It happened to Freddie Gibbs when he was signed, and subsequently released, from Interscope Records five years ago. And now it has happened to his artistic ally, Pill, with his recent separation from Warner Brothers Records.
Stylistic descendants of the late Tupac Shakur have found little love from commercial radio in recent years, and thus their initially adoring record labels eventually find themselves confused as to how to handle their hardened, reality-speaking signees and subsequently turn their backs on them. Pill is just the latest casualty caught in the crossfire between major-label artist scouts, their oftentimes clueless superiors and consolidated radio outlets who can only allow a dozen artists at a time to be heard by the masses.
On Tuesday (February 7th) Pill spoke to HipHopDX about the battles he has waged in that music business war since his certified classic street release, 4075: The Refill , made him the toast of the industry. The Atlanta street pharmacist, whose prescriptions for pain medicine to ease the suffering of those struggling in the trap and elsewhere made him arguably the second hottest newcomer of 2009 behind Drake, additionally discussed with DX his gratitude to Rick Ross for at least attempting to give him a second shot at making his situation with Warner work via his Maybach Music Group before Pill’s time with both labels was up. The now former “other guy” in Ross’ MMG crew concluded his conversation by explaining why the release today (February 9th) of his fifth mixtape, The Epidemic, will mark his final unofficial offering and why he believes all such releases may soon disappear from the Hip Hop landscape.
HipHopDX: I wanna start off by being sorta Stan-ish and just thanking you for finally dropping that video for “New Clothes And New Shoes.” I’ve been waiting on the clip for the standout song from your last mixtape, The Diagnosis . To me it’s powerful proof of why Pill deserves to be spoken of amongst the now school’s top tier of actual artists – deal or no deal.
Pill: I appreciate that. They gon’ get a hold to it soon.
DX: Have you been getting a lot of feedback from the people on that song in particular?
Pill: Yeah, I got a whole lotta feedback on that song. I’m actually gonna probably put it on [The Epidemic]. ‘Cause it blew up after I dropped the visual. People just felt it. It was like, that’s the old Atlanta [Hip Hop sound], that’s that realism that’s telling the story of the hustlers and the people that was struggling. A lot of niggas got in the trap just ‘cause they want some new clothes and new shoes. And like, some nights when you was staying down, you had to get them [Jordan's] … or you wasn’t hustlin’ right. That was the whole thing: you had to stay fresh. That was the whole thing with “dope boy fresh,” like you had to be geared up. If you was looking bummy and you was trappin’, it was like it was no reason for you to be trappin’. So [that song] is like that real shit, that post-up on the corner when times are hard shit.
DX: That Pill shit.
Pill: Yeah, it’s that Pill shit. That’s that [music to] get ya roll on.
DX: So when we gonna get a video for a different kind of song, a video for a full version of a smooth song that surfaced post-Diagnosis, “In Reality” ?
Pill: I might just do one for nothing. You know, I freestyled that whole song. That was just a cool song at the time. That song just came about one night I was on the drank and I was feeling myself, and I was like, “Let me go swag this bitch out.” And I went in the booth and did it. I ain’t know people liked it like that until I was just on the way to Mississippi and I heard it on the mixtape that the driver had playing in the car. He was like, “I love this song. Who is that?” I was like, “That’s me, nigga.” [Laughs] He was like, “That’s you?” I was like, “Yeah, that’s me.” He asked me who it was because I was rappin’ every word to it. He was like, “Damn, how you know about this?” I was like, “Cause it’s me.”
DX: That’s probably the best skirt-chasing record you’ve done to date. So Warner Brothers never heard that song?
Pill: They obviously didn’t. They never heard a lot of my records. Even though they probably had ‘em, but just never took the time to listen to ‘em because they head was stuck so far up they ass at the time. And it’s not even their fault. It’s just that when you got other artists on the label that’s garnering more attention – More labels these days are after a quick buck. It’s no development. It’s no sticking with your guns and believing in a certain artist. It’s whoever’s doing this at the time. And the funny thing is, I was actually doing it at the time. But, they just didn’t invest nothing in me. My budget just sat still for a minute. And it was open too. It just didn’t do shit.
DX: You mean they wouldn’t greenlight you working with certain producers or certain artists?
Pill: Oh, I had all the producers. I worked with [Kane Beatz], I worked with Needlz, I worked with - Man, I had tracks from everybody. Me and Colin Monroe linked up on some shit. It was just, they didn’t get it. Tha Bizness was doing tracks. These are Grammy Award-winning producers that was doing my tracks. And it wasn’t even [because of Warner Brothers that they were working with me], it was [because] the actual producers [were] reaching out to me sending me shit. A lot of the big-time producers, they got it, early. So I had an email full of dope shit. The label just didn’t get it.
DX: Who was your A&R?
Pill: I didn’t have an A&R. I signed directly through the [Vice President of Asylum/Warner Bros. Records], Joey IE. I signed directly through him, and I thought maybe that would’ve given me a bigger shot. [So] I didn’t have an A&R. An A&R didn’t bring me to Warner. The actual CEO, Todd Moscowitz, and Joey IE, called me.
DX: This was after “Trap Goin’ Ham” blew up?
Pill: When “Trap Goin’ Ham” hit the ‘net, they was on the phone within three hours. I didn’t even go through the typical A&R trying to sniff out a new artist [thing]. I didn’t go through that. As soon as “Trap Goin’ Ham” hit the ‘Net, they called me the same day.
DX: So who did you take tracks to then when you were done with songs?
Pill: I played ‘em for them. I played ‘em for Joey. I played ‘em for Todd. I played ‘em for those guys.
DX: And they never said “This song here, this is a single, we can do something with it”?
Pill: They liked the records. But I think with a label it’s like a one-track mind. Whatever train is moving already, that’s who gets the support. And it was like, I had the money to do it, but they just never did it. Like, they never even got “Trap Goin’ Ham” to radio. That shit changed Hip Hop!
DX: Yeah, the video sure did.
Pill: The video changed Hip Hop. And also, it catapulted Motion Family into superstardom as big-time directors. They have everybody on their highlight reel now. Before, it was just me. Matter fact, Creative Loafing just came out and I’m still highlighted [in there about] where they shoot my new video, “It’s All On Me” . And they also had a spread about “Trap Goin’ Ham.” That video will never die. That song will never die.
DX: So bringing the timeline a little forward, did anyone at the label ever explain to you why they didn’t push “Pac Man” [from the Maybach Music Group Presents Self Made Vol. 1 album] to T.V. and radio as you accused them of via Twitter in December?
Pill: Nobody ever explained to me anything. And I’m thinking like, “Damn, I got the hottest nigga in the game, [Rick Ross], on this record. And I’m wit’ him as a matter of fact. And y’all can’t put this [on the radio]?” And we spent money on a video, and it didn’t even go to television. I was like, “It’s television friendly. Why isn’t it on television? Why isn’t it playing on radio?” ‘Cause, at the end of the day, all it takes for a hit to be a hit is some money behind it. We’ve heard a bunch of bullshit records that we hated that we’ve had to listen to every day, but they put the money behind it. That’s what I try to explain to artists and explain to different people that don’t understand the music game. You’ve heard a bunch of bullshit singles that went platinum, that wasn’t even worthy, because they put the money behind it. Niggas can have an album that’s worth five mics in The Source, with six singles on that bitch, but if nobody ever push that bitch to radio or get it on TV we’ll never hear it. It’ll be the greatest album we never heard.
At one point [Gucci Mane’s manager], Coach K, was working with me. He was at Warner. And then Nigel [Talley] was working with me, like trying to A&R some shit. But like, nothing really happened. Coach showed a lot of love. He put together that record with me and Gucci produced by Play-N-Skillz, [“Gotta Have It” ]. He put that record together; he got me in the studio with Gucci. So Coach did a lot for me, [and] it was like, “Damn, this shit could actually be something.” It was a dope record – I was on the hook, I rapped on it. And I was like, “Gucci Mane is the hottest nigga in the game.” And they still never did nothing with it.
DX: Now, you know we gotta switch gears to what [Rick] Ross’ role in this whole thing was or wasn’t. The last time we spoke, you told me you didn’t feel like you had to compromise your more soul-bearing approach to making music when you were with Ross making that Maybach music. But did Rick ever speak to you directly about either making songs more like Meek [Mill] or more like Wale to get that radio love like they had gotten?
Pill: Nah, he never tried to get me to do anything different. He believed in me, from what I felt and what was told to me. But it just never really materialized. Like he said in [his interview with MTV], it was a special stipulation to where I got to run with them ‘cause I was already over at Warner. And I appreciate the love from Maybach [Music Group] and from Ross and everybody over there for giving me that opportunity because it got me in a different spot. It kinda saved me. It’s just that it never really went further to where it was supposed to go. All of us [in MMG] was supposed to be at that forefront, but it was like these three guys and then Pill. It was like, “Damn, so what’s up with Pill? Why his shit ain’t on this radio station? Why his shit ain’t on MTV?” But everybody else’s was. So it was almost like I was just that other guy.
DX: You and Ross have both been remarkably diplomatic about this parting of the ways – clearly stating that there’s no animosity and that you both wish each other well. You just referenced in Ross’ most recent interview with MTV he explained that when he did his deal for MMG with Warner that “it was a business opportunity that was presented where Pill could run with the team for a year.” Do you agree with that sort of blunt assessment though, that it was just business?
Pill: I mean, when you get somebody and represent them and they’re also going off of your name, I think mainly it’s because you believe in that person. ‘Cause he could have took anybody and put them on the front cover of that album, but he chose to put me there. He had other guys that’s been running with him for a minute, and they didn’t make as much of an impact on that album as I did. ‘Cause I felt like he believed in me. Shout out to everybody at MMG. But like, he gave me an opportunity but I just thought maybe that opportunity woulda been stretched a little bit further than it was, as far as marketing and branding and all the different things that other guys got that I didn’t. I was right there with them. It’s not like I was never there. I’m on probably more songs than anybody on that album.
DX: So just for clarification, did Warner let you out of your contract after that year running with MMG was up?
Pill: Yeah, I was – I had told ‘em obviously this isn’t working out. I was like, “It’s pretty obvious that it’s not working out right now, because I’m under scrutiny from my fans and other people like, ‘Why Pill ain’t performing at the BET Awards?’ Or, ‘Why Pill ain’t at these shows? Why Pill ain’t on tour with them?’” So I was like, “Well, it’s pretty obvious it’s not working out right now.” But, it is what it is. And, shit happens for a reason.
DX: You said in your MTV interview that in regards to Ross, “I ain’t really got too much to say to somebody that ain’t got nothing to say to me. So, I mean, I’m not a brown nose, I’m not a punk-ass nigga, and I’m not fin to go try to chase behind somebody that ain’t saying nothing to me.” That was probably like the most blunt talk you had in that interview. Have you and Ross spoken since those comments?
Pill: Yeah, we’ve spoken since then. After he did that interview, I hit him. He hit me back. You know, I still hit him every now and then and he hits me back. So we still speak. It ain’t no bad blood between us, period. It’s just that’s what it was at the time. [But] I still speak with him. I was just with Wale the other night. The last time he was in Atlanta I ran into him at Magic City and we chopped it up. Shout out to him for the interview he did as well. And I support them; I wish them well in everything they do. Shout-out to Meek [Mill]. Last time he was here [in Atlanta], he brought me out. He ain’t have to do that. I performed “Pac Man” with him.
DX: So you think there’s any chance of you guys doing more music together?
Pill: I’m not sure. If it’s politically incorrect, then no. If it’s not something they should do regarding the situation [with Warner Brothers], then probably not. But, if it can still work in spite of the situation, then yes.
DX: I think this is just kind of weird. In the past Rap crews happened organically. It was guys who all grew up in the neighborhood together [and] somebody blew up – sorta like the A$AP Rocky thing. Like, A$AP Rocky cracks through, all his friends from the neighborhood come with him. And [MMG] is like a record label put together thing.
DX: I don’t even have a question, it’s just … weird.
Pill: Yeah, I mean, things happen, formats change … ways of doing things change every day. So, maybe that’s the new format of doing things.
DX: It’s a blunt question, but I have to ask, do you feel like the MMG/Warner situation was your last shot at reaching the mainstream?
Pill: Nah, not at all. Not at all, because other labels [are] still looking at me, so … That was just an opportunity to reach the mainstream. And I did for a second. And I’ll continue to do it, ‘cause I’m still on the forefront.
DX: Would you take another deal though or do you feel like, Nah, I gotta stay independent?
Pill: I’ma let this mixtape play out and do what it do and then I’ma think about it. It just depends on if the money right, and if the marketing gonna be there, and if I’m gonna be guaranteed hard release dates, and if I can be guaranteed that they’ll go to radio with my singles that I picked. ‘Cause if I pick ‘em then they should love ‘em too.
DX: So, you’ve talked about it, that next move after The Epidemic. Are we getting The Medicine album? Are we gonna finally get that trio project from you, Killer Mike and Big Boi? What’s the next step?
Pill: I honestly don’t know. But I know The Medicine will be next. I’m not doing no more mixtapes. However I gotta put The Medicine out, that’s the way I’ma have to put it out. I’m not doing no more mixtapes.
DX: Why not?
Pill: I mean, I’ll do a mixtape, but not right after that. I need to put an actual project out for purchase. Like, a real LP. I need to put that out ‘cause it’s long overdue. It’s been three years.
DX: It feels like kind of the same thing a fellow Southerner, Big K.R.I.T., is going through. He’s about to drop probably a third classic mixtape, and it’s like, at what point do the mixtapes have to stop and the albums have to start?
Pill: Right. ‘Cause like, Rap artists have to work harder than other artists - any artists, R&B artists, Rock artists. A Rock artist gets signed, they put the album out and they go on tour. R&B artist comes out, they put the single out [and] it hits radio. You don’t hear about them dropping a million mixtapes. Basically, how many times you gonna have to keep putting these mixtapes out before you get an album? I think at a certain point artists should be able to put out an album, regardless of how it’s received or how much buzz it has. It’s like, you’ve proved yourself enough.
DX: Do you predict, do you forecast a day when the all original-material mixtape – the album masquerading as a mixtape – stops? That artists just stop doing that because it’s just a waste.
Pill: Yeah, soon. Because, at a certain point people are just gonna go back to freestyling over beats. Because you’re wasting great songs, you’re just throwing ‘em out there. At some point people are gonna get tired of wasting great songs that probably coulda been up for purchase.