AllHipHop Presents: "10 Steps to NOME X" featuring Tsu Surf
Kershaw St. Jawnson
NOME X will be Tsu Surf’s swan song.
Battle rap fans have seen it coming for years, hoping in their spirits that the thrill of Summer Madnesses and NOMEs could keep him with us, but alas there is a bigger world calling his name. Tsunami Surf has finally tapped into that next level of magic and this weekend’s contest against Loaded Lux will be the most dynamic way to say “goodbye” to a culture that has launched his career.
AllHipHop: What made you want to be a rapper?
Tsu Surf: I have always loved rap music. My Pops used to always ride around playing Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel. I always wanted to rap since I was little. My mother brought me a karaoke machine. I used to make tapes when I was nine and in my eighth-grade yearbook, it says “rapper” where it says career of choice.
Tsu Surf: That’s all I have ever done. I have never had a job in my life.
AllHipHop: When did you realize you could actually rap?
Tsu Surf: When I started. I have always been the best. I was the best in my elementary school. I have never been in a place where I was not the best. Whether that is from being incarcerated or being in URL ... to being the best in school, in business, all the state facilities, I am just used to being one of the best.
AllHipHop: Is that a part of your character? Do you always strive for excellence?
Tsu Surf: When it comes to business, I just carry myself a certain kind of way. You are only worth what you act like and how you carry yourself. When it comes down to how I handle my business, I treat it as an upper-echelon quality, because that is what it is.
AllHipHop: Have you always looked at you rapping as a business or a love?
Tsu Surf: Everybody starts with the love first. Whether it is basketball or anything else. When you are a kid (13 or 14) you are thinking about the NBA but it is not business yet. Once you get to 17, 18, 19, you start to grow up you realize it is a business. That love can turn into money.
AllHipHop: You were a student-athlete also, right?
Tsu Surf: Yes, I played ball but the streets kind of took a forefront to that.
AllHipHop: Did you love ball more than you loved rap?
Tsu Surf: With all my heart. I probably loved it second after rap.
AllHipHop: Could basketball have been a career choice for you?
Tsu Surf: Anybody would say that. I am nowhere near the basketball player I am a rapper. If it could have been, well “yeah.” But it was not like I had the choice to go to the NBA or URL.
AllHipHop: You did go to college with a basketball scholarship?
Tsu Surf: Yes. I played college ball. I went to school for basketball.
AllHipHop: When you look at the art of emceeing, what parallels can you make with basketball?
Tsu Surf: A lot. Business. How you conduct yourself in interviews. Everything is like basketball. When it comes to writing rhymes for a battle, that is like rinse and repeat. It is like getting your jump shot. You just go over and over and over again until you get it. And realistically, you never really got it. And as long as you keep writing, you just get better.
In regards to business, rapping is like basketball because it is about the brand. Lebron James, Kevin Durant —what you say and how you say it — the way you look and the way you conduct yourself — the things you associate yourself with can affect your stock, not just what you are rapping about. The same thing can be said about basketball. Like basketball is bigger than just being able to play basketball.
There are also social levels that you can connect with basketball. You have the top that f*ck with each other and you have the top who are lone wolves but they are still the top.
AllHipHop: If you were to look at URL as the NBA, name which rappers remind you of which ballers.
Tsu Surf: K-Shine would be like a Lilly Steph Curry type, like one of the best guards in the league. Arsonal would be like someone that would dunk on you, super disrespectful. Hitman Holla is like Kevin Durant with his star power and skill level. Tay Roc is like a Paul George. He is a superstar and will always get a job. He is super-elite and I still don’t think people know how great he is.
AllHipHop: Where did you develop your leadership skills?
Tsu Surf: I was born like that. If I am going to do something, I want to be in control of it. I want to head it. When I think of leadership, I think of team and I think of people being on your team. I just trust myself not to let us down. I feel like if I got the gun, I feel like we are safe. I step up and be the leader out of protection purposes.
AllHipHop: When was the first time you saw a SMACK DVD?
Tsu Surf: I used to live down the street from this chicken shack. My Pops used to send me down there to get food and one day he had given me a little extra money than I needed and I just grabbed the DVD. I said, ‘Dad, I grab this DVD.’ Mook and Party Arty were at the end of it. I was like ‘Oh, they got battles at the end of the DVDs’ I used to try and collect this all.
AllHipHop: What was it like when you first saw it?
Tsu Surf: It was exhilarating. I was super excited.
AllHipHop: How did you decide to get into battle rap?
Tsu Surf: I got incarcerated at 18. I did like a year. I came home and saw this battle rap thing happening. The first battle from the new generation, I saw was Arsonal and Conceited. I was more focused on music and rapping, but there was a guy having a battle league and he reached out to me to perform at it. He said, ‘I am gonna have some battles and you can perform between them’ I agreed. The day before he called me and told me that we did not have the permit to the spot and so we can’t do it anymore. But if you want to battle you can battle. I was like ‘whatever.’ Then he gave me the address and it was just around the corner from my house and it was in somebody’s garage.
AllHipHop: When you walked in were you prepared?
Tsu Surf: I am always prepared, even when I am not prepared. As far as life goes, proper preparation prevents poor performance. Nine chances out of ten when something happens you are not prepared for it. I wasn’t ready to get shot, but I was prepared that it could possibly happen. That just in life. You just have to be prepared for shit, even when you are not prepared for it.
AllHipHop: You walked in as someone who had never battled, but you had seen battle rap…
Tsu Surf: I kinda did battle before like over the lunch tables with beats on. I was like the only person in my high school that was better than me was O-Red.
AllHipHop: You went to school with O-Red?
Tsu Surf: Yeah, he was a sophomore and I was a freshman. They used to talk about this sophomore, but we had two different lunch periods. So out lunch periods kind of saved us from each other. He would also be hearing about this freshman that was wilding.
AllHipHop: Could you beat O-Red back then?
Tsu Surf: No. I probably can’t beat O-Red now.
AllHipHop: That is what is admirable about the Jersey rappers, you have a fraternity. Who created that spirit?
Tsu Surf: Jersey niggas are just bred like that. So it wasn’t something that we had to discuss. All of us are from different hoods and I am watching Ars do his thing and he is watching me do my thing. We watched Suge and then O-Red. As we started communicating, we decided that we ain’t taking no shorts. We kinda self-proclaimed who Team Jersey was and it was whoever we accept is who we are accepting.
AllHipHop: Do you accept all rappers from New Jersey?
Tsu Surf: Nah. There are some wack n*ggas that come up from Jersey but never made it in the click. You definitely have to prove yourself. Twork just recently got inducted. It is like an unsaid thing. Like Ars wants to win for Arsonal. I want to win for me. Suge wants to win for Suge. But we all got this connection with New Jersey.
AllHipHop: What are the lessons that you carry with you as a rapper from the streets and from being incarcerated?
Tsu Surf: There is nothing more important in your life than family. You make a lot of irrational decisions ripping and running the streets, but at the same time (Lord willing) if you survive the streets you kind of have all the tools you need for anything. Especially with the business. The business is easy because you go through it in the streets so much. If you can handle the street business you can handle this paperwork and these people who are actually just trying to help you get money (or get money off you).
AllHipHop: Is it difficult sometimes to know that you are a commodity and people are trying to get money off of you?
Tsu Surf: Yes, it is very difficult. Super difficult.
AllHipHop: You are a superstar, undeniable. How do you balance being a commercial rapper as well as being a battle rapper?
Tsu Surf: I don’t balance well. That’s why I am about to stop. It is dope that I get the type of respect that I do for my battles and my tapes, the quality of them. But I am still not giving a 100% to either. In reality, I can’t properly get ready for Lux while I am trying to put out a tape that is going to chart on iTunes. My tape peaked at number 5, maybe it would have hit number 1 if I was not getting ready for Lux.
Maybe I would be more prepared than I am now if I wasn’t getting ready for a tape. Anything is possible, but I don’t think I balance. Being as though, I am so talented I can do both. But if you ask me, we should do both. I think you should conquer one and then focus on the other.
That’s what people get mad at me about. I don’t want to just be a Jack of all Trades. I don’t want to win every battle.
AllHipHop: How important is it to win a battle or curate a battle?
Tsu Surf: For the last six months or year, they have been talking about me and Loaded Lux (one of the biggest names in battle rap). Me and him battling have a shorter lifespan than the buildup. If you are not putting into the sh*t talking and the buildup then you are really missing out on what is really making you the money.
AllHipHop: How long have you wanted to battle Lux?
Tsu Surf: I don’t really want to battle Lux. It just makes sense. I never really want to battle anyone, but if a n*gga at the forefront of the situation.
AllHipHop: You never wanted to battle anyone?
Tsu Surf: I wanted to battle K-Shine. I wanted to battle Hitman. But that’s about it.
AllHipHop: This really is strategy for you?
Tsu Surf: Yeah.
AllHipHop: When you are promoting your battles and doing your face-offs is that fun for you?
Tsu Surf: That is exactly what it is? I did my job already. It doesn’t matter how good the battle with Lux turns out, at this point they are going to talk about it. Whether I beat him or he beats me, they are going to talk about it. Once the battle is booked, I’ve done my job. Surf losing is bigger than some of these n*ggas winning.
AllHipHop: Have you ever lost?
Tsu Surf: Yeah. Everybody loses. That is why I am here. If I didn’t lose, I wouldn’t be here right now.
AllHipHop: Who is your most difficult opponent?
Tsu Surf: Me. I am only battling myself. There is nobody that can say anything. It has already been proven that I am one of the best rappers in America, in the world. At this point, it is like what can I do more. If I am doing X million views on a freestyle, what can I do to get 12 million views? What can I do to go from 7 million views in a battle to get to 12 million views. I am battling myself. Beating Lux is no different than beating Mook or DNA. These n*ggas are professional battle rappers, a win is a win is a win.
AllHipHop: Do you love battle rap?
Tsu Surf: No. I don’t love what battle rap is today. It is just not battle rap. Battle rap is us meeting up and me spitting my best shit and you spitting yours. We just battle it out, whether it is freestyle or not. This is just entertainment. This is a production. This is a show. This is TV.
AllHipHop: And if this is a show, you would rather be the producer?
Tsu Surf: Yes.
It takes me three months to prepare properly for what I want to do. You got these battle rappers that take battles in a week or two … but that is why sh*t turns out like they do. So it takes me three to five months for me to prepare the way I like to prepare … in that time I could have put out a tape, got twenty-two features, did fifty shows, and wrote a book. The time doesn’t really add up anymore.
AllHipHop: What is the most important thing to you?
Tsu Surf: My daughter.
AllHipHop: When you think about legacy and passing something one … is she why you go so hard?
Tsu Surf: I think I go hard because I have to … daughter or not. I have no choice. People depend on me. My legacy is pretty much solidified in battle rap. Battle rap is like anything. Think about skating. You might say, ‘Who the f*ck skates?’ But if I take you to Cascades in Atlanta on a Thursday night, you will realize it is a whole world. You have bike riders. Motorcycles. So many subcultures. Battle rap is a whole world and I have conquered it. So it is really hard for me to give my all to a place that I run lapse around.
That’s why I used to get in trouble in class because I used to finish my work so fast. Being as though, I know I am better. I feel I am better. It is hard for me to perform at the level that I want to perform because it doesn’t intrigue me anymore.
But music … I haven’t done anything so my mind is still intrigued. I still work at a fast pace to figure out why I am not where I am supposed to be where I need to be. I want to be in music the way that I conquered being in battle rap.
AllHipHop: Is this value in beating Lux?
Tsu Surf: Remember what I said about the skating world? It is like beating Sweetness. If I am not into skating … It doesn't matter. It really is about how much does this battle rap sh*t matter to you.
AllHipHop: Do you see yourself as a model (artist or businessman) for the generation after you?
Tsu Surf: Yes. I am going to open up a battle rap record label. So I can prove a point and show that my artists are better battle rappers than others. Look at the quality battle rappers that I am producing. It will be no different than being signed to a label. I will book your battles. Promo your battles and make you the type of artist you were meant to be.
AllHipHop: NOME X … are you going to kill Lux so bad that he just retires?
Tsu Surf: I doubt it. Because Lux is in the space that I am in. Lux is Lux. Grey hoodie or not. But guess what … Surf is Surf.
The Newark rapper is right about that. Surf is Surf and battle rap will never see another one of him.