Freedom is a scary thing. In fact, some rappers would rather not face the challenge and remain within the confines of the crew or label that got them started than truly spread their wings. Then there’s Yukmouth, who refused to look back once he got a taste of freedom.

The East Oakland veteran MC and loyal ally to Tupac Shakur hit the big time in 1995 as one-half of The Luniz with their classic single, "I Got 5 On It," but still he wanted more freedom. After linking with J. Prince’s Rap-A Lot Records for three albums, Yuk realized that wasn’t the freedom he was seeking. Now, he’s his own boss and on his recently released, Free at Last, Yukmouth is finally independently mastering his own destiny. got down to the raw and gritty with Yukmouth as he revealed witnessing Game get harassed in jail, why most hip-hop beefs are all a publicity stunt and why Suge Knight didn’t help him when he was getting jumped. Your album is called Free at Last. What exactly are you free from now?

Yukmouth: Freedom from Rap-A-Lot Records—that was hard to get off that label—and free from L.A. county [jail]. On my last album, The West Coast Don I was in L.A. county for driving without a license and I wrote that album there. I was beating on my chest, tables and imagining a beat for my rhymes but you need to write to the beat and not just silence. So I wasn’t able to do good music on that last album. With Rap-A-Lot I had a five album contract with two options so that’s seven albums and I only did three. So that’s some hell of negotiating to get out. We came up with a good situation and J. Prince let me go. I didn’t get dropped. I asked to be left off because soon as we left Virgin Records we didn’t have that push no more. I felt I could do it myself. So shout out to J. Prince for letting me bounce. That lets you know we still cool as fuck. When you were locked up you were on celebrity row with the Game and O.J. Simpson. What really went down in that situation?

Yukmouth: That’s where they automatically put you and they segregate the gangs in L.A. county. Our cellmates are murderers and gang lords doing life. We were around the most dangerous muthafuckas in the jail. I was two cells away from O.J. Simpson and ex-NFL player Lawrence Phillips was across from him. Caffeine from Menace II Society, was my neighbor and they gave Game a headache. They had a goon squad task force and beat muthafuckas up. If you take a shower your whole cell was tore the fuck up when you came back. They would harass Game like a muthafucka. Caffeine was in solitary for two months for nothing. They picked on him and shit. It ain't no pretty shit out there. The authorities and correction officers pick on you and want to stop your visits and contraband and shut you down because you a celebrity. I did three months and Game did a week. In a previous interview you mentioned having to adapt to the heavy gang situation in L.A. Do you feel like the segregation of gangs is stopping the West from progressing in hip-hop?

Yukmouth: Many people don’t fuck with each other because of that and it’s territorial. That's why we don’t have that much unity ’cause of the gang shit and they keep it separate. It’s fucking up the unity. Now all of a sudden in the Midwest and down South are Bloods and Crips ‘cause they see us and they admire doing that shit and they follow. You’re someone that had a lot of past beefs that also didn’t help unite the West. Looking back, where was most of that beef coming from?

Yukmouth: The first beef with Master P we felt like we were violated. We came in with “Ice Cream Man,” song and then two years later he did the same thing. We felt like he stole our whole shit. With Too $hort it was about loyalty and being loyal to our label. Something happened where we split off and after that there was problems with the execs controlling the labels and there’s fights when they see each other. So our executives can’t rap so we did it for them. Too $hort was dissing us and the label and we jumped in over beef someone else had. I never really had beef with G-Unit. That was another loyalty shit because at that time Rap-A-Lot was down with Murder, Inc. So we did what we had to do for loyalty shit. That’s why when it ended me and Game and Young Buck hooked up 'cause it wasn’t no real beef. Game was doing his shit on loyalty too. He never had beef with me. He got a song naming West Coast muthafuckas before he came in the game and he actually named me in that song. At the end of the day it was all over loyalty. I don’t just go picking on nobody like no bully. Do you believe that most beefs these days are contrived and publicity stunts to get press?

Yukmouth: All that shit is for marketing. They taking a chapter out of 50 Cent’s book ‘cause that’s how he blew up. Him and Ja Rule had a real beef from the streets and he came at a time for the gangsta shit but that don’t mean it will work for everybody. 50 had a machine behind him. Interscope and Dr. Dre are monster machines. He could have said anything and it would have worked but he came with heat and it took off. If you’re not 50 and don’t got that machine then don’t try it. Hip-hop came from competition and thinking they the best and that’s okay. If it’s real shit then handle it in the street and talk it out or box. That’s how real beef is handled. All that Twitter and FaceBook and UStream bang—actions speak louder than words. I don’t believe beef until some real shit happens. All that shit is publicity. Do you think your beefs helped your career or did you burn more bridges than necessary?

Yukmouth: At the end of the day it helped me maintain my career. When you don't defend and respond to being dissed you lose your career. So had I not responded when Game came at me I would have lost my career. It’s the same with Too $hort and Master P. You lose your fan base and then no album sales if you don’t fight back. I let niggas know don’t fuck with me and that I can stand the test of time. Ever since the incident where you were jumped and had your jewelry stolen you have maintained that Suge Knight had nothing to do with it. So what actually happened?

Yukmouth: Suge and I are good. He ain't have nothing to do with it. It was seven or eight niggas. I was surrounded when it happened. I ain't Bruce Lee. I'm a skinny nigga, 160 lbs. doing my thing iced out. The wolves seen me and chewed on a nigga. For me to be in L.A. 13 years and it only happened that once is a blessing. Every time out-of-town rappers step foot in L.A. they end up getting robbed in restaurants broad daylight, robbed in the mall, at the hotel in the elevator and getting set-up by bitches and shit. So for me to only go through getting jumped is nothing. These niggas get robbed gunpoint with masks on and shit. I got jumped and my shit got snatched during me getting jumped. Suge had nothing to do with it. He bounced when he saw the shit happen. Why didn’t he help you?

Yukmouth: He was injured and could barely walk and talk. His mouth was messed up. He couldn’t do shit. He had jewelry on too and they would have got on his ass too. I had the big chain on and shit. It is what it is. You can buy jewelry but not your life back. I ain't get shot so I'm cool. A lot of niggas get paralyzed and stabbed. I have no wounds. Three days later I filmed my video. So how did Suge’s name get mixed in as the person that set you up? Was that something the police put out there?

Yukmouth: Man, fuck the police. They tried to turn the whole shit on dude. Just ‘cause he a big name and got his history they put it on him. They went straight to TMZ the next day. The district ain’t got nothing going and that’s the biggest shit to happen to them in their career. They trying to get famous and got a direct hook-up with TMZ. The police is playing with lives and shit. Everyone is seeking fame these days and doing whatever it takes to get it. Guess the police are not above all of that either.

Yukmouth: Look at what Lil Wayne going through. He over there for a year ‘cause they want to make a name off of him. They want to be assholes. They know 11 dudes did it and want to go after a big name. They don’t give a shit. They only care about their case and getting their name out there. Everybody will do something with a celebrity to get a name. If you suck a dick now you rich. I won’t name names but they doing a lot of shit when it comes to celebs. They make a name and money on fucking or exposing a celebrity. It comes with the game right now. I call it that new millennium extortion. There were some online comments where fans called you a punk for how you handled the jumping/robbery incident. Do you feel like the public fans those flames of violence?

Yukmouth: The bloggers and gossipers—I don’t even listen to that. I wish they paid more attention on the good stuff. I put so many in the game. I do more for them in L.A. than their own niggas do. That's why I can floss with jewelry for 13 years. So they respect me because I look out for muthafuckas. I put out songs and DVD’s and help niggas with their game. I teach them how to incorporate, where to press up and mix and master. So the haters can buy the album or don’t buy the album. —Souleo