I’m From The Bottom Like You…
It’s a cold and windy night in New York City and it’s even colder in the part of the city at the foot of the 59th Street bridge. Just north of the bridge exists the world famous QueensBridge Houses. Currently, they are America’s largest public housing development. No greater symbol represents urban blight than these projects. We are all familiar with the Hip-Hop artists that have been bred in these projects so I won’t waste your time talking about them. Plus there is so much other activity and life going on at the foot of the bridge.
When NYC’s national hero mayor Rudy Giuliani removed the grime from Manhattan streets so that Walt Disney Co. could take over all he did was push the gutter behavior into Queens. It’s here at the foot of the bridge that you can still find a bonafide NYC streetwalker. Mostly young Latinas now patrol the side streets adjacent to the bridge. The game is still the same except their names have been changed. Ho’s don’t get no respect in today’s society but they make one man rich and another gets his rocks off. There’s another daily operation at the foot of the bridge. The Q101 bus makes it daily circumnavigation from Riker’s Island into QueensBridge Plaza. One leg brings the family and friends of inmates to the facility while the return trip gives newly released inmates their second, third, maybe fourth chance at accepting freedom.
On a deserted side street off the Plaza I find the address for the recording studio where I am supposed to meet this up and coming artist. A non-descript black metal door and a buzzer is all that greets me. I press the buzzer and state my name. Inside, a long corridor leads me to another metal door. Once I am finally inside the studio the sound is raucous. Everyone is either nodding their head to the blaring music or they shout over each other to converse. At the mixing board sits the engineer and the artist. Both are previewing the final tracks for his debut album. The artist gives slight instructions to the engineer all the while the boom bap bass rattle the room. I approach the artist to give dude a pound. Dude stands up and is a little taller than me and I am over six feet. “What up homey?”, he says to me. I just nod my head because inside this room conversation is wasted in the deafening wall of sound. “Let’s go outside into the lobby”, is his next sentence and I agree wholeheartedly since I’m not into losing my voice and eardrums by trying to speak inside of the engineers booth. The artist name is Joell Ortiz and for my money he might be the nicest emcee to come from Brooklyn since that dude that owns the Nets basketball team.
“What up dunny? Congrats.” is what i say when I get the chance to speak. I have to offer this cat my sincere congratulations on being signed to Aftermath and also for the upcoming release of his album on independent powerhouse Koch Records. That’s a pretty serious trick to pull off if you can manage to do it. To release two albums in the same calendar year with two giants in the recording industry hasn’t been done in rap music. Joell’s Koch disk drops next Tuesday while his Aftermath offering is scheduled for the fall of 2007. A lot of shit can happen from now until October just like a lot of shit has happened up ‘til this moment in his career. Joell was cool enough to sit down with me for a few minutes while I previewed his Koch release, titled ‘The Brick’.
Billy X. Sunday: First off, the title ‘The Brick’ is crazy The internets loves saying that when artist doesn’t see too many units that he or she has caught ‘a brick’. Did that go into your thought process when you were choosing the album title?
Joell Ortiz: Truthfully, no. A brick can have a lot more meanings and my thinking is that this album on Koch is my effort to build a career. You can have a blueprint that tells you how to build a house but without that first brick you don’t have anything physical to build on.
B.X.S.: You just said blueprint. How does your album compare to the career of another famous Brooklynite, Jay-Z?
J.O.: How does it compare? Right now the only comparison I would make is that we are both from Brooklyn. I am as hungry as Jay was on the ‘Reasonable Doubt’ album but my perspective on life is a little different. My path to this point has been different so I have to spit the things that I have seen firsthand.
B.X.S.: Do you think that ‘The Brick’ will have the impact on Hip-Hop that ‘Reasonable Doubt’ has had since it’s debut?
J.O.: I don’t know man. “Reasonable Doubt’ is a confirmed rap classic. It’s on par with ‘Ready To Die’, Only Built For Cuban Links’ and ‘Illmatic’. That was when rap music was almost cinematic. Dudes were painting pictures with their lyrics and building these grand narratives through their albums. That is where I come from as a fan of Hip-Hop. I was 15 yrs old listening to ‘Reasonable Doubt’ and being transported to the corner of Marcy and Myrtle Avenues. I can’t lie and tell you that I’m not a fan of all those albums and those are the joints I seek to replicate in my work. Not to create another ‘Illmatic’, but to return to side of Hip-Hop that lyrics and creativity back to the front.
B.X.S.: That’s what started me fucking with your music from the gate. You were a lyrical monster on tracks so much that I had to go back and press rewind several times.
J.O.: At the end of the day that’s a big compliment. All of my favorite emcees force you to press rewind because they spit so much shit inside of their verses you can’t possibly catch all that on the first take. I want to be the cat that has lil’ dudes pressing rewind and going to their dictionaries.
B.X.S.: Going to their dictionaries?!? I don’t think rap fans want to learn any new words anymore. Unless you have some new words that rhyme with ‘ice’.
J.O.: I don’t believe that either. Everyone that really loves Hip-Hop wants to be challenged by the emcee. At least I do.
B.X.S.: Who are the rappers that you are fucking with right now?
J.O.: Myself, first and foremost. I always challenge myself to improve from song to song, bar to bar, verse to verse. I fucks with Kweli, Little Wayne, T.I., Jigga, NaS…
B.X.S.: Okay, okay, who won Jigga or NaS?
J.O.: Hip-Hop won. We all won at the end of the day.
B.X.S. That was some politician answer shit. Who won?
J.O.: Real talk is that we all got to see NaS re-emerge as a great lyrical artist. He’s more relevant now to rap than before the beef. We as fans were treated to the Mike Tyson – Evander Holyfield of Hip-Hop. Jay-Z owns the Nets and sold Roc-A-Wear clothing for millions so he definitely ain’t lose either. That’s just real talk.
Part II of Billy Sunday’s interview with Joell Ortiz to drop here at XXLMAG Dot Com later this week. Don’t forget to copp Joell Ortiz’ album ‘The Brick: Bodega Chronicles’ on April 24th from Koch Records.
Joell Ortiz – ‘Caught Up’