An interesting thing happened during the first week of April 2013. After years of delays, Papoose’s The Nacirema Dream debuted. And during its first week of release, Papoose’s SoundScan numbers were higher than the likes of Maroon 5, Linkin Park, David Guetta and other major label artists. It was a validation of sorts after Papoose and Jive parted ways back in 2007. And while Pap was happy to see fans paying for his music, he doesn’t put too much stock into SoundScan numbers.
“They try to make it sound like it’s about how many records you sold, how much money you got or how much of a gangster you are,” Papoose noted. “Hip Hop is not about none of that shit! Hip Hop is about being outspoken and being effective with letting people hear your thoughts.”
On Nacirema Dream, those thoughts covered topics such as the industrial prison complex (“Law Library”) and terminal illness (“Cure”) among others. So while a multiple-week run on Nielsen’s SoundScan sales chart may not be a hallmark for Papoose, finding his independent album that has been seven years in the making on such a list is an accomplishment. As such, the Brooklynite gave his thoughts on exactly what the numbers mean, his role in the marketplace and how he compares his mixtape hustle to what’s going on today.
And, in efforts to be transparent, we directly apologized to Papoose for not reviewing The Nacirema Dream. So any of you Pap fans with hurt feelings can kindly stop spamming up DX’s comment section and use this iTunes link to purchase another copy of the project if you’re really that hurt about us not reviewing it.
Papoose Reacts To Independent Success Of “The Nacirema Dream”
HipHopDX: I guess HipHopDX owes you an apology for not reviewing The Nacirema Dream. I was pleasantly surprised to see you on the Soundscan 200 for a few weeks in a row. What was your initial reaction when you saw the sales?
Papoose: I was happy, man. I was just happy at the fact that I could come out independently under my own label—which is Honorable Records. It was a big step for me to create my own label and get that kind of support from the people. Actually, I think I was on the Billboard chart for about three or four weeks. So to answer your question, I was ecstatic to see the people receive it the way they did.
DX: Since this album has been so long in the making, what were your expectations?
Papoose: All the shit I’ve been through, all the people that tried to hold me back and didn’t want my work to get out there to the masses—all of that inspired me. I just came to the point where I could go nowhere but up. I experienced it all. All the butterflies and shit that artists experience on their first album, that shit disappeared for me. It was like there was no more they could do to me. They held me back for years, did all this fuckery and tried to fool the people into thinking I’m something that I’m not. They tried to degrade my work. And when somebody’s constantly holding you back and kicking you down, you reach a point where you’re numb to the pain.
So my expectations were, “I don’t give a fuck. I’m just ready to get this out to the people…get it out to the world.” The fans deserve it. They’ve been patient with me over the years, so my expectations were success. When you’ve been hated on so much, all you can do is succeed because it becomes inspiration.
DX: You mentioned having your own label. I noticed that even back when you and DJ KaySlay were talking with Jive, your strategy was that of an artist that had their own label anyway. Where does that business savvy come from?
Papoose: Yeah, we made a mistake when we got with a major. Like you said, we were our own movement from the door. For me, that business sense just comes from having knowledge of self. I always had that idea inside me to go out and do everything on your own and not depend on nobody. I owned property and all that before I came into the music business. So I kind of knew to stay business-minded. I made that mistake of signing with a major. If I would’ve stayed independent from the door, I could have experienced this success a long time ago.
DX: It’s interesting that you bring up Knowledge of Self and Supreme Mathematics, because normally people associate that with spirituality instead of business…
Papoose: Yeah, definitely. It keeps you disciplined, focused and family-oriented. I’m all about my family, and that’s what I live for everyday. So it plays a part in your personal life, family life and business also. It helps you all the way across the board—360 degrees. That helps me get through my day everyday.
How The Physical Album Market Helped Papoose
DX: Obviously there’s been a lot of changes since you originally planned this project. The physical market for albums pretty much disappeared. What kind of changes did you have to make as you were adjusting to all of that while still wanting to put this out.
Papoose: I try not to feed too much into the changes of today as far as the game, because none of it is a change for the better in my eyes. It all takes away from the actual art form and what this thing is actually about, so I try not to feed too much into that. At the same time, you’ve got to adapt to your environment. With the physical CD situation, I was actually able to do better with physical CDs that I was with digital downloads. I’ma be real with you—for an artist like me—CDs is still a major thing.
It just feels like a myth, and I think people are cheating themselves by thinking that shit about everybody has to be all digital. There are still true, hardcore, dedicated Hip Hop fans that want to own an album. They want to posses that in their hands.
DX: You mentioned “Cure,” which features you rhyming in the first-person as a deadly disease. Where were you mentally when you came up with that concept?
Papoose: My grandmother—who gave me the name Papoose when I was an infant—died from cancer. She had 17 kids, and my mother was one of them. We’ve got like 90 cousins in my family. She was like the backbone of the entire family, and I watched her suffer and die a slow death. Her death actually inspired me to write the record “Cure,” because I wanted to create awareness. She had cancer for a long time and didn’t even know. And by the time she realized it, she went to the hospital, and they thought it was gallstones. When they cut her…once the air hit that cancer, it spread dramatically. Her not having that awareness cost her life. So through music, I thought, “Now that I have an audience and people are listening, I need to create some type of awareness.” Go to the doctor and get that checkup. It can save your life.”
DX: No doubt. You’ve got Erykah Badu on that song. And you also secured features from Mobb Deep and DJ Premier among others. How do you balance being a businessman and an artist as far as developing those relationships?
Papoose: Meeting some of those artists is like a dream come true to me. I came up listening to them. The balance for me is that I love doing Hip Hop, but obviously I got mouths to feed. A lot of people depend on me. So I have to generate revenue to provide for them. The importance of that is what drives my business sense. And as far as the relationships, I respect these people. I grew up on their music, so the relationship towards me is just authentic. It’s admiration, and they come back and tell me, “I respect what you’re doing,” and I let them know I learned from the best.
Papoose Says Artists Have Over-Commercialized Mixtapes
DX: Well aside from this project, you’ve got a very rich mixtape history. You’ve got a body of work, and you’ve won Justo Awards. What’s the biggest difference between that era and now where mixtapes are essentially free albums with no deejaying on them?
Papoose: What we were doing back then and what’s going on now is totally different. I don’t think what these dudes are doing are real mixtapes, man—I’m just being 100 with you. You’ve got an artist getting major radio play 24 hours a day…a commercial artist [making mixtapes]. I don’t consider it a mixtape when you take a bunch of songs and throw them together. When Papoose was doing his mixtapes, it was from the ground up. There was no major radio play, and it was strictly straight to the streets. Then the streets loved it and dictated that it should go to the radio. It was real; it was official. With mixtapes you need to be creative and go in, not tap-dancing all over the mixtape.
And you make a good point; there was deejaying on those mixtapes. So it was a collaboration between an artist and a DJ, which was monumental in Hip Hop. You got these dudes now that don’t even have a DJ on their mixtape. I can’t say, “Such and such has a crazy mixtape,” and there’s nothing but commercial joints on it. That’s not a mixtape. Justo left me with the crown, and I was able to win that award before Justo left. When I was doing it on that level, I felt it was more hard work, dedication and just keeping it Hip Hop. We weren’t commercializing it. It’s like, “Y’all dudes got everything else, and now y’all wanna take the mixtape game too?” And then they commercialize it by calling things a mixtape that’s not even a mixtape. You can’t even possess it; it’s something that’s on the Internet. To each his own, man. But I just think it was more authentic back then if you want to compare them.
DX: Well, we already already kind of compared eras. But as someone from the Golden Era, you remember b-boys and graffiti art. In 2013 nobody’s really break dancing or buying spray-paint. How do you participate in Hip Hop in the Digital Age?
Papoose: I just stay true to the culture. Hip Hop is something you live, and Rap is something you do. When I was taught the game, the people I learned from [stressed] you had to be nice. You couldn’t come into this shit if you was wack. Period. You had to have something intricate to say. If you was break dancing, you had to have your moves on point. If you was spray-painting, you couldn’t be what they would call a toy. You had to come to the table with something incredible or else you got kicked out of the cypher and couldn’t contribute.
So nobody can ever make me believe this is about anything but talent and ability. They try to make it sound like it’s about how many records you sold, how much money you got or how much of a gangster you are. Hip Hop is not about none of that shit! Hip Hop is about being outspoken and being effective with letting people hear your thoughts. Whatever you was doing, you was creative, you was sharp and on top of your game. Because if you wasn’t, you was gonna get shitted on. I just think nowadays they try so hard to make us think it’s about Twitter followers and all this shit that has nothing to do with Hip Hop and doesn’t make you a great artist.
They would never be able to make me forget what this is about. So as long as that’s embedded in my brain, I will always have my relationship with Hip Hop. If you’re a rapper, it’s about being nice. I don’t give a fuck about none of that other shit; none of that matters to me. When I look at an artist, I judge them by their lyrical content and nothing else.
DX: You kind of run the gamut between having punchlines, music of substance and also flipping different styles. How do you strike that balance between what KRS-One referred to as “Edu-tainment?”
Papoose: That was always what I wanted to bring to the table. If you listen to my movement, it still applies. It represents the educated thug, which is talking about some of the things that’s going on in the ghetto—the hardships of being a thug growing up in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. But it’s also giving you solutions to be educated about it, have knowledge of self, going to the law library and things of that nature that can help you get up out of these situations. So my message always was not just giving you a negative or just a positive, but both. If I just gave you one or the other, I wouldn’t be giving you the truth.
So I always wanted to keep that balance and not be one-dimensional. As far as entertainment, I feel like I can entertain people just by being myself. A lot of dudes try to follow trends and feel like they gotta fit in with what’s going on. I feel like being intricate with the punchlines and the concepts is entertaining alone. I’m a fan of Hip Hop first, and as a fan, I know what entertains me. You don’t gotta be dancin’ around like Sambo or some idiot…you don’t have to sell your soul. That’s the biggest misconception. You can be yourself, speak from the heart and use your talent to entertain. So that’s how I do it. I just stick to what I was taught by the all time greats.