Nick Cannon - "Can I Live" (2005)

Following the lead of hip-hop’s warm embrace of comedy—from rappers’ enthusiastic references of bits from comics like Eddie Murphy, Katt Williams and Kevin Hart, to hip-hop/comedy fusion shows like Def Comedy Jam—Nick Cannon capitalized on the early 2000s with his hilarious live battle show Wild ‘N Out. The show, which ran from 2005-2009 on MTV, was a staple for hip-hop audiences, in large part because of special guest appearances by the game’s biggest rappers, who would come on to freestyle battle and show off their comedy chops before performing for the studio audience at the end of the show. It was always a party, but after four years on the air, Cannon hung up the comedy mic for endeavors like America’s Got Talent and his radio show on 92.3 NOW.

Now, after a five-year hiatus, the always-busy Cannon has partnered with the more youth-centric MTV2 network to bring back Wild ‘N Out, but this time, it’ll be a bit different. In watching the first few episodes, it’s clear that the new season will be a bit edgier and more in-your-face, but don’t get us wrong—it still looks as fun as ever.

In anticipation of the July 9th premiere of the new season, XXL partnered with MTV2 to bring you a series of interviews with standout cast-members from the show. For our final interview in the series, we spoke with the man who made it all happen—Nick Cannon. Last week, during Cannon's visit to MTV's New York City headquarters, XXL sat down with the actor/comedian and discussed bringing the show back, pulling together a diversely talented cast and making rappers feel comfortable even when they're getting made fun of.

Tune in to MTV2 tonight at 11 P.M. to catch the season premiere of Wild 'N Out.

XXL: So what made you want to bring the show back after all these years? Did MTV come to you and say, "We want to do this again?"
Nick Cannon: Well, they never wanted it to go away. And funny enough, they tried to put the new version on MTV proper, but I didn't want to because it wouldn't work on regular MTV. MTV isn't the same MTV it was when we had [Wild 'N Out] on the first time. So I was like, "Nah," because they got certain parameters on MTV. Their audience is 15-year-old girls, but I want to be able to push the envelope and that's what MTV2 was doing with shows like Guy Code. It feels like MTV2 is the hip-hop version of MTV.

Right, and they've got the Mac Miller show...
Yeah, so I was like, "This really might work." And then just based off social media, every time they would rerun the show, fans would start Facebook campaigns and it would be trending on Twitter, so I was like, "I guess they really want it." But I told [MTV], "I don't want to do it at MTV. I'll do it at MTV2."

So what was your thinking when the show first ended? I know you got super busy after that.
It was that, and the money. I got too expensive. [Laughs] I was just like, "Yo, I'ma need this if you want me to stay," because everybody else was offering me opportunities to host network shows and it really took off. But it wasn' never felt like one of those things like, "Oh, it's over." It was more like I'll do it again when I have time because when I created this show it was out of fun. I wanted to create a show for my friends to get some exposure. Honestly, when we started, I thought it was gonna be like a special or something.

Like a one-time thing?
Yeah. I actually shot it with my own money and I was like, "This is something cool we can do every once in a while." Then MTV was like, "No, it's a hit, you gotta keep going!" So we went for four seasons and even when we stopped I knew I wanted to do it again eventually.

So how'd you find the time to shoot the new season?
We shot a whole season in a week. We had to work. We were shooting two episodes a day and it was...intense. It was like ultimate fighting; everybody's in a cage fighting for their time onstage, fighting for jokes and everybody's battling to get as much as you can get in. The stuff happening behind the scenes was just as intense as the stuff going on on camera.

How do you keep everyone sharp and funny when you're shooting for 12 hours straight?
I just lead by example, you know what I mean? I make sure everyone's having a good time, and it's beautiful. Women are running around and it's like a party environment, so even if you're tired you don't want to leave. Like, we would work 16 hours, then go to the club and I'd be DJ'ing there or something, we'd get no sleep then we'd wake up and do it the next day. It was just a party the whole time.

How have you always been able to get such big names on the show? You've had Kanye, Method Man, Big Boi, Snoop... Did you get all those guys on through personal relationships?
Yeah! You know, back then, whether it was Kanye or Wayne or Tyra Banks, these were just people I knew. I kinda booked it myself. And it's kinda the same way this time, just with a new day and age. So, you know, A$AP Rocky, that's my dude. That's my young'n right there. Then guys like Mac Miller and's just one of those things where I always feel like it has to be true to the art form.

Have you had rappers come on the show who would just...

That's the thing. What we try to do is cater the games to whoever the person is, then we let them know, "Yo, we're gonna lob you one that's gonna work." As long as they're fearless, they'll be alright. But if they're timid...There's been a couple rappers that came on and halfway through they got nervous and we can't find them. It's like, "Oh man! You're supposed to be this tough rapper! What happened?" People don't know what to do because everybody likes to be comfortable, and when you take somebody out of their comfort zone and it's raw, it's like...

And then there are egos. If people are making fun of them they get offended.
Yeah, some people don't know how to handle that. They're used to having their circle of yes men, and then you hear somebody go at you and it's on know. But that's the beauty of people who come on the show and are like, "Say whatever you wanna say about me. I don't take myself seriously." You actually gain more fans that way, because people are like, "Oh, he's a real dude."

What was your approach with casting the comics who were going to be on the show?
It was different. With Tim [DeLaGhetto], I asked people who the funniest person on the Internet was and his name kept coming up. With Conceited, I was just of fan of his just from watching all the URL joints. Watching those battles got me even more excited about Wild 'N Out. I was like, "Yo, we gotta do it like that!" And then with Jacob, that was a kid who opened up for my comedy special like two years ago, then I kinda followed his stand-up career. He's a quirky dude.

There was a handful of stars that came out of the first version of Wild 'N Out. Do you think the same thing is going to happen this time around?
Absolutely. I mean, when you talk about the first few seasons, a lot of people were introduced to Katt Williams, Kevin Hart, Affion Crockett, Taran Killam, DeRay Davis, Corey Holcomb. All of those people have amazing careers at this point, and I believe we have that level of talent and beyond this time around.