For four guys with their own separate careers, Slaughterhouse has accomplished quite a bit as a collective in the three years since they formed. This week, they released their sophomore album, Welcome to: Our House, their first since signing to Eminem's label imprint, Shady Records.
The group found critical acclaim and moderate mainstream success with their first effort, but the second time around, expectations are higher. Maybe it's because they're now under the guidance of one of one greatest MCs ever, or because Royce Da 5'9" had a top five Billboard hit with "Lighters." Realistically, it's because Slaughterhouse is comprised of four very talented rappers, and we should expect a lot from them. They know this.
After performing in Asia, Complex got on the phone with three of the guys for an in-depth conversation about competition amongst the group, our controversial "30 Best Rappers In Their 30s" list, and why they think they're the best rappers around.
Interview by Ernest Baker (@newbornrodeo)
Are all four of you on the line?
Crooked I: Royce is on a private jet with Em, but we gon' hold it down.
Alright. With almost two years between getting signed to Shady and putting out this project, do you feel like the momentum has been good? People drop mixtapes every five minutes these days and you guys stayed away from that. Do you feel like that helped you because it made people want your music more or did it hurt you because you weren’t as visible until the album started coming around?
Crooked I: We are in a market that’s about real product. Every two seconds there’s a brand new rapper, but I think we just go with natural progression. We don’t do too much strategic planning. "Yo, let’s wait 'til this time and then drop the mixtape because the fans will want it more." Nah, we just let the music guide us.
What’s it like being involved with the major label system? A lot of you guys were in and out of it, and now you're on one the biggest labels out there.
Joell Ortiz: It’s been awesome. First and foremost, you got time to record, unlike our first album. We did that in six days because we were under the bar and we had to get busy. Really, really get the pens pushing it because we didn’t have a lot of time. This time, we had all the time in the world. There’s resources that come along with being signed to a major. The budget was bigger so we reached out to some of our favorite producers. It was a plus all the way around.
And being signed to someone like Eminem. Him being your boss. He’s a lyricist himself so we didn’t have to compromise records to point them in any direction. Some of these majors, they are looking for singles any they be giving you stuff that might be outside your element to try and get radio spins and things of that nature. That wasn’t the case with this album at all. We felt free.
How much do you guys just nerd out about rap with Eminem? It seems like it's not all business with him. Do you all break down 16s and really go in on the artistic, creative side when you're working together.
Crooked I: Word. You said it all, bro. Him being the boss and understanding this art form on one of the highest levels that an MC can understand it, it's great. We can sit around and talk about juggling bars back and forth amongst each other. We can talk about different song structures, like, ‘We might do a 16 on this. Yo, you do a 24. I'ma do a 12.’ Some of these scenarios are impossible under certain umbrellas. It’s a blessing to have that dude be in the boss position. I had the opposite, so I know what’s it like.
What’s the collaborative process? Whether it’s with Em or yourselves. Is there the trust that everybody is going to deliver what they need to? Or is there a lot of editing? Is it dudes saying, ‘Joell, those last four bars. That shit has to be tighter.’ Do you guys really critique each other’s work?
Joe Budden: Nah, they just always critique me. I always get the criticism.
Joell Ortiz: [Laughs.] In what way?
Joe Budden: Dude, I be writing the wackiest shit.
I wouldn’t be surprised if dudes really came at you, Joe, for whatever reason.
Joe Budden: [Laughs.] Nah. I think we all do a pretty good job of picking each other up in the places that we needed to be picked up in. But the bright side of that is, we are all professionals and we have been doing this for a long time, so we kind of got the gist of it. In the event that we don’t, it’s three brothers to either side of me that’s right there to pick me back up.
With that said, how competitive is it? Do any of you step away from a session feeling like, "Yo, I bodied all of them on the track that we recorded." Or, do you ever feel insecure, like, "Fuck, I should have re-written my shit."
Joell Ortiz: That’s hilarious. No. Dog, all we do is listen to the music, man. We don’t think about nobody’s verses. We just listen to the music as a whole. It is what it is. We all know, bring your A game every night because the person next to you is just as dope as you. That’s it. And we trust each other.
Some people get caught on one night and another person get caught on another night. It is what it is as far as what you guys judge. It’s never on us. We never say, "God, damn! I got my ass whipped." We say it jokingly but none of us really mean that because we always bring our A game and we always give it our all. We might joke around and be like, "That damn Crook, he’s a fucking robot. There’s nothing you can do about it." But we don’t take it personal and be like, "God damn man, what the fuck are you doing?!" Nobody sitting in their hotel room going, "Watch, watch tomorrow!" That don’t go on, man.
But, if anybody, Joe, not to pick on you, but you present yourself as the most emotional one of the crew. I could see you driving home at night like, "Fuck, I’m slaying dudes tomorrow. That shit wasn’t cool."
Joell Ortiz: [Laughs.]
Crooked I: [Laughs.]
Joe Budden: I object. How I am most emotional in the group?
Joe Budden: These niggas hide behind their fucking monitors. I'm just vocal about shit. Being vocal, verbalizing, and being emotional are two different things. My emotions are in check. Contrary to popular belief.
Crooked I: Yeah, man. The funny shit is, we might as well go in and make an album and battle each other on every song. Every time we do an interview, everybody think we are just clawing at each other on the mic. No. We are on the same team. We going at these other niggas, man. We going at these other niggas who I feel we are better than.
Speaking of other rappers, do you guys ever feel old? Especially being in the same space as twentysomethings who are hot right now.
Joell Ortiz: Nope. Never. Music is what it sounds like to you. You can’t put an age, a year, or a number on talent and artistry. Never do we say, "Aw man, these young niggas are..." We might say, "These new niggas." But never these young niggas. Listen, we the Dream Team. I hate to sound that cocky, but we the Dream Team. That’s just that. We are not worried about anyone or anybody. Old nigga, new nigga. It doesn’t even matter.
That’s why you ask these competitive questions, because we're competing with the best amongst each other. That’s how all of us feel. We try to not be those guys that are like, "No one’s better." But when you're trying to be blunt, I don’t think there’s a better cast then the Slaughterhouse four.
What’s your connection with Cee-Lo? Why is he on the single? Is that out of convenience or do you guys have some type of personal relationship there?
Crooked I: Royce had an existing relationship with Cee-Lo. Before, I'd see him here and there. I'm sure we've all slapped hands with him. He’s an incredible artist. What he puts down as a solo artist and as a member of Goodie Mob. It’s something spectacular for hip-hop. It was an absolute pleasure to work with him. He was a good, grounded, humble dude. It was dope.
Every time I see him, I just remember the verses from back in the day. "Get up, get out, and get something." He is definitely an icon from his region.
Joell Ortiz: “The gate was put up to keep crime out or to keep our ass in!" Cee-Lo, I hate that it's almost forgotten that he’s a real fucking MC, beyond everything he's done in recent years. That’s still good, but that man has put in his work, for sure.
Joe Budden: I guess it goes back to these new niggas.
That song isn't a No. 1 record or anything. Is there ever any disappoint when those things don't work out? I know you guys say you're comfortable with Eminem and your label situation, but is it ever like, "We want to put Cee-Lo on the record and get a huge hit, too, outside of impressing everyone lyrically?"
Joell Ortiz: I was disappointed. Not because it didn’t chart crazy, but because this was a great record that people didn’t fuck with for the wrong reasons. People always puts us in this lyrical, nerd-rap box. Anything that doesn’t sound extra raw or metaphor driven or cadenced out, they start flipping on us. But if you really listen to the record as a whole, it’s a great fucking record. If you want to break down the verses, niggas were rapping they ass off.
But because it sounded celebrated and big and orchestrated and Cee-Lo came in and nailed the chorus and did a fantastic bridge, it's "Slaughterhouse is trying to make bigger records." So people are picking apart before they even listen to it. The reasons it didn’t go was out of our hands. You know what I am saying? That part of the game, that bullshit part of the game, it's what disappoints me. It disappointed me and it'll disappoint me here on out if that ever happens again.
All we did when we recorded that was make a celebrated record. We gave out tears of joy. And that’s one of the moments that we're talking about. When we was fucking happy that we ain’t gotta be in poverty no more. Happy we signed a major label deal again. Niggas had us written off, but guess what, we right back at it because of our talent. And niggas say shit like, "Aw, that ain’t a Slaughterhouse record." What the fuck is a Slaughterhouse record, my brother? It’s just a great record. Love it and appreciate it.
Joe Budden: Or don’t.
Joell Ortiz: Or don’t, yeah. I'm going to stand on the fucking couch when that bitch drops and I'ma have two bottles in my hand and I am not going to give a fuck.
How is your friendship grown since this group has formed? Would you guys hang out with each other if you weren't in a group together?
Joell Ortiz: I don’t fuck with other rappers. To keep it 100. I see niggas in passing but if I ain’t growing with you, I don’t trust you and I don’t really fuck with you. The fact that we formed this group is the only reason I fuck with other rap niggas. Me personally, no, I wouldn’t hang out with anybody. But the camaraderie you get when you go on tour and you stay on the same bus and you around each other recording, it’s just gonna force your hand, man. If you fucking with niggas, you fucking with niggas. You learn people. My comfort level and my security wall dropped when I got around these brothers because they are solid and it was what it was. Other than these guys, I don’t hang with other rappers. That’s not gonna happen.
Crooked I: I mean, shit, we don’t have to hang out with each other now. [Laughs.] The fact that we do kind of answers the question. I read somewhere that, I think it was the Rolling Stones, they didn't hang out with each other for 20 years. They just got on stage and did what they had to do. One of those groups. We don’t have to hang with each other now. We go into the studio, knock out records, come to the show, knock it out, and peace. But the fact that we do fuck with each other outside of the music says a lot.
So, we kind of have to talk about that 30 Best Rappers In Their 30s list. You all can let me have it if that’s necessary.
Crooked I: Oh, it's necessary. Nah, I’m just playing. [Laughs.]
The rankings on that list were supposed to be reflective of this very moment, not all time. We did have a blogger do a response list though, and she put all four of you on it. And I think the public has spoken up for you guys, too. But does being left off the original list, or not being ranked high enough bother you? Do you feel like people don't appreciate what you guys are putting forth here? This goes back to when we were talking about how “My Life” was poorly received.
Joell Ortiz: You guys put together that list. Good job. Y'all got exactly what you wanted out of it. Everybody started talking. Yay for Complex.
Joe Budden: And that actually leads to my point. The people that are savvy and are a little more knowledgeable and who aren’t novices, we know why these lists are compiled. Complex knows why they complied the fucking list. I know why they compiled the fucking list. So my thing is, if we are both in agreement and we both have that same information, just leave me off the fucking list. Don’t use my name and all my blood, sweat, and tears for some ulterior motive or for anything other than what is being presented.
That was just a couple years ago when you would have caught me beefing about placement, when I was a little bit angrier about some things. Now, I don’t give a fuck what you niggas say. That’s not just you, as in Complex, but any of y’all niggas on the list. I could be on the bottom of the greatest rapper ever list. I could give a fuck. Especially when you have sites and publications and journalists that you have relationships with. At Joe Budden’s personal request, this goes for anybody, if you ever do a list, just leave me off.
Do all of you think you're amongst the greatest rappers ever? In the top five, perhaps? Is that what you think about when you assess your own careers?
Crooked I: I don’t claim to be top five ever because so much comes under that banner "ever." Sales. Impact. You got a lot to consider when you do that. But if you say who is the top rapper, if you saying who is the illest on the mic and that’s it and you are not talking about anything else, I'm there, straight up. The lane that all of us have carved out on the Internet, the online rap movement alone should put us on that list. It’s like Joe said, we don’t allow no list to make us or break us. It’s just that, sometimes I be wondering, what the fuck is on people’s minds?
Joell Ortiz: Top five? Whatever man, that’s for the people to decide. I do this shit so when niggas mention hip-hop, they mention niggas who was doing it. I come up in a few of those conversations 'cause I leave it all in that booth. As long as I get an honorable mention, as long as the consensus is the dude can go, or "that nigga can rap," I’m fine with that. But to say you are the top five ever just doesn’t make any sense because there are rappers before us and there will be many to come. You might be top five for a little bit, but I don’t care about the numbers. When niggas mention Joell Ortiz, I don’t want somebody to be like, "That nigga was weak." I want niggas to be like, "Yo, I ain’t gonna front, son can rap." I’m good. That’s it. I want my little etch in hip-hop history.
Joe Budden: I’ll be the sound bite that you looking for. I’m the best rapper in the motherfucking universe in my head. And I reserve that right.
I feel like that’s the way anyone should look at their craft. It never rubbed me the wrong way when I saw people coming at us about the list on Twitter. We may have had a consensus and felt like 24 was an appropriate ranking, but I know that as a man, you're going to see that and be like, "Fuck that. Fuck Complex. I’m nicer than anyone else."
Crooked I: I won’t say fuck Complex. You guys have done so much for hip-hop, period. That would be the wrong angle for me to have. I just think that I've been carving out this lyricist lane on the West Coast for over a decade. I pretty much took the baton from Ras Kass and Kurupt and championed the shit that Kendrick and Black Hippy do now. To not receive any kind of mention, hell yeah that gets under my skin sometimes because I don’t know what the fuck I gotta do. I rapped 52 weeks in a row and created a new marketing tool for artists, big and small. I can’t get a mention? Get the fuck outta here.
Joell Ortiz: I feel you. I go to bed great at night because the motherfucking music shit that I do is taking care of me and my family. I know if you ask any of them niggas on that list about Joell Ortiz they'll say, "He can go." I'm fine with that.
Royce isn’t here right now. He’s on a private jet with Eminem. Does stuff like that make anyone of you feel jealous? He had an EP with Em and a massive hit with “Lighters." If you're still searching for that level of success in your solo careers, do you take it personal?
Joe Budden: Guys, I told y’all that shit was transparent. We all hate Royce.
Crooked I: [Laughs.]
Joe Budden: I go to sleep every night cursing him out. Him. Bad Meets Evil. Em. I fucking put the album in my dog's food bowl. I get that jealousy and envy are a natural human emotions for some, but real niggas grow out of that. When you truly love people, them succeeding is you succeeding.
When Royce and Em put that album out, every time “Fast Lane” came on the radio, every time “Lighters” came on the radio, you would have thought I was on the album. It was Bad, Evil, and Joe. That’s how hard I go for mine. I’m sure I can speak for the rest of the group when saying, "Do I get mad when he getz a private jet and I’m in a Buick?" Hell yeah. I get mad. But you know what? That shit comes and goes in five minutes and I love him and that’s my nigga. And he knows it.
Joell Ortiz: Definitely. We just did some tour dates in Asia. We was in Japan and Korea. Royce normally does “Lighters” and “Fast Lane” on our set, with Slaughterhouse, and of course, he was out there with Em and he did them on his set. It was the first time I got to see them do it on stage together. I was backstage looking at that shit thinking, "Oh shit, look at my nigga!" It wasn’t like, "Ah, man, what the fuck we gonna do now?" It was like, "Wow, this shit is fucking crazy." His fans were going crazy. He had his own identity outside of the group as somebody next to Eminem. That shit was fucking fantastic and I was real, real proud of him. That’s really, really, how I felt.
Crooked I: It’s inspirational. The first time I ever heard Royce rap was on “Bad Meets Evil” with Em. I remember feeling like he was an ill nigga. I remember feeling like, "Damn, what’s up with this dude?" I’ve seen all the trials and tribulations he went through with some of the people in his own crew. Then to come full circle and be back over there with him and Marshall and watch them interact with each other and have a beautiful relationship, that shit is dope and inspirational. If you don’t like that, then you're just a hater.
Joe Budden: If this group were to disband tomorrow, for the rest of my life, to the grave, I’ll take pride in us playing a part of or being some type of bridge to Royce and Marshall’s rekindling. Not only for Royce’s career—I could give two fucks about that—but just their friendship. Because I know how much that meant to both of them.
Like Joe said, envy is a very real emotion, so it's nice to hear that you guys are more mature than that.
Joe Budden: Yeah, I didn’t even filter that.
Joell Ortiz: Our motherfucking private jets are right around the corner too, bro.