crookedi.jpgThree years ago, Dominick “Crooked I” Wickliffe came to a crossroads. His career was stagnant. He was signed to Death Row Records, but his debut album, Say Hi to the Bad Guy, was on indefinite hold. Making matters worse, his affiliation with Death Row CEO Suge Knight was leading to “a lot of gunplay, fights and brawls.” The Long Beach, Calif., rapper hit a low point in April 2004, when he was arrested after getting into a fight at a local mall.
“I just spent one night in jail,” says Crooked, 30. “But I was laying down on that floor, and I was like, You know what? I need to get off of this label and put my career in my own hands. Because police are going to mess with me for the rest of my life because I’m on Death Row… And I can’t even put my record out.”

So, in late 2004, after a four-year stint that produced more hype than results, the man once billed as the heir to the Death Row throne terminated his contract and set to rebuilding his career from the ground up. He started his own label, Dynasty Entertainment, and landed a joint-venture deal with the Cali-based indie Treacherous Records. Then, after releasing a critically acclaimed mixtape, Young Boss Vol. 2, and a DVD, Life After Death Row, in 2006, he devised the marketing plan that would propel him to his current pole position. “That’s when I thought of Hip-Hop Weekly,” he says of the eureka moment that came this past spring. Exploiting the Internet to its fullest potential, under a banner perfectly suited for today’s tabloid culture, Crooked started posting a new freestyle every seven days on his MySpace page. “Everybody is like, ‘I’m not a rapper, I’m a hustler.’ Nigga, I’m not that. I’m a rapper. I’m an MC. I can hustle, yeah, ’cause I’m from the hood. But hustling ain’t my calling. My calling is getting down on that mic and expressing myself with that ink pen. I just wanted to give them something free, ’cause they say if you love something, you’ll do it for free. So here you go—free, once a week. Download it, whatever you want.”

In less than a month, he had the Internet going nuts. Top-name producer Just Blaze gushed on his MySpace blog, calling Crooked “the best not-so-new artist I’ve never heard before.”

In November, after a full 12 years of setbacks (Crooked signed his first deal with Virgin Records way back in 1995), the long-suffering lyricist is finally going to release an album: B.O.S.S. (Beginning of Something Serious). “Right now is the time,” he says. “Everybody is talking about me, from producers, different artists, everywhere I go. I walk in the mall, and they ask me, ‘What beat you gonna rap to next week?’ Strangers and shit. It’s a beautiful thing. And I feel like it’s now or never for me, man. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.”
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