It’s a stormy Tuesday night in Brooklyn, and Styles P is deep in concentration. The gritty-voiced Yonkers MC, dressed in a long black t-shirt and dark-rimmed sunglasses, is rolling joints the length of string beans for seemingly everybody in the room, which consists of groupies, goons and notable figures in East Coast hip-hop. Statik Selektah, dressed in his signature plush Fila jumpsuit, is talking moves with Philly rapper Ransom, while Jadakiss and Sheek Louch—Styles’ longtime partners in rhyme—joke and laugh with each other like little kids. A thick cloud begins to form around the room as Styles starts passing out joints like candy. He approaches us with one that's particularly fat; when our photographer politely declines, he firmly responds, “Just do it.” We do.
Everyone is here to celebrate the release of Phantom And The Ghost
, Styles’ latest album and his first under New Music Cartel
, a label spawned by a coalition of popular rap blogs. Gone are the days of high-priced champagne and powerful industry execs filling the backstage area, but Styles, who’s never been an MC built on ego, doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he’s happy to still be here, making music for the people who, as he puts it, "appreciate the hip-hop culture." You can’t knock his humble approach: it wasn’t too long ago that he was locked in the state penitentiary doing time on a stabbing charge. Before that, he was stuck in label limbo, trapped on Diddy’s Bad Boy Records as part of the LOX with Jada and Sheek. It wasn’t until the surprise success of "Good Times," the sample-based pothead anthem off his solo debut, A Gangster And A Gentleman
, that he was able to establish himself as a solo artist.
"I’m blue collar, man,” he tells XXL
after he performs at the release party. "I don’t give a fuck when it comes to making music; I give a fuck about the people who give a fuck about the music."
It’s a straightforward and blunt approach, and it sums up Styles as an MC perfectly. For two decades now, he’s been making-lyrically driven songs for East Coast hip-hop heads. Within those years, there have been moments of brilliance ("I’m Black," "My Life"), pop success ("Good Times," "Jenny From The Block") and—as with most MCs who’ve been in the game a long time—cringe-worthiness ("Favorite Drug"). Styles sat down with XXL
to discuss these moments and more, taking us through his most essential albums. —Reed Jackson