Lacking high-profile ties to Rap-A-Lot or Swisha House, a lot of people doubted that Chamillionaire had what it took to take his Houston sound nationwide. Although his status as an underground mixtape king had gotten him the respect of his peers, Cham had to blaze his own path, signing a deal with Universal Records for his own Chamillitary Entertainment. But the uphill battle paid off, with the sales of his major label debut, The Sound of Revenge, steadily rising thanks to the unexpected crossover success of his second single “Ridin’.” Cham then added fuel to the fire by releasing a string of remixes to the hit featuring a slew of MCs from around the country. XXLMAG.COM caught up with Koopa as he was pulling into New York City where we got him to reflect on some rumors before he broke down his top 10 favorite hip-hop collaborations of all time.
You were on Bun B’s “Draped Up” remix with everybody from Houston, but when the video came out, you were the only one not in it. What happened?
A lot of people ask me that. I had been on promo tour for six months. They called me [to do the video], but they called me at the last minute. Rap-A-Lot is known for doing that. They always tell me at the last minute. I think they didn’t ask me [earlier] ’cause they thought I’d have a problem with it. They called me at the end and I said, “I’m cool to do it,” but they was already done. They wanted me to just slide back, have a cameraman meet me and put it together. But I wasn’t able to; it’s just the timing. There’s rumors going around like, “Cham didn’t want to do it,” but nah. Media was kinda looking at it that way, but it wasn’t really that big.
Did you hear “Knockin’ Doorz Down” from Pimp C’s new album?
Yeah, man [laughs]. It said somebody “Need to stop bullshittin’.” Then it said, “Chamillionaire and Paul still ain’t talkin’.” I was just like, Aw, man. But he’s the person who can do that and nobody can say nothing. That’s Pimp, man. What can you say?
Do you agree with Pimp? Could you and Paul patch things up?
Man, it’s hard to say. Right now I feel like everybody’s doing that. These records are coming out that have these combinations, but I think there’s a difference. Slim Thug and Z-Ro can make a record together, and even Flip and T.I. can make a record together, but there’s a difference between that and Flip and T.I. holding hands and being friends. When people say they want these records, they mean that they want us all to be friends. There’s a lot of personal stuff that happens between everybody. It’s not going to be the way it used to be. Any marriage in a family where there are divorces and people split up, you can’t make mom and dad the way they used to be. People want that. Like I would like a whole bunch of people to get together, the whole West Coast to get back together like they did with The Chronic, but it’s just not realistic.
So you’re saying this doesn’t have to do with rap, it’s a personal thing?
Yeah. Put the rap to the side, it’s a personal thing. I remember when he never smoked and never cursed. How do you put that back together—it’s not the same marriage. Musically, where I see Paul going, and where I’m trying to grow, it just doesn’t match. Like we might be in the same booth and he’s saying I want to do this, and I’m arguing no I want to do this, and it just doesn’t work. It is what it is, man. We’re not trippin’ or nothing. We’re not beefing. I can speak to Mike Jones. I can speak to Paul. I don’t hold no grudge on nobody.
You worked with Hawk before he passed away. Did you know him very well, personally?
Yes, I did. And honestly, man, I’ve never felt as bad about someone losing their life as him, because I really feel he really didn’t deserve it. That’s one of the most honest, humble people I’ve ever met in my life, and you can put me on the record saying that. I’m not just saying that because he passed away. If anybody would have asked me that when he was alive, I still would’ve said the same thing. I just talked to him right before. We seen him at our show a little bit before he died. He met me backstage and said, “Hey Cham, I want to get a platinum plaque and I want to pay.” I said, “Nah, man, you can’t pay,” and he said, “No, I want to show you how much I appreciate being on the album.” I said, “Nah, man, you’re too humble. You’re a legend sitting there talking to me like that.” I’m listening to Trae’s song [“Swang”] and listening to what Hawk’s saying, about how Fat Pat breezed through him. Man, it’s so sad.
When did you hear that he had died?
I had been on tour and I was headed back to Houston at the time when they told me. They said it happened 20 minutes ago and I went and stopped by the crime scene. I seen the car still running and all the people out there. It was a terrible feeling. I’m just treating life a lot differently. One day you’re here, the next day you’re gone. That’s kind of the mode I’m in right now. And there’s so much of that happening, like what happened with T.I. We had just performed at that same club [in Cincinnati] a few nights before.
Really? What was the vibe like when you were there?
Yeah, we got a very bad response. The whole tour has been completely good everywhere, but when we got there, it was a funny feeling. It’s like the kind of people there, they looking at you in a different way. I saw it. So I already know what T.I. was going through when they went to that club. And I was surprised, because T.I. is a big artist. He sold 500,000 his first week. He shouldn’t have even been in that club. When I was in that club, I was like, Wow. It was a very street environment. I did the same thing in the same club, and the same place for the after party. It’s crazy. Even with Proof…I had never met Proof until a week before he died and he showed up backstage at one of my shows. I don’t know what God is trying to tell me. Life is too short to be arguing over some little things. We moving real differently now.
It must make you appreciate your success that much more. People seem to be surprised with how well “Ridin’” has been doing.
Yeah, TRL number 10 today, man. I wasn’t on the bus at the time, but the bus got stopped by the police and they were asking for me and about the “Ridin’ Dirty” song. They searched the whole bus.
Did you expect people to respond to the song like they have?
I kinda always had faith in myself, but just to see so many people embracing that song feels good. So many artists personally have called me to talk about it. A lot of them have jumped on the remix. It’s especially good to see it blow up because it’s a street record. Now street records are making it. “Still Tippin” is an example. Who would’ve thought a street record like that would’ve done what it did. So it’s good that it’s coming to that. Artists can be themselves. They don’t have to pretend to be somebody they’re not.
You already dropped a remix with Jae Millz and Papoose, and then another with UGK. Do you have plans to release other versions of “Ridin’”?
Oh yeah, we’re keeping it coming. There’s an L.A. version with The Game and DJ Quik. There’s a Bay Area version with Keak da Sneak, Mistah F.A.B. and San Quinn. Slim Thug’s going to be on another Southern version with a lot of Texas people like Magnificent and Killa Kyleon. We actually got an overseas international version with Akon, this guy named Sway and some others. My engineer is back in Houston pasting them all together. I might have to make one 18-minute-long version with everybody. We’re pushing it till the wheels fall off.
How did you get all these people to get on the track?
I was on tour across the country from the West Coast to the East Coast. You start to find out what’s hot in different markets and you start to find out who’s who. You also start building relationships. I had been a workaholic in my own zone doing my mixtapes, and I hadn’t really collaborated with a lot of people. When I decided to collaborate with people, I wanted to collaborate more with the underdogs, the street people, messing with the people like Jae Millz and Papoose. When I went to New York, they were all over the mixtapes, so I wanted to get down with those guys instead of trying to go safe with all the super-big names. I like to work with people who got that hunger in them. The people on the way up are the best people to work with, because they want it just as bad as you do. It comes out in the music. I like seeing different collaborations, because everything doesn’t have to be the same combination. With Chamillionaire, you expect to see a Slim Thug or Paul Wall on that same record, but when you go to different markets and you get Chamillionaire and Keak da Sneak together, it’s a lot more interesting.
Chamillionaire’s Top 10 Favorite Hip-Hop Collaborations
1. Scarface feat. 2pac “Smile”
“One of the most respected rappers in the South and one of the most respected rappers period. I just love that song. It had a purpose. The song, the video, it was all different. Even today, you don’t see people doing things like that. It was more creative; whereas now music is all about the single. That was real hip-hop right there.”
2. Jay-Z feat. UGK “Big Pimpin’”
“Jay-Z is my favorite rapper and to see him do that with two respected rappers from the South—and from Texas especially—that collaboration just came out real, real dope. They was all rippin’ the song so hard.”
3. Nas feat. Lauryn Hill “If I Ruled the World”
“Lauryn Hill is one of the best singers, and at the time, Nas was on some real lyrical ish. Back then, people cared more about the lyrics in rap and what the song was saying. It really had a purpose and a good concept. It’s one of those songs you can play in front of your family and it gives you that feel-good feeling. So many collaborations that come out today sound pasted together by an A&R, but that just seemed like it was just natural. They had a really good chemistry on that song.”
4. Method Man feat. Mary J. Blige “All I Need”
“This has that same feeling. It’s like a perfect marriage. It was street music, but it had a purpose. At that time, Wu-Tang was super hot and Meth was one of my favorites. They both blossomed into being megastars.”
5. 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre “California Love”
“At that time, the West Coast was putting its stamp on the game, representing real hard. For someone to put out a song called ‘California Love’ that was respected everywhere from the East Coast to the South, that right there was big, man. The creativity in the video was different than anything. They went against the grain with that one and it worked.”
6. M.O.P. feat. Busta Rhymes and Remy Ma “Ante Up (Remix)”
“It had that energy, that power. To this day, I don’t care if you in the club or wherever, this song just makes you want to rip something off the wall. That’s an instant classic.”
7. Snoop Dogg feat. Dr. Dre, Xzibit and Nate Dogg “Bitch Please”
“For all of them to come together was great. Everybody’s part fit perfectly in the song, and everybody brought their own little style. It was a really raw concept and it still ended up being a radio single. That’s one thing I like about Snoop and Dr. Dre and all them, they used to take a lot of raw concepts to the commercial world—even The Chronic. Who would’ve thought it would blow up like it did with the subject matter?”
8. Ja Rule feat. Fat Joe and Jadakiss “New York”
“This came out at a time when I think they was making a statement. I’m not even from New York, but they was doing it big and everyone was reppin’ New York to the fullest and the beat was tight. Honestly, I’ve never been that big a Ja Rule fan, but that made me one. He used to do more commercial singles and that made me really respect him.”
9. Puff Daddy feat. Faith Evans and 112 “I’ll be Missing You”
“That song had a purpose to it. It was a really good soulful song. Puffy always makes some good music, man, and that’s just one of the top for me. Faith is one of the top in R&B as far as vocals are concerned. I think the combination of artists, all of them fit. Puffy is really good at making collaborations that fit and sound really good together.”
10. Bun B feat. Lil Keke, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Aztek, Lil Flip and Z-Ro “Draped Up (Remix)”
“At the time, a lot of people were beefing with each other, [but] Bun B got everybody out on the same level. He’s a legend and he’s respected, so he’s one of the only people who can pull that off. The OGs gave a chance for the younger cats to shine, you know. Everybody was doing their thing and there was no beefing and that’s not only historic for Houston, but it’s really a good record, period. It’s the epitome of how Houston records sound right now.”