Lake: One Never Knows

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n May 23rd, Lake and Cormega are releasing a collaborative album. Two Queensbridge street legends converge at different stages in their rap careers: one, a “hood platinum” Hip-Hop veteran, the other, a talented rapper out to prove his lyrical worth. Normally, the table would be set for an interesting conversation piece.

But like his Thanksgiving Day charity, Suge Knight dropped a turkey on that table when he signed Lake to Death Row Records East. Read as Lake addresses his signing, prospects of a Nas beef, Queens production, and why Death Row East failed the first time ‘round. If his “revolution is as real as Bobby Seale’s,” consider this the beginning.

AllHipHop.com: Since you announced signing with Death Row with Kay Slay last month, how has your life and your career changed?

Lake: The main thing was just having inspiration to look forward to the things that I know lie ahead of me. Before then, it was pretty much, there was no ray of hope. I had hope in myself. I knew I had what I needed to get it done, but it wasn’t really visual. Now, I wake up in the morning and know I got a bright future ahead of me. Forget the money and all of that.

AllHipHop.com: Before, you could have released an album anytime you wanted to. Now, Death Row has released one active-artist album since 1999 in Kurupt’s Against Tha Grain. Are you concerned that you can’t have artistic freedom?

Lake: Nah. Doin’ it with Suge, I have creative control. Whenever I want to put the album out, I’ll put the album out. If I want it out next month, it’ll be next month. I’m not stagnated in no way. That’s why this situation is really a good one for me.

AllHipHop.com: About a year ago, there were news releases that Tha Row was gonna work with Domination and Bang ‘Em Smurf for an East Coast link. Do you have any idea what happened with that?

Lake: I didn’t know nothin’ about that situation.

AllHipHop.com: How were you approached then, to sign?

Lake: I had people over in California, that had lines to get in contact with Suge. With that, I sent music to them, to get in contact with him. They got in contact with it. After that, it was on. I let him know what we wanted to do, how we wanted to come out, and it was the combination. It was a win-win.

AllHipHop.com: You’re a Queens dude first. Queens loves to see its own make big moves, but they tend to resent it when hometown dudes move away. Is your time in California, or releasing a freestyle about California, detrimental to your audience thus far?

Lake: It’s always gonna be relevant, what I’m sayin’. It’s a universal struggle that we goin’ through. The same thing we go through in Cali, we go through in New York. Everything I been through – gettin’ shot, gettin’ incarcerated and facin’ life in prison – all of that happened in Queensbridge. All my struggles and adversities went through there. So when I speak, it comes from there. I’m always gonna be Queens. Now, because of my travels, I have more to talk about – to give the streets somethin’ to think about.

AllHipHop.com: Historically, whenever Death Row has signed an established artist, that artist is always in turmoil with another big artist. You released “Why Nas?” on mixtapes recently. Nas and Mobb Deep are projected to be two of the biggest acts in 2006. Where do your allegiances lie, and where are you attacking?

Lake: Me and Cormega, that’s my boy. We got an album coming out on May 23rd. That’s before my [Death Row] album. We are back. [Queens] is gonna get more attention from the world from what I’m doing. Whatever I do, I’m bringing it to the people. With other artists, I don’t have anything against ‘em. It’s encouragement for me to get here and focus my attention. But to go at them for what they didn’t do – that’s not really where I’m at. I’m counting my blessings, and I’m not looking at them. Right now, I’ve got bigger fish to fry than to worry about dudes from Queensbridge. They know what it is.

AllHipHop.com: On your “Gutta Block King” mixtape, you had record, “The Kid from QB.” On it, you said, “Lost my youth, called a truth with my nemesis / When I finally realized what I was up against.” What does that mean to you?

Lake: To come back to the streets and cause harm to somebody, that’s not really my thing. I would rather bring people together. I expect people who’ve been through what I’ve been through to understand that. I’m blessed to be here. I few years ago, I was facin’ 100 years in prison. I beat in trial. I recognize my real foes. That’s what that line said.

AllHipHop.com: In 2001, you released the 41st Side compilation. Critically, the album did quite well. To some people who may only know you off of the Nas appearance, tell them about your Hip-Hop background…

Lake: 41st Side had all the artists from Queens – Nas, Cormega, Nature, Noreaga, Tragedy, – everybody. That was my whole goal – to bring everybody together. It really wasn’t done in that light. For me, that was a great achievement. After that, I was with Nas. I gave him a lot of pointers on working on his album. I’m from the street, and I had a lot of fresh ideas – not that Nas needed me for that, but I had it. Songs, concepts, hooks, I was on every session when he was makin’ his albums. I was there. I was on God’s Son – “Revolutionary Warfare.” It was good for me, and it was good for him at the time. There was a lot of artist development for me to be on the road with an artist of the level. For him, because of I who am, and who I am on the street, he profited from it too. I was promoting shows. I was grindin’ my way – no handouts. Me and him was supposed to start Ill Will [Records] together, but that never materialized. The time wasted [hurt] a lot of people. That’s why I [made “Why Nas?”] and express how I feel. I moved on and got with Suge three, four months later. That record wasn’t made for me to get a deal. That was the end of me, like, “S**t, I may not even be here next week. These my last rites – my last rhyme.” But, it didn’t turn out like that. A lot of people might say, “Well, what does this have to do with Hip-Hop?” But I need to express myself if certain individuals are representin’ somethin’ they not. There’s gonna be a lot more of me expressing myself, ‘cause it’s all real. You gonna respect it, whether you like it or not.

AllHipHop.com: I can’t ignore the fact that you two did “One Never Knows” – a brilliant collaboration you had together. You talk about unifying, but then expressing yourself. Is peace the greater goal?

Lake: Yeah, I would love it. But if we were to do that, it would have to be on the right terms. Me and a lot of individuals not gonna click, ‘cause we don’t have the same values. I’m really for my people. I’m goin’ to see my [locked up] dudes. I’m in the courtroom. I’m in a position to provide opportunities. It’s not gonna be peace ‘cause it’s beneficial to you. You don’t have to worry ‘bout me, that’s easy for you. I’m not gonna make you feel comfortable ‘cause you a fraud. Half of these dudes gettin’ money are portraying something they not. I don’t respect that.

AllHipHop.com: How’s the development going in acquiring Shyne to Death Row East?

Lake: Shyne is my man. I go see Shyne on a visit [often]. That’s my comrade, regardless of what he do [as far as signing]. I do whatever I can for dude. Before I signed with Suge, I was goin’ to see Shyne. Shyne was actually in a situation where he was tryin’ to get me a deal. He was tryin’ to put me on Gang Land, with him. Then, they shut down the company after the lawsuit. We was lined up for the first weekend in January, last year. Suge had good attorneys, so we gonna help him get out.

AllHipHop.com: Ten years ago, there were press releases created of trying to start a Death Row East. Sam Sneed, K-Solo, and rumors that everybody from Eric B. to Craig Mack to Big Daddy Kane were signing. It never panned. Knowing the history, are you cautious?

Lake: Nah. Even with discrepancies that the East Coast and West Coast had in ’95 and ’96, that’s what makes this so monumental – to bring East Coast and West Coast together, it be love. This is somethin’ that never happened in Hip-Hop history. Everybody knew Suge’s history with certain dudes over here, and the respect wasn’t there – because of the individuals that were over here at the time. That’s why it got to the height that it got to. With him, and his history, to deal with me over here, I take that as an honor. I know a lot of people look at it, and they don’t understand it, not knowin’ the history. This is a monumental move. For me, to be strong on the East and strong on the West, ain’t no artist out had that kind of love. I don’t mind any obstacles. I just needed an opportunity to come out. That’s all I wanted. All my problems now, are good problems.

AllHipHop.com: Since Dre, Daz, Quik, even Big Hutch have left Death Row, they’ve been heavily criticized for their lack of quality production. You’re from Queens – home of Marley Marl, Large Professor, and Havoc. How can you get beats on point?

Lake: This is Hip-Hop at its purest form. It’s gonna be street, hard, bouncy – great music. Suge got a whole roster of producers on West Coast, the “Death Row Hittaz.” Me, I’m from Queensbridge. I’ve worked with Alchemist, and Havoc – they from the East Coast. I’m working with C-4, who did Akinyele’s “Put it in Your Mouth.” I’m working with Uno Dos too. Suge has a lot of beats that never came out in the catalogs. For me to go to Paramount Studios and be doin’ that, it’s monumental for me. I’ve got some of that earlier production that Suge had over there.

AllHipHop.com: Are names we might know behind some of those beats?

Lake: Nah. I ain’t gonna put none of the names out. That’s another situation. [laughs]

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