Category Archives: Generale
I was talking to a friend of mine awhile ago and I said, "Rakim's about to drop an album." He said, "I hope he's not coming on an independent label, because people are gonna sleep on it." Apparently, we're at that point where people are interested in knowing what label you're on. How do you approach that?
Rakim: Presentation is a big thing now. They want to see you come out big. They want to see neon lights. That's like half of the battle. That's why it's taking me a while to do this deal I'm doing. Not kicking something major, but I didn't want to go that route, you know, and I didn't want to go indie. So, I had to sit down and see how I could come up with a plan where I can do an independent deal and make it major, you know what I mean. You know major distribution is the key and then put some money into the project so we can promote it and make it look major. We were able to set that up and do some things that not a lot of people have done in the game. Hopefully, it'll make some changes and make a blueprint. You just need somebody to back you, like in any situation. But, it's not as hard as we think, man. For a lot of the rappers that are making money, they don't have to go down the road that they're going. Step back, evaluate, ask some questions, get the prices, and if they invest in themselves they'd be surprised what they could make. Majors give us pennies, you know what I mean.
And you're the one creating the art. That's the messed up part about it.
Rakim: Exactly. It's like they're pimping us for our product. It's like a door-to-door salesman and I come up with an item for $10 and I go knock on the door and sell that item and get $10. If I step back and let somebody else sell it, why if he go to the door and my product is $10, then why do I only get $1? And that's what we're going through with the major labels, man. It's not even to the point to where they're saying, "Alright, it's 3 1/2, it's 4 1/2, it's almost half of it." That's the last thing that would come out of their mouths. So, the way I'm trying to do this it's taking me awhile but at the end of the day it's going the wayI want it to go.
Now, I get the general idea but what are the specifics? Did you start a label and then get major distribution to go with it?
Rakim: Yeah, basically that's all I did. All you got to do is if you got extra amount of money, then you can do your own thing. Depending on how much money you've got, that determines whether it's going to be major or independent. The average money to put out for an album, a top shelf album, you need a million dollars. So if you can put a million dollars in promotion you've got a major distribution. A million dollars at the most to have your music everywhere: BET, MTV, and the magazines, everything. If you can do that then you'll have major distribution. There's nothing to separate the majors from you. If you have a setup like that…that's what we had to do and that's the key for whoever wants to do it like that. If you have enough money, you can get a major distribution deal.
Speaking of the album, have you picked a single yet?
Rakim: Nah, right now we're just trying to do as many joints as we can. At the same time, we're trying to finish up with the deal and then once we finish up with the deal, we get ready for some big time collabos. We're just trying to load up and be ready for the end of the day when you can just sit down and listen to 20 to 25 records and pick the best 15.
I know you've probably been asked this a couple of times, but who are you working with on this album?
Rakim: We goin' to keep that quiet 'cause I don't usually do it [collaborations], you know what I mean. I still believe in the element of surprise, you know what I mean. So, we want to keep that quiet. It's some smart collabos I'll put it like that. All the callabos are going to make sense. People are goin' to appreciate who I'm doing the callabos with. And at this point in my career, I'm trying to show some love to a lot of people that's been showing me love in the game and people that I have respect for.
I know Nas has already said that he's probably gonna be on you're album. It's that something that looks like it's going to happen.
Rakim: Yeah, no doubt. It's just a matter of me and him linking up and sitting down, man. Me and Nas, a lot of people don't know we go back to powerplay when I was working on some of my early albums, he'll come to the studio with Large Professor.
He was always like my little dude, you know what I mean. Hopefully we'll get a chance to get it in and do something special in the studio man. If it ain't special I'm not gonna try to do it. If it's just a beat and he spits 16 and I spit 16 then I ain't gonna do it. But, if it's something that makes sense and it's special, then we'll do it.
Out of the new crop of emcees who would you say is the next Ra, or maybe close to that?
Rakim: Umm, that's kinda hard to say. There's a lot of cats out there that I respect. I like Saigon. Papoose is doing his thing right now. A lot of different breeds coming out of the game right now. But, I'm so different and knowing how different I am…[shakes his head with a smirk, thereby, shaking off any hint at Rakim's dispensability]. But, there's a lot of cats out there that I love.
What would you say has changed the most between back when you guys pioneered this whole lyricism movement and now?
Rakim: I think what has changed is the conscious level. I think now it's lower. The conscious level in the hood and the conscious level in the game is at the point where the rappers aren't dealing with the consciousness and the hood ain't dealing with it. You know what I mean. So, it's a little slow right now. The hood is in a situation where they see it like they are in between a rock and a hard place. You can't blame it on the rappers, you can't blame it on the industry, but, we do play a part and there is something you can do about it. That's addressing the situation, addressing our hood, addressing our youngsters, and schooling them. A lot of times, "keep it real" is a little slogan. But, the kids look at it as if they are really keeping it real when that's not what these dudes are doing. At the end of the day, the little kids wind up busting their guns and going to jail, while the rapper's sitting in his crib watching TV on his big screen doing him. So, we're setting the wrong example because the little kids look up to us and they take it to the heart. They hear their favorite rapper talking about "Yo, I'm gonna a killer. I keep the gun on me," and "Don't disrespect me or I'll stretch you out." The little kid takes that to heart like, "My man said that, so that's what it is." They set that up and kids run with it, kids get caught up in it, and the rappers sitting at the crib watching the news. We need to be a little bit more responsible. We can't say that we're not role models when we're making records. Rap was a little different than R & B back in the days. People use to get R & B records and sing along and dance with it and cut that mother*****r off. Rap records, they cut that on and it becomes them. Rap consumes people.
It's a lifestyle.
Rakim: Exactly, man. Rappers gotta understand that. The world is so crowded. The little kids are the ones that get the most flack from what we're doing. We got to wake up and see what we're really doing. We need to tune up in the game right now.
Defintely. That's why we need folks like you to come back out and set trends again. Anything else you want people to know out there?
Rakim: Yeah, man. To the fans, I got that new thing coming out The Seventh Seal. I hope y'all like that and thanks for your patience. To the game, let's tighten up our craft and check what we got right here. They're trying to take it away from us. Don't give it away. Let's protect our craft and do what we do.
You said first quarter of '07, right?
Rakim: Right. Single coming this fall. Album first quarter of 2007.
The beginning of the end of life as we know it occurred here, on a beaten patch of asphalt out in the vast, flat no man's land of greater Los Angeles.
The beginning of the end came unannounced. There was no salute, no blast of trumpets or heavenly choir. It came in the sunken heat of summer at an abandoned drive-in movie theater called the Roadium.
The Roadium was graced by a grand arched gate that, in its day, promised entry to whatever secret kingdom Hollywood could conjure. By the summer of 1985, though, the drive-in, its dreams and innocent magic are relics of a long-gone past. The dull blur of south county towns the Roadium served–Torrance, Lawndale, Hawthorne, Gardena, Carson and Compton–are staging areas in a decade-long descent into what feels at times like a war zone; and at times is. Street corners are outposts in a new crack economy, boulevards battle lines dividing endless variations of Bloods and Crips, usually from one another, always from themselves. With the drive-in theater gone, the stuff of dreams has been traded for just plain stuff. The Roadium's arch now frames an open-air bazaar piled high with cheap Chinese toys, one-size-fits-all Sri Lankan socks, used car batteries, secondhand tool chests, last year's Barbie dolls and canned peas with last week's use-by date. The Roadium is a swap meet.
The first thing you notice are the people. The place is so jammed you wonder how they ever got along without it. At the moment, the biggest crowd surrounds a little stall just inside the old arch. Kids are lined up two, three deep along the perimeter of the stall, whooping and hollering. A lanky Japanese guy, whippet-thin and wired, presides behind a homemade plywood table in the middle of the noise. The table is stacked high with records, LPs and those 12-inch singles that disc jockeys spin. He's got more of the same displayed on a 20-foot-wide pegboard behind him.
He's got so much product that some days, days when the heat is so thick you could lean against it, the table legs sink an inch into the melting asphalt.
The whole place isn't much bigger than a walk-in closet, and it's hot in every way imaginable. The air's an oven, the kids fired by the desire for the new.
"Yo, Steve. Whatcha got?"
"Stevie, Stevie, whatcha got new, man?"
Steve Yano is the man of the moment, an East L.A. guy who has somehow swapped a career as a high school guidance counselor to become the uncrowned king of a swap meet music underground. He has turned his table into the hippest, hottest record store on the West Coast. He's got everything–all the new East Coast hip-hop, the best old-school R&B, all the L.A. dance jams, that locking-and-popping stuff you see on "Soul Train." He has stuff nobody else has, stuff nobody else has ever heard of. He has stuff so new it doesn't even exist yet (not officially), stuff with no labels, no packaging, just the stamp of the new.
It is the new that tugs at the ears of the man who will deliver the beginning of the end of life as we know it. He's a little guy, 5-5, 5-6, tops, with the slow swagger of a hustler fat on house money. Steve Yano remembers him showing up that first day at the Roadium, going through piles of 12-inch singles. Big piles.
"He looks 'em over, stacks 'em up. Then says, 'I'll take these."'
The guy has maybe 20 records in front of him. Yano is used to kids buying one, maybe two at a time. These are not rich kids. They wouldn't be at the swap meet if they were. Yano thinks this guy is scamming.
"All those?" he asks.
"Yeah," the kid says. He's got a high, squeaky voice that makes him sound even younger than he looks. And he looks about 13. He picks up one of the 12-inchers, a cut from some local DJs called the World Class Wreckin' Cru.
"Where you get that from?" he asks.
The question doesn't even register with Yano, who still can't believe the kid has money to buy all the records he has in front of him.
"All of them?" he asks.
"Sure," the kid says, and reaches down in his sock. He comes back up with a roll of cash. He peels the bills off. Bam. Just like that.
Then he says: "Tell Dre, Eric says, 'Whassup?' "
With that, Eric Wright turns and walks off with a stack of records half as big as he is. Yano, of course, tells Dre nothing. Dre, Andre Young, a member of the Wreckin' Cru, is one of the hottest young DJs in L.A. He doesn't need to be bothered, man. Not with this kid anyhow.
Wright comes back the next weekend, asks about Dre again, wants his numbers. He's polite but persistent and comes back every week. Yano finally asks Dre if he knows a homeboy named Eric Wright. And damned if Dre doesn't.
"Next thing I know," Yano says, "those guys are on a three-way call with me at 2 in the morning. Eric wants to open a record store. I tell him, 'Don't do it. It's a bad business. I can show you how, but don't do it.' "
Eric has money–street money, dope money–and wants to go straight. Dre, meanwhile, bugs Yano, who knows every low-level somebody in the record business in all of Los Angeles, to start a record label. Dre wants a place to put out his own music.
In time, these dreams merged and came true. Eric went into the record business, all right, not with a corner store but with his own label and Dre was on it. Soon that label, Ruthless Records, sent out into the world some of the weirdest, funniest, saddest, maddest music anybody ever heard. Out of that little swap meet stall came the partnership that rocked, then overran the record business.
The partnership took full form in the hip-hop group Niggaz With Attitude, which in 1988 released a record called "Straight Outta Compton." This was the group's first national release. N.W.A was largely unknown. The record contained no hit singles. In most of the country, nothing from the record was played even once on the radio. It was too crude, too misogynistic, too violent. MTV, which had by then established itself as the primary gatekeeper of popular culture, refused to play N.W.A videos.
No radio, no television and no publicity.
"Straight Outta Compton" sold 3 million records.
The music it contained was so perverse, so nihilistic, so forbidden, politicians–then and still–elbowed each other out of the way to condemn it. Highbrow critics couldn't find language strong enough to critique it; they went further, questioning whether it was even music at all. It's barbaric, they said. Hide the women and children; bar the doors. Too late.
Gangsta rap was in the house.