cashis-1.jpgThere’s a lot riding on the narrow shoulders of Ramone “Ca$his” Johnson. With 10 children, his grandmother and two siblings in his care, the budding MC has 13 good reasons to succeed. Growing up in Chicago’s South Side, Ca$his got caught up in the streets at an early age and became a member of the infamous Gangster Disciples gang. After watching most of his friends die from senseless violence, Ca$h moved to Irvine, Calif. with his mother in 1997. Once there, he linked with producer Rikanatti and rappers H-Long and Monique (also the mother of his oldest daughter) to form the Renegadez. The crew enjoyed local success until tragedy struck in 1999 when Monique was murdered. Despite the loss, the Cali collective tried to carry on but were hit with another blow when Ca$his was arrested for parole violation and had to serve a short sentence. Once released, he reunited with the Renegadez and refocused on music. By 2004, Ca$his was regarded as the “rap king of Orange County” and attracted the attention of Shady Records A&R, Dart Parker, who signed the young talent after hearing his mixtape, Stars With Stripes. Ca$h’s introduction to the masses, however, wouldn’t come until 2006 when he appeared alongside Eminem, 50 Cent and Lloyd Banks on “You Don’t Know,” the first single off the platinum-selling Shady Records compilation, The Re-Up. Now, the ferocious MC is prepping his first solo release, The County Hound EP: Limited Edition. talks with Ca$his about his new album, troubled past and close relationship with Eminem.

What’s the transition been like going from a group member to a solo artist on Shady Records?
Now that I’m a solo artist, I’m [able] to give you three verses of me. With the Renegadez, everybody in Orange County was rappin’ backpack style, which is cool. Much respect to backpack rappers, but I was trying to spit about what I was living. And now as a solo artist, I have three verses to do that. I really get a chance to express my life fully. Whereas, [in the Renegadez] I just had a verse.

How did you cope with the death of Monique, who was not only your group member but also the mother of your child?
It fucked me up. I’m still fucked up from it. That was my soul mate. I kicked it in the streets with her. I beat niggas up with her. I did all kind of shit with her. She was the real thing. I’ve been searching for that love… I can’t find [it]. I took a lot of losses. I just lost my brother Rob. He got killed in Detroit by some pussy ass niggas. They set his house on fire. I lost my uncle, Pacman. I dealt with a lot of losses. Monique was too much. I spazzed out. I was already a wild nigga, but I just really wilded out and threw my life downhill for a minute because I didn’t care whether I died. But now I got a reason to be here.

Does the passing of your family and friends have a big influence on your music?
I use [Monique] as my inspiration for music. That’s why my music is so real. I try to be brutally honest because that was one thing about me she loved—I was straight up. My body is like a fuckin’ cemetery. I got dead faces [tattooed] all over me. Not that it’s cool, that’s just what it is. Rest in peace to my little cousin, Rakim. He was 17-years-old, just got killed in Chicago last week. No matter what I do, it’s like somebody else is dying. I got my little brother Marciano out here with me. I got him rappin’ and I’m training him. I can steer him in the right direction but still have him keep his gangsta. He don’t have to go to jail like I went to jail, he don’t have to be a felon. There’s certain things he don’t have to do. And I’m still very much in the streets. I’m not an industry dude. I vibe with a lot of people in the industry and I’m a cool person because I’m humble. But after I leave that studio, I’m going to get my money.

Do you ever worry about who will take care of your family if anything ever happens to you?
Everyday I worry about what’s gonna happen to my kids if something happens to me. But Em told me he’s got my kids. If something happens to me, they’re straight. I love Em and he loves me. That’s my homeboy. We’ve got very similar backgrounds. The music we make together is phenomenal. We vibe on everything, from dealing with baby mama drama, to single parenting, to juggling rappin’ and being a dad, to [learning] how to keep your sanity. He says I inspire him to get back in it. He’s always been my inspiration. They [even] bought me a car. I wanted a ’74 Lincoln. They brought that in on a flatbed to Dre’s studio. All tricked out on 22’s, just the way I wanted it. No one’s ever done shit like that for me. I haven’t sold any records yet. That was just to say, “I’m fuckin’ with you, I’m proud of you and I look at you like a part of my family.”

You’re about to release your first major solo project, The County Hound EP: Limited Edition. Why’d you decide to do an EP rather than a full length LP?
So many people decide to do mixtapes to get their buzz going. But we’re taking it back to where it’s supposed to be. We’re building that buzz from the streets. The [album] is only gonna be $6. We’re takin’ it back to Illmatic. That shit was short but it was fuckin’ to the point. Nas didn’t sell a million copies right out the jump. But then when [It Was Written] came out, he did almost three million. People know who Ca$his is and they gave me my respect on The Re-Up. But now you need to see me step out in my own light. You get to really hear my stories. But I don’t give you all of it. You gotta wait until the LP, Loose Cannon, later this year, around September or October.

Obviously, Em’s co-sign is something any new artist would love to have. But it doesn't always guarantee big record sales.
As long as you put your best foot forward and you make quality music, you’re good to go at Shady Records. I’m the Capo of Shady. Em is the Don and I respect his position. Everything that comes out of my mouth is based on the views of not only myself, but also the honorable King Mathers. So I’m just trying to concentrate on making quality music to support my children, bring Shady back and gain the respect of the label. I love being at Shady/Interscope because I don’t have to change. Em said he hasn’t heard a song from me that he hasn’t liked. He said I’m like Roy Jones in his prime. I’m very humbled by that. But I don’t feel that pressure, ’cause I’m not under pressure to sell eight or 10 million records. I feel like I definitely will sell that in my career, though. By this time next year, I’ll be one of the elite rappers in the game once people hear me. I really, really believe that. Em believes that. 50 believes that. Dre believes that. Banks believes that. Buck believes that. And Interscope believes that.