Joell Ortiz Interview

– You’ve been noticed now by heads for over the past year, year and half. Did the internet help you out exposure wise?
The internet was instrumental in my career. I was one of the first artists to write a journal on, kind of let the fans get the one on one and get a peek behind the scene to see what it’s like with the struggle to get a record deal. I got positive feedback when I used to give out freestyles, positive comments and stuff, a lot of exposure. I even got shows off the internet. So yeah the internet did a lot more than what mixtapes are doing for people. For me, you know what I’m saying? But without the internet I probably wouldn’t be in Amsterdam to be honest.

– The album, that got released on Koch records. It got big names on there, collaborations. Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, how did that come about?
Well, my man Mike, he knew Kool G Rap, he actually worked with him on his Rawkus project. When I met Kool G Rap, it was just like two hood dudes kickin’ it with some Hennessey to be honest. He raps, I rap, it was like a no brainer. Let’s just do some stuff. No problem. Kane sorta happened the same way. I was in the studio and Kane came by and he heard the Brooklyn record and he was like “This is crazy” and someone said “That’s Joell”. And he was like “Oh snap, yo what’s up man, I like your stuff” and he just laid the verse. He was like can I get on? And I was like say no more. Those are blessings cause you can’t pay for those kinda co-signatures. Especially those were dudes I looked up to when I was listening to music.

– What about the other collaboration with Smif-N-Wessun?
Oh yeah! Well that’s Brooklyn all day. Another group that inspired me, when I used to listen to music. We bumped heads at two or three underground venues and stuff. Couple of times shaking hands and all. So it happens that my director, this dude I had directing my videos independently, they reached out to him. And he directed one of their joints that they had. He was like “You know I work with Joell.” And they said “Joell Ortiz? Man that would be crazy to get him on this.” So we kicked it, I sent the stuff over, I did it and that’s how we got that done.

– “125 Grams”, one of your big songs. What was the thought behind that?
Well that approach from 125 Grams, I approached it like this. People are gonna get to know me. I don’t want them to just read about me, cause reading sometimes can be boring. So I wanted to rap it. I wanted to rap the story. I wanted to rap, “This is who Joell Ortiz is. Listen to it, and it rhymes and it’s hard.” I wanted to give dudes a story in a different way ya dig. I wanted it to be like; “Yo not only do I read about dude, dude just TOLD me about himself. You know, like I’m interested!” After that I was like, I might just well be doing this cause the feedback was so crazy. For so long the standard for an MC was 16 bars. Just do a hot 16. 16? Nah it’s time to raise this a little bit. Let’s see who can keep somebody interested for 5, 6 minutes, without getting bored. And that’s how I started doing the 125.

– How do you feel about all the comparisons people make about you and Big Pun?
First of all, hands off for that dude, rest in peace. He is a legend. He is in my ipod til this day and without Big Pun there is no Joell. Latin wise and stuff like that. The comparisons are flattering to be honest. Dude was ridiculous, he used to make 90 things rhyme, they still don’t do that till this day. The comparisons, I wouldn’t say me flowing like him, no one flows like Big Pun. Big Pun was one in a million. But I would say we bring the same energy to a beat. And what I mean by that is when you hear it, you believe it. When I heard Big Pun I believed it. Even though he had so much stuff going on, when you listened to it and soaked it in, you were like damn this dude is ghetto and you believed it, it wasn’t like “yo he is just rhyming.” Joell Ortiz comes raw like that. There are no gimmicks with me. I don’t have a stage name. I am the same guy when the lights go on as when they go off. And that’s that feeling that we both bring to the beat. I can see that those comparisons are true.

– Now that you are signed to Aftermath, do you still feel the same about the industry, like you did when you explained it in “Play Tag”?
The music industry, when you’re a shorty and you just trying to rhyme, there is no other angle. You just try to rhyme and be the best you can be over beats. But when you try to get a record deal, so many other things matter. Like marketing wise, the audience, the angle of your album, who you trying to target. How do you look? All these things come with it and you’re like “Hold on, I was just trying to rhyme! I just thought you had to be mad nice.” But it’s not like that, it’s a business first and then its fun. You gotta find the fun in the business. So it was frustrating. Some of it in my earlier rhymes I was like “These dudes talking bout my weight. These dudes are trying to talk about anything other than my pen.” And that’s what I thought was the main thing. And this music thing is a business first, you gotta understand that. And once you get around that, you can start having fun again. I am around that now but I still feel like on “Tag” I was touching on the fact that dudes don’t have every piece of everything to be a complete total package. Like some dudes are nice but their show is garbage, some dudes show is dope but they can’t make records. Some dudes got dope shows and make dope records but can’t talk to you. So I am working to be all those things, to be that dude. I work at all of those. You gotta play “tag”. In order to be “it”, you gotta be all those things.

– Is Dre putting his projects aside for your album? Is there already a date?
Uhm I don’t have a date. I don’t believe Dre has a date either. We’re just recording our albums. We’re not concerning ourselves with dates. We are just trying to make good records. As far as putting his album aside, I know he is working on his album and I am working on my album. Bishop Lamont is working on his album. We’re just working, we will figure out dates later. We’re all trying to get to win though. That’s the main objective.

– You also got a song with Smokey Robinson on the album.
Yeah. Just know that it’s a crazy record. I don’t really wanna say too much about everything.

– How did you get in touch with him?
Through my man Novel. His pops and Smokey Robinson are good friends. That’s how I got that hook up. It’s a crazy record.

– So what artists have been influencing you?
Dudes from like earlier. Big Pun, the dudes I listen to. Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, the Kanes, the Kool G raps, Smif-N-Wessuns. It’s no one artist, no 5 artists and no 10 artists. I listen to so many. It’s a piece of everybody. Not that I bit, but it’s just like that. It’s the culture. You might get a certain flow from a rapper and you wanna express yourself that way too. I don’t feel like it’s jackin’, it happens all the time. Subliminally don’t know that you sounding like someone you’re a fan of. As long as you still remain yourself who you are, and you come across like you, you won’t sound like them but you will feel like them. And I think I feel like a lot of them dudes when I rhyme.

– What is your view on Eastcoast hiphop right now and what artists do you feel right now?
I think Eastcoast hiphop needs to go back to what we used to do. I don’t know about all the hiphop being dead. I can’t feel that because I am here too. In fact we got a venue tonight showing that hiphop is alive and well. I can co-sign that. But I can say that Eastcoast rap isn’t rapping the way we used to. And it’s frustrating. Back in the day, some of this is my opinion, how I feel, and some of it is facts. Back in the days, people wanted to sound like Eastcoast rappers. This is for real. We were the nicest at one point to me. Then you had your Westcoast dudes and your southern dudes wanted to be lyrical cause we were so lyrical. And now what happened is, the southern dudes got a little fame and you got Eastcoast rappers trying to rhyme southern! We don’t gotta follow shit, we always was leading. So let’s lead again. That’s all I think is going on. We following that, cause the audience is so dancy now and much younger. But there are still dudes that are very disappointed in us like “I wanna buy hard records! Where’s my hard lyrical headnod music?” I’m not dissin’ the South, cause when I go to the club, I love when these records come on. Those are the records you looking forward to when you go to the club. When you out having a drink, you don’t want to be standing there looking hard, you wanna move. I love them for that. But that doesn’t mean we have to stray away from the records we made. I want us to go back to that. So I can get better too because if dudes starting to become lyrical again, then I think they’re coming at me. I love that competitive nature.

– Is that the mindstate behind your new album?
Exactly. The feeling, breathe again, fresh air. Like “Yes, it’s back.” Not back, the way it was done in the 80s and 90s, refurbish, revitalize a new feeling of hiphop, a new feeling of hard records. I see dudes get materialistic items. You can’t get a gold chain and think it’s hiphop, that don’t do it. It’s a feeling brother. It’s when a record gets on and you tell your man to press rewind. That’s what I want, I haven’t been pressing the rewind button in years. That’s sad. That’s what I wanna bring back. That’s what I am talking about.

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ROQ Music Group