Cam’ron is walking around the circular 24th Floor Asylum Records offices like he owns the place. The 10-year veteran is cracking jokes, talking to various label personnel and holding court as only a flagship rap artist should. You can hear his distinct voice reverberate around the floor with eagerness, an excitement that his Crime Pays return is hardly an independent underdog release, but the true article of anticipation.
A few hours later than expected though, when Killa Cam, separated from his crew, steps into an empty boardroom for a HipHopDX interview, he’s all business. In a day filled with questions about his three-year Florida hiatus, The Diplomats‘ status and unfinished beef, Cam’ron almost begs for the questions. Soundbytes aside, DX discusses the album, the origins of “no homo” and Cam’ron’s Children of the Corn late, great rhyme partner Big L. We love our job.
HipHopDX: How do you think the time away from the industry light helped you, both as a man, but also as an artist?
Cam’ron: Um, as a man, [it didn’t] really help me, period. I’m just gonna always be a man, regardless of music or TV or movies or if I was a janitor; I’m gonna be a man regardless. Being away from the game just made me realize how much I love [I have], [and that] people were interested in where I’m at. You know there’s a lot of people that could be gone for the same amount of time I was gone for and nobody’s interested in where [they are] at or what’s goin’ on. They’d be like, “Fuck ‘em. We’ll see ‘em.” But you know, just in general, the interest and everybody wantin’ to know where I’m at and what’s goin’ on with me and why [I was] not comin’ out with an album, it just lets me know that I’m more appreciated than I thought I was.
DX: Flowing with the single, one of the things I like about you is, I’ve been in this game myself for 10 years. You were here was I started. You’ll be here when I quit —
Cam’ron: — I hope so, man. I hope so.
DX: But at the same time, you represent that era – that Tunnel era, you ran in the same circles as Biggie for a minute. I want to ask you, with all the sensationalism and the gossip Hip Hop is at today, is there ever a day where you hate your job?
Cam’ron: Well…that’s a good question. There was a time, maybe about two [albums] ago, where I was like bored with it. I’ve been rappin’ since I was nine, 10 years old. Just in general, it wasn’t necessarily about me hatin’ my job, but [it let me know] I could do other stuff. I’ve made enough money; I wanted to do other things. I was like, “I’m not gonna rap.” I found myself eatin’, at the tables, just makin’ up raps. Or I’d find myself in the car, makin’ up raps. [I’d] go to the movies [and I’d be making up raps]. I’m like, “Damn, I’m not even tryin’ to rap and I’m rappin’.” It kinda [started the fire in me]. Even if I wanted to stop, I couldn’t stop. There was a time where I wanted to, I just couldn’t. so I guess I hate it but I still love it at the same time. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. Now I’m enjoying myself.
DX: I remember where I was the first time I heard “357.” You introduced a whole new style to the game, in my opinion. Not only lyrically, but sonically. Every single one of your albums has done that. I look at joints like that, “Killa Cam,” the new single. Tell me, sonically, the level you’re taking it to on Crime Pays.
Cam’ron: This album here, I would say it’s vintage Cam’ron, but it’s still ’09 Cam’ron. There’s a lot of people that come up to me and be like, “Well I want that Confessions of Fire album” or “I want that S.D.E. album,” and I’ll be like, “Confessions of Fire came out in 1998. I can’t give you what I gave you in 1998.” But this album is just…I can’t put my finger on what to [call the style], but the creativity is just incredible. I’d say I have about 40% topic songs – the “I Hate My Job” [click to listen] stuff. I got maybe 20% of party records. The rest of it’s street. There really aren’t any cross-over records on there, radio-type records. It’s real gritty. It’s real dark – and when I say dark, I don’t mean like [roars], it’s a real street record. There isn’t too many “See More Hundreds” or “Hey Ma’s” on there, or stuff like that.
DX: Did you record most of this record down in Florida or did you do it up here?
Cam’ron: Um, I did a majority of it here. I own my own studio here, but when I was in Florida, I had access to a studio also.
I’ve been recording for the last two years, but I would any music that’s on there [is] eight months [old]. I’m a person that, we’ll be in the studio, and I’ll come in [while] my friends are playing some of my songs. They’ll say, “Yo, this shit is fuckin’ hot…” I’ll be like, “Yo, it’s a year-and-a-half-old.” They’ll [argue that nobody has heard it], but if I heard it, it’s old. I kinda stay current. If a song that’s timeless, I think it wouldn’t matter. I gotta stay updated. Whether the music comes out or not, I’m always working.
DX: From Digga to Heatmakerz to Kanye West, you’ve brought a lot of people with you. Are you introducing producers this time or are you revisiting old friends this time?
Cam’ron: Most of the album is done from in-house producers. New—well, they’re not really new producers, but they’ve done a lot more work on the album than on previous albums. My man Skitzo, he did about 60% of the album. Arab, a new producer from Rhode Island, he did about the rest of it. Besides Skitzo and Arab, there’s probably two other producers, but [they] did most of the album.
DX: Between XXL and Miss Info, they covered a lot of The Diplomats questions people had. So many people have questions, and they’re getting their answers. Are you touching on these issues at all on the record, with questions people have, regardless of what those questions are?
Cam’ron: A lot of people ask that. I tell ‘em: get the album. You’ll see when you pick it up.
DX: Fair enough. One of things I respect about you is you made being independent seem like a smart move. You were the first artist to go to a Koch or go to an Asylum, and make artists who thought they were good at a major kind of rethink it. Last year, between T.I. and Lil Wayne, it was a winning year for the majors again. Is there anything you’ve figured out, with the new technologies, on how to make being independent what it was for you in ’05, ’04 and so on again?
Cam’ron: We’re gonna see, man. Like I said, you can’t really say. If somebody asked me five years ago what I’d be doing today, I wouldn’t see no Internet be this poppin’, so and forth. Everything I’m doing, I’m definitely doing for the whole one hit. It’s not like [Asylum executives] Todd [Moscowitz] and Joie [Manda] are like, “We are an independent; we need to sell 20,000 records this week.” We definitely gonna move some units, but I can’t sit here and say we guarantee we’re gonna do [a number]. ‘Cause like you said, there was a time where being at a major was crazy, and now it’s like – like you said, T.I. [click to read] and [Lil] Wayne [click to read] doing good, I think they’re just putting that umph back into it. You’ve got to realize too – I’m not sayin’ that Asylum didn’t do their job, but that’s why I love them, ‘cause I get a majority [percentage] of the gross [sales]. So for them to even want to put their foot in the project like they get the majority percentage, I love them for that. They definitely put their foot in like that. As far as me making predictions, I don’t know, couldn’t tell you. But we’re definitely going for the whole [thing].
DX: Flowing along with that, yesterday, the biggest record on our site for listens was the remix you did with OJ Da Juiceman and Gucci Mane, “Make Da Trap Say Ay!” [click to listen] To what extent does this label make you want to be a leader?
Cam’ron: You know me, if I like the beat…and I heard the beat and it was knockin’. Like I said, Joie and Todd [were] patient with my whole situation. They gave me a lot of money, and I haven’t turned in a [second] album yet because of my mother’s [illness]. I don’t want them to think that I’m not a team-player – they may have gotten that vibe from me over the last couple of years. Now that I’m back in motion, I just want to let them know [I have their back after all the delays]. Anything I can do to help the label out, it’s not a problem. Plus, I’m a fan of Gucci Mane [click to read] anyway. Gucci’s a good artist. I like the new song that OJ has. It was my first time hearin’ it, but it was a good record and I heard it was doin’ real good in Atlanta. So definitely happy to be [a team-player].
DX: On a lighter note, in your time away, the phrase “no homo” really took off. You’ve been a trendsetter. At the same time, as you took this time away, did at any point, you think that phrase got out of hand?
Cam’ron: Nah. Like I said, ‘cause it isn’t like people didn’t know where it originated from. A couple times it was crazy, ‘cause a friend of mine’s son is like three or four. [He] thought Lil Wayne made up “no homo,” but the younger kids are gettin’ into it too, like infants are no-homoing. I think Wayne just crossed over with it. That’s my man, use it anytime you want.
I didn’t originate that. It’s from the east side of Harlem. I learned that at Jefferson Projects at 115th [Street] and 1st [Avenue]. they are the originators of the “no homo.” That’s where it started from. The first time I heard that phrase, it might’ve been 1990, ’91; it’s a 20 year-old phrase.
DX: Last week marked the 10 year anniversary of Big L passing away. It’s not talked about too much, but some of those tapes that you guys made together have leaked, and it’s some mind-blowing stuff. I wanted to ask you one or two questions about that. One being, what’s your favorite memory of your brother from that era in your life?
Cam’ron: Big L? Big L was a funny guy, man. He was the comedian on the block; he always hung out. He was the one who told me I should rap. I used to play basketball and stuff like that. He was like, “Oh, you good” or whatever.
I would say my fondest memory is the times I used to just come to the block and L’d be standing there by himself. He’d be like, “Yo, I can’t think of no rhymes. Give me some inspiration.” I used to be like, “Wow, Big L wants me to rhyme,” even though that was my friend, I looked at him like the main rappin’ nigga. Like damn, he had a [record] deal, he’s from my block, he wants me to rap? Hell yeah, I’m gonna rap for him. I used to come over to 139th and [Lennox] and he’d just be sitting out there, asking me to rap for him, I just thought that was just [amazing].
DX: And you had a verse on his debut, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous. What did that mean to you in 1995?
Cam’ron: Yeah. That was crazy! I was just gettin’ out of high school, gettin’ ready to go to college to play basketball. So to be on a real rapper’s album, it was really, really cool. It was a good look, man. I really appreciated it.
DX: Of all your career, what’s your proudest verse?
Cam’ron: My proudest verse…that’s a good question. I don’t know, man. I never been asked that question before, you know what I’m sayin’? I made so many songs, so many different things. I would say basically, if you pick up Crime Pays, right now my favorite verse is the intro. [It’s] deep; you’ve got to listen to it. It talks about how when I was growing up, and the teacher asks you what you want to be, so on and so forth, it’s kind of going in that direction. But I spit a verse that’s kinda crazy on the intro to Crime Pays. I don’t want to say that’s my favorite all-time. I can’t think; that’s really a great question. But right now, at the top of my head, I’d have to say that’s my favorite verse right now.
DX: Last question. From the color pink, to the phrase “no homo” to driving Italian sportscars in New York City, you’ve set a few trends. After Crime Pays makes its rounds, what do you forecast being the next Cam’ron trend?
Cam’ron: I don’t even try to set trends. It’s just me being me, and it kinda happens. When I wore pink, I didn’t know everybody was gonna wear pink. Or, like you said, saying “no homo,” I didn’t know – that’s just some shit from Harlem I picked up. I don’t really try to set trends. I think saying you’re gonna set a trend is kinda jinxing yourself. So I don’t know. Maybe everybody is gonna start wearing a cape. I don’t know.