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FEATURE: Crooked I, The Freestyler[Definitive Dozen]

[Editor's note: For our 12th-anniversary celebration, XXL speaks with 12 artists who’ve come up, and blown up, with the magazine. 50 Cent, Baby, Shyne, Dame Dash, Crooked I and more reflect on how we’ve affected their careers—and how they’ve affected ours.]

Photography Ben Baker
Photography Ben Baker

Quiet as kept, Crooked I has graced two XXL covers without having ever released a single album. His first look was on the May 2002 magazine alongside Suge Knight’s then Death Row lineup, which also included Kurupt and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (then known as N.I.N.A.). His second cover followed five years later, for the November 2007 issue, with his inclusion in the first-ever XXL Freshmen 10, next to the likes of Lupe Fiasco, Plies, Joell Ortiz and Rich Boy, among others. An avid reader of the magazine, Crooked went as far as to shout out on his “XXL” freestyle last summer and sent props to the owners on volume 39 of his popular “Hip-Hop Weekly” freestyle series, revealing, “Like Harris Publications, I got issues.” XXL caught up with the West Coast lyricist to get his thoughts on the best book around.

Your first XXL cover was as part of the new Death Row. What do you remember about that experience?

I remember the photo shoot, man. It was with [photographer] Jonathan Mannion. I remember Suge was fresh out of the pen. Left Eye, rest in peace, bless her soul, was here amongst us. Debbie Allen had a dance studio across from there. She came through and showed support. We was like, “Wow!” I know she was like, “Who is this bringing all these motorcycles and Mercedes-Benzes and Rolls-Royces around here?” I know there was a little commotion on that little dead end over there by her dance studio. She popped her head in, and everybody was like, “Wow,” ’cause, you know, we got so much respect for her.

Your second cover was with the first XXL Freshmen 10. In your opinion, why was that cover such an important moment for hip-hop?

I felt hip-hop was still alive that day, because I didn’t have a powerful PR person, I didn’t have a bunch of hits on the radio, I didn’t have a big stupid-ass video. I didn’t have none of that. All I had was a weekly series of me spitting what’s on my mind every seven days on the Internet. And that landed me on the cover of the biggest hip-hop magazine.

Is there an issue in particular you remember reading cover to cover and thinking, This is sick!?

I seen a G-Unit cover that was crazy. I wanted to pick that one up. The one when I left Death Row, with Suge and Petey Pablo, that was interesting, ’cause I was curious to see what the hell was going on at my old label. You guys always deliver. I’m always satisfied with my purchase.

What’s your favorite section in XXL?

I used to like Negro Please, ’til I landed in that muthafucka. [Laughs] I guess I told Prodigy I had a historical series, and they was like, “Nigga please!” But, see, I think the writer, I think they don’t really understand what it did for my career, personally. It was like, “Yo, I can go and do a ‘Hip-Hop Weekly’ tour without no songs on the radio, pack clubs all up and down the West Coast and in Canada, and I can make a living without a record company.” Maybe I was out of line, but when I landed in this section, I was like, “Shit, I don’t like this section no more.” [Laughs]

What are your thoughts on this year being XXL’s 12th anniversary?

Staying power, man. Right now, with all these Web sites trying to give you the story before you can print them in magazines, it’s a lot of magazines that’s getting real sorry, real wack on that other level. XXL has staying power. It’s always a fresh magazine. You’re always getting informed. Even if you stay on the Internet all day, it’s still gon’ be something in there that’s not on the Internet. And to stay around in anything for 12 years and then go through this recession and keep pushing, you gotta applaud that. That’s what I think of, ’cause we see shit come and go in hip-hop.

To read more of the Definitive Dozen package, make sure to pick up XXL’s September issue on newsstands now.

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