For Atlanta-based, Houston-bred rapper/producer Cory Mo, his first solo album in more than a decade came about out of nowhere. "I was in Atlanta and [Talib] Kweli came down for a show, and I ended up picking him up from the airport, and I was like, check out some of my new shit," he said in an interview at the XXL offices last week. "I kept playing more records and more records, and he was like, 'Why don't you put out an album under my label real quick?' I've been knowing Kweli for a lot of years, but I didn't see that one coming."

The result was Take It Or Leave It (Javotti Media/C Mozart Muzik), which dropped yesterday (October 22) and features guest spots from Kweli, Big K.R.I.T., Devin The Dude, Chamillionaire, Raheem DeVaughn, and the immortal Bun B from UGK. It was Bun and his former partner Pimp C who helped Cory get a leg up in the music industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, taking him out on the road with UGK and under their wing when making records like 2007's Platinum-selling Underground Kingz. With ten mixtapes in the past eleven years—including a few with Houston legend OG Ron C—Cory's had his fair share of production and rapping experience, contributing to tracks with Devin The Dude, Z-Ro, The Geto Boys and both Pimp and Bun's solo projects.

With Take It Or Leave It hitting stores this week, Cory sat down with XXL to talk about what he's learned from UGK, Talib Kweli, OG Ron C, the mixtape circuit and his 15 years in the game. —Dan Rys (@danrys)


Talib Kweli
"Kweli was kinda like a secret A&R for the album, so he reached out and got some beats. So it was records that I would never have even heard of or picked if he didn't send them to me. So it came together organically like that. I think [Kweli] is a robot, because he doesn't sleep. Dude wakes up at 8 in the morning, goes all the way until 4 in the morning, and wake right back up at 8. I learned a lot on tour, 'cause he brings out a live band, so it's a lot different than being on the road with Bun and Pimp. He'll be like, 'play me something DJ,' and then he'll just play that one.

"He writes pretty damn fast. He's crazy with the lyrics, man, I don't even see how he can memorize all that shit, with an hour-long show. How do you memorize all that shit, man? I don't understand it. I can't even believe how many shows he do in one year. Lyrically, I've learned a lot, especially when he's sent me a record and it's got his verse on it already, I gotta try my hardest to at least be somewhere close to what he did. [Laughs] It makes me better, man."

"I learned how to not give a damn about nobody else's opinion from Pimp. If somebody dislikes you, it ain't even your business, like I don't give a damn. Pimp would teach me a lot as far as on the music end—production, make sure my drums was a certain sound, they hit the right way. Organs, that they were a certain sound, don't overdo the organs, only put 'em here and here. The guitars. He would just teach me the elements, how to not overuse them, and how to use them the right way.

"Bun is the opposite of Pimp, man. I think Bun taught me more [about] just being a good person than on the artist side. He's more of a big brother/uncle. He would be on some teach you shit every day: 'Nah, you gotta do that this, this and this way, 'cause these people doin' this, this and this, you need to say this, move this way.' He was more like that. Pimp was more like, 'Nigga let's jam! Turn the drums up, fool!' So, you know, that was Pimp. But yeah, that boy Bun is more of the professor-type. When Bun speaks, everybody listens.

"He's got that funny little side-eye, boy, whew! I remember being on stage with Bun—I still do every now and then, but I used to do a lot of Pimp's ad-libs on tour, and I did Bun's ad-libs on tour as well—and boy, if you mess around and mess up one word, Bun looks at you out of the corner—ooh, he lets go of that gangsta glare. [Laughs] That gangsta glare is real.

"[On tour] was magic, man, it was just crazy. I'm a fan, too, so whenever I saw them on stage together I would turn into a fan, pull out my camera. I loved all of it, man. Especially when they was on stage together."

ogronc featured

OG Ron C
"He smokes way too much. I thought Devin The Dude smoked a lot, Ron C smokes more than, I think, anybody I know. He wakes up and goes to sleep with a blunt in his mouth. But he's definitely one of the coldest as far as DJs in the South, as far as the chopped not slopped and the chopped and screwed mixtapes that he does, that dude got about 1,000 mixtapes out. Believe it or not, a lot of people think that when they screw music, a lot of people chop it when it's slow. But Ron, he'll actually mix while it's regular speed like a real DJ, and chop it and all this stuff real fast and put it in ProTools, and then make it slow. So he's like a forreal forreal DJ—he can really cut, and really go in, and people don't get to see that side of Ron. But yeah, I've been knowing him for years, probably since I was 15 or 16 I've been knowing Ron C."

The Mixtape Circuit
"I learned you don't make too much money on the mixtape circuit. [Laughs] But you do get a lot of exposure, man, I pretty much did it for the love. I sell merchandise, get these shows, stuff like that, features. And then people hear my mixtapes and see that I produced a track on there and they might want to buy a feature, or buy a beat from me. So that's why I constantly put them out, so I could get some kind of revenue off of it. But the mixtape game is cool, man, people finally getting paid off their music these days on the Internet, 'cause once that shit first came out there wasn't no money to be found. And now it's starting to trickle back in a little.

"[First tape was] like '01. I had put out an album before that, back in '99 or 2000. But it was crazy; it went from everybody selling a million albums to not selling nothing in a blink of an eye. And the mixtape game, it's free, there's no money. But you know, as soon as they started getting the Pandora, the Spotify, the YouTube monetization, the SoundExchange—once you started getting all that shit together, you can make some money off the mixtape circuit."

Producing For 15 years
"I've learned I'm getting old fast. [Laughs] Nah, man, I've learned a lot. You gotta change with the times—it took a long time for me to let go of my MPC 2000XL. I still have it, I look at it every day, but I don't even turn it on anymore. I started doing beats with Logic and Ableton, out of ProTools, Reason, all the different, cool little programs that are dope. But I still miss my MPC, that hardware, I still miss it. All them old UGK, Devin, Geto Boyz records I did, it got me through a lot.

"Remember that Devin The Dude, "Anythang Is Plenty"? I produced that back in '04, and after I made that record, all the people in the city started to get beats from me. I did shit prior with Pimp—Pimp's first solo album, and with Bun and all that—but after I did that Devin record? Boy, whew, it was on and poppin. That's definitely a standout record. And the one I did with Z-Ro and Trae Tha Truth, "Still Gets No Love," that was a pretty classic Houston record, too. But the MP, man, can't go wrong with the MP."

Making This Album
"It's definitely harder to concentrate and knock out two and three verses on the same topic. That's the hardest thing, 'cause normally I'd be lazy, I'd do a beat, put a verse on it and email it to somebody to rap. It's always one verse, one verse and send it off. But [with this] I gotta do the verse, a hook, the next verse, the hook, the bridge, mix it, master it, listen to it again, ride to it, all the stuff on one. So it's definitely a lot more concentration and you take it way more seriously when it's a for-real solo project. Mixtapes I don't take too seriously.

"I like "Special Delivery" with 9th Wonder. There's a record on there called "Here To Party"—a lot of people are starting to gravitate toward that record. I always thought it was jamming, but now they're talking about it maybe being a radio single. But that's dope. The record with Raheem DeVaughn ["Do What I Do"] is dope, I wrote that about my gal, I had to go and give her a shoutout on that one. She always talkin' about me rapping about other girls, so I had to go out there and put that one on there. Shout out to Raheem DeVaughn for helping me out. [Laughs] "It's All Over," I love that one. It's all still new to me, so I like 'em all. "Still Gettin' Better" has Michelle'L, he's from Houston but he's signed to Grand Hustle with T.I., and he's dope, you need to check for that dude. He's definitely gonna wreck the game in a minute, he's got records with Tip, Jeezy, he just hasn't bubbled up yet."