AZ: So Serious

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 AZ’s 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 today’s moguls. AZ held down the middle-ground with a platinum swagger and a beggar’s 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: I’m 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 don’t do a lot of dudes like that. It be too much s**t going on, I’m 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 wasn’t 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: What’s 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 didn’t really promote it. It just kinda sat there for a minute. So we took that and put it on the Internet for the people. That’s 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 weren’t 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 wasn’t all the way done, it wasn’t the greatest look. It was like taking a cake out the oven before its completely done. And once music is released you can’t take it back, so that’s 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: We’ve never seen you come out at somebody publicly. Why?

AZ: That s**t is corny. I can’t invest my time and energy with something so corny. If it don’t make me dollars, it don’t make sense. I ain’t 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 can’t do that. I can’t be phony. I hold grudges for a long, long time. If I can’t 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 you’ve even got the new joint, “Serious,” plus a number of others proving otherwise…

AZ: That was supposed to come out on Nas’s album, but the sample wasn’t cleared in time to make it on the album. Since I’m independent now, and we have to keep it popping – we waited when it was cleared, and gave it to the radio and the streets. It’s 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 I’m 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 don’t 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. I’d like to see that.

AllHipHop.com: Eight years later, what went wrong with that project?

AZ: To be honest, I couldn’t 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 we’ll 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 90’s success…

AZ: I’m a street dude. So it’s like I gave them my street vibe and it was what it was, and I’m going to keep it moving. Nothing really never gets me down – it can’t, as long as I got my health. Any day above ground is a good one. I have to keep doing me. [As] long as I’m financially all right and I got my brain on, I’m 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, that’s 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. That’s what got me my deal with Motown.

AllHipHop.com: I’m glad you mentioned Motown. When did you know that situation just wasn’t 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 couldn’t put the force behind it…I knew they were Erykah Badued out…I was like cool…I’ll just fall back…I originally went there because they didn’t have Rap…and I love to go somewhere I’m 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 couldn’t push the Aziatic album, it was a wrap.

AllHipHop.com: In my own lifetime, I’ve always been astonished that your sales don’t 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 Jay’s and the Nas’, they have machines behind them – real machines, and they’ll 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 Virgin’s priority was that Midwest, Scarface element. They weren’t really doing the East Coast thing at the time. Me being who I am, I’m built for it. I’m a stand up dude regardless, and I’m gonna keep doing me . So I mean, I’m happy, to be honest. There’s no stopping me, there’s no pausing. I’m still doing me: consistently growing and learning more and more.

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