AZ is vintage. Not Urban Outfitter-manufactured vintage, but genuine, back of the thrift store vintage. From his classic verse on Nas’s “Life’s a B***h” to his pairing with the QB vet on the Grammy-nominated “The Essence,” the Brooklyn-bred emcee has always embodied the sound of an influential era. Mid-90s New York, to be exact.
But with admiration has come alienation for AZ. As the Sidney Poitier to God Son’s Bill Cosby in "Uptown Saturday Night," the rapper has been revered critically while overlooked commercially. On his latest album, Final Call, the artist formerly known as Sosa attempts to reintroduce himself once more to the "106 & Park" set. Before he sits down next to Free for an interview, AZ spoke with AllHipHop.com and waxed poetic about the status of the Nas collabo album, the late Half-A-Mil and Mr. Jell-O Pudding. He even took us back to “Sugar Hill.” How retro.
AllHipHop.com: The new album, Final Call. What’s up with the title? You going out like this? You retiring?
AZ: [laughs] Nah, basically Final Call is just giving people a final call, the final chance to understand who I am and what I bring to the table and the purpose I serve in this game. If they don’t really recognize this, I’ma fall back and let my artists off my label to do their thing. That’s all.
AllHipHop.com: Recently Kedar Massenburg [the former head of Motown when AZ was signed to the label] resigned from his post. Now, you’re a Grammy-nominated rapper and critically acclaimed, you do your part, is there something Kedar wasn’t doing right? Because he was always on the hot seat. Or is it a situation where the labels in general aren’t holding up their end of the bargain?
AZ: Well, me, I always want to go to a label where I’m like Christopher Columbus. I want to discover something new there. See Motown ain’t really indulge in hip-hop, you know what I’m saying? So I wanted to go there and break the ice and be the one that set if off up there for all the other artists to come behind. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a clue to what the hell they was doing and they didn’t want to know. Because they was into the neo-soul and things of that nature. So that’s why I left. As far as Kedar, and his getting fired, I guess that’s internally. He’s a good brother with what he do. But I guess when it came to rap, he ain’t have a clue. And I guess his staff didn’t have a clue. But they wanted to learn, but I guess it was just too much on their table. So they left it up to me and I got to make my own moves right now.
AllHipHop.com: You used to run with Half-A-Mil…was he ever signed to Quiet Money?
AZ: Half-A-Mil was at one time signed to Quiet Money. We did an album. I got a Quiet Money album here that’s never been released with Half-A-Mil, Animal, and me. And then he ventured off to do his own thing and we lost contact. Like since 2000, I ain’t really been speaking to him, he was trying to do his own thing, so when I heard about what happened, it kinda f*cked me up a little bit. I ain’t get the full story, you know? But you know how the ‘hood sh*t go.
AllHipHop.com: You ever think about putting that material out as a tribute to honor him?
AZ: Um, I don’t know, man. It’s up in the air. I gotta contact his family and things of that nature. I don’t just throw it out like that. But I got a whole lot of material.
AllHipHop.com: Right, that’s what I meant: like the paper goes to his family or something.
AZ: Yeah I might. Once I get in the position that I need to get to, I guess I’ll do that.
AllHipHop.com: People billed 9 Lives as your comeback, but then on Aziatic you had the “Welcome Back” intro and the Buckwild-produced single, “ I’m Back.” Do you think people are looking at this album as another comeback for you?
AZ: Nah, ‘cause I ain’t never go no where to come back. I’m just rapping in and out through will, you know what I mean? This is what I want to do. I take time, I perfect my craft and I put it out when I feel put. So as far as coming back, nah.
AllHipHop.com: Now back in the day, you were in Jay-Z’s video for “Dead Presidents.” There was Jay, Smooth the Hustler, Biggie, some others, and you. You don’t see an image like that anymore, because rappers splinter so quickly now. In the past it seemed like rappers rolled with rappers. Where now rappers roll with their people and make them rappers.
AZ: [laughs] That’s real sh*t right there. You right.
AllHipHop.com: Do you remember that day?
AZ: Yeah, that was a classic. Jay was shooting that video and he asked us all to come through. I knew Jay; me and Jay went to school together back in high school. And I guess he went to school with Biggie at one time, too. ‘Cause we all got transferred out of the school we was at. So anyways, it was the video, and I came through to do that. It was a beautiful day.
AllHipHop.com: On Aziatic, you had a track “Hustler” where the hook mentions hustling as something someone had to do, it wasn’t a choice. As someone who people look for to drop knowledge in their music, I wanted to ask your take on Bill Cosby’s comments regarding poor black people holding back Black America.
AZ: Right. Bill Cosby, you know, he’s been rich his whole life, man. Bill Cosby’s been doing it before half of us were born. I see the perspective he’s speaking on. He’s using reverse psychology to make us, as a minority, step our game up. I’m not mad at him in a sense. But I’m kinda sorta, because I don’t know who was in the presence of him when he was speaking what he was speaking. But to me it was reverse psychology. But in a sense, you right, everybody that I know came, how their life started, from nothing. Poverty stricken. So coming up, we had to do what we had to do. Some of us had mothers and fathers, some of us ain’t have mothers and fathers, so we had to do what we had to do. But that’s no excuse either. Because knowledge is for everybody. And me, coming from the same place where a lot of my people that’s incarcerated and dead came from, I still took the time out to read my books. It all depends on the individual. The hustle is just a part of life. You hustling right now doing what you got to do. So it all depends on what’s your hustle is about.
AllHipHop.com: You know most people are gonna be looking for a Nas collabo when they look at the tracklisting, because they think you two have a great vibe—
AZ: Right. What I need you do to is on AllHipHop.com, tell Nas, wherever he at, to get at his man, AZ. Let’s get this album done for the peoples. Tell him it ain’t about a financial gain, it’s just love for the game. Let’s give it to the peoples and stop playing. Get at him. Tell him, whoever sitting next to him, wherever he at, tell him AZ is trying to reach out. Let’s get this album done. Stop playing, man. The peoples want that. They need that.
AllHipHop.com: We just had a recent interview with Snoop and he was talking about what it was like rolling with ‘Pac during his beef with Biggie and the East Coast. You were tight with Nas when he was going at it with ‘Pac, right? Did you ever bump in ‘Pac when you were with Nas?
AZ: Nah. I personally ain’t see him. I know Nas and them saw ‘Pac, I guess, at a MTV Awards. But I never really saw him. But I know Nas was built for whatever. He was in a war mentality. He was standing on his grounds as far as him representing Queensbridge and he representing rap as a whole. He felt he was, at that time, leading New York, you know what I mean. That was the era, though, right there. That was the era.
AllHipHop.com: Where were you at the first time you heard “Sugar Hill” on the radio?
AZ: Um, I was hopping in my car. I was coming from some kind of restaurant and I heard it on the radio. That sh*t f*cked me up. I almost crashed. I had to pull over. But the sh*t was gangster, though, because I had two people in the car and it was kinda they first time really hearing it over the radio. So it was an experience for all of us. It was real.
AllHipHop.com: It’s usually a good era in hip-hop whenever you drop an album. Your fans respect you for your work and I don’t think AZ fans ever waver in their opinion of you. Any thoughts on that?
AZ: I guess I just keep it fair, that’s all. I always maintain and do me. I try and stay in my lane. I don’t really try and step out of my lane. I keep it fair with my poetry and try to make every album a little better than the last. And that’s what I strive to do. So to me this album right here is one of my best albums.