Interview: Cassie Talks Working in a Boys Club, Her "RockaByeBaby" Mixtape, and Unreleased Music With Kanye and Pharrell

Interview: Cassie Talks Working in a Boys Club, Her "RockaByeBaby" Mixtape, and Unreleased Music With Kanye and Pharrell

It's been six years since we've heard solo material from Cassie, and she's finally back. Bad Boy's bad girl just dropped her new mixtape RockaByeBaby, and it's stacked with features from Rick Ross, French Montana, Too $hort, Meek Mill, and others. Leading up to its release, she released videos for "Numb" and "Paradise" featuring Wiz Khalifa.

Cassie's moved to LA, found her voice, and inevitably, found new confidence with her latest batch of music. This shows that she's about so much more than her looks, her love interests, and that shaved hairstyle she's been rocking for years. It looks like that second album will actually arrive soon.

Cassie sat down with Complex to talk about the creative process behind RockaByeBaby, what she's been up to in since her debut album, and everything else you've been dying to know.

Interview by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)

RockaByeBaby been getting some amazing feedback since it dropped. What were you doing between projects, essentially in the last six years. Where were you creatively?
Even though I wasn’t really out there with the music, I was in a creative place always. I was always making music and trying records and trying new sounds, I don’t think anything really stuck the way the project has now, because I just kind of developed a different sound. I was always really creating, it just wasn’t on the scale that I’m creating now.

 

To think that I’ve been really working on trying to find a sound that I wanted for the past six years, for five years. I still have been simultaneously working on a second album.

 

Definitely. You tested out a lot of music, and we hear that progression, from “Me & U” to “King of Hearts” to now. How did you find a balance?
It really started about nine months ago when I started the tape. I did the first track, “Numb,” the one that we added Rick Ross to, and I think that’s kind of where I felt the sound needed to be. It was just the first sound that felt like it made sense. That wasn’t even a year ago. To think that I’ve been really working on trying to find a sound that I wanted for the past six years, for five years. I still have been simultaneously working on a second album. I got in with will.i.am and a lot of other great people, too, for that project.

Before I get to talking about the album, your big comeback this year was “The Boys” with Nicki Minaj.
It was really cool. It’s one of my favorite records, “The Boys.” I’m happy that Nicki wanted to work on it with me, and we made it happen, and the video came out great. I was really proud of it. I don’t know what else to say. It was dope, though. I think that was the first time where I really jumped into my creative control, styling myself and everything.

 

I just love when females work together and show there’s no jealousy and there’s nothing behind it, there’s no ulterior motives or anything, they’re just good people.

 

Then came “All Gold All Girls” thing, too. 
I am definitely, at the end of the day, even though I’m surrounded by guys most of the time, I’m definitely a girl’s girl. I became close with Lola [Monroe] since I moved to L.A. last year. I met Trina several times and we finally got to hang out this past year. It kind of just came naturally. I just love when females work together and show there’s no jealousy and there’s nothing behind it, there’s no ulterior motives or anything, they’re just good people. That’s why I wanted to do the record with those girls.

At Bad Boy, you're essentially working at a boys club, being one of the few females on the roster. What's that dynamic like for you?
It’s so funny that you say that. The other day, I think I was getting dressed for 106 & Park or something and everybody was like, ‘You should do this, you should do that.’ I looked up and I said, “There are no females in this room. I don’t want to hear from any of you. I’m going to wear exactly what I want.” I boss everybody around pretty well. [Laughs.] I get my way.

Creatively, did Diddy have a big hand in the mixtape? Or did the rest of the team?
No, it’s been such a team effort. When you see the credits for the mixtape, there’s a core group; my engineer Matt, Rob Holladay, who is an executive producer, and then just the whole group of us. It’s been like a little family. We’ve been making this whole thing for the past 10 months and we’ve been so focused. I don’t know if I’ve been as focused on anything in my entire life, and really been involved. From designing what I wore in the “Paradise” video to making my own artwork for the cover of “Paradise,” amongst other records. I’ve been fully, creatively involved, which I really like and really enjoy.

 
It's a tougher side of my personality that people don’t know about, but it’s also an attitude. Sometimes I have to put up that front to get through stuff because Cassie isn’t that person.
 

In terms of the RockaByeBaby cover and the name itself, what was the inspiration behind that? From the gold gun tothe "Paradise" video, we're really seeing a different side to you.
Because I haven't made a second album and I came out with all these singles, people didn't really catch any different sides of my personality. So you see that anytime an artist comes out, that they have a theme to their album, or they have something that it’s about, and maybe it doesn't necessarily mean that’s who they are. It’s like acting, you are somebody that you want to portray, or just a character of sorts. It's a tougher side of my personality that people don’t know about, but it’s also an attitude. Sometimes I have to put up that front to get through stuff because Cassie isn’t that person.

Essentially, it's an image depending on who you’re around and what you’re trying to get.
You have to protect yourself. It’s a protection mechanism.The “RockaByeBaby” itself is really more a take on Keisha from New Jack City who delivers that particular line. She was one of the first black females in movies to be having a boss job. She kills people for them. It’s a very strong statement, but I think that it makes sense.

It's a big change from the days of "Me & U," that's for sure. Speaking of, I read that you weren't a fan of that song originally?
I didn’t hate the record, I just didn’t really know why people liked it at the time. [Laughs.] I had this record called “Miss Your Touch” that I loved and I was like 'I want this girlie song. What is this record?' It just sounded so different, but that’s what set it apart. I think that’s what made it what it was at the time. But I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t understand why people picked that song.

It worked out well! On the new mixtape, what's your go-to track?
I really love the attitude of “Bad Bitches” and the actual “RockaByeBaby” track.

And you rap on “RockaByeBaby,” too.
And I rap on “RockaByeBaby.”

And where did that come from?
[Laughs.] Exactly, like where did that come from? I have no idea. I worked on that with my labelmate Los and he just really coached me through it, and I was like ‘Los I can not believe you have me rapping this fast, I never thought I could move my mouth this fast.' 

Everybody’s letting it marinate, but even when I played that record and “Bad Bitches” for one of my friends who’s known me since I first started in the music industry was like, 'Wait, this is Esther Dean.' Everyone has been like, ‘What the Hell? Where did you come up sounding like that? I don’t ever remember you being loud and boisterous.’ I’m like, ‘I know, I’m so laid back in real life.’

It seems like that's what you wanted, not something like "Me & U."
Yeah, exactly, that other side of things.

 

Moving to L.A. had me re-evaluate myself as a young woman.

 

The “Paradise” video with Wiz was cool. You moved there recently. How is L.A. for you, being an East Coast girl?
It’s good. I’m just really getting used to it, even though it’s been almost a year now. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. Moving here had me re-evaluate myself as a young woman. I spent a lot more time alone because all of my friends are in New York. I now have friends here, obviously, but I spent a lot more time by myself, more time to reflect, I really got a lot of work done.

L.A. has actually been a really positive experience for me. “Paradise” is definitely inspired by me living here. We recorded “Paradise” and then Wiz got on it, it was just like, ‘This needs to be shot under a palm tree. I don’t know where. It can’t be on the beach, it has to be somewhere else.’ 

How was working with Wiz? He seems really happy in the video, as usual.
It was just so natural. Him and I have known each other for some time because we shot his “Roll Up” video together, and I knew him before that, when he first came out with “Black and Yellow.”

Wiz is just such a happy person, you can’t help but laugh and have a good time and that’s kind of what we did. We were all on the stoop—it was me, Jeremih, Problem, all my producers, everybody was there. We were just having a good time. That’s what we wanted to come off, so I think it did.

 

RockaByeBaby exceeded my expectations as far as the verses. The quality of the verses, they are album worthy.

 

Karrueche was in there, too.
Yeah! Karrueche was there. I was actually just hanging with her the other night. I met her a little over a year ago, and we just stayed in touch. We became friends since I moved to L.A.

At first, I thought you were all drinking beers but of course, peach Ciroc.
[Laughs.] Everybody was like, ‘Oh god, there are the 40’s.’

Exactly. Back to the mixtape, you have a bunch of stacked features on it, too. 
Everything kind of came organically, in that we would make a record, finish it and go, “Who would sound really dope on this?” Maybe I wouldn't finish a bridge so I could leave it open for a rap verse, and be like ‘Damn, let me call French. French where you at?’ ‘I’m next door.’ ‘French, I’m sending you something right now.’ It was like that. It exceeded my expectations as far as the verses. The quality of the verses, they are album worthy.

They definitely are album worthy, so why didn't you release them on an album?
Because you know why? Because then we would have had to wait til like next year to put it out.

Makes sense. You haven't been working with Ryan Leslie for a while, but did he do any work on this with you or do you plan to do any with him in the future?
Ryan didn’t work on this project, but we had met prior to, when I was kind of working on the second album a little bit more, to try to see if we were going to do something together. He’s working on his own project. I hope for the second album that we do get to work together because I definitely think that we have a dope sound.

Right, because he was very involved in your first album.
Yeah, he did the whole first album, I definitely want him to be involved in the second, too. But I’ve grown and changed a lot, he hasn’t been working with me in studio in years now. I don’t know what that would be like.

 

There’s just a different confidence that I have now that, I can’t say that I didn’t have before, I just didn’t know the power in a woman having confidence and what that does to people.

 

What is the biggest difference between you now and you then, besides the obvious fact that you've grown up?
The way I carry myself. There’s just a different confidence that I have now that, I can’t say that I didn’t have before, I just didn’t know the power in a woman having confidence and what that does to people.

Where did you find the confidence?
I went through a lot of damn experiences. [Laughs] Going through a lot of shit and going through a lot of shit in public. Sometimes you just don’t even want to be bothered, but that can make your skin tougher. I actually posted on Instagram yesterday, I think the thing said “All this bullshit made me strong motherfucker.” That sums up pretty much the past six years for me.

There’s been a lot of bullshit. I’ve dealt with people, worked with people, had bad relationships, fired people. Tons of stuff. And so many new doors were opened and so many new people came into my life that changed my life in such good ways, too. I was never hardened to it.

 

Pharrell and I did a record together and I still have it. I actually wanted to put it on the mixtape, but it just didn’t fit it. It’s a record called “Hide.” And I did get in with Kanye. A couple of the songs were written to the beats that he did, it just never really turned into anything.

 

Do you look back on your early years or the past six years and regret something you've done or not releasing music?
I think it’s probably just overall me not sticking to my gut in the beginning and just not putting out things that were dope at that point. I made so many remixes to things that I loved at the time and I never put them out.

There’s just so many things that I never followed my heart with because I was so worried about what people were going to think. That’s probably it, but I don’t regret it, it definitely set me up for where I am now.

I remember Diddy saying that you were working with Kanye and Pharrell on your second album years ago.
Pharrell and I did a record together and I still have it. I actually wanted to put it on the mixtape, but it just didn’t fit it. It’s a record called “Hide.” And I did get in with Kanye. A couple of the songs were written to the beats that he did, it just never really turned into anything. Sometimes I think production and stuff like that comes from the most unordinary places.

Speaking of that, you're working with Da Internz on your next album. They're also working with Miley Cyrus, which is where I learned about them.
She’s like rapping and stuff now, I heard. She’s so dope. I love her style and everything. But, Da Internz, I actually was out with them the other night because we had a little celebration party for the mixtape. They’re dope. We’ve already done two songs for the album that are done, in the can, ready to go out. I’m excited about working with them. They’re like a new fresh sound.

 

Depending on how everything moves right now, because we’re a quarter of the way into the year, and probably the way it would be set up, we could get the album out by the end of the year.

 

What's the difference going to be like between the second album and the mixtape? And when do you expect to put that out?
Depending on how everything moves right now, because we’re a quarter of the way into the year, and probably the way it would be set up, we could get it out by the end of the year. I think that this mixtape is going to set the tone for what people want to hear and I’m going to find out what they really want to hear and be able to make that now.

In terms of the roster over at Bad Boy and your relationship with Diddy, how do they affect your creative process?
We all work together, top to bottom. Whether it’s some piece of artwork or what shoe I’m wearing it’s all a joint effort. Production wise, we’re all 100 percent involved. We all will listen all the way down, we have it playing in our cars. Like, ‘No I want to change this. Ok, we’re going back in. Ok, Puff, it’s cool? We’re going to change this now.’ It’s just been a group effort. I’m happy with it.

What do you have planned now that the mixtape is out and everything?
I’m just doing my thing in any type of way I can do it. Opportunities keep presenting themselves. I have a campaign with Forever 21 that’s about to come out and we’re working on some stuff together. I’m just doing whatever comes naturally at this point. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months, but I think it’s going to be pretty exciting.

RELATED: Cassie: C Is For Comeback (2008 Cover Story & Gallery)

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