You are a Latin rapper. Why did you pick rap and not reggaeton or what most people would expect?
I grew up in the projects. When I came out of my building I would always hear rap. That’s the first thing I seen, first thing I fell in love with. Just that energy of dudes all around me. I wrote my first rhyme when I was 11 and that’s how I was introduced to rap.
You’ve turned down a lot of offers before accepting one from Aftermath. What made you choose this label?
It was time in my career. It surprised everyone, they expected me to be at a New York-based label and I went out to LA and did that, so everyone was like: Oooh, snap! I always liked to make lefts and when everyone was going right I’d go left. And when you are coming up in the East the left is West. So I went out there and did what I had to do and I’m proud of it, you know. Dr. Dre got a good machine over there. I got a good team, it should be a good marriage.
You are coming out with a new album. What should we expect from it?
You can expect that feeling that’s missing right now from Hip Hop. I don’t make music for the club. That’s not my thing. No knock to anyone who does but that’s just not me. I make head-knock music, hard beats, you know official feeling. Real talk. I don’t make up stuff, I’m not gonna tell you to put your drink down. My records that make it to the club will be there for the simple fact that a DJ put it in his bag, ‘cause he’s a fan of it.
You performed at the Big Pun tribute and frequently mentioned him otherwise. What are your ties with him?
Pun is a legend dude. He was Hispanic. I never got to meet him. Of course I’m a fan, been listening to that dude for a while. I get a lot of comparisons to him. Those are big shoes to fill. I’m excited and hopefully he’s somewhere looking down and he’s proud of someone who is coming from where he’s from. The tie I got with him is I am a fan of his and I wish he got a chance to see me rap.
You seem to respect the old school of Hip Hop a great deal. Besides the Big Pun comparisons, you have tracks with Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap. Are you bringing it back or just paying homage to that era?
I’m paying homage and I’m studying. You gotta study, ‘cause this is a business and a sport. You can’t just come out from left field and just do this. I want to see how energy feels from OG, cause did music when I wasn’t. they rocked stages when I wasn’t. so I’m paying homage, giving them respect but also trying to learn something. And they love that about me. Other up-in-coming rappers don’t do it. And I do it genuinely, I don’t do it for the press. I get a lot of these questions and everyone who’s seen me at these events see that I’m there for a reason, ‘cause I’m a fan.
You and Papoose were both shopping deals at about the same time and got signed also close to each other. How do you compare your skills to his?
Papoose is on the grind. Big up to him. I bump into him a lot at the venues. He’s over there with Busta Rhymes and they are doing their thing, something like that. We ain’t too far apart. I wish him the best of luck. If he does well, Saigon do well, other dudes do well, it just open the door for me to do well and vise versa. If I drop before them… I’m competitive, it’s a sport. I’ll give you that aura like if they’ll fuck with me, but I’m not bringing it to that beef shit ever. That’s corny, knaw I’m saying? Back in the day it was Kane on one side of the club, Rakim be on the other. They kept each other happy. They were never like: I’mma snuff you, I’mma shoot you, whatever. It’s all my team. I’m trying to bring that back. They on DVDs now talking like: I got your chain or whatever, that’s not cool. So I wanna bring back the competitive nature without beefing.
What are your thoughts on the present state of Hip Hop?
I’m from New York. You know how it is in New York. I don’t think Hip Hop got issues or whatever I just thing we’ve been shying away from the records we were making. I kind of in part balme DJs dude, ‘cause they talk of: Bring New York back, Bring New York back, Bring New York back and then: Hey, here is the new one from Atlanta. What’s really good? Can’t knock the kids for making records that sound Southern now ‘cause they want to get on the radio. Them dudes they listen to the radio and they not playing the kind of music they are making. But they’ll come around. I was never making dance music but you can’t knock the dudes that [do]. Producers are now like: What you looking for? I’m looking for a club hit. I’m never doing that club work, my records always laying there. I ain’t knocking noone, I need ‘em (laughing).
Do you see any other upcoming artists that will be the next Joell Ortiz?
Well Joell Ortiz got to be Joell Ortiz first. I’m not looking for the next dude yet, I gotta make my run. Anyone who can make it out the gutter, big up to you. I ain’t tooting my own horn but know I bust my ass. There is dudes busting their ass and getting deals but also watched them fade. So I know what it is. Know that you ain’t just bust yo ass to rhyme and get deals. Dude, I got no life outside of music and unless you’re ready to make that commitment you don’t want to be a rapper. N—–s just tell dudes that it just happen. If I got a nice Benz and a decent house, please believe that I earn that. Please believe that I didn’t just say one rhyme and get a check. Please believe that I miss my son’s party and my girl is riffin’ and my mom’s like “You don’t stop by”. You attach to this shit and its crazy. So before you get into this know its hard work bro.
Who are your fans mostly?
Our fans are MCs. Rappers are different from MCs. Rappers need stuff to look big. I got 2 record deals I don’t got a piece of jewelry on me. I don’t have a chain. I don’t have none of that shit. Because MCs glow. MCs are the jewelry. You know just natural talent and aura and charisma is the jewel itself. Rappers need a bunch of other stuff ‘cause they not talking the stuff that real Hip Hop wanna hear. It’s about material objects. I’m an MC. Just play my record I’ll put you on.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just Joell Ortix is a real dude. I’m not like the rest of these dudes. I’m not knocking ‘em. As long as I remember I lived in that 10-15 [block] radius and all them kids lived in that radius. So after they play ball, instead of smoking weed or drinking liquor or having sex without a condom they would go and see if there is a [rap battle] going on outside their place.