AZ, like a class of others, arrived to win in 1994. Through the Nas association, he garnered a deal through the seemingly deep pockets of EMI. Sugar Hill resulted as an anthem, and AZs arrival was punctuated with a Gold single and plenty of fans.
The following decade between then and now was neither cruel nor kind to AZ. While some of his peers vanished, others became todays moguls. AZ held down the middle-ground with a platinum swagger and a beggars intensity. The once untouchable figure neglected his ego, to maintain his name without the help of promising labels. The journey has led The visualiza to 2005, comfortable in his shoes. With three celebrated street singles going into his first independent label project, AZ may be at his best all over again rather unique.
AllHipHop.com: Some people are hyping this album to be one of the stronger independent releases in 2005
AZ: This album here, which is called A.W.O.L., is serious. The reason I called it that is cause this s**t got me crazy a little bit [Laughs]. A.W.O.L. means Absence Without Leave, and it fits perfectly for where I was with this album. Meaning: Im physically here, but my mind is elsewhere. This album here is AZ at his best, the past, the present and future of AZ.
AllHipHop.com: People are adoring that DJ Premier collaboration. What other guest work does A.W.O.L. boast?
AZ: I dont do a lot of dudes like that. It be too much s**t going on, Im low tolerance. Only like select chefs in my kitchen. I try to keep it home cooking. We getting ready to wrap it up right now. I got Slick Rick and MOP. Heatmakerz held me down; me and Premier did something real crazy; and my man Fizzy Womack [from M.O.P.]. I chose these producers because they had a different vibe and when I heard their music, it bought something out of me. It was automatic. It wasnt nothing had to sit down and work on. No getting in the zone or nothing. I heard it and it was a go from the beginning.
AllHipHop.com: Whats the timetable looking like?
AZ: It comes out in September, and understand that prior to all this, I had an album that was coming out last year called Final Call. It was supposed to come out on Koch, and they didnt really promote it. It just kinda sat there for a minute. So we took that and put it on the Internet for the people. Thats why I had to go back to the kitchen and cook a new batch up.
AllHipHop.com: Labels like Motown and Virgin gave you trouble in the past. After Final Call was botched up, why werent you as unforgiving as in the past?
AZ: When we were doing it and was close to the finish line, they serviced people early and since the album wasnt all the way done, it wasnt the greatest look. It was like taking a cake out the oven before its completely done. And once music is released you cant take it back, so thats why we went the Internet route. Koch admitted they f**ked up, and then made the decision to put me in charge of my direction. So, I decided a second chance was in order. So here we are.
AllHipHop.com: Weve never seen you come out at somebody publicly. Why?
AZ: That s**t is corny. I cant invest my time and energy with something so corny. If it dont make me dollars, it dont make sense. I aint getting no years for having to handle a n***a cause they wanted some press time. You bulls**tting and playing trying to get some sales. Then, at the end of the day. everybody making up. I cant do that. I cant be phony. I hold grudges for a long, long time. If I cant sell records off pure talent then f**k it!
AllHipHop.com: Well, there were rumors of you and Nas beefin after The Firm album. But youve even got the new joint, Serious, plus a number of others proving otherwise
AZ: That was supposed to come out on Nass album, but the sample wasnt cleared in time to make it on the album. Since Im independent now, and we have to keep it popping – we waited when it was cleared, and gave it to the radio and the streets. Its getting mad love now. Every time me and homie get together, we pop it off. Everybody be handling they own things – he going through his world with getting married and all, but he knows Im doing what I have to do to keep my fans fed.
AllHipHop.com: With Junior M.A.F.I.A. and Lox coming back, will we ever see another Firm project?
AZ: Wow! That, I dont know. Everybody is every where. People speak, but not on daily. At the end of the day, I wish that could happen just for the love of the art. To be honest I would love to see a new Firm album and a Nas/AZ album. Id like to see that.
AllHipHop.com: Eight years later, what went wrong with that project?
AZ: To be honest, I couldnt answer that question there. I know that everyone wanted their hand in the pot. So maybe it was just an overwhelming of everybody trying to take a piece of the pie. Everyone was like, F**k it, we got our own careers and well just go back to our solo careers.
AllHipHop.com: Pieces of a Man followed. Those two disappointments were very detrimental to your career, coming off of the mid 90s success
AZ: Im a street dude. So its like I gave them my street vibe and it was what it was, and Im going to keep it moving. Nothing really never gets me down – it cant, as long as I got my health. Any day above ground is a good one. I have to keep doing me. [As] long as Im financially all right and I got my brain on, Im good. There was a lot of drama in game at the time … [look at] Big and Pac. So you know, I was in a storm myself. S**t was just going crazy at the time. Now, if I would have stopped right then, I would have been f**ked up, thats why I put that S.O.S.A. album on the street. I did that myself and sold out my truck. It was a beautiful thing. Thats what got me my deal with Motown.
AllHipHop.com: Im glad you mentioned Motown. When did you know that situation just wasnt for you?
AZ: Let me tell you, that Aziatic album was serious…that was serious. I did it on that album: I really bought it home lyrically and I think, musically. It was a combination of abomination. When they couldnt put the force behind it…I knew they were Erykah Badued out…I was like cool…Ill just fall back I originally went there because they didnt have Rap…and I love to go somewhere Im the foundation, the seed, the nucleus of that particular label. So when I went there, This is Motown this is Barry Gordy and all them, …but when they couldnt push the Aziatic album, it was a wrap.
AllHipHop.com: In my own lifetime, Ive always been astonished that your sales dont match up, but many argue that your merits do compare against the Jays and Nasirs. How do you react to both sides of that?
AZ: Hah! No doubt…I mean s**t happens and you need an underdog in every event. I guess I was built for that underdog status, and when you know the game and get to the politics, it gets real deep – and these people, the Jays and the Nas, they have machines behind them – real machines, and theyll do anything to win. I never really had that machine behind me 150%. When I was with EMI, you know they went bankrupt, and then I went to Virgin, and at that time Virgins priority was that Midwest, Scarface element. They werent really doing the East Coast thing at the time. Me being who I am, Im built for it. Im a stand up dude regardless, and Im gonna keep doing me . So I mean, Im happy, to be honest. Theres no stopping me, theres no pausing. Im still doing me: consistently growing and learning more and more.