Jadakiss is Top 5 Dead Or Alive depending on who you ask. And even being in the conversation is an accomplishment, since Hip Hop is more than jewels and money, it’s art and it’s sport. It’s the rare form that covers both those cultural citadels at once. Spanning the gap between the competitive and the aesthetic. And, like both those altars on which we fans and journalists pray it’s also a business. One so ruthless that most don’t survive it for nearly as long as they spent pursuing it. Which speaks nothing of the fact that the rules to succeeding within it are constantly changing. Now, with the Internet, more than ever.

But if Jada is anything, it’s resilient. He’s survived and flourished through one of the most tumultuous times in Hip Hop history, and his output has earned him a place in everyone’s lyrical hearts. As much as the old-guard of New York emcees protects and preserves the era they come from, Jada knows that’s not how you continue to win. You do that through a deft mixture of understanding the world around you, and navigating the new rules of the industry you’ve become a staple of continuing to grow and learn.

So despite a six-year sabbatical from LP’s he dropped Top 5 in 2015 and he’s following that up with a slew of projects with and without his brother’s in arms The LOX. You’ll also find him on Puffy’s highly-anticipated 2016 project No Way Out 2, and that doesn’t include his own looming solo project that will be sneaking up on us before we think. And he’s doing all of this because that’s what the game demands, now.

Here, he discusses how to make it in today’s music business, the Puff Daddy, and The LOX beef, and how today’s attitudes about lyricism is hurting Hip Hop.

Jadakiss Explains The New Rules Of The Music Business

HipHopDX: Top 5 Dead Or Alive received acclaim in 2015, but you’ve also been working as a group with The LOX as well as individuals with separate solo projects. Why all that material?

Jadakiss: I’m just workin’. We’re in the studio just workin’, trying to bang out projects. In the climate of music right now the artists power is a filled up hard drive. So, if you got a studio, or wherever you rent studio [time], you’ve gotta get in there and fill up the hard drive. And that’s basically what we’re doing in between features or favors. We’re just workin’. We were working collectively and on individual solo projects as well The LOX’s new album. So it looks like we’ve got more time to finish The LOX album now that we’ve got these other projects out of the way.

DX: You also said that you have something coming for early 2016, as well?

Jadakiss: Yeah. I’m gonna try to come with another one in six or seven months because that’s what’s going on here now. They want more music. You could put something out today and tomorrow the comments are saying, “When’s the new one coming?” So just trying to keep abreast of what’s going on here. 

DX: Does the high turnover rate of music affect the way you make it?

Jadakiss: Nah. It’s on you to have a team to work your project. They want more content and more music, but it’s you when you drop a body of work to work it strategically. So, no matter what they want, you still gotta work it how you gotta work it to get the best out of the project.

DX: Artists had street teams and all sorts of resources before…

Jadakiss: All of that stuff is on the artist now. Basically, every label is independent, and they follow the wave you created. The put some money behind it and get it to a broader horizon. And that’s really what’s going on in music right now.

DX: Do you think that’s necessarily fair to artists?

Jadakiss: At the end of the day it’s a business, it’s a hustle. They’re paying you money and they’re trying to get their money back. In the ‘90s and the early 2000s they were able to triple their money with that. Now they have what you call “360” deals where they’re in your whole purse because they can’t get their money back off album sales. So is it fair? You gotta say if you were fronting someone large lump sums of money, you gotta get back. It’s on the individual to work it however you have to work it to make it work for you.

DX: Do you think the quality of music has declined?

Jadakiss: It could have declined a little bit because of the rapid process. The way the business is is causing you to make more projects, which could be taking away from the quality and substance and texture of [the] music. So that’s going to be the new challenge: who can make quality projects faster? With the whole digital takeover, it’s going to be who can be consistent with quality in a timely manner.

DX: But is that even possible?

Jadakiss: It’s gonna have to be. They’re gonna have to do that or get outta here because that’s what’s going on now.

Jadakiss Explains Whether Bars Are Still Necessary

DX: There’s an interlude on Top 5 Dead Or Alive where people talk about how fans aren’t looking for “bars” anymore. Do you think that’s true?

Jadakiss: That’s the stuff that they’re saying nowadays in the barber shop. The skits on that album were very effective. Just the name of the album being Top 5 Dead Or Alive caused an uproar around the world, which is what I aimed to do with the title. It’s a beautiful thing for Hip Hop. It gets the talk back to where it needs to be.

But, yeah, that’s some of the things they’re saying right now. The way you rate music and judge music and how you love it and absorb it goes back to how old you are, where you were raised, so everybody’s five’s or ten’s or everybody’s list of who they love in rap are always gonna be different forever until the end of time. Unless everybody in the room grew up on the same block and that’s never gonna happen. So it’s a good marketing tool. That marketing tool was me.

DX: Is that how you really feel?

Jadakiss: Definitely. I mean, it’s all about the conversation at the end of the day. There’s a trillion rappers that’s on nobodies top anything. So when you can reach that conversation about whether you are on somebody’s top five list or not that’s the blessing within itself. That’s what rappers are at home right now or in the studio or wherever they’re at, they’d kill to be in the conversation. So, me, being in the conversation about being on somebody’s top five list I soak it up as a blessing.

DX: People look at you as a real emcee and there’s some talk about how that translates into making albums. Some people have thought you tried to create records to cross over in the past. That said, do you think that being a great emcee still matters?

Jadakiss: Not as much. I think today’s listeners are really only concerned with the finished product. They don’t care if somebody else wrote it. They don’t care how it was made. If they like the finished product they’re happy with that. They aren’t going to go into the personnel of how it was created. So, with me, all my challenges are inner-personal challenges. So if you say some of [my songs] were attempts to cross over, you could say “Why” was a crossover song. That was one of my biggest songs. Probably my biggest song ever. So, at the end of the day, Hip Hop is an art form, and sometimes even myself gets out of the mindstate that it’s an artform. I’m supposed to do a song with Future or I’m supposed to mix it up and do stuff outside of the box because it’s art at the end of the day. But sometimes we get inside the bubble and it affects the culture as a whole.

Jadakiss Predicts The Fall Of Record Labels

DX: Do you think we’ll have a time again like the 90s where lyrics, competition, and musicality lead to increased album sales and radio spins?

Jadakiss: They’re figuring out the whole thing. There’s gonna be no record labels in five to ten years. Physical buildings like you walk into Def Jam or Interscope. Those shits are gonna be outta here. I don’t know how many, but it’s not that long. Then it’s gonna turn to all of the digital, Apple music, Spotify, all of them. So then they’re gonna have to find a whole new and you’re gonna have to get with it or get swept under. They’re just finding new ways to get their money back. Once they find it, it’s just about making it where it’s more beneficial for the label or the outlet than the artist because right now artists are able to eat a little more than they would like it to be. So they’re working on tampering with the system and then shit is gonna switch. And you gotta be ready for the switch.

What “Let The LOX Go” Taught Jadakiss About The Music Business

DX: One of the moments I’ll always remember is the “Let The LOX Go” t-shirts at Summer Jam in 2000.

Jadakiss: That was a big campaign!

DX: That campaign helped you get out of your deal with Bad Boy. Any advice for an artist in the same situation?

Jadakiss: This is a business where something is always gonna go wrong. We didn’t really understand that. I don’t regret the whole “Let The LOX Go” campaign because it worked sufficiently for what we needed it to do but, looking back, that was all on us. We signed those contracts. Whoever was with us is partly responsible. If I go outside and try to sell you an orange and tell you it’s an apple and you accept it as an apple that’s your fault. You might be mad and want to fight after that but at the end of the day… So, it was just being mad at our bigger brother. Then being able to work it out now through music and MMM and No Way Out 2 and the Bad Boy reunion tour and getting money with him again it’s a beautiful thing. We might have some of the craziest interviews and radio disses out there but it ain’t and never was that serious.

But, as far as the label, when your CEO is an artist you really gotta feel out the situation. Of course, everybody is gonna work on the prize winner more than everything else and depending on the artist it can go all wrong. I think that’s something that is still being worked on right now. There are no artists out there that’s getting as much love as the top dude. And it might never get that way because it goes off numbers at the end of the day. You put more time and energy into those that are bringing more to the table so it’s all a challenge.

DX: What was that reconciliation with Puffy like?

Jadakiss: First it was about getting the publishing back. Once we were able to clean up those issues everything else was really easy. Because that was really the only issue. Artists you’re writing is your life. If you’re a writer, no one should really be able to intertwine with that. That’s something that you bring, that’s your talent. You should be able to get everything that you deserve off your writing.

Jadakiss Addresses The Meek Mill/Drake Beef

DX: Do you think the way Meek went about calling out Drake on Twitter was the way he should have handled that situation?

Jadakiss: Who am I to say what was the right or the wrong way with that whole situation. I do think battling is therapeutic for the Hip Hop culture because it’s been going on since before we existed. Before we were born [rappers] were battling. And there’s also the thing that when you bully somebody and bother somebody that you get what you were looking for. But with that whole thing, I think that social media overpowered Meek’s battle strategy, which was going in the studio and making songs and trading shots like that. He got a little over with Twitter too much so that affected that. But that’s also just going with the times. Any battles that I had or my brothers had in the game there was no social media. So you gotta use it to your advantage or as we saw it could hurt you like it hurt Meek.

At the end of the day, it’s all in fun and love unless you let it affect you. I mean, Drake is getting nominated for a Grammy off “Back To Back” so that’s gonna put that conversation in the history books. That song is going in the history books because it might be the only diss song to ever be nominated for a Grammy and there’s a good chance it might win one. It’s crazy.

But it’s crazy in that it’s showing how Hip Hop has grown as a whole because you never thought that from the Busy Bee and Grandmaster Caz days of battling that a battle song would reach Grammy status. So it’s a double-edged sword for the culture.

Jadakiss Recounts His Verse On Nas’s “Made You Look (Remix)”

DX: That’s one of my personal favorite verses of yours. How did that come together?

Jadakiss: I went to the video of the original. I was on set. I guess that may have gotten in Steve Stout’s head or Lenny or the people over there at Sony/Columbia or Nas. Seeing me on set might have sparked, “Yo, we’re gonna throw ‘Kiss on the remix.” Luda wasn’t there so they might have saw him somewhere else and said they were gonna put him on there. They called me probably a week or two after that, and I just needed to know if the beat was gonna be the same. Then they sent me the track. So I had a good week or two to sit with the track so that’s why that was like that.

I woke up early and went in my bathroom and made that verse, though. I remember. No shirt on.

DX: In the bathroom?

Jadakiss: Yeah, because you need to use the mirror. You respond to the mirror. That’s how you get the verse… A little smoke and a mirror. That’s how that transpired.

DX: In my opinion you’re one of the game’s best lyricists. Do you think lyricism is disappearing from New York Hip Hop?

Jadakiss: Well New York Hip Hop is really not New York Hip Hop. Wait, we’re gonna get into New York Hip Hop. But as far as my verses they’re not really gonna critique them until I’m dead. And I’m happy with that because my legacy will live on for the family and my loved ones.

But, New York Hip Hop… If you turn on the radio in New York you wouldn’t even think you were in New York, for one. For two, as long as there are dudes like The LOX, myself, Fab and dudes of that nature still around New York Hip Hop is in a safe place.

Hip Hop’s a big Ferris wheel and it’s going around mid-tempo. Every three to five years the sound sonically changes the fashion changes. It’s just about being able to stay in the mix. Stay in the conversation. As long as you can do that without compromising what they originally love you for they’ll continue to love you and you’ll have legs and you’ll be able to make a career out of this for yourself. It’s hard to make a career. A lot of dudes have success, overnight success or one-year success but not many have ten, fifteen, twenty in this game so when you can do that is when I look up to you.

DX: Longevity is a big part of being top five dead or alive and you have that…

Jadakiss: People’s curriculum changes. It goes album sales. Then you’ve got some listeners that don’t care about album sales so it’s always gonna change. White America probably goes off numbers because that’s what runs the world, but in Hip Hop, fortunately, it’s not all about numbers. It’s not all about accolades. That’s why right now there are artists making a shit ton of money, but they’re never gonna be on the top 8 at eight. You’re not gonna see them on no billboards. You’re not gonna see them on the side of no busses. You’re probably never gonna hear about some of them, but they’re touring heavy and they’re selling a million dollars worth of merch. They’re big under so that’s another great outlet right now in the digital age. It’s a lot of loopholes that make money. The bigger the digital takeover becomes in music the more there are gonna be successful artists in music who don’t surface. But it’s okay that you don’t since you can maintain the same kind of finances as someone you see every day or hear every day. And once I think they create that lane it made it a beautiful thing.

DX: You mentioned that white America may view things by numbers, but what does Hip Hop mean for you?

Jadakiss: Pleasing the fans. My whole thing after coming back from six years wasn’t the numbers it was people receiving the project. Receiving the music. Because this is a fickle game. You have to grab ‘em or they’re already scrolling. That’s a challenge. To consistently give content is a challenge. It’s bigger than the music. You have to have a personality, you have to have a character you have to have a good rapport with people. Those are things that also give you longevity. After you have great music and you pack it up and take it outside of the studio, what do you have to offer after that. So you need a team. You need stuff. You gotta pray. It’s not just about the music or having great bars, it’s bigger than that. Politics runs music more than talent runs music. Don’t ever forget that.

Jadakiss Talks DMX & Gives Update On New LOX Album

DX: I have to ask, man. What are your top five New York emcees?

Jadakiss: See, why you gotta make it… To bounce off that, Hip Hop is the only genre of music that gets semi-categorized like that. Hip Hop is the only genre of music that they break it down by the coast or demographically. West Coast rap; East Coast rap; Down South rap. If I was Kelly Clarkson right here you wouldn’t ask what’s your top five New York country artists. They don’t say West Coast country or down south R&B, every other genre just is what it is. But if you must have [my] top five New York artists it would have to be Biggie, Nas, my brother Styles P, Jay Z and the dog DMX.

DX: Speaking about X, he had his situation with Seven Arts Entertainment releasing that album last year, but you mentioned that he was working on new music?

Jadakiss: He’s got some heat. He’s back in his element with Swizz. He’s in Y.O., his stomping ground. He’s looking good and he’s making some good music so expect some heat waves from the dog real soon.

DX: You also mentioned that you have a project coming out as The LOX next year, do you have a name yet or a date?

Jadakiss: We Are The Streets Part 2. No date yet. Get ready.

DX: And, I have to ask, what do you think is hurting Hip Hop and what you do you think is helping Hip Hop as a genre.

Jadakiss: Just, some of the clownism is accepted and getting accolades. Music is losing some of the substance. The fact that they don’t care about ghostwriting. The fact that lyrics ain’t important. The fact of things of that nature are the things that I think are hurting it. But, the fact that a diss song could get nominated for a Grammy. That they let Snoop Dogg DJ in the middle of the BET Awards live and play some of the hottest songs of the times is just showing how big the game is getting at the same time with the stuff that I don’t like.