“Homicide’s illegal and death is the penalty.” That’s how Masta Killa introduced himself to the world on the 1993 Wu-Tang classic “Mystery of Chessboxin’.” And nearly 20 years later, the Brooklyn rapper is still, well, killing shit. On Tuesday, December 11, Masta is dropping his third solo album, Sellin’ My Soul, via indie-rap mainstay Nature Sounds and his new website, mastakillamusic.com.
But even after two decades of spitting darts, he has new weapons in his arsenal. The album is at times a sharp departure from the dirty, gloomy sound that Masta Killa, and often times the Wu as a whole, is known for. “What U See,” produced by Croatian beatmaker Koolade, has an unmistakably Dilla-esque Detroit soul vibe. “Cali Sun,” which features Kurupt (who also rhymes on “Part 2”), has a distinctly West Coast G-funk lean that fits its title. 9th Wonder laces “Food” with his trademark sunny soul-sample chops. But even more unexpected is the lack of guest appearances from any of Masta’s Wu brethren; Inspectah Deck produces “R U Listening?” and Clan affiliate Allah Mathematics laces five beats on the album, but the only guest verses come courtesy of the aforementioned Kurupt.
It’s a big contrast from Killa’s previous two solo albums, 2004’s No Said Date and 2006’s Made in Brooklyn, which, like any classic Wu affair, feature verses from GZA, Method Man, U-God, Inspectah Deck and Raekwon. But was Killa’s Wu-free album merely an artistic choice? Or is it a sign that the long-anticipated Wu-Tang reunion album is farther off than recent news reports have suggested? Here, Masta sits down with XXL to answer these questions, pay tribute to ODB, shout out Floyd Mayweather Jr. and much more. —Alex Gale (@apexdujeous)
It’s been six years since your last solo album, Made in Brooklyn. Why are you reemerging solo now?
Definitely timing is everything. Right now, it just seems like this is what’s missing within the hip-hop community, you know what I mean? It’s like everyone is kind of doing the same thing, with their own flavor to it, but it just seems like this ingredient is the only thing that’s missing out of the soup. I felt I had it and I felt it was time for it.
But why did you take such a long hiatus?
Work is always being done and produced even when you don’t see it. A person can’t possibly think that Floyd [Mayweather Jr.] waits till he gets a fight to start training. You have to always be on your game, so when there’s fight night, you ready! Creativity is always getting done, even if you didn’t hear it. I bet you Floyd is somewhere [training]; he might be running right now.
What’s the meaning behind the title, Selling My Soul?
Everybody perceives that as a negative statement. I think that whenever you’re creating anything from the inner self, that’s a part of the soul. And this is business. We’re all in this business to make money. So, so many people see that statement and automatically put up a defense for it, like I’m selling my soul. But that’s exactly what you’re doing—you’re putting yourself into what you’re delivering, and you’re in this business. I’m gonna put my soul into this project, and hopefully we make a lot of money. [Laughs]
And how is this album different from your previous ones?
It’s definitely more in the soulful chamber, you know? This album is more centered around me myself, as opposed to my first albums, which were basically—all of my family members were featured on those albums, which is a great thing. I consider them Wu-Tang Clan albums, you know what I mean? If I have a chance to make a Wu-Tang Clan album or a solo album, I’m always gonna make a Wu-Tang Clan album [Laughs]
Why did you choose to go in this solo direction, rather than collaborating more with the Wu?
Well, this is kind of like [Ghostface Killah’s] Ghostdini Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City] album, where it was kind of an R&B chamber, and it was mostly him. When you’re a talented individual, sometimes you just want to express different worlds that you might be talented in. If Ghost is rhyming on it, that’s always gonna be Ghostface, and it’s always gonna be Wu-Tang, even if it was more of an R&B soul album. I enjoy that album. The chambers, they never end. Wu-Tang, we’re the Witty Unpredictable. The talent and natural gift of this sword-style of rhyming—RZA came with the beat structure to support the lyrical content that Wu-Tang has really specialized and is known for: the sword style of rhyming. So, when you hear the album, judge the lyrical content and the sword style. I don’t think that I drifted; I think that I maybe, perhaps, grew. But that can only be judged by those who are looking at the art, and looking at the painting. Let them be the judge.
The production is also not what one would expect on a Wu album—especially not yours. A lot of the beats are really bright and funky, not the dark, mysterious sound you’re known for.
To show versatility is important. What I did 20 years ago, some people might not even know of. I’m doing what I love to do, and just staying true to that. If someone can calculate the moves of a master, I don’t think he’s actually on his job. That’s being predictable. I’m a chess player, so I want to give you what I’ve mastered. I just want the fans and the people to just judge if I killed it or not. Because if I killed it, I showed and proved to be the master. Because to kill something is only to do it to perfection—that’s what makes people say, “He killed it.” Then you’ll see that I didn’t drift or go anywhere. I still provided killer music.
READ ON FOR MASTA KILLA’S RESPONSE TO THE WU-TANG REUNION RUMORS AND MORE…