When you say Long wasn’t “on his feet” before, what do you mean?
He wasn’t financially stable. I gave him an MP and we started to put some things together. But just an MP doesn’t equate for a good album. In the beginning, I was hearing a good foundation. But you have to understand that it’s a different time. Just having a funky loop wasn’t going to cut it. The production game is way above what it was back in the day. I was bumping some of the young guys who produced and I wanted him [Long] to come and hear these guys. I wanted him to share production credit. I mean, these were young guys who had wanted to share that credit with him. My dude didn’t want to respond to none of that. He felt that it should be him and only him. I was paying for everything during production, even splitting the show money with him. I wasn’t trying to be on any ego-type tip.
How did you react when you heard Long was working on his own solo album?
Eventually, the publicist hit me with an album. It was Long’s! He was spending money to do him and I was spending money to do us. It was then that he let me know that that’s how it was. I bit my tongue and let him go by saying, “God Bless.” I just think that he made a mistake by stepping out at this particular time. He was like the original Spinderella, or like the fourth member of Guy. He left at a pivotal moment in our career. The album is really good. But I can’t worry about that. I have to worry about the company and myself, because if I don’t do me…nobody else cares. No one reached out to help me. The same people who I helped—and I’m talking about kept the lights on and helping send their kids to school—didn’t even call to see if I was doing alright.
In a 2005 interview, you gave your opinion about the state of hip-hop. A year later, has your opinion changed?
I’d have to say yes and no. I see the people getting really tired of what hip-hop is. But I also see hip-hop growing up. To me, I view some of the cats in the game as “teenagers.” I can understand why they go out and do some of the things that they do, but I also see that hip-hop wants to be something bigger. I see hip-hop’s aspiration. We have hundreds of millionaires—the game provided us with that blessing. We have the opportunity to do things that have never been done before. We’re at a point where we can truly create our own businesses, like hospitals and day care centers. We can build something valid in our community.
Hip-hop puts a lot of pressure on regular folks to buy things that they can’t afford. You know what Stephon Marbury is doing with his new shoes? I’m going to buy them. I don’t respect a lot of cats who put a G5 in your face, while some guys are struggling to buy a train ticket. It’s not meant for people to have things overnight, but you got guys caught up in keeping up with the Joneses. But at the end of the day, you can’t be afraid to put the work in. Hip-hop is twofold; I’m seeing that people are tired, the labels are worried because people aren’t buying albums. You see Gnarls Barkley, and even me, coming up with creative [ways] to get our ideas out to people. There are different avenues that this culture can use to keep growing.
On the album, this line stood out to me: “That we/Can break a barrier without one key/Then turn around and try to imitate a mob flunky” What is it about the sensational images presented in hip-hop that appeal to a wide audience?
In my opinion, it’s just like a movie. Like Scarface and Goodfellas. Everyone can relate to not having anything. So to come from a place where you don’t have anything, people can get caught up in the fantasy of achievement. Hip-hop is just Scarface mentality on wax. But to me, it’s just so much more than that.
On the real, I have friends of mines who are never coming home. They tell me about the mob cats in jail. They’re not the respectable guys portrayed in the movies. But we go out and change our name, get tattoos, the whole nine. We shift our entire life for something that is beneath us. We’re just so much more than a group of degenerates. I’m not saying that Italians are [degenerates], I’m saying that about mob figures. We’re much bigger than that and it’s important that that energy is out there. People with a sense of self will understand that. It’s not for everybody, but it’s important for the people to know that it is out there. That’s where my head is at. I need cats to see me in those Marburys because it lessens the pressure of trying to have more when you have little. It’s not to say that I don’t like money, but at the end of the day, there are bigger things out there.
You’ve always been known for your conscious, critical thinking, ever since you were down with the Native Tongues in the early ’90s. How do you think you’ve changed since then?
One thing that has changed is definitely my maturity level. I was a little bit impressionable and I was always trying to take shortcuts. I had a lot of growing up to do. A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing was some of the first songs that I had ever wrote in life. I feel like I’ve evolved. I’m proud of everything that I’ve done, but I was also unsure about myself. I feel like I’m doing high school again and I know all the answers. I can be cool with the nerd, as opposed to kicking it with the football guy, and not be worried about the perception from other people. I don’t really care about what people say about me. The most important thing is how I view myself.
Do you think hip-hop can make the same change that you’ve made personally?
In my heart, without question. I see it happening in a real roundabout way. People are becoming more grown. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the bullshit still exists, but I definitely see the difference. I hear people talking about different things. Some of the nonsense that cats were into two, three years ago…they wouldn’t touch now. We’re at a time where hip-hop is continuing to grow and take over, which is such a blessing. We have to start looking at each other as competition for originality. You have to understand that people have to do knowledge about the culture. Check it…Grand Master Caz is one of the dopest emcees now! He could get on the stage now, next to any emcee, and he could get busy better than them. Not even on no old school shit, he’s just dumb nice. Just Ice, too! There are a lot of things that we’re shunning because of “age,” but we have to have that respect because those are the ones who’ve paved the way.
I’m not trying to point a finger at no one. I’m just saying that people need to look at what has come before them. You wouldn’t hear New Kids on the Block being disrespectful or not acknowledging the Rolling Stones. We need to embrace this culture. If you’re 25 and have lived in the inner city…you’ve been through some shit! I have love for the older cats, they’re the reason why we have the things that we have. You need to find Caz and just build with him. He could tell these MCs about themselves more than they could vice versa. This didn’t start for some materialistic stuff. A man who pulls out an AK-47 on a DVD is a gimmick! ‘Cause, you see…all I need is one mic. [Laughs.] Can you talk about life? If I told you to take all that otherness out, could you spit? At the end of the day, I look at it like this: who are we? We’re the children of kings, the songbirds of the struggle. Why limit ourselves mentally, physically, the whole nine? Do you think that a slave who was finally made free would talk about his chains?