When it comes to rap discourse, it's truly hard to beat a conversation with KXNG Crooked. Having had the pleasure of speaking with the legendary lyricist several times now, it only made sense to introduce our brand new holiday special The 12 Days Of Christmas by chopping it up with the Rap Connoisseur himself. A veteran of Death Row's climactic chapter, an innovator of the weekly release, a key member of Slaughterhouse, and most recently, a force in the world of hip-hop media. His word carries weight, and his insight remains a valuable asset for anybody interested in the rap game's ins and outs.
A little while back, I spoke with Crook about the past year, a conversation that touched on the pandemic's impact on the industry to some of the standout verses of 2020. Wise, easy-going, and never far from a cigar, Crook kept true to his historian roots with plenty of anecdotes about his own career. He even opened up about a hypothetical Slaughterhouse Verzuz battle, speculating on who would take home the prize were the four lyricists to compete.
For those who appreciate that deeper analysis, be sure to check out the full transcription of the kick-off chapter of our 12 Days Of Christmas special, starring KXNG Crooked. And there's more where that came from. For the next eleven days, we'll be bringing out more exclusive interviews with a variety of different names, each of whom will be offering their takes on this past year. For now, kick things off with a conversation with KXNG Crooked, as transcribed below.
The interview has been edited for clarity. Look for the full video interview to be hitting YouTube soon, as well as a few surprise developments lined up for the new year.
Day One: A Conversation With KXNG Crooked
HNHH: How you doin’, Crook?
KXNG Crooked: What’s goin’ on, brother? You good?
Last we spoke, you and Joell had just dropped off H.A.R.D. Now you came through and dropped Flag not too long ago. Despite everything that has gone on this year, it has been a pretty solid year for you musically.
How have these unique circumstances of 2020 and the challenges presented throughout, from coronavirus to the protests in the United States, impacted your creative process on a musical level -- if at all?
Life gives us so many things to talk about in the booth, you know what I mean? You can never run out of material if you just pay attention to life. And some people always say “Hey man, how do you keep doing it after 20+?” I even hear other rappers being asked this question. “How do you keep coming up with material and things of that nature?” But if you just pay attention to life, there’s an unlimited amount of material. COVID made us all adjust our game, you know what I mean? I was strong on the Crook’s Corner. I was on my content game, you know. And then social distancing said “Hey, you gotta hold up buddy!”
So, I’m fresh off an Eminem interview about to roll into a Kool G Rap interview, and I had to shut down because of COVID. I had to adjust. So in that perspective, yes, it did affect me, but as far as creatively, I just never let nothing stop me because where I come from, if you stop, you might not make it. So you gotta keep grinding, you gotta keep working, you gotta keep going no matter what. And you gotta always think outside of your environment because your environment might be hostile but you gotta think outside of it. You gotta have bigger dreams than what’s going on. So my whole thing was “Aight, cool, this is bad, this is fucked up.” You know, it’s a lot of people hurting. I’mma do what I can to help people and I’mma keep on creating, ’cause nothing’s gone stop me, not even COVID, you feel me?
Definitely. As per usual with your material, there’s some pretty great writing and penmanship found throughout. I was just wondering in terms of all of the verses you’ve done this year, did you have one in particular that was one you feel would be submitted to the Verse of the Year competition?
Yo, dawg. So my fans told me -- and they said it was cool for me to call them “fans”[Laughs]-- They told me that I did 30 something features, indie features this year. 35, 36, probably more. But there are a lot of standout verses out there from me. Em, “I Will” on Music To Be Murdered By. That right there, I feel that’s the bar of the year. I feel like the Abraham Lincoln bar, “Ay bruh, I go ham for dead presidents. John Wilkes, that's who I'm in the booth like.” The whole scheme, I just feel like nobody really tied all of that together as well. There’s been some lines about that, but I feel like that was the best that has been tied together.
Let me tell you, some of my punchlines and metaphors and similes, sometimes somebody builds on it and they make it better. I am like, “Why didn’t I think about that?” But on this particular one, I think that’s the bar of the year, the “Ay bruh, I go ham,” that’s the bar of the year. Verse of the year contender, ’cause there’s a lot of dope ass verses out there, you know what I’m sayin’, from a lot of titans and some Jedis came out to play this year. We got blessed. I would say the Russ joint ain’t too shabby. You know, the joint with Russ, the “Stockholm Syndrome” joint. What else, dawg? I rap with a lot of people this year. I got one with Sa Roc, but it hasn’t dropped yet. That verse is crazy. I’ma go with the Russ right now as a contender. But I got some things that are still coming that, oh my God bro. I need everyone to hurry and send their features back so I can drop.
Russ ft KXNG Crooked - Stockholm Syndrome
Man, the Russ one’s pretty crazy. I think both you guys snapped on that, actually.
Mhm. He’s hard, man. Russ got skills. A lot of people don’t like him because of where he stands. He’s very confident when he speaks. But he can back it up with the talent. It’s there. It’s dope, you know.
When I saw the tracklist of his new EP, I was really- I thought it was cool, a great lineup. A lot of MCs, a lot of lyricists, obviously yourself included, and you guys set it off with the first track. I like that pick from you for sure.
Good looking, man. Shout out to Russ and all his fans that have been coming on my timeline, shouts to them and what he built. Nothing but respect.
There really have been a lot of great verses this year. Who would you say, in this hypothetical verse of the year battle, who would you predict to be your biggest competition?
Something from Royce, something from Em. You know, they call us the holy trinity of lyricism, me, Royce, and Em. They put the church emoji when they talk about it. So definitely something from Royce, something from Em. I think Benny got it in this year. I think Black Thought got it in this year. That verse Black Thought did, well, any verse Black Thought did. The verse Black Thought did on Russ’ project, that’s a stellar verse. Benny too. So you got a lot of dudes out there who drop some killer verses. Eminem is always in the talks. I don’t care, they love to hate him. And a lot of people have been trying to push my homie out of the culture. They been making sly remarks - people with platforms. And this ain’t just me speaking from a homeboy level, this me speaking as a fan and a technician myself. You can’t push Marshall out the game. He’s one of the greatest pens to ever exist in Hip-Hop, and it ain’t gon change no time soon. They always get me when I talk about Em. But Eminem is one for sho. Royce got nominated for a Grammy, so you know his pen was going crazy.
Eminem is always in the talks. I don’t care, they love to hate him. And a lot of people have been trying to push my homie out of the culture. They been making sly remarks - people with platforms. And this ain’t just me speaking from a homeboy level, this me speaking as a fan and a technician myself. You can’t push Marshall out the game. He’s one of the greatest pens to ever exist in Hip-Hop, and it ain’t gon change no time soon.
Black Thought as usual. Sa Roc,she did some things this year that was incredible. Rapsody, you know what I’m sayin, incredible. Listen, we can go to the ladies, if you want ’cause I could talk about 3d Na’tee, I could talk about Lady London, I could talk about Snow Da Product. We could just go there too, so it’s a lot of competition out there. May the best man or woman win. That’s how I’m feeling. Y'all doing some sort of Verse of the Year on HotNewHipHop?
That’s always the plan. It’s usually me who handles that. But I found last year, I was like fuck, it's too much. There’s so many good verses, I kinda simplified it to “Lyricists of the Year,” which I feel was kind of a copout in hindsight. I look at it like, I like to get specific. I like to really go into a specific verse, but every time I hear something good, I get back to thinking what could be the verse of the year? How do you even pick that?
Yeah, because it doesn't have to be something flooded with syllables and cadences. I mean, we love that, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be something that just really touched your heart in a way nothing else did.
For sure. I think with all of the ones you said, Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture,” he had some great writing on that. I think he showed a side of his pen that a lot of people weren’t expecting and it really resonated. For me, one of the reigning things to beat was Conway’s “Spurs 3.” I heard that track, and I love Conway, honestly.
He’s incredible. He’s in his prime condition. He’s doing his thing. What else you got on there, man?
Obviously, I liked the Abraham Lincoln scheme. “I Will” has a lot of great things, but from Music To Be Murdered By? Verse of the Year level, I don’t know. In terms of Em’s what verse I would nominate...Verse 2 on “Marsh” was pretty good.
Yeah, that one’s dope.
In terms of bars, Royce’s intro on The Allegory, that shit was crazy. A lot of layered writing, that’s the type thing you have to look through. He had some lines there. This was a good year. Jay Electronica on “A.P.I.D.T.A.”
That one joint, yeah.
Image via Artist
I find it hard to listen to that song, honestly. It’s very difficult. It’s a very sad song, but one of my favorites of the year for sure. Very powerful writing.
Yeah, I like that Jay Electronica joint, man. And I like that “Ghost of Soulja Slim.” I feel like they used that clip from Farrakhan when he said, “Are you scared to death, negroes?” To me, that is so funny to me because I know so many people who are afraid to speak their minds, and it’s like damn, they really touched a nerve there. And I just feel like Jay really floated with the cadence. His delivery on that record was crazy. He just floated all over that record. Shouts to them too for getting that nomination. The Grammy nomination is looking like something HotNewHipHop would’ve done, you know what I’m saying, not the Grammys! [Laughs]
I was surprised to see that, honestly. I really was. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Grammys. I don’t want to be too disrespectful, but I have been disappointed by the Grammys in the past. I think most rap fans have. I think anyone who likes rap can agree on that, but this year...They had something tough to do. They had to balance the more lyrically-focused projects, and they also had to balance a lot of the stuff that’s coming from the younger generation that might not be as lyrical, but it’s still moving the culture forward and bringing a lot to the table.
I find that those two worlds coexist in an interesting way, and I was wondering if you had thoughts on that. Do you feel that some of the newer projects were actually, maybe snubbed? It was super stacked, a great list of Best Rap albums. Do you think younger listeners who might not be as interested in that type of hip-hop have the right to say, “Maybe Lil Baby, maybe Pop Smoke?”
See man, they just need people like us, bro because we know how to exist in both worlds. And that’s all you ever really need. But I believe Lil Baby should’ve gotten a nomination. I think Lil Baby should’ve gotten a nomination for sure. Some of those other names I heard floating around on Twitter, I’m not gon say it ’cause I’m not here to take shots at nobody. But I didn’t feel like some of those other names should’ve been mentioned, but Lil Baby for sure. I think he should’ve definitely got a nomination. He had an incredible year. He impacted the culture, and he’s dope!
You know, a lot of these young guys, they just need to sit and talk to the older guys that’s doing it - the veterans and the lyricists, the so-called lyricist community. They’ll find out that a lot of us like them. I listen to Lil Durk. I listen to Lil Baby, obviously. I listen to Roddy Ricch. These dudes is dope. Polo G. Polo G is dope. As far as being snubbed, they can absolutely feel that way because they put in the work, they made the impact, and like you said, they are driving the culture forward. You know, they not taking us back. There were wack people when I was 20 years old rapping. There were wack people then. There’s no age limit on being dope or wack. A lot of the old heads act like there was nobody wack back in a day. That's not true. So we just want to see dope music being put out and the culture being represented the right way. And a lot of these young cats are doing it and I salute them. And so, yeah, you're right. Definitely Lil Baby. Come on. Come on, y’all. Y'all ain’t gon put Lil Baby in there? Damn.
It's tough, man. Ranking things in general. It's kind of tough because on one hand it's like... I don't know about you, but I feel it's a big part of hip hop conversation, a lot of rap fans really like to rank stuff.
[Laughs] For real!
Yeah, like top five, top ten, best album, you know, best discography, rank discography. And I really like that aspect, don't get me wrong. But then I think it's like, there are some negatives that come with that to, you know? Basing the worth of one thing off of the strengths of another...
We are caught in that storm bro! Because they want to rank everything. Every day is a Grammy nomination for Hip-Hop Twitter. Every single day, they’re ranking, and they want to know, “What do you think?” And so we get caught in it and it's hard to not be. Like one piece of art against another piece of art. Why? But at the same time, I get it. Rap has always presented itself as a competitive sport, more competitive than other music genres. So that's why they always, you know, “Yo, but who had the best verse?” We got that in Slaughterhouse all the time. We just trying to make a song. And people were like, “Oh, no, who had the best verse?” and all that kind of stuff.
And then you get in the middle of it, man. I know you caught up in the mix being at HotNewHipHop because we in the trenches. I see HotNewHipHop crawl down the timeline with the rap discussions. It’s not that many of us left, talking real rap on Twitter. So in the trenches, they want to know, hey, who's the best?
To quote Royce, it's a trick! Because I think people will use that hyperbole to get your attention and say, ‘Oh, Jay-Z the greatest rapper of all time, he’s the GOAT, he’s the best.’ And then when they have someone who's challenging that perspective, it allows them to get to the critical thinking, the actual breaking down of why Jay’s the GOAT. So, you know, you don't want to necessarily take away from other rappers, but you want to celebrate a lot of the strength that you know, in this example, Jay-Z has. So, like, I think that when people are looking for the best verse on the “Slaughterhouse” record, I think they just want to hear that lively discussion with people who also like the song. So I think there's a lot of good that comes from it, but something that I think about every once in a while, you know.
Yeah, yeah, good man. We're going to keep ranking him because we got to talk to the people and the people want to talk about it. So, hey, let's talk about it. Sorry, rappers. What I don't like, bro, is when they always @ the rappers. If we're talking to these, if we're talking about these rappers, you don't got to @ them, bro. We need some sort of a way to try to just, you know, I mean, establish that as a rule in rap discussions on Twitter. Don't @ the person that we're talking about! We're in the barbershop right now having a conversation amongst each other. We're not talking to them. We're talking about them. [Laughs] So you bring them into the conversation, and now people's feelings get hurt and all this kind of stuff, like, no, leave them out. But that's just me.
It's a party foul sure. I mean, and this is like the worst segway ever -- but the best as well, because it's all about ranking -- If Slaughterhouse were to engage in a four-way Verzuz battle, who is walking out on top? That’s my question.
That’s a good ass question because you got Mood Muzik. The Mood Muzik series now. Are we talking about a popularity contest? Because if it's a popularity contest, Joe has a good advantage there. He has a good advantage if we're talking like that. As far as that goes, if we're talking about just playing bangers each? It's going to all go down with the Mood Muzik series for Joe. You could pick anything from Royce. He hits targets. When he when he makes his projects he hits fucking targets. I know, Joell, I'm going to say he's going to pull out probably this right here [pulls up a Monday vinyl], this Monday right here. Monday, Mona Lisa. I keep the gang around. He’s got a lot of dope shit that he could pull. You know, I'm going to probably hit them with a bunch of Hip Hop Weeklies from the first Hip Hop Weekly series, because hip-hop heads around the world have told me that that's my Blueprint. That's my Illmatic. The first body of Hip Hop Weekly body of work.
So, yeah, we gon go at it, man. But one thing that all three of them guys need to pay attention to, is it's not only about the records you play and how they impacted, it's about which ones you choose, how do you counter in certain rounds, and are you entertaining the people watching? Are you just sitting back push and play, or are you doing how Snoop was? Emceeing, freestyling, and joking and having fun? All that matters. See, I'm giving them game in case they want to ever do this! I could have kept that to myself and just busted out the whole package on them [laughs]. But they need to know.
But I don't know, bro. I wouldn't want to go against my brothers, man. You know what I'm sayin, I wouldn't want to go against my brothers. But if I was losing, I would just cut the shit off and be like alright now let's go, bar for bar acapella. Fuck this shit. You know what I'm saying, go straight for the jugular, straight up freestyle off the top of the head. I’ll go crazy in there [Laughs]. No, I’m not doing that. Royce’s PRhyme, fucking Bar Exams, fuckinging Layers, Book of Ryan, The Allegory. You know when you target practice? That fucking target is shredded. He hits them, bro, and I tell him this all the time. He plays me this shit before it hits the public and I'm like dawg, that's a fucking classic you just played. You know, I'm saying he made some classic shit. He's in his zone right now. So he's a tough competitor.
But I don't know, bro. I wouldn't want to go against my brothers, man. You know what I'm sayin, I wouldn't want to go against my brothers. But if I was losing, I would just cut the shit off and be like alright now let's go, bar for bar acapella. Fuck this shit. You know what I'm saying, go straight for the jugular, straight up freestyle off the top of the head. I’ll go crazy in there [Laughs]. No, I’m not doing that. Royce’s PRhyme, fucking Bar Exams, fuckinging Layers, Book of Ryan, The Allegory. You know when you target practice? That fucking target is shredded.
Build & Destroy mixtape as well. That's crazy. I’ve been a big Royce fan back in the day. When I say back in the day, I mean, like, I don't know, whenever Grand Theft Auto 3 came out. That's when I first heard some of Royce's music. Actually, it was “We Live” from that game. But ever since then, I’ve been a big fan of his.
Yeah, dawg. Bad Meets Evil.
I’ve been a fan of yours as well. I heard your music too around that time, like that “Got Game” track. “Still Death Row” was a track I remember.
Yeah, yeah. It’s ‘still the row!’ Yeah, dawg, I was a young guy, man. It was, it was fun. It was fun to really just get in front of the cameras as a young dude from Long Beach and have a big production. I think that was my first big production rap video where, you know, fully loaded camera crews, makeup artist, models, homies. It was really, you know, I got to drive my own car in the video. I was the first guy to have the spinning rims. I thought that was an achievement back then. [Laughs]
KXNG Crooked - Still Death Row (OG Version)
Look at Death Row in general. It's still got an interesting legacy to this day. And twenty years later, people are still repping Death Row, Death Row shirts, you know.
Right! Man, I just had to break my Death Row chain out! My old one, like, all right, I guess we're where Death Row stuff now, you know!
I would say it's one of the most iconic labels in history.
So I would too, man. And, you know, a lot of people on the West Coast who didn't get a chance to be a part of that energy, they’ll let you know. That was like the dream for rappers on the West was to be on Death Row Records. You know, even with all the violence, the drama, the negativity surrounding it, the sound that came out of that studio, you just wanted to be a part of it. The projects, the albums, it was just something that you would dream about. And, you know, I feel blessed that Suge was like, “Yo, listen, man, you the best dude on the West right now. I was like, “Who, me?” He was like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Well, you know what? Let’s go.”
And to be a part of that machine and work with the same engineers and beatmakers and be in the same booth Tupac was in. You know what I'm saying? It's a blessing, man. Shout out to Death Row. I'm glad they're having a resurgence. I'm glad Snoop kind of, you know, squashed his differences with Suge. And yo, rest in peace to all the fallen soldiers from Death Row. That's something that a lot of people don't talk about. They talk about Tupac, you know, they talk about that. And as they should, being one of the goats. But there were a lot of different affiliates who put their life on the line for the label, who are fallen soldiers now. Buntry, Hen Dawg, Shorty. Just the list goes on. Man, I want to say rest in peace to them, because they are watching us too. And it's like, yo, they all built that together. I came in on the last chapter and just held it down as much as I could, but they were trying to blackball us so it didn't work out! [Laughs]
And to be a part of that machine and work with the same engineers and beatmakers and be in the same booth Tupac was in. You know what I'm saying? It's a blessing, man. Shout out to Death Row. I'm glad they're having a resurgence. I'm glad Snoop kind of, you know, squashed his differences with Suge. And yo, rest in peace to all the fallen soldiers from Death Row. That's something that a lot of people don't talk about.
It's crazy. I wonder, do you think today that there's any sort of movement or label that you think that will, maybe in another 20, years be looked at in the same way as Death Row is looked at?
I think Griselda has a chance. I feel like they're on the cusp of, you know, going to that next level. And once they’re going to that next level and they start really asserting themselves in the mainstream population of music, I feel like sky's the limit for them if they keep that energy and they manage to stick together. Because success breaks up crews, you know what I'm saying? And if they can stick together and really put their foot down in the mainstream side of things, I feel like they got a good chance to be a great label.
Obviously, TDE, you know, but they operate differently. I like how TDE operates. They operate more about the art. I think that's what the focus should always be. You got a lot of people, man, I mean, Quality Control, they doing they thing, man. They're getting busy. It’s this a lot of people out there who could do it, man, but it's just very hard to try to duplicate. You know, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, and then Nate Dogg, Lady of Rage, Dawg Pound, Daz and Kurupt. It's an all star line up man. And they made a big impact and they sold a shit ton of records.
Indeed. I don't know, that's kind of like almost untoppable in a way, but I think you're right. I'm curious to see how it's going to be in another 20 years. It’s a long time. A long time.
Hella long time. But you know what? It go by in a blink. 20 years ago, it was the year 2000, and I was wearing a Death Row chain, you know what I'm saying? That shit blew by like, damn 20 years went by? So all you young guns out there, do the right thing with your time because it will go by and it'll feel like yesterday to you. But I'm interested to see what type of rap we're going to be getting 20 years from now. What type of beat-making will be used, and how much technology will have a hold on the production of the art? Or will it go all the way back to analog? You know, like will history repeat itself?
Classical music will make a return to hip-hop. The world’s first acapella banger, that’s gonna come. I don’t know.
That's real, dawg. I can't wait to somebody goes fucking platinum with an acapella album.
Yeah. Or barbershop quartet. If they could bring the barbershop quartet with some 808s behind it...
Hey you talking now! Now you talking. You make beats over there?
You know what? Maybe one day. I have a Maschine console and a midi keyboard. Maybe I could. It's a bit dusty. I’m not going to lie to you.
You sound like you got the recipe right now. You know, the barbershop quartet, some 808s booming.
I gotta find a socially distanced barbershop quartet.
[Laughs] A.K.A. YouTube, get somebody for the “Ba doom, doom, doom, doom” and get the fucking bass going. Oh, shit. I don't know. Hey, dawg, what's your take on 808s, man? Because a lot of people from my era and, you know, Snoop is older than me, but I still consider that kind of my era, even though I was a baby. A lot of people from my era, especially on the lyrical side, they don't like trap beats. Why?
Image via Artist
It's a good question. Maybe it comes down to the idea of it. Not liking the idea of it more than the musicality itself. Because if you think about it, a lot of the trap beats that I've been hearing are, you know, minor key. A lot of minor key, darker stuff which, you know, people like that sound generally. That sound’s been around since -- I’d say some of the big pioneers were the guys from Three 6 Mafia. RZA was on that, Havoc was really driving that sound. And obviously, Dr. Dre pioneered it. So there are some similarities in the chords being used and the progressions. I don't know. That's a good question. They're also generally kind of faster than stuff from that era would be.
I guess you're right, though. I think you hit it. It’s the idea, you know what I'm saying? Because Too $hort was using 808s when I was a kid, the 808 kick drum. My guy, Sir Mix-A-Lot. “Posse’s on Broadway.” That's like a classic joint. All 808s, and he said “the 808s kick drum makes the girlies get dumb.” This is not new! We love it, now all of a sudden we don't because it's young people doing it? Like, what the fuck?
I think it kind of goes back to what you were saying about rap discussions on Twitter. And I was wondering, in your experience engaging with a lot of people on social media, what do you think are some pros and cons to what that platform brings to Hip Hop discussion in general? Because there's a lot of negativity there that's being thrown around. There's a lot of great opinions as well, absolutely. I've seen some of the engagement on your page. So I’m just wondering.
I like to call my community or our community “the rap connoisseurs.” And I say rap instead of hip-hop because rap allows us to talk about everything rap. When you go to hip-hop, the word hip-hop, the term, a lot of people are very protective of that term and very defensive over it. You know what I'm saying?
So you start talking about certain things and they're like, “Oh, he's not hip hop.” So, you know, it's like now just to eliminate that, we're going to call this the rap connoisseur community. So therefore, anybody who's rapping, we can speak about. That's one. Number two, I try to mediate between people when they start trying to throw around insults at each other for having different opinions. There's no need for us to insult each other's opinions. And sometimes I highlight the wildest opinions just to show people that, hey, this is the wildest opinion ever. But look how I'm interacting with this wild opinion. It’s cool. Everything's okay. Come on in. The water's fine. You know, like, let's not bash each other over our rap opinions.
I try to create a cool environment where people can speak to each other and have respect for each other's opinions, laugh and joke and, you know, keep the conversation on an elevated level. None of that low vibration shit. So it’s a lot of pros when I'm discussing hip-hop on Twitter. Some of the cons are, you know, I'm a busy man as far as me, personally. I run a merch operation, COB merch company. I run the label. I do all my shit indie, you know. I do content. So it's like to sit there for hours and in between and multitask and keep conversations going with people. You know, I love it, but it's not an easy thing to do. I think that would be the only con. I mean, as far as generally, yeah when people bring negative energy we don’t want that. We here to have a good conversation.
Because look, man -- you go on the timeline and you see COVID-19, you see Trump, you see Biden. You see people are hurting all over the world. You see stimulus checks needed. You see all this stuff. I just want to be there to provide a little relief. Get your mind off things, talk about something that you love. You know what I'm saying? That we all love. And I see how HotNewHipHop doing it, too. So it's like, you know, just being there is the giant pro for me. I don't see too many cons. And if I see them, you know, I try to figure out, well, how can we fix this and adjust that?
Were there any specific perspectives that made you think? Like someone who is really championing for a certain album or certain artist that you didn't always appreciate and then maybe they made you realize, “Oh!”?
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Because I've learned a lot, man. Listen, yes to your question, and if these label execs and A&Rs were very smart, and these indie do-it-yourself acts, they would camp out in my mentions and they will see what people feel. They will learn how people digest music. They will learn how people share it. They will learn their opinions on different types of music. I ask questions about how do you purchase merch? What do you like? Do you like vinyls with autographs on the cover or on the plastic or inside on the label of the wax? What do you like? I get a thousand or more answers. There you go. You got a vinyl indie guy. Go look, this is how they like the autographs on it, you know what I'm saying? How do you digest music? “Oh, I listened to it for about two weeks and then I go to something else.” Aight indie guy, major guy, you got two weeks to hold these people’s attention here -- make it good. Whatever.
So my whole thing is yeah, man, I think that a lot of people can learn from that. I learn things all the time. You know, people put me on to talk to artists and I'll go check them out. I'm like, “Oh, this dude is dope or she can spit.” Just today someone sent a clip of a nine year old girl spitting bars, and let me tell you something, this little girl will be phenomenal. I'm like somebody had to ghostwrite that, that's how good it was. So I learn stuff every day. I get put on to new artists every day and it's just dope, man. It's like sometimes I just want to go up inside those offices and be like, “Yo, man, stop what you're doing. Don't sign that contract with this guy right here. Sorry, guys, man. But you know, you're doing the same thing.” There's a whole crop of people out here making great music. Put the millions behind these people so we can shift the game. That's how much I learned, and that's how much I get exposed to new music. I love it, man. Shout out rap connoisseurs. Love y’all.
Something I think about a lot, as well...Busta Rhymes, for example. All right, we got Busta Rhymes just dropped his tenth album. Great album, ELE2. Okay, so 10 albums. Busta has been in the game for how long? Since mid 90s, early nineties. He's been, but he was really battling Jay-Z in the early 90s, battling people around the area. He's been doing this for years, and he dropped that album. And now you're going to have some artists who will have 10 albums by what, five years in the game at the rate they're dropping.
I'm just wondering, do you think that change is going to ultimately have a more negative impact? Because I think something that people really appreciate about music is the nostalgia surrounding it. And when music is dropping so fast and at such a high rate it becomes impossible to form this nostalgic connection to something, you know? So I just kinda fear for that in the future.
That's absolutely correct. The energy surrounding the music, what you were doing? You were graduating when this album came out or you were you know -- and you're right. You got to, like, experience it real quickly and then you're on to the next, you know what I'm saying? And it's like it's an unfortunate side effect, bro. We don't really know what the real side effects will be because we're still in that moment, but five years from now, we might not have a huge attachment to the project that we're jumping up and down about right now.
I'm curious. I wonder, too, if people are going to look back in five years and they're like, “Oh, yeah, it's like the COVID era.” Yeah, people dropped during the COVID era. This isn’t a slight on the albums that came out because as we’ve obviously just discussed, there’s some fucking dope projects. But, you know, artists weren't able to tour, so maybe that led to an increased frequency of dropping. Will there be certain trends and patterns that develop over time that people can look back on?
I don't think it’s going to be a very good thing man. I could be wrong. But also streaming, you know, how the streaming has changed people's output. You know, a lot of people are like, “Well, hey, if I'm only going to get a million streams a project, then I got to drop five projects.” If I'm only going to get this amount, I gotta stay in their face because we are competing for people's attention. So a lot of people are like, “Oh, I have to stay in my fanbase’s face or they'll look to the other guy.” And it's like, man, it's a real different ballgame. It's different, man. And some of these artists are still playing it like the old days. If you’re Kendrick, you can sit back for a while. You got a Pulitzer Prize. You don’t have to drop to get anybody's attention or maintain anybody's. You can just do what you want.
But unfortunately, the majority of artists, they're not in that position. So they're like, “Okay, so what's my approach going to be?” And they say, “Hey, man, I've got to go out here and make fifty songs out there.” I did The Weeklys. When I did the first Weeklys, my brother, nobody was putting music on the Internet at that rate. Not one artist, you know what I'm saying. And what it did was it opened the floodgates. People said, “Hey, wait a minute, I don't have to put out thirteen songs a year. I could come on the Internet and put out however many I want. Look what he just did.” So it opened the floodgates. And I noticed that it kinda kicked off the culture of putting out a lot of material. And that wasn't really my intent. You know, my intent was “I'm tired of putting out a song and the blogs put it on the front page for one day, two days, and then it's lost in the shuffle. I want to be on the front page of every blog once a week for a whole year.
I also wanted to create distance between me and the stigma of Death Row Records, because a lot of people in the industry didn't want to deal with me because I was a former Death Row artist. So I had to create a brand new story for them to think about. And I did it. Made the first freshman cover XXL, I toured the world, and established myself a little more. So I get why these artists are saying, “Well, hey, I need to do what I have to do in this climate.” But again, like you just mentioned, dude, how can we look back and say such-and-such had five classic albums, and he only made them in two years? It’s just crazy. I kinda feel for people. People like, “Oh, should I rap Crook? Should I really just put everything into rapping. I’m like, “ Yo, do you have other career options?” [Laughs] Because this ain’t the old days. This shit is fucking The Hunger Games.
I mean, just to play devil's advocate for a second, I feel that I remember having a few albums back in the day, though, that I was looking forward to that just got completely fucked over by the way that things used to be in terms of how music was released. I personally loved it because you're going into a CD store and being able to see. You really have to make choices -- wise choices -- about what you wanted to invest in. You know, as a fan, you got to hold that CD. You've got to you know, sometimes spend 20 bucks on that -- Canadian dollars, what I was paying for it. When I got Bone Thugs’ Art of War, it was like 40 bucks at the time.
But all this to say that, you know, you couldn't just go and pick one song from Bone Thugs and then search another artist and listen to something else. You know, you heard the CD, you had time to live with it. But then on the other hand, the labels sometimes weren't playing ball with all artists. Like I was really excited for this one album back then -- Ras Kass’ Van Gogh. I was following that album so much on the forums trying to see when Van Gogh was dropping. But lo and behold, just never came. Never came. It was Knoc-turn'al had one, too, Knoc’s Landing. Same shit, I wanted that album, disappeared, nowhere to be found. Royce’s Rock City original, we're nowhere to be seen. They come and they surface. But what, you had to dig through Napster to find that shit? I'm sure there are plenty of artists who had bones to pick with the way things were going back then, too.
You’re talking to one, shit. I had an album, Say Hi To The Bad Guy on Death Row. And we went and played the first single at Hot 97 on Angie Martinez show, they went crazy, they brought it back, brought it back, brought it back to calls. The phone lines just lit up. “What the fuck is this you were listening to?” Because they didn't really never hear a punchline rapper from the West making jams, you know what I'm saying? It was like that was new to them. I was waiting, dude. I had a fucking billboard on top of the offices of Death Row in Beverly Hills. It was me taking a shit! A cartoon of me taking a shit on everybody, you know! [Laugh] And kids used to walk by and just point up and laugh and shit, and I'll be in the office looking down.
And, you know, I had monster trucks with the album. I had everything ready to go. But at this point in Suge's career as an exec, no majors wanted to fuck with him. He just got out of the pen, and no majors wanted to fuck with him. Like, “Yo, he's the boogeyman. We don't want him to gain any more power again. You see what happened the first time.” So we went indie and Suge just wasn't used to independent releases. He was like, “Wait a minute.” When they told him what my projections were for my first week, he wanted to pull the album like, “No, we're not doing that.” Because he was used to going damn-near platinum in the first week with his products, before he got locked up, but the game had changed when he got out.
So we went indie and Suge just wasn't used to independent releases. He was like, “Wait a minute.” When they told him what my projections were for my first week, he wanted to pull the album like, “No, we're not doing that.” Because he was used to going damn-near platinum in the first week with his products, before he got locked up, but the game had changed when he got out.
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E1 was the major player in the independent world. And they gave us some great numbers like, “yo, we're going to sell this many.” And I'm like, “that's cool, shit!” And he's like, “Nah.” Pulled it back and the album never came out. So a lot of my fans, they always want to know, “can we hear that album.” And, you know, it got sold when Death Row was auctioned off. The feds seized Death Row and auctioned a lot of shit. My masters were in a briefcase that someone bought. So somebody walked away with my masters and then sold them to the new company that bought Death Row Records. It was just a mess, but I got lost in that, I got lost in the shuffle. I saw Ras when he got lost. You know, that's a best friend of mine. I saw him when he got lost in the shuffle and he was putting “Slave” on his shit like how Prince was doing and going at it with Priority.
People don't understand -- this is a teachable moment for young artists who are tuning in to me and you right now and listening and reading and doing on and just basically absorbing this game. This is a teachable moment. When you get a major record deal, that's only step one. You haven't made it to the finish line yet. Now you have to get the whole entire building excited about your project. You got to get everybody in that building, the A&Rs, the street team, the execs excited about your album. If you don't? Listen, they'll put you out and you'll just basically be a tax write off or, you know, they have a certain quota of projects they need to deliver once a year. You'll just become one of those. And you may not see the light of day or you'll go under the radar. No marketing, your fans will feel like you flopped.
They don't understand. If somebody has two million dollars in marketing and somebody has $50,000 in marketing, the numbers are going to look different. I don't care what the music sounds like. So teachable moment, guys, when you get in that first deal, understand, it's not over. You still got this marathon, rest in peace Nipsy, and it's a marathon. But yeah, bro, I used to love that. And I used to love to go to the record store, open it up, look at who produced what, who did the artwork, what studio was this shit made in. “Oh shit, they made it here”. All that shit was just fuckin’ the shit!
Seeing the “Coming Soon” on the back, too.
Yo, dawg! On everything I love, I went and bought the Tupac album, man because I co-produced two joints in here somewhere. I co-produced two joints on Until The End Of Time, a Tupac album. Right. So I went and bought it.
Is that the one where he’s shirtless kind of looking at the right?
Yeah! I co-produced two joints on there! I ordered a hard copy CD, and I opened the CD, bro. They had a “Coming Soon” - my album. My solo album, the one and I'm talking about, was supposed to come out, it's in the booklet, the Tupac booklet! I never knew that shit until this year [Laughs].
That really rings a bell. I knew it when you said Say Hi to the Bad Guy, I was like, “Oh, fuck.” I knew that name from a “Coming Soon,” and it all clicked together when you mentioned the album. Actually yeah, I remember that track. I remember. That's crazy. I didn’t know you produced on that. Very cool.
Man, I was hype, bro. Tupac, the GOAT.
Rest in peace. Still impactful to this day.
I was just playing Me Against the World. That's one of the greatest rap albums ever made. Oh, my God.
See, there you go. You gotta start with the big statement, “one of the best ever made.” And then immediately I started thinking of other contenders [Laughs] The rap fan’s curse, I guess.
Yeah dawg. I got the rapper’s curse. I can't even listen to a fucking song the first time and enjoy it. As a fan, I got my technical ear on, like “Hmmm, his background vocals are up too loud. Why did he do this?” You know, all this other type of bullshit, and then I just finally get a chance to be a fan.
Yeah, I don't even know. I mean, it’s a delicate balance to walk, I guess, for an artist.
I love it though, man. This is life. Rap is life to me. I was that Snoop’s compound the other day. The D.O.C. was throwing an event at Snoop's compound. I went over there, and it was just West Coast royalty in the building.
I saw that.
Yeah, it was crazy, man. Too $hort, all them guys, DJ Quik, and Quik was like, “Man, Crook, why do I like your interview so much?” I said, “Because I love it.” That's why. You can tell!
Shout out to DJ Quik, by the way. Under The Influence, a classic.
Yo, what is that song called “The Late Night” with Quik and Tupac? That's one of the most underrated jams ever. People barely mention it. “Late Night,” DJ Quik produced Tupac.
I love DJ Quik. He had a great track with Talib as well. “Put It In The Air.” That was a good one.
He's a real DJ too dawg! When he does his shows, he comes out first and spins records first. He's hip hop like he comes out, he's playing vinyls, smoking weed. Got the crowd vibing before he even gets into his fucking set! That's real shit to me. I love this shit.
So, look. Honestly, I really do think we could probably talk Hip Hop for hours.
I know you're a busy man. You know, it's a pleasure as always.
Hope we could do this again sometime!
Any time! I'm here any time, and I'm quarantining, and I just go straight to the studio. It’s me and the engineer. Social distance, come straight home. I don’t fuck around. I'm here dawg. We could talk this hip-hop any time, man. And I'm really fucking with HotNewHipHop because you guys not only support what I do, but I see the other stuff that you put out there. And it's just really on point for the culture, you know? I mean, and, you know, blog sites, some of them are really disappointing. I don't give a fuck. I just got to say that as a hip-hop fan, and you guys are really holding up the standard man. So, you know, salute to y’all, man and shit. Let me know when we on again. I'll be here.
Thank you so much. I really respect everything you do.
There we go. Yes, sir. My brother.
Have a good day, man. Be safe and we'll talk soon.
Yes, sir. Be healthy, man.