In New York City every rapper wants to be king.
The borough of Brooklyn in particular has bred more than one MC considered to be the GOAT. But like every position of power in life, time moves forward and new conquerors come for the crown. If not for the top spot, BK’s Red Café has had his eye on a position among rap royalty since a prison bid left him with the hunger for more. After paying his dues, going through major label deal failures and several high profile alliances with the likes of Diddy and Akon, Red Café is finally up to bat. VIBE opened up a bottle of Ciroc with the Brooklynite to discuss his journey through hustling, bullet wounds, jail time and disappointments.
Get Caught Up:
VIBE: So it sounds like you were financially secure before becoming a rapper.
Red Cafe: Nah, I was never fucked up. When I signed with Puff I had a Bentley outside and a couple of houses. I got some money in the streets and then I got label money. I just kept using it to buy things. I got like five businesses now. Anytime I get some money I look and see where I can invest it. I got a lounge in Connecticut. I got one in Pennsylvania. I got a salon in Brooklyn. I got rid of a lot of my properties, so right now got like three properties now.
Some of them you rent out?
There's one in Jersey that I don't rent that I'm probably going to move back into to cut costs because I just bought a place in Miami, so I'm going to be back and forth between here and Miami. I had a lot of property. I had two houses in Jersey, Virginia, Chicago. My big house is in Long Island. My sister and I do a lot of little things together.
At this point you did Flex albums, mixtapes, so when did you feel like you had to transition to something and be a bigger solo artist?
After Da Franchise thing wasn't working Todd Moscowitz was like "You need to go solo." We were still in the group and he was like, "Yo, I want to do a solo deal on you."
This was early 2000?
Yeah, 2001. I was doing the solo shit and Whoo Kid was ice cold. We all were fucking ice cold, all at the bottom, but we got hot fucking music. He was the only one that had exclusive G-Unit and exclusive Red Café shit because nobody else wanted to play our shit anyway and he couldn't get new shit from nobody else anyway because Clue was the hot guy but motherfuckers started liking G-Unit shit and Red Café stuff, so we started getting hot, all of us, at the same time. So now I got a bidding war for me now, solo, every major record company. They wanted to do G-Unit, too, at the time. Then he got lucky with Eminem because Eminem was like "I want that shit. That's the shit I want."
Do you remember hearing that, when 50 got that call?
Yeah I remember because I knew that everybody wanted him. They wanted this motherfucker. They wanted G-Unit. The shit was popping in the streets, but they were just scared, so it was safer to do a Red Café deal. It made it easier for me because of that.
You're a street rapper but not as crazy as 50 in their eyes, you know what I mean?
I didn't have a motherfucker that shot me nine times. That's enough. I don't think 50 did anything crazy at the time. He just got shot nine times, though. So it's like we walk in a room and this dude just got shot nine times, are you going to go over and stand next to him? You're like shit he might get shot nine more times and then I might get shot nine times just being next to him, so I think that was it.
So bidding war –was it an easy decision?
For me it was easy. I wanted to sign with Trackmasters because I'm just going off the fact that these motherfuckers are making all of these hits. They're making over 150 million records sold. It was an easy decision to make, for me. Over 150 million records sold, I'm fucking with these guys. So we did it and then they had a falling out with Arista and it affected me.
Trackmasters came back for you?
It was kind of me, too. I reached out to Tone. He was working at Interscope at the time and finally I was like "I got these offers, but I want to fuck with you," and he was like "Yo listen I'm closing my deal at Arista, if you can wait a month, I'll do it." And we did it and I went to meet LA Reid. He meets all of his artists [face to face]. He makes the decision right there. So I went in there and I met him and I performed a song. Trackmasters had like four or five artists and I was the only one they signed out of all the acts they brought to the meeting. I performed a song, so I put the track in and I performed the whole song [in the office] in front of him and his staff. I felt good about this record and I performed that shit live, word for word, the hook and everything. I played the instrumental and I did that shit. Luckily I had that song on deck to do that. Tone and Poke didn't even want me to do it because they didn't know what was going to happened, but I nailed that shit and LA signed it. And then they fell out with him for whatever reason and it slowed my process up.
Tell me about Mack 10’s part in your come-up?
Mark Pitts is like one of my mentors. There's Trackmasters (Tone and Poke), and Mark Pitts, and Clark Kent, those are my mentors in the game. Mark Pitts introduced me to Mack 10 because Mack 10 wanted to meet me because he heard about me in the streets and he was like "I want to meet that kid," so Mark Pitts introduced us and we did the deal.
I remember that record "Strip Club."
That was a dope chapter though. Mad Max is still my homie.
Were you officially signed to Hoo-Bangin'?
Yeah, I was signed to Hoo-bangin' Priority, Capital. Then Capital folded. Then Tone, again, got a job as Vice President of Universal, so he was like "I believe in this kid; I want to sign him." Sylvia heard my shit and was like "Hell yeah I want to sign him, too."
This is '05?
Probably '05, '06.
Then Tone shit didn't work out there and again I was never A&R, I'm a dope rapper and shit, but I was never A&R, I was still figuring out the concept of making commercial records. I make the street shit, the hip hop rappers, I'm a backpack nigga. I just kind of adapted and just learned the shit on my own. I never got that guidance from them.
Were you scared of compromising anything musically?
I never wanted to compromise, but there's a way to make records without compromising. "Paper Touchin'" is hard as fuck. It's like commercial. It still got melody. You got the right elements to make it work. "I'm Ill" is one of those records –no compromise. That shit took me everywhere. I've been everywhere performing that record, but that's now and I put that out in '09. So now I'm learning. I wrote "I'm Ill" in Japan. I was just trying to figure out what's my next record. I just came out "Hottest in the Hood."I'm the guy, man. I'm fucking hot right now. What is my next record? How do I make a record bigger than "Hottest in the Hood."? I'm not signed. I don't have a deal. I'm in the street. I'm on fucking tour in Japan.
So you were a free agent again?