Laugh Now, Cry Later
In this cold, ice grill-filled society, finding the humor in hip-hop ain’t always easy. Before delving into music, Dayton, Ohio-raised comedian/actor-turned rapper Katt Williams first hit the national radar with his role as Money Mike in Friday After Next. As a permed, tiny pimp with a stack of gusto, Katt became the unprecedented scene-stealer from Mike Epps and Ice Cube. Since then, he’s voiced the pimp Slickback in Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks, starred in Wlid N’ Out, played a role in Three 6 Mafia’s film Choices 2, and made memorable cameos in many music videos, from OutKast’s “Roses” to Paul Wall’s “Girl.”
But the ever ad-libbing Katt surprised everyone by signing to Diplomats Records early this year. A comedian releasing a rap record? With Dipset? Well, nothing’s really what it seems from a dude with a perm and a high-pitched voice. Now in his early ’30s and residing in Southern California, Katt is putting the finishing touches on his debut album, It’s Pimpin’, Pimpin’, which, in addition to the Dipset family, will feature MC Lyte, E-40, Lil Jon Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Lyfe Jennings and Lil Scrappy.
With a new DVD out and two movies on the way, Katt has been staying busy, even hosting tonight’s BET Hip-Hop Awards—a perfect opportunity for him to mix his comedic savvy with a new rap career. XXLMAG.COM spoke with Mr. Williams about defying expectations, hosting Nas’ birthday party with his Dipset chain on, and why he hopes to follow in William Hung’s footsteps.
Katt Williams feat. Suga Free “Hustle ‘N Flow”
Katt Williams feat. Snoop Dogg “Mind Right”
When did you first hear about the Diplomats?
I’m a hip-hop dude. I already owned everything that Cam put out. So I already owned everything Juelz Santana put out. I’m a connoisseur—so it’s not uncommon for me to buy 50 CDs a month, because I’m interested in what’s out that’s new. And as an unbiased person, I just want to get what’s new so I can decide if I like it, because you just don’t know.
What did you like about the way they operated?
There are artists that follow the tried and true methods: You put out an album, you go on tour, in a year, you put out another album and you go on tour, and another year you make another album. That’s all well and good, but that’s not how the Diplomats operate. They’re constantly putting out new material. They’re constantly putting out fresh product. And their material, even though it all reflects the overall Diplomatic experience, you never get the feeling that any one character is predicated by the other, meaning if you have Juelz Santana CD and Jim Jones CD, they don’t sound the same. They don’t sound like they were done in the same place. The producers aren’t the same. You’re hearing separate voices. We get a lot of the same voice. We get the same six producers producing everything that’s on the radio. So that was the kind of thing that attracted me to the Dipomats, the fact that they might have an entire album and not have one producer on there that you’ve even heard of but they still achieve the same goal.
Who reached out to who?
Well, I only had three places I was considering.
So you were shopping a finished product?
I’d already made the album before I started searching, because I don’t want to leave things up to people’s perception. If I just walk in and go, “Yeah I’m thinking about doing an album,” that kind of gets laughed off. So I did the album myself, funded the album myself, contacted the artists myself, paid the artists myself, did the studio time myself, put it in mixing myself, got it mastered myself and then, with the project in my hands, that’s when I went to find out where home was gonna be.
Cam was a fan of your comedy?
We were both mutual fans, so we already had that going for us. So the next thing was whether our business plans coincided. They’ve had an affinity for comedy and wanted to be in the comedy business for quite a long time, as I’ve wanted to get into the music business for quite a long time. Once we were on the same footing as far as what type of work I was putting out and what type of work they were already putting out, that takes care of most of the negotiation there.
What’s it like kicking it with them in New York?
You can almost imagine. You just aren’t expecting it. Even if you hear the rumors, you don’t really don’t think it’s really true. You really don’t think that Katt Williams the comedian is really in Dipset, until you see it. And then you understand it is what it is. But that’s what made the last appearance of 106 & Park so important.
Exactly. A lot of people I think were impressed when they saw you up there rhyming on the couch next to Jim Jones [click here to view Katt on 106 & Park]. Was that a lot of pressure?
Why would there be pressure? I can rap. If I can play basketball, and you challenge me on the spot to a game of basketball, I could play. I wasn’t forewarned that they were going to pull that. I kind of think that it’s a good thing that I actually can rap, because I don’t think their goal was to showcase me rapping. I think their intention was, Oh you rappin’? Let’s see it. You don’t do that to people on national television, do you? I’m sure if they had Beyoncé on, when she was doing her first movie, they wouldn’t have Beyoncé on and go, “Yeah, so we heard you’re acting, can we see some?” But on the other hand, if you can do what you say you doing, why should it be a problem? If somebody’s wondering if I’m funny, I can prove that.
You’ve moved around, had a lot of experiences. Do you feel like being on an East Coast label will make people pigeonhole you into one sound?
You can’t put me in a box. It’s not possible. You can’t say, Man, the last actor we’ve had before that had a perm was…Yeah, I’m not box-able. You know what Katt William’s comedy is like? It’s like…it’s not really box-able. The Wild N’ Out stuff I’m doing can’t really be put into a frame. So even though I might be on an East Coast label, for all intents and purposes, Dipset is a Harlem label. And everybody knows I’m not from Harlem, which matters not at all. Just like it doesn’t matter that Sean John is probably made in China. That American flag was probably produced in Taiwan. None of that matters when you’re doing big business, that’s not really the concern.
Everything that I do has to uplift the name of the Diplomats in a positive way, help them get into some doors that otherwise they would have no access to. By the same token, that is also what the Diplomats have to do for Katt Williams—put him in some circumstances that he wouldn’t normally be in. That tradeoff is good when it’s good, and it’s awful when it’s awful. The same dudes that want to rob the Diplomats in the club are the same dudes looking at my chain. The same dudes who make a living robbing rappers and shooting bodyguards, those are the same people I have to deal with as a comedian. I don’t know any other comedians that pay four full-time bodyguards. What need do they have for it?
It seems like signing to a label like Diplomats comes with a lot of baggage. Does that ever bother you?
It is what it is. You have to take the good with the bad. As far as the Diplomats’ beef, I am a Diplomat. I am also a grown-fuckin’-man, you know what I’m saying? Although I do uphold the beef of the crew that I run with, I’m also a grown man. Let’s take someone who doesn’t exist—let’s say that the Diplomats have beef with Rodney Evans. And I happen to go in the club and Rodney Evans is there. I’m not going where Rodney Evans is, I’m going to my table. As long as Rodney Evans is able to stay at his table, then Rodney Evans and I do not have a beef. If Rodney Evans chooses to take the opportunity to make his beef personal against me, then it is what it is. I don’t blindly walk into situations. I’m new to my squad, I’m a rookie. Rookies have to find their element.
I just hosted Nas’ birthday party [at Manhattan’s] Canal Room. This was something Kelis was putting on for her husband. I like Kelis and I like Nas. So they called me and asked me to do their birthday party. As a grown man, I accepted. I also understand that you have beef with some members of my faction. But I’m a businessman, and if I can do business without getting in beef, that’s what I choose to do as a man and as a father. On the other hand, were there people at that party who certainly did not appreciate the fact that I was hosting? Absolutely. Did it kind of bother them that I hosted the entire event for Nas’ birthday with my Dipset hat and Dipset chain on? Absolutely. Were they a little offended by the fact that all the bodyguards had Diplomat shirts on? Yes, they were. On the other hand, did Nas have a fantastic birthday party? Of course he did. Did I do my job as a professional? Of course I did. And that’s all that matters.
So how much of the album will be rapping and how much will be comedy?
It’s rap music. I’m rapping. That’s it. It’s interesting to me the trouble people have wrapping their minds around it, only because that doesn’t work the other way around. Like, an actor and a comedian doing a music album is kind of difficult for people to fathom. A rapper or a music artist acting is no problem. If somebody told you, 50 Cent doing a new movie, you don’t say, “Can he act?” You don’t say, “So what’s his theater background? Has he done a play? And when he’s doing his movies, is he really acting? Or is somebody else acting for him?” So that’s part of my job, to show you this transition.
You’re definitely one of the first to make that transition, unless you count Eddie Murphy. Is “Party All The Time” the blueprint?
Well, Eddie Murphy’s thing was different because Eddie Murphy was asking you to switch emotions. It’s much more difficult for you to go from being funny to singing love songs. That’s a difficult transition. But how quickly we forget. We have to remember Jamie Foxx is a platinum artist as well. We have to also remember that William Hung sold 500,000 copies. William Hung went gold. Mr. “She Bangs.” And if we go down the list of artists who didn’t go gold—it is what it is.