Merlino: Legal Hustle

While keeping it gangsta isn’t a priority on Merlino’s agenda, he’d probably find it a lot easier than many of his Hip-Hop peers. His family had involvement with La Costra Nostra, one of history’s most notorious organized crime families. The Merlino legacy goes beyond Philadelphia street stories—the Merlinos are documented in The Last Gangster: A […]

While keeping it gangsta isn’t a priority on Merlino’s agenda, he’d probably find it a lot easier than many of his Hip-Hop peers. His family had involvement with La Costra Nostra, one of history’s most notorious organized crime families. The Merlino legacy goes beyond Philadelphia street stories—the Merlinos are documented in The Last Gangster: A Documentary About Mobster-Turned-FBI Informant Ron Previte by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter George Anastasia’s

Merlino would rather go down in hip-hop history books. His Whodini cover, “I’m A Hoe,” is making a buzz throughout Philly, and his Tommy Boy-distributed debut, Done Deal, boasts high-profile collaborators such as Carl Thomas, Roscoe P. Coldchain, and fellow Philadelphian, Cassidy. But similar to his individuality from the family business, Merlino wants to establish his own reputation. In a candid interview with, Merlino remembers old school Hip-Hop, compares commercialized and true life organized crime, and forges his own path. You covered Whodini with your first single, “I’m A Hoe.” What made you decide to use this sample?

Merlino: We did a bunch of tracks, and that was one of them. When we took it to Tommy Boy, the dude that breaks videos—he’s broke a lot of shock artists, he broke Lil’ Jon, Gucci Mane, and he broke Run-DMC when they first came out—he was saying that the South is winning right now. “I’m A Hoe” was something old that everybody used to rock to. The way that we did it, it’s catchy and it’s got a South feeling to it, but it’s something that everybody should know, whether they’re old or new school. My publicist has me hooking up with Whodini, we’re doing a show in Connecticut. I’m looking forward to that. They’re confirming it right now as we speak. He’s doing the original, and I’m going to come out while he’s onstage and do my version of it. It’s something that’s controversial, and it’s something that’ll stick in peoples’ heads, no matter how they take it. They can take it the wrong way, or the way that I’m trying to get it across. I’m not trying to use “I’m A Hoe” dissing females; you have to really understand where I’m coming from with the song. From where is that?

Merlino: I’m letting them know, “I’m a hoe too.” Guys can be hoes too. If you’re after the hype, after that money, if you’re chasing a s### – you’re a hoe, bottom line. You don’t have to go sleep with somebody, or f**k that b*tch, or that dude, or whatever you’ve got to do. If you’re after the hype regardless, you’re a hoe—and that’s the point I’m trying to get across in the song. Now let’s get into your family history a little bit. What does the name “Merlino” mean to Philly?

Merlino: “Merlino” has been around since the early 80’s, since my grandfather and my uncle. It is what it is. It’s real. There’s no fiction involved—you’ve got the old school gangstas, and you’ve got my cousin Joey, who’s my uncle Sonny’s son, who was in the 90’s up through the 2000’s—he got locked up in ’99, he got a 14-year joint. Every Thanksgiving, we were in the big trucks all around Philly giving out turkeys and dinners to the people who couldn’t afford Thanksgiving dinners. We’d be in the freezing cold every Thanksgiving, and we put together something for the kids with Allen Iverson every Christmas, giving out gifts. People know him for that. Philly’s got a lot of love for the name period, so that’s why I’m sticking with it. I’m also sticking with it because their involvement with the mob and with La Costra Nostra hurt the legitimate side of the family. Every family’s got a legit side, and a side that does their dirt. And it still is hurting—it’s hurting them when they try to get jobs, it’s hurting them when they try to get work. I don’t need to be a gangsta to prove to somebody who I am. That’s what they got into, that’s my family. They’re all still alive, but that’s not me. I just make feel-good music for the people so they know who I am, but at the same time, let them know my story and my past, just like everybody else. My Rap name’s not Gotti, and it’s not Capone—that’s not me. I am who I am, and I’m talking about what the family was about, and that was that. How old were you when all of this was going down?

Merlino: It’s been going on my whole life until I was about 13. Some of it is still going on today, because there are still numbers of it that were involved with my family that aren’t in jail, still doing what they do. So the name is still floating around. My uncle Sunny has been in jail since ’84, he’s about to get out. He was the one who was really sick with it. So when gets out, it’s not ‘gon be nice. It’s a real story to tell. I’m like, “Here’s my story: tell me what you think.” Here’s what I did for the people, I always try to help. How do you think all of what you went through compares to the gangster movies that are so loved and praised by Hip-Hop heads?

Merlino: The Sopranos is something we always watch as a family. We laugh because we like it, and because it’s fiction, it’s a script that somebody wrote. We could really have a real script about the life [of the Merlino family] from here to now, and people would watch it. It’s the direction that I’m going to take it. I’m not trying to give people the wrong impression, or make people feel like they have to back away. I’m just letting people know that this is real, it’s not that TV s**t. Capone from C-N-N told us that he believes that the Hip-Hop police exist because since the actual Italian mafia has declined, that the police go after modern-day “mafiosos,” like rappers. Having seen both sides, how would you respond to that?

Merlino: I definitely feel that. The mob nowadays is more flashy and into fashion than it was old school. People aren’t going to be like Gotti no more, or my grandfather, when they were just keeping it gangsta. They were getting their money, and they were into being low-key. They didn’t want to be seen, they didn’t want people to know who they were. Now, people want to be seen. As soon as they get the money, they do this, they do that. They aren’t worried about that as much, because there’s not as much of that going on right now. There aren’t crime families going into that s**t like they used to, they’re just living it up. The cops ain’t got nothing to do. I feel Capone on that. I think that’s where they generated the Hip-Hop police. You’re a descendent in a mob family trying to rap. Growing Up Gotti comes to mind. How do you feel about that?

Merlino: It seems too fake to me. Not saying that they’re fake, but they could go about doing the show better. It’s not telling a story—it’s showing that they have this nice house, and their last name’s Gotti. Nobody’s going to the Genoviche family trying to find their grandkids, and they’re bigger than the Gotti’s. Going back to Philly, Cassidy got arrested recently. How do you feel about that?

Merlino: It’s tough, that’s my man. I have a relationship with him. I knew his manager, I knew the whole circle, and it was tough because they were looking out for me with a lot of stuff. And Cass himself is a cool dude. And it’s tough, because you’re in a bubble. Your second album is about to drop, you’ve got a crazy single on the streets, you’re getting crazy airplay, and it’s like, what the hell happened, dog? It hurts your heart more than your mind, it’s like, what’s the point? I don’t know if he was involved or not, I just know that I’m supporting him, I’m behind him. I know his family, his cousins and a lot of his close friends. So what can we expect from Done Deal?

Merlino: I tried to make every song a single. Now, my album is so well-rounded, with doing it so well with nobody helping me, I really think I’m going to earn a lot of respect off of it. Just from being Italian, and doing it with a little budget behind me, as far as getting decent producers and a couple artists on there, it’s a really well-rounded album. As far as A-list artists, I’m trying to hook up with Trina right now, I want her to do the remix with me for “I’m A Hoe.” I know how Trina gets down, and she knows a couple of my partners, so they’re hooking that up right now. As we speak, I’ve got a song produced by Redhead Kingpin. As far as songs done already, I did a joint with Cassidy, a joint with Roscoe P. Coldchain, I just did a joint last month with Carl Thomas, my man Big Bub hooked me up with him, we went to Jersey and went to his crib. The song was crack. I’m working with people and filling everybody out, but I don’t want people to think that I need all these A-list artists on my album. I don’t need that. What’s it like to be restoring Tommy Boy, who has such an eclectic history with Hip-Hop?

Merlino: It feels good, because Tom Silverman loves Hip-Hop. He’s a Jewish dude, but he knows about the entertainment business, he’s been in it for years. He’s expanding Tommy Boy, and he doesn’t just look at me as an artist, he looks at me as an all-around entertainer. I can take you to the movies, I can do the TV series like I said. I was like, “Tom, I don’t want to just do an album, I want to do all of this. I’ma do it on my own eventually, but if you want to be a part of it, let’s rock.” He started throwing ideas at me, and we came together with everything. I’ve got a straight distribution deal with Tommy Boy, so they’re putting it everywhere in North America, and we’re trying to take it to the next level.