FEATURE: Cam’Ron, Here I Am
Where is he? What’s he doing? What’s with that kiddie-size pool? Mystery has dominated the past two years in the career of Harlem MC Cam’ron Giles. The random fan cell-phone shot notwithstanding, since May 2007, one of the flashiest, most flamboyant stars hip-hop has ever known has kept himself uncharacteristically out of the public eye.
But on this January afternoon at Industria Superstudio in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the swaggering rapper is hard to miss. In his gleaming diamonds and an electric blue bubble coat, he’s dressed to impress. Today is the first professional photo shoot he’s done in he doesn’t know how long.
Cam, 33, got his start in hip-hop as a member—along with fellow future luminaries Ma$e and Big L—of the Uptown outfit Children of the Corn in the mid-’90s. He signed a solo deal with Sony/Epic in 1997 and started a rap crew, the Diplomats, with his closest childhood friend, Jim Jones, their man Freekey Zekey and the teenage Juelz Santana. After two moderately successful solo albums, an unhappy Cam escaped to Roc-A-Fella Records—the Def Jam subsidiary co-founded by his old Children of the Corn manager, Dame Dash. In 2002, Cam ascended to official rap stardom with the Come Home With Me album, which sold over a million copies and introduced the rest of his squad to hip-hop heads everywhere.
Over the next few years, the Diplomats would drop two official group albums (one on Def Jam, one through the independent Koch Records) and a slew of mixtapes, amassing an army of second-tier members and affiliates and firmly establishing themselves as a major hip-hop crew. After Dame split from partner Jay-Z in 2004, Cam and the Diplomats brand left Roc-A-Fella—Cam signing solo with Asylum/Warner. Juelz, though, who was signed to Def Jam through Diplomats, stayed put, releasing his own million-selling breakout album, What the Game’s Been Missing!, the following year.
In 2006, rumors began to swirl that things weren’t kosher between Dipset’s two dominant personalities. Jim had been the yin to Cam’s yang, the best friend, handling biz behind the scenes for years. But with Jim focusing on his own rap career—gearing up to release a third solo album on Koch—the two, once inseparable, were rarely seen together. Cam appeared in the video for Jim’s smash single “We Fly High” late in the year, but talk persisted.
In February 2007, Cam got into a heated on-air discussion with 50 Cent about Koch Records and the comparative sales success of Jim’s hit Hustler’s P.O.M.E. and recent releases from 50’s G-Unit Records. During the resulting Internet beef, while Cam and 50 traded diss songs and videos, Jim and Juelz remained conspicuously on the sidelines. In May, Cam posted a Web video of himself standing next to a small pool with palm trees in the background, warning 50 and fans that it was going to be a “hot summer.”
But Cam disappeared after that. And over the next few months, Jim began to publicly acknowledge the rift within Dipset. Jim went so far as to appear on BET with 50, and he and Juelz joined G-Unit onstage at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. Remaining out of sight—and silent, save the sporadic rap track leaked online, a mixtape, Public Enemy #1 and a DVD video trailer, “Here’s Cam’ron (You Little Yentas)”—Cam left the industry, fans and friends guessing as to his whereabouts.
This leaves Dipset under the auspices of Jim, who has become the team’s sole leader and biggest star—scoring a 50-50 solo deal with Sony’s venerable Columbia Records. Lately, in fact, Dame has gotten heavy into the Jim Jones business, working closely on projects like an Off Broadway play and a documentary, This Is Jim Jones, about the rapper’s life.
In last month’s XXL, the cover story featured interviews with Diplomats Jim, Juelz and Zeke discussing the status of the crew. Zeke seemed caught in the middle and insisted Cam would come back to the fold. And while Jim took pains to take his share of the blame for the breakup, both he and Juelz alleged that Cam had been less than fair with Dipset proceeds. And Juelz, who’d been strangely quiet himself since What the Game’s Been Missing!, claimed Cam had essentially frozen his career—blocking him from releasing collaborative material with other artists—through the original Diplomats contract Cam held and only this past summer sold to Def Jam for a reported $2 million.
Today, the enigmatic Dipset founder, gearing up to drop his new solo album Crime Pays this April, is here to give his side of the story. As he puffs on a Black & Mild in the backseat of his boy’s Jeep, heading home to New Jersey for the evening, Cam’ron wants to clear the air.
XXL: So where have you been?
Cam’ron: I’ve been chillin’. My mom had had three back-to-back strokes. She’s doing much better. She’s still, like, 50 percent paralyzed on her left side of her body, little speech impediment. But she’s healthy, she’s alive, she’s walking, driving. But she had three strokes, so I took her to Florida, to a specialist. Then to a rehabilitation center for nine months so she could start walking and get her speech back and everything.
XXL: So that’s a huge piece that explains your being M.I.A. for so long, right?
Cam: What happened was, family always comes first. But then I started hearing that “Cam’ron is missing.” “Cam’ron is hiding.” And it’s like, Who am I hiding from? Missing? Like, What?! I just started using it to my advantage. But it wasn’t like I was “hiding” or “missing.” If you was in Florida, you probably seen me.
XXL: What happened with the “Hot Summer” video? That confused a lot of people. You said, “It’s gonna be a hot summer,” by the swimming pool and all that, and then it was never a hot summer. We didn’t hear anything more.
Cam: That’s when my mother got sick, actually. June 2007. So what happened was, that pool that you seen me in, that was the house that I had got for my mother for that whole year. When I did that video, I had just got to Florida, maybe about two weeks [before]. I had shot that little video. You know me, I didn’t sit there and let people be… I’m one of those people, if you say something about me, I get on you like yesterday. But you gotta realize, my mother don’t have any other family but me. So when I go down to Florida, it isn’t like I can go to the studio. It isn’t like I can leave her in the crib for 10 hours, 12 hours. So my moms was sick. I was with her for nine months straight, 24 hours a day, unless I may have went out to get something to eat for an hour or two.
XXL: That was around the time—it seemed like you sorta went underground after the incident with 50. When you got on the phone with 50 on Hot 97.
Cam: Yeah, you could say that.
XXL: What was the purpose of that? To defend Koch or to defend Jim Jones and the Diplomats?
Cam: I mean, at the end of the day, I was kind of defending, in my opinion, Jim and Diplomats. Because he was basically saying that he could shut down any project on Koch at the particular time. And it was, like, nobody major—I’m not sure if Khaled was even up there. No disrespect to Khaled, no disrespect to Styles or nobody like that—but nobody was checking for Koch before we went over there. So I kinda think it was taking a shot at Jim or the Diplomats. Either way, that was family, and that was the label. So that’s how I kinda took offense to it.
XXL: Did you expect the beef to unfold the way that it did?
Cam: I don’t expect nothing. I go with the momentum. I don’t sit there waiting to expect what’s going to happen. If somebody says something, I react. If I do something and wait for them to react, I’m going to react again. I don’t really sit there and expect or analyze what’s gonna happen. But I’m prepared for anything.
What’s the status of the situation now? If you and 50 walked into the same room, is there beef, or is it done?
50 can kiss my ass. That’s the basic moral of the story. I’m not one of them people, once we beefin’, I’ma be like, “Yo, I wish it didn’t happen.” It is what it is.
XXL: After the Hot 97 call, Dipset didn’t jump to your defense. Then Jim actually started making public appearances with 50. This seemed to expose a rift between you two.
Cam: What people gotta realize is that, like, Jim’d been doing his own thing. It may seem… We may come to one person video or the other person video, but we’d kinda been not hanging out anyway. But whatever is going on behind the scenes don’t always have to be public. So if somebody was trying to diss him in public, I took offense to that, because that was my brother. But, yeah, we’d kinda been shied away from each other behind the scenes anyway.
XXL: How come?
Cam: Well, I don’t know his reason, or what he thinks, but one time Jim was in my house, and we was plotting and strategizing on our marketing and promotions. And out of the blue he asks me, “You wanna have a fake beef? Between me and you.” And I was like, “Hell no!” That didn’t even make sense. I was like, “Why would we do that? That would confuse the fans.” And he was like, “Oh okay.” But for me, I took that as, you must wanna go your own route anyway, because why would you even make that suggestion? So when he made that suggestion, it wasn’t like beef or no problems, but I kinda shied away and started letting him do his own thing. Because I felt, why would you even say that if you didn’t wanna go and do your own thing?
XXL: What did you think of the Diplomats story we did last month?
Cam: I didn’t get a chance to read it yet.
XXL: The basic premise behind it is that the three guys miss you,
they say you’re doing your own thing, but, at least to some degree, they feel fucked over by you. Is that fair, or do you disagree with that?
Cam: I would say I disagree. Because, at the end of the day, I’m not focused—I don’t understand how people are still focused on this stuff. This been like two, three years you haven’t really seen us together. Or haven’t heard us on the same record. So I’m kinda, like, past how people are feeling or what’s going on.
XXL: People were so used to the core four of you together through the years, the movement. Not seeing you together just doesn’t seem right. Is that understandable to you?
Cam: It’s like, if you’re a Williams, you a Williams. That’s like Diplomats—once you a Diplomat, you a Diplomat. All four of us are Diplomats. But, at the end of the day, James and Florida had to break up. You know what I’m saying? Everything don’t last forever.-Vanessa Satten
For more of the Here I Am Interview make sure to pick up XXL’s April issue on newsstands now.