Cam’ron, “Here I Am” (Originally Published April 2009)
He was largely out of sight, but never out of mind. The past couple years have sometimes felt like a hip-hop Where’s Waldo? for CAM’RON’S fans. But now that Dipset dissension is public discussion, the Harlem crew’s founder comes back to give his side of things.
Interview Vanessa Satten
Photography Ben Baker
Where is he? What’s he doing? What’s with that kiddie-size pool? Mystery has dominated the past two years in the career of Harlem MC Cam’ron Giles. The random fan cell-phone shot notwithstanding, since May 2007, one of the flashiest, most flamboyant stars hip-hop has ever known has kept himself uncharacteristically out of the public eye.
But on this January afternoon at Industria Superstudio in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the swaggering rapper is hard to miss. In his gleaming diamonds and an electric blue bubble coat, he’s dressed to impress. Today is the first professional photo shoot he’s done in he doesn’t know how long.
Cam, 33, got his start in hip-hop as a member—along with fellow future luminaries Ma$e and Big L—of the Uptown outfi t Children of the Corn in the mid-’90s. He signed a solo deal with Sony/Epic in 1997 and started a rap crew, the Diplomats, with his closest childhood friend, Jim Jones, their man Freekey Zekey and the teenage Juelz Santana. After two moderately successful solo albums, an unhappy Cam escaped to Roc-A-Fella Records—the Def Jam subsidiary co-founded by his old Children of the Corn manager, Dame Dash. In 2002, Cam ascended to offi cial rap stardom with the Come Home With Me album, which sold over a million copies and introduced the rest of his squad to hip-hop heads everywhere.
Over the next few years, the Diplomats would drop two official group albums (one on Def Jam, one through the independent Koch Records) and a slew of mixtapes, amassing an army of second-tier members and affiliates and firmly establishing themselves as a major hip-hop crew. After Dame split from partner Jay-Z in 2004, Cam and the Diplomats brand left Roc-A-Fella—Cam signing solo with Asylum/Warner. Juelz, though, who was signed to Def Jam through Diplomats, stayed put, releasing his own millionselling breakout album, What the Game’s Been Missing!, the following year.
In 2006, rumors began to swirl that things weren’t kosher between Dipset’s two dominant personalities. Jim had been the yin to Cam’s yang, the best friend, handling biz behind the scenes for years. But with Jim focusing on his own rap career—gearing up to release a third solo album on Koch—the two, once inseparable, were rarely seen together. Cam appeared in the video for Jim’s smash single “We Fly High” late in the year, but talk persisted.
In February 2007, Cam got into a heated on-air discussion with 50 Cent about Koch Records and the comparative sales success of Jim’s hit Hustler’s P.O.M.E. and recent releases from 50’s G-Unit Records. During the resulting Internet beef, while Cam and 50 traded diss songs and videos, Jim and Juelz remained conspicuously on the sidelines. In May, Cam posted a Web video of himself standing next to a small pool with palm trees in the background, warning 50 and fans that it was going to be a “hot summer.”
But Cam disappeared after that. And over the next few months, Jim began to publicly acknowledge the rift within Dipset. Jim went so far as to appear on BET with 50, and he and Juelz joined G-Unit onstage at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. Remaining out of sight—and silent, save the sporadic rap track leaked online, a mixtape, Public Enemy #1 and a DVD video trailer, “Here’s Cam’ron (You Little Yentas)”—Cam left the industry, fans and friends guessing as to his whereabouts.
This leaves Dipset under the auspices of Jim, who has become the team’s sole leader and biggest star—scoring a 50-50 solo deal with Sony’s venerable Columbia Records. Lately, in fact, Dame has gotten heavy into the Jim Jones business, working closely on projects like an Off Broadway play and a documentary, This Is Jim Jones, about the rapper’s life.
In last month’s XXL, the cover story featured interviews with Diplomats Jim, Juelz and Zeke discussing the status of the crew. Zeke seemed caught in the middle and insisted Cam would come back to the fold. And while Jim took pains to take his share of the blame for the breakup, both he and Juelz alleged that Cam had been less than fair with Dipset proceeds. And Juelz, who’d been strangely quiet himself since What the Game’s Been Missing!, claimed Cam had essentially frozen his career—blocking him from releasing collaborative material with other artists—through the original Diplomats contract Cam held and only this past summer sold to Def Jam for a reported $2 million.
Today, the enigmatic Dipset founder is here to give his side of the story. As he puffs on a Black & Mild in the backseat of his boy’s Jeep, heading home to New Jersey for the evening, Cam’ron wants to clear the air.
So where have you been?
I’ve been chillin’. My mom had had three back-to-back strokes. She’s doing much better. She’s still, like, 50 percent paralyzed on her left side of her body, little speech impediment. But she’s healthy, she’s alive, she’s walking, driving. But she had three strokes, so I took her to Florida, to a specialist. Then to a rehabilitation center for nine months so she could start walking and get her speech back and everything.
So that’s a huge piece that explains your being M.I.A. for so long, right?
What happened was, family always comes first. But then I started hearing that “Cam’ron is missing.”
“Cam’ron is hiding.” And it’s like, Who am I hiding from? Missing? Like, What?! I just started using it to my advantage. But it wasn’t like I was “hiding” or “missing.” If you was in Florida, you probably seen me.
What happened with the “Hot Summer” video?
That confused a lot of people. You said, “It’s gonna be a hot summer,” by the swimming pool and all that, and then it was never a hot summer. We didn’t hear anything more. That’s when my mother got sick, actually. June 2007. So what happened was, that pool that you seen me in, that was the house that I had got for my mother for that whole year. When I did that video, I had just got to Florida, maybe about two weeks [before]. I had shot that little video. You know me, I didn’t sit there and let people be… I’m one of those people, if you say something about me, I get on you like yesterday. But you gotta realize, my mother don’t have any other family but me. So when I go down to Florida, it isn’t like I can go to the studio. It isn’t like I can leave her in the crib for 10 hours, 12 hours. So my moms was sick. I was with her for nine months straight, 24 hours a day, unless I may have went out to get something to eat for an hour or two.
That was around the time—it seemed like you sorta went underground after the incident with 50. When you got on the phone with 50 on Hot 97.
Yeah, you could say that.
What was the purpose of that? To defend Koch or to defend Jim Jones and the Diplomats?
I mean, at the end of the day, I was kind of defending, in my opinion, Jim and Diplomats. Because he was basically saying that he could shut down any project on Koch at the particular time. And it was, like, nobody major—I’m not sure if Khaled was even up there. No disrespect to Khaled, no disrespect to Styles or nobody like that—but nobody was checking for Koch before we went over there. So I kinda think it was taking a shot at Jim or the Diplomats. Either way, that was family, and that was the label. So that’s how I kinda took offense to it.
Did you expect the beef to unfold the way that it did?
I don’t expect nothing. I go with the momentum. I don’t sit there waiting to expect what’s going to happen. If somebody says something, I react. If I do something and wait for them to react, I’m going to react again. I don’t really sit there and expect or analyze what’s gonna happen. But I’m prepared for anything.
What’s the status of the situation now? If you and 50 walked into the same room, is there beef, or is it done?
50 can kiss my ass. That’s the basic moral of the story. I’m not one of them people, once we beefin’, I’ma be like, “Yo, I wish it didn’t happen.” It is what it is.
After the Hot 97 call, Dipset didn’t jump to your defense. Then Jim actually started making public appearances with 50. This seemed to expose a rift between you two.
What people gotta realize is that, like, Jim’d been doing his own thing. It may seem… We may come to one person video or the other person video, but we’d kinda been not hanging out anyway. But whatever is going on behind the scenes don’t always have to be public. So if somebody was trying to diss him in public, I took offense to that, because that was my brother. But, yeah, we’d kinda been shied away from each other behind the scenes anyway.
Well, I don’t know his reason, or what he thinks, but one time Jim was in my house, and we was plotting and strategizing on our marketing and promotions. And out of the blue he asks me, “You wanna have a fake beef? Between me and you.” And I was like, “Hell no!” That didn’t even make sense. I was like, “Why would we do that? That would confuse the fans.” And he was like, “Oh okay.” But for me, I took that as, you must wanna go your own route anyway, because why would you even make that suggestion? So when he made that suggestion, it wasn’t like beef or no problems, but I kinda shied away and started letting him do his own thing. Because I felt, why would you even say that if you didn’t wanna go and do your own thing?
What did you think of the Diplomats story we did last month?
I didn’t get a chance to read it yet.
The basic premise behind it is that the three guys miss you, they say you’re doing your own thing, but, at least to some degree, they feel fucked over by you. Is that fair, or do you disagree with that?
I would say I disagree. Because, at the end of the day, I’m not focused—I don’t understand how people are still focused on this stuff. This been like two, three years you haven’t really seen us together. Or haven’t heard us on the same record. So I’m kinda, like, past how people are feeling or what’s going on.
People were so used to the core four of you together through the years, the movement. Not seeing you together just doesn’t seem right. Is that understandable to you?
It’s like, if you’re a Williams, you a Williams. That’s like Diplomats—once you a Diplomat, you a Diplomat. All four of us are Diplomats. But, at the end of the day, James and Florida had to break up. You know what I’m saying? Everything don’t last forever.
James and Florida?
Good Times! I just was watching Good Times. At the end of the day, nothing lasts forever. So I understand what the fans are saying. And it’s kinda messed up. But what you gotta realize is that things can always be fixed behind the scenes. But once a problem gets public, it’s kind of unfixable.
So you can’t get behind the scenes and fix things and come out together as a united front again?
It depends on what the situation is. And this just one of them situations where stuff got too public, to where, on my side, it can’t be fixed. Not saying I don’t love them. Not that they ain’t my friends, my brothers forever. But musicwise, we gotta move on.
What happened with the situation around Juelz’s contract with Def Jam? It’s been presented as a part of the problem between you guys—that you owned him and didn’t let him do anything.
First of all, yeah, I heard all that. I didn’t never say I owned him.
That’s the way it’s been explained. Exactly. And that’s another thing. How could you be listening to people?
If you didn’t hear it come out of my mouth, why would you listen?... I’m not gonna run to the media and say everything every time somebody say something. Your value goes down. Right now, my anticipation is up out of control. So there was never nothing for me to say until my album comes out. It doesn’t make sense to run do a cover of a magazine when there’s no music out, just because there’s controversy...But as far as Juelz, I sold the contract to Def Jam. As long as he’s on Def Jam, me and Def Jam still have a deal between us to where we worked something out.
Did you prevent him from doing collaborations?
That’s totally false. What Juelz has to realize is this: Anytime he does something, Def Jam gets paid. Me and Def Jam was partners, and me and Juelz was partners. If Juelz does a song with Sean Kingston, Def Jam calls and gets $20,000—whether Juelz knows it or not. If they our partners, then we should get $20,000. [But in these situations,] Def Jam would get paid and we wouldn’t, so I would say, “No, we’re not clearing it.” Because how come they are getting the money and me and Juelz wouldn’t be getting the money? Def Jam was starting to get frustrated with Juelz because they wanted him to put out an album. They started to lose patience. He doesn’t know I told Def Jam, “Yo, no, let him do this, let him do that.” They didn’t want to let him do anything, because they want they album. They figure, “How come he can feature on this and feature on that, and we can’t get our album?” It was plenty of times where they didn’t want to clear anything, and I told them, “No, do this. This needs to be cleared.” But then it became a tug-of-war situation with certain projects, where they would be like, “Cam, we understand what you’re saying. But, no, we can’t have this unless they gonna pay us double or extra or yada yada yada.” There was plenty of times I fought for him to be featured on people’s songs. Def Jam didn’t want him to be featured on people’s songs.
So where’s the miscommunication? Why does he blame you?
I knew him since he was 15 years old. He stayed with me for a while. Like, that was my man. That was my little dude. But he started drinking sizzurp. You understand what I’m saying? He was getting high. And we smoke enough weed. Why are we drinking Robitussin? And we’re not sick. You got to the studio, he got 100 Hawaiian Punches mixed with Robitussin, swerving. We’re not from Houston. No disrespect to anyone among that culture or nobody drinking Robitussin.
That’s not a New York thing.
It’s not a New York thing. And when you get caught up on that—and, you know, I called his mother about it. I asked her about it. She know about it. She said she was asking him to stop. I called the people that was in his circle. They’d say, “Nah, Cam, it ain’t that much. It’s just a little bit.” That’s like saying you only smoking a little bit of crack. So, at the end of the day, I stopped speaking to him... Not saying I wasn’t gonna speak to him again. And I didn’t know it would get this far. But I was basically just taking a stand, like, Look, we can’t mess with you if you gonna be drinking sizzurp. Even there was a time when Jim called me and was like, “What’s going on with you and Juelz, because he keep calling, and he don’t even usually call me like this?” So I explained to Jim like, “The boy drinking sizzurp. Not the liquor that we own, the Robitussin.” And, you know, that’s the only reason me and Juelz stopped speaking. Because I’m not gonna sit there and watch my little brother get high and not say nothing.
You’ve been described as a “paper gangster” in the past. You’re the one that copyrights everything. You’re the one that owns everything. You’re the one that owns the Diplomats.
They do own a percentage of the Diplomats. I may own the majority percentage, but everybody has a percentage in the company. Juelz never came and talked to me about this, so he just going off whatever he hears. As far as “paper gangster,” I’m just doing smart shit. Not as far as Diplomats, as far as other things. I learned that from...being paper gangsters, I guess you could say. No homo.
Where did you get your business sense?
Definitely Dame. Dame Dash. I’d sit there and watch Dame do it, man. I watched, and I learned from him.
So what do you think about Dame and Jim working together now?
I think that’s a great look. Dame and Jim and me, we all grew up in the same building. And it isn’t like Dame isn’t looking for me. Dame been tried to get in contact with me for a while. But I know Dame, and Dame is trying to, you know, get back in the music scene. And nobody was kinda listening when I was telling them that my mother’s sick. So I kinda took offense—not to Dame, just in general, to people. When I’m like, “My mother’s sick,” and they like, “Okay, cool, when’s the album coming out?” And I’m like, “Yo, my mother is paralyzed on her left side. She can’t walk.”
How do you get to the point where you pick up the phone and start talking to people again?
Who are “people”?
Dame, for example.
Oh, Dame is always my man.
But if you don’t answer the phone, how does someone not get offended?
I told you my mother’s sick. How am I not gonna get offended at you getting offended that my mother being sick? That’s how I take that—and I’m not saying that Dame did that at all.
Right, just in general.
Just in general. Next time you see Dame, ask him—whenever I get paper, I send a briefcase over to him. I send him money every time I get a big check. $50,000 in a briefcase. Because, at the end of the day, none of this would be possible without Dame. I’m talking about from when I used to hustle for him as a teenager to the point where we was at Sony in a terrible, terrible, terrible situation. He gave me the opportunity to come over to Roc-A-Fella when Roc-A-Fella was on top of the world, and I got to bring Diplomats over there. And everybody else got popping from that tree, so none of this would be possible without Dame. And I’m not one to forget that.
Do you feel like you’ve taken advantage of anybody moneywise? Or do you think you’ve been on the up-and-up, honestly?
I’ve been on the up-and-up. All the time, all the way around the board.
When you and Jim split, did the people around each of you try to get you two back together? Or did they just kind of divide with you?
I would say people just started dividing. And you can’t blame—that’s why I love the people that’s around me now. ’Cause a lot of people didn’t understand. It was like, “Ah, Cam’s not coming out.” Or, “Cam’s not doing this.” And they didn’t understand my situation. So it’s like, “We not messing with Cam,” and this and that. And they had to do what they had to do to eat, and I respect that. It’s a little confusing, though. There has to be more to the problem between you and Jim than his idea to start a fake beef.
Is there any more you can speak on?
No, not at all. If you ask Jim, he can tell you whatever he wants to tell you. But, for me, that’s what it was… ’Cause I took from that— Hey, you wanna do your own thing, you can do your own thing.
Nah, it wasn’t goodbye. Like I said, I called [Jim], and then he called me and wanted me to come to the video, and I came to the video. But I’m talking about, like, as far as once we
started beefing or arguing in the public, that is. The two things that you could say it was is: The come to my house and try to start a fake beef between me and [him]. And the kinda like siding with 50 when me and him is in the dead middle of beefing or whatever.
So the 50 thing, that was something for you to get upset over and hold a grudge about, right?
No. It’s nothing to get upset over.
From a personal perspective…
But everything’s business. You can’t sit and be like, [excitedly] Oh, they did that?! You gotta be like, [calmly] Okay, they did that. Okay, this is what I’m going to do. So now I’m going to start making different moves. You can’t sit there and have an attitude. This isn’t a personal business. This isn’t a business where you can have emotions and whine about stuff. You gotta see what’s going on and strategize to make your next move.
But all those things came from a relationship, and relationships are personal. You seemed to say…
No, I said those are the two reasons why we can’t move on. Don’t—we can rewind the tape.
Yeah, let’s make sure we straight on that. I ain’t say it upset me. I’m saying that’s the reason that we can’t move on forward. The public got this late. We been not really being on the same page anyway. So that’s why I was kinda trying to save face with the phone call, the 50 Cent phone call. ’Cause once it gets public, it is what it is.