I once talked to Big Sean about his favorite albums and he was talking about how much he loved listening to Can I Borrow a Dollar? and how he grew up listening to your records. It’s funny now that you’re working together. Do you see your influence in them?
Not as much. I really I think I gave more inspiration to him. I feel like Big Sean probably has more of a direct connect to Kanye than me. But it’s good to know that he feels that way. I’m honored. He told me that too, that he listened to Can I Borrow a Dollar?, and I was like, “How did you listen to Can I Borrow A Dollar? That came out when you were 3-years-old.” But you know, he got to it, probably later.
I think there’s been times when I can say, I’ve been influenced by Kanye. I think Kanye has influenced me. I think Kanye had to be inspired by some of the things I was doing just from me being in Chicago. I’ve been influenced by Q-Tip and hopefully I’ve been able to influence Q-Tip. I hear Pusha raps and I’m like, “Damn, this dude can rhyme, let me go get on some shit.”
Speaking of Kanye, you mentioned before that you and Kanye have had the longest relationship of anyone. How has it evolved for you guys over the years?
I feel like we’re two artists and men that have our own things but when we come together we build on a higher level. We’re able to keep each other rising. When I went to his fashion show, I was like, “Man, we come from the Southside of Chicago and I’m in Paris.” The whole fashion industry is here to see this young black brother’s work and not just because he’s black but the point is, he come from where I come from, so I’m inspired by that.
I think our relationship is always based on friendship and a brotherhood and it’s based on our love for art, our similarities, and the same token differences. Our relationship has evolved. He’s in the fashion world and I’m an actor, but when we come together for music, he’ll come around me or he’ll present certain music to me and he’ll know, “Oh, that’s your type of shit.” I’m kind of growing too in my space. As we evolve as people and men, our relationship and respect for each other will keep growing and evolving.
Right, you guys have such a long history including coming together on Be and making a classic. So many peaks and valleys through the years, but you guys still come together for things like tht.
Yes. You know, when the time is right, I would love to get together [with Kanye] on some more music. It would be an act of passion, it would be a creative project. It would be fun instead of, “I ain’t gotta do it, he ain’t gotta do it.” It’s not like we had to do it then or when we first did it, but it’d be a fun thing for us to do.
No matter where you go, you get reminded and you’re like, “I got into this because I love making music, I love hip-hop, and I love being creative.” Being able to work together with Kanye would be one of those experiences for me. How with No I.D. I had an experience like, “This is what I do. This is hip-hop.”
It’s the return of the essence.
Yeah, the return of the essence. You get back to that. The thing with 'Ye is that when we’re in the studio, we get that essence and then he’s challenging it to go further. You can have something at a certain level and it’s great but he’ll be like, “This is missing something. I gotta add something to it that’s going to make it that next level.”
When you hear “Mercy” and that reggae sample in it, those little elements, those little spices on it, make it like, “Damn.” He’s the center to bring all those things together, he’s the one to bring that, to have that eye and ear for little things.
You mentioned when you were talking about Be, you guys didn’t need to do it. At the time, it felt like you didn’t need to do it. But both of you...
—We didn’t. We didn’t need to do it, it was something that organically just came. From the first time I got a beat from him, it was just like I was just going to meet him at the studio. He was producing for somebody else and that person wasn’t in the studio. When I got to the studio I heard the beat and he was like, “You want this?” I was like, “Yeah.” He was like, “Hurry up and put it on a CD and leave the studio.”
It was one of those situations where we didn’t have to do Be, that was just an act of true love for the music. 'Ye didn’t have to do those beats for me. It wasn’t like it was going to make or break his career.
At the time, I think the general perception was that Kanye was doing a lot of pop stuff when he wasn’t making rap music. And you made Electric Circus and people thought it was too left field.
We didn’t need it, but if you’re saying we needed it in that way. Yes, we needed it.
People were saying that both of you, in your own way, weren’t doing the essence of what you guys got into music for. I think that’s why people loved Be because it was such a true album.
Yeah, I mean, that’s the thing. This is something that you can even see in Kanye’s career and you see it in my career and whether people enjoy those expressions or not. It’s like you go somewhere and wherever you are, you’ll be truthful, you’ll be honest to where you are as an artist. That’s what Electric Circus or 808s & Heartbreak were.
You’re just going there because that’s what you’re feeling you’re not thinking like, “Well, I gotta do what’s going on right now. I gotta do the hot thing. This person is the hot one, let me go get them on this song and this is going to get me to the radio.”
I think Kanye is much more savvy. He knows how to bring so many things together to make it more like a universal thing but he still stays true to the artist. When you think about Michael Jackson or The Beatles, those are really talented people and they made songs that are pop hits. I think Kanye is really talented and true to the art but can make pop hits.
When he goes and does 808s, it still has a catchiness to it. When I go do an Electric Circus, it’s very obscure and very to the left. It’s not as accessible but we both still do those things. It’s like, Gil Scott-Heron is not as well known as Stevie Wonder but they’re both legends.
Right, and you continue to challenge yourself and have never been complacent. Kanye either. Where does that drive come from?
I think part of that comes from our drive as artists, as MCs. I come from playing sports. I compete so I gotta be better than I was last year. I gotta get better and that better gotta come from just growing. From learning new stuff to working on it, experience it in life, and failing. It comes from all that. I think Kanye has the same yearning to continue to grow.
I never feel like, “Man, I made it.” For me, it’s always been like, “I appreciate the moment. Thank you, God. But I gotta climb higher. I gotta get better.” Not just from a notoriety and publicity and financial place, but just as an artist. I gotta get better. There’s people out here doing stuff that’s better than me. I could get better.