In 1995, the life of a young artist out of New Jersey known as “Big Malcolm” forever changed when he was christened as E.D.I. Mean and chosen to be a member of The Outlawz Immortalz group by the late, great Tupac. Like an early Western posse of outlaws, the group rode alongside Tupac from his major battles all the way to his quiet journeys, allowing them to get a first-hand glimpse of the many sides that made up the young superstar. After the tragic death of Tupac, The Outlawz continued to record and tour in an effort to continue the mission set forth by their slain leader. That is, until 2011 when the group decided to call it quits after their sixth and at the time, final album, Perfect Timing.
“A group is one of the hardest things in the world to keep together,” E.D.I. Mean says of his fellow Outlawz. “You start out as young dudes with everybody being broke and trying to come up together ,but money, spouses and families start to come in and responsibility starts tugging at you. People grow even if it’s in different directions, and after we made Perfect Timing we decided to take a break before it started getting to that point to where we can’t stand the sight of each other.”
Now going by the name of Edidon, the veteran rapper took the time to reminisce about his legendary friend and mentor, dealing with fanatical fans and their crazy requests, his thoughts about the upcoming Tupac movie directed by John Singleton and why he’s got a few questions that he’d like to ask Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Jungle, of former Bravehearts fame. Of course, we also discuss his upcoming solo project, The Hope Dealer, his feelings about religion, and the existence or non-existence of God.
EDI Mean Plans “The Hope Dealer” Album Under The Name Edidon
DX: Your new upcoming album is called The Hope Dealer. Why did you choose that title?
E.D.I. Mean: When I came up with that title, Trap music was real heavy and everybody was selling dope—being a kingpin in their hood, and deciding to rap because they had nothing else better to do. I got real tired of that and thought of an alternative to that. I don’t sell dope, although there have been times where I’ve done illegal shit to get money. But I don’t put that in my music, because I don’t want to be defined by that. Unfortunately with Hip Hop, fans want to put you into a category of style. People think of the Outlawz and think of all of the thug actions—some of which may be true—but that’s not the picture that I want to paint for you, because somebody else already gave you all of that. The more I kept repeating the title of the album, the more good it felt, and it started to influence the music that I was making. I’m a hope dealer now.
E.D.I Mean Describes How Tupac’s Legacy Endures
HipHopDX: How much do you reflect on the fact it’s almost been 20 years since Tupac died.
E.D.I. Mean: You blink and 20 years goes by. I had my son six months before ‘Pac passed, and he’s an 18-year-old man now. Dealing with his death these past 18 years hasn’t been easy, because he’s omnipresent. Everywhere you go there are reminders of him, and people want to talk about him…he really is everywhere you go. It’s weird, but at the same time there is beauty in it, because through that connection I have been to parts of the world that I never would have seen on my own. It brings both painful and joyful feelings. For a long time I felt sorry for ‘Pac, but I don’t feel just sorrow anymore. I felt like something that tragic couldn’t have happened to a better dude because he didn’t really deserve it, and by all means he should still be here. There are some motherfuckers that are just wasting air, space and time, but ‘Pac was an individual that maximized his time and potential. When you mature, you begin to learn that everything happens for a reason, and now I feel good because I was able to see and understand that he maximized his time here on Earth.
DX: So many commenters over the years have stated that if Tupac were alive he would be dissing certain rappers or that they wouldn’t have careers. Do you buy into any of that?
E.D.I. Mean: That’s bullshit, and I hate when people say that. You think you know him, but you really don’t know, because we’re talking about someone who was only 24-years-old at the time. Think about when you were a 24-year-old and how much of an idiot you were. At that age you think you know shit, but you really don’t. I use Lil Wayne as an example, because a lot of people mention him. But when ‘Pac was still alive, Wayne was already a rapper and Cash Money was selling records independently. You can’t say he wouldn’t have a career or that anybody else wouldn’t. We don’t even know if ‘Pac would still be rapping today if he was still alive. He was moving more towards making movies than actual music. Making music was actually becoming secondary to him, as he wanted to put his energy into movies and politics. To say that somebody wouldn’t have a career if ‘Pac was alive is some dumb shit to say, but I understand why they say it and where it’s coming from.
DX: Tupac fans can really be hardcore, extremely loyal and super supportive.
E.D.I. Mean: It can be a little scary. Some fans dissect every little thing that you say with hopes to find clues of his whereabouts and existence. I’ve had fans ask me when ‘Pac is coming back and tell me that they know I’m withholding information.
DX: You really get those kinds of questions?
E.D.I. Mean: All of the time, and straight dead in the face serious when they ask that too. I had my cousin in a video I made called “Thug Life,” and if you go on YouTube, people swear that’s Pac standing behind me in the shadows. Some guy actually took that clip, highlighted it and came up with a theory on how that’s really Tupac in my video. It’s just my cousin!
DX: Do the questions from fans get crazier than that?
E.D.I. Mean: Absolutely. People have come from other countries offering money in exchange for Tupac’s whereabouts. At least Biggie’s fans let the man rest in peace.
DX: How much have you been offered to reveal Tupac’s whereabouts?
E.D.I. Mean: I’ve been offered thousands of dollars, but I’ve never taken it. I don’t play with people like that. There have been others who have scammed people and have taken the money, but I could never do any shit like that.
DX: You are so associated with Tupac for obvious reasons, but do you ever want to escape his shadow?
E.D.I. Mean: I really look at it as a waste of time trying to escape that shadow, but what I want people to know is that I am not here to be a footnote in someone else’s story. I have my own story and ‘Pac was fucking with me and the group for a reason. We weren’t charity cases. There were serious plans for every one of us individually and collectively. Having said all of that, I just keep pushing. That shadow is so wide and vast that people tend to dismiss whatever you are doing musically. But if I have to be under a shadow, I couldn’t have picked a better one. ‘Pac is the greatest, and who is better to be affiliated with than him?
How Hollywood Misrepresented Tupac In “Notorious”
DX: A lot of people don’t like Tupac’s character in the Notorious movie. What are your thoughts on it?
E.D.I. Mean: I feel like Anthony Mackie was put in a bad position, because he had to work with a bad script. No disrespect to the family of Biggie, but I feel like [Notorious] was a movie that didn’t do him any justice. If y’all gonna do Biggie like that, it might as well get released on VH1 like the TLC movie and not in theaters. I told the producers of the upcoming Tupac movie the very same thing. I told them if they were trying to Notorious my nigga, then they should just leave it alone. ‘Pac doesn’t have a story that you can just tell in an hour-and-a-half. You’ve got to really do it on some Malcolm X or Ray movie time lengths. That’s the only reason I’m involved in the movie, and if I see that they are not trying to do that, then I’m not going to touch it. I’m the one that has to deal with the fans on the street, even with the Biggie movie! We had nothing to do with that movie, yet fans were telling me that it was fucked up the way we allowed them portray ‘Pac. And I’m like, “What the fuck do you mean? I didn’t have anything to do with that.” I had one fan tell me that they were going to kick Anthony Mackie’s ass if they ever saw him. I had to tell him that it wasn’t Anthony’s fault because he had to work with what he was given. As for the upcoming Tupac movie, I’m real happy that John Singleton is going to be involved, because he’s someone that actually spent time with ‘Pac, and I feel like this project means something to him. It’s not just another check or a vanity project to him. I feel like he’s going to take his time, put real effort into it, and try to bring the best picture to light. It’s not about making ‘Pac look good or bad—it’s about telling the story for the people that love the story.
DX: There’s a sense of concern about the executives above him who call the real shots.
E.D.I. Mean: Absolutely, and hopefully they give him the freedom to do his thing and not come in with all that business shit that fucks up a movie. You had one of Putin’s aides say that Tupac was the only thing that interested him from America. This is a global fucking icon, so don’t do the movie if it’s going to be on the level of Notorious. Again, no disrespect to his family and friends.
How Tupac Made Peace With Nas At The 1996 MTV Video Awards
DX: Have you ever made peace with the people who were put on blast in the “Bomb First” and “Hit Em Up” songs?
E.D.I. Mean: Years ago I ran into Xzibit, who I took a shot at in “Bomb First,” and it was a cool experience. Since then, we’ve run into each other in different countries doing shows, and everything is cool. “Hit Em Up” was a battle record that kind of got blown out of proportion because of certain articles that came out, and everything turned into a whirlwind. That night, we were on some BDP “The Bridge is Over” type of shit, and we were out to do a better diss record than that. It was purely Hip Hop at the core that just morphed into some crazy shit.
DX: What about all of the others mentioned in those two songs?
E.D.I. Mean: I’ve run into Jay Z before, and it was all love. We shook hands and there was mutual respect there. We’ve been around Mobb Deep but not since Prodigy put his book out. I’ve got a couple of questions to ask him about his book too, but there’s no beef. I just want to know where he got his information from, because a lot of it is incorrect. I feel if you’re going to put a book out, then put it out with the correct information. If it’s not correct and you’re talking about my homeboy, then I’m going to have some questions for you when I see you. It will be respectful, because like I said there is no beef, but I will ask some questions. After that, it is what it is. Nas taped an episode of Behind the Music, and his brother [Jungle] was up there talking about how ‘Pac was this and that when they ran into him. I was standing right there, and he’s incorrect, but I understand that these individuals feel like they can say whatever they want because nobody is putting a mic in front of the Outlawz. Thanks to interviews like this, we can balance that out, and I say that Jungle was lying. If he wants to have a discussion about it, then we can have a discussion about that too—whether it’s in person or through the media. We are grown men now, and If we have a disagreement, then we should be able to sit down and discuss it. It’s 2014 and not 1996, and we can do it a different way.
Going back to your question, we’ve run into everybody from Puffy on down. We had a skirmish with Puffy at an MTV event many years ago, but that was worked out. ‘Pac was just an extreme dude, and if he did something he went all the way with it. He wasn’t into subliminal disses, and I can’t even imagine him trying to do that someone. The thing is after the Makaveli album, he said that he got that shit out of his system and he wasn’t doing that anymore. He actually contacted Nas to let him know about the Makaveli album, and as a matter of fact, he was the only one that ‘Pac reached out to. He told him that the album was coming out and that he was going after him in it. They made peace at the MTV Awards—the meeting that his brother Jungle spoke about saying that we were scared and they had us under pressure. We had half of Jersey with us at the MTV Awards, and Nas was only with his brother and like two other dudes. I remember that meeting well because ‘Pac kept telling him, “Speak up! I can’t hear you.” Nas was saying in a low voice, “There’s no beef, you know what I’m saying?” ‘Pac was like, “Huh? I can’t hear you. Speak up!” They squashed it after that because ‘Pac was a Nas fan, as we all were. In hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have all gone that route with those songs, but we were going to ride with ‘Pac to the end regardless, and we did. Fans always tell us to do a new “Hit Em Up” and just diss everybody. It’s never just one person they want us to diss but the whole Rap game. I’m like, “Uh, alright. Cool.”
Why E.D.I Mean Calls Himself An Atheist Muslim
DX: You played me a new song earlier called “Whoever God Is.” In it, you described yourself as an “Atheist Muslim with a cross on my right wrist.” What does that mean?
E.D.I. Mean: I’m conflicted at times. Unless you have complete blind faith, you have to have some questions about God and his existence. What’s the right religion? Is it Christianity, Islam, or Judaism? I’m just a normal person with questions and contradictions like everybody else? Some days Islam speaks to me, other days it’s Christianity. And then sometimes I feel those things are just real good stories that have lasted thousands of years but there really isn’t someone up there controlling everything. The song itself is a part two, because the first one came out on James Wade’s Medicated and Motivated album that I was featured on. I hooked up with the producer Dae One and decided to make a part two because I wanted to go into that subject a little more. Society as a whole, I feel, is moving towards a more atheistic standpoint. People are becoming more enlightened and intelligent, and you can’t discredit science. Money and religion are the two things that people die and kill for, and I just wanted to continue the debate with my song. I know the first line about me being an “Atheist Muslim with a cross on my right wrist” will have people wondering, but it’s true. I recruited Kurupt as a feature and got him out of his element. When I first had him listen to the record he said, “Wow E.D.I., you’re gonna have me go there with it?” I had a feeling before he wrote his verse that he was going to talk about his mom passing away, because I knew how much she meant to him and his brother Scoe. Sure enough, he got in the booth, and the first thing he spoke on was his mom. I don’t think there is a right or wrong about religion, it’s about how you feel.
DX: Do you think there is a higher power?
E.D.I. Mean: I believe in an energy, and I don’t think it’s a higher power like people are led to believe. Man has touched religion so much that I don’t think it can ever be pure. I refuse to follow any one religion, but I do feel that there is a good energy that flows through us all. I don’t believe that there’s a white dude in the clouds with hella grey hair just sitting there and watching. When I was a kid, the book of Revelation used to scare the shit out of me, and my cousins used to tell me that if I did something bad, then I would go to Hell. You grow up and realize that it’s all bullshit.
DX: If Tupac was here right now, would he debate you about the explanation that you just gave?
E.D.I. Mean: We would sit around and talk about shit like this. If you listen to a song called “Blasphemy,” off of the Makaveli album, it came from a conversation like the one that you and I are having right now about religion and God. There were a lot of religious overtones to his music, but he was conflicted and had questions about it too. The whole “Killuminati” concept came from just having conversations like right now. We would all just sit around and have conversations about a wide range of topics and then go to the studio and record.
DX: Was Tupac one of those guys who controlled a conversation in a debate and didn’t allow anyone else to get a word in?
E.D.I. Mean: That was him, but at the same time we weren’t just little yes-men sitting there. He might have gotten mad sometimes and be like, “You’re not fucking listening!” When you’re homeboys, you can say whatever you want to your homeboy. If we got to go outside and roll around in the grass about it, then that’s what we got to do. Fortunately, it never came to that with us because it was just a conversation. He had his days though where he felt like he was right and nobody else knew shit.