While keeping it gangsta isnt a priority on Merlinos agenda, hed probably find it a lot easier than many of his Hip-Hop peers. His family had involvement with La Costra Nostra, one of historys most notorious organized crime families. The Merlino legacy goes beyond Philadelphia street storiesthe Merlinos are documented in The Last Gangster: A Documentary About Mobster-Turned-FBI Informant Ron Previte by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter George Anastasias
Merlino would rather go down in hip-hop history books. His Whodini cover, Im A Hoe, is making a buzz throughout Philly, and his Tommy Boy-distributed debut, Done Deal, boasts high-profile collaborators such as Carl Thomas, Roscoe P. Coldchain, and fellow Philadelphian, Cassidy. But similar to his individuality from the family business, Merlino wants to establish his own reputation. In a candid interview with AllHipHop.com, Merlino remembers old school Hip-Hop, compares commercialized and true life organized crime, and forges his own path.
AllHipHop.com: You covered Whodini with your first single, Im A Hoe. What made you decide to use this sample?
Merlino: We did a bunch of tracks, and that was one of them. When we took it to Tommy Boy, the dude that breaks videoshes broke a lot of shock artists, he broke Lil Jon, Gucci Mane, and he broke Run-DMC when they first came outhe was saying that the South is winning right now. Im A Hoe was something old that everybody used to rock to. The way that we did it, its catchy and its got a South feeling to it, but its something that everybody should know, whether theyre old or new school. My publicist has me hooking up with Whodini, were doing a show in Connecticut. Im looking forward to that. Theyre confirming it right now as we speak. Hes doing the original, and Im going to come out while hes onstage and do my version of it. Its something thats controversial, and its something thatll stick in peoples heads, no matter how they take it. They can take it the wrong way, or the way that Im trying to get it across. Im not trying to use Im A Hoe dissing females; you have to really understand where Im coming from with the song.
AllHipHop.com: From where is that?
Merlino: Im letting them know, Im a hoe too. Guys can be hoes too. If youre after the hype, after that money, if youre chasing a slut – youre a hoe, bottom line. You dont have to go sleep with somebody, or f**k that b*tch, or that dude, or whatever youve got to do. If youre after the hype regardless, youre a hoeand thats the point Im trying to get across in the song.
AllHipHop.com: Now lets get into your family history a little bit. What does the name Merlino mean to Philly?
Merlino: Merlino has been around since the early 80s, since my grandfather and my uncle. It is what it is. Its real. Theres no fiction involvedyouve got the old school gangstas, and youve got my cousin Joey, whos my uncle Sonnys son, who was in the 90s up through the 2000she got locked up in 99, he got a 14-year joint. Every Thanksgiving, we were in the big trucks all around Philly giving out turkeys and dinners to the people who couldnt afford Thanksgiving dinners. Wed be in the freezing cold every Thanksgiving, and we put together something for the kids with Allen Iverson every Christmas, giving out gifts. People know him for that. Phillys got a lot of love for the name period, so thats why Im sticking with it. Im also sticking with it because their involvement with the mob and with La Costra Nostra hurt the legitimate side of the family. Every familys got a legit side, and a side that does their dirt. And it still is hurtingits hurting them when they try to get jobs, its hurting them when they try to get work. I dont need to be a gangsta to prove to somebody who I am. Thats what they got into, thats my family. Theyre all still alive, but thats not me. I just make feel-good music for the people so they know who I am, but at the same time, let them know my story and my past, just like everybody else. My Rap names not Gotti, and its not Caponethats not me. I am who I am, and Im talking about what the family was about, and that was that.
AllHipHop.com: How old were you when all of this was going down?
Merlino: Its been going on my whole life until I was about 13. Some of it is still going on today, because there are still numbers of it that were involved with my family that arent in jail, still doing what they do. So the name is still floating around. My uncle Sunny has been in jail since 84, hes about to get out. He was the one who was really sick with it. So when gets out, its not gon be nice. Its a real story to tell. Im like, Heres my story: tell me what you think. Heres what I did for the people, I always try to help.
AllHipHop.com: How do you think all of what you went through compares to the gangster movies that are so loved and praised by Hip-Hop heads?
Merlino: The Sopranos is something we always watch as a family. We laugh because we like it, and because its fiction, its a script that somebody wrote. We could really have a real script about the life [of the Merlino family] from here to now, and people would watch it. Its the direction that Im going to take it. Im not trying to give people the wrong impression, or make people feel like they have to back away. Im just letting people know that this is real, its not that TV s**t.
AllHipHop.com: Capone from C-N-N told us that he believes that the Hip-Hop police exist because since the actual Italian mafia has declined, that the police go after modern-day mafiosos, like rappers. Having seen both sides, how would you respond to that?
Merlino: I definitely feel that. The mob nowadays is more flashy and into fashion than it was old school. People arent going to be like Gotti no more, or my grandfather, when they were just keeping it gangsta. They were getting their money, and they were into being low-key. They didnt want to be seen, they didnt want people to know who they were. Now, people want to be seen. As soon as they get the money, they do this, they do that. They arent worried about that as much, because theres not as much of that going on right now. There arent crime families going into that s**t like they used to, theyre just living it up. The cops aint got nothing to do. I feel Capone on that. I think thats where they generated the Hip-Hop police.
AllHipHop.com: Youre a descendent in a mob family trying to rap. Growing Up Gotti comes to mind. How do you feel about that?
Merlino: It seems too fake to me. Not saying that theyre fake, but they could go about doing the show better. Its not telling a storyits showing that they have this nice house, and their last names Gotti. Nobodys going to the Genoviche family trying to find their grandkids, and theyre bigger than the Gottis.
AllHipHop.com: Going back to Philly, Cassidy got arrested recently. How do you feel about that?
Merlino: Its tough, thats my man. I have a relationship with him. I knew his manager, I knew the whole circle, and it was tough because they were looking out for me with a lot of stuff. And Cass himself is a cool dude. And its tough, because youre in a bubble. Your second album is about to drop, youve got a crazy single on the streets, youre getting crazy airplay, and its like, what the hell happened, dog? It hurts your heart more than your mind, its like, whats the point? I dont know if he was involved or not, I just know that Im supporting him, Im behind him. I know his family, his cousins and a lot of his close friends.
AllHipHop.com: So what can we expect from Done Deal?
Merlino: I tried to make every song a single. Now, my album is so well-rounded, with doing it so well with nobody helping me, I really think Im going to earn a lot of respect off of it. Just from being Italian, and doing it with a little budget behind me, as far as getting decent producers and a couple artists on there, its a really well-rounded album. As far as A-list artists, Im trying to hook up with Trina right now, I want her to do the remix with me for Im A Hoe. I know how Trina gets down, and she knows a couple of my partners, so theyre hooking that up right now. As we speak, Ive got a song produced by Redhead Kingpin. As far as songs done already, I did a joint with Cassidy, a joint with Roscoe P. Coldchain, I just did a joint last month with Carl Thomas, my man Big Bub hooked me up with him, we went to Jersey and went to his crib. The song was crack. Im working with people and filling everybody out, but I dont want people to think that I need all these A-list artists on my album. I dont need that.
AllHipHop.com: Whats it like to be restoring Tommy Boy, who has such an eclectic history with Hip-Hop?
Merlino: It feels good, because Tom Silverman loves Hip-Hop. Hes a Jewish dude, but he knows about the entertainment business, hes been in it for years. Hes expanding Tommy Boy, and he doesnt just look at me as an artist, he looks at me as an all-around entertainer. I can take you to the movies, I can do the TV series like I said. I was like, Tom, I dont want to just do an album, I want to do all of this. Ima do it on my own eventually, but if you want to be a part of it, lets rock. He started throwing ideas at me, and we came together with everything. Ive got a straight distribution deal with Tommy Boy, so theyre putting it everywhere in North America, and were trying to take it to the next level.