Jay Rock—who is managed by Top Dawg just like you—is on Strange Music. Strange Music is Tech N9ne’s company that he built from the ground up. Is Top Dawg trying to do something similar to Strange Music?
As far as a company and a team, hell yeah. I went on tour with Tech N9ne and I’ve seen the damage that he’s done, the fanbase he built up just by going out there to these small cities and building up his supporters one by one. I think that’s the stuff that a lot of artists should follow instead of trying to go after a hit single.
When you go after a hit single and you actual get that hit single, it can be a make or break for you. And most likely a break because after you get it, you have to get another hit single right after that. So everything is basically downhill. But when you actually build up an organic fanbase from the jump, like Tech N9ne did, they’ll be with you forever.
Are you not interested in making hit singles?
Of course [I am]. But I can’t go wrong because if I get that hit single and I live with it forever, it’s not going to matter because I’ve always had this base that I started out with from the jump. That base believes in me and will buy the same album that I made 20 years ago and see the progression of that. They’re not going to buy my music off of a hit record.
I think a lot of artists fell victim to that. They’re not going out here and doing their legwork and making people actually believe in the message of the artist and the human being. They’re not making people feel you.
But you’re at that point now. You do have this consolidated fanbase who believes in you. It seems like the logical step for you is now to get that big hit.
Right. But I’m not going to go into it where I’m forcing it because it’s not going to feel organic. The first people that’s going to hear it is the people that love the music. Even people that don’t really fuck with my music like that, they’re going to know that I went out of my way to get a hit single and it didn’t work. If it feels right and it makes sense, so be it. I’d love it. It’s all about doing something that feels right for you and not losing the people you started out with. Who wouldn’t want a big record?
I think that Wiz Khalifa also followed that concept of building a base. He had the Taylor Gang, then he had a big record with “Black & Yellow.”
Exactly and it made sense. It wasn’t far from what he was doing already. It was still in his lane and it worked.
But the thing for Wiz was that he was on Atlantic, a major label. Do you think you can get that big hit and just be on Top Dawg?
I think it’s possible. Of course it takes money, but that’s the gamble you have to take when you’re an independent label. You have to take the dollars out of your own pocket and push a record that you feel strong about. That’s what the labels are doing anyway, [putting] money behind these records and giving it to the stations. I think with the independent side of thing, we just have to take that gamble.
So you’re not pursuing a major label deal?
If it’s right. When I say if it’s right, it have to be fitting to the needs that we already started with, as far as the creative aspect, as far as the business end. When you build something organic from the bottom, you don’t want nobody to come in and try to alter it. You want [them] to come in on the same ride that you’ve been moving to and hopefully they can help and better it. I think that’s the best thing about it. But at the end of the day, we’re independent. I’ve been offered plenty of record deals.
Probably all of the labels you could think of.
What about Aftermath? You were seen with Dre, he stood closer to you than any artist he has actually signed in ten years.
That is because Dre and I have a personal relationship. In the first studio session, we clicked so crazy. It was more like a uncle-nephew kind of vibe. Because everybody sees Dre as just a gangsta rapper, but he shares the same story that I have, a good kid in a mad city.
When we sit in the studio, we talk about these different streets that we both lived on and experiences he had that I can relate to being two generations younger. I think that’s why people attach it so strongly because of the chemistry that we have outside the studio.
Dre has signed other guys, like Joell Ortiz and Slim Da Mobster, but he never appeared with them anywhere. He went to the Lakers game with you, he went on stage with you. He never did that for anyone else.
It’s the relationship, truthfully. And the music making is that much better though. When you are able to create and click in the studio and outside the studio. I respect Dre 100%. He gave me so much game just in this past year that I’ve known him, it won’t only make me a better artist, but it makes me a better person.
What did he tell you?
Just about life in general. About having passion, setting goals, and having a vision. I never understood vision to that pedigree until I sat in that studio and he wrote down everything that manifested in his life—he’s seen it before. You can’t really grasp that concept that people have because they can’t really justify it because they can’t touch it.
Everything that has manifested in his life in the past year, he’s seen it at the start of N.W.A. People can never justify that because they can’t grab it. They can’t think that heavy on that type of level. That was the coldest shit he told me because he was telling me the steps on how he’s seen this album and this record doing this and seeing his label doing this and they actually did that.
It’s basically about believing in yourself and having the dedication he has. Being under him and watching the passion, the same type of feel he has since the first early days of N.W.A., it’s crazy. It makes me go harder.
You talk about learning to believe in yourself from Dre. On “I Need A Doctor” Eminem talks about Dre second-guessing himself all the time. Have you ever gotten that same sort of impression? That Dre is second-guessing himself?
Nah, what I got was that he knows he has the world on his back, as far as the music. I’ve gotten more of the passion than anything, just making sure everything is right. He’s like a scientist in there. I think that’s something that all artists have to develop within themselves. His is just at a point where it’s unmatched.