Joell Ortiz: The People's Champ

“I was probably your co-worker or your classmate, I need people to understand that,” says Brooklyn rap wunderkind Joell Ortiz. “I just write rhymes.” Far from the average Joe, don’t mistake the former Aftermath Records signee’s humility for weakness on the mic. Lyrically, he does this, with the endless number of blistering freestyles or his indie album (2007’s The Brick (Bodega Chronicles)) or choice song placement ("Hip Hop Remix" f/ Saigon & Jadakiss on Grand Theft Auto IV), a testament to Ortiz’ hustle. Ortiz recently dropped the Brooklyn Bomber mixtape with DJ Nice & Legend, a collection of the Boricua rhyme slinger's choice cuts and freestyles. The witty yet introspective MC’s growing legion of fans can look forward to his new album, Free Agent, in October (he plans on using part of the proceeds to donate computers to community centers in his 'hood).Right now, pay heed to his plans on securing his rap rep by wearing out "rewind" buttons...or icons. Palabra. It seems like lately you’ve been ramping up your output of music, why is that?Joell Ortiz: I’m happy. [laughs] I’m a free agent. I’m hot. My buzz is up. I’m on good terms with Dr. Dre even though I’m not there as an artist anymore. I’m just feeling good. The summer’s here. I got a Free Agent album coming out in October. I’m doing a lot more writing and I’m letting people know Joell Ortiz is coming.[Joell Ortiz "Summertime In Brooklyn"] How are you putting out this Free Agent project, independently?Joell Ortiz: I’m definitely going independent, I’m talking about super independent. To let somebody [else] possess something is ridiculous. I’m going like straight to the barbershop. I’m going straight out the bookbag. I’m keeping it 100. I’m going online. I’m really going directly at my fanbase. Everybody is going to be quite pleasured when they hear this record, it’s ridiculous yo.

“It wasn’t no bad terms thing. It was a release date issue. That’s the only reason I’m not there [Aftermath]. No droppage, none of that stuff, that’s all nonsense.” Was it a long process to get off Aftermath? For a moment there it seemed like you were unsure what was going on.Joell Ortiz: Nah, what happened was…ya know, Dre didn’t want to release me. Not on some bad terms s**t, [he] was happy that I was there. But it was me pushing. Ya know, I came in with the XXL cover, and BET, all on the strength. I’m just asking for a [release] date. I’m turning in hot record after hot record. And he’s like, Just let me get this Detox out and another Slim album and don’t worry. I couldn’t wait. It was more like, “Dag dude, I got big plans for you.” But I want to come out when I want to. It’s not like I’m asking for you to do something major for somebody that’s not working hard. I’m making this easy, let’s just do it. People are expecting this, it’s going to be a great album, I’m happy I don’t want to be anywhere else but right here, let’s do it. It was just procrastination on a release date, that’s all. But after a while he just was like, “Ya know what man, go ahead, do what you gotta do.”[Dr. Dre] respected it, I thank him for letting me go. I learned a lot from being over there. Now I’m free, the album is coming out in October and everything is cool. So it wasn’t no bad terms thing. It was a release date issue. That’s the only reason I’m not there. No droppage, none of that stuff, that’s all nonsense. "Letter To Obama" So you weren’t trying to play the waiting and waiting game?Joell Ortiz: I just didn’t want to hold on man. You’re window of opportunity open for a little while. So I’m jumping through right now head In your words, what would you say is your position in this Hip-Hop world?Joell Ortiz: I’ve gotten so many different things…I’ll let the fans talk. If you ask me to answer it, I just like to write rhymes and try to be better than other dudes on beats. I treat it like a big cipher and then when it’s my go I want dudes to go, “Ooh, that n***a ripped it.” That’s all I do.The fans say I’m some sort of hope for it to go back to what it used to be. But at the end of the day I just write rhymes and spit them like the people I was fans of. I come from that early 90s era, that’s what I was listening to. I had the purple tape and Smif N Wessun’s The Shining and the Big L joint, and Capital Punishment and Illmatic, I came from that, so I was a fan of that. So of course all those kind of guys and flows and rhymes and concepts influenced my pen. So I write like that, that’s how it comes out. If I remind you of that era, that’s why. Man I’m flattered by some of the nicknames I get man. Hopefully I can get it back to where dudes is just rhyming hard again. I ain’t knocking dudes that ain’t rhyming like that cause we all come from the same place and however you gon’ get it, go ahead and get it. We all was poverty stricken more than likely. I just want to get that feeling back man; when you pressed the rewind button because dude said something hot. [Joell Ortiz "Purple Tape Tribute"] Since you first hit the scene as this young hot new rapper out of BK, what has surprised you most about the music business?Joell Ortiz: We’re definitely in a business that constantly, constantly, I have to say constantly again, constantly overlooks talent. It’s so much more stuff that’s destroying talent right now. Like, you don’t look quite right to go out yet. Let’s see how we’re going to dress you. Who are we going to target?When I was 11 years old and I was in a cipher in front of my building in Brooklyn and I wanted to be a rapper, I didn’t know this is what it took. [laughs] I thought you just had to be nice and you go out and you try to get a record deal and here we go. It is so not like that. It’s so many other reasons that keep some of the best people from going out, yo. And it’s sad as a fan of music. I’ma make sure that I learn another thing; and that’s how good it’s going to feel to succeed after all this hardship. I’ma go harder than I ever went before. I promised myself and all my What you still consider a major label situation?Joell Ortiz: I ain’t wiping it out of my mind. I’m not completely saying it’s not happening. Things definitely would have to shift. Things would have to be right, not even [just] money. They would have to believe in me like my team believes in me. Everything would have to be falling in right. Timing, I would need a date immediately [laughs]. I ain’t etching it out,It’s possible but right now I can only focus on one thing and that’s the Free Agent album. It’s dropping in the second week of October I believe, and it’s fire. I got a couple of people on it man, I got Erick Sermon on it, I got Fat Joe on there, Joe Budden… If you see I got the relevant “free agents” on it, ya feel me, and that’s the theme of the How far along is it at this point?Joell Ortiz: Man, I can sit here and tell you it’s done but if I drop the fourteenth, I might turn the record in the thirteenth [laughs]. I work ‘til the whistle so until it go out it ain’t done. How often are you recording, what your typical day?Joell Ortiz: Joell Ortiz’ day is wake up, go jog, try and get the gut down. Not for the industry, for me yo! Just try and get it down and maybe try and pull a couple of ladies. [laughs] I jog, I come home I write, I’m in the studio from 12 until. Don’t make me seem like a Superman, I’m not in there always writing. It’s producers coming through, feeling beats [out], me correcting songs, re-writing, sometimes I’m doing new joints but I’m always in the studio now and I love it. I’m in a zone.

“Feed off the hate and the positivity and use it all as fuel to burn past as may people as you can and just keep doing what you do.” How different is your life now since you made the decision to go hard with the MCing?Joell Ortiz: The first thing that feels better is my spirit, real talk. I’m high spirited right now. Regardless, even though they can say he didn’t quite come out on Aftermath and that was the big thing…yo, a Puerto Rican kid from Brooklyn was in the studio with Dre man. It didn’t settle in when I signed the deal. It took me to come back to New York to be like, “Oh s**t, I’m on f**king Aftermath yo!” There’s still a hidden wall up for Puerto Rican’s, ya feel me? It’s still like, dude is nice, for a Puerto Rican. I overcame so many different obstacles that my spirit went up like you know what man…feed off the hate and the positivity and use it all as fuel to burn past as may people as you can and just keep doing what you do. I met so many good people that I wouldn’t have met. I flew—I’d never been on a plane—I flew all over the world doing shows. Rapping was the best decision I could make in my life and I thank God for that. I wouldn’t want my life to fall any other way than it did. You’ve always gotten really personal in your music, so how did your mom kicking her drug habit effect you?Joell Ortiz: Man that was beautiful. If y’all listen to my music, whoever’s going to read this or whatever, y’all know that Joell Ortiz takes you right inside my crib with my pen. I want people to know…me, all the way me. That’s why I don’t have a stage name. I don’t turn into some guy. The same guy that you hear rhyming, is the same guy that’s you’ll see on the street, is the same guy on stage when the cameras is on and off. I was probably your co-worker or your classmate, I need people to understand that. I just write rhymes. Comes say what up to me, please pass me beats, yo, it’s alright man. I’m just like y’all. I rhyme for y’all. My situation; many people can relate to, I need them to know they’re not alone in it and you can do something. I had scholarship offers, I ain’t going away because of my mom. I had a whole bunch of different things presenting themselves to me and deans and people at school saying, You have to live your life, she chose hers. Just me being from the hood and it was only us two, I’m like forget about it, I ain’t leaving. I need people to understand that wasn’t such a hard decision as it sounds. At the end you come and it’s like, “God damn it, I ain’t leaving, she gotta get off this.” When she did…dude, we still cut a cake for the day she quit yo. Now she see her son running around on say BET Awards and all these thing, it just feels really good. I let y’all peek in to let y’all know that y’all can do it. And please don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. [Joell Ortiz "Memories"] It seems like dedication like your describing is missing in the music.Joell Ortiz: You ain’t lying. I told you I would never hate, I’m not a hater, I never been. But there’s so many people benefiting and making a whole lot of money and you don’t even know who they are. People just coming out of left field like, what? Alright cool, I guess so man. That’s how I be feeling sometime, “I guess so. More power to you. I’m glad you got the blessing.” But yo, it’s a lot of people that I bump into in these underground venues with so much substance that they’re talking about and people are rooting them on. Sometimes you just be like damn, People are coming out of left field…am I doing something wrong? Then you just gotta double back and be like, Nah. The route I’m taking is forever. I went to Europe and dudes was quoting The Brick line for line. I was like, What the hell?! This is nuts! This might be the longer route, but this is the stronger route, and I’m happy.Check out Joell Ortiz's new music video "Letter To Obama."Peep and in his words, “Y’all going to get to know Joell Ortiz the person if you log on to the site.”