When preparing to meet a legend, we’re never quite sure what to expect. On the one hand, we tend to be nervous. After all, here is someone who’s found a way to not only outlive their peers, in whatever arena they might operate, but who’s also done so well in their field as to stand out, be noticed, and inspire an entire generation, if not two. Add to that the fact that these are Hip-Hop legends, and panic may ensue. Rappers are not really known for their humility.
But legends, living legends in particular, rarely place themselves on a pedestal. And Eightball and MJG are no exception to that rule. The Memphis duo has consistently released an album almost each year for the past 10 years. While the music industry lived out it’s on again, off again, relationship with the South, they’ve remained on the grind, forging the way for everyone from Master P to T.I.
In the process, their music brings you home. After having developed their brand of “space-age pimpin,” Ball & G seem to make music that is left up to listener to interpret. They’re not forcing anything on you. They’re not suggesting you go into a life of crime. They’re just telling you what their lives were like. “At the end of the day, “ says MJG, “whether the day was good or bad or whatever, this our outlet right now.”
And this is exactly what you get when an MC is in the game for the love of the music. When 8Ball and MJG released their first album, 1993’s Comin’ Out Hard, there was no MTV Cribs and platinum plaques were not an expectation rappers had to deal with. But perhaps that actual climate is what limited their success and led to a mainstream recognition ten years in the making. As 8Ball sees it, “Everything happen for a reason, I guess. We just did what we did, it’s just looked at like that now. But it wasn’t looked at like that then, cuz everybody was really finding they place –the South, the East, the West – at one time. We get something, we love it for a minute, and then we want something else. That’s just how everything been. You know this same Southern explosion has happened time over again, this just another time in history.”
That Southern explosion has definitely returned. Heralded by Lil’ Jon crunk-mania, label’s are now scrambling for a piece of the Dirty. Bad Boy Records is no different. Two years before the infatuation with crunk music truly took hold, the label snatched up 8Ball and MJG in a surprising, if not baffling, power move. First we wondered how such a marriage could occur. For one executive at Bad Boy, it seemingly makes perfect sense: “8Ball and MJG are to down South what Biggie was to New York and what Tupac was to the West Coast.” For Ball and G themselves, the recognition of their worth is just an added bonus. Their original motivation was simply their music.
AllHipHop.com: Now, I read an interview that you did right after signing with Bad Boy, and you were talking about the freedom and the creative control. So now two years later, is that working out the way that you had expected it to?
MJG: Yeah. Pretty much. We picked whatever we wanna to be on, came up with our own concept, and you know, went our own direction with each song.
AllHipHop.com: Everybody’s heard stories, everybody knows, it’s been very publicized of the artists that weren’t happy with Bad Boy. Is that something that you were worried about coming into the situation?
8Ball: Not really, I mean we kinda came in and kinda stated everything that we really wanted to happen. And that’s why we here.
Creative control and recognition of talent is exactly what was missing with each of 8Ball and MJG’s last to label homes, Suave House and JCOR. With Suave, explains MJG, “We didn’t have any control over business or nothing like that. And we were the first and ever artists on the label to go nationwide with it. So we were like their artists to even make the label to be a label. But, we didn’t have equal share of it like that. And, we just had to move on.” JCOR, on the other hand, was presented with what may have actually been one of the most slept on albums of the South: 2000’s Space Age 4 Eva. Yet the album’s sales came no where close to the critical acclaim it received. “[JCOR] was making a lot of wrong decisions on the promotional side, on the marketing side,” says 8Ball of the mistakes made with the classical album. “Then a lot of the background stuff that they was doing, like a lot of the other things that they was doing was taking away from what they shoulda been doing with us. And then you know like, you get this bum rap in the “industry” because you miss a couple of interviews and s###, for reasons that people think… People think just because they see us smoking weed all the time or we look like we high all the time, that’s what we doin’ all the time. They didn’t really understand that a lot of the s### we was missing was because of life going on. And they kinda gave us a bum rap on that, and really didn’t get behind us like they should’ve. They didn’t know what they had.”
So now the only question left is that of the music that will come from the marriage of 8Ball & MJG, Memphis Pioneers, and Bad Boy Records, home of Making the Band and creating the artist. “Now we trying to really drill it into Bad Boy, Universal already know,” continues 8Ball. “If we get the same promotions and marketing, and the push that the average group that they sign get, the proof is in the pudding: they’ll see what we supposed to do.” And the music is speaking for itself indeed. Advance cuts from the duo’s Bad Boy debut, Living Legends (scheduled for a May 11 release) show 8Ball & MJG in top form. And the video for the first single “You Don’t Want Drama,” proves that they’ll have P. Diddy throwin’ ‘bows way before he can get Ball & G fitted for shiny suits.
And if the title’s swagger has you a little skeptical: says 8Ball, “It was kinda given to us. We just heard it so much and the staff who was working with us at Bad Boy was just like, ‘that’ll be a perfect title.’” Asked how he feels under the weight of such a title, MJG replies, “At this point in time, I would rather be a living legend than a dead one.”