Ron Artest doesn't really care if you don't like to hear him rap. He doesn't care if you think he should put down the mic and get more focused on basketball. And he doesn't care if you didn't like to see him release his most recent mixtape, Ball'n, on VIBE.com on Thursday morning—just hours after his Los Angeles Lakers suffered a crushing defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He's committed to doing this music thing. And if you don't like it? Well, too bad. He's not planning on stopping anytime soon, so you'd better get used to it. Shortly after he dropped Ball'n, VIBE.com caught up with Artest and asked him to explain exactly why he can't get enough of the rap game. And in typical Ron-Ron fashion, he didn't disappoint.—Chris Yuscavage
VIBE: You got a lot of good feedback last June when you released "Champions" after the Lakers won in the NBA Finals. That seemed like it'd be an ideal time to drop a mixtape. So why did you wait more than eight months to put more music out?
Ron: I wanted to put it out right after I put out "Champion." I like to put my music out right after I record it. But the problem is that I do that and then it's not always the best quality. I record stuff all the time in my hotel room, the bathroom, and even in one of my trucks where I have a mini-studio installed. But I obviously don't have a vocal producer there when I do record in any of those places. I don't have an engineer. I'm there by myself. So a lot of my songs don't sound their best at first and people don't always respect the reason behind it. That's why I really wanted to take my time with this mixtape and get it right.
The funny thing is that, while this is a Ron Artest mixtape, you're actually not on it as much as people might expect. You've got a ton of guest verses from established artists as well as your own artists. Why did you make that decision to scale back your rapping on the project?
I'm glad you noticed that. On the mixtape, I actually only did a few verses and some of the hooks. I couldn't do whole songs because I didn't have the time to do it. That's why you hear so many of features. It's the middle of the season, so I didn't have much time to record whole songs for the project. That's why I called in the reinforcements.
You bring up an interesting point, because you've got a ton of slack for releasing music during the season. It gives people the impression that you're focusing on rapping over playing ball. So, when you do record, when do you find the time to do it?
I record all the time. I record a lot before games. To tell you the truth, I recorded a song before Game 7 of the NBA Finals last year. I like to do that because I have so much on my mind and it's really important for me to let it out. And when I'm able to let it out on a beat and listen to it, it's the best feeling in the world.
That may be true, but you obviously catch a lot of heat for doing it. Do you pay attention to the blogs out there that take shots at you for rapping during the season?
Yeah, I saw a couple people were mad the other night when I put the mixtape out right after the game. A couple people were mad because we lost. But then I also read people writing, like, 'Wow.' They appreciate that I have this other side to me and they like to see me putting out new material.
But isn't it hard to avoid all of the negative press you get for rapping? I give you a lot of credit for sticking with it, but when you go online and see people saying negative things about you, what do you think?
I know a lot of people do it, but I can't really listen to all that. I don't know who these people are. [Laughs] It could be a little Asian girl posting as 'Tom.' It could be an Arabian dude from India posting as 'Gangster Dude.' So, why should I listen to what they have to say? I'm living hip-hop. Who's living it more than me? I am hip-hop. So I don't really let none of these people bother me. They can't tell me nothing.
It sounds like you do a good job of blocking your haters out. Like, you don't dwell on what they have to say too much.
No way. After everything I've overcome? I overcame the struggles that it took to get to the NBA. I overcame having to come home after that and having to worry about people asking me for thing. I overcame everything. So I dare someone to say that I'm not a rapper. I'll overcome that, too.
You got a lot of support of this project from some of your fellow rappers. Nas, Bun B, Gucci Mane, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire and a handful of other artists make guest appearances. Did you have to call in a lot of favors to get them involved? Did you know them prior to asking for verses? How did it all go down?
That was all me. That was hard. I put this whole mixtape together. Like, for instance, I know Birdman but that's not how I got the Gucci Mane and Birdman song, "Mouth Full of Gold," that's on the mixtape. I got that from Gucci. He actually used my name on one of his songs [Ed. Note: Artest gets a shout-out from Gucci on his single, "Gucci Time."]. So I reached out to him and told him that me and a lot of the Lakers mess with his music and he was open to giving me that song for the project. Everybody else that appears on the tape, I built relationships with over the years. Obviously, Nas is my man.
Was there anyone you reached out to that wasn't receptive to sending you a verse? Or, anyone that you wanted on the mixtape that you couldn't get?
I was going to get a verse from Prodigy from jail, but I didn't want to get him into any trouble for doing that. I wanted to get the jailhouse exclusive, but I ended up not doing it because I know he gets out soon and I didn't want him to get into any trouble for laying down a verse for me.
We started off talking about your "Champions" and the Lakers winning the title last year. But your squad has been struggling for a couple of weeks now. What do you think you guys need to do so that you can get to work on "Champions 2" in a couple months?
Actually, we already started working on the record!
Really? You must be pretty confident that you guys can turn things around after the All-Star break this weekend.
Yeah, "Champions 2," I'm already working on it. But to answer your question, it's very important for us to start playing more like a unit. The Lakers team is a family. And we have to start acting like it. We have to be like the Huxtables, man. That's what it's gonna take. We have to be more like the Huxtables during the second half of the season and that's what we're going to do. And once we do, I'll be able to give my fans the "Champions 2" song that they're looking for.