Hip-Hop has seen many ups and downs over the past several decades, but with a new unity and camaraderie forming in the Big Apple, a ton of new artists have been working together, supporting each other and creating some incredible music with hopes of bringing the focus back to the place where Hip-Hop was essentially born.
Along with a new crop of aspiring MCs whose work ethic is comparable to artists in the past, Maffew Ragazino is one of the standout lyricists from the new stable of "New York's finest." The Brooklyn born, Brownsville native, released one of 2011's most accomplished, well-rounded, and introspective projects with Rhyme Pays and is continuing to become a better artist and all around man with each passing second. A sentiment that his music certainly reflects.
AllHipHop.com spent some time talking to Mr. Ragazino about his come-up, the monstrous "Home Team" record that dropped recently, what it meant to get a co-sign from DJ Premier, and how he plans to follow up his critically acclaimed 2011 project Rhyme Pays:
AllHipHop.com: First things first, I have to ask about this “Home Team” record that dropped recently with you [Action] Bronson, Troy Ave, and [Mr. MFN] eXquire. How did the song come together?
Maffew Ragazino: Oh, man, I got an invite to this studio out in Queens, and I met DJ Unique like a week prior to that at eXquire’s “Lou Ferrigno’s Mad” video shoot in Brooklyn. He got me on that joint, and we chopped it up for a little while and ran down his credentials. He said he wanted to hear my work, so I sent him a link and my number in an e-mail, and he hit me back that same evening and said my music was incredible and that he was digging the stuff.
He told me he thought my records were crazy and like, damn, he really did his homework, so I had mad respect for him that he actually kept his word. Long story short I get to the studio, I was the last one in there, and when ended up putting the record together. That was the only beat they were playing in the studio [laughs]. He told me he had mad beats. It ended up turning into a session just for one song.
AllHipHop.com: Well, the record is absolute fire. That is the kind of music that people need to be making and hearing. So I want to ask about this camaraderie that you new New York MCs have with each other. It wasn’t always like this, so give me a little insight into how you guys came together and are really bringing some much-needed attention back to New York?
Maffew Ragazino: I feel good, like I hear a lot of people talk about history and how some of our pioneers and people we look up to weren’t comrades, but I believe they were to some degree. But it’s more so not, it’s not like “we need unity in New York;” music doesn’t always have to do with us doing music together. It’s like, “I support you, 'cause we’re from the same place,” you know, “I see you all the time, we run into each other at these venues, I’m not trying to kick your building down,” you know what I’m saying?
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, I hear you.
Maffew Ragazino: That’s all that it’s about. We don’t ever have to do music together, but I’m going to respect what they do. They working hard, I see them, and I see them in passing, and I hear about them all the time so obviously they’re not slouching and being lazy. I respect that to the fullest, and I think it’s like that with everybody. We end up building and just go from there.
AllHipHop.com: Well, you just mentioned it’s not about the music, but luckily, you’re all dope lyricists, so it’s great that you support each other. Could that “Home Team” record just be the start for a project with all of you as a collective down the line?
Maffew Ragazino: You gotta ask those guys. I’m the type of person that, if it makes sense and we can make some dollars with it, then we can break bread. I’m not opposed to too much as long as it makes sense. It’s been getting a lot of love.
AllHipHop.com: And it's well-deserved. Well I of course want to hear your story so tell me about a little about your come-up musically.
Maffew Ragazino: I was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, raised in Brownsville. A lot of my influence is Brooklyn, New York artists some people that I’m actually in touch with right now like Sadat X, you know, I grew up on Brand Nubian. One of the records that kind of pushed me over the edge is “Slow Down,” and there is a part in the record where they’re like “head crack, head crack,” and I don’t know what it was about the record that was so magical to me.
I would sit and listen to it all the time, something about that record pushed me to start writing; that was in about ’97. I grew up in a household where you have parties, and everything would be centered around music. That stuck with me to this day; a lot of my influence comes from my home.
AllHipHop.com: Tell me about the music you were making before Rhyme Pays came out.
Maffew Ragazino: Before Rhyme Pays we go back into Rare Gems, a few unreleased records and a few that I had released to the blogs when I was trying to showcase my music and show them why I deserved to have my music showcased in the first place. At first they weren’t checking for me and said they weren’t feeling me or whatever the case may be, and one day something stuck and all the stars started to line up.
A lot of those records I just wanted to make sure everybody heard them, because sometimes people catch on late and somebody might hear “Home Team” because one of their favorite artists is on there and say, “Damn, I like Maffew Ragazino.”
Maffew Ragazino: So instead of them having to go sort back through everything, it’s good to have the music for them even if it’s not attached to an album or if somebody put it on something. That’s how Rare Gems: The Collection was put together.
The project prior to that, the Where I’m From EP, is like a little sampler because then I was nervous about the music industry, and I didn’t know how they were going to take to me, so I didn’t really want to release to much material and get sh*tted on per se. So it was seven songs of what I thought represented what I was trying to showcase and show the people that I’m taking this music serious, and I had concepts and hooks and different things like that. So I put the seven songs together and called it Where I’m From, and it was an experience. Masta Ace was on this track produced by Knottz who put that first record out, and it got such a great response that I started just releasing records like, “Hey, if you like that, then you might like this one right here.” It was crazy, man.
AllHipHop.com: What was going on even before that?
Maffew Ragazino: Up until that point, I was just really just doing freelance rap, and my uncle was doing different things. And my uncle, Sean Price, put me on his Kimbo Price mixtape, and prior to that in ’07, I was featured on Red Café and DJ Env’ys The Co-Op album, a lot of people don’t know about that. I was on two songs, “Invincible” and “Section 8".
AllHipHop.com: Well, obviously all the hard work is paying off; I like that you called yourself a freelance rapper.
Maffew Ragazino: Yeah, because I really didn’t have any direction of where I was going. I wasn’t really attached to any company. Now I have this company, Cash In Cash Out, with my partner Sha Banga. We’re an independent company, and we built this from the ground up and started in Brownsville and hopefully we end up in Hollywood and then maybe the Moon. Who knows? We definitely won’t stop, though.
AllHipHop.com: Marcy to Madison, Brownville to the Moon, I like that [laughter]. Moving on to Rhyme Pays, I want you to tell me about a project, which was one of last year’s greatest releases, period.
Maffew Ragazino: Is that what they’re saying? I appreciate anybody who says that man for real that means a lot; “greatest” is a strong word.
AllHipHop.com: If the people don’t believe me you even got the ultimate co-sign from DJ Premier who listed Rhyme Pays as the 14th “Greatest LP” of 2011. What does that mean?
Maffew Ragazino: You know, that’s one of the guys who is one of the best producers ever who told the world, told everybody that is influenced by him and follows what he does, the world, that I had one of the best LPs last year. No matter what number it was, just being on the list is like being anointed. To be a new guy and put in a forum like that is just amazing to me, because if somebody says that you had one of the best albums, that means they’re willing to take the flack for putting their stamp on that. That’s not something you just go out on a limb and say. People are invested in that, and it means a whole hell of a lot to me.
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, that must have been incredible for you to hear and see that.
Maffew Ragazino: I’m so thankful ‘cause I put everything I had into that project. I let me out for the sake of the Hip-Hop culture and I told stories about stuff that’s real and has everything to do with me. No second-hand smoke type of stories, it was all me. Rhyme Pays, that’s my journey.
AllHipHop.com: So then I have to ask, how do you follow-up Rhyme Pays?
Maffew Ragazino: Right now I’m working on the Rare Gems II: Black Gold mixtape. It’s going to be a home for some of the stuff I released before Rhyme Pays and after it. I’m creating a home for some of these records that were a handout. The way that this record is turning out so far, and I’m only like four or five records deep, is that it’s looking more like an album then a mixtape. I don’t know if there’s going to be any change with the names, I don’t want to take people by surprise or stray away from my brand.
AllHipHop.com: Elaborate on these ”gems” for me if you would.
Maffew Ragazino: I call my music “gems” because they’re all rare, and I feel like what I do is special. That’s how everybody should feel that makes music. Nobody do what I do. These are my gems, these are my precious gems and it’s. But I don’t think I'm going to stray away from the brand, so I may not change the name, but I think it’s going to be all original material.
AllHipHop.com: And where’s that “Jackson Pollack” record you did with Das Racist going to end up?
Maffew Ragazino: Oh, man, those are my homies. I was just in the studio with them and Harry Fraud about a week ago and we did some records. We’re going to work on a little EP but everybody’s schedule is so hectic and crazy with the touring and shows and working on other projects that it’s kind of crazy. You know, harry Fraud is working with French and everybody else, but that song may find a home one Rare Gems as well and we’re working on a video so you'll see a video soon for that.
AllHipHop.com: So let me get this straight, I heard you say you’re working on an EP with Da Racist?
Maffew Ragazino: Yeah something with like six or seven songs. We’re trying to get it finished before it’s time for everybody to get back on the road and if we can fit in some time between now and SXSW and a little bit afterwards, 'cause everybody’s working so hard, and we already have situation spending that we have deadlines to meet, so hopefully we can get it finish. We got some heat, though.
AllHipHop.com: That should be really interesting. Going back to Rare Gems 2 really quick, when can the fans expect to hear that project?
Maffew Ragazino: Honestly, I’m taking my time with it, because I think this concoction is a little bit more special than everything else, because not only does it come with more experience it comes with more of me as a man. Also, as an artist as well, but I’ve actually been fortunate enough to link back up with some different people that have very special production and different instruments and other things that are being implemented into the project, so it sounds like something really live. I got a couple of records with my man BINK! We got some heat, something special.
AllHipHop.com: Who else is contributing to Rare Gems 2?
Maffew Ragazino: Him, Harry Fraud, my in-house guys, everybody’s just stepping it up. Everybody wants to do better than they did before, and that hunger makes me want to step everything up. It’s going to be special, I swear.
AllHipHop.com: I’m taking your word for it until I can hear it myself.
Maffew Ragazino: God willingly, I’ll find someone who’s willing to trade and barter and work with us to help build the platform up, ‘cause more people need to be hearing this music. It needs to be exposed a little bit more than what it is now. I’m grateful for how it is and for being recognized by Premier and by XXL and by all these outlets checking me out, but there’s always room for improvement, so I just want to do better than I did before and get more exposure. More shows, music, everything.
AllHipHop.com: Is there anything else you want the fans and readers to know?
Maffew Ragazino: The fans need to definitely stay in tune. See me 'cause its going to be some of the most incredible music they ever heard, and if they think something was missing from the game, they definitely need to get your focus over here, 'cause I'm going to deliver it. That's a promise.
AllHipHop.com: I appreciate your time.
Maffew Ragazino: Thank you, man.
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