From the Juice Crew to C-N-N, Tragedy Khadafi is a true New York O.G. But the Queensbridge native doesn’t dwell—he’s ready for The Death of Tragedy. What’s next?
In 1988, at the age of 17, Percy “Tragedy Khadafi” Chapman became the youngest member of the world’s biggest hip-hop clique. Established by producer Marley Marl, the Juice Crew super group featured timeless artists like Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, MC Shan and Masta Ace. Originally performing under the pseudonym Intelligent Hoodlum, Trag released his first song, “The Tragedy (Don’t Do It),” with a group called The Super Kids, in 1986. After hooking up with Marley Marl in ’88, Trag kicked off a career that would span two decades. Mixing militant and social messages on tracks like “Arrest the President” and “Black and Proud,” the Queensbridge native recorded two albums in the early ’90s, but failed to achieve the notoriety of his Juice Crew brethren.
After his original team fizzled, the Intelligent Hoodlum changed his name to Tragedy Khadafi and started his 25 To Life Entertainment imprint, signing two young Queens rappers named Capone-N-Noreaga. Under his tutelage, C-N-N released their classic 1997 debut, The War Report, on which Tragedy appeared on nine songs. Shortly after, Trag and C-N-N went their separate ways and the Queensbridge OG began to focus on his solo career, releasing two critically acclaimed albums — 2001’s Against All Odds and 2003’s Still Reportin’ — solidifying his place as one of the underground’s most revered artists. Now, after releasing two volumes of his Thug Matrix mixtape series in ’05 and ’06, Trag is returning with a new street album entitled The Death of Tragedy and a role as executive producer on Havoc’s new solo LP, The Kush. XXLMag.com tracked down the elusive Queens veteran to discuss his new projects and reflect on his longstanding career.
Why did you call your new album Death of Tragedy?
The Death of Tragedy is more of a street album/mixtape. I didn’t treat it like a mixtape, though. All of the music is original. Honestly, if it was an album, I would take a little more time on it and do things a little differently. You didn’t see any ads [or] promotion. I just threw it out there to get some feedback [and what] I’ve gotten has been positive. A few heads say it’s a little short, but that’s ’cause it’s a mixtape. But the Death of Tragedy is basically an exodus for Tragedy, and [now] Khadafi [is] gonna step it up. There was a time when I considered my life a tragedy. But it’s not a tragedy anymore. I lived through [it].
You released your last album, Still Reportin’, in 2003. In retrospect, how do you feel about it?
For an indie project, I was real happy with it. I wish I would have done the deal with a different company. I’m still tryin’ to get money back — my backend. When I was doing that album, my son fell out the window in Queensbridge. He fell from the third floor, down the garbage ramp. I damn near suffered a nervous breakdown. Then I got an attempted murder case. Some dude tried to pop off at me in midtown [NYC] and I defended myself. Then, in Atlanta, some chick said I raped her, which I got justice on because I didn’t rape anybody. Also, me and N.O.R.E. got locked up. Somebody called and said we had sub-machine guns in N.O.R.E.’s Hummer, which wasn’t true. The police came on some S.W.A.T. shit [and] threw us on the ground. They disrespected us ’cause they couldn’t find nothing in the car. They took us all down for a blunt clip of some weed. All of this happened in Union Square [NYC]. It was in the Daily News and all of that. So I was going through mad trials and tribulations, but I kept going to the studio. So when I hear people say that’s one of your best albums, you don’t even know what that does for me. I wanted to quit at that time. I didn’t want to make music or leave the house I was so depressed. Still Reportin’ is one of my most important albums.
Being that you came up in the era of the Juice Crew, how has it felt to watch hip-hop evolve throughout the years?
It’s interesting to me. When I look in retrospect at everything, I still feel young in spirit. To me, I’m still a young artist in my heart. I kind of forget how long I’ve been doing this. I think I purposely make myself forget so I don’t come off as a hip-hop dad when I’m on the mic. I have certain individuals in the game call me for advice, like, what do you think of this? How do you think I should do this album? Then reality really sets in, like, You fathered a lot of dudes. I don’t take it to the head; I take it gracefully. I’ve been blessed to be around individuals who call on me [to] help broker their deals and get them in good situations. I recently brokered Havoc’s deal [with Nature Sounds Records] and A&R’d his first solo album [The Kush].
How did that come about?
Havoc is an artist I basically raised and mentored. I gave him the name Havoc. Plenty of times me and him will be chillin’ and he’ll say, “You know you’re the illest out of the ’hood. You’re nicer than all of us.” And I take that to heart. That’s Havoc, man. He made his way. He put his flag down. Mobb Deep is a significant landmark in hip-hop. It just feels good to be here and be able to have input and influence. I listen to dudes and I hear sprinkles of my style or influence in dudes. It’s all good, ’cause this shit is all interdependent.
Give me an example of an artist who’s been influenced by your style?
Sometimes when you listen to certain things…I was in the barbershop the other day with my mans listening to some Nas [and] Nature joints. I could tell they were listening to C-N-N and going off the vibe of that era. Just like we were listening to Wu-Tang. When they dropped as a collective unit, we were like, “Wow, these dudes are doin’ it.” We vibed off their aura. I can look into dudes and see how they rocked off my aura or C-N-N’s aura. I see the influences. I primarily see my influences in a lot of artists. Most magazines and people in the industry won’t accredit me to that, but I can hear it.
It is frustrating to not get the credit?
Oh, definitely! I was reading an article Twista had in XXL and he said something that stood out to me. He said, "I cried many a nights." A lot of artists won’t admit it, but he admitted it. And I respect him for that because whether you cry physically on the outside [or not], you cry inside when you strive to reach something and it’s not being appreciated or credited to you. That's a tough pill to swallow. I would read certain articles like, Damn, I basically put that dude or producer together, but I don’t see nothing attributed to the contributions I made. Sometimes it does bother you, whether you ate off it or not. There are things that I strive for to do that I fell short of. Realistically, I don’t even blame nobody 'cause I gotta look at self and push harder. But there are definitely things that I strived to do—there are projects that I wanted to do that just didn’t happen. Hell yeah, it bothers you.
What’s your relationship like with C-N-N now?
I haven’t spoken to them dudes in some time now, but for the most part, I’m always going to have love for them brothers. I wish them the best. We may not all agree with each other’s decisions in life, but a part of growing up is getting past little frivolous things that don’t matter. We created a bond amongst each other at that time. It may not be as strong as it once was, but it never really diminished. At least that’s what I would like to believe. When we do speak, it’s like we never parted.
Last year you and Maino allegedly got involved in a fight. What happened?
Basically, the artist you just mentioned, we were going to do a deal. What happened was, a contract was presented to that artist and he signed off on it. Anyone who does business or has any concept of businesses knows that an agreement is not fully executed until it's signed by both parties. The individual you just mentioned signed off on it, but it wasn't signed off on our end, the label's end. Basically, I was pushing for the deal. I presented a situation to him, but the company I was dealing with at the time, they didn't particularly believe in him as an artist. They didn't want to do the deal anymore. They didn't want to put money behind it, so they backed out. At that time, his numbers had changed so I couldn't get in touch with him. So me and my peoples go to the T.I. party. I see him, so I called him over. I'm thinking it's all good. Obviously, if I knew the agenda of that night was to assassinate Tragedy, of course, I wouldn't have walked into a trap unprepared. But it was a weak move. A bunch of hyenas jumped on a lion. That's basically the gist of it, which I think was very unprofessional. It bothers me because you would think we as people or as artists would get past certain things. I seen interviews where dude was getting all out of character and talking a whole bunch of reckless things that ain't gonna benefit him as an artist or man. I don't even give it energy. My mind is on bigger things. I don't got beef with nobody.