It’s been three years since Lil’ Flip released his two-times platinum double album U Gotta Feel Me. After taking what he describes as a “break” from the industry, the Southside Houston native is finally ready to jump back in. Flip is gearing up to drop his fourth solo LP, I Need Mine, through a newly signed deal with Asylum and Warner Bros. Records. In addition to revamping his album, which the 25-year-old MC claims was leaked last year by his former label Sony, the Screwed Up Click vet has been busy promoting his liquor brand, Lucky Nites, and establishing his Clover G Records roster.
Although he’s got a lot to show for his time away, Lil’ Flip is still often criticized for taking a hiatus after his public feud with T.I. The two started beefing over who deserved the King of the South distinction and came to blows after T.I. dissed Flip on the radio in his hometown.
While Flipper maintains he was busy trying to get released from his thick ties with Sony, other public riffs with Paul Wall, Slim Thug, and his former manager Hump all seem to have gotten the best of him. In Flip’s time away from the game, Houston rap has managed to finally break through nationally. While he acknowledges H-Town’s commercial success, Flip insists it wouldn’t have been possible without the formula he helped pioneer on his first album, 2000’s The Leprechaun.
Speaking with the Freestyle King, it’s obvious that he still has a pretty big chip on his shoulder. But instead of getting distracted by his past nemesis, Flip is focusing on once again reinventing himself. Meet his latest persona: Fliperachi (a.k.a. Number One Fly Boy, a.k.a. Flip Gates). Houston, we got a problem.
First off, what’s going on with your label situation?
I’m not on Sony no more. [They] leaked my album, so I went back in the studio and recorded a brand-new album. I’m on Warner Bros. and Asylum [now]. Most rappers are on one. I’m on both.
When did you officially leave Sony?
I left them about four years ago in my mind. I always felt like that wasn’t a label for me to branch out and be an artist [on]. Like, what artist has a successful record label on Sony? Nobody’s been able to branch out and sign artists. I wanted to put out artists and do movies and cartoons and stuff like that over there. They were basically slowing me down.
How did the whole situation with T.I. affect your moves as an artist and a businessman?
It just basically woke me up and let me know that this shit is really just a big-ass game. Nobody got morals. I just realized all these DJs and all these different cats that be in my face, as soon as you take a break, they go run to the next muthafucka and tell them the same shit they was tellin’ you. So, basically, it just opened my eyes to know that the game ain’t really about being creative.
Since you have taken a break and T.I.’s been so active, it seems like you sort of fell back. What’s the reason for that?
Eight letters: politics. My new album was literally completed when I put out my last album. The label I was with, they’re scared to take chances. They go with the same formula. If you got one “Sunshine,” they want the same shit. Basically, I felt like I had a whole team at my own label working against me. It’s just really crazy. But, see, what I did was keep recording, ’cause I’m known for doing mixtapes and stuff like that. So while people thought I was on my “so-called break,” I did the Chamillionaire record. I did a lot of records with Rap-a-Lot. When everybody doesn’t see you in a movie or see you with an album out, they assume you’re not working. I dipped into the liquor [business], the clothing [business]. I got a brand-new show on XM Radio. I just created different avenues for me to survive, instead of just depending on one thing.
Do you feel part of the whole movement that took place in Houston last year with Mike Jones, Paul Wall and Chamillionaire?
When I came out, I was the first person to actually put screw music on a major label. A lot of people were really scared to do it, so I feel like I did that literally four or five years ago. As a Southern artist, it’s kinda hard to get respect from people that really don’t understand screw music. They think all we make is party music, so I just wanted to shy away from [their] thinking we could rap about just one thing.
So do you feel you are different because you touch on more topics in your music?
Yeah. I talk about more than what goes on in Houston. I’m able to make records that people can feel way around the world. The more you travel, the more you see and the more you rap about.
Was it a positive thing, in your eyes, when Houston was blowing up the way that it was?
I was actually kinda happy. It’s just funny how the rap game is. The stuff that’s blowing up now is stuff that I did on my first album. So it’s like, “Damn, now they’re showing us support, but, shit, we’ve been doing this a while.” It’s like, “It’s about time, but we got more to offer than what y’all see.” I’m trying to bring [back] the whole element of storytelling and coming up with concepts for songs. ’Cause now the industry is so driven off having a girl record or having a club record that artists get brainwashed, and there’s no creativity.
Since you haven’t dropped an album in so long, do you feel like you’re an underdog again?
In this game, it’s about favoritism. One minute a magazine will be cool with you, and the next minute they’ll be shitting on you. Before any magazine or label knew about Flip, I had already scanned a bunch of records. I never stopped touring. In the whole of America, I’m probably on a thousand mixtapes. The fans can go to the record store every two weeks until my album drops in March and pick up a brand-new mixtape. I just released like eight mixtapes, and they gonna keep coming.
So the respect is still there?
Yeah, ’cause the haters or whatever, they don’t buy the records, anyway. They get a free copy and listen to it and make their assumption, and most of the time it’s a biased opinion. So I always kept traveling. Every time I run across a fan, I give my jersey off my back, so at the end of the day, it’s all about the fans and staying humble, whether you scan a million or 4 million records.
What’s the name of your new album?
The name of the album is still going to be I Need Mine. I just did some new records. I went back to the drawing board and did like eight new songs, and I shot like five more videos. So the album comes with a DVD, and it’s gonna have like a total of 12 videos.
When does it drop?
Well, we picked two different singles. We went with “Ghetto Mind State” first, and then I got a single called “I’m a Fly Boy,” which I shot a video to. The album’s gonna come out in March.
Who all is signed to Clover G Records?
Of course, I’m in the group the Clover Gs. That’s basically like how Cam’ron introduced his Diplomat crew. I got an artist named Crime Boss. He was signed to Suave House. And there’s an artist out of Memphis called Skinny Pimp. They shot the movie Hustle & Flow basically about his life.
Are you gonna keep up with the whole leprechaun thing, or are you starting to play that down a bit?
Actually, that was kinda done when I did it six years ago. Each album, I go into a different mode, ’cause each album is different. That was the name of my first solo album that came out in 2000, and I went from that to the Freestyle King to the Underground Legend. So now I go by Fliperachi (a.k.a. the Number One Fly Boy, a.k.a. Flip Gates). It’s all about really reinventing yourself. If you can’t adapt to your surroundings, then you really shouldn’t be in this damn industry.
Where’d you get Fliperachi from?
I heard of this cat by the name of Liberace that wore big-ass diamonds and jewelry and was fly. Then I kinda took a portion from Versace. I just thought it would be cool to switch it up, since in hip-hop, if you ain’t got no chain around your neck, you’re considered broke. When it comes to the jewelry and the grills, I had the shit first. My shit is not a pull out. I got so much different jewelry I just felt like can’t nobody fuck with me when it come to being fly.
Do you know who Liberace is?
Honestly, I don’t know too much about him. I know he played the piano or some shit. From the stories I get, he had big-ass rocks and jewelry that looked fake, but that shit was real.
Do you talk about any of your past beef on the album, or is that all totally dead at this point?
Put it like this—that wasn’t the only situation I really had with people trying to disrespect me. I got a lot of shit to talk about over the past three years. All I can tell the fans is when they get the album, they’ll see. And just know that the very first song will be very controversial.
Are you going in a different direction with this album?
Yeah. I went back to the old, straight, hungry [time]. With Sony, I was really pissed off. I was like a time bomb waiting to blow, because it got to the point where I had A&Rs trying to do beats for me. I’m used to handling my own music. Now that I don’t have anyone in my ear, I’m able to get back in my element and record a bunch or records. I’m not Lil’ Flip the kid anymore. I’m a grown-ass man with a family, so your whole album can’t just be about ballin’ and partying.