Published in the September 2010 issue, which is on newsstands now!!!

For the past 13 years, XXL has always had a soft spot for rap’s hardest artists. Keeping our eyes on the streets and our ears close to the speaker, we’ve spent the last baker’s dozen documenting the culture from the ground up. But while a number of talented rappers continue to debut and develop into music stars, we can’t help but notice that hip-hop as a whole doesn’t seem to rep the streets as hard as it used to. Hip-hop was born in the Bronx and spread throughout hoods around the country, before infiltrating the burbs—and even then it still lived in the streets.

More recently, the music seems to have moved away from its origins and into a new place, where it doesn’t really matter if you have any real credibility. Sure, there have always been a few fake and wannabe thugs that slipped through the cracks, but their lack of creditability wasn’t as blatant as some of today’s MCs. Has the once important mantra of “keepin’ it real” become completely devoid of meaning, as more rappers are finding their fraudulent street backgrounds exposed? And if that is the case, is it acceptable?

In honor of XXL’s 13th anniversary [and Friday the 13th], we invited 13 of rap’s most-hardcore street-oriented artists to weigh in on keepin’ it real in hip-hop in 2010.

Respect our gangsta. —Compiled by Matt Barone, Rondell Conway, Adam Fleischer, Jesse Gissen & Rob Markman

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SHAWTY LO
“Well, you know, a lot of artists—I’m an artist that lives what I do. But the deal is, [for] a lot of artists, it’s entertainment. So I would never knock a hustler. I would never knock how a man or a woman feed they family. This is what they do. You got some of the best artists in the world say stuff in they music that they don’t do. But people still listen to it and buy it, ’cause that’s what they wanna hear. I used to think it wasn’t okay, but, you know, you can never knock a hustler. You can’t tell a man how to feed his family, how to feed hisself.”

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JIM JONES
“A lot of these rappers out here, when you see them and catch them on a one-on-one basis, it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. A lot of us have to put on a costume to make this thing look good. Even some of the realest have to do things in this game that they feel might not be the realest thing they had to do. But, shit, if you gotta make a dollar and keep that roof over your head, you gon’ partake in this game a little bit. So if you wanna be real and be broke—Oh, you wanna be the realest nigga and be stupid and be broke?—that’s cool. But you could be real smart about being real and being a real man in this muthafuckin’ industry, and handling yourself like a real street nigga would in the situations that he would have to go through in the streets.”

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CROOKED I
“Right now, it’s a trend to be Blood in the industry... I see a lot of these dudes, and I’m thinking to myself, You just created a world of problems for yourself, if you weren’t really a Blood. Because now you’re gonna have Bloods, real Bloods, that gon’ be tryin’ to test you and see. ‘What makes you want to represent what we have put our lives on the line for? What gives you the right to do that?’ Then you have Crips, like, ‘Yo, this dude is a public figure. You can’t be a public Blood. Now you gotta do a show over here, and when [you] come over here to do your show, we gon’ try to flip you upside down.’ So I think that [the labels and the artists] use it as a marketing tool… But it ends up getting them in hot water.”

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JAY ROCK
“A dude that’s out of [the street game], he knows about it, he done been through that struggle, and he know don’t nobody wanna live that struggle all they life. Don’t [nobody] wanna be struggling, and ducking bullets or dodging police all your life. So you tryin’ to get out of there. The muthafucka that’s faking the funk, he wanna act like this is what he doing every day, this is how it goes. A nigga gotta come out here with ya gun and you gotta shoot. The fake nigga is always advocating the wrong shit. He the one still pushing the line on the banging, and the killing and the Black-on-Black crime. If you talk to people that really been through shit and been through that struggle, they don’t wanna keep on living that same shit. They wanna get away from that shit, and they keep it real.”

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PASTOR TROY
“It’s a lot of rappers out here in Atlanta that got national fame, but they still can’t stand in a room with me. Because rap has become so global—it’s for Whites, it’s for Blacks, it’s shit in it for so many people, that you want to entertain them. Feel free, express yourself. It’s like acting. That’s how I look at it. But you know the difference when somebody is coming from their heart or when somebody is gimmicking you. Man, I don’t know when it changed, but I wish I knew they was going to play the game like that. It would have saved me a lot of damn scuffling and tussling over the years, trying to establish myself in these streets. I done did all this head bussing and ass kicking, and now y’all going to quit that whole side of the game. Goddamn!”

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SCARFACE
“Just because you’re putting in work don’t make you a good muthafuckin’ artist now. You might be a hell of an assassin. Your whup game might be a damn fool. You might be able to turn two into four and a half. That don’t make you a capable rapper... You look at some niggas that grew up in my neighborhood that are bona fide muthafuckin’ hustlers, and that’s all they gonna ever be. This game ain’t for everybody. It’s like when you have niggas that play basketball on the street, but they never take it to the league, because they’re not good enough. It’s not because they ain’t real. They realer than a muthafucka. The game ain’t for everybody.”

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TONY YAYO
“The thing about G-Unit is that, when we started, we rhymed about things that other niggas in the street could relate to. Even if it’s a nigga buying seven grams and flippin’ that to 14 grams and goin’ back to the block, havin’ a hard time with it. Or a nigga goin’ through some shit, police chasing you, or a nigga gettin’ shot. It’s just shit that niggas in the street can relate to. Me, I just think that’s that real. Now you got guys like Rick Ross. The guy was a C.O. I think, a couple of years ago, he would’ve been finished off, being a C.O. But now people are like, ‘Fuck it, he got good music, so we don’t care.’”

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BLACK ROB
“There are plenty of dudes out here perpetrating a fraud. I mean, it might be safe to say that I need to check these niggas. But I also feel like, why should I do [the] checking, when I’ve been in jail four years, and ain’t nobody check these niggas yet? So why I gotta come home and check niggas? It don’t make no sense. You know whose responsibility that is? It’s the goonie goo-goos that hang with the niggas that be in the club. It’s their responsibility to check a nigga, man.”

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BIRDMAN
“You can’t be true to some intangible shit. You gotta be true to you. You gotta do you in this shit. You gotta be you. You have to be creative. You got to be a little bit of everything. But trying to be so hard and tryna be the realest nigga, the killer, that don’t suit you in this shit. Maybe if you do it in your lyrics, that’s cool. But if you’re trying to be on the slab with that shit, then sooner or later you’re gonna run into a fender bender, and then all that shit will be all for nothin’.”

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SAIGON
“How would you feel if you seen somebody emulate something that you really did? You’re paying for it, you’re suffering for it, but they getting rich off of talking about it. That’s like a nigga making a movie about your life without your discretion, without your permission, and go make millions of dollars, and he don’t give you shit. He don’t even give you no credit for it. You really did it, it probably cost you your life or your freedom, but [he] gonna come out here and act like [he] was you. It’s like CB4—MC Gusto. That movie was ahead of its time. These niggas is a bunch of MC Gustos.”

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RAEKWON
“[Back in the day,] you couldn’t be a MC without having a certain kind of clientele in the streets before you emerged in the game. You had to have both worlds. Nowadays you got cats that never had that full-fledged co-sign in they communities before they came out, and [still have] been successful. You know, they may have had connections, they may have had a connect, but, to me, it’s always important to have your city in your corner. That’s all about being a great MC, being able to pull that crowd. Like Rakim told us, you gotta move that crowd. And it start from where you from.”

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FREDDIE FOXXX
“When you can listen to something and close your eyes and feel it, that’s when it’s real… Look at the Rick Ross situation, for instance. A lot of people say, ‘Rick Ross is this, and Rick Ross is that.’ I know some niggas who felt like that, but then when his record came on, they just started bumpin’ with it. A lot of my niggas was like, ‘All that nigga really had to say was, ‘I wasn’t gettin’ no money as a C.O. I thought I’d be better as a rapper.’ But I guess what made niggas feel a way is that he didn’t tell the truth about his occupation. But who the fuck are they to answer to?”

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STYLES P
“I kind of laugh at it—people who lie about their authenticity—but I don’t get mad at it, because they’re gettin’ a dollar. The only thing that’ll probably bother me is when somebody that is in the game just for being fake. Like, you fakin’ it, and you talkin’ some shit you don’t really know about, and you’re just having fun with it to get a dollar, when there’s people who take that kind of shit serious because they’ve been through it. When we say ‘street shit,’ we don’t mean it as just criminals. We’re talking people who’ve been through the struggle, all in together, who know about misfortune, hard times and things of that nature.”

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