The following story is taken from the spring issue of our iPad magazine, which is now available via the App Store…
Photos by Ture Lillegraven
Interview by Christina Lee
My mom’s a real blue-collar type of lady. She worked in the post office for 30 years as a mail carrier. I probably get my work ethic from watching her get up every day and struggle with things of that nature. She’s a big inspiration.
My grandfather was one of the meanest individuals I ever met, but I mean that in the best, nicest way. It was either his way or the highway, and I admire my grandfather for that, for taking no shit from anybody. I carry that with me, so I always look up to him. When he died, I probably took some of his spirit.
There was no in-between with him. He either loved you, or he ain’t fuck with you. You were right or wrong, no gray area. He was either fighting or smiling. He was a gambler and a drinker, but at the end of the day, he’s family, and I love him.
I got into some stuff I shouldn’t have as a youngin’. It set me back, but the good thing about it is that I didn’t allow it to set me back for my whole life. Being out here [in LA] gives me a lot more inspiration, more opportunities for myself and my family. It’s definitely better.
Has being around people with more money changed my outlook on life? Not at all. I’m aware of how things are supposed to be. I just want to live comfortably. And who doesn’t? I don’t want to worry about going from check to check, deal to deal.
I got a couple of automobiles. I own a house or two, but that’s about it. I’m not the most frugal person, but I’m not doing silly things. I’m trying to keep my money for as long as I can. I’m just glad I have the opportunity to do this through music because a lot of guys don’t get the opportunities that I get, you know? Whether they’re large or small, I don’t take them for granted.
Aw, man, don’t trust nobody. When I first came to the rap game I was real naive because I got signed so early. I was only 21, 22 years old, and I had only rapped for about a year. So I thought I was doing it for real, and I felt like everybody was my buddy. I’m still learning that lesson to this day, man…. I think a lot of times I gave too much of myself to people, and that took away from me. But right now, I’m focusing on myself and getting where I need to be as a person, and I can’t beat that.
Everything out here is so unpredictable. You never know when you’re gonna get killed or go to jail. That’s in Gary and LA because I had to deal in the streets in both. I’ve been locked up in both cities. Looking at the full spectrum of things, there’s certain lessons you’re going to learn—certain guys where you try to follow their blueprint—but there’s always something that can get you out here.
At the end of the day, I was always searching for a way out. I never was trying to be a kingpin of the streets. I wanted something way better than that. I don’t regret it, though. I wouldn’t be able to rap if it wasn’t for the streets.
If you really out here, like for real—no rapper shit; like you really out here—you’ve seen some gruesome things. You’ve seen people die. I didn’t want to die doing this. I’m prepared to if I have to, but I wouldn’t want to…. Who wants to go to jail? I got police that follow me all the time to this day because I found a way out and they wonder how.
I’ve got a lot to lose now.
Every day is a humbling experience. A lot of times it might not come across because of the brash material in my music or my attitude, but I’m blessed…. I know who I am and what I do, and I gotta fight for mine. Ain’t nobody giving me nothing.
I’ve created a blueprint for other artists. A lot of these young motherfuckers coming up now, they’ve studied me for years. When I was with Jeezy, I gained a bit of knowledge. But other than that, it’s always been me, my dollar. I hustled, swindled motherfuckers, robbed motherfuckers, everything. I did what I had to do for the most part.
I want to develop an independent machine, like Tech N9ne. I want to do what he’s doing with my brand of music…. I think I’m off to a good start. I look at a guy like LA Reid, and I’m like, “Damn, why can’t that be me?”
ESGN, that’s probably my favorite [album] I did— because I had a point to prove, being able to open up on Jeezy… Then things really took off with Miseducation and Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik. Every one of [those releases] has a special place in my heart. I can see the growth, man, and that’s what inspires me. I don’t understand how your skills diminish as a rapper. My shit is getting better as I go.
I’m not afraid to try different things musically. With this Piñata album, I was like, “Man, I rap better than all y’all. Now I’m about to show you lyrically, rap for rap, spit for spit.” There ain’t too many guys who can fuck with that, who can keep up without getting hurt. This shit is not for your clubs; I ain’t trying to get on the fucking Grammys. I’m literally just rapping my ass off, rapping like a motherfucker. And with Madlib? People are just gonna ride to this shit.
I’m reading Miles Davis’ autobiography, and he was talking about the many different musicians who helped his sound evolve and allowed him to be more great—cats like Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. I gain so much working with Madlib.
“Everybody started rapping bullshit, so when a motherfucker comes in with real shit, people are like, ‘What the fuck is that?'”
I’m not looking for a certain sound. I don’t know what the fuck it is, with these 808s or MPCs. I don’t give a fuck. I’m trying to evoke a certain emotion, and if it brings a certain emotion out of me, then I’m going to rap on it. If I’m not, then I’m not.
I’ve had a lot of firsts, just seeing different countries with Madlib and everybody. I felt like I was growing up as I was making this record with him. I just felt like, “Damn.” I was learning so many new things. Not just about music, but about life.
I learned my way around Berlin. I ain’t learned any languages just yet, but you know what? Working with Madlib built my confidence as an MC because I see different types of people love what I do. That’s a blessing.
I’m just grateful he wanted to work with me. We had mutual friends, but just the fact that he respected my talent enough, my flow enough to even want to get in the studio with me… A lot of guys I want to work with don’t even know that I exist.
I want to work with someone who can challenge my skill level now. Like, I want to rap a song with Jay Z, just because I think he’s the best. I got “Broken” with Scarface on my album. That’s a big deal to me and my fans because they know he’s one of my favorite rappers, even today. To get that shot, that’s timeless.
When I called him, he was like, “Of course I’ll do it.” It’s probably the most personal record I’ve ever done. Why not bleed out with one of my favorite rappers?
I don’t even listen to that song now; it’s that emotional for me. I’m not going to listen to it again until the album comes out. You know why? I want it to hit me like with everybody else. Like, “Oh shit, I got a song with Scarface?” The fact that Scarface even know me makes me go on and say, “Fuck everybody else.”
My relationship with my dad is cool, but it ain’t where it should be. I love him to death, but shit’s not where it should be. It’s crazy because my dad helped me a whole lot coming up. As far as being in the streets, he never shied away from me. It just felt like he wasn’t there in certain ways that I feel like he should have been. You need your parents as a grown man, too. Sometimes a grown man’s issue is a grown man’s issue, but you don’t know how to tackle them all the time…. With a lot of shit that I had to deal with, my dad probably wasn’t ready.
If I had a woman in my life that I loved and cared about and we had a child, then I could handle that responsibility. So I’m not tripping. I gotta be realistic. If I had a child, I would raise it in the correct fashion, and I wouldn’t want it to go astray or to get involved in any of the things that I was. At this point I’d be able to step up to that plate. I don’t even like letting people down and that type of shit. I wouldn’t want to let a child down.
I don’t want to rap like nobody. That’s one of my pet peeves. I hate it when motherfuckers say, “He sounds like this person,” or “He sounds like that person.” I would much rather have motherfuckers say that I sound like me, that I’m doing me. At the same time, I pay homage to legends whose flows I grew up on, like the Pimp Cs, the Pacs, the Scarfaces. You gotta pay homage, but you gotta be original as well.
I definitely do not sound like Tupac. I think I give people the same feelings that he did, but from a technical standpoint, I don’t think we rap the same way. It’s just that you ain’t heard real music in a fucking while. Everybody started rapping bullshit, so when a motherfucker comes in with real shit, people are like, “What the fuck is that?”
I think it’s because we’re both bald, too. It’s like we got the same barber.
He’s the best rapper of all time. I’d be a fucking liar if I say, “Oh, nah, I didn’t take nothing from Tupac.” Of course I did. Hell yeah. Being emotional on a record, showing people that you’re a human being and shit—all of that I got from Tupac. If you ask me, all these motherfuckers should have given Tupac a check at the end of the day ’cause a lot of these motherfuckers are still taking from the nigga.
I’m an normal-type American just like everybody else. I don’t hate a certain group of people for what they do or what race they are. I think I just get a bad rap because I’m outspoken on certain issues. Just because you don’t like what a certain group does don’t mean you’re digging on them. It’s all good at the end of the day. I’m blessed to spread the word and do what I do, but there’s certain things that I want to say that I can’t say. Sometimes that shit eats me up inside, but I’m just going to go in on all these records honestly and not give a fuck.
I’ll say this: The things that rappers said fucking 10 years ago, if they said that now it’d be like [gasps]. I won’t say no names, but it’s also some of the most popular ones. Some of these niggas are millionaires now…. There’s a lot of fucking hypocrites in rap. And there’s a lot of fucking hypocrites in the music industry, saying what’s cool and what’s not cool to do—dos and don’ts, all that type of shit.
I can’t even say my life’s stressful because I got a great motherfucking job. Letting this shit stress you means you’re fucking up, and when I was stressed, I was fucking up. This year I really came in on a positive note, and I’m just trying to do positive things. Shit, the way for me to relieve stress is for me to keep on living. Every day I wake up with a smile on my face. I’m out back barbecuing right now. That’s what I do when I relieve stress: I come back out here and roll up a blunt, get in my pool. Then I might get back in there and make a record. Life is less stressful when you ain’t have to look over your shoulder and watch your back every day.
“Being a rapper’s my job, but I’m not fucking Superman out here”
Right now I’m barbecuing these chicken thighs. I’m gonna season them up real good. I might get some dogs on the grill. No pork on the grill whatsoever. Sometimes I might do a dish that’s all on the grill, so you know, keeping it 100. I ain’t eat pork since like ’99. Health reasons. Religious reasons. To eat more cleanly— cleanliness and values. I don’t want to eat pigs. Bacon is good, but I just eat turkey bacon.
I want to stress that I’m one of the best here. I want that title. My next album is gonna be more melodic, with more catchy tunes, but for the most part I’m definitely gonna go in from a lyrical standpoint. I’ve sharpened my sword to where I want it. I’m gonna take it.
Right now, I don’t think anybody would be up there with me. There’s not too many people. Kendrick Lamar is great. From a technical standpoint, he’s one of the best. I don’t know about nobody else, man. I think Drake is probably the best songwriter of our time right now. He’s one of the best rappers too. Can’t count him out. Then there’s guys like Pusha T; I want to be one of those lyricists, especially from that gangsta standpoint. I’m definitely the most lyrical gangsta out there.
I’ve rapped about the other side of things when it comes to these streets. I want to bring that to the table—to show them that we’re human beings, too. Being a rapper’s my job, but I’m not fucking Superman out here. I’m a human being. I’m vulnerable. I cry, and I bleed just like everybody else. Some days I don’t want to be bothered, just like the next man. I think that’s a huge misconception with the rap game, that we just ball and pop bottles and shit all day. I’m a real guy with a real story, and I think people that care like it being like that. //