It’s a stormy Tuesday night in Brooklyn, and Styles P is deep in concentration. The gritty-voiced Yonkers MC, dressed in a long black t-shirt and dark-rimmed sunglasses, is rolling joints the length of string beans for seemingly everybody in the room, which consists of groupies, goons and notable figures in East Coast hip-hop. Statik Selektah, dressed in his signature plush Fila jumpsuit, is talking moves with Philly rapper Ransom, while Jadakiss and Sheek Louch—Styles’ longtime partners in rhyme—joke and laugh with each other like little kids. A thick cloud begins to form around the room as Styles starts passing out joints like candy. He approaches us with one that's particularly fat; when our photographer politely declines, he firmly responds, “Just do it.” We do.

Everyone is here to celebrate the release of Phantom And The Ghost, Styles’ latest album and his first under New Music Cartel, a label spawned by a coalition of popular rap blogs. Gone are the days of high-priced champagne and powerful industry execs filling the backstage area, but Styles, who’s never been an MC built on ego, doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he’s happy to still be here, making music for the people who, as he puts it, "appreciate the hip-hop culture." You can’t knock his humble approach: it wasn’t too long ago that he was locked in the state penitentiary doing time on a stabbing charge. Before that, he was stuck in label limbo, trapped on Diddy’s Bad Boy Records as part of the LOX with Jada and Sheek. It wasn’t until the surprise success of "Good Times," the sample-based pothead anthem off his solo debut, Gangster And A Gentleman, that he was able to establish himself as a solo artist.

"I’m blue collar, man,” he tells XXL after he performs at the release party. "I don’t give a fuck when it comes to making music; I give a fuck about the people who give a fuck about the music."

It’s a straightforward and blunt approach, and it sums up Styles as an MC perfectly. For two decades now, he’s been making-lyrically driven songs for East Coast hip-hop heads. Within those years, there have been moments of brilliance ("I’m Black," "My Life"), pop success ("Good Times," "Jenny From The Block") and—as with most MCs who’ve been in the game a long time—cringe-worthiness ("Favorite Drug"). Styles sat down with XXL to discuss these moments and more, taking us through his most essential albums. —Reed Jackson

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Photo Credit: Joseph Chea

A Gangster And A Gentleman

Label: Ruff Ryders/Interscope
Year: 2002
Styles P: That was my first solo album. I remember just trying to deliver a strong, solid East Coast album, with me just breaking down basically who I am, because it was my introduction to the game. I wanted to break down my personality, my beliefs, how I roll [and] the fact that I was a gangster and gentleman. I was living a certain life at that time, too, so I was really in it—in gangster and gentleman mode. It was something I had to do to get off my chest.

I didn’t realize it would be that big of a success numbers-wise. I did expect it to have a certain effect on anybody who knew what I was talking about and knew what angle I was coming from. I expected to get feedback from the underground and real hip-hop lovers. I didn't expect it to cross over. I didn't expect any of it to be mainstream, or “Good Times” to have the effect it had. That wasn’t the plan. Just making pothead anthems is something I do.

A Gangster And A Gentleman

Time Is Money

Label: Ruff Ryders/Interscope
Year: 2006
Styles P: What I remember about Time Is Money is that it was a game changer for me as far as life, because during that time I was doing time in the penitentiary. I got incarcerated around 2003. I should have been on the road but I was in jail. So with Time Is Money, I was in a little bit more a different mind state. I made "I’m Black," and I remember the label not fucking with it. I also made "Favorite Drug," which, if you remember, T.I. had the exact same beat [for "Why You Wanna"] and that blew. So I was telling the label to throw this shit out. This was before I even knew about T.I. or even heard of him, so I was like, "See, I know what the fuck I’m talking about." And they didn’t wanna go with "I’m Black," so I remember actually going to Jimmy [Iovine] and saying, "This ain’t the fit for me over here. I know what I do. I make music; I change moods. I switch it up a lot. One day I might be conscious; one day I might give you stoner. I don’t want to be in a box." So he let me go. Time Is Money is actually my only album that you can’t find on iTunes because of the shift [and] change of labels.

Time Is Money

Super Gangster (Extraordinary Gentleman)

Label: Ruff Ryders/Koch
Year: 2007
Styles P: That was my first independent joint. It felt great; I was in just in another mode, because I was now the boss. For somebody like me, it felt great to be in control and to be able to say, "This is what I’m doing and this is how we going to do it." I was working hard and had a plan. After the first surprise [of Gangster And A Gentleman], I felt [selling a lot of records] was something I could do. So selling 100,000 copies in the first week wasn’t no thing.

Super Gangster Extraordinary Gentleman


Label: Nature Sounds/High Times
Year: 2013
Styles P: Float was really just a fast project, man. I remember that Sheek was away and Kiss was away, and my engineer Cruz was away. Scram is my homie, I fuck with him, so I needed a studio I could work out of. He live a town away from me, about 15 or 20 minutes, so I would just hop in the ride, go to his place, smoke out, throw a beat on and the joint was done. One day I think we did four or five joints. Whenever I got there, we did joints. I got a lot of love for Scram. He’s an authentic beatmaker and producer. I love Scram, Statik, Alchemist, [Dame] Greese, Vinny Idol—those dudes make the sound I fuck with.

[Float] didn’t start as a project. We just had so much so fast that we thought, "Well, we might as well do something." So we did.


Phantom And The Ghost

Label: Phantom/NMCMG/EMPIRE
Year: 2014
Styles P: This was really just me wanting to give both sides of my alter ego. I really wanted to deliver a body of work that was different than what’s out there, vibe wise. Everything is lyrically driven. I’m blue collar, man—I aim to please those who appreciate the underground. I don’t give a fuck when it comes to making music; I give a fuck about the people who give a fuck about the music. Nothing really matters to me about music except the ones who fuck with it. I go for those who love this—the culture of hip-hop. I tell people there’s two different industries—there’s the rap industry and then there’s the hip-hop industry. I’m more of a hip-hop culture dude than a rap industry dude. I try to stick with that form every time.

I followed the same formula [with Phantom And The Ghost], which is I try to do a mix of my signature sound and a little something that people can relate to and grasp onto from an O.G. standpoint.

Phantom And The Ghost

Previously: The LOX Reunite For Phantom And The Ghost Release Concert
Styles P Says Former D-Block Vs. G-Unit Beef Was A “Lyrical Spar”
Review: Styles P, Phantom And The Ghost
Styles P Hits The Block With Chris Rivers And Dyce Pain In “Same Scriptures” Video