Canibus is an enigmatic figure that has been revered for his lyrical ingenuity and criticized for his poor beat selection and inconsistent albums. Once hailed as the second coming of Rakim, ‘Bis was on top of the world during his legendary 1998 rap battle with LL Cool J. But that changed once his debut album, Can-I-Bus [Universal], was released in that same year to scathing criticism for its lackluster production. ‘Bis followed up two years later with 2000 B.C., the album many expected from his debut. But with little support from his label or the media, it was too little, too late. ’Bis retreated into the underground, releasing his worst received album, “C” True Hollywood Stories (2001), before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 2002. In the next three years C graduated Fort Knox and began working as a reconnaissance specialist. In 2004 the rapper turned soldier was discharged from the military, allegedly for smoking weed. C was able to release new material during that period, though. Mic Club: The Curriculum and Rip The Jacker were stellar releases that satisfied his core fan base. But 2005’s Hip-Hop For Sale, Canibus’ collaborative album with producer Nottz, was a disappointment that found ‘Bis swaying from his battle rap origins. Now, two years later, Canibus returns this May with his seventh album, For Whom The Beat Tolls [Waste Management Records]. ’Bis takes a minute to discuss his new project, the war in Iraq and criticism over his beat selection with XXLMag.com.
What can we expect from your new album, For Whom The Beat Tolls?
The album is 17 tracks and "Poet Laureate Infinity" is the grand finale on the album. There are 1,000 bars in that track and due to the way it’s layered, it’s an infinite rhyme. When you mix it and spread it throughout five channels, [you have the ability] to mix the track differently every time. Because when you hear the mix, whichever one you hear, you are only listening to one layer at a time. But there are four other layers there. You are only going to be hearing 200 bars per record. But at any moment and every moment, there are 800 bars that you're not listening to. So I've created something that's never been done before. Every time it’s mixed, you'll hear a different song. I'm gonna put [the song] up on my site, www.poetlaureateinfinity.com, and once it’s up, there is going to be a mixing board. All the layers are going to be laid out, so you'll be able to play and listen to every single layer. You'll see that it's an infinite track. It's the greatest rhyme of all time - bar none.
There were rumors that you were going to sign with Kay Slay and Shaq. What happened?
Well, I went down to meet with Shaq at his home in Orlando and I did three or four tracks and Kay Slay took that music back to New York. I went back home to Georgia, this was in '04, and I was waiting for a move. Nothing really materialized. So, I moved to Vegas and started working on other projects. I know if I see Shaq it’s always love, but I don't know what happened. I'm as much in the dark as anyone else is, I suppose. But I know Shaq's intentions were to help. He said it out of his own mouth that he wanted to put me where I was supposed to be. And I believe it because he has no reason to lie to me. So there are no hard feelings because it didn't work out.
Who's doing the production the new album?
I got J-Wells, Plus Science, Scram Jones, Domingo and I was trying to get a track from DJ Premier. I'm still waiting….
Fans have anticipated that for a decade….
I've wanted it too, but hey, I got the rhymes. Can't no nigga look at me and ask, "Do you have the rhyme for the track?" I work with people that want to work with me. If I think the track is fresh, I'm gonna rhyme to it. I like using producers who have an ear for composition. So production wise, I'm still the same as I was before. If you think a beat is going to dictate how I rhyme or if it means anything to me, then you're stupid. It's poetry. I rhyme to the best of my ability on the freshest beats I can get. If people are still complaining about the beats, then take a number, stand in line and join the club. I've been hearing about that for decades.
Does that make you angry?
Sometimes it gets me tight because I know they are looking for a chink in the armor. I don't produce beats. So it’s the most frustrating thing in my career for someone to tell me they don't like something I did because of the beat. I want to ask them, ‘Are you a fucking dancer?’ [Chuckles] When people talk about beats, I don't even think they know what the fuck they are talking about. I used to read and write sheet music. I know composition. For people to think beats are going to save me is wrong. My music doesn't need to be saved, its still around. People [act] like the right beat is going to make my music go platinum. Maybe I wasn't meant to go platinum. Maybe going platinum is wrong because that's what's been selling hip-hop and all the fans short. This platinum craze has milked every one of their lyrics and concepts.
How do you respond to the criticism that your lyrics are too complicated?
They seem complicated because they are listening to it like they are reading a book. This response takes an open mind to understand, but I believe that my rhymes, at times, are fragmented. In the fragmentation, each piece of the rhymes or concepts I'm trying to get across has a psychic overtone to it. Something that is almost quantum in theory. Its reaching out to a part of you that you might not use everyday. I don't make music that's intended for you to go to the clubs. I give them my poetry. I'm giving them a piece of myself. If the poetry I write sounds complex, that's because they aren't looking at it like something organic. There is nothing mechanical about my rhymes. Its just my delivery and the pace is mechanical. If you think it's too complex, maybe you haven't reached those stages in your life. Maybe your life is so mechanical and robotic, and you're such an automaton, that you can't step outside of your mundane tasks for even 10 minutes to listen to at track.
Some fans feel you are too guarded and want you go open up more, like on "I Honor U." Is that a valid criticism?
I think so. But if I give you "I Honor You," what the fuck do they do? They don't respect "I Honor You." You don't get anything for it. All you get is a muthafucker going on a site and laughing at the shit. Today's society has become a virtual reality. People get a bottled up idea of how your life is. I'm not a fucking pincushion. I dealt with a lot of things in my life. So this is not a virtual reality show or sitcom. I don't know what to say to the fans about opening up more. The only way I can open up to them is if it stays positive. You can't open up and leave your whole life on front street. That's what fucks up a lot of these celebrities. They open up their lives and gave the people everything. And what do the people do? They consume you. I can't be consumed, man. No fucking way. Think about it. You got fans that want me on the battle shit. Then you got fans who want me to open up more. One side is battle, which is total fucking destruction and submission. You following what I'm saying? The same people who want me to open up are the same ones who will turn around, write a battle rhyme, and try to get me upset enough to do some shit out of character. The battle shit and opening up is almost like a paradox. It doesn't make sense.
What's your thoughts on the current status in Iraq?
It’s a snafu, man. It’s a meat grinder. No matter what I say in this interview, nothing will change. So I chose to not say anything. Nothing is going to fucking change, no matter what I say. If you’re outside the box and looking in, then you need to think about the families that are affected and the soldiers that are their sacrificing everything. You need to be thankful. If you’re inside the box, and you're looking out, then I want to give you a token of my respect. But it’s difficult to talk about the situation on the ground. I'm not a fucking CNN analyst. Its one of those things we are going to be remember for the rest of our lives. The sand in the hour glass is almost up and people who don't want to pay attention to what's really going on, then its going to get to the point where you're not going to be able to do anything else but pay attention. Everybody wants to act like they know it all and they have all the answers, but they still ain't doing nothing to really help the troops. Nobody has any fucking respect.