AZ wants the world to know that the back-to-back releases this past June of Legendary and G.O.D. (Gold Oil And Diamonds) were not intended to be viewed as part of the formal Visualiza discography.
“Them wasn’t albums; them was mixtapes,” AZ clarified to HipHopDX last Friday (December 18th). “I do wanna state that too, ‘cause everybody thought that [Legendary] was a album. I wouldn’t do no album without promoting – radio or something. No, no way.”
Both efforts emerged seemingly out-of-nowhere via two California-based labels, Real Talk and Siccness, the products of one-off deals that AZ himself admits lacked his full and complete commitment to their construction.
“If you listen to it, it’s freestyles,” said Sosa of the rhymes heard on the at best adequate releases. “They’re not even songs; they’re not complete songs… I just picked a few beats and [did] a 16 to [‘em].”
Unfortunately, efforts like these tend to clutter an artist’s catalog and confuse fans as to which releases are intended to be viewed as proper albums and which are not.
“People always complain [that] you gotta keep your name out there and your presence up [though],” AZ retorted in response to the above statement. “And I think that’s basically what I was trying to do to connect what I did last to what I’m getting ready to do, and just keep the notoriety ‘cause it’s so [many] fuckin’ artists out there, so much shit going on and everybody – It’s just like a free-for-all right now.”
Thankfully for fans of clever multisyllabic rhyming over classic ‘90s Hip Hop tracks, AZ is about to elbow his way to the top of that currently overcrowded field of artists in the way longtime supporters of The Visualiza have been dreaming of for 14 years by releasing Doe Or Die 2.
Hot on the heels of Raekwon’s critically-acclaimed Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, AZ is attempting to do in 2010 what Rae successfully pulled off in 2009 and release a sequel as stellar as its original. But in his discussion with DX, AZ made it clear that he isn’t biting Rae’s blueprint to career resurrection, as while he praised Rae’s part dos and its ability to connect two different generations of Hip Hop listeners, AZ also noted that he is as well-deserving an artist of following-up his own standout 1995 debut.
“It influenced me to an extent,” he respectfully conceded of the affect OB4CL2 had on the creation of DOD2, “but the part two’s and three’s been going on since [The] Blueprint to [now with] Tha Carter. There’s been so many [part] two’s, three’s and sequels, even from Illmatic to Stillmatic… I’m a sword-thrower myself, so I played a part in me [being] able to do a part two. So that’s why I’m doing it, because I’m just trying to connect the past with the future, and etch my name in stone in this Hip Hop game too.”
In the same summer of 1995 that spawned Rae’s classic purple tape, after having arguably stolen the show a year prior on friend Nas’ “Life’s A Bitch,” and riding high on the success of his own single “Sugar Hill,” The Visualiza was on equal footing as The Chef as one of the top five rotten apple rhymers, in the same company as The Notorious B.I.G. and Nas. Even a year later, in the months following the release of Reasonable Doubt, the name AZ was more known to the masses than Jay-Z. But it seems that fate would allow for only one of the two smooth-rhyming Brooklynites on the mic in the mid-‘90s to rise to the level of superstar spitter from Brooklyn in the wake of Biggie’s passing, as in the dozen or so years since, AZ has slid to the ranks of notable ‘90s emcees with legacies dwarfed by the large-looming shadow of Hov.
“It been a lot of slack on my side, just from a lot of shit, from political to business,” AZ admitted of the missteps in response to misfortunes that have led to his current career standing. “It’s just been a lot of slack and I’ve been pushed to the back in a sense just ‘cause my business ethics wasn’t in tune. Me being an artist I always was on point, but it’s different when you come into this game just having the talent. It’s a business, that’s why it say music business. So, I feel like I’m there now. And I feel like I can connect the past to the future and then take off from there.”
The future will hopefully be more generous to AZ than the past proved to be. Back in ’95, just two months after Raekwon’s purple tape unequivocally changed the game, The Visualiza’s defining debut comparatively flew under the radar save for its gold-certified single “Sugar Hill,” going unacknowledged by many at the time as being a classic full-length in its own right.
“I can’t be mad,” said Sosa of his then underappreciated debut. “I still went gold, but it was under the radar for the notoriety that – I was a co-defendant to one of the so-called kings of New York. As far as saying Nas was the King of New York lyricism-wise, I’m his co-defendant so I should be known for what I brought to the table. ‘Cause not anybody could be his co-defendant at the end of the day, so I feel like I put my work in. And [so] it kinda went under the radar, but I built my own fanbase and I’m still able to be here and learn some business through the whole process, so it was cool.”
“But here’s the funny shit,” he continued. “I was taking Rap serious but I wasn’t taking it that serious as so many of New York’s so-called artists [as they] came in the game. This was their life, their whole vision. It wasn’t my whole life, my whole vision. I was doing it, but other things was going on in my life. When this came into my life it was a blessing at the same time, so I was like on-the-job training. You gotta understand, this is my first album…everything is from scratch. I had no intentions of being on Illmatic, that wasn’t my goal, it just happened. I had no intentions of doing Doe Or Die, these things fell in my lap. So I just played the cards that I was dealt.”
Longtime followers are surely wondering if fourteen years later AZ will be dealing from the same stylistic deck used for his debut. So how much of DOD2 will be a continuation of the themes and direction of DOD1?
“Well I’ma throw the same energy [behind it],” he replied when asked. “Nothing's gonna be like a mirror reflection of it, but it’s gonna show me in the present day time…and how I feel, ‘cause I feel like it’s doe or die right now. The game is so different and you have to be strong to survive even this long. So I take my hats off to the Rae’s, to the whole Wu, to…ya know just Mobb Deep, just a Jay-Z. Hov came from that era. [They’re] still doing it [while] a lot of people fell to the waste side. You need to have the hunger to wanna do this, to still be able to compete.”
AZ will be competing with his contemporaries by going back to the future and lessening his laidback playa delivery of recent years to revisit his onetime signature multisyllabic-style that spawned a slew of emulators in the mid-‘90s, maybe most notably of which being Eminem on his pre-Slim Shady 1996 independent debut, Infinite.
“No doubt, guaranteed,” replied AZ when asked if he’ll be taking it back to his multi origins on DOD2. “That’s guranteed. [But you know] some people say [that rhyme style is] outdated to an extent, because a lot of people want you to dumb-down your music. But, if you doing it for a set audience, and you got your hardcore audience…I gotta give ‘em what they want.”
AZ promised to DX that the wicked wordplay he displayed on the superb lyrical exercise B-side to “Sugar Hill” will definitely make its way to his new album.
“Oh guaranteed, me and Pete in the studio now,” AZ replied when asked if a “Rather Unique Pt. 2” might be in the works for DOD2. “Guaranteed, [me and] Pete Rock, we in the studio now. I’ma do more than one joint [with Pete].”
Having crafted the light jazz-tinged “Rather Unique” and the smooth, piano-tickled “Gimme Yours” (which sported some memorable off-kilter singing from Nas on the song’s hook), news of Pete Rock’s participation in the creation of DOD2 will be welcome news to any AZ fan. Additionally welcomed was AZ’s confirmation to DX that the remaining trackmasters behind the original Doe Or Die are currently being recruited for the sequel.
“Buckwild’s on board,” he revealed. “I spoke to L.E.S., I spoke to D/R [Period], I spoke to them, they all there. At the same time, I wanna bring newcomers to the table.”
Maybe surprising to some, one of the new sonic architects on board for the East New York native’s re-up will be Atlanta’s own DJ Toomp.
“I’m gonna get some joints from him,” AZ revealed of his plans to work with T.I.’s sonic supplier. “I spoke to him. I’m trying to reach out to Dr. Dre. I’m trying to make this epic too, like just bring everything to a full circle. So I’m gonna [reach back] into the past, but I’m also gonna bring it to the future.”
“I even need a joint from Kanye,” he further revealed, “I gotta knock on his door. I’m gonna knock on his door real soon.”
The collaborator Hip Hop heads are most interested to know if AZ will be knocking on the door of anytime soon is the sole big-name guest emcee from the original Doe Or Die, for a possible sequel to the crime-rhyme classic “Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide.”
“I got a record so gangsta for homie,” said Sosa of his plans to reunite on wax with Nas. “I know he’s going through it [dealing with personal issues right now], but this is my message to the homie, c’mon and let’s keep it going, what don’t kill us makes us stronger. We don’t speak as much [as we used to], but I’m a stand-up dude and we from that stand-up era, so he know what it is. Tell him c’mon out of the cage and get with his boy. That’s my word to him. [Unfortunately] I gotta speak via interview to reach him.”
Classic collaborations on cuts from one another’s albums, from the aforementioned “Life’s A Bitch” to “How Ya Livin’” to “The Flyest” to “The Esscence” previously displayed a seamlessly smooth chemistry between the two. Unfortunately for their fans, the duo have not officially worked together in the over five years since “Serious,” which was inexplicably cut from Nas’ ’04 double-disc Street’s Disciple.
Whether or not Nas is receptive to AZ’s message and gets back with his boy, AZ is already proving that he is more than capable of holding down 100% of the mic duties on Doe Or Die 2. No further proof of his still-sharp lyrical sword is needed beyond “I’m Ill" The recently leaked joint is surprisingly – given its rugged ‘90s-esque energy and impressive display of shit-talking lyricism – just a warm-up cut that likely won’t make it to the final tracklisting for DOD2.
“That’s not the official jump off [for Doe Or Die 2],” AZ revealed to DX. “I just put that out ‘cause I just wanted to [get] the awareness up that it’s coming. It’s just something that I leaked out. It’s something that I got off my chest. It wasn’t nothing… It’s just something I’m just teasing ‘em with right now.”
AZ is aiming for a May/June 2010 release of DOD2, but the official street date will depend on the distribution situation for the highly-anticipated album. The former EMI, Virgin, Motown and Koch Records artist, who has also negotiated several side deals with various independent distributors in recent years for unreleased and rare collections via his own Quiet Money Recordings, is determined to find the right home for the sequel to his classic debut.
“I got a few things on the table right now,” he revealed. “But my options are still open, just because I feel like it should be. I been in so many situations from majors to independents. I’m a free agent right now, it feels good. And I kinda always been a free agent kinda sorta ‘cause I always do my one-off [deals] anyway. I always was smart in the business. I own all my publishing. I own all my masters.”
The savvy entrepreneur is expanding his marketing approach to finally include a bigger Internet presence via the New Year’s Day launching of HeyAZ.com, which will be The Visualiza’s version of ThisIs50.com and that will allow for fans to interact with the legendary lyricist.
The site is named for AZ’s summer ’97 single featuring then sensations SWV that proved to be ill-timed as Mariah Carey’s single that summer, “Honey,” boasted the same “Hey DJ” sample used for “Hey AZ” and subsequently suppressed what would have likely been AZ’s second hit following “Sugar Hill” if not for the inadvertent competition between the two similar-sounding songs.
That kind of unpredictable misfortune has befallen AZ at different times throughout his 15 years in the Rap game. But the Visualiza is still “destined to live the dream” as he famously noted on his career-launching verse from “Life’s A Bitch,” and is undeterred in his mission to succeed as he explained, “For those that think it’s a sprint [in this business], it’s really a marathon. We’ll see who really wins at the end.”