Last year, Busta Rhymes decided it was time to return to his New York S**t while Nas asked Where Are They Now? The Fugees and A Tribe Called Quest reconvened as Raekwon chipped away at his Only Built 4 Cuban Linx sequel. The 90s New York Hip-Hop sound is dearly missed, but as Papoose and Tru Life have revealed the contemporary direction of their albums, few new artists or labels are willing to trade hard knock hit making for reasonable doubts concerning sales.
Enter Joell Ortiz perhaps the best of both worlds. As the New York delegate of the Aftermath roster, Ortiz future might be air-tight. But as brethren like Bishop Lamont and G.A.U.G.E. are forced to wait, Koch Records releases The Brick, an album before the album. Whats more is the independent project permits Joell to go right to the sources of 90s New York greatness Showbiz, Domingo and DJ Premier. Quality control and eyebrows ought to be simultaneously raised as cries for Hip-Hop help are answered.
Beyond just boom-bap, Joell promises to tell stories in his songs. In this discussion with AllHipHop, the artist who JD seemingly passed over admits to more than feeling himself. With his precise vision, and reliance on word of mouth, brick may no longer mean missed shot, and become the strong building-block foundation for going back to the future.
AllHipHop.com: Before we go too far into the future, can we look at some things from the past? It is rumored that there was a problem with a deal with Jermaine Dupri.
Joell Ortiz: Really, I dont like talking about the situation because its done But Ill tell you what it was really about. It was a simple [situation]. He sponsored the EA Sports battle. The winner was supposed to get a slot on the NBA Live 05 soundtrack and a deal with Arista Records. I won and got the slot with the Live soundtrack crackin and he was supposed to follow up with the deal he didnt. It was that simple and that was pretty much it.
AllHipHop.com: How did you hook up with Aftermath and Dr. Dre?
Joell Ortiz: Whats up with Dre? Oh, Hes got this new Latin artist from Brooklyn that hes really excited about…[Laughs] Nah, for real, I got the CD to one of his people out in L.A. and I got a call the next day saying that Dre really liked my stuff. I was just like, Alright, thats whats up, but then [Dres people] were like, No, you dont understand, he loves the stuff and wants to fly you out A.S.A.P. Two days later, were on a plane, and then were with the Aftermath staff just kicking it. The next day, Im in the studio with Dre and he tells me Yo man, I like the record. Im like, Yo man, I like the beats! We start laughing, one thing leads to another, and he tells me, I really flew you out to make sure you wasnt a knucklehead. You know, Ive taken a lot of losses in this rap music already and I really dont want to take anymore losses.
AllHipHop.com: That happened pretty quickly.
Joell Ortiz: I was sitting there after we left the studio in the hotel room and it finally soaked in. Oh s**t. Im on Aftermath. Ten years of grinding for a ten minute meeting.
AllHipHop.com: The last notable people to have a story like that .rapping for a decade, being called by Aftermath, short meeting with Dre, and getting signed to the label, were Eminem and 50 Cent.
Joell Ortiz: Yeah, thats some good company. I think Im in a perfect position because Dre doesnt try to change what you have already done. He let 50 Cent come over there and do his record. He let Eminem come and do his record. [Dre] just puts you on a broader stage. Me bringing that New York gutter sound back out, that head nod music, that conscious but not preachy music .hes gonna help me get that to a broader stage. Thats all I needed because I have a great team already, and when you combine that team with the Aftermath machine were gonna have a ball.
AllHipHop.com: Why do you feel that New York gutter sound has disappeared?
Joell Ortiz: Whats happening is I really feel like the DJs need to do some soul searching – a lot of them. I keep hearing people say, Weve got to bring New York back, but they dont play New York s**t. Im not knocking the South, because we all come from the same place. If you come from the gutter and rise up, then Im proud of you because you could have taken another route. Im not knocking anybodys hustle. But if youre going to preach, bring New York back then play some New York songs.
New York has been shying away from whats working which is dope beats and lyricism. The records that I do will not be records that are directed at the club. The records that you hear of me in the club will be records that DJs put in their bag because they love them. Im not talking about bottles and models and trying to make you wobble and drop, because its just not my thing. It might be someone elses thing, but its not mine. Thats why I work with [DJ] Premier. Thats why I work with Showbiz. Thats why I work with The Alchemist. I miss that feeling, and Im going to try my best to bring it back.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel like artists get signed to labels and then just lose the drive?
Joell Ortiz: I work because I love to do it. I could have done a bunch of things, but this is my passion. I was All City on my high school basketball team; I made good grades, 1400 on my S.A.Ts I could have done a lot of stuff. When I wake up in the morning, I look forward to the work. This is the grind that I chose, and for people to care about that grind is flattering.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel there is a disconnect between conscious rappers and the music buying public?
Joell Ortiz: Umm, its not that its just that you have to know how to talk to people. You cant walk up on a block where a dude is hustling and say, Yo man, what are you doing? Youre killing your own, man. Youre buggin. Dont you see whats happening? Nah, you cant do that. You got to go up to that dude and say, Whats good man. He may speak back to you he may not. You continue, I see what youre doing and let me just tell you one thing: Im not here to preach to you, but I did it. Ive seen the results and theyre not good. I dont know you and you probably dont know me but I just figured it was my job to let you know. Regardless of whether he is feeling you or not, he will at least respect you.
You cant yell at people when you try to teach them. You cant preach to them either. You have to speak by example. Thats what I do with my music. There are a million rappers out there who say that the hustled. [I can say] that [I] sold drugs to a pregnant woman and I regret it. Who says they bought a video game from a dope head and knew it was his sons? Im going to paint a picture and make sure even the small details get in because sometimes the small things have the biggest meaning.
AllHipHop.com: Youre obviously influenced by the early 90s, but is there anyone out right now that inspires you? Someone that makes you want to stop and rewind the tape?
Joell Ortiz: I mean, no one is exciting people nowadays. I meanremember when you first heard Canibus on the Lost Boyz joint [Beasts From The East] and you went, What the f**k just happened? Hold on, hold on, who the f**k is homeboy and what did he just say? And then you had to bring it backyou just had to. Dudes dont make you rewind s**t anymore. I miss my man asking Are you gonna listen to it again? Where is that s**t at? I miss that because Im not excited. Im only excited about me and thats a shame. And Im not tooting my own horn, Im keeping it real.
AllHipHop.com: What do you think of the comparisons that fans make between you and Big Pun?
Joell Ortiz: Im flattered. Thats the best word. Were talking about a legend and someone that I look up to. Im Spanish, he was Spanish. Im heavyset, he was heavyset. He had a legendary flow, and people consider my flow legendary. He represented a lot more than just rap because he represented a culture of Latinos. Thats what Im trying to do with my music now. I mean, when I look out at the crowd from the stage and see fans, I see hope. I mean, theres still an invisible wall up for Latinos in Hip-Hop. I still get that feeling of people thinking, Dude is nice for a Puerto Rican kid. Im here to abolish that statement.
AllHipHop.com: To what do you attribute that invisible wall that keeps Latin rappers from gaining ground in Hip-Hop?
Joell Ortiz: I really dont know. I dont know who to blame for that. Its just a predominantly Black art form, so thats just taken as the norm. I cant say who to fault for it because I wasnt there in the beginning, but I do think that I have a voice that can help to change it for future Latin rappers.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel the Reggaeton movement helped or hurt Latin artists in Hip-Hop?
Joell Ortiz: It was a double-edged sword. It helped, but it also categorized us as a people. It took a lot of Latino brothers out of the hood and put them in the forefront, but it also made people think we had our own music. No, we dont have our own music. What stops a non-Latin person from doing Reggaeton? Nothing. If anyone can do Hip-Hop then it works both ways. Im Puerto Rican, but I came up from a project in Brooklyn that was all Black. Im Puerto Rican but Im still in that mix. You cant take that from me. Dudes hear me rap and dont even know that Im Spanish. So cmon, you cant say that they have their own music, but at the same time, Im proud that my culture came up in the world. Hip-Hop is not Black, Reggaeton is not Brown…its music.
AllHipHop.com: There was a time when Eminem was always introduced as the White rapper. Now he has come to a point where people barely make a notice of it.
Joell Ortiz: Oh yeah, hes up there. Plus the fact that he was White helped him too. Dont get me wrong, hes nice. But so many people paid attention because he was White and gave him a little edge. Dudes were like, Did you hear him on the [Jay-Z] Renegade joint? He got Jay. Dont front on him because hes White. He got Jay-Z. So the skills helped as well as the fact that he was White.
AllHipHop.com: Big L, early Nas, and early Jay-Z were critically acclaimed but that didnt reflect in their album sales at the time. Do you worry about album sales when youre trying to bring that type of music back to the forefront?
Joell Ortiz: Marketing sells these albums. A lot of these underground albums are way better than the major releases. They have skill, lyricism, and cohesiveness to them. The albums just need to be pushed. A lot of these major albums are just as many singles that can be put together on a record. Im just going to do what I do and let it take its course. Im going to let the fans decide what happens with this record because word of mouth is a motherf**ker.