In the age of instant digital gratification, does slow and steady still win the race? Cyhi the Prynce is trying to find out. Since signing to Kanye West’s GOOD Music in 2010, he’s shined next to legends including Jay-Z and Raekwon and new stars 2 Chainz and Wale; released five mixtapes; spit a standout verse on an arguably classic, chart-topping, platinum-selling album (Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy); and graced the cover of our 2011 Freshmen cover. But the Stony Mountain, Georgia, rapper still hasn’t released an album of his own, and still has yet to achieve anywhere near the buzz levels of fellow GOOD Music signees Big Sean and Pusha T (let alone Kanye, John Legend and Common). That GOOD Music’s 2012 compilation, Cruel Summer, on which Cyhi played a key supporting role, failed to meet commercial or critical expectations certainly didn’t help. But Cyhi’s looking to change all that with his latest project, Ivy League: Kick Back, which dropped last week (click here to download). A sequel to 2012′s The Ivy League Club, the mixtape features guest verses from 2 Chainz, B.o.B., Big KRIT, Yelawolf, and others, soulful production from Lex Luger and the Audibles, and highlights such as “A-Town (Remix) and “Far Removed.” It’s a brand-new reminder of Cyhi’s big talent and, hopefully, bright future. Here, he pow-wows with XXL about the mixtape, the status of his long-delayed album and, of course, the Cruel Winter rumors. —Alex Gale (@apexdujeous)
XXL: What’s the vision behind Ivy League: The Kickback?
Cyhi: I wanted to do something fresh for the beginning of the year. Last year, I released Ivy League Club, and I didn’t think it got all the attention it should have got. I wanted to revamp it and reapproach the idea and give the fans another chance to listen to it in a different light.
Why do you think people slept on the last one?
I think, you know as artists, we have to do stuff for ourselves that labels don’t really do for you. You just want to keep giving your fans something as we go through the political part of the industry, you know, till we get the album. We want to keep their attention. The last tape was something that we didn’t really put together like we wanted to so we came back and did it the way we really, really wanted to.
Speaking of the label, was Kanye involved with Kick Back? He’s known be very hands-on.
I really did it by myself. They wanted to be hands-on, but if I do it with them, it’s gonna take all day. I did it hands-on. This was all me, just me in the studio, coming up with ideas.
Were some of the songs originally intended for your album?
No. None of those songs are album songs. These are just songs I do on the regular. When you hear the album, you’re gonna know it’s the album. This is an experience, but my album’s gonna be like a tearjerker, an action film, a family film all at once. It’s gonna be a motion picture.
What’s your favorite song on it?
It depends on what day or what time of the day it is. “Start a War” is a record that I don’t think a lot of guys this era can do or have done. I used to hear Nas do it or Jay would do something like “Meet the Parents,” but there’s not a lot of storytelling anymore. Kendrick does a lot of storytelling, I like Kendrick’s storytelling, but other than that it’s just freestyle rap out there. “I got this, I got that, I fucked this, I got that.” You know what I’m saying? I don’t ever leave the concept. If the concept is about picking oranges, my raps are gonna be about picking oranges.
With songs like “Far Removed,” it seems the theme of the album is balancing your street past with your musical present.
When you went through real, real street stuff—federal agents and having to shoot it out and getting wild—I had to do street full-time or rap full-time. I remember back in the day when I used to rap, people would call me like, “Let me get seven grams, let me get three-and-a-half grams,” and I wouldn’t even go serve them ’cause I would be in the middle of a rap. So I would be missing out on all this money ’cause I wanted to rap. I had to pick out which one I was gonna do. It’s not like I wasn’t gonna be a rapper, I had a gift and a blessing. I wanted to take it serious, and I never wanted to really glorify my past, because my past life, it scared me straight. So I was like, I just want to do this music and I’ll reflect on it. I like to give you the pros and cons of being in the streets. That’s my style. Guys from the streets have a certain amount of intelligence. A lot of times, you got a lot of guys in jail that shouldn’t be in jail if they would’ve done what they were supposed to do. I’m just trying to prevent that.
You’re based in the Atlanta area, but you sound nothing like most of the music coming out of there. Do you think that’s partly why you’re sometimes overlooked?
I’m a country boy. I can’t leave. Musically, yeah, because my style is so different than people from Atlanta, it’s just over their heads sometimes. You know what I’m saying? I really take pride in what I say. I’m not one of those dudes in the booth that just start freestyling. I sit there and write it. Piece of paper, pen, write. I really take time out in what I do. Everything here is like swag rap. You have to brag, you have to talk about how much dope you sold or when you’re drunk or on molly. I just wasn’t raised like that. I might smoke some pot, but that’s the most. It’s about having responsibility. When you touch a certain person a certain kind of way, they don’t want you to be off on some flamboyant shit when you already touched them through an intellectual rap. You know what I’m saying? So it’s hard to make these strip club records and shit like that when you have fans who want to hear you rap your shit. It’s about having good balance between the two.
Let’s talk about your album. Is it still going to be called Hardway Musical?
Yup, it gotta be. It gotta be called Hardway Musical. The journey that I’m taking is the hard way. Instead of me, you know, taking some dynamite and blowing through this mountain with just a little club record, I have to go over the mountain.
How many songs do you have recorded?
We’re just in the beginning stages of collecting what producers we wanna use, features. We’re really 20 percent, 30 percent in. We’re not close to finished.
Can you tell us some of the producers and features?
Not really, cause none of it’s solidified yet.
Are you frustrated by how long it’s taking?
No. I have a blueprint and a lot of people know my blueprint. I’m a little before schedule. Out there people look at me like, “Yo, you’ve done some ill verses and shit, why is this not manifesting?” But at the same time, you still got to organically build it. You gotta make sure the foundation is right so when you do drop, you don’t go nowhere. I want to actually meet the producers before I rush into the album. So we’re going to do a couple more tour runs and then we gonna start working on it in the middle of the year and see when we can put it out. I’m thinking, you know, either the end of this year or the beginning of next year. This year is going to be a good run for me, touring and exposure. I have a lot of videos up for release, a lot of short films. I think the anticipation is coming. Plus, I do a lot of behind the scenes things that a lot of people don’t know. I did this so I could learn and learn how to record and set the mood with different artists and see how they maneuver. I wanted to learn and soak up all of this information from Jay-Z and Kanye and get that. I wanted to be redshirted for a year. I wanted to be redshirted for the first year and now I know how this thing goes. Now I’m ready to explore it.
Do you ever get frustrated with the label? Do you ever feel like other artists on the label get more attention than you?
Everybody’s time is gonna come. [The label is] gonna eventually have to step up because the fans are gonna make them do it. The ball is in your court versus being in their court—that’s what I’m working on.
We’ve gotta ask you about Cruel Winter. Big Sean’s hinting it’s going to happen, Q-Tip is as well, but then Hit-Boy and Common are saying the opposite.
I hope it happens. You know, man, these are entities. You have Def Jam, you have ‘Ye. You have to get everybody on one chord. You got Sean doing this, you got 2 Chainz on this. In my opinion, I hope it happens. But I can’t really tell you if it is gonna happen or if it isn’t. I don’t know how they can tell you, ’cause they’re not Kanye. They’re definitely not Def Jam. I’m fighting for it, though.
Many called Cruel Summer a disappointment. What’s your assessment of it, looking back?
The expectations of GOOD Music is like out the roof, but at the same time, I felt it was a great album. A lot of songs that couldn’t make it were due to time restraints and clearances. That’s why I wish we could do Cruel Winter, ’cause we got the clearances after the album dropped. I think it was a great project. It was just that we had so many big records, by the time you actually got the album, you heard all the big records. We don’t really do videos, we just released it like it was a mixtape and we still sold 200 the first week, so it wasn’t that bad.
What’s next for you after this mix tape?
Just working, man. Trying to put this album out. Hopefully we do Cruel Winter together. I’m touring all summer and all spring, so you should be hearing a lot from Cyhi.