Metta World Peace On Rap Career: “My Music Is Strictly for the Fans”

XXL got a chance to catch up with Metta World Peace, the Artest formerly known as Ron, last Tuesday when the Los Angeles Lakers player came in to town to take on the Brooklyn Nets. We took a ride with him back to his hometown Queensbridge, and got a chance to see him in his most familiar environment. Trudging around his old stomping grounds put M.W.P in a very reflective mood, not about basketball, but about his music career. World Peace had a lot to say, and we were there to catch every attention-grabbing quote he had for us.—Ryan Wallerson

Welcome home Ron, welcome back to New York

Thank you man, it’s always great to come back to where you’re from.

Your hometown is a little different from where you live now, I’d imagine. Want to speak on that a little bit?

Los Angeles is different. Being from New York, the only similarities they share are that they are both big cities, big media markets. If I wasn’t really about entertainment, they would like nothing in common because L.A is much slower paced. The whole living situation is different. For example, out here, you can travel just fine with trains. I didn’t know how to drive until I was about to go to the NBA because I was going to an area (Chicago) where I needed to drive. But I didn’t know how to drive until I was near 19 years old. And that’s just one example. It’s good to come home once a year, well now twice a year with the Nets being in Brooklyn now.

When you talk about you being about the entertainment market, are you talking basketball or music?

Definitely basketball. It started out with basketball. Everybody is always trying to find ways to build their celebrity up, and people are always trying to find ways to stay involved in the world of entertainment. So me not having a lot of endorsements, I have to create my own lanes. That’s why I like to play in the big cities. For me, being from Queens, it would be cool to play in New York City. If not here, then L.A. is definitely a great place for me because it’s a big market.

So the basketball career does nothing but help the music career, especially when you’re in a big market like L.A. or NYC?

Yeah it helps; it definitely helps. It depends what you’re trying to do. Me being older and wiser, I realize that you have a lane. It’s important to stay in your lane in this music business. If you get out of your lane, the people can sense that you’re out of your lane and it’s a waste of your time. It’s a waste of everybody’s time. Whether it’s business, you’re an artist, you’re being creative, managing; whether you run your own label, whether you’re singing or rapping, it’s important that you stay in your own lane. For me, I didn’t know what my lane was when I first started in the music business fourteen years ago when I was nineteen. Luckily, I’m still thirty-three. I’m way younger than the best artists and executives out there right now. I’m still relatively young for a music career, and I feel good about that. I feel good that I’m young, still have energy, and I’ve found my lane, which is mentoring talent.

So you’re saying that what you do best in this industry is cultivating other people’s talent?

Yeah. I like that. It’s fun. I enjoy helping other people.

For those who don’t know, give me a little bit of history as far as you and the rap game.

The rap game is definitely something that I idolize. I always thought it an honor, growing up in the same neighborhood as Nas and Mobb Deep. One of the major reasons, probably the only reason I wanted to rap, was because of Nas and Mobb Deep. They also pushed me to become great on the court, because in the hood, in our neighborhood, it was all about who is hot. Who has the flyest kicks? Who is popping right now? Who is shining? That’s not the proper way to be raised, but that’s how we were raised. I wanted to be one of the people from my hood that was shining, and I knew that basketball was going to help me shine in my hood. I couldn’t compete with those guys rapping, but I knew basketball wise I could definitely shine and land. But with that said, paying homage to those guys, Nas and Mobb Deep, I’m proud to say Capone is my cousin, proud to say CNN is damn near family, CNN. I’m proud that Rashan Shante used to babysit me when I was a baby, one of the first rappers. I’m proud to say that Nature’s mom had me over for Thanksgiving every year. I was raised with his little brother; Nature was older. Just hanging out with the whole block family. These famous rappers I used to wake up to kill mice for me in my apartment back in the day. Tragedy dated my sister when I was a young kid; it just goes on and on.

All of these prominent figures that grew up together. So today that Queensboro family has grown up and blown up?

It’s crazy man. I love those guys. When I rap, they are why I do it. I love it, and because these guys did it, and I look up to them, I wanted to tell me story too.  That’s where my inspiration comes from. Not because it’s something I grew up doing. I absolutely didn’t grow up rapping at all. I was totally inspired to do it.

At what point did that inspiration hit you?

When I got to the NBA. Up until then I was so focused on basketball, but once I was in the league, all my friends were rapping. We looked up to the same people, but they weren’t basketball players. They did their thing in the hood. So all of them were rapping, and one day my boy asked if I wanted to rap. And I said ‘aight I got you.’ At nineteen years old I said ‘I’m gonna start up this label and were are gonna make it, we are gonna rap.’ And that was it.

What were some of your earliest moves once you started that label?

The first artist I wanted to sign was Chingy. That didn’t work out. I wanted to do an album with these producers from Greece, that didn’t work out. The artist I did sign was Chaless, who had the only solo track on the “Q.B’s finest” album. The track was called ‘money’, and that was the only solo. The whole album featured Queens Bridge artists, but he had the only solo. Chaless was dope, up and coming, but I was a young CEO, didn’t know what I was doing. Then I wanted to this cat named Foul Monday. He was also on the Q.B’s finest album, and they were also both on the “41st side” album. I wanted to sign Foul Monday, but I didn’t so I brought along this other guy named Ruck. Ruck was on the song with Nas on the Q.B’s finest album called “Real Niggas”. So then it was just that group of us. We’ve been a clique since we were all nineteen, 14 years strong. We had a group called the Warlot Warriors, but we haven’t had a chance to take off yet, it just hasn’t happened.

But it will, right?

Well, everybody is doing their own thing. I’m doing my solo thing, I’m playing ball, consulting other artists, they are doing their own thing as well. But one day hopefully well put out a real Warlot Warriors project, because that’s where it all started. But its hard man, this music game is hard. It’s not easy.

What do you feel you needed to be more successful back then?

To succeed in this music game, it starts with the engineer. Obviously the talent is important, but everything has to make sense. You have to have an engineer. We didn’t have that. We didn’t know anything about an engineer. So all of our music and our sound sounded awful. We would put it into the speakers and be like what the f**k is this? Producing, writing, A&R, successful artists have all of those things for a reason.

What exactly is A&R?

A&R is the person who develops a project. Picks the music, picks the beats, picks everything. They are real important. In the music game a lot of people don’t like the A&R but they are essential. Its just things like that we didn’t have a kids coming up.

So the stuff that you are putting out now, where does it come from?

When I release a single today, a lot of the stuff I’m putting out, I did years ago.  I’m like, ‘why am I holding on to these?’ I have over five or six hundred songs. It doesn’t make sense to continue to record new music while holding on to all this. Now I’m giving stuff away for free like ‘here you go, here you go.’ A lot of my fans want the music, so I say here just take it. So that’s just a brief history of my involvement in the music business.