In the rap game, who you roll with is nearly as important as the music you create. Big-name cosigns have helped catapult the careers of new school head-turners like Lupe Fiasco, and they’ve rejuvenated the careers of industry vets like Common and 50 Cent. But Queensbridge MC Lake isn’t blessed with such allegiances. After a public fallout with his former business partner Nas, Lake is holding it down for both New York and Suge Knight’s Death Row—two affiliations that won’t be winning him any popularity contests in today’s hip-hop climate. But he’s tackling everything head-on: he released a collaborative album with fellow Queens rep Cormega, My Brother’s Keeper, this year, and he’s been taking notes from Suge in the hopes that he can catapult Death Row East back to the status it had in the mid-90s. In an interview with XXLMAG.com, Lake talks about Suge, Nas, and his new situation.
How were you first approached by Suge to be down with Death Row?
A friend of mine named Meal Ticket, he’s based out of California, said he had a line to get with Suge. So, we sent the music and he got at Suge a few times. Suge was like, “Alright, come to the office and play it. I hope the music is what you’re saying, for your sake,” because a couple of kids were telling him about me. So Suge heard the music and called me directly on the phone like, “Yo, your music is like that, when can you get down here?” I went down and talked to him. I said I wanted to do Death Row East. He was like, “Alright, let’s do it.” We’ve been laying down the flag since then.
Suge Knight’s reputation precedes him. What was it like working with him?
It was good. I have a street background. There’s no type of individual you can name, character-wise, that I haven’t already encountered on the street. So, I really don’t have a problem dealing with anybody. Regardless of the person, I want to sit down and see if we can do business. One thing that I thought would be a benefit is that we had similar values in certain areas, so it wasn’t a problem. Suge was about his business, and when got to meet him, I appreciated that because I’ve dealt with a lot of individuals who wasn’t about nothing and didn’t have the same values as me. I appreciate loyalty.
Are you two still trying to sign Shyne to the label?
No. Shyne is my dude. Before he got [his own label] Gangland, me and Shyne were vibin’. I was checking for him on the Island and then he went back up North. We used to call him, he would be hollering. I was trying to work certain things out with him before he got Gangland. Then when he got Gangland, I was supposed to get down with him and come out, but they did the lawsuit where they froze his money up, and that pretty much shut the situation down. While he was going through that, I was checking on him to see if he was alright, going up there to see him and still networking. Me and him, we still homeboys. Whatever he do, when he comes home, and if Gangland poppin’, I’m down with him. I’m gonna support him in anything he do. Just like he supporting me in everything that I do. I ain’t even worried that I’m gonna sign him or if that’s gonna happen. We gonna work and be supportive of each other on the fact that we homeboys.
What steps are you taking to build Death Row East as a brand?
Just grinding on the street. Getting connected with the street and having people appreciate what we doing on the street. It’s a movement. And once people identify with what we’re doing and appreciate the music, we’re gonna build it from there. I’m not trying to come out and jump on the screen and forget my foundation; I have to establish myself, and that’s what I’m doing. That’s why I put out the My Brother’s Keeper album with ‘Mega, a street album. That was strictly for the streets. So now, I’m just going to build myself slowly but surely and have people recognize and respect my talent and my ability. The same thing they did on the West, we’re going to do it over here on the East. The only benefit that I have is that I have Suge and the insight that he’s got. When he started it, he didn’t even have the opportunity that he has now, he didn’t have the resources. Now, with the knowledge that he got, and the ambition that I got, it’s gonna be a good situation.
About a year ago, you had a falling out with Nas. How did that happen?
That was behind us establishing [the record label] Ill Will, and then that not happening. People were depending on me, I was waiting on him, and the people that was waiting on me got caught up in the situation. Federal cases got built up and they went to jail, and one of my friends was killed before they came in and locked the other seven of my homeboys up. So, enough was enough. That was something that can’t be repaired. I can’t just get on and blow and change that situation. Nothing was going to change that. I was done with waiting and dealing with that.
Would you say that was strictly professional, or did it have an affect on your personal relationship too?
If you got somebody you care about, you’re gonna do what you say you gonna do. If you’re not gonna do something, then let that be established. If you say you gonna do something, and you’re in a position to really do that, then do that. You know you’re dealing with somebody, and you’ve respect the person’s intelligence. You know this person’s intelligence and they gonna recognize you’re doing some bullshit. With all the stuff going on, there was no reason for that to happen. If this is what it is, cool, we can rock with that or find another approach. But as long as something can be changed, and a person can change it and they not changing it, then of course that’s going to have a damper on the relationship, personally and professionally.
How did you feel when you found out when he signed with Def Jam?
It was crazy to hear that. I guess it was about the money. It was a good situation for the paper at the time or whatever, and he did what he had to do for money. But it was wild, because a lot of people was standing behind him and really riding for him and what he had them believing in, then he just switched over totally. It’s like, Damn, you know people was really following you and believing in you and trying to be part of your cause, and then you just flipped and did something totally opposite. That was crazy. Whatever’s in your heart, that’s what you’re going to do. I guess that’s what was important to him, to get the paper. In his heart, it wasn’t as serious to continue keeping his distance with that situation. It was bugged though. It was ill.
You think a lot of people who supported Nas before felt the same way?
It depends on the individual and how serious they take things. You got people who really believe in you and are ready to ride for you. They’ll go to the end of the Earth with you. There’s other people who just like your music and are only trying to find something good in what you doing. It just depends on the individual. But a lot of people was affected by that. It caught them off-balance.
Everybody know that because the situation [with Jay and Nas] went really to the extreme with what was being said verbally. It went beyond music. It got real personal. Everybody in the world knows what those individuals were saying. When certain things happen, you can’t take it back. When you switch up your whole approach, it’s like changing what you stand for. So you start losing some of the foundation that you built on. People want to claim you because of your words and what you represent, and that’s why we got into music: our integrity. Once you lose that, you can’t get it back. That’s something that can’t be taken from you, you gotta give that up. Some of that definitely was lost in that situation.
Your first album, 41st Side, was critically acclaimed. Would you ever do another Queensbridge compilation?
Maybe one day, after many things are established. If I lay down what I gotta lay down, get myself into a position that makes sense in the streets, I’d do it for the fans, maybe. But more than that, I wanna do it with a lot of dudes out from different areas, different regions and put an album out with them. That’s why I reached out and I’m trying to do music with Fat Joe and a record with Shyne and do records with artists in the South and the West because we can do the same thing as the 41st album with people from across the nation.