Find out how this MC/executive went from a Wu-Tang-affiliate to the president of DJ Drama’s Aphilliates Music Group.
Back in the ’90s, having the “Wu” attached to your name meant automatic authenticity as a diamond-fang-sharp lyricist. Brooklyn, NY native La The Darkman was one of many Wu-Tang affiliates to emerge from the shadows of the Clan’s wings. Whether that shadow did more to obscure some otherwise capable hip-hop artists, or give them far more exposure than they would have had on their own will be a subject of debate for years.
But La The Darkman didn’t wait for legend and lore to determine his legacy. His ominous, esoteric, block-savvy flow was just what true heads were ready for back in the late ’90s. After dropping his debut Heist of the Century independently in 1998 to modest praise, La dipped back in the cut only to emerge recently as a pillar of one of the most formidable hip-hop movements in existence: DJ Drama’s Aphilliates Music Group. Not only is his younger brother, Willie The Kid, the flagship artist for the Asylum-distributed imprint, but La is also tackling the business side as the label’s President. XXL caught up with the Darkman to find out how he went from an affiliate to an Aphilliate.
Everyone originally knows you from your work with the Wu. How did that connection come about?
I was a young cat growing up in Crown Heights and a lot of Wu is from Brooklyn, like RZA, GZA and Dirt. So while they was coming up, I met a guy named Taris and also Divine, who’s RZA’s brother. Divine is the executive producer of all the Wu albums. I met them at the mall once and bumped into them again down south in Tennessee. We started building with them and then doing different things. I been with them since I was 15 years old. Enter the 36 Chambers came, and I saw it grow. I was a baby back then, but then I got my opportunity to drop when I was 18. I dropped in November of ’98. I had my own label with Taris with distribution through Navarre, which just got bought out by KOCH. I was getting $7 an album and pushed 350,000 units. For Navarre, I was their first black music artist.
Your first album dropped in ’98, and now you’re preparing your next album for 2008. What’s changed about La the Darkman in those ten years?
I’m a little more mature. I’m a grown man now. I was always a business man, but now I’m co-founder and president of Aphilliates Music Group. I manage Willie The Kid. I’m the sponsor behind the Gangsta Grillz album. I still love the lyrics and the artform, but I can create a DJ Drama and turn him into an owner, make a Willie The Kid, turn him into an owner. I executive produced the upcoming Willie The Kid album, and that’s my younger brother. So as a grown man, it’s the same flavor, but I got other artists to show I can make a company and turn it into a dynasty, like what Wu-Tang, Rap-A-Lot and No Limit did. I want to make the AMG brand into a dynasty. I got [the AMG] label deal with Grand Hustle/Universal. I executive produced DJ Drama’s album, and I got another label deal for La Embassy Entertainment with Steve Rifkind over at SRC. It’s similar to what RZA did back in the day when he had three or four album deals on the table. I’m the marketing mind behind all this. When you see DJ Drama doing the Pepsi commercials, I set up all of that. I’m there top to bottom.
Are you still affiliated with Wu-Tang?
Yeah, of course. I just had RZA on my radio show the other day. I’m on Method Man’s last album. When you in Wu-Tang, it’s like being a Kennedy. Once you a Kennedy, you always recognized like that. Like Maria Shriver—she a Kennedy. She might have a different last name, but she still a Kennedy.
Still, there seems to be a lot of tension going on within the Wu-Kennedy compound right now.
That controversy is…it’s like when you got brothers and y’all argue sometimes, but you eventually get over it. I just talked to Ghost and RZA and they said it’s all squashed. It was a little quarrel. Once they talked about it, they saw eye to eye. Mixing business with family, sometimes things get misconstrued, but they over it though.
What about Raekwon’s claims that the rest of the Wu is doing an album without RZA?
I don’t believe that would ever happen. At the same time, when I talked to RZA, he said it was cool. He said if brothers wanna have more creativity and do they own thing and not have him on there, he don’t have no problem with that. He was like, “Let them do they thing and get they money.”
On Dead Presidents, your latest mixtape with Willie, you have a song with 50 Cent called “Fast Lane.” How’d y’all connect?
We got the same lawyer, Theo Sedlmayr. Me, him and Eminem use him. He been my lawyer since the ’90s. I been grindin’ for a long time. 50 was grinding for a while before he blew. We both always been the underdog, so when we met, we was feelin’ each others’ styles. Yayo and them, they cool guys to me. They family and they keep it tight. “Life in the Fast Lane” was about two brothers being in the streets and always being the underdog. Also we both been dealing with the greats, with him working under Jam Master Jay, Dr. Dre and Eminem, and me working with RZA, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard. So we went with it.
You’ve also worked with Vanilla Ice in the past. How’d that happen?
I wrote a few songs on his albums. He liked my music and he asked me to come in and write for him. People don’t know, he like the first Eminem. He sold like 20 million something records. He a real cool guy though, and it was a very lucrative deal. The checks was very good for that.
So now you’re with Aphilliates. Were you around for the big raid in early ’07?
I was just leavin the office that day. I was hungry, starving, rushing out the studio to get something to eat and as I leave, I get a call from somebody saying some sheriffs was about to run up in the studio. I was like, Why they coming up in here? We just make music here, ain’t nothin’ goin’ on. I called Drama and told him I heard the studio was about to be raided. He was the same way, like, “For what?” So I turn back around to see if it was real. When I come up the block, I see 40 to 50 cops coming. We saw it from a block away. They thought there was some guns and drugs in there, but it wasn’t nothin’, so they dealt with the mixtapes. That was nothin’. We get checks cut from the labels to do mixtapes. This is promo for them. We going through the court process right now. We got the lawyer who was on the Ray Lewis murder case, so we got the best. I don’t think they knew what mixtapes was, but they took all our masters. They got the masters for the Gangsta Grillz album and the Willie The Kid album. So we had to go back and recreate the music. We got some of the files copied, but we had to go in and make whole new albums.
How involved have you been in the grooming of your brother, Willie The Kid?
It’s crazy, man. Willie already been on stage with the best: 50, Wu-Tang, Big Pun, Clipse, doin’ arenas. I executive produced the Gangsta Grillz album and did it like it’s the Southern version of The Chronic. So Willie’s like the Snoop Dogg of The Chronic. His rhymes is crazy. A lotta music out there been real Jack in the Box, White Castle fast food shit. But we trying to have cats eat like Thanksgiving, like you at big mama’s house. It’s not fast food; It’s more like Cheesecake Factory. It’s food for thought.
You’re pretty much planted in Atlanta right now. Is that what other New York rappers need to do to stay in the game? Head South?
Never that. We still the business men. I’m still looking up to Jay-Z, Diddy and 50. New York artists still gross the most money in hip-hop this year or any year. Don’t get fooled by the hype. The top earners, they from New York, baby. I’m a universal playboy, I go to Los Angeles and play, I go to Houston and play. Biggie played everywhere. He didn’t just play in the neighborhood. We the next movement, like the civil rights movement. If anybody hate on the North, you just wack. If you hate on the South, you wack. Real playboys don’t hate. Just ’cause I’m from Brooklyn don’t mean I can’t go to Atlanta and play, or go to Cali and play. When you real, it’s only the fake ones that got a problem. So cats complaining about the South, you ain’t real.
Still, a lot of artists from the Wu, like Ghostface, have expressed some displeasure with Southern artists. Does that mean he isn’t real?
See, I never heard Ghost talk shit about the South. I never heard him complain about the South. Me and Ghost just left the South. I don’t read the magazines and all that so I never heard him say that. I personally never been a complainer, B, I just make it happen. I still got a crib in New York and a crib in Atlanta. I got an office in New York and I got an office in Atlanta.