No I.D. : Chitown Pioneer…from Common and Kanye to Jay Z and Nas

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If you’re wondering where No I.D. has been hiding at lately, it’s not exactly a stupid question. As one of the pioneers that brought Chicago Hip Hop to the masses in the ‘90s, No I.D. is often heralded for his hand in crafting Can I Borrow A Dollar? and Resurrection with childhood friend Common. His work has been responsible for some charting pop-singles like “My Boo” by Usher and Alicia Keys or “Let Me Hold You” by Bow Wow and Omarion, but his presence in rap since Y2K has been limited to only a handful of albums, primarily Def Jam releases.

Jaded with an audience that placed more worth in commercial success than creativity, No I.D. hasn’t really felt inspired to be a part of projects solely for a paycheck. That was until he recently got in the studio with Jay-Z and Nas respectively, and was reminded why he fell in love with H.E.R. in the first place. Now back in grind mode, No I.D. was ready to talk at lengths about his recent work with two of Hip-Hop’s finest and why nobody really understands the “Big Brother” relationship.  

AllHipHop.com: Even though you’ve been in the industry for over 10 years, people know you better now as “Kanye’s Mentor.” Does that sit well with you as far as being titled that?  

No I.D.: Umm…it’s a good title (Laughs) that really never was an issue to me, I think people always appreciated the work I did. You can’t always live off the things you did in the past, you got to generate those new things so people can talk about them. So I think for me, that’s just the line of succession in my career. 

AllHipHop.com: Is it strange to get a lot of media attention recently when you’ve already been around?

No I.D.: Not really, because anybody that knows me knows that I didn’t really seek it.  So it’s only a matter of time if you do so much in a time period. Kanye might have brought it all to a head for me as far as my career. But I just feel that over time if you work long enough, it just becomes media worthy from the work. That’s without a publicist or any of those things, I’m just doing music.

AllHipHop.com: I know you’ve always had a lot of good industry relationships, but has your phone been blowing up?  

No I.D.:(Laughs) Yeah, it has been. But people that know me know that my answering machine says, “Please do not leave a message.” I’m just a private person in that sense that I’m not really looking for the spotlight. But I do feel the energy to do a lot of good music again, so I want to step out.

AllHipHop: You recently said you’re more excited than ever about Hip-Hop after working with Jay-Z and Nas. What is it about each of the artists and projects that made you feel like that?  

No I.D.: The level of artistry. Being able to make beats, knowing that people you have the most confidence in will come in and take it to a whole other level. As opposed to trying to figure out how to make hit records that don’t have anything to do with the raps. I felt like I felt when I used to work with Common. We used to make records because they were good, not because of what they would do when the market place.  

AllHipHop.com: Is that how you’re feeling right now?  

No I.D.: At least [about] the songs I worked on with them. They were just all generally songs that we liked, not calculated as how they would work in this market or for that market, or this radio station or that radio station. That’s just something I missed. That’s what made Hip-Hop fun to me, and not just job or not just a way to make money. 

AllHipHop.com: Have you ever had to compromise your artistic vision of what you really wanted to do before?

No I.D.: Yes, but not that far. Because I don’t know any other way to do it except the way I do it, and musically a lot of times I don’t feel like I have too many morals. Musically I feel like I can do any type of music without compromising myself. Unless it just comes from a false place. Sometimes I find myself in sessions, and ask myself “Why am I in a session with this person? What is this?  It don’t even make sense for what I know how to do, it’s a political move or something to enhance my career, and just really phony to me.” Most of the stuff I’m speaking on never came out, because if I feel like it’s wrong, I’m not going to do it and I’ll just stop right there. I don’t want to name names, but if you put me in a studio with a pop artist, and I’m No I.D., and they’re like “Yeah, you’ll blow up off this,” that doesn’t make sense to me. Why am I trying to do pop music?  Even though I can, I’d rather do pop music that makes sense for what I do, as opposed to reaching and trying to imitate somebody else’s music.

AllHipHop.com: You worked with both with Jay-Z and Nas for their new albums, and produced a track that has both of them on it. Do you have a favorite between the two, or was working with both of them just two completely different things?  

No I.D.: Two totally different things. Jay’s process and Nas’ process are different, and I liked them for different reasons.  They satisfy a different thing in me, and it kind of even taught me why certain people like Jay more than Nas, and why some like Nas more than Jay. But me just being a starving Hip Hop fan, I’m just enjoying being a part of songs that I feel like can stack up with the “I Used To Love H.E.R.”s and the stuff that made me who I am. It’s hard when you’re just working on projects that are never going to be historic in any way, just because you can make money.  Right now, a lot of the projects in the music industry are not being viewed as history, it’s more like a check. Everything is measured on “How much did you sell?” In fact, I have this conversation with Chris Webber. It’s like we measure everything now on what makes money. If an artist comes in the rap game, and already had money, then they’re good. If an artist comes in the game and make money, then they’re good. If the song sells, it’s considered good because it’s sold. I’m an artist at heart and I’m really about the art, so I yeah I want money too, but these are projects and songs that I feel are works of art.  

AllHipHop.com: There’s some crazy debate going on about Nas’ new album title, and what point he’ll be making with that album. In the studio of you got a chance to discuss that with him, and I read recently what you wrote about that conversation, part of it being “The fact that we blast each other in public is worse than the N-word itself.”  

No I.D.: What I meant by that, is the fact that the N-word was accompanied by certain actions over all of these years towards Blacks is what made the word so disgusting in a certain way. Really, a person calling you a name has no power whatsoever.  If a Black person calls Donald Trump some type of derogatory name, people are just going to look and laugh and be like “What you talking about?” So when I see Nas announce that he is considering coming with a title for his album named that, immediately nobody asks him “What are you saying?  What is it about?” Nobody says anything to him, and he’s immediately attacked. And immediately he has to defend himself, so he attacks back. And then you have other rappers attacking black activists, who are trying to stand up for something, but maybe the younger generation doesn’t relate to what they’re standing up for. And maybe Nas and the younger generation are standing up for something at the older generation doesn’t understand. At the end of the day, it’s just ridiculous to even argue back and forth about something, because it turns into worse than what the word is, because now it’s like we’re tearing each other down.  

AllHipHop.com: Was that the way you felt he was going to present it in the work? 

No I.D.: I’ll be honest, I heard songs. But nobody really knows except his inner circle about what it’s going to be. But I’ll say that I know his work enough to know the there’s no way it’s going to be ignorant. Now way. Anybody that has a brain would know Nas is going to make some enlightening points, the same way as if any black activists came out with something called the same thing right now. We wouldn’t look at a bad. But because a rapper is coming out with it that it just has to be bad. So we have to go against it because rap is just so bad. And then rappers have to go against black leaders because they are just so out of touch. I just know it’s going to be a work of art. I heard enough and was part of it somewhat, that I just think it’s a shame people don’t stop sometimes and think before they talk. Or just go to somebody on the side away from the camera and say “Hey, I want to know what you’re talking about.  I want to know what you’re doing so I can say what I think to you.” There’s too much in front of the camera stuff, and rappers in front of the YouTube cameras. The cameras need to just go away.  

AllHipHop.com: Yeah, whatever happened to a good old-fashioned phone call?  

No I.D.: Yeah, you know sometimes you settle differences in private, and then you come out united and say we settled our differences. That’s just the mature thing to do.  

AllHipHop.com: Going back in time, there was work you got Kanye originally producing for Grav and Infamous Syndicate, but I’m wondering how grateful he was to you for getting him to spot on Jermaine Dupri’s album with Nas?

No I.D.: Let me say this, I managed him for a while, but more as an artist. I never shopped his beats like that. That’s why when people hear the “mentor” word, people don’t really understand what it really was with us. Which was, not to be cliché, but as a big brother for real. Once I saw certain things about how me and him worked, and what it meant in the bigger scope of life, I stopped trying to handle his business. I don’t really have a lot of patience as a person, and he’s a different type of guy (Laughs). So, I would always more so direct him to people and situations and let him do what he needed to do. I was busy with myself and Common trying to do the things that we had to do, being from a city that really didn’t have a music scene. We didn’t have too many confident references to help us for what we are doing, so [with Kanye] it was more like “This is how you do beats, this is how you do that, the how you do this in life, don’t do that, let me help you with this.” And he kind of hustled his own work a lot of times, so I can’t take credit and say I got him his first placement, I can take credit and say that I showed him what to do to have good enough music to get placements. And that’s what was really what it was more than anything. Even today, we’ll come around and he’ll be like “What you think of this? What you think of that? How should I do this? Man, that’s a good idea. I’ll do it like this.” And as he grew, it turned into me asking him questions too.

So the whole thing gets blown out of proportion sometimes, and nobody understands what it really is. We had an age difference, so me and Common grew up and went to school together, and were doing the same things. Going to the same parties, hanging out, shoot ball, whatever. But Kanye was the younger guy. It was more like “You can hang with your friends, we’re going to do this, here’s what you need to do in the music industry.” I never really wanted a thank you like that. That’s what I’m really getting at. I wanted him to be successful, because I felt an obligation being from Chicago and being one of the first. Your legacy is greater when you can help others have a legacy. I understood that concept even before I got recognition, that if I make others great, that makes me great in places where I maybe didn’t reach my full potential. And that’s enough. Like when he said “No I.D. my mentor,” I think it means more than what people are putting into it. It’s not a business relationship.

AllHipHop.com: Well you said you wanted him to be successful, and boy did he get successful. 

No I.D.: (Laughs) Yeah, I never thought he would be that successful. It just makes you… feel like your life has real purpose when you can start somewhere and just be thinking of something. Like the way me and Common, wherever we were, breakdancing on the cardboard just having dreams about one day becoming a part of Hip-Hop, and then to go and make it this far…it just makes you feel like your purpose in life is appreciated, and it exists.

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