It’s been about five years since your album Die Rugged Man, Die dropped. Even though this album, Legendary Classics Volume 1, isn’t new material, did you feel you were overdue as far as dropping an album?
Yeah, it was overdue. We were talking about doing this record for five years, maybe even longer. It’s an amazing collection. We were just listening to it the other day in the car and I normally don’t like listening to my own shit but song after song, it was a pleasant surprise. It’s a great record and I think the fans are going to go nuts over this record because there’s a lot of songs they haven’t heard before. The Havoc song was missing for fucking 10 years and we found a two inch reel and it’s vintage Havoc, like he made that beat when he was in the studio making Hell on Earth, some vintage Havoc when Havoc was in his prime making beats. He spit a verse and I spit my old, crustified type shit. That’s a banging record.
And I found “Windows of the World” which is Ayatollah and his artists Dynasty. That’s vintage ‘Tollah in the middle of “Ms. Fat Booty.” These are records that people never heard that were made in people’s primes. There’s rhymes of my own that I haven’t heard in years and new cuts like “L.I.’s Finest” and “Posse Cut.” That never came out and that’s brand new. There’s a lot of brand new shit too and then there’s the classic joints like the one with Notorious B.I.G. or Jedi Mind Tricks or Sadat X. It’s just an incredible release for me and I’m really proud of it. And the artwork on the album cover looks really dope. I'm just really happy with it. I hope everybody goes and picks it up.
With Die Rugged Man, Die, I didn’t think the artwork stood up and I didn’t think the packaging was nice. I’m happy with everything about this new one.
Do you ever surprise yourself with some of the rhymes you come up with?
Not when I listen to it when it’s new because I just wrote it. But the stuff that surprises me is when I listen to something from 15 years ago or from awhile back, like 10 years ago. That’s when I surprise myself sometimes, when I listen to older shit that I heard and it’s better than I thought it was and I’m not being as judgmental towards it because you’re listening to it with a fresh ear and I didn’t just spit it. That’s the only time I surprise myself, with some old shit that I haven’t heard in awhile.
You’ve had to release a PSA saying you don’t have beef with Eminem. Do situations like that get boring for you?
Me and Eminem never had beef. That’s what I tried to say on the blogs. We never had a beef and if you look at the big controversy with Floyd Mayweather that I just had, that was on Eminem’s radio station. Paul Rosenberg is Eminem’s manager since he began and he follows me on the Twitter and all that shit and I’ve known him for mad years. I met Em personally and we shook hands and hugged so there is no beef between me and Eminem. That’s just contrived from the gay-ass media.
Do you expect that kind of stuff from the media today?
It never surprises you because the media’s a bunch of fucking nobody’s. Once in awhile you get a credible writer but it’s very rare. Come on, you work in this profession. How many credible writers do you see? They’re all dickriding nobody’s that don’t give a fuck about artists or the art. It’s the same thing with the music industry people. Once in awhile you get that music industry head that actually loves the music and actually knows the music but it’s so fucking rare and it’s the same thing with media. They’re trend-followers. They write about what’s hot and they don’t care about what’s amazing and what’s important and what’s great. They don’t care about that. They go for the trendy shit and that’s what the media does and the media now, more than ever, only wants to tell one side of the story about whatever story they’re telling. They don’t want to tell both sides of the shit. They just want to lie and trick the public. That’s how the media works. That’s why no one with a brain takes the media seriously.
How do you keep up with what goes on in hip-hop today?
I don’t pay attention to the hip-hop news. Like what? Drake signs a deal with this person or Rihanna got her ass whooped or this and that? I don’t pay attention to what the media’s take on things is. I just listen to things myself and pay attention to music and see what I like and I do my own spin on it and pay attention to my own thoughts. I don’t think there’s no writer that’s more of an expert than I am so why am I going to read somebody’s writing to try to understand what music is when I’ve been doing it longer than them? I’ve been doing it since I was a little baby so what can anybody that writes tell me about hip-hop? Sometimes you get an old school cat that knows about a vintage record that I didn’t know existed but it has to be the right person that really knows their history and then you can have a discussion with those guys and learn something but it’s so rare to find somebody that knows something about the game that you don’t. But if anybody can school me, I’d like to see it.
I don’t think you’ll have anybody trying to school you in boxing history.
You’re wrong about that. I pissed off a lot of Floyd fans with that one so a lot of people are trying to make their defenses for him and this and that but you know, everybody that loves boxing knows the bottom line is that the best champ has to fight the best challengers and if they’re only doing it for money and not legacy, step your game up. It’s old. I love the sport of boxing. It’s one of my passions in life. It’s one of my greatest loves. I don’t want to see everybody running to MMA and leaving boxing because the right fights aren't getting made. And we have a great fight with Pacquiao and Cotto and we have some great fights this weekend. I’m just tired of the mainstream media press not covering boxing so when they have somebody with so much power like Mayweather, I want him to have the best matches because it makes boxing look good. A lot of people only watch the best fights and if you’re not taking the best fights, then it’s not making the boxing world look so great.
Were you surprised that Floyd Mayweather called in to argue with you?
Yeah, I was a little surprised because I just went up there to promote Legendary Classics and I’m playing songs and I’m staying this and that and they wanted to talk boxing and I said I wished Mayweather in the last seven years would fight better opposition because he’s not really testing himself and he was listening and he called in. They said they had him on the phone and I said let’s go. I asked him the questions that the real boxing fans wanted to ask him – Hey, Floyd, when are you going to fight a legitimate welterweight? When has he ever fought a legitimate welterweight? Fight a couple of those guys. Stop trying to trick the public.
And this is what I’ve been getting called about all week and it’s not my fault. It’s what the people want to talk about. It’s a big, huge controversy and it’s all over the world. Paul Williams hit me up saying I spoke the truth and Chad Dawson hit me up telling me it was a good interview. The whole boxing world, Ring Magazine hit me up and complimented me. The boxing world all thought it was a good thing. Bernard Hopkins hit me up and told me it is what it is. Some of the fair-weather fans might not like what I said but all the legitimate boxing heads were really happy with me and some of the fans that don’t actually watch boxing, they took a little offense to that because they want to believe what they are told by HBO. They want to believe 24/7 that these guys are the best challengers for Floyd.
No one really cares about Brian Kenny but do you think you could give Max Kellerman a run for his money with boxing knowledge?
(laughs) Max is actually a good friend of mine and I’m good friends with Jack Kellerman and the Kellerman family. Rest in Peace to Sam Kellerman. Sam Kellerman passed away a few years back. Good family. I’m actually friends with that family for a lot of years, probably since 1999. I went up to MTV for something, I had to meet somebody there for something and the little Kellerman clan was sitting in the lobby and we started kicking it. I told Max I liked what he had been doing on ESPN and one of his brothers knew who I was and one of his brothers made beats and we connected. Ever since then me and the family have been pretty tight. They’re New Yorkers. He tried to always plug a little hip-hop in what he did on ESPN. He would say something like, ‘In the words of Rakim,” or “Kool G. Rap would say…” He’s a big rap fan and Max Kellerman and his brother Sam, they had a little rap song out on Ruff House Records. They had a rap single out called “Rumble, Young Man, Rumble” with the Ali sample. That’s before I knew them. They were called Max and Sam or Sam and Max.
Even though you’ve only dropped one official album and a bunch of singles, you’re very deep in the game. What do you attribute that to?
You know why? Because I don’t play a game. I just make my music and everybody knows I have two, three, 400 songs under my belt. It’s not like I couldn’t put out 15 albums but it was me against the machine and the longevity when I’m not going anywhere. A lot of these dudes that played the game are disappeared and gone. 95% of my peers were all playing the game and sucking the labels’ dicks and sucking the dicks of the C.E.O.’s and being nice to the labels and they got shitted on, squashed on and finished and they’re all working regular jobs. I shitted on the labels and I cursed the labels and I smacked up executives and I threatened lives and I was banned from every label and banned from doing shows and they tried to blackball me and they tried to stop me and what kept me alive was making legitimate music and not caring about what anyone thought about me.
I’ve outlasted all those motherfuckers that were supposed to be outlasting my ass so just the fact that I’m still here and still staying sharp, what can they say? They can’t say that I’m not dope when you keep getting doper every year even if you’re hated politically? What can they possibly say wack about you? They can make up lies but no one can really believe that. They can’t just lie about it. Some people are actually in the music game for music and artists that love music listen to me and they know I’ve been incredible for so many years so they don’t give a fuck about the politics, man. They look at the longevity and R.A. the Rugged Man as the artist and they don’t care that I didn’t release an album. They care that I’m still fucking here and nicer than everybody that’s still out here. Yeah, I’m on my own dick too and obviously you can hear that too but that’s what I think that is. Who can say nothing bad about me that actually knows lyricism? Who?
One of my favorite songs you’ve done is “Every Record Label Sucks Dick.” What’s been one of your most memorable experiences with a label?
That’s funny that you said that was one of my best songs because it’s a little bit older and the production and my delivery sounds like it’s early ‘90s and now that everybody has been blasting the record labels and the record labels have been going down, a lot of people didn’t understand the impact that record had when it dropped and I was signed to a major label at the time when it dropped in the underground. They thought I was shooting myself in the foot and at that time, motherfuckers weren’t doing indie rap and underground records. They relied on record labels and now it’s nothing because everybody said it after me, Fuck the record labels.
But the greatest stories that I have at record labels, I mean, I got crazy stories about lawsuits and threats but the ones I like is when you get a couple labels wanting you at the same time and it’s always fun to have them swallowing your balls so what happens is they just buy you limousines and hookers and lobsters and steaks and fly you around the fucking world and an envelope will come under my door with a thousand dollars cash in it and that want you to go and buy yourself a hamburger.
They’re just kissing your ass to make them be the one that you go to and that was always a lot of fun especially because when shit like that first started happening to me, I was broke my entire life and I think I was working helping my cousin do sheet rock and some shit like that and all this fucking shit was getting thrown at me and that shit was fun. I don’t even know what the fuck a soft shell crab is but I’m eating it with some steak and shrimps and drinks with weird straws and hanging out in these weird areas like Hollywood with billionaires and all I was was some piece of shit broke-ass dude from the Island, maybe making $150 bucks a week working on sheet rock with my cousin. That was funny.
What do you think of how so many things are digital with labels today, from iTunes to digital-only releases?
I love it. I think it’s amazing. I think the internet is amazing because they can’t stop the music from being heard anymore. They can’t stop things from getting out there or leaked and heard. Before you needed millions and millions of dollars to get your shit worldwide and to get your shit heard in some weird little town in Romania or Estonia or Japan and China and Korea and to get your shit heard in all these places you had to spend marketing money in these places. You had to send promo records out and hit up DJs and make posters and now what happens is all these little kids across the planet Earth just turn on their fucking computer and there I am and there’s Tech N9ne. You don’t need shit. You don’t need millions and millions of dollars. We create our shit now and the entire world gets to hear it the day we put it on the computer where back in the day some towns wasn’t getting it.
Like “Biz is Goin’ Off,” you think that was in Poland and those kids were saying, “Hell yeah, Biz”? They didn’t have that shit and if they did it was because Warner Brothers had to pump money into the Polish areas. I think musicians period, being able to be heard worldwide more easily, it’s fucking amazing to us. People are complaining and that’s because they’re brainwashed by the labels. The labels are complaining because they’re fucking losing money. The labels are hurting and they hate what’s happening because they’re all going out of business but the musicians are making music to be heard and we shouldn’t be complaining. We should be enjoying this.
Will you release music on a more consistent basis now because of how easy it is to get it out there?
Yeah. That’s what I’m doing. I just dropped Legendary Classics and I’m about 10 songs into my new record. I’m going ot make six or seven more and then put 13 out on my new album next spring. I’ll have a new album out within eight months from this one. Yeah, definitely, I’ll be putting out more albums and what it is is the only thing about the digital downloads that’s not as good is I love the packaging of a record. I like owning the CD or vinyl and looking at the pictures and reading who produced what and reading what the artists are about and seeing where it was recorded and checking out the shout outs and this guy did the background vocals on this and that. I hope that the kids still buy records to look at the packaging. That’s the only thing I don’t like as much about the sales not being as big but besides that I like everything else about it.
Can you give us any more info on your new album?
The new album is produced by Lil’ Fame from M.O.P., Buckwild and Marco Polo. I got tracks from Ayatollah and Shuko, who’s very dope and Four Man Down and Niles, my producer that produced the song with me and Biggie and produced a whole bunch of my shit. He produced some joints. There’s a lot of dope producers but lyrically, I’m stepping up my game very, very hard. I’m really trying to annihilate everybody.
You seem to have a very loyal fanbase. How would you describe them?
Consistent, because what happened is when I was on Jive Records and Priority Records, you have all these fair-weather fans that come and go and they think you’re great and then when the label doesn’t support you, I suck. But my true fans, they seem to have stuck with me throughout the times. They stayed there and they fuck with me hard and I keep a consistent fanbase. Some rappers have that but they’re bullshit fans because they have a popular record. My fans, they just fuck with me and they stick with me and they keep looking at what I’m making and it’s a good thing to have a fanbase like that. They keep me having such longevity in the game where every year I come out, these dudes are still out there checking for what the fuck Rugged Man is doing. It’s great for me.
Are those fans becoming a rarity today?
I’m not sure. They’re still here for me so they haven’t died out yet. Let’s see what happens. I don’t know about “these days” stuff either because you had fair-weather fans back in the day. Every era has their fair-weather fans. Every era has that. Elvis was the greatest and then he was fat and old and he sucks. Big Daddy Kane was the greatest and all of a sudden he put out “Taste of Chocolate” and people started turning on him and he was wack and 10 years later he’s the best. Is he the best or do you not like him no more?
It’s the same shit with boxing. Think of when Mike Tyson was coming up. He was the greatest fighter ever and he would beat Muhammad Ali. That’s what they were saying when he was running through everybody. They said he would beat Joe Louis and then when Tyson lost and he went to jail and he lost a couple of more times the same people who were saying he could beat Ali, all of a sudden they forgot and they said he was overrated and he wasn’t shit. Come on, man, there’s got to be an in-between.
You see the same shit with 50 Cent. He had 10 million fans who loved him when Get Rich or Die Trying and then it became cool to not like 50 and all of a sudden the same people that worshipped 50 say they never liked that dude and he was corny. No, he wasn’t corny to you. You liked 50 and they say they never said that. Okay. People just go with whatever’s the cool shit to like or not like and what they’re boys say. They’re all followers.
When 50 was blowing up with Get Rich, I thought he made an interesting street record. I didn’t think he made the greatest record of all time. I thought it was interesting. Then he went and made some party records and then he just made “Stretch,” and I’m not the hugest 50 fan, but I heard the song “Stretch” and it was some street shit about coke slanging and stretching and it was clever and it was interesting. I thought t was interesting but me saying this right now, the underground fans will say, “How dare he give 50 props? He’s underground and 50’s not one of us!” I’m allowed to think a 50 Cent record is interesting. It’s funny how people are. You can only have things be underground or mainstream. There’s tons or wack, garbage underground rappers and there’s a few very good ones and there’s tons of wack, garbage mainstream rappers and there’s a few good ones and even if a rapper makes mad-wack songs, maybe he’ll make a good one here and there.
I’m not a big Kanye West fan but when he did the “You Don’t Know My Name” beat, that beat was fucking incredible. It was amazing. I’m not a Kanye West fan at all but I’ll give him that beat. I can’t say I can’t like anything one particular person made because it’s him. I don’t know what the fuck this answer had anything to do with your question. (laughs)
So you’re basically saying that fans take music too personally and attach themselves to certain artists.
Exactly. Or they automatically hate the artist so they can’t like nothing they did. It’s like some WWF Wrestling shit like he’s the bad guy and he’s the good guy and you’re supposed to like him and not this one. Just listen to the music and judge the records for what they are and not who made this one and that one. Just listen to the music and don’t worry about who’s more popular and who’s not popular. Just enjoy the music but don’t go in listening to a musician’s creation with hate in your ears. If it’s dope it’s dope.
Who do you enjoy listening to today?
Oh, man, my man Hell Razah from Sunz of Man. I just did a record with him and he splattered that thing to pieces, man. He splattered that thing hard. I was really impressed with the shit he said on that record. He goes by Heaven Razah also. He’s definitely an underrated rapper and an underrated lyricist. There’s a lot of cats out there that say some interesting shit.
When you look at high grade lyricists like yourself in the game, is it hard coming correct on a consistent basis?
You know, it used to be more harder for me because I would try to hard. I would feel I had to be the best and I would stress out and make sure that I was writing the best shit possible and I got over all of that shit. I knew I was great at what I did and I would just do it and now it just spills out of me whenever I pick up the pen. It hasn’t been hard. It’s been close to a decade where I haven’t really had trouble writing dope shit. I think some of the drama with the labels and some of the drama with being blackballed and not having so much money after having money in the mid-‘90s, I think I went through some technical difficulties with writing rhymes. I think I was trying too hard and over-thinking and then in the late ‘90s, I think I started just loosening up and getting back to where I was in the early ‘90s and coming with the monster verses. I just had a little fucked up time maybe in the mid-‘90s.
When you did your verse with Vinnie Paz on “Uncommon Valor,” where you both talked about Vietnam, did you think it would get as much acclaim as it did?
You never know what the fuck is going to happen with anything. I knew it was a great song. I thought it should even be bigger. I didn’t think it got big enough. I think if one of these mainstream rappers spit that verse they would get praises and they would be the greatest lyrics ever. I think the song should even be bigger. I don’t think it carries enough weight because of what the fuck hip-hop is.
I just think it should have been bigger. I don’t think it carried enough weight and I think more people should have heard that song. I think it will keep being heard for years to come. I’m not the kind of artist that does a million records in a week so I could promote that record for another 10 years and let more people hear that over and over and bring in more fans every day from that one because I don’t think enough people did get to hear it.
Was that a difficult verse for you to write?
Nah, it wasn’t difficult to write it but I did take my time. It did take a week of my life. That thing, I was on the phone with my father and my mother and I was trying to get the names of the sicknesses of the children like cerebral palsy and blindness and the places that my father was exactly and the names of certain things and I got on the phone with him a few times and took notes. It wasn’t one of them verses that you just write and spit in the studio. It was one of those verses that took a week of my life.
And it’s not like it was nonstop for a week, but it was 44 bars so I would write a little section of it and call my father and ask him what something was called and then I would take some notes and it was almost like being a reporter-rapper. I was being a reporter and rapping at the same time.
Do you have a favorite collab that you’ve done throughout your career?
Well, as of the recent ones, I really like the “Renaissance” song with Tragedy Khadafi, Razah and Timbo King because Tragedy, to me, is one of the most underrated ever, in history and getting on the record with him and really getting to shine and I also shouted out a lot of musicians in hip-hop history that I have a lot of respect for and I also think a lot of my flows are incredible and most of my lines were on point on that one. I think that was a really good verse.
You have a very self-deprecating sense of humor in your songs. How important is that to you?
I have a sense of humor. That’s all. Life is crazy and it’s difficult. It’s crazy. If you can’t have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself a little bit and not take everything personal…You gotta have a sense of humor.
What can you tell us about your new group with Prince Paul?
Oh, it’s an interesting little project and I’m not allowed to tell nothing about it yet! (laughs)
They don’t want me to say shit until we have about eight or ten songs completed.
You’re working on a documentary God Take, God Give. How’s that coming?
It’s crazy. I also did a little sex horror film that’s coming out January 24 called Bad Biology. That’s really a strange film. That’s a low budget movie that I produced it and co-wrote it. God Take, God Give is a documentary that I’m slowly working on with my own financing. That’s a documentary about my father and his six children so it’s a pretty interesting little documentary that I’m doing now.
How do you like working on films as opposed to albums?
The thing is, as long as you can go to music and not let it take away from your art form, I have no problem. If you’re doing movies and you’re kind of not paying attention to your real craft, your music, then it’s not a good idea to do it unless you want to go full-time with the movies. The movies is like a side habit for me. You know how other rappers smoke weed and play video games and shit? I don’t do that shit. I don’t waste my money on the parties and the clubs and the chains so what I do is I spend my career doing my rap music and then on the side I do my movies for fun.
What advice would you give to anyone out there who has to deal with record labels?
Man, if you are going to sign a deal with a label, which I advise not to in this day and age because labels aren’t making money off of record sales, now they don’t only want to take a huge percentage. Now what they want to do is make you as an artist and invent you and they want a piece of your publishing and merchandising and shows. They’re trying to take everything that you do because back in the days, they would take all of your money out of the sales but then the artist had fame so they could make a ton of money doing shows and merchandising. But now the labels aren’t making money selling records no more so they want pieces of publishing and merchandising and their record sales.
So if you can somehow put it together independently, I would tell you to do that and what you do is you go on tour. Open up for people for free. Spend three years on the road. Who cares if you’re broke? Bring merchandise and sell mix CDs and some shirts and go for anybody that will let you open up for free because what happens is you’ll be doing interviews in every town and you’ll be being seen by big crowds because you’ll be touring with somebody who already has a fan following and you might have to come out the pocket for hotels and travel and stuff but get on the radio.
That’s how Atmosphere and Tech N9ne got their money. Atmosphere started out doing 300 shows a year for nothing and then it turned into $250 a show and then it turned into $1000 and then it turned into everybody knowing this fucker throughout the planet in every town because he was in every town because he was on the road 300 days a year and then it turned into him doing 300,000 records independently on his own with three guys at his record label. If you don’t have the money to promote, you get on the road and let the world see you and swallow your pride. Say you’re opening up for a rapper that you don’t even like, go open up for the dude and steal his fans. That's the key – rocking shows and being on the road. If you do enough free shows and kill the shows and get a following, that same town is gonna want you back and pay you.