Sometimes working with a group works. Sometimes it creates an environment that nurtures creativity and makes everyone involved better at their craft. Sometimes it doesn’t. For Illa Ghee, he found his time with Mobb Deep to be more representative of the latter rather than the former which is why he’s chosen to distance himself from the Queensbridge team. “I am separating myself from Mobb Deep,” he explains, “not disrespecting them, sepa-ration. Everybody knows a person that they deal with that they just separate themselves from. There are things you can’t do with everybody.” The latest example of Ghee’s work sans the Mobb is Bullet and a Bracelet, which he released late last year. This week RapReviews caught up with Ghee to find out more about his separation from Mobb Deep, what listeners can expect from him now, and why he loves Kanye West for being “an asshole.”
Adam Bernard: Your life has seen some fairly dramatic highs and lows. Let’s start with the highs. What do you feel have been some of the highlights of your life and career?
Illa Ghee: I see everything as a very good learning experience. I’ve been on a gold album. I’ve been on a Top 40 single. Once you see the sunshine then it’s not all that bad. Before I was a helluva pessimist. I used to see the dark side of everything, but now I don’t. I just think I’ve been through too much to be down and out on everything.
AB: One of those experiences you went through was the prison bid for dealing drugs. Recently I read that you didn’t even consider rapping a career at that point.
IG: At that time everything was based on money. It was older guys that used to be upset with me like “you need to take advantage of this, I don’t understand what you’re doing,” and at that point ain’t nobody putting money in Ghee’s pockets but Ghee. That was my main thing. If it happened it happened. I used to write rhymes for the radio, but other than that it was not that serious.
“After I came home from jail in 2002… I felt my music was good enough to hang with what was going on then and now.”
AB: When did it become a viable career option?
IG: After I came home from jail in 2002. I always considered myself an emcee, but that was when I said let me see what can happen. I felt my music was good enough to hang with what was going on then and now.
AB: Late last year you released Bullet and a Bracelet. Talk to me about the meaning behind the title of the album.
IG: Bullet and a Bracelet is my new version of diamonds and guns, like that quote Mobb Deep had, “diamonds and guns,” they got that from me, so it was like a millennium version of that. Also the jewels of street life is the bracelet part and you protect your jewelry with the bullet and the bullet is common sense and a lot of things being quiet.
AB: In terms of music, what were you looking to create with Bullet and a Bracelet?
IG: A strong sense of self and to hit on different subjects that no one else is really hitting on. Everybody talks about a new car and everything, but I have a song on Bullet and a Bracelet called “My Image” where I talk about the whole four sides of me. I see myself as a gangster and a street fighter, I also see myself calmed down, as more of a scientist now, I think about things, everything’s not reaction, and then there’s the sexin and there’s the MC. It’s like the four sides and every time I talk about a different topic it’s like when you look inside the mirror now what do you see. Then also there’s “Maintenance Man,” which is for a really underground rapper because the guy that’s maintenance-ing, without him the building won’t get cleaned, without him the pipes won’t work right, the AC won’t work right, so it’s basically the underground man that keeps everything going and the building is the streets and the rap music. Basically, without me everything won’t be kept in order.
AB: There was a little bit of DIS-order with you and Mobb Deep, and as the old saying goes, breaking up is hard to do, but how hard was it? What led to your breakup with Mobb Deep?
IG: It was really a disappointment in them because these dudes, I guess they don’t respect dudes that really have their best interests. They let guys talk to them crazy and do things to them and they say they’re not messing with them, but yet again they do. It’s like c’mon, you’re telling me one thing, what little things they have told me, but then you turn around and do the total opposite. You tell me I gotta be around, you tell me I gotta do this, I gotta do that, I need to be around to be on songs, I shut everything down to be around, I be on songs, then they take me off them. So why should I be there? It’s not like I’m trying to be a leech and need money off you or anything. I’m back. This is my interest now. Why would you do that to a person? Why should I be there? Mostly everything I’ve learned is from watching their mistakes anyway, so it’s like why? I’m not a leech, I’m not there for money, no, I’ve had a general interest in rap music since we first met each other in high school. When I first came home it was like son, you need to make mixtapes. I put mixtapes out. They didn’t help me do none of those mixtapes. Not one CD that I put out did they help me do. I never asked them. I put those out because I was like OK, this is what I must have to do, I have to go through this process. Other than that, nothin.
AB: It sounds like after a while you said to yourself if I’m doing this all on my own as is…
IG: Yeah! It basically is. I understand you’re busy and certain things go on, but why would you tell me to be around and do these things with you and then be like, well no, I’ve changed my mind at the last minute. It’s a disappointing thing and they didn’t do it with just me, I’ve seen it with a couple of people we went to school with. It’s like why would you do that, but yet someone talks to you crazy, you say you’re not messin with them and then you come back and mess with them. What is going on? I’m saying how I feel. If I have to talk to you crazy then you’re not my homeboy. Before I do that I’ll walk away. It’s not like I’m out here trying to say Mobb Deep is faggots, they soft, no it’s disappointment. I’ll just walk away and let me see what happens with me. Let me learn what I have to learn, all of the things I have to do. Let me see what goes on, because I’m basically almost on my own anyways.
“I’m going straight at something I want to do and that’s this music thing. Let’s start this Illa Ghee brand.”
AB: Clearly you’re disappointed, but are there any lingering ill feelings towards each other or are things amicable at this point?
IG: I don’t have no lingering bad feelings about them because it’s unnecessary. It’s about music. I think I have good music so why not go to the full extent of it and see what happens? If nothing happens I can live it. You know why, because it’s me. It’s my fault. It’s what I didn’t do. It’s what I did. That’s it. No more, no less to it. I’m not trying to break nothing down, I’m going straight at something I want to do and that’s this music thing. Let’s start this Illa Ghee brand.
AB: When it comes to the Illa Ghee brand, other than your topics, which we’ve already touched on, what do you feel makes you stand out? I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Hip-Hop’s kind of crowded.
IG: (laughs) I have no problems with being me. That’s the thing. I have no problem with a person who’s been to jail and that’s not into it no more, but I can still tell you the things that led me to the way I am now. I have no problem with saying what I’ve done in the street, or what things I’ve seen while being in the street. The street ain’t all what it’s cracked up to be, what everybody would try to make it seem like. People don’t understand that feeling of going to your door with your gun out, like you have to open your door with your gun out. Dudes don’t understand that part. People don’t understand the part when it gets that serious. People don’t understand that when you get locked up you’re locked up. That’s why they call it “The Game,” because it’s really a game and there are really rules and regulations to it. Now I can talk about anything from business to politics to how I feel everyday and let the emotions go. I can put it in plain view. I can do it where there are different levels of a song where you can take it at face value, but if you actually look deeper into the song it will mean something else to you. That’s why I call myself the Scamologist. That’s why I call myself The Incredible Mathematics of Rap. That’s why I call myself the Now, Back Then and The Next.
AB: You mentioned politics so let’s politic it out. Who should be president?
IG: I’ma let you know a president is not elected, a president is chosen. If you’re not part of the Windsor – Bush bloodline you’re not going to be president. Even from King Henry the IV and all that all the way down to Hitler all the way down to Bush, a lot of them have the same relatives and all of them were in power and it doesn’t stop. England really runs this planet. America is England’s hit man. Because if we live in America why the fuck should we care about what goes on in England? Why do we care about the king and queen? That’s over there!
“A lot of these dudes go to beef because they have no character. They don’t have anything to put forth. They have no life story.”
AB: Speaking of beef, when you were with Mobb Deep you saw your fair share of it. With all the DVDs and all the fabricated battles has beef gotten stale?
IG: People don’t understand what legitimate beef was. When KRS-One, he admitted to it later on when dudes were like nah, we don’t like his music, it’s garbage, and he was like WHAT? He said in his mind he felt like they were saying ALL his music was garbage and he was like what do you mean, MC Shan is garbage! So he went at MC Shan and it was for a reason. Now a lot of these dudes go to beef because they have no character. They don’t have anything to put forth. They have no life story. They live vicariously through people. Since they’ve never been through such things they can’t sit and word it properly, so they think OK if I get into drama I’ll get more exposure. This will ride on for a second but you’re dealing with people who don’t want to eat lettuce all the time, there has to be some type of meat on the plate for people to get full, this is why singles are in demand, because no one on an album is putting meat on the plate. It’s getting to the point where if they do get meat they’re like WOW, this album does have food on it, but it’s not too much because the new dudes just don’t know, all they know is cash, clothes, hoes and drugs. I love a good arrogant rapper as much as the next dude because I feel I’m arrogant as shit as a rapper, but what have you been through that makes you recognizable with everybody else? People love fucking pain. What’s going to make you the thing that people can go inside and feel your pain like everybody else?
AB: When you look to your future in Hip-Hop and you see the cash, clothes, hoes and drugs MCs do you see the future of Hip-Hop as being bright? Do you see something else happening in the near future?
IG: Somebody has to break the mold and once that person breaks the mode the retarded people of the industry shall follow, but it’s the point of letting that person break the mold. I could pop off tomorrow and they would go chase down everybody that sounds like Illa Ghee instead of going for a person who is an individual person. This is where the diversity, this is why they called it the golden era, because we had everybody sounding different. Heavy D didn’t sound like Doug E. Fresh, Public Enemy didn’t sound like NWA, so now everybody can’t sell. Why did Kanye West stand out so much? Because he did him. Yeah, he knows he has issues, he knows he shallow, he knows he’s an asshole, but he does him. He doesn’t have coke on the corner, he talks about the lessons of college and that’s why he’s a breath of fresh air and they just have to let more of these people in.