It takes a true fighter to win in this race. Some of the best artists in the history of this genre didn’t get what they deserved. Impressive lyricists got their due in props but never in plaques. Label drama got the best of them. Life made them switch lanes and some were forced to leave the game by outside pressures. Underground heroes stayed under the radar. Critics wrote them off and fans faded. That could have been the outcome for each member of Slaughterhouse. After all, many counted every single one of them out at some point in their careers. Between the four emcees, they have had to fight and endure single issues, label quarrels, shelved projects and beefs with bigger named acts all while trying to juggle personal lives, families and more amidst the turmoil and infinite chaos in the music business. The fight continued.
Faced with adversity, they refused to fade into obscurity and milk carton status. Instead, these four men came up fighting with something to prove. They fought against the boxes they were put into and fought for their respect in an industry that often wins these battles. But, they kept fighting, even when they were counted out. They joined forces in an unexpected partnership and made sure people knew exactly what they were out to do by boldly naming themselves after a murderous and bloody home for death, a testament to the fact that they were fighting ‘till the end.
Faced with adversity most would plummet under, they rose and fought against odds. To those familiar with their life stories, that shouldn’t be surprising. They have been doing this since they were young kids in their respective streets and they have never stopped scrapping. In an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, each member of what they call “The Slaughterhouse Machine” spoke on their lives, upbringing, rhyme writing techniques and more, allowing readers a “peak into their windows” to see what truly makes them survivors. Even after all of the disputes, feuds and problematic situations, Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden and Royce Da 5’9″ have come out on top as the one-time underdogs are currently the most talked about group in the Rap world and hoping to keep that momentum alive after releasing a critically acclaimed debut album that they managed to churn out in less than a week. With solo projects soon to follow and a second Slaughterhouse album to drop after that, don’t expect them to stop fighting anytime soon.
HipHopDX: From the start of the new album, you all switch up your flows in unexpected fashion. Later on the album, you come with up-tempo tracks, more mellow ones, heartfelt tracks or straight punch line attacks. How important was it to showcase the fact that you can all be versatile with both flow and subject matter without letting your lyrics suffer?
Royce Da 5’9″: We all were concerned [about the outcome]. We had numerous discussions because we all had this box that everybody was putting us in. Like, a lot of the personal shit, Joell donated [material] from his own album because that’s what he does. The different flows and different styles automatically just came off the different beats. We all just attacked it like we would attack our own shit and it came out sounding like that.
Joe Budden: I can only speak for me. I was high for the entire recording process so I was just trying to keep up. I was just trying to keep up and I was so out of it! Royce gassed me, too. He was like, “You know what I like about your performance on the album? I like the fact that it sounds like you were high…because you were!”
DX: The best groups in music history compliment one another well with different characteristics. You’ve called yourselves “The Voltron Crew” and “The Four Headed Monster” and seem united even though you all come from very different parts of the States. How do each of you bring something that balances the group as a whole and how does each group member contribute to that dynamic?
Crooked I: We grew up in different regions and we’re expressing ourselves the way we see fit. Coming from the west, I do it like this. Joell will give you a piece of Brooklyn life. Joe will give you a piece of Jersey and Nickel will give you a piece of Detroit. Those are different points of views, different ways that people get down and different ways of life but we all come together on a song and you start to see how much we all have in common across the map while you also see the diversity in the hoods. We just bring a lot of stuff. Joell can touch your heart with a couple of verses and talk about some real stuff or get on an old school track and just rip it. He’s great at what he does. Joey might jump in and come with some real deep introspective lyrics, something dark or the thought of being close to death or something that just makes your mind think. Then, he might come out and do something that’ll make the club jump up! Royce is just a technical master of lyricism. You could tell when you listen to him, that he and Eminem are cut from the same cloth like that. It’s like “I can master this! No matter what I’m rapping about, the flow is going to be on point, the words are going to be on point and everything is going to be in the pocket so it’s going to be as close to perfect as you can get.” That’s the whole thing. We all bring those elements to the table and that’s what makes us a four headed monster.
DX: Joell, on this album, you touch on drug abuse that you had to see in your home as a child. With that and an absentee father, many would falter. How did you manage to stand up straight, chin-up in the face of that adversity?
Joell Ortiz: Since I was really young, I’ve always been a competitor. My competitiveness is what made me really scared to fail. Life is another thing I’m competitive with and I was too scared to fail. So, I did everything I could to look passed the drugs and not having meals in the fridge and the messed up situations I had coming up as a shorty. But, my pen was very therapeutic, I can’t lie. That’s why you hear me talk about the drug abuse at home on albums and mixtapes because it still hurts. Although I have forgiven my mom and dad-my dad for not being there and my mom for almost not being there as well as a young’n-I still dislike the way some things went down. Just because I forgive doesn’t mean I have to forget or like how it went down. I try to put my story out there, not so people can feel bad but because I know there’s a million other me’s out there. I definitely have talked to a couple of kids that have told me some of those songs have helped them through situations and changed their lives in a few ways. Through writing therapeutic records for myself, I help others that are going through the same things.
DX: Joe, you also discussed the topic of addiction throughout your career from “Thugs Cry” to “Ten Minutes” and on this album. What initially got you hooked and how were you able to kick some of those habits?
Joe Budden: Oh, well, eventually you get tired of being tired. Fortunately for me, I had an extremely strong supporting cast. I had people in my life who loved me and cared about me enough to be very persistent and push the issue until eventually, I realized that something needed to be done. My mom [was the most influential]. Mom Dukes, man.
DX: On “Cut You Loose,” you all describe disillusioned sentiments about the record industry. What drove you all to continue pushing despite feeling that way?
Joell Ortiz: I don’t think I could ever stop. You get those up days-and we all know this-where all the phone calls are on the money and you get that “Look at me. I’m successful.” And then, you get those down days where you’re like, “You know what? Fuck it!” [Laughs] That’s just how it is as an artist. You get the up days. You get the down days. Sometimes, the down days sting, man. They don’t go away. You just dwell on it for the rest of the week.
Crooked I:I brainwashed myself to think positive even in situations that ain’t so positive. I brainwashed myself to be focused, even when there’s a lot of madness going on in your life trying to block your focus. I get negative people away from me. I don’t care if they’re friends or family. I got a lot of homeboys who I love and respect but I can’t hang around them because they’re so negative. Every time they bring negative energy to me, it just drains me. I need positive energy around me at all times, especially when you’re going through drama. You want to keep that focus. Just resting sometimes and envisioning things in your mind [helps]. Then, try to make those things come to reality. [Tupac Shakur] said “Dreams are real and reality is fake.” That’s how I feel. You’ve got to dream. If you kick back and challenge your mind to envision everything you want in life, I believe that if that picture you paint is strong enough, it’ll start coming towards you without you even trying. That’s what kept me pushing throughout everything. It’s a strong faith in my talent, keeping a lot of negativity out of my circle and getting positive energy in.
DX: Royce, you call yourself the apparent head on the introduction. Were you a leader in bringing the group together?
Royce Da 5’9″: Nah. Nobody was a leader. The only person you could really give credit to, as far as the group being born is Joey because he picked the line-up for the original song. The reason I call myself the apparent head is because I can beat these dudes up. That’s why I call myself that. I’m the oldest member. I will fuck these guys up. [Laughs] That’s the only reason. It’s not that I think I’m better. It’s not because I do anything better than these dudes. Actually, I realized that I’m not as good as I thought I was when I started recording with these niggas. On some truthful shit, it just rhymed. When I was assigning body parts to everybody, I was like, “If I’ma come up with this concept, I’ma be the damn head!” I was surprised nobody countered me, though. Yeah, but it ain’t nothing more to it than that.
DX: You said you weren’t as good as you thought you were. When did you realize that exactly?
Royce Da 5’9″: When we did the first “Slaughterhouse” [click to listen] song, I was good. I had to do my verse fast because my wife was going into labor. I wanted to get on the song to have the opportunity to be on the song with Joey because we had our issue that was up in the air. So, that was going to be our peace offering. I wanted to do that but I didn’t have time to really put into it because I had to get back to the hospital so I gave myself a pass for that song. But, [with the original] “Onslaught” [click to listen] there wasn’t no excuses. We all heard the beat at the same time. We all wrote at the same time. Once it was all through, it was like, “Alright, man. Maybe I ain’t [better].” I started off the project thinking I was better than all these niggas. I ain’t even gonna lie to you. We started doing songs and it was like “Maybe I ain’t as good as I thought I was.” [Laughs]
Joe Budden: He still thinks he’s better. Don’t fall for that modest shit!
DX: Crook, you say you “Had a bad attitude, you couldn’t help defuse /A little homeless kid in the shelter, I felt the blues.” Can you go back for me and speak on that experience for people who have never had to endure that type of hardship?
Crooked I: Basically, man, to be honest with you…You get put in certain positions in life and it’s all about how you’re going to take the whole scenario in. Are you going to learn from it? Is it going to make you a better person and build your character? When we were young, we moved around a lot. My moms was sick. We couldn’t afford places to live. So, we had to be in homeless shelters. When you’re in the homeless shelter and you’re a young kid, a lot of the shelters separate the men from the women. So, you might have to go to sleep by some strange homeless dude that you don’t know because sometimes they separate you like “Women on this side and men and boys on that side.” So, it’s a scary thing when you’re a kid and you’re looking at all these crackheads and different types of people and regular people who are just down on their luck. But, I think it just built my character and made me understand that I could bounce back from anything.
DX: How were you able to escape that?
Crooked I: Basically, as soon as I got old enough to put in my own grind, I started grinding. To me, it was like I was grinding with a revenge like I was trying to get revenge on my past. That was my escape route. It was just “Get money! Get money! Get money! Gotta get money. Gotta get out of this situation. Gotta help moms out. Gotta make sure my little brothers and sisters are straight.”
DX: Was your pen as therapeutic as it was for Joell?
Crooked I: All the time, man! When you go into the booth and you get to rap about these things, it’s getting a lot of it off of your chest. It really is therapy when you can get that stuff out of you and into the atmosphere. A lot of times, when you go into a therapy session, they’re going to make you talk about things that you don’t want to talk about because they know that’s a healing process. So, when you get in that booth and you start talking about it, you get it outside of your body and put it into the universe. It’s very therapeutic.
DX: “Raindrops” is a track that really showcases that therapeutic pen. If you can, please take the readers through the writing behind that. What images or emotions triggered those lyrics? How did that all come together?
Crooked I: Man, the crazy thing about that verse is I had got the track through e-mail and I was supposed to go to New York to lay it. I was riding around Long Beach and I was killing time. I had a business meeting and had some time to kill so I threw the track on. So, I pulled up at this park on the North side of Long Beach on Del Amo Boulevard. I’m listening to it and I’m thinking that the only thing I could do is tell the truth on this track. So, I started thinking about my mom’s twin sister. Rest in peace. I love you to death Cha Cha. Just listening to the track thinking about her, I was getting teary eyed. When it comes to my family, my father bounced on me when I was five and I didn’t see him again till I was 25 but his brother was a very important part of my life growing up and he died of cancer. On my mother’s side, a lot of her family is from Oklahoma and different places and I’m from Cali so I didn’t really know them much. So, I only knew my aunt, which was my mom’s twin sister. She used to take me to the studio when I was nine years old. She would help me record demos when I was nine and 10 years old rapping.
So to have something horrific happen to her was a definite impact on my life. Making that verse, it was tough for me to think of it and tough for me to deliver it in the booth.
Royce Da 5’9″: I was just trying to paint a picture [with my verse]. I wasn’t speaking from a true perspective and ended up being the only one that wasn’t speaking from a true perspective. It surprised me when they came with such true, heartfelt shit because I was just trying to paint a picture. If I had known they were going to get that personal, then I might have came with some shit. But, once Crooked went where he went, he didn’t really leave Joell or Joe a choice. They had to go in the same way.
DX: Royce, something that seemed to have a big impact on you was the D.U.I. One of your strongest lines that always comes to mind is basically two words, really. On “Shake This,” all you say is “One year.” But, there’s a lot behind those two words. What were you thinking when the judge said that? How were you able to shake that situation?
Royce Da 5’9″: It took a while for it to hit me. When she said it…You ever had somebody say something to you and you just feel like it’s a joke, like you’re waiting for the punchline after? I knew what was going on. I knew I did some wrong. But, there was a lot of other stuff that I did that I took lightly in court, that I got right passed. They dropped it, dismissed it or I beat it or something like that. Then, some shit that I felt like everybody does-which was my mind frame at the time like “Everybody does this. Everybody drinks and drives. There’s not a sober nigga leavin’ the club drivin’,”-it was like “Damn, man. Why is she going so hard on me?” I know a lot of people that had DUI’s that got to go home and turn themselves on another day. She made me step right up to the bailiff. I didn’t even say bye to my family. All of this shit was resonating in my mind. Then, they put me in a holding cell at the court for some hours before they actually took me. I had never done any time before. I thought to myself, “I’m going to do whatever I want. I’m not going to get busted.” That’s the mind frame of the people I’m around, so I had to think to myself “This ain’t me, man. I gotta live my life a little bit different.” I had a lot of time to reflect. It was a disaster.
DX: Do you think the ruling was fair?
Royce Da 5’9″: I don’t think it was fair but I’m glad I went through that. I did a lot of maturing in that process. I think I needed a lot of sober time to think clearly and put things in perspective. So, I was on a whole ‘nother mission when I got out. And my whole career and life and everything changed once I got out. My whole mind became different. I became more proactive. It made me think differently. When I got my work release, I was more active in the business-side. I just handled my shit more like a business. I got more involved. I think I made that step up from being an artist to being an entity.
DX: You’re all pretty open about your parents and your own seeds in your music. Can you explain how your upbringing influences your decisions now as parents? If they have no impact, why?
Joe Budden: Honestly, my child’s mother is just like a real nut. So, my relationship with my son goes up and down depending on how she feels and depending on how the judge feels. I’m lucky. Lucky for me, he knows who his father is and how much I love him. He cherishes the time spent
with me as much as I treasure the time I spend with him. But, my baby’s mom is really from another planet and I can’t say any more because the court says I can’t say any more. [Laughs]
DX: You said they go up and down but how are things now?
Joe Budden: Oh, things are way better. Things are way better. I got a new judge! So, things are way, way, way better.
Royce Da 5’9″: With me, the family structure was real together. My father was a provider. He was a wild dude and he had a lot of flaws but one thing I can’t take away from him is he was a good provider. That shit got instilled in me. So, what I seen him and my mother went through, they’d just make it work at all costs. So, that’s pretty much what my situation is. Me and my wife just make things work no matter what. So the family situation has always been intact here and I think it’s because of the way I was raised.
Joell Ortiz: I think my upbringing and my parenting are two separate things. My pops wasn’t there and my moms was on drugs. I have two separate baby moms now and two sons. I miss them a lot because I’m doing a lot of tours and a lot of shows and I work very, very hard. I wish I could be there more. But, when I am there, I let them know how much I love them and spend as much time as possible with them. I do the dad thing. But, I don’t really know how to be a good dad because I didn’t have a dad. But, my sons are my two little niggas so when I get to see them, we just hang out. I guess I do alright because they miss me, they call me, hug me when they see me and their moms don’t be riffin’. So, I guess I’m doing an alright job. But, I really wouldn’t know what the father job is because I never had a father.
Crooked I: It impacted me because you don’t want to do the same thing. When I was younger, I always envisioned myself beating the shit out of my father! That was a vision that I held onto because I blamed him, in my mind, for all the ups and downs we was going through. Whether it was his fault or not, I was sitting in the back of a police car at 13 years old for trying to break into somebody’s house to get something out of there to help feed my little brothers and sisters. I’m in the backseat pissed off like “If I had a father, I wouldn’t have to do this type of shit.” I always thought that when I’d have kids, I’d do this, that and the other. But, when I had my first child, I was real young and I seen that it’s not an easy task to raise kids. It’s a lifetime dedication. I started understanding that my father was young when he had me. I started to understand it. I didn’t give him a pass. I didn’t make him no excuses because he was supposed to man up but I understood how somebody could walk out. I could understand it but it makes me look at my children and say “You’ll always have me in your life.” Period. “I don’t care what’s going on with me and your mothers or whatever it is. I’m always going to be there and make sure I do my job.”
DX: What would you say was the hardest hurdle to overcome in life or careerwise?
Joe Budden: For me, I would say drugs. But, when you say drugs, so many things come along with that. It’s not only the drug. It’s also the behaviors that come along with it. It’s the attitude that comes along with it and the lifestyle, the mentality and so many different things that come along with just that one word.
Crooked I: I don’t know. I mean, [for me] it could have been my affiliation and signing with Death Row and people not wanting to see nobody from Death Row Records being successful. I don’t know. I’m always leaping over these hurdles in this industry that are still there. You might have an A&R who don’t understand that you just wrote a masterpiece. They don’t understand that we gotta present this to the president of the company or whoever calls the shots. We gotta put this single out. They don’t understand that the people will get it. They don’t understand so many things. That is a hurdle in itself because there are a lot of artists out here that need to be in the spotlight and they can’t because they’re not making the music by using a similar formula to whatever’s hot. That’s a constant hurdle you gotta face. You just gotta put your hard hat on and tie your boots up.
DX: Joell, you have a line where you say you’re so smart, you’re stupid. And you describe the fact that you were always a very good student growing up, even skipping 8th grade. Where did things go wrong in the academic aspect of life? What do you attribute that to?
Joell Ortiz: [I would attribute it to] the decision to not go to college with academic scholarships on the table and some athletic scholarships also. I think at that time, I don’t think I made the smart decision, but I think I made the right decision. My mom was going through some things with her drug addiction and I just didn’t want to be off away in school and get some kind of phone call or letter like, “You gotta come see your mother.” I stayed at home to try to nurse moms back up to being sober and it worked. It worked and through me trying to nurse her, it kept my pen up. I kept writing my songs which were letters to myself for reassurance like “You can get through this. Both of y’all can get through this. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” So, it might have not been the smart 18 year old decision to stay home instead of pursuing my own life, which is that my guidance counselors wanted. It might have not been the smartest decision but it was right.
Joe Budden: My academics went wrong because I was smart. I was way ahead of the class. I was always way ahead of the class. I was way smarter than everybody else in the class so my attention span was very short so I would go in there to crack jokes. The teachers never liked that. They always used to call my mom from school like, “We see the potential! He’s such a bright, bright kid. If he could just…” You know, that story. Until, I dropped out.
DX: Joe, you once said “If I should die tomorrow, I know moms would probably be hysterical / For 25 years, she seen me be a miracle.” In what ways would you say your life mirrors a miracle?
Joe Budden: Oh, in every way. In every which way possible. I always tell people that success is self determined so if people would be able to see the man that I was and see the circumstances, hurdles and predicaments that I was able to overcome and look at where I am today, I think it would be unanimous. I think everybody would agree unanimously that I’m a miracle. To be able to be a father to my child, to make sound decisions, to have this career, just to be able to live life one day at a time and productively…Everything. I value and have gratitude for even the tiniest things in life.
Joell Ortiz: I think just being born is a miracle in its own right. Every day I wake up, I thank the Lord because a lot of my friends and peers aren’t here. A lot of them are in prison and a lot of them are here physically but mentally they’re gone. So, a whole bunch of things remind me that being alive is miraculous.
DX: All the members of Slaughterhouse seem to have gone through hell and back in this industry. Still, you’ve remained resilient and now stronger through this partnership.
Crooked I: I think like minds are attracted to like minds. That can almost be a universal law. If you think like somebody, they might be all the way in Brooklyn named Joell Ortiz. But, your energy is going to attract you to that person and you’re going to cross paths, chop it up and build. We were on the cover of XXL and that was the first time we met each other. Now, look: We’re in a group together. These dudes-you’re right-have all been through things in this industry that some people bow out on like “Yo, I’ve had enough,” or “I’m going to the army” or “I’m going to get a nine-to-five,” or “I can’t take it no more.” I got a homeboy resting in peace named The Grinch. He was dope on the microphone but he couldn’t take the ups and downs his career was going through so he shot himself. It gets to that extreme. So, you’ve got four dudes that have been through hell and back. Now, they ban together. Like minded individuals attracted each other to make something happen.