Ortiz and Wickliffe met about five years ago at the photo shoot for the cover of XXL’s inaugural Freshmen issue. (Despite having never released a major-label album, Wickliffe has appeared on the cover of XXL three times, which should qualify him for some sort of an award in and of itself.) Not only were they positioned next to one another, but Ortiz and Wickliffe’s stories were laid next to each other inside the magazine. Add to this the fact that Wickliffe was once signed to Marion “Suge” Knight’s Death Row Records (the rival of Aftermath, Ortiz’s former home) and you’re likely to see the hand of God everywhere. Which may explain why Wickliffe doesn’t take his present circumstances for granted. He knows that with a simple shimmy of fate, he could’ve been on the other end of the phone call he just missed—the one coming from a smuggled phone inside of a federal penitentiary where an associate of his is serving an eight-year term. It’s a side of Wickliffe’s life that is alluded to but rarely given light.
“I don’t give a fuck about that shit on the streets,” he says. “I give a fuck about making music. A lot of the shit I did illegally to get money was to stay relevant in hip-hop—because it costs money to stay relevant in hip-hop. That means I might have to record 52 songs and give them all away for free, just to get my buzz up. How I’ma pay the rent meanwhile? If you peek over that balcony right there, my two daughters are sitting right over there,” he says motioning to the hotel pool. “How I’ma feed them?”
Crooked’s lyrical styling revolves around intricate multisyllabic alliteration and assonance. Like much of his output, his defining body of work—the groundbreaking “Hip-Hop Weekly,” a series of 52 freestyles delivered over the course of the year—was geared towards dismantling outmoded stereotypes of California MCs as gangstafied storytellers and mellow marijuana hedonists. “The mind frame of a lot of my freestyles was to prove that the bars are right, and I’m coming from the West Coast,” he says. “I was just flexing on niggas’ beats just to show niggas that a nigga got rhyme skills. You know—the technique is correct. I come from the same cloth as Rakim, Kool G Rap, KRS-One, Ice Cube, D.O.C.”
His words sum up what may be Slaughterhouse’s raison d’être: word wizardry at all cost—a worthy and necessary ideal that is too often cobbled by pedanticism and pedagogy. At best, such rap can be an entertaining loss-leader; at worst, an impersonal and meandering trip through a labyrinth of unnecessary self-acknowledgement.
“I gotta disagree,” says Ortiz of such thoughts. “On the first album you got to see what Crooked I is, you got to see what Joell Ortiz is, you got to see Joe Budden and Royce Da 5’9”. Now you get to see the collective and we finally get to give y’all that by sharing our stories—but we sharing them with each other too at the same time. I walked away from one of the records that Crook laid a verse on like, Word? So what you think the fan gon’ do? Like, I’m a fan of him, I know Crooked, but I didn’t know this particular thing. And the same with Joe and Royce. [With this album], you’ll understand who Dominick is, who Ryan is, who Joseph is and who Joell is.”
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