Why haven’t you driven in so long?

I was a passenger in a horrible accident a few years back, and it really had me scared. They had to cut me out of the car.

What happened?

We came back from a barbecue, my boy was twisted and I fell asleep. He went head on into a divider.

Wow.

Yeah, it was really nasty. We were coming from Rockaway, Queens.

How long after the accident did it take you to get back in a car?

I was stayin’ away from cars for a while. I was getting in taxis, because I had to move around, but I just felt like a taxi is a more responsible person than somebody you hop in with in the hood. So, I had to do that, but I used to still be on eggshells when we went over the W.P. bridge. Or if they took the outer lane, I’m like, “Fuck, sir, can you move in?” I would just explain my concerns, but I started warming up to riding around here and there.

I got comfortable about three years ago with just being in a car again. Being in New York, you don’t really have to own a car. So, I had that excuse. I was falling back on that, plus, I was like, “I don’t need one.” In New York you can get around in a heartbeat. It might be faster on the subway if you want to be real. The streets suck, traffic is horrible. I just moved to Jersey, where it’s a little calmer. I can move around a bit, so I’m going to get some wheels.

How many cars have you owned?

I’ve only owned two cars in my entire life: a Plymouth Sundance during the UPS days, and a Mercury Sable, that was it. Then I got in that accident.

A Mercury and Plymouth, huh?

[Laughs] Yeah, me and my lady went to the dealer the other day, and the guy was like, “Okay, you can spin it around the block,” and I was like, “No! You spin it.” I was in the back seat like, “Yeah, this feels good [Laughs].” So, I’m still warming up to it, but I gotta do it. 

How’d you come to own the Plymouth and the Mercury?

The Plymouth was sellin’ weed [Laughs]. That was the first car I ever bought for hustlin’ in the street. And the Mercury was from other hustles as well. Both were from illegitimate means. I’ve had a job for one week in my life. I worked for UPS for a week, and I took that check and invested it into the streets. Hip-hop definitely saved my life. Being able to write about the things I was doing, the things I was seein’ and all that stuff, putting that on paper and coming into my own as Joell Ortiz. That’s why I don’t have a stage name, because I chose to talk about everything under the sun that happened to me or next to me in my music. So, no stage name if there’s no stage person. Lights on, me, lights off, same guy.

Were there cars you liked or wanted as a kid?

When somebody used to come across the block in a Mustang, I used to just stare. The loud engine, the screeching of the tires, the whole big build. That was one of my definite favorites. As a little kid, if you came through with a Mustang, I thought you were a superhero. 5.0, that was it.

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