With hip-hop’s rapid rate of change, a prison bid can span an entire generation gap. Just ask Slick Rick, who served a little over five years in the early ’90s. As it turned out, rap music in 1996 was so different from Rick’s late ’80s heyday that he was never able to truly get his footing again. So, for 29-year-old Bronx rapper Mysonne—who came home from a seven-year sentence on July 5—there’s a lot of work to be done. And when you’re required by law to be at home by 10 p.m., it pays to get an early start.
In the late ’90s, Mysonne’s street-wise, punchline-driven flow was a loud voice on New York mixtapes, landing him a highly contested spot with Violator Management. Then in 1999, just as he was set to release his debut album, Life Teaches and Reality Bites, on Def Jam, Mys was convicted of two armed robberies (for which he still maintains his innocence). While serving out his seven-to-14-year sentence at the Orleans Correctional Facility in Albion, NY, he watched the youngest member of his Wanna Blow crew, Jae Millz, transition from a hungry teen to landing a solo deal on Universal. After his first parole hearing in May secured his release, Mys is finally out and ready to enjoy Millz’s success while plotting his own return to the mic. XXLMAG.com caught up with Mysonne early in the morning before his first day back in the studio.
Ruff Ryders feat. Beanie Sigel, Infred, NuChild, Mysonne & Drag-On "The Hood" (1999)
Ma$e feat. Loon, Shyne, Meeno & Mysonne "From Scratch"(1999)
Mysonne, 8Ball & Ma$e "Do What Playas Do" (1999)
What was the first thing you did when you got out?
First thing I did, honestly? I went to a barbershop. In prison, you have the worst barbers in the world. I been cutting my hair for the last couple of years, so I just got tired and I let it grow for like two or three months. Right after the barbershop, I went home to see my little brother. He greeted me in the front of the building with a basketball. I ain’t even take my clothes off. He think he can beat me now because he’s my size. When I got incarcerated, he was only like eight years old. Now he’s taller than me. So I came to the park and we played one. He won by one point too.
You’ve always maintained your innocence. Are you doing anything to make sure you don’t end up back in the system like so many other people?
Yeah, you have to realize that it’s not necessarily whether you’re innocent or guilty. I’m not putting myself in a situation that can be misconstrued. I’ve changed my surroundings, changed my company, the people I hang with. If you’re just hanging out on the corner, negative things are going on on that corner. If you’re just standing there and you don’t have no purpose there, then the police will come and grab you. You could get [arrested] on mistaken identity. Somebody could say you did it. So my thing is, there’s no need for me to be on the corner. I’m with my family, I’m making music, I’m reading or I’m exercising. I utilize my time a lot better than I used to. Before, I would hang on the corner with the dudes and all that. While I was locked up for seven years, they still on that corner. They ain’t coming to see me, they weren’t sending me no money, they weren’t taking care of my family. I don’t need them. I got love for certain people who do that, but that’s just not my reality anymore.
When you see hip-hop magazines putting out special prison issues where they highlight MCs who are locked up, do you think that’s a positive thing or a negative thing?
A lot of that stuff is bogus. A lot of these dudes will be in jail and they talking about “Yo, I’m holding it down” or “I’m doing this, I got people who love me.” Come on, that’s not the reality of it. They not telling you that they wake up in the morning at six o’clock for count. They don’t tell you that when you go visit, they gotta strip search you and look inside your rectum and all that. They don’t tell you the negative parts. Them niggas seem like they tough ’cause they in jail. You ain’t tough. A bunch of dudes in jail ain’t tough. It’s not the reality of the situation. Everybody in jail ain’t real. If you’re able to come through that situation unscathed and with your mental capacity is in order, then you’re a strong individual. But for you to sit there and try to glorify what goes on in jail or what you’re doing in jail, that’s just stupidity. I think the editors need to take the time when they interview somebody to listen to what they talking about. Because if they’re sitting there talking about “Yeah, I got the C.O.s lookin’ out for me, I got such and such and I’m holding it down here, niggas know not to mess with me.” That shit is stupid. We don’t wanna hear that. I don’t wanna hear that, because I know different.
What about if it’s true? Should they still not talk like that?
It doesn’t make a difference whether it’s true or not because the reality of the situation is, you don’t want to be in there. Even if you have a C.O. in your pocket, it doesn’t amount to nothing. The most fame you can have in jail doesn’t amount to the smallest fame you can have out here. The smallest peace of mind, the smallest bit of freedom doesn’t amount to nothing. It’s like you trying to glorify controlling a closet. A man is locked in a closet and he’s trying to make you believe that he’s holding it down in that closet. He’s got that closet on smash. And since you’ve never been in the closet, you don’t understand that he’s in a fuckin’ closet. But there’s nothing going on in there. He got his clothes folded neatly in this closet. He got his drink over here. He make it seem like it’s a whole world, but it’s nothing. That’s my problem with it. I know people are interested in the prison system, but if we’re going to talk about it, let’s show the reality.
Who do you think it’s negatively affecting?
When I was young, they glorified it so much that it made us feel that if we didn’t go to prison, then we wasn’t tough, you wasn’t a real dude. If you ain’t go to prison, then you ain’t really did nothing. A lot of dudes that I know went to jail just to prove that they was down. And they came home afterwards and they was telling they stories, and how they was up North and did this and that. And you thought, Wow, okay, he’s a tough guy. But in reality, he’s not tough. He’s just stupid. And the people who told him about jail were being as stupid as he was. There’s nothing in jail. There’s nothing there. I had the support of family and friends, so I never needed anything. I just think that we needed to censor some of these dudes. You need somebody to interview the dudes in jail, I’ll interview them because I’ll definitely screen them out with that bullshit.
How much time did you spend writing music when you were inside?
I spent all my time writing music inside. My routine was: I get up in the morning, I go work out for about an hour, come back, read a book, after I read, I got a little beat tape, and I was gone from there. Mostly I just listened to beats, ’cause I don’t even listen to half these dudes who rap no more.
Were you in touch with a lot of industry folks while you were inside?
I wouldn’t say a lot of them. A couple of them. I was in contact with Busta Rhymes, DMX, the Ruff Ryders. Here and there I get a lot of messages from my friends from other rappers. For the most part, it wasn’t really that type of party, man. I realize that a lot of relationships are industry based. When you there, there’s a relationship, and when you’re not, there isn’t.
What happened to your situation with Violator and Def Jam after you started serving your sentence?
When I first went to jail, they were supporting me. But I realized it’s a business. If the artist is going to be locked up for seven years, they’re not gonna be able to do too much. They put up money for lawyers and appeals, and when those things didn’t go through, they had to move on. I didn’t feel any type of way. It’s no bad blood between me and Violator or Def Jam. They did what they could. It’s a better business move for me now to come home and be free. I’m not obligated to do nothing. I got a lot more potential offers and I can do my own thing. I don’t really need an A&R, all I need is someone who’s willing to push it. I got the product and they got the promotion.
So you’re still down with Jae Millz and Wanna Blow?
Yeah. That’s basically our own label, we created that from the ground up. Jae Millz was around when he was young. He was like 15, 16 when I went to jail. There were a lot more of us, but when I got locked up, a lot of things took place, and he was the one who stuck with it and came to the forefront. Me and Jae Millz are working on a couple things now. We working on a few remixes and things like that.
How do you feel about Millz’s progress in the last seven years?
I’m so proud of him because not only has he grown as an artist, he’s grown as a man. He has great loyalty to me. I didn’t even expect it because when I used to have him around me, he was a young nigga. We’d bring him here and there, but he didn’t get to go to the club. He wasn’t hanging with me, per se. But when I would go to the studio, he would be there. He took that and he was loyal afterwards. He always kept my name in the air, and I respect that. We did an interview on Shade 45 yesterday. Me and him were there and the first thing I said on the air was that I was proud of him. He says he’s eager to get into the studio with me. So you know, I got a lot of love for him.
Do you think there’s still a demand for your music or have people forgotten about you?
I never knew I had that many fans that were looking forward to my album. I got letters from people all over the world like, “Yo, we miss you,” and now since we put up the MySpace page, there’s been even more. At the radio station yesterday, I had people calling me from California, Phoenix, all over the place telling me they was waiting for me and happy that I was home and they can’t wait to hear the music. That just gives me extra drive. I know I got the product. It’s just about going in there and doing it. Tonight I’m supposed to go to the studio. After today, it’s on.
Since you’ve been away, Southern hip-hop has completely taken the spotlight from New York. What do you think happened?
You can’t bring New York back by trying to follow somebody else’s formula. Why you trying to do what the South is doing? They don’t need you to do what they doing, they got their own way. They need you to do what you do. I’m not trying to blend in, I want to stand out. These dudes just try to blend in. They going to get the same producers that did the last two songs from the South dudes, thinking they gonna get a different result. Nah. Get your own producers, man. That’s how the rest of them did it. DMX and them came in with their own producers. Biggie came in with his producer. Gangstarr came in with Premo. They created a new sound so people wanted to hear them. You can’t just run get the hottest producers and think that’s your album.
Have you given Millz any advice on the subject?
I told Millz, the key is you have to be bigger than your music. It’s not so much about the music no more. They following individuals. That’s why 50 Cent sold like that. It wasn’t so much that the music was hot—he makes good music—but they were so interested in him as a person. If they don’t want to hear what you’re talking about, they don’t care how hot the song is. So what New York dudes have to do, is make themselves bigger than their music. Like Lil’ Wayne and T.I., they have “it.” When you see them, you’re interested in what they doing. You wanna find out what they gonna say. It’s not so much the rapping, it’s just that they have the confidence that whatever they say or whatever they do is hot. And that’s what a lot of the New York rappers are lacking. They just trying to blend in. They just happy to be here. When you ask me a question, I’m gonna talk to you like I know I belong here. People need to feel that energy.
Do you have the rights to the album you did for Def Jam?
I have to sit down with them and find out, because there’s a lot of music on there that I still think the public might like. That’s one thing that I regret out of everything. The fans were not able to step-by-step grow with me, musically. Because the growth that I made from ’99 is just so dramatic. Like lyrically, flow-wise, it’s just so dramatic and most people are not going to be able to see how I grew. Like you listen to something Biggie did before he came out and then you listen to “Party and Bullshit” and you hear how he got more comfortable. Same with Jay-Z, from Reasonable Doubt, you hear the growth, not only lyrically, but how he got more comfortable with himself. I’m just mad that a lot of people didn’t get to walk with me through that.