about making the right connections now and making it all make sense.
Where I’m From was a great introduction for fans who weren’t familiar with you. Would you consider that project a success today?
Yeah, as far as recognition. That’s basically what I wanted to do. You get a little bit of recognition from it and let people know that you’re here. I walked through me as a person and not just me as an artist. That’s why it’s titled Where I’m From: The Experience. And that got me here today.
You have great producers on Where I’m From, from DJ Khalil to Nottz. How did you get them on the project?
First off, when Clark Kent is involved in anything, very seldom are you going to get a person to say no. They’ll probably have a really valid reason, but no one is really going to say no. And then when they heard the potential of the records, everyone wanted to get involved. We got Masta Ace on one of those records and some of those records just came out of the sky.
Is it intimidating working with established artists?
No, it’s not intimidating at all. When it’s a dream and it’s really something that you wanted to do deep down inside of your heart, you have to make it. I don’t care how many people are watching me. I’m gonna hit the shot. It’s like getting called out of the stands for the half-court shot of a game. I’ve wanted to do it for so long. When you’ve been perfecting your craft, behind the scenes and off the radar, finally you’re getting your chance to do your thing on a grander scale than somebody’s basement or somebody’s backyard. That’s all I wanted to do – get called out of the stands and take my shot.
How did Clark Kent make the project better?
An animalistic critique! He shut me down whenever he felt like I didn’t have the proper records or the types of records that he didn’t even feel confident in endorsing. And that, along with my partner Sha Banga executive producing and just overseeing not even the project but just my growth as an artist. Having more than one executive producer and everybody that I’ve ever met in my life up to the release date, I feel they definitely played a big part in the project.
We prepared the project twice before that last project went out and the first time, we had a debate in the studio about what records to use, what records I shouldn’t use and just a real, real big debate and I had to go back to the drawing board and fix it up.
Is it ever hard taking advice and criticism from someone like a Clark Kent?
It’s all about doing your best to not be disagreeable. I definitely take into consideration his history with all of the greatest artists and people that I looked up to on my way up. I definitely remember all of that. I’m a sponge and I’m an open ear and I’m still a student at the end of the day. I’m still very receptive of all the knowledge I get from everywhere, good and bad. I’ll collect it now and process it later. I don’t have a problem taking criticism but I’ve been doing it for so long in the dungeon and I’ve gotten lectured for what I need to do and what I need to stop doing that the synergy is so solid that you don’t have to tell me anything anymore. I’ve been working so hard at my craft that when I finally bring something to the table, record-wise, it’s where it needs to be and that comes from the years of artist development that people couldn’t see because I was told to wait and get it together and then come back.
Are you happy that you took that route as opposed to rushing music out as soon as it’s done, regardless of the quality?
I’m definitely blessed that it went that route because sometimes when people are allowed to see your growth or too much of your creative process on the way up, they don’t really care for the second shot because the first time you blew your load, you already put a cap on your whole potential and the whole light that people see you in. It was definitely good to have Where I’m From: The Experience be the first thing people really heard. Everything was clean. You can’t really say that it’s wack. I put my heart and soul into that project. It’s almost impossible to say that it’s wack. Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has theirs, but the response that I’ve gotten from it has been great.
You addressed the feedback in your freestyle with Premier, where you said “My neighborhood loves me so fuck the internet feedback.” How do you balance releasing your music to the world without letting the criticism destroy you?
You have to build your own world and you have to know how to separate yourself from the other world. It’s a very difficult thing to do and balance. But when you have a great foundation, there’s really not much that can break that force field. It’ll keep you well-grounded when you have your family around and your friends. It’s all about you as a person at the end of the day. And when I said “Fuck the internet,” I would never diss the internet because the web has helped a lot with my progression as an artist, but I wanted my neighborhood to know that their love meant so much to me. Brownsville is almost a forgotten-about place in hip-hop today.
Why do you think that is?
Right now, analyzing the game, I want to say that maybe it’s because we haven’t had any brand new voices. Hip-hop is a young man’s game at the end of the day and they want to hear some different stuff happening at the end of the day. We’ve always had Masta Ace and Smoothe Da Hustler and the Boot Camp Clik and so on and so forth and they’ve definitely held it down forever, but the game, they always want to hear some new stuff amongst all of that and you can’t really say that you’ve heard any new artists from Brownsville that have been able to propel it to another level after those guys came in and did what they did. That’s why I want to be a voice for the resurgence.
You reference Smoothe Da Hustler in your music and have worked with Masta Ace and Sean Price. How important is it for you to stay connected with the Brownsville legends?
Like anything else, you have to know your history in order to know where you’re going. When you pay homage to your past, it always brings great things to you and me as a person, I came up listening to all of those guys. They inspired a lot of what I do so it was only right for me personally, forget what’s going on in the music world, for me to get in contact with them. It’s what satisfied me. I feel like I had to do that. I had to tell them if I was never able to speak to them or chop it up with them over the phone, I have to put it in my music that you inspired me.
Is it just me or are a lot of younger artists forgetting who came before them?
I’ve been getting a lot of love and I’ve been able to build relationships with a lot of these guys who are bigger than music. I can call up a guy like Sadat X, who I remember listening to. “Slow Down” was one of my favorite records and to be able to have him on a record and to be able to make a phone call to his guy like that at any time and have my name be respectable enough that it’s locked into your phone and when I call you’ll answer, that’s dope to me and I get a lot of that love back because I toss it out. I let people know that these are the people who influenced me and I’m not afraid to say it at all. I run up on all kinds of veterans and they say they don’t know that someone of my age can know about them. I’m an artist, but I’m a fan first.
Growing up, what albums shaped your understanding of hip-hop?
We can be here all day, but just to name a few that really, really stuck with me, I’m probably going to name the ones that I got in trouble for buying as a kid. Definitely M.O.P’s To the Death. Smoothe Da Hustler’s Once Upon a Time in America. Raekwon’s Purple Tape, Ghostface’s Iron Man, 36 Chambers, Ready to Die, Life After Death, Reasonable Doubt, Volume 1, every Gang Starr project…The list goes on. The Adventures of Slick Rick. All of Brand Nubian’s projects. Whoo! It’s a lot. A lot. A lot of classic records. Definitely Doggystyle and The Chronic. I got in a lot of trouble for that Doggystyle too! Shout out to Snoop Dogg! I used to get a few dollars back in the da for school and what I would do was find a way to get lunch from somebody else and I would take my money and go up to The Soul Shack, which is a record store that is no longer in existence, and I would buy my albums. I’m good. I would find a way to get my food but I had to get these cassette tapes. I still have the cassette tapes today. The reason I remember Doggystyle is because I got in more trouble for that than anything. I never let my mom hear the content because I had a walkman and I wanted to listen to it on a personal level. I never wanted to put it in the speakers because she would hear evertytihng that was going on and she would never approve of it. She saw the booklet and they had the explicit cartoons. It was crazy. After she saw that, she took all my tapes from me. I was pissed. I cried. And I had every video game system that was out at the time. I had every popular game. She didn’t take those! I didn’t care about those! She took away my heart. She took away my cassettes for a month or two. I cried every day!
When your album comes out, you’re going to have to look out for the next generation of kids and not have any female dogs in thongs.
(laughs) I try to keep it as neutral as possible. I want everybody to be able to listen without getting in trouble!
How’s the M.A.F.F.E.W. project coming?
Actually, we kind of switched it up. You know how hip-hop is. Rare Gems: The Collection is going to be the first mixtape and like the title says, it’s a collection. With the internet, it’s very hard to keep up on it if you’re not paying attention all the time. You might have gone on vacation for a week and missed something. I just wanted to gather up everything I’ve been doing since Where I’m From: The Experience and make a collection for everyone. It’s appreciation for them. There’s some new treats on there for them too. I wanted to create a collector’s item so you didn’t have to search for 40 different links. You have everything right there. I have some other projects too and I don’t know if the world is ready but I have another project with my guy Teddy King of Balance New York. I have Rhyme Pays and a project with Clark Kent that’s gonna be crazy. I got some monster records. We’re just going to put out pure heat. M.A.F.F.E.W. should be out in the summer. It’s my year this year and I’m not going to do too much talking about it. I’m just going to show and prove.
Will these all be free projects?
Definitely looking to shop and have some sort of backing. It doesn’t matter who it’s from as long as the agreement is feasible for all parties, then it will definitely be released through some form with marketing and everything behind it. But if not, then it will go out as a free project. We have no problem putting the music out for the people to have. We keep creating. We’re like a factory over here with records in abundance.
You’ve gotten a lot of support from music blogs. What do you think is the future of blogs after OnSmash and other sites got shut down?
I think they’re going to try to find a way to lock us down so that we can’t move as much without the big labels. But there’s a scenic route around everything but the internet is definitely everything now and the future. Physical CDs are now just memorabilia. And the OnSmash situation, that was definitely unfortunate. I support OnSmash and free OnSmash. They’ve been supportive since I dropped the Where I’m From project and they posted all the videos. I hope everything works out well for them. But it’s crazy, man. The state of hip-hop is unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen, honestly. We’re just playing everything by ear.
It’s always interesting to hear how your lyrics come together in songs. What’s your songwriting process like?
It’s definitely different every trip. It really, really depends on the moment. Sometimes it’ll happen right then on the spot. Sometimes it’ll take some time to happen. But the bottom line is what I like to do is have fun, first and foremost. You gotta have fun because the minute that you start taking things too seriously and it feels like a job that you hate, your performance is going to go down so I like to make sure that I’m having fun and that I’m being honest and truthful. My songwriting process is really unpredictable. I can’t really put it into words. You really have to see it in action. I’m going to have fun and I’m going to be as truthful as possible.