In your music, specifically on 'Goodfellas', you've rapped about college. Did you go to school?
Yeah, I went to Clark Atlanta University. I received my Bachelors there in Communications. I'm actually studying right now to get my MBA. Within the next year I should be done with that.
Did your time at Clark influence your approach to writing?
I like to take pride in being that guy before I got here. I was always like that. In junior high I went to a college prep school. My 11th and 12th grade years I went to a high school in the hood because I wanted to get into some other things. But I went to a private school from junior high until midway through high school, and they focused on Humanities. So a lot of the courses were about classic literature and things of that nature. Going to symphonies, theaters, and operas. In school I was pretty much into that. I took foreign languages and shit like that. I was doing calculus in 7th grade. I've always been like a wiz kid I guess. That was just who I was anyway.
But I grew up in a real serious neighborhood, so there were other things going on that were totally opposite of what I was learning in school. I'd be in school learning about The Iliad and The Odyssey, then I'd go home and my friends were on the porch selling drugs. The contrast was always there. Not until I got older did I realize I could bring both sides together and make myself this incredible artist.
You cover a lot of street themes, but you present it in an eloquent way.
Yeah! I figured it out when I got older. When I was young I'd try to write real criminal tough thug shit, because I thought that's what people liked. But even after all that I could tell you about the Canterbury Tales from Chaucer. Around my way, people don't tell you those types of things make you special and make you a jewel. You hear it from your teachers and your parents, but you never hear it from rappers or magazines. They never told me that. Maybe just a few years ago I realized I can put all this shit I know into my music.
You've made some of the best music of your career over the last couple years, after you parted ways with DJ Drama. Do you feel like that situation was holding you back creatively?
I wasn't being held back, because everything I did I agreed to. Nobody forced me to do anything. At any given time I could have said no. At that time I was down for the team. I would never talk bad about Drama because he didn't do anything wrong. What he was doing is running a business. And it wasn't just him. Sense was involved. My brother [La The Darkman] was involved. Cannon was involved for a period of time. It was a collective decision and effort from everybody. So Drama's not responsible for anything negative in my music. We was a company and I agreed. I didn't have any experience in the music business, so whatever brothers wanted to do I was down. That's my style. I'm a community guy. Whatever the crew wants to do I'm with it, just let me know my part.
I think what I should have done was create more music like The Crates and The Cure 2 to go with the mainstream situation. Drama, La, Sense, and Cannon were basically doing what was best for the business. We had a situation where Drama signed with Grand Hustle, which was under Atlantic. Then I was signed to Asylum, which was under Warner. At that time they were dropping 'Peanut Butter and Jelly', 'Ice Cream Paint Job', Boosie and shit like that. So you can't come in there and give them niggas 'Fucking In a Foreign Car' or 'How Lovely' and expect them to work it.
It's like a business. If a wholesaler comes to sell shit to Walmart, they're expecting to get a certain product from that wholesaler. The DJ's, stores, retail people, and merchandisers are all expecting a product from this machine. They're expecting Boosie and TI. The only artist in that machine with an identity anything similar to mine was Lupe Fiasco, but he had that lane on smash. I never really knew enough to tell them I wanted to do what Lupe does. Not to copy the brother, but just use him as an example that organic music still has potential. You don't have to create what everybody else is creating. So hats off to that brother, but I would never blame anyone else for what was going on at that time.
So at what point did you decide to pursue music as a career?
It was back when I was a little kid. My father collected records. He had turntables, cassette players and shit like that. People in my neighborhood would always come by my grandmother's house to get music. He was the only crate digger I knew. He was taking shit off vinyl and putting it on cassettes. He may have an old Earth Wind and Fire record from the 70's, and his friend might want to play that in his new car. He had his turntables set up in front of my grandmother's house. He had a loud system in his car. Music is always what he was into, so I grew up around it.
At that time I was a just a big fan of everything. Tribe Called Quest, NWA, Public Enemy or whoever. My father's approach to music was broad. He might play Rick James, Spice 1, Bone, Eazy E, and then Jungle Brothers. So I had a wide scope of music. I would always be in the neighborhood or school rapping somebody elses rhyme, but people didn't know because their fathers didn't collect music. Their parents didn't have Tribe Called Quest. They might have some Luther Vandross, but they didn't have any EPMD. One rhyme I used to kick was Phife Dawg's shit from 'Butter' off Low End Theory. I used to kick that whole song and everyone thought it was my record. I would switch up the names to match the girls and school in our neighborhood. Doing that is really what got me into rap. Capturing people's attention.
In the 90's niggas didn't want to rap like that. I was probably the only person that wanted to rap seriously. All my other friends wanted to play sports, chase girls, or sell drugs. So I was special because I wanted to be a rapper. Now everybody wants to rap.
Was this around the time your brother was getting on?
That was really the point where I wanted to do it for a living. Before it was a fantasy and a dream. It was something to be connected with coming up in Grand Rapids. La came home with his own T-Shirts. He had a Source Magazine [advertisement] with him sitting on the Lexus. He had a song with Raekwon. He called me one time and I could hear Raekwon and Ghostface talking in the background! He came home from the Atlanta Freaknik with flyers of a show he did with Busta and Q-Tip. It was on! I didn't have to dream anymore, because I knew it was real.
Drake recently praised 'WasteNot Want Not' and 'Sunz Of Man Dart' on MTV News. Did you get a chance to see that?
Yeah, I seen it. That was dope.
Did it bother you that he couldn't remember your name off hand?
I felt excited. I was hype. I appreciated him doing that because he didn't have to. You know how rappers are. Rap is real competitive, and sometimes a brother will be an elephant in the room and niggas won't acknowledge it. I think Drake showed he's a really good guy to salute another artist. I'm not the rapper everyone's hyping up, so for him to say that, he really believed it was true. He wasn't trying to be cool. I appreciate it, because word of mouth goes a long way.
I was surprised he was even up your on the music.
I never would have thought he heard the music, because I know where the music travels. I know what kind of people listen to it, but it's about your circle. I might be in the hood and my man will bring me someone's CD. I probably wouldn't even be checking for the nigga, but it's dope. I think something like that happened with Drake.
'Live At The Ritz' was a tribute to HBO's Boardwalk Empire. Are you a fan of the show?
Yeah. Highly. That's my shit.
Did you actually have a conversation with Styles P about Boardwalk?
I was been a big fan of Boardwalk Empire. I'd watch the show every Sunday and be hype as shit. So I wrote a rhyme: "Nucky Thompson with the Thompson, stepping out the Ritz." I wrote that watching the show and I never finished it. I'm in the car one day listening to Shade 45 and I hear a freestyle. Styles P said "I'm on the top floor of the Ritz like Nucky."
He was the first person to mention Boardwalk Empire in a rhyme. That was on the 'So Appalled' freestyle with Jadakiss.
He was! He was the first to say it. But mind you, I had already wrote that part of my rhyme. But I have to take my hat off and salute him. He was the first one to get it off. The rhyme I wrote was so dope I was still going to spit it! I thought the best way to go about it was to reach out to him. I don't like when niggas be frontin'. I don't like that. If you know you got your idea from someone else, you should pay homage and salute that. I didn't want to come behind Styles like I'm riding his wave or I killed it better. Fuck all that. So I reached out and sent him the record and he sent it right back.
Were you satisfied with the Season 2 finale?
That shit was crazy. I thought it was bugged out that they killed Jimmy. That was ill. I don't know where they're going to go next. I think the story will center around Al Capone and Meyer Lansky in New York with the Heroin.
Earlier this year you announced a project with Naledge from Kids In The Hall. Is that still in the works?
Yeah, it's still in the works. We have five records already. It's coming together really well. We're taking our time with it. I'm in Atlanta, but when I head up to Michigan I might slide over to Chicago and rock with him. When we come together it's real organic, and not just to say we did it.
You also hinted toward collaborating on an EP with Cooking Soul. Is that the next project we can expect from you?
Yeah, that's whats dropping next. That's done. I haven't recorded all the songs, but I've written all the records. I'm just fine tuning them. I'll probably go to the lab sometime this week and wrap it all up. We're talking about getting out to Barcelona and shooting visuals, because they're out in Spain. The music's coming out dope. It reminds me of some It Was Written shit. My rhymes are real jagged, but the beats I chose were real smooth, fun, bright, laid back, and colorful all at the same time. So it's drawing a more poetic approach out of me. It's going to be real dope. Perfect for the weather.
A lot of your underground peers garnered critical acclaim last year. Guys like Danny Brown, Curren$y, and Action Bronson are receiving a new level of recognition. Do you feel you're underrated as an artist at this point?
Underrated? Nah. I think I'm highly rated among people that heard it. I think the issue is coverage. I don't think a lot of people have even heard The Fly 2. I can't imagine in a million years brother, someone would listen and not rank as one of the best projects of the year. Anybody that doesn't salute The Fly 2 simply hasn't heard it yet.