Sam, long time no talk. What have you been up to?
Just grinding, man. I put out a free mixtape called Free Lunch just to let the people know I was still out there. I got a real good response off it. Really what’s been going on is I’m trying to get my release from Def Jam. I had a situation where my record label was under investigation. That got my studio raided and my studio closed down. So I’ve just been out West, chilling and recording and getting ready to make a big splash when I make my comeback this summer.
What exactly went wrong with Def Jam?
Well, I thought everything was going good. For an artist who didn’t have a mixtape buzz and signed for as much as I signed, it was good. I had a recording budget of $1 million. For not having no mixtape buzz, I thought that was great. Me and Jay completed the album. We agreed on all the records. It was good. And then all of a sudden everything stopped. Then I found out that Jay-Z was leaving the label and it kind of got chaotic from there. My A&R got fired. And then everything was just crazy.
Do you have a lot of support at Def Jam now?
Nah. I still have friends up there. I still have people that I still respect and I don’t really have any enemies. People ask me if I’m bitter at Jay-Z. I’m not bitter at Jay-Z. I just saw Tata two weeks ago and said what up to him. There’s no animosity. This whole game, to me, is a hustle, man. So if I have to put any blame on anything, I have to put it on myself, even with all the obstacles I faced over the last year.
How did your studio end up getting raided by the authorities?
There were a few people that was down with me that were involved in some illegal activity. Everybody was talking on the phones and I guess the investigating officers must have thought my studio was a homebase for something. They actually busted in when we was there recording. They locked up, like, 50 people. So when they came in, they thought they was getting the big drug dealing label. They were taking pictures of everybody and they really thought they had this big shakedown but they didn’t really have too much on anybody. My partner will be home in six months.
How much did losing your partner hurt your momentum?
It definitely hurt my movement because a lot of the group members ended up getting arrested. My partner with Gorilla Pimp Records got arrested. I had some charges over there in that same county a few years ago, so you know they was looking to put something on me but they didn’t have me on any phones talking to anybody. Much to their disappointment they couldn’t get nothing on me. I wasn’t doing nothing but rapping but they still didn’t get nothing on me anyway.
Does the recent raid change the way your team will move in the future?
Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely going to change who I’m fucking with. It doesn’t affect me as much as people think it does because the movement is still there. Gorilla Pimp is still stapled in the streets of New Jersey. Sam Scarfo is still stapled in the streets of New Jersey. As long as we can record we’re good. But a lot of key people that were involved in the movement had to go to jail. A lot of good people got put away. It slowed it down a bit.
Do you ever have to look at friends and decide that sometimes it’s not best to mix friendship and business?
Oh, yeah. There’s definitely a time for that. There’s definitely a time to tell somebody that they’re your friend but you can’t do business with them. My whole team is rooted in the streets from beginning to end, from recording the first song to putting the first mic up in the studio to going and meeting Benny Boom and going to meet Jay-Z. A lot of these people have been with me from day one. It’s business but it’s also a code of ethics. Like I said, I don’t put the blame on anybody but myself but I did make some bad decisions as far as crossing the two worlds.
How did your CD and DVD Scarlito’s Way that you released last winter do for you?
Man, that project was a highly anticipated mixtape that I have to blame the distributor for not coming out right because the DVD didn’t come out with the quality I expected and paid for. So everybody that got the bootleg, I hope y’all enjoy it. Enjoy it. But I didn’t get a chance to really promote it because a lot of the police activity was going on.
If you had to redo Scarlito’s Way today, how would you fix it up?
I would definitely keep the music the same. If I were to redo it, I would change the DVD. I would also maybe get a DJ who was a little more on point, a DJ who’s not really chasing a little thousand of dollars, somebody who’s really trying to get it. I would want to get somebody who’s genuinely interested in the project.
How did your Free Lunch mixtape, which was a free download, do for you?
That did marvelous for me. That CD is everywhere. That’s a CD I put out for free while I was going through the trials and tribulations I was going through. I still hear people talking about that CD and that CD is over a year old. There’s so much demand for it that I’m in the studio doing Free Lunch 2. That should be out soon.
Did you become a believer in the free download after that mixtape?
Oh, yeah. I always believed in the free download. It’s really about promotion. The little bit of money that I’m going to make off a mixtape, I’m not chasing. I would rather that mixtape makes an impact and makes my presence felt. The free download for mixtapes, I think that’s the only way to do it.
You’re reading an audio book Ryde or Die Chick for a digital release. How did that project come about?
My man from the block, who’s in the feds, he actually wrote a book. He published it and had it in the stores. He actually published a few books. He wanted to take it to a bigger stage. So we’re going to do an audio book and put it on iTunes. It’s going to be big. That’s something that’s never been done in the urban genre before. I’m the narrator and co-executive producer.
As an MC, you’re able to say and do whatever you want in the studio. What was it like reading the book, where you can’t really improvise and you have to stick to the script?
It definitely was a new experience. It definitely was new. It definitely was something a little bit different. It required some acting. It’s still the same. We’re still in the studio and it’s still art. We’re still telling a story. It’s just not my story. But we can all relate to it.
How did you come up with the concept for your new EP, God Don’t Like Ugly?
That’s like an album. There’s a lot of people out there that have heard so much about my album that I did on Def Jam. They heard so much great things about it. So many people have talked about it. Now people kind of want to hear what the Sam Scarfo album sounds like. Instead of waiting for Def Jam to put it out or waiting for another label to pick it up, I’m just going to put out an indie project. It’s really based on what I’ve been going through in the last year. We’re going to let people know that I’m not glorifying the streets but I really have done so many of these things and that I want to give people the ending of the story about what really happens. I don’t want kids out there trying to sell 100 ki’s. It does exist so I do want to talk about it and I do know why people do it but I’m not going to sit here and glorify it and make it look like this is what you need to be.
Most of these dudes talking about doing it aren’t really doing it. They’re portraying it and they’re changing their name to other niggas’ names. They don’t even know a little bit about what’s going on. They don’t know nothing. They don’t nothing about the times associated with it. They don’t know nothing. All they know is that it sounds cool to say you’re selling a ki. But really they’re a fake nigga that doesn’t have no idea of what he’s talking about and they have no idea of the ramifications behind it or nothing. Them niggas is clowns. I like their music but a lot of them niggas is clowns. There’s some real niggas out there but a lot of them niggas is clowns.
How can the casual fan determine who’s real and who’s not?
I personally don’t believe the casual fan should look into who’s real and who’s not. I think they should really judge the music based on the music. I think hip-hop music is the music where with fans pay attention to how much music they sell and they pay attention to how much attention they're getting. The fan pays attention to everything but the music. They’re checked into a rapper’s swag and how he looks but they’re not paying attention to the music.
When Biggie came out nobody cared how he looked. They just cared that he had great music. I think hip-hop should go back to that. They didn’t care how he looked. Somebody could come out tomorrow and say he was an aspiring PhD and I don’t think nobody would care. Hip-hop fans want their artists to be real. But people act like they don’t live in the real world. You live in the real world so you know the recession we’re in and you know what’s going on. You know what’s going on, especially if you’re from the ‘hood. If somebody tells you they made $300 million selling drugs on a record, you know that’s not real.
Do fans have an accurate picture of who Sam Scarfo is as an artist?
I think they just know my music. I think they kind of know my music and they know I’m a battle rapper. They know there are a lot of people around me and they might see me on camera, but they don’t really know who I am. That’s what I’m really trying to do this time around – let people know who I am and let people know what I’m about. Especially in Jersey because Jersey is so slept on.
How has your mentality changed from your battle days to today, where you’re trying to get off Def Jam?
Oh, man, it’s back to square one, man. It’s back to square one. It’s back to the days of when I first met Jay. Now I kind of feel that I have something to prove again. I’ve been saying this in the industry for years – I’m not really a battle rapper but I was able to go in there and make people believe I was a battle reaper to get myself known. Ain’t nothing changed. I’m still trying to get money. The tactics are just going to get a little greezier.
Are you going to get back into any battles?
No. Battling ain’t really my thing. Battling, to me, I give props to all the battle rappers from Jin to Serius Jones. I give the props to them. They’re really funny but I’m not a comedian. I’m not the person who made the class laugh. I’m not the person to out-joke the dude. That’s not me. I did know there were cameras in Fight Klub so I took my show in there. As far as me accepting any new battles, that’s not my thing. If someone wants to battle song for song, we can do that. That would be dope. We can do that on HipHopGame. (laughs)
You mentioned earlier in the interview how you thought Jersey was slept on. Why do you think that is?
We don’t have the radio. When a rapper does break through, they don’t know how to market it and they try to connect a Jersey rapper with someone else, like Ransom with Fab. Shout out to Ransom. He’s one of the illest rappers out here. We can’t start our own movement and talk about Jersey. It’s not really considered a major market. You have New York and you skip over New Jersey and you go to Philly and then from Philly you skip over Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina and you go to Atlanta.
Can you help Jersey rappers come together and form a stronger movement?
That’s what I’m really trying to do. I’m really trying to get all these Jersey rappers together. A lot of these rappers, even if they’re small or they’re big, they do have a following, like Nucci Reyo, Money Malc and Ransom. All of these types of dudes, trying to get these dudes together, I think it would be great for Jersey. I think it would be great to give these up-and-coming rappers something to believe in. The rap kind of gives these youths in these communities a sense of identity. They’re not really saying, “Oh, my raps are connected to these dudes.” Now we can have our own millionaires, our own Jeezy's and our own T.I.’s. You just have to be creative.
What makes Jersey stand out from other regions?
We dress the way we dress. We don’t dress the way people from New York or Philly dress. We have our own way of doing things. It’s not the same as people in other states might think it is. It’s the same but not really. I like to compare Jersey to the Bay. Jersey is the Bay and New York is L.A. We’re over there and we got our own different thing. We want to put our own thing out there. And when I go to other states, they want to hear it. They want to hear the Jersey sound.
Do Jersey artists have a sense of unity amongst themselves?
Yeah. I think so. I think so. There’s some Jersey artists who I haven’t really gotten a chance to work with like Big Lou. I think he’s real hot. I think once everybody just starts getting in the studio and letting the music speak for itself, it’s going to change. Let the music speak for itself, not these country niggas that might be around these people. Let the music speak for itself. When that happens the following starts. That’s the only way that I know how to do it. I grinded from the bottom all the way to Jay-Z’s office. That’s the only way I know how to do it.
Looking back on your career, are you ever surprised by how far you’ve come in the game?
Am I surprised? I would have been surprised if we were in 1996 with Nas and all of them. Right now I don’t feel like a lot of rappers, especially over here…They have to put more emotion into their music that people will remember.
This is what I think. I think something that has been done to the max, you can’t really do it over again. You can’t recreate a Jay-Z and Nas beef unless there are rappers big enough to create that kind of tension. If rappers haven’t had a hit record yet and they’re beefing with another rapper, nobody’s really going to care about that. I think if you want to be a gangster rapper and you want to really sell your real story to people and that’s what you want to do, then your story has to be more compelling than 50 Cent’s. Shout out to 50 Cent. That’s my nigga too. If it’s not going to be better than that then it’s going to be hard to sway people’s attention to believe you.
Whatever you’re selling, do it to the max. If you’re going to be a backpack rapper, do it to the max. I just think that I have something new and something different and the people in the know know that I know how to do it to the max.
Would you be better off today going independent?
I think if I took an attitude of doing it myself the whole time then I think I would be better doing it myself. I think that nobody should ever lose that attitude of doing it themselves. This game is about getting yours and keeping yours and doing it for you and yours. As long as you stay doing it for yourself you will always be in a good seat. Keep that independent mind frame whether you’re on a major label or not.
How is your debut album coming at this point?
I have the album that I did on Def Jam. The God Don’t Like Ugly project, I’m recording that now. There’s production by Chad West. It’s actually me and Chad West doing it together. That should be out real soon.
Are you still working with your group Con Air?
Yes, I am. Unfortunately some of the members are incarcerated. Some of the members are incarcerated so I’m kind of rebuilding Con Air to be what it is. But Con Air is still there. Gorilla Pimp is still there. One or two things may change because of police issues but Con Air is still there. And I am trying to put out an independent album with them too.
Do you still do any work with Infamous/G-Unit?
Me and P was trying to put together an album while he was locked up. Yeah, I still talk to P. I still talk to Nyce. I still talk to 40 Glocc, but as far as them being involved in my business, it’s really more of a family thing than them being involved in my business. Everything is cool and there’s no paperwork or anything like that involved.
What’s the next move for Sam Scarfo?
I got two mixtapes dropping, Free Lunch and Armor Plated. I got a mixtape for Ryde or Die Chick, the audio book. I got another mixtape called The 19th Letter coming out. I actually got four mixtapes coming out. You’re going to see a lot more of me this summer and my debut EP God Don’t Like Ugly.