It might be difficult for many to comprehend why four of the rawest dudes in hip-hop would come together only to put out less aggressive material on their first major release. But when you take into account their journeys, you begin to understand that these guys really don’t have too much to be mad at these days. They’ve been through the grind, risen and fallen throughout their individual careers and grabbed success by just following their instincts in standing together. Royce Da 5’9″, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz gave ACCLAIM some insight into their own experience of rediscovering the long-lost element of unity in hip-hop.
We’ve all heard the story about how you guys came together, but I’m more interested to know what was the creative vision you all had for the group, and how you feel that has transpired?
Royce: To be honest we didn’t really start off with much of a creative vision. It actually just started when we all got on a song for Joey’s Halfway House mixtape. The initial song was called Slaughterhouse and we pretty much made a move based on the reaction to the song. The song reacted so well that we decided to keep working together and somehow along the way it manifested itself into a group.
So each step that we made, we never made it with any clear vision, we just followed the direction it was going. We trusted our own instincts and worked it all the way up to this point. It’s actually a phenomenal situation because a lot of people were saying that it would be impossible to get four guys who don’t know each other and all have their own solo careers to actually speed a whole project through and now we’re at project two.
We’ve done one independent and one on a major. We just followed the signs – we don’t try to get too far out of it. Maybe the next album we’ll go in with more of a direction creatively, but as far as right now, and everything we’ve done up until this point, we’ve just been rapping.
One of the ways that I personally feel that you guys have been a major influence on the current state of hip-hop has been bringing back the sense of unity. I mean, you see a lot more groups being formed; you see a lot more artists doing posse cuts and working together for a common goal. In what ways do you feel like you’ve opened doors for other artists?
Crooked I: I think we definitely gave them the motivation to say ‘Hey, it can be done’. I think a lot of people were thinking about coming together and doing projects or working as a collective and whatever, but I just think it takes that first initial step to really just do it.
And I think with them seeing [Eminem] put us on a big stage, and them being able to see that four brothers did come together to make music, have a ball and have some success – I think that motivated a lot of up and coming guys or the people who have always wanted to do it to say ‘Hey, it can be done’.
Joell: I mean, real niggas do real things man. That’s just the bottom line. Four real dudes came together and did something special and it got real people all around this motherfucker saying that it can be done like Crook said.
There’s no better proof than actually doing something. We can talk about super-collaborations and whatever. But just in the hip-hop game, how many have actually transpired and come to fruition? Not too many! We just happened to be one of the few that actually did what we talked about. So it is what it is and we still doing it, and now other people are doing it now, so hip-hop is moving in a good direction and we know got something to do with it.
How would each of you describe the current state of hip-hop in each of your respective cities?
Royce: I think the current state of hip-hop is looking real good, or at least a lot better than what we’ve seen in quite some time. Detroit is in great shape. We got a new break out superstar in Big Sean.
We haven’t had that since Eminem, and so the city is just in a way better place because of it. You see a lot more guys doing stuff together – you don’t see so much of niggas beefing with each other and stuff like that. Detroit is in a great place right now. I’m actually really proud of my city right now.
How about you Crook?
Crooked I : I mean shit, straight away I think of Kendrick’s success and his TDE movement with Q, Jay Rock and Soul. We’ve got a lot of dudes that are underground. We’ve got the Horseshoe [Gang] they’re out here pushing a major line. We got Glasses Malone, Nipsey Hussle, Pac Div, Odd Future. The list goes on and on over here and sometimes I even forget how big the hip-hop scene is over here on the West Coast.
I mean, you might not see these guys every day on TV, but these guys are packing venues, selling out shows and I’m proud of how they repping. I salute them. I think they’re doing a good job at keeping the West Coast name right.
That’s one thing about the West: even though we’ve had our little problems in the past, we always wanted to make sure that at the table of hip-hop our chair was reserved and somebody was always sitting there that was pushing the line. Whether that be Pac, whether that be Snoop, whether that be Game, whether that be Xzibit, whether that be Dr. Dre, I mean the list goes on.
These new guys TDE and all the guys that I named, they’re doing a good job and they continue to make me proud to hold up the “W” wherever I go.
And how’s New York Joell?
Joell: New York is beautiful man. Currently A$AP Rocky has the number one album in the country. He’s really repping Harlem hard and you know I stand that all day. You got dudes like French Montana getting his money and working with those southern dudes bridging the gap between our city and Miami and Atlanta and making that work well. Then you’ve got me out here, out-rapping everybody. [Laughs.] So, yeah, it’s beautiful out here.
What about Puerto Rican hip-hop? Who’s carrying the torch for Puerto Rico?
Joell: Well that’s me! You got me. That’s what I stand for. I get all that parade money. If anyone gets in the way of my parade money, it’s on! [Laughs.]
Royce how would you define success and would you be comfortable saying that your career is a success at present?
Royce: You know what man, I always like to say that success is defined by the individual. But when you are a perfectionist and always strive for more and strive to be better and you’re never content, you always feel like you can do more, you can work harder, you can see where you didn’t do something right and you see the areas you can improve on certain things. But I can honestly say that I’m happy.
I don’t really know what it means to be rich any more, I don’t really know what it means to be a success any more, but what I do know is that I’m chasing my dream and I’m taking care of my family doing it and that in itself is a blessing.
But at the same time I know that there’s a whole bigger world out there than what I’ve achieved so far and I want it. I want as much of it as I can get. I don’t want to sell myself short, ’cause I really don’t really know. But the one thing I am certain of is that I’m not a failure, because I’m chasing my dream and I’m staying afloat.
So I guess success to me is being able to chase your dream and having all your limbs intact and your brain intact. So if I had to put a loose definition on it that would be it.
Crooked I: I don’t know how closely you follow news in America, but with all the shootings on school campuses and all of the gun violence in Chicago. I mean, just in my city, I’ve got plenty of people dying every day and I got homeboys in jail right now chasing life sentences and all that. So success for me is talking to you on the phone right now and being above earth. Straight up.
I respect you saying that… Joell?
Joell: My definition of success is real simple man. I’ve got two sons – twelve and nine and I’m making them really, really happy man. I’m taking care of them, I’m taking care of my mom, I’m paying my bills, I’m keeping my health up, I’m keeping everyone close to me health up, I’m making living conditions better for people who were in my position when I was on the come up and I’m doing all these things just with rapping.
I picked up a pen when I was 11 and I’ve still got a pen in my hand and everyone around me is straight – that’s it.
Can I just say that it’s really cool to hear you say that now, considering that I recall back in 2007 that’s exactly what you rapped about wanting to achieve for your family on the intro to The Brick…
Joell: Oh man. I appreciate you checking in from The Brick till now, and seeing the roller coaster ride that it’s been. But yeah man it’s a beautiful thing and I’m still here! Doing what we all love.
And like Royce said, it doesn’t get better than chasing your dream, bro. There’s just such a happiness in that. I forgot what movie it was, but I remember the guy said ‘How did you know that happiness was going to be a pursuit?’. But it really is man and if you’re pursuing it doing what you love, that’s success in itself.
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