The Clean-Up Man
When radio jock Don Imus categorized the Rutgers University woman’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hoes” on-air last April, the hip-hop community somehow received a heavy share of the blame. Citing influential rap lyrics as the source of Imus’ controversial comment, political activists like Rev. Al Sharpton picketed the recording industry and demanded the banishment of demeaning words such as “nigga,” “ho” and “bitch” from the rap lexicon. Since then, a battle has waged between freedom of speech advocates and political figures looking for hip-hop to clean up its act.
While most rappers are defending their creative freedoms, Master P actually sees the power of his words and is taking a stand against violent lyrics, recently releasing a profanity-free album, Hip-Hop History, with his son Romeo. With P publicly calling for a change within hip-hop, many fans labeled the New Orleans native a sellout. Even 50 Cent chided the No Limit Records founder’s efforts in a news conference for the 2007 BET Awards, stating, “Well, Master P doesn’t sell CDs anymore.” P later responded with his own statement: “I’m a true entrepreneur; my boss is God, not Jimmy Iovine.” Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. In fact, when 50 Cent hosted BET’s Rap City last week, P appeared on the show as a surprise guest. XXLMag.com chopped it up with the mogul about his sit down with Fif and his efforts to clean up hip-hop.
Based on his past comments, you and 50 Cent haven’t really seen eye to eye. How’d you wind up being his guest on BET’s Rap City last week?
It’s about being real. I could see that 50 really got caught up in the media. So as men, we gotta think about what we say and our actions. I don’t live for gimmicks or games. I’m tryin’ to save my people. I think it’s important we be responsible for the negative things we do, ’cause these kids watch. [50 Cent has] been in the game a long time, so I let him know where I’m at in life—that I’m grown up. It’s all about respect. I respect all the people that came before me.
Was it good to sit face to face with him and talk about your new stance on profanity?
I think it was a good conversation. It was something that was needed. When you think about us as black people and what we do, we always tryin’ to settle to violence. And my thing is, now I’ma put something on these kids’ mind. I feel like I’m the daddy of this whole street music stuff and I done cleaned my life up and these are my kids. You got some good kids and some bad kids, but you gotta look out for all of ’em. So I can give ’em that knowledge and let ’em understand what the real world is about. That’s why I cut the dreds off [and] took the gold teeth out—I’m going to corporate America. I’ma show ’em, don’t judge me by my past ’cause people can change. Ain’t nobody perfect unless you God or Jesus Christ and ain’t none of us that.
What is the message you’re trying to get across to an artist like 50 Cent, then?
What I expressed to 50 is, you gotta do what’s good for you. When I pick up the Bible, I read in there, “A life without change is a wasted life.” That made me change my life ’cause I ain’t tryna waste my life. So we have to grow up and that’s what [that episode of Rap City was] about. But after the smoke clears with all the hype and gimmicks, I got something real for these kids. I feel it’s my duty to help. It’s a fight that I don’t mind doing because I feel somebody woke me up. And if I can wake one or two people up, I’m good.
How do you respond to criticism that you’re merely jumping on Al Sharpton’s bandwagon to censor hip-hop?
I want people to know that this is for real. We got brothers dying everyday. So this ain’t about a gimmick. This ain’t about how many records we sell. I didn’t do this to be the best rapper in the world, ’cause I’m not trying to be in the rap game. I did this to put some balance out there. To show kids that if you clean your music up, it can sell and you can benefit way more than just negative music. I stood up for the hip-hop world. I understand their pain. They feel that the leaders are cracking down on ’em, but I got a chance to sit down with the leaders, too. The only way I was able to do this is [because] I come from both sides of the table. I’m able to feel where both sides are coming from. I told the leaders out there that I’m able to grow up and we gotta wait until some of these kids grow up and understand how important it is [to] grow up if we’re going to preserve hip-hop. I also told the hip-hop artists how important it is to respect these leaders. We never know, one day we might need them. You think you got the hip-hop police [on you] right now, [wait until] one of y’all get falsely accused of something. Y’all gon’ need Rev. Al Sharpton, Oprah Winfrey, [Barack] Obama, Jesse Jackson to march for you. I just think we all gotta start listening to each other.
Realistically, though, how much can you change?
I think I can bring that balance into hip-hop because I was once part of the problem and now I’m gonna be a part of the solution. I know exactly what we need. That’s why I’m showing everybody that knowledge is more important than money. Because some of us, when we get money, we start power trippin’. But if you don’t have the knowledge it won’t last. I put the Hip-Hop History record [out], which is clean, and thanks to the Internet and Wal-Mart, this thing is selling at a fast pace. And the parents, community and streets are behind it. It’s not a sellout record. It’s a street record with no profanity in it. I think this is the first step. Now you got Chamillionaire cleaning his music up and he’s got a good record coming out. So the change is coming. It’s going to be slow.
There have been other artists, such as KRS-One, who have put forth similar messages. But the general public tends to brush him off as being too preachy. How do you avoid a similar fate?
Everybody know I’m not being preachy ’cause I come from the streets. My brother [C-Murder] just got out of jail and he’s tellin’ kids to do something. We ought to love that. You don’t want these kids to go through what you done went through. I think [there’s] going to come a time in 50 Cent’s life where he gon’ have to say, “You know what? I been through this. I been shot. Y’all don’t want this to happen to y’all because y’all might not get up. I’m still here because the Man had another mission for me.” And until he wakes up for that, and fulfills that, he gon’ have problems. But I ain’t trying to preach to nobody.
Why do you feel so guilty about the music you’ve previously put out in your career?
I sold 75 million records. I gave all this negativity to these kids, man. I didn’t know what I was doing. The only thing I was living for was the money. I’m about to show kids now [that] it ain’t about the money. You can’t be in it for the money ’cause you’ll do anything for the money. But if you in it for the knowledge, you always gonna have money. That’s what I’m doing with my son [Romeo]. Go to school. Don’t get caught up in this hip-hop industry. You get a hit record, they love you. You bomb, they talk about you. That’s how the game goes. I caught so much flak for changing my life, [but] nobody said anything when I was out there on the corner, talking about shoot ’em up, bang, bang. It was cool. I was on the cover of every magazine in the world. But that’s life. I expected that from our people. I ain’t expect nothing different from ’em.
Where do you foresee this struggle heading in the future?
We gonna stop pointing the finger at the puppets, which are the artists, and point the fingers at the puppet masters. Let’s go to these record company owners and say, “Y’all gon’ have to control these kids because we losing too many of them.” ’Cause you know music messes with your mind. I go back and listen to all my music… Let me tell you where my music comes from: listening to Ice-T’s “Colors.” So after I heard that song, I was [writing] on that pad all the time, “I am a nightmare walking, psychopath talking…” So that’s what my music evolved from. And I couldn’t know or understand nothing else but that. That’s all I brought with my music. That’s where “Bout It, Bout It” and all that came from. So change is coming and it’s needed, homie. My message ain’t to point the fingers at nobody. But let’s compromise, come to a happy medium to where we can all get this money. It’s time to start thinking now.