The fire engine red locks and thick, Philadelphia-honed accent are just a couple of Charli Baltimore’s trademarks. Perhaps the most familiar is her romantic attachment to the Notorious B.I.G. in the early ‘90s. Not only did Biggie give Charli her alias (based on a mischievous character from the film, Long Kiss Goodnight), he also pegged her as one-third of the short-lived super-group, the Commission, featuring himself and Jay-Z. But while the Big Poppa link initially ushered Charli into the game, her own mic skills kept her steady as she struggled to change the perception of being just the chick-on-the-side.
After Biggie’s death 10 years ago this month, Charli B. rode with three different crews—Lance “Un” Rivera’s now-defunct Untertainment, Irv Gotti’s Murder Inc. and The Game’s Black Wall Street. Poor promotion forced the feisty bombshell to leave the latter two posts behind, with her intended debut, Cold As Ice, and its follow-up still gathering dust. In its wake are various singles and collaborations (Ja Rule’s “Down Ass Bitch,” and “NBC.”) Now working with producer Scott Storch, Chuck B-More seeks redemption once again. XXLMag.com sits with the career-long underdog to discuss her label shifts, the friction over the years and her new game plan.
Last we heard, you were signed to The Game’s Black Wall Street, but then you skipped out. Why?
It really wasn’t what I was looking for at the time, so I just backed out the situation. I had a lot of crazy personal stuff going on. I’m not actually signed [anywhere]. I’m a free agent right now. I’m going where the money is. I’m just working with Scott Storch. We’ve been working together for a while, so we got some hot shit. We’re about halfway through the album.
Do you still maintain a relationship with Game?
Yeah, he was performing at Gilbert Arenas’ party in D.C., so I saw him there. That’s the first time I really seen him since the whole Black Wall Street thing didn’t go through, but it was all love. I fucks with Game.
After you left Black Wall Street, did you take a break?
Well, I had split with my husband, and then he got locked up, so that was hard for me to deal with. There was a lot of crazy legal stuff going on. I was doing a lot of stuff that wasn’t helping the situation, so I just had to fall back and regroup for a minute. It was a long time between The Game thing and me going to Miami and working with Scott.
You were on a song that was dissing G-Unit. Would you have a problem working with them now?
50 and them was fuckin’ with me [during] the Murder Inc. shit, so I never was able to say anything back at ‘em because Irv would shut me down every time. I ain’t never been no bitch or punk. That wasn’t anything they asked of me. That was something I wanted to do. I feel like once everybody kind of gets they shit off, they cool. I’m from the streets of Philly, so we get ours off a little different. My prior situation with Irv didn’t allow me to say anything, which I thought was a big mistake. I was like, ‘Yo, I don’t really think we should be sitting here letting somebody just ride on us like this.’ That was just crazy to me.
So Irv didn’t want to get into it.
If I’m in your click and y’all sayin’ we family—which is how Irv was presenting it to me—then we supposed to ride. Everybody’s supposed to be in on it. Fuck it, let Ashanti sing a damn song dissin’ these niggas. Because it’s gonna be all of them against us anyway. But Irv’s stance on it was like, “It’s gonna go away.” But I’m like, “No, it’s not.” And if it does go away, they still got one up on us.
Do you feel that’s the main reasons Murder Inc. fell off?
Definitely. Irv was totally unfocused and allowed things to occur that shouldn’t have. I’m not a person to point the fingers, but in that situation, he totally fucked up. He had some of the hardest working people on his label [who] would’ve went and did anything for him. I have no love for them, at all. I do not fuck with them dudes. We could never squash that. I feel like them niggas put a dent in my life.
How come your album, Cold As Ice, never came out?
I can’t put the total blame on Un because I was so naïve. Un ran into a situation with Sony, and people would say, “Yo, this is business. You can’t just sit there and not make a move.” I guess Un felt like, there’s no way she’s gonna leave [the label] and this album. But I’m like, “Fuck that album.” And then I ended up [meeting Irv]. Irv never seen a girl that wrote all her shit, so he was a little twisted by that. He didn’t really believe me, so he would call me up to New York to put me on records and make sure it was real because that was a big part of his vision for Murder Inc.
You were writing before you met Biggie, right?
I been writing since I was like 12, and I stopped and started again. Big was basically giving me guidance and just telling me, “Write everyday and you’ll see how much better you get.”
What happened to the material from Cold As Ice?
Un owns that music. But that album was leaked, so I’m sure people could get the songs off the Internet. The Murder Inc. album was a little bit different, though, because that was my baby, so I had a hard time leaving it. But I eventually walked away from it because that was part of the deal to get off the label. I just got released from Murder Inc. last year, and that’s only because I aggressively pursued it. They were still holding me to my contract. I could’ve fought for it [the album], but it wasn’t worth it because it’s personal with them. It’s like a divorce.
Was there any point when you felt like walking away?
Definitely, but at the same time, I don’t know anybody that’s had as many different [label] situations. I think the problem with me is that I was overexposed on the first label. There are plenty of artists that have had different types of deals but they haven’t had the overexposure or the same type of controversy that came with the name. I had that stigma attached to me every time I switched a label.
What’s your vision for your new album?
Actually, I’m not really trying to go at it from a perspective of planning the whole album out from start to finish. So far, most of the songs that Scott and me have done have been big songs—the kind of songs that Scott does. So I haven’t put a focus on twisting the album one way or another. [With] both of my previous albums, I really tried to mold them into stories, which people aren’t really attracted to anymore. I still wanna give my fans what they like, but I don’t wanna get stuck into making the same album. That was never the type of artist I was. People get scared and they stick to the same formula, and I think that if you change, your music should change as well.
Is there something you want to prove now?
The album is more about me than anything else—just proving to myself that I can do it. I know it’s a business, but I just wanna know that I put out a project, especially for my own sanity.
How do you think the situation for female MCs has changed since you started out in the ‘90s?
I think it’s way harder [now]. Females had a hot moment and then it just went cold and nobody was really fuckin’ with female rappers. So I don’t know how to fix or change that. All I can do is try. For me, Remy is a hell of an artist, so I fuck with her shit. So if somebody says, “Well, her sales weren’t all that,” I’m, like, ‘But she’s a hell of an artist and her rhymes are crazy.’ It’s kind of hard for me to figure it out. Where as a person like Fergie….
She doesn’t count.
[Laughs] Yeah, but she’s doing the same shit. However you look at it, she’s still rapping. She just looks a different way. She sold a million records. I don’t care how you flip it, she’s spittin’ a rhyme, so it’s kind of hard to figure out what people want.
Why should hip-hop fans care about Charli Baltimore now?
I have fans; I know that. There are always going to be haters and [my name] is always gonna be in somebody’s mouth regardless, so I can’t really say if they do or don’t care. All I can do is focus on the music and try to appeal to the muthafuckas that fuck with me.