Philly rapper Young Chris is anxious to prove himself again. After being introduced to the world on Jay Z’s infamous “Takeover” back in 2001 ("Chris and Neef, we runnin this rap shit"), he and his rhyming partner Neef–together known as the Young Gunz –were labeled the next big thing on Roc-A-Fella Records. Shortly after, the duo hit it big with their bouncy debut single, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” and connected with both the street and female crowds on their debut album, Tough Luv. Chris was considered the more lyrical of the two, and, based on his cadence and skills on the mic, often drew comparisons to Jay. Many believed him to be the next great East Coast MC in hip-hop.

But things didn’t quite work out that way. He eventually hooked up with famed producer Rico Love and signed a deal with Universal Motown, but that fell apart when Love decided to take his Division 1 imprint elsewhere. As a result, Chris was left in label limbo and hasn’t released a proper album since 2005. That will soon change, however, when he releases the Vital Signs EP on E1 Entertainment today (November 19). The project’s first single, "I’m Alive," is a return to the gritty Philly street music that Chris specialized in as a youngster. The song also serves as a reminder to those who have forgotten that he still has something left in the tank.

Chris sat down with XXL to talk about his new EP, having Jay as a mentor, the glory days of Roc-A-Fella and the different mindsets of recording. —Reed Jackson

On Being A Solo Artist
I never wanted to do a solo [album]. I got the rap thing from Neef. One day he started writing and shit, and I didn’t know what he was talking about. We just kept the rap thing going, and [people started coming up to me and saying], “Yo C, spit this.” That turned into the beauty salon talk, the barbershop talk.  [Neef and I were] already so tight...we did everything together. People assumed we were a group already, before we actually came up with the name Young Gunz. For a while, we were called Trouble Makers. But it was actually Jay who came to me with the idea for a solo project back in ’05. I was in the studio with him and Young Guru, and he was like, "Yo, you got that solo album up next." Once I heard it coming from Hov, I started working on three verses and a hook, and I started to get used to it. Neef is my brother so he’s always been cool with it.

Jay seen my work ethic; I would sometimes come to the table with a song with three verses already laid out. He saw that I could make songs and have a real structure to it. To have him as a mentor, a boss—that’s the best shit ever.

On The Glory Days of Roc-A-Fella
Of course [I miss it], but it’s history. What we did—that’s forever. When I was at Hot 97 earlier today, that’s all they was talking about. [They said], "Yo, nobody coming through and doing freestyles like y’all did." I was 16, still going to high school, fresh off the block, and I get that text from Carling, who was Jay’s assistant at the time, and it said, "Be ready. Jay said come with y’all’s raps and come prepared." I always [compare] us to the ’96 Chicago [Bulls], when Jordan and them were winning their rings. Everything was in-house; we didn’t go outside for nothing. If it wasn’t Roc-A-Fella, we wasn’t doing it. We had a hell of a run.