What happened to everybody? They all ran away?
I don't know if they ran away. I remember walking out and people still being around saying "Oh shit.
What about your assailants?
I couldn't even see them anymore. I ended up going to the hospital and I was there for a week or so, then [I had] surgery to take some of the parts out because it came out of my back…
Do you remember what kind of gun it was?
A .32. It just missed my esophagus. I wouldn't be able to be like "I'm the hottest nigga in the hood." I couldn't even do that.
How did this affect you mentally?
I just started rebelling. I just started going crazy.
The cops didn't come question you?
Days later. My mentally was "I'll find them," even when I was a young boy with no older brothers. The dude left the country because of that. He's dead now. It was drawn out and shit. It was whatever after that. Moving along, though, I was in a different place mentally. I don't know if it registered then. Today it would register. The life and death [thing] I don't think you really get it that young.
It didn't give you status in the hood?
Probably quietly but motherfuckers weren't saying "Yo this my nigga right here; he just got shot." Maybe quietly I had a certain kind of respect, not really verbally. It was a weird situation the way it went down.
Moving along I was just into a lot of shit. I wanted everything and I just wasn't having it. I was stone straight faced all the time. When my father died, I didn't cry. I'm a Virgo and the way we show our emotions are different. You don't have to cry to show your emotion; we show it in different ways. I feel like I was showing it in different ways, maybe in the things I was doing. I was getting into a lot of stuff and getting myself in trouble. At the end of the day I think it saved me, though because I was able to go to jail and grow and be around grown motherfuckers that had serious issues and now I can look and see what their issues are and I have time to reflect and think and appreciate life and appreciate freedom. If I was still in the streets, I would have still been on the same mentality, the same way
So if you didn't go away for those four years you still would be doing what you were doing?
I probably would have been dead or I probably would have had life. I think it saved me. I was really raised there. I was around big, older dudes that probably aren't ever going home and they took a liking to me.
Like OGs taking you under their wings?
Yeah. I had two and a half years and then I caught a case in there and that's where I got the other year and a half, like right when I was coming home. I had my date to be released and I caught another charge.
Was your mother and uncle supporting you while you were away?
As much as they could. I think at one point in time my mom kind of got used to it that I was away. Like I said, we had a certain relationship where I don't think it was that type of a relationship that we had. What we have now if something totally different. I'm necessary for her existence now and vice versa.
So you felt like you became a man in jail?
I definitely feel like I was raised there by motherfuckers that had real issues and went through things and I'm learning from my experiences as well just being around people that have been through things and they were able to give me game and shit like that.
I came home as a teenager and then started doing music. I really started while I was there. Well, I used to fuck around before I got locked up and I had more time to be more focused and write shit while I was away. I met a lot of people in jail. I met Cormega in jail. Cormega and I became really great friends, still today.
That's when he was supposed to be in The Firm but he caught that bid?
Yep, he caught that bid. We had rooms next to each other. We used to talk every day. Nas used to write him
So you do remember 'Mega getting letters from Nas?
Yeah. I remember I was going to have a fight in the yard and 'Mega held me down. It was 'Mega and I against motherfuckers. I remember everything with me and dog. That's my dude.
How did y'all get so close?
It was just a vibe. We just had a cool little vibe. We clicked. He's a cool dude. He was a boxer at the time. He was boxing in jail and beating motherfuckers up from outside the jail and all that shit.
Who else did you meet?
I met Littles in there and Lakey the Kid. All those motherfuckers were from Queensbridge in there. So we all knew each other. I came home before them.
You came out first?
Yeah and I was doing my thing first. Well, Cormega first because Cormega and I were supposed to come out the same year. I think he went home first, which was March, and I was supposed to go home in May, then I caught the new case, so I ended up getting pushed back for another year and a half, so then when I came home, he was signed to Violator so then I was fucking with him on bars and hooks.
Did you get any tips from 'Mega on rapping? Were you already rapping before you went to jail?
I was already rapping. He had his influences which were Nas and Queensbridge and I was more Buckshot, so we had different sounds. I was on my Black Moon shit and he was on his shit. So our vibes were a little different musically, but we had similar views of the streets.
What made you really take music serious when you came home?
It was a passion for me. I just loved it. I couldn't stop even when Mane first came home he said "Dog I used to listen to your shit when I was locked up. My passion was just there. It's still there. It's not the thing to do for me. It's a part of my every day. Some people just feel it's cool to be a rapper. Even if I wasn't getting paid I would be doing this. It's like playing ball for me like shooting hoops when you're not in the NBA.
In the early days were you like I'm going to battle everybody in the hood and come up that way or were you like I'm going to try to find Puff and rap for him? What was your plan?
I didn't really have a plan; I'm not going to lie to you. My plan was when I came home I was going to get with Cormega and he was going to put me on. That was my plan, yo. I was like when I get home, my nigga 'Mega, he's with Nas, it's on!
So what happened then? So you came home…
And I was fucking with him real quick and then I just started doing my thing and I also told my dudes that were home before I came home, "When I come home, we're going to do this; we're going to focus our energy on this," so when I came home I did the group Da Franchise.
Y'all had a deal?
Yeah we had a deal together It was Violator Records and Loud Records. Violator was on Def Jam and then the company folded so we didn't really get a chance to do our thing.
Who signed you to Violator?
Chris Lighty. I met him from Fendi. Fendi came on the block and met us and Fendi brought us to them. You know what, before we signed to Chris Lighty, we were signed to Clark Kent as a group.
How did you even get with Fendi?
I don't really remember. It was Gravy that knew somebody that knew Fendi so Fendi came on my block and he said, "I heard you just came home and they were talking about you…" and then I rapped for him and that was it. Then they came and we did the group, we did Clark Kent and then Violator. We had like a little bidding war. I had recorded this song, but I was still in the halfway house I think, so I did this song. I remember getting locked it, but I did this song already, so it was my solo song in the group. Motherfuckers loved this song, but I got locked up. They wanted the song for the soundtrack In Too Deep. Those motherfuckers had to go and record to their shit, but I was already locked up but luckily they already had the files. Sony wanted us bad. They put us in the studio and we didn't go with Sony. We didn't take the deal.
Why weren't you feeling Sony?
I wanted to do the Sony deal, but Fendi was friends at the time with Mike Lighty so he leaned more towards [Chris'] brother. I wanted to do the shit over there [at Sony]. It was Trackmasters. Those niggas had hits. I wanted to do it with them. I was like if you sign with the producers you're going to get the great records.
Did you feel like I'm just going to be a team player?
I just rolled with it. They were both in the studio. Chris Lighty over here in this corner and Trackmasters over here and the motherfuckers from Sony.
All in the same room?
Yep. So we ended up doing that over there. We had a song on Violator with Ja Rule "First Degree." We did a song with Butch Cassidy. We were on a couple Flex albums and we just couldn't get it going.
Were you still in the street?
Yeah, I was definitely still in the street. We were in a five man group because it was us three and it was Mike Lighty and Fendi, so when we got any money we split it five ways. I was definitely still in the street, maintaining me, supporting the group as well, doing different things, buying shirts, paying for studio time. I started buying property. That was my thing. I was buying and flipping property.
Part 2 of Red Cafe's Journey to the Majors will be released later this week!