How do you feel about Drake?
The jury is still out. I’ve heard some stuff that I’ve liked a lot as far as him manipulating what it is but I’m not sure I’m hearing—he might not even write his own stuff. It all goes to entertainment, show business and the values that I find for myself aren’t necessarily the values that someone else might walk in and that’s to say that it’s important that I write what I’m doing. [But] I gotta take my hat off to the younger generation. The music might not be as strong but the business is so much stronger and the opportunities that lie in front of us are a lot more vast. Younger cats who are starting to reap the benefits of what was laid down years before them should start reaching back and understanding what homage is about and start understanding that they do owe something; that Kool Herc shouldn’t want for anything. Melle Mel, none of these cats should want for nothing. Before you spend money on a chain or anything, you should seek these cats and make sure their lights are on, make sure they got food in their refrigerator. These are the shoulders on which we stand and those are the little things that need to start seeping into our community of hip-hop, it’s about us, it’s not about you.
Speaking of older heads, how did you manage to reunite some of your Native Tongue brethren for your album?
It’s definitely difficult to get us together for anything at this point and it’s sad because we’re one of the options that should exist for kids today. Even some of the offspring or the offshoots of what we were doing don’t have the unity that we should have. We made records that spoke to empowerment, unity, sense of self, just being up right and being able to walk your walk. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to be a microcosm of what he wanted the people to do. We didn’t walk the walk. We weren’t a unit and that’s unfortunate because I think the example would have been huge.
Are you still in touch with Chi Ali?
Yeah, that’s my dude forever. He’s in Sing Sing right now and he should be home within two years. I stay in touch with his mom and his brother, and I send him a little something where I can and that’s another point with Chi. Chi⎯we’re the Native Tongue. Chi is brethren and he has a bunch of cats that he came up with that aren’t even checking for him and making sure that he’s OK. It’s so unfortunate that he’s made a very big mistake. But he’s learned a lot and to speak to him you could definitely learn something about the walk of a man but I think he’s gonna be alright. Sometimes that’s life, you gotta do something that hurts in order for you to really grow.
Queen Latifah was your fellow Native Tongue affiliate who helped lay some groundwork as well. But why aren’t women in hip-hop today getting mainstream love like they used to?
It’s a few things. I’m not trying to come off as the authority on anything, it’s just my opinion, but I think Latifah hit it on the head. Latifah stayed true to who she was as a woman artistically. And with the coming of the mid- and the late 90s, women really started trying to conform to what the men were doing and there’s a very big problem with that because Venus and Mars are very different so for women to go there as far as trying to walk a man’s walk⎯it wasn’t necessarily something that was a benefit to women or the music. It might have worked for the time being but today, women would look ridiculous talking about bricks and things that men would talk about. There are women that have the ability to put a woman’s spin on things like Jean Grae or what have you, but I don’t want to hear a chick talking about carrying a pistol⎯you’re lying and if you really are, you’re such a minute minority that I don’t even know who you’re making records for. But chicks bought into Kim and Foxy⎯not to say they weren’t dope for their time period but they weren’t walking their walk. They were walking the walk to where I think they felt they were doing what men were doing or wanted to hear. Although it may have been a little liberating sexually, it definitely came with a cost.
Are you still in touch with Latifah?
Not at all. I’m definitely proud of her. I knew her from much less notoriety but I’ve always liked her. I’ve always thought she represented something that was very cool. I remember, she wanted me to hook her up with one of my dudes⎯this was years ago. I wound up hooking her up with my dude Moon who ended up getting shot in Harlem, while he was driving her car⎯he was driving with her [laughs]. But I’ve always kept my eye on her walk and I’m very proud of her. She’s a very respectable lady and she’s always been conscious of how she’s perceived more so of how she perceives her self. She has a great sense of self. She’s a great woman.
What’s the key to success for veterans in hip-hop?
Know that you’re always just a record away. And it all depends on what you view as success. Some of them might have obtained it and just don’t realize but when it comes to making the dollar—because a lot of the older cats ain’t make money. We made a lot of notoriety like on Arsenio and Jay Leno. I was the first hip-hop artist on Jay Leno. That’s pretty cool but monetarily, that shit paid $300 so there was a bunch of stuff that wasn’t there monetarily but at the end of the day that’s still a part of my success. I don’t come from a place were we made a lot of money. It was like if you were able to make $5,000-$10,000 from a show you were huge. These kids now are turning down $150,000 for a show for an hour of their time. We didn’t come from that so if you’re looking for that to gage successful then it’s possible that you might never be successful. But if you’re able to find the influence of who you are in someone who does make that money, that’s successful. If money is the issue, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. It might not be for them to make the money the same way that they did but having the insight, they can grab a younger cat and show him how they did it or walk with him or get behind the scenes and start a company. There’s so many ways to go about it. And if it’s just money you’re worried about then don’t be afraid of getting a job. But I know that I’ve been afforded something that money just can’t buy you. Donald Trump doesn’t have enough money to have a record played everyday for the next 17 years. There are artists that are successful that don’t have that. Puffy doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have a record that’s played every day somewhere in the world. He might have a catalogue that does that. But I’ve got a record that’s played everyday somewhere in the world and that’s a blessing.