Photo By Fli Pelican
Every artist has pivotal events that alter the course of their career for better or worse. Cydel "Cyhi Da Prynce" Young, experienced one of those events on February 16th of this year when Kanye West posted his mixtape, The Prynce Of Jacks, on his blog. In one day Cyhi was transformed from an anonymous rapper signed to Konvict Music/Def Jam—slowly building his buzz with impressive appearances on songs like Yela Wolf's "I Wish (remix)"—to a hot new Atlanta rapper everyone wanted to find out about.
We're happy to report after listening to Cyhi spray regal street parables over an amalgam of classics, new and old, abusing everything from Pharcyde's "Passing My By" to the Clipse' "Popular Demand (Popeye's)," that the attention is well-deserved. While his job is amply filing up his daily planner these days, Cyhi took a break from working on his upcoming debut album, Hardway Musical, featuring Akon, T-Pain, and production from DJ Toomp and Drumma Boy, to talk to us about how he grew up, linking with Akon, and just how big a deal Kanye West's co-sign was to him...
Interview By Toshitaka Kondo
Complex: How'd you come up with your name?
Cyhi Da Prynce: Me and the Prince of England where born on the same day, same year, and we share the same name. My middle name is Charles and The Prince of England's name is Charles. My real name is Cydel, so I took the "del" off my name and added the "hi" from highness.
Complex: What part of Atlanta did you grow up in?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I grew up on the East Side in the Stone Mountain, Decatur area. It was a fairly diverse area. Our parents were the first parents who really had a chance to get good jobs in the '80s, '90s and had a chance to move away from the 'hood. As anybody knows, you move enough black people to any area and it turns back into the 'hood. When I first moved to my neighborhood it was all white people. Five years later we was all black.
Complex: How did you get started rapping?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I was a good poem writer. I used to like a lot of girls in school so that was my way of getting them. I started probably around sixth grade. A dude from Philly taught me how to put it all together and how to put it into actual bars—song structure. I knew about song structure, because I was in the school choir. I just didn't know how to actually write raps in bars.
Complex: Were you going around school battling kids?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I used to rap for jokes, but everyone was telling me, "You need to rap for real." By the time I got kicked out of school, I had nothing else to do but rap.
Complex: When did you get kicked out of school?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I left school probably about '02. I was around 15, 16. I was just always in fights, cussing teachers out, and skipping school.
Complex: What kind of kid were you growing up?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I really dreamed of sports. I was all-county track and football. When I was in the 9th grade I played varsity tailback and receiver. I ran the 400 and the 800 when I ran track. I just couldn't stay in school.
Complex: After that, instead of going to another school you started rapping?
Cyhi Da Prynce: They said I could go to alternative school, but I knew it wasn't for me, because there was a whole bunch of badass little niggas. I was thinking to myself, how am I going to do this? I met a homeboy that I used to always hang with. He was a fairly wealthy young man. He had everything a kid could want. He had a studio over there, so I just got to writing raps.
Complex: So from 16 on you were just trying to get on as a rapper?
Cyhi Da Prynce: It was a lot of trials, because rap has so much to do with the streets. They work hand and hand. I was deep into the streets. People listen to my music and want to know why I'm so passionate about it, because I'm not a street nigga. When I had met my partner I had got so deep into it. At a young age, I didn't know I was in this deep. A lot of things I used to see in the streets, I wasn't cool with what we was doing. I did it just because we needed some money. In the drug game, friends breaking and entering, robbing, armed robbery, everything.
Complex: During that time period, you never got locked up or anything?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I never did no serious time. Because rap always saved me. I used to have powerful people on my team so luckily sometimes I had great lawyers, managers, and friends help me get out of certain situations. I knew it wasn't for me. It was too many of my friends getting shot. Everyone was getting robbed, and me robbing. My partner got life. My other partner shot twice. I just knew I had to do something different.
Complex: Who were some of the powerful people that were helping you early on?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I was in a group called Hoodlum signed to Sho Nuff/Def Jam. That was about three or four years ago. I was signed through Noonie and Jazze Pha. When I mean powerful people, different street dudes that had money that would probably pay for a lawyer. It was cool if I ain't have no other talent. If I was just an ignorant dude, or a dude who didn't have nothing else to do, I could be in the streets all day. But if you know you the man in construction, why not do construction, before you go to the streets. A lot of guys look at the streets as the first resort to making some money. I look at it as the last resort.
Complex: Once you linked with Noonie and Jazze Pha, the Def Jam deal happened pretty quickly?
Cyhi Da Prynce: It happened almost simultaneously. We got with them, and a week and a half later we were signed to Def Jam.
Complex: You signed as a group and what ended up happening?
Cyhi Da Prynce: It was just different things within the group we had differences on. I was with them for so long, and I was offered so many solo deals that I turned down, just for being loyal. It was getting strenuous for me. I couldn't get no money, then that's when we went back to the streets. We were the only ones with the work. So everybody was trying to rob us, and we were shooting it out and everything with everybody. I had to step out on faith. Everyone knew me for being one of the best rappers in the city, though.
Complex: When did you decide to leave the group?
Cyhi Da Prynce: Maybe about '08 I decided to leave the group. I had to pay my way out of my [Def Jam deal]. Once I got signed to Konvict, Def Jam had another showcase, and they signed me again.
Complex: Is that when you linked with Greg Street?
Cyhi Da Prynce: Greg knew me from the first one. Greg is like an angel to me. I don't even know how this dude even got here. [Laughs.] He's like Superman. He saved the day. He heard a song I did called "Sweet Georgia" and he played it. It got so many e-mails and responses, and he's been a consultant, mentor, and my DJ. He helps me through all this. He has a lot of relationships so he just introduces me to those people.
Complex: Is he the one who introduced you to Akon?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I knew Akon through the streets. People don't know Akon is a real street dude. People just think he just sings. He was really a convict. He was really rolling with some street dudes. I knew him through a few street dudes, myself. I just met him. Then I was cool with his little brother, Bu. Me and Lil Zane stayed in the same neighborhood. Bu used to be the hype man for Lil Zane. My partner named Botchey formally introduced us again and I said, I got some music you might want to check out.
Complex: You gave Bu your music and he liked it?
Cyhi Da Prynce: My past record label, I let them keep all my music. I had no songs to shop. I read The Secret and watched the movie. I made a goal, in two months I'm going to have a deal. I had one in a month and a half. I went and recorded 25 songs and gave them to [Bu]. Rest in peace Dolla—he helped me get signed as well. Him and Bu were like brothers at the time. Dolla didn't like a lot of rappers. Especially someone trying to get signed to the same label. Me and Dolla was from the same side of town. I knew him from the East Side. I knew him through the streets as well. He was like, "You should sign him" and then they signed me.
Complex: What were you doing for those 2 years to get your buzz up?
Cyhi Da Prynce: Most dudes in this day and age in rap, they have a buzz first then they go get a deal. They have a record already spinning in the club, then they go get a deal. I was getting deals off rapping. I didn't get signed off songs. I gave them my songs after they was already interested in me from freestyles. Both times I got signed to LA Reid it was off my freestyles. When I signed to Bu, off of freestyles.
Complex: Did things start to take off immediately after signing to Konvict?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I was signed to Konvict for about a year. It was cool. But then they seen I wasn't making the average music that an Atlanta rapper would make. That was kind of a pause, a stand still. He's not what we thought he was. When they seen I was way more soulful and way more intelligent than they thought I was—it kind of threw them off. They didn't really know how to market me. That's when I met Greg Street. Greg was like, "When I first met Jay-Z, no one got Jay-Z. When I first met Kanye, no one understood Kanye. Even with T.I., when I was trying to get people to understand T.I., no one ever understood us. You're getting the same response, so keep it up." [Laughs.] That was the first time I had someone explain it to me like that.
Cyhi Da Prynce: Not really. I liked being the underdog. I was always the one. I knew I could rap, I knew it was gonna be hard for me, but I wanted to be in the upper echelon of rappers. I never wanted to be known as a local rapper. Not downing anybody, but you know Gucci, that's cool to me, but I want to be massive. I want to be Kanye. I want to be Eminem.
Complex: But a lot of people think Gucci is the hottest rapper right now.
Cyhi Da Prynce: People who don't know the music industry. People who are fans of the music may think that. But people who know the music don't think that. People that are fans of the music, they don't know what actually goes on behind music. You hear all these dudes talking about what type of deal they got, $3 million deals and they cutting these type of checks, this and that. I know the real. I've done had the deals. Can't too many people say they're getting more money than Akon. He don't be on the plane for less than $250,000 [a show]. How much money y'all getting? As fans we don't know that. In this music industry, if you can't rap, if you ain't got no lyrics you're not lasting long. I haven't met one rapper with no lyrics that lasted longer than two to three years. They come out, you never hear from them again. T.I. got five albums, Jeezy got four albums, Kanye five, Jay-Z ten, Eminem seven, and DMX six. That's the type of artist I want to be.
Complex: With fans considering Gucci the hottest rapper, wouldn't you want that type of adulation as well?
Cyhi Da Prynce: No, not to me. An artist like Lupe Fiasco hasn't had an album in three years, and he still gets 25 to 50 grand a show. You ain't never see him down here. A young lady told me this one time, and I stick to this until I die, especially with music. "Would you rather be the first or the best?" As a youngin' I was thinking I want to be the best. "No, there's always someone going to come around who can be better than the best. You want to be the first. No one can ever forget the first." No matter how many baseball players or black baseball players ever come through the major leagues, you'll never forget Jackie Robinson. He don't play no more, but there's so many people who give him grants, and gifts, he's straight. Jackie Robinson can never go broke. You feel me?
A DJ told me one time, I listen to your mixtape, it's really disrespectful to even play your song in the club. Most rappers just rap about Friday and Saturday. Them the only days of the week they rap about. I rap about Sunday, Monday when your door gets kicked in, Tuesday when your partner got shot, Wednesday when your girl just had an abortion, Thursday when you can't make bond for the weekend, so you gotta stay in there the whole weekend until Monday when you can see the judge. You feel me? That's what I rap about. I rap about why T.I. banged up. I rap about the real shit, I don't rap about the monkey shit. All the jewelry. You see the dudes in the club with the jewelry on, who probably have all of $200 in their pocket. But it be my partners with no jewelry on with 5 racks in their pocket. I always knew it was just monkey shit. I was never a monkey. I was raised fairly well, just because I got in trouble didn't mean I didn't have morals. I don't do all the tattoos, all the ear piercing. I got one tattoo. Tats on your face. I can't go to my momma's house like that. I'm a prince for real, I don't look at myself as a rapper, as a gangster, none of that. I don't even wear jewelry. You gon rob me, you gon rob me for nothing. I have a fly outfit, you might have to strip me down or something. My shoe and outfit game is stupid. I'm not a flashy dude. I turned my chain down. People don't know that. I told Akon I'm straight.
Complex: Did he get offended?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I don't know. [Laughs.] I don't think so. They knew who they were signing. I never need a chain around my neck. I had that since I was born. I have an iced out G-Shock, but I got this as a gift. I wouldn't have bought this. If someone want to rob me for this I'll give it to 'em. [Laughs].
Complex: Kanye put your mixtape on his blog. Did you know it was going to happen beforehand?
Cyhi Da Prynce: I still ain't even talked to the dude. [Laughs]. That was such a blessing. I just want to give him a hug, say thank you or something. I'm still speechless about that one.
Complex: How did you know he had done that?
Cyhi Da Prynce: Somebody on Twitter hit me. "Yo, Kanye just posted your joint." I didn't even know he had a blog. That's really the only way he's communicating with the world right now, 'cause he ain't got a telephone or nothing. For him to do that three days straight. He put one video up of me when I was doing the ["I Wish (remix)"] with Yelawolf and Pill. Then he put my original video up. Then I dropped The Prynce Of Jacks, it wasn't even supposed to be promoted like that. He put it up on his site and it blew the whole roof off it. It's been like, Wow. Ever since then it's been hectic. I never knew that someone co-signing like that could change my life. I'm a living testimony that it can.
Complex: Do you know how he got your mixtape?
Cyhi Da Prynce: He's a real internet savvy, dude. He's a sneakerhead. At the end of the day he liked Yelawolf. He was checking for Yelawolf's video. I just happened to be on Yelawolf's song. He was like, Who's this dude on the second verse? Then he went and looked up the rest of my videos and my songs. He saw that and put me on his site. I'm thinking this is a publicity stunt, too. Next thing I know NO I.D. called. That's how I knew it was real. He said, "Kanye is really vibing with you. He likes all your songs. He's a big fan of you. He's hoping y'all could work together sometime." All this is still sinking in for me. It's not a publicity stunt. I was hoping it was. [Laughs]. I was prepared, but I wasn't prepared for everyone to come that fast. [Laughs]. When you're really saying something it's hard to come through. When you're really saying something it's going to be hard to break through in this game. Real musicians and hip-hop fans respect you. That's what I do it for. I don't do it for the money. I'm gonna wait to cash out on the end. I don't need the fast check. I'm straight.
Complex: Another new rapper in the Yelawolf video that people really like is Pill.
Cyhi Da Prynce: I fuck with Pill. That's my guy. We at the same shows because of the Yelawolf record. We just start kicking it, being friends. I respect his lyricism as well. I love rappers who go against the grain.
Complex: I noticed like Pill has done with 4180: The Prescription and 4075: The Refill, the beat selection on your mixtape is a good blend of classic beats in addition to the new ones.
Cyhi Da Prynce: When I fell in love with hip-hop, my favorite rapper was Jay-Z. But I used to like Common and Nas. But I was a South dude. So I grew up on UGK, Triple Six, Outkast, and Pastor Troy. That's where I get my lingo, my slang, my passion. My lyricism comes from understanding that you can go further with your raps. When I first heard Jay and all them, I realized I wasn't rapping hard enough. I threw away all my notebooks.
Complex: Which record of Jay's?
Cyhi Da Prynce: When I first heard Reasonable Doubt. I'm not rapping as good. We were rapping real simple like the down South rappers. We don't rap like this, we don't sound this clever. I knew I had or step my game up if I wanted to be known in the upper echelon of rappers.