Images: Jimmy Fontaine

Respect is hard to earn and even harder to maintain. Yet, after more than a dozen years in the rap game, Styles P has found a way to not only be respected but to continuously retain the title as the hardest out. No one has successfully dethroned him (Hell Rell’s vapid attempt to in 2006 is easily forgotten). Holiday Styles doesn't even worry about the competition, as experience has developed a calmer and wiser SP than we've ever seen before. The Lox member is quite comfortable running his Juices for Life bar and writing novels, while still composing some of the most uncompromising bars. Almost a decade after his debut LP, <em>A Gangster and A Gentleman</em> (2002) arrived, and a little more than a year since dropping <em>Master of Ceremonies</em>, Paniro is celebrating the release of his newest album, <em>The World’s Most Hardest Out Project</em>, this week. The D-Block general took the time to speak with <em>XXL</em> about the abundance of material he has been releasing during the last 14 months, Wu-Block, entrepreneurship, developing as a MC and more. —Christopher Minaya (@CM_3)

What made you do another album now instead of, say, another mixtape?
I think the way things have evolved and how they’ve gone, I’m going with the times. I probably would do an album then do mixtapes until I felt like doing an album again, but now the mixtapes are like albums. So, it’s different era, so really I’m doing what works for me. Mainly, I also am working on my second fiction novel, so I wanted to do a few projects and get it out the way. This [is] my first time saying ‘I'ma really map this out.’  So, I did <em>The Diamond Life Project</em> [and] the Curren$y joint. I had <em>The World’s Most Hardest MC Project</em>. I did a project with Scram Jones, an album mixtape. Just so I can say now, as I’m working on the book, I could relax. I figured the projects would hold me over for at least 6 months, then I’ll hit the scene hard, right after I finish this book. I guess just maturity [and] life. I got a juice bar now. I write books now, so I think within them times and just going through shit and being on the road, I think you just make decisions on what works. I think I figured out I’m not good at multitasking, so let me make a lot of projects and then focus on what else.

Do you think your authorship makes your rhyming that much easier?
I think for a MC, not even as an author, as a reader when you pick up a book or when you watch a good movie from another genre, that’s not your typical genre of movie to watch, it opens your mind and expands your horizons. It gives you things to say. Your words are your weapons as a MC, so you got to be a master of words, one way or the other.

Your debut LP was titled <em>A Gangster and A Gentleman</em>. This album title seems straight “gangster,” no “gentleman.” Is that accurate?
This one is more catered to my hard fan base. I think <em>The Diamond Life Project</em> was for the other fan base, the ones that wanna hear me with features, use my wordplay, my slickness. Then, I got fans that just wanna hear the hard shit; I try to just supply both. And on my project with Scram, I’m trying provide for the hip-hop head, weed head lyricists. This one is more like you get the hard shit, but it’s not dark hard. It’s sensible hard. Like, “Here, let me explain why I’m hard.” I think an album is something you present to the world. It’s something where you give every part of you, every realm. This one, I didn’t dive into too much different shit. My mind state was one mindstate, the hardest, and just show 'em why, provide the material and let 'em listen. I’m giving you what a hard person’s point of view would be.

Considering your album’s title and Jadakiss’, why do think people aren’t coming at you and saying, “He’s not the hardest out” or to Jada and saying, “He’s not top 5 dead or alive”?
I think they know we live by what we say, to be honest. We really out there. We ain’t saying we outside; you’re gonna see us on the streets, so I think it would be hard for someone that’s not on the streets to say something to somebody that’s on the streets. Those who are on the streets know we’re on the streets, so they know it’s real. So, there’s no need to question this. So, I think that’s where that lies. They know we also handle our business and do what we got to do professional wise, but they also know we just very real human beings.  I think we earned ours, and I think besides that, we still work. And, we never hate on nobody. We respect our craft and respect those who are in the craft who love it too. So, it’ll pretty odd to just come out of nowhere ‘cause you might get fucked up.

Has any other artist made you put your guard up to defend your title as the hardest out?
I pay attention to everybody, really, as far as a lyricist. But, I don’t really put my guard up. I think it’s more than just the rhymes when it comes to that, and it ain’t just about being physically hard. It’s mindstate; it’s a lifestyle; it’s a belief.

Who’s the second hardest out then?
I don’t know. I think when you the hardest, you don’t look at the second hardest. I think you just wait, and you check everybody out but you don’t look at it like that. There’s a lot of lanes in rap; there’s the king of rap; you also got the flyest or the flashiest, and you also got the hottest. So, it’s a couple different categories that we’re dealing with here. I just feel like with this category, it’s really about just how you make the music, how you go about it, who giving it to and are you really that.

What made you agree to the Wu-Block project instead of, for example, telling Sheek to just do a collab project with Ghostface?
‘Cause it’s my brother, and it’s a great thing to do, for me as a hip-hop fan and as a hip-hop artist. Big fan of the Wu. Big fan of D-Block. It just felt right. I think when you have MCs who respect each other, who are very competitive, who could work together, I think that’s a beautiful thing ‘cause the energy. I love performing with Rae and Ghost. What fans don’t understand sometimes [is that] hip-hop artists are hip-hop heads.

Considering all you do to earn income, what has brought the most pride and joy?
Music, 'cause everything started from music. I would never forget that. Everything started from music, but the book also makes me proud too, ‘cause it was something I always wanted to do, that I set my goals and accomplished. Music is my pride and joy because it’s my love; it’s second nature me. Book writing is hard work for me, but it also shows that, for me personally, I’m an artist of words. And, I respect wordplay; to me, words are man’s most powerful weapon in the world.

You once spit, “There’s nothing more important than feeding your seeds/I got two, so I just started believing in greed.” Are your seeds the reason for all the entrepreneurship?
Yeah, I think, as a parent, you think more of the future. Your life is to make that child’s life better now. Whatever was going on in your life is still going on, but your main priority now is the children. You start to think more, 'Aight. What can I do to do for my seeds and show my seeds the way in this world?'

Is that what the track “Monopolizing,” off the new album, is about?
It’s a deep track, actually; it’s basically about how I feel or how I felt coming up and the things that went on and how painful shit is that you going through, but you trying to monopolize. You just trying to get money and make the best out of a situation you dealing with.

It’s been a decade since your first album. Did you realize you were dropping this album after 10 years since dropping your first?
Hell no. I make music, and I move. I’ll hear the music when I’m making the music [and] when I just happen to hear it when I’m with somebody. I probably don’t hear a song but a certain amount of times; it’s over; what’s next? ‘Cause I feel when you get stuck on yourself, you not respecting the craft.

How is 2012 Styles different from 2002 Styles?
Time changes you; it doesn’t matter who you are. Time will change you in one way or the other. I think I become wiser because in time, you just wanna chill. Ten years ago, it was a much different me. My views were different; my thought pattern was different; my life was different. You can’t evolve and stay the same. It’s impossible. I’m the same individual, just more wise, more mature, more cautious, more relaxed. I enjoy myself more, and I do more. I capitalized off the last time I got in trouble on the song “Locked Up.” I don’t see a “Locked Up II” popping off.

Apart from personally, how have you gotten better as a MC?
I think I’ve gotten better because I respect the test of time. I’m standing, and I remain to be me. I respect the craft, not just as a MC but as a listener, as a fan. Not just me, my two partners and a few other people [remain from] ’95 till now; it’s a long time and [to] still be considered lyrical. I’m still as cocky, but I’m more appreciative. I love my art.