Thursday, June 3, 2010

Yukmouth: Survival Skills [Interview]

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Yukmouth is a survivor. The East Oakland veteran emcee achieved platinum status with The Luniz, and carries a classic single with the ever-played "I Got 5 On It." Apart from his band-mate Numbskull, the longtime ally to Tupac Shakur further preached and displayed being "thugged out" well past the life of the term in the Hip Hop vernacular. From regionally publicized beefs with Master P, Game, Spider Loc and more, Yuk has more than one trait in common with his fallen friend.

However, when you really get to talk to Yukmouth, his survival skills are deeper than Rap. Once homeless, the very personable Yukmouth says he watched hometown hero Seagram sign with Rap-A-Lot Records and put on for "the 'ville's" crop of housing projects. Within a decade later, Yuk would prove to be Rap-A-Lot's biggest west coast star. Big budgets, big beefs and big contracts helped retain Yukmouth's stardom, but they did little for his talents.

Released June 1st, Free At Last marks the 17-year Rap veteran's first time as his own boss. With super-group The Regime finally able to deliver product, a presence throughout the globe and a strong connection with today's new class of emcees, Yukmouth speaks with laughter and restored energy. For a change, the Thug Lord isn't calling out names, he's paying respects to heroes and peers such as Kool G Rap, Tha Dogg Pound and even defending the honor of Suge Knight, after March's rumors of a robbery. Like his song "Revelationz" proved a decade ago, Yukmouth can be unflinchingly honest, and with his freedom appears to have come wisdom.

HipHopDX: Last week on Monday, you spoke to AllHipHop about the March incident, involving Suge Knight. I know that’s a sensitive issue, but how wrong were the initial reports from what actually happened?
Yukmouth: All the shit was wrong! I’ma say this: the officers and detectives were very mad that I wouldn’t cooperate with them. So they go and put all this false media out and go and do the extra shit. They’re mad that I wouldn’t press charges and do all the shit that they wanted me to do. It is what it is. These police’ll fuck you over. They don’t care. Suge Knight is a big name; they don’t give a fuck about him. All they see is I’m talkin’ about somebody and it’s “Oh, he did it!” Feel me? They ain’t ask no questions about the mothafuckas that actually [robbed me]. All they care about is the big name. Fuck the big name – the big name ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.

All I ever said was that the big name was my homie. Me and Suge been good, that’s my peoples.

DX: You worked with Death Row artists for a lot of years…
Yukmouth: Yeah! Come on, man, that’s family. I was on Rap-A-Lot Records, so Suge Knight was our family and Irv Gotti was another part of our family. Suge and Irv and J [Prince] was gonna start the first [black-owned] distribution company. Man, Suge is family. All that shit they puttin’ out there is false. To prove that, Suge had just gotten into a car accident. His jaw was broken and all types of shit. He couldn’t even move his self. So how the fuck can he [do this]? Suge is my homie and fuck the 11 niggas that got me. It is was it is. Fuck ‘em!

I got caught slippin’. I had all my jewelry on me, 11 niggas surrounded me and it is what it is. I ain’t [King Kong], I ain’t Bruce Lee, I ain’t none of that shit. I’m one nigga, it can happen to anybody. It can happen to an MMA fighter. When you surrounded my 11 niggas, good luck. It ain’t like nobody pulled out a gun and said, “Lay down.” I got jumped and shit got snapped off of me while I got jumped. Street shit. You got it from the horse’s mouth. You want to talk about how many niggas in Rap get their shit taken from ‘em when they visit L.A.? This is a first for me, and I been in L.A. over 15 years. So I’m good.

DX: I've got to tell you. The title track to Free At Last is probably my favorite Yukmouth solo record that I've ever heard. What an incredible way to set the record off. Incredible, honest storytelling. At this point in your career, what led you to tell your story on the first track of the album? No intro, just boom.&
Yukmouth: [Laughs] On albums, you'll usually make the title song the last song, that's what I usually do. I felt like I wanted to make it the beginning song just because I wanted to let everybody know what type of person they dealin’ with, so they can [properly] listen to the album. That’s for the person who just now picked up a Yukmouth album for the first time in their life. Before you go into the album, you know what I’ve been through, what I do, and my history. Now you can relate to the album and the other stuff I talk about.

That, and I had to just let people know my struggle or my grind. This shit didn’t happen overnight. I had to do a lot of shit to get where I’m at right now, and I’m still afloat. My struggle is my story.

DX: You’ve been independent for some time, it seems, so talk to me about the theme of liberation and Free At Last in general.
Yukmouth: I’m free at last. I’m free from Rap-A-Lot Records, I’m free from C-Note Records, free from Virgin Records. I’m doin’ my own thing on Smoke-A-Lot Records. I’m free, independent on all levels. Secondly, on my last album, West Coast Don, I was locked up for three months in L.A. County [Jail] on “celebrity row” for drivin’ with no license. I wrote the whole album in jail. Being away from the music, being away from the lifestyle, Hip Hop, shows, events, everything, I had nothing to talk about. All I had was stuff that I had heard or my old stories or whatever. That’s why The West Coast Don was a real storytelling-type album. Now you got Free At Last. I was able to make songs that related to the beats that I picked, so on and so on. West Coast Don, I had to make beats on my chest and on a metal desk in jail to really imagine the beats to these songs that I’m writin’. It was great being out. This album, I have features from people like Choppa City [and] Gudda Gudda. I like being able to go city-to-city and pound the pavement and network to get these new artists on my album that I’ve never worked with or connected with in my life. So Free At Last is just being able to network, free from jail, free from these record labels
. Just free.

DX: I know that HipHopDX has not spoken to you in a few years. When you were in the County, what do you mean by “celebrity row”? Who else was in there with you?
Yukmouth: Yeah, I was right next to O.J. [Simpson’s] cell. [Laughs hysterically] The cell that he used to have. Lawrence Phillips was in there with me, the [NFL] football player. Caffeine from Menace II Society was in there with me. The Game was in there right before I came. Game came like a month before I came. Same place. L.A. County, that’s where they put you; they can’t put you in the gang module or general population. If anything happens, you can sue the county. Don’t get it twisted though, celebrity row [coincides] with death row, in high-powdered, where all the killers, murderers and niggas that got life are with you.

DX: You said going to city-to-city. If you look at your Twitter, you’re always traveling. I was speaking recently to the L.E.P., who was talking about you in that way. How much of your traveling and your networking has been key to your staying-power?
Yukmouth: That’s the biggest key, really. Traveling and networking. Gotta shake hands, make friends and kiss babies – literally. That’s how you stay afloat. For real! This is real game. I get real shows booked and get money; I ain’t just goin’ city-to-city to go. But when I do booked in those cities, I go to the clubs, go to the neighborhoods, I go fuck with the hood and fuck with the people. Not like these major rappers in their hotels with their security, I’m in the hood with my jewelry on - $60,000, $90,000 worth of jewelry on, in the projects. That’s the difference between me and other artists, so they respect it. Then I’m in the studio with local artists, who can’t get big artists to support they projects. I take their two’s-and-few’s [dollars]. Other artists say, “I need $10,000, and nothin’ less.” I just give respect ‘cause I fuck with the underground and I fuck with the streets. Anybody can travel, but you’ve gotta network when you travel.

DX: How much of that mentality was grounds to create The Regime – a crop of artists from various regions that had a common goal?
Yukmouth: That built the whole Regime, really. Ampichino had booked me for a show; he’s in The Regime. Tech N9ne, he’s from Kansas City, but he was out in L.A. signed to QD3. We linked up in L.A., that’s how he became part of The Regime. It’s all about raw artists and raw talent saying, “We need to clique-up and form a group.” We’re all pushin’ the same line, from different areas of the map. We were the first clique to do that. We started our shit in 1997. G-Unit just came and did that in 2003, 2004 and did it with Game, [Young] Buck and so on. We been did that shit. Now we ‘bout to put the album out, finally, and show niggas how we really rock.

DX: That’s 13 years in the making. In your independence, The Regime is going to be something that you’ll be focusing on in the future?
Yukmouth: Aw yeah! Definitely. Thirteen years, that’s another way I was trapped when I say Free At Last. When you’re signed to a major record label, you can’t go do other projects outside of your contract. I couldn’t go and do a Regime album, I couldn’t go and do a Luniz album no more. It was a lot of contract bullshit. Now that I’m out the contract, I can do a Regime album, I can do a Luniz album when I want to, I can do a Thug Lordz album when I want to. We’ve been waiting 13 years ‘cause I’m under contract – first the Virgin Records/C-Note contract, then the Rap-A-Lot contract.

DX: In “Free At Last,” you rhyme about how while recording The Luniz’ second album, you met J. Prince, and he respected your work ethic and signed you to a solo deal. Rap-A-Lot has such a rich legacy for Houston and Greater Texas music. But I always liked in the ‘90s, when they really held it down for the west coast. It started with Seagram, then you, and artists like Mad CJ Mac. What does it mean to you to be part of that rich label legacy?
Yukmouth: First of all, I’m from “The ‘Ville,” East Oakland. That’s where Seagram was from. Just ‘cause Seagram was signed to Rap-A-Lot, we was fans. Everybody in my projects [was a fan] of Rap-A-Lot from the Geto Boys to everything that came out – Ganksta Nip [and more]. Again, I went from somebody who went from the outside looking in [to an artist on Rap-A-Lot]. Seagram noticed me in my hood, so he threw me on [“S.E.A.G. & Yuk Is Ridin’ on Souls On Ice]. Rap-A-Lot peeped it, they liked it, and [knew I was on their then-parent label] Virgin Records. They seen me workin’ without [Numbskull]. Between Seagram and some of my niggas from my hood workin’ at Rap-A-Lot, next thing you know I was [signed].

After that they [started] their west coast chapter. They didn’t have that. Before, they had a Midwest chapter with Do Or Die, Snypaz, all that. Then they had the west coast with Seagram, me, Poppa LQ, Mad CJ Mac – and shit, we did it from the Bay to L.A. Rap-A-Lot is a legendary label, period, just like Ruthless Records with N.W.A. Just to be a part of that is fuckin’ [amazing]. Me being a fan first, and then being an artist was a dream and an honor. Then I learned the ins and outs of it, and I learned it’s a game. It’s a business. The game don’t quit.

DX: I can remember buying Thugged Out on CD – I can remember the store. I don’t mean any disrespect in asking this, but Jay-Z had the line where he said, “If skills sold, truthfully, I’d probably be, lyrically Talib Kweli.” If I listen to the early Luniz material, it’s apparent to me that you’re an emcee at heart. But I also know that there’s probably more money in being a rapper. How do you look at yourself as a lyricist, ‘cause it’s clearly there, but do you dumb it down for the people?
Yukmouth: I’m dumbin’ it down right now. [Chuckles] I’m dumbin’ it down hella much. You can tell on the Game [diss] track “Breathe,” I dumbed it down. I was real simple with it. I wasn’t trying to be real metaphorical. I wasn’t trying to be like The Game, how he tries to be real metaphorical with his shit; I don’t want to hit him with his own ammo. So I came with simple with shit. But if you listen to my shit, I get really tricky, but I keep it simple [too].

I learned that from Jay-Z. Jay used to rap hella fast – Jay used to rap like a fuckin’ Fu-Schnicken. [Laughs] Jay-Z toned his shit down, and he was still lyrical. He was better than when he was a Fu-Schnicken-sounding rapper, even though he had some shit. You can’t feed a baby steak, you’ve got to feed a baby baby-food. I’m just feedin’ ‘em baby-food, but I make some gourmet baby-food. A lot of people are used to nursery rhyme, Soulja Boy shit. Like Waka Flocka [Flame] said, “Ain’t nobody want to hear no rapper.” Ain’t nobody really givin’ a fuck about a lyricist right now. It is what it is. As much as I want to be hella lyrical, Kool G Rap, you can’t. Your shit’ll be sitting on the shelf. A lyrical-ass album on the shelf. You do this shit for your album to sell.

DX: I respect your candor. Do you find yourself still listening to lyrical stuff, or are you more like everybody you’re describing?
Yukmouth: Me, I find myself listening to a lot of my shit. But, I’m a Hip Hop fan. So I do hear the Drake, the [Lil] Wayne, [Young] Jeezy. I bang everybody’s shit that’s hot just to give me a feel for the competition. Hip Hop is competition, period, so you’ve got to know what you’re up against. I find myself bangin’ old shit: Ice Cube, N.W.A., Scarface, Geto Boys, D.O.C.. To get some real raw shit, I damn near have to go back to the ‘90s. I can’t name one nigga that’s blowin’ my mind away. Drake cool – he sound like Wayne and he can sing.

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