You’re known as the “Best Kept Secret.” Your music is different from most rap music today because it has a clear purpose. Do you think because your music and not being the type to just sell records has something to do with your problems at Artista?
What happened at Arista is L.A. Reid got fired. So when he got fired, everything stopped. Everybody’s project stopped. It was more publicized with the Clipse. The Clipse are on Arista, and they had all that trouble trying to put their album out. They eventually had to go to Jive. It was the same situation for all the artists even for Ciara. We were all on Arista. Arista was like we’re done, and it was like what are we going to do. So, everybody had to find their own way to get out of Arista, and we actually got out of that system and went into the Warner Brothers system. So it was really because of that. It wasn’t because of any artistic reason; the CEO got fired.
You were in a group called Da Pak when you were nineteen?
I was in the group called Da Pak when I was eighteen. I got my first record deal when I was in high school, and I was with Da Pak. We were signed to Epic Records.
Did you like or dislike being in a group? Did you prefer being a solo artist?
The group fell through. That was more of the artistic kind of thing where it just wasn’t cohesive. We have put out maybe one single - really preliminary stuff – and never shot a video for it. It really didn’t do anything. It was like we were done.
Your father is an African Drummer?
Yes, he was. My father passed away.
Your mother: a gourmet chef. What cultural influences have your parents passed on to you?
Yes, my mother was a gourmet chef. They kept me with an open mind. They taught me how to see the world from many points of views as possible. So, that kind of comes out of my music. Like, my father introduced me to a lot of not only different people and cultures but music. And the same thing with my mother—real intellectual—so that kind has like carried over to me to want to be a thinker. I carried that thinking into my music, so that’s why the music has a certain weight and substance to it. It’s that a lot of thinking that goes into it.
You have nine brothers. Are you the only one that picked up on your parents’ artistic abilities?
I got nine brothers and sisters. My sister’s a dancer: she does African dance a bunch of other stuff. She’s a poet; she actually did the poem on the beginning of one of my records. So, she and I actually carry the artistic side of the family.
So, you’re also a businessman. You have your own record company: 1st and 15th. Tell me about your new artist Gemini?
We signed Gemini maybe like four, five years ago and just been developing him this whole time. He got his first hook on my album. He sung on a few songs because he sings and he raps, and he got his own shot on MTV My Block. They did a My Block Chicago. One of songs was the lead single on the soundtrack, so the video was on and all that stuff. Now, we’re rolling up to putting his album out independently. It’s called Troubles of the World so he’s dope!
Congratulations on your NAACP nomination for Best New Outstanding Artist and your two Grammy nominations. So, obviously people think you make good music. What do you want people to know about your music?
I don’t’ know. I don’t’ know. The question normally people ask is what do you want to be remembered for. I want to be remembered for not leading anybody astray. If I can leave with that legacy - on top of anything, on top of the music and everything else - then that’s cool.
Recently, there was an incident in which radio host Don Imus called the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” Some argue that his comment is a mirror of what is already said in rap music. What is your response to that?
Well, the nappy-headed part, no because I haven’t really heard any hip-hop records which said nappy-headed—ever, so I don’t believe that. The hoes part—yes, they say hoes a lot in hip-hop. They said hoes a lot in the ‘70’s. It was pimps and hoes when there wasn’t any hip-hop. It’s always a way to fight against it.
People try to always point a finger at hip-hop, but hip-hop is just a reflection of society. I had my quandaries and battles with hip-hop and my complaints, but you can’t just single out hip-hop. I think what they are actually doing is making hip-hop more popular. You’re going to make that music more popular because when you point the finger, people rebel, and it makes them do what they are doing even stronger. It gives them more motivation to do it. We’ll see. I don’t know.
On your single “Daydreamin’’”, Neo-Soul Artist Jill Scott sings the hook. What other people or type of music influence yours besides rap music?
Yes, a lot of people. A lot of obscure people, like techno music, people like Johnny Cash, just regular mainstream like Nas. So there’s a lot of different influences and a lot of different people and lot different genres of music.
Your album is called “Food and Liquor.” Food is the good. Liquor is the bad. You once said you try to balance out both sides of you. Explain to me what you mean.
Everybody is capable certain amounts of good and certain amounts of evil. I think that’s human nature to walk on both sides of the fence to have that base contradictory within. I think that’s part of being human to make that. I guess, we walk that line of what sins we are going to do and what sins we are not going to do—what we’re going to shone and what we are going to accept and it’s just that. I’m not a goody-two shoes and I don’t put myself out there to be like I’m a goody-two shoes and super-conscience, super-positive dude because it’s not like that. Everybody has their dark side.
When you retire you said you want to step out on a positive note. This kind of goes back to what you said before. What are you doing or plan to do to make that happen?
Two more albums that I am going to really put my heart and soul into. And just fall back into the business aspect of it. Just try to make the best music that I can. Along as it has a solution. Everything I do has to have a purpose, not just make something just to make it. I don’t know we’ll see. We’ll see when we get there.