You always had admiration for prophets and criminals. You’ll talk about Gandhi and Fat Cat. How do you negotiate what people may sometimes see as a contradiction? Having admiration for a criminal and a prophet.
That’s like saying Scorsese shouldn’t have made Goodfellas, if he worships God or believes in Jesus Christ. That’s like Robert DeNiro not doing A Bronx Tale.He wouldn’t be true to himself. He would be a false, holier than thou, waste. No way. Anybody who tells you that you can’t love God and still write about the world that you live in is crazy.
A well-rounded artist gives you life. He doesn’t hide anything. I can’t hide it. I can’t hold anything back.
That has been my strong point, the ability to reach people in the street, but also people who never were in the street. I connect them. People who weren’t in the streets were misinformed about us. They’re scared of us. They believed that we’re all rapists and crazy people, who walk around killing for nothing and selling crack to kids.
The Trayvon Martin problem.
Exactly. That’s the problem we had, and that’s what hip-hop has done. It’s reminded you that, yo, this kid is from Queens. He’s seen the drug dealers in Mercedes Benz’s. He knows them. He grew up around them. If I deny that, I’m lying. A well-rounded artist gives you life. He doesn’t hide anything. I can’t hide it. I can’t hold anything back.
I recently did a “Behind The Music,” and I cringed as I watched it... Seeing it, depressed me, in a way, because today I know which spoon goes where and with what. I know which fork is for salad. I’ve got some type of etiquette. But I forgot. Even though I rap about the shit, looking at your life and seeing where you grew up—and the “Behind The Music” is not even half of how things went down. It messed me up, at first, but then it made me proud. I can’t even believe today...
That you came through it.
I can’t believe it sometimes. But then, I better believe it, because I’ve got so much more to go. I hear dudes saying, “Yo, I’m from the projects.” Which one? I see rappers saying, “Oh, I’m from the projects,” but they never named the name of the projects. You can’t go to their neighborhoods and hear of guys that knew them back then or grew up with them or anything. So I think it’s just a cool thing to say you’re from the hood.
It’s like your song “Accidental Murderer.”
Yeah. So with me, it’s so much different. There’s so much that I left out of “Behind The Music,” and I’m working on a book, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. How do you tell the truth about your life, without exposing things that don’t need to be exposed?
Do you ever feel shame or fear? I feel like, growing up in the projects, I spent a lot of time hiding shame, most afraid of being humiliated.
You know what? No. I was pro my neighborhood. I was pro changing the rap game, when I first came out. I was pro-reality. I was pro “Look at where I’m from.” There’s no hiding this. This is what it is. This is a systematic slaughterhouse, that we were growing up in. That was my point: to give a voice to the voiceless.
I was pro my neighborhood. I was pro changing the rap game, when I first came out. I was pro-reality. I was pro “Look at where I’m from.” There’s no hiding this. This is what it is. This is a systematic slaughterhouse, that we were growing up in. That was my point: to give a voice to the voiceless.
I’m just saying that as I grew as a man, my battles have become different, because there are not enough black men in corporate America doing their thing. And I’m someone who’s coming up, and I’m winding up being the only black dude in these big meetings, and they’re not used to dealing with that.
It’s a different fight for me, now. Not that you turn your back on where you come from, but I’ve just realized with all the recent challenges, growing in life, I forgot—until I saw the VH1—that I’m not that far from where I came. I’m not that far.
So it just made me re-evaluate. Who am I today? What have I really accomplished? Am I still... Am I just a hood dude? And if that’s what it is, then I came to grips and said, “Then that’s what it is, and that’s all I want to be.” That’s all I want to be, forever. I’m going to always have that with me.
You’ve talked about how you’ve connected people from the streets with people who have never been to the streets.
And vice versa, through the music.
What is rhyming to you now? Is it the same as it was? Or is it a new kind of relationship with words?
It’s all of those things, but more. It never ceases to amaze me what I can do. It’s about me being surprised. Like, when I first started, and I completed a song that was good, I was like, “Wow.” I was proud of myself. You never know what’s inside you until you keep digging.
So it’s that same feeling. It’s me sitting back and thinking, “Yo I just aced this song, just now.” And I needed to do that. I accomplished another feat, and I’m like, “Wow. Alright, cool. What else is there in me?” I still don’t know. So that’s what it’s about: the mystery of not knowing what you’re about to bring out of you, and how that was already written before you even wrote it, because it was all about can you find the zone to pull it out of you?
And I think that’s what we’re all searching for: that zone, where we can pull the best of ourselves out of ourselves. Because it’s not just for fans, it’s for even ourselves to go, “I did it.” So that’s strong with me, definitely.
Once you feel that, and you’re still able to do it here and there...Like, with “Daughters,” I feel like I did it. So it’s like, “Alright, cool.” There’s a lot of people, who talk about kids and their kids, but I wanted mine... Mine will be this record that will just represent, and that’s what I accomplished.
Do you feel like it’s easier to accomplish in life or in music?
Life is the bigger challenge. That’s not to say that music isn’t a challenge, because it definitely is, but without question, life is the harder challenge.