During Hot 97’s Summer Jam 2007 concert this past June in Rutherford, NJ, Akon introduced the crowd of 50,000 spectators to the newest member of his Konvict Muzik family—Red Café. Bestowing the Brooklyn MC with his SRC/Universal distributed-label’s diamond clustered chain, Akon said, “He’s going to bring New York back.” The question on most people’s minds, though, probably was: who is Red Café? Although everyone may not be familiar with his name, the Guyanese born rapper has been earning his stripes in the rap game as a ghostwriter, most notably penning P. Diddy’s bars for Busta Rhymes’ 2002 hit “Pass the Courvoisier, Pt. 2.” Initially under the wing of production duo The Trackmasters, Red inked his first artist deal in 2003 with Arista Records. Although Café released his first single, “May I,” (the remix appeared on EA Sports’ Madden 2004), his debut album, The Virus, never saw the light of day as Arista merged with J Records in 2005. That same year, Red signed a new deal with Capitol Records and Mack 10’s Hoo Bangin’ imprint. The partnership spawned the Fabolous collabo “Bling Bloaw,” but was short-lived as Café decided to leave after the VP at Capitol that signed him was let go last year. Now backed by hit-maker Akon, Red Café is finally set to make his major label debut next year with The Shakedown. As a way to tide fans over ’til then, he’s releasing The Co-Op, a collaborative album with DJ Envy in September through Koch Records. XXLMag.com talks with the Brooklyn MC about his turbulent career, new projects and desire to bring the East Coast back.
How did the deal with Akon’s Konvict Muzik come about?
Akon was just pretty much a fan of the music. We’ve been working together for about two years. Once everything got settled with his new situation at Universal [Records] he offered it to me. He was interested in the music and I just went for it.
What’s it been like working with Akon so far?
He’s a perfectionist. He’s been in the game for a long time putting out records next to the folks that make the best [songs] in the game. It’s definitely a learning experience. I’ve been in the game for a minute working with the best out there, so it’s a learning thing for me. And with him involved, he’s just more hands on. So it’s definitely taken my creativity to the next level.
What was it like being introduced during Hot 97’s Summer Jam in June?
That was big, man. There’s nothing bigger than that. That was live with real hip-hop fans in my city and the tri-state area. That was a head rush right there. It was amazing to me. You know how New York and the tri-state area is—one minute they love you, the next they not feeling you and then they feeling you again the next day. So to get the reception that I got was amazing.
Akon says you’re bringing the East Coast back. How do you plan on doing that?
Good music. We haven’t had a consistent run for a few years, since most of the bigger guys that were putting out the hits fell back, like Jay-Z, Puffy, Murder Inc. and Ruff Ryders. We had a slew of multi-platinum artists at one time. Mainly that’s what [Akon] meant. He just meant [putting out] great music consistently. When a city or an area moves to the forefront, it’s not because they had one good artist or one good thing, it’s because they’re rolling. Like when Houston was doing their thing, they had a bunch of artists that went platinum. When you have your whole region behind you, everybody comes with hits. And I definitely have the joints to make [Akon’s] speech be very truthful.
What should fans expect from your Konvict Muzik debut, The Shakedown?
We’ve got Akon, T-Pain, Tyrese, Mack 10, Bone Thugs and Remy Ma. We’ve got production from Akon, of course, Clark Kent and The Trackmasters. We’re not all the way done with it yet, but we’re in a great place right now. The album is amazing. I’m looking to make a classic. That’s really what I’m working on. It will be that classic record.
Tell us about The Co-Op, your album with DJ Envy on Koch Records.
That album is something very special to me as well. I put an equal amount of energy into that particular record. We got a bunch of guys on there. We’re targeting something a little different—a little more core-driven. We want to follow Eric B. & Rakim and what they did—the DJ and the MC. I wanted to really get back to having my DJ be a part of the performance. Just really bringing it back to where it was.
Before signing with Konvict Muzik, you were on Arista and Capitol Records. What do you feel kept going wrong for you?
I think it was timing. If you look at all the labels, they folded while I was on the label or right after. I was on Arista and they closed down. Then I was on Capitol and the vice president who signed me was let go. So it was just bad timing and going through a few little things that were out of my hands. But I’m not bitter. I’m cool. I learned a lot. I’m in a great place. Everything happens in a timely fashion. Maybe I wasn’t ready then. So it’s all good. My shit is on a different level. There’s nobody else that can toy with me, man.
How is this Konvict Muzik situation different?
It’s more intimate. Everybody’s involved with everyone’s project. You get different support. We were all out on tour with Akon and Gwen Stefani. We had three buses and we were recording in the studio. It’s a movement [and] I love [that I’m] a part of it. It’s like the movements that were winning, like Roc-A-Fella, Murder Inc., Death Row, Aftermath and Ruff Ryders.
So what’s your long-term career goal?
I need to be one of the dudes. I need to be respected as one of those guys. On a personal level, I need them to know that Red Café is definitely cut from a different cloth from what is going on now with all the new acts. I need that kinda respect. Other than that, I really just want to bring back the energy of good music. ’Cause once the energy and morale is up, it’ll make the guys out here make better records. The sky’s the limit after that. We’ve got a lot of things in line and we just have to take it one thing at a time.