Those unfamiliar with Young Zee can do their research. They can search through his discography; find his old solo material or his work with the Outsidaz. There’s the old YouTube footage of him rhyming alongside Eminem and Royce Da 5’9. There’s his verse on the critically-acclaimed, commercial juggernaut Fugees album, The Score as well as his features on many other albums. Now, if you’d like more up to date material, you have his collaborative effort with Mr. Green, One Crazy Weekend.
Young Zee is unapologetic, for the most part. The day he spoke with HipHopDX, he held no punches when talking about other emcees, The Fugees and his rhyme-style. “That’s what gets you noticed,” he explained of his rhyme form, adding that he’s always rapped about “the most ignorant” material he could come up with. However, he also showed that he has a limit, sharing that he had to change a line about Whitney Houston on his latest effort, produced by Mr. Green.
In this interview with Zee and Green, the two spoke about a variety of topics, including those listed above. They also shared fun memories about freestyling with Eminem and the creation of the album, a disc completed mostly in one weekend, as the title suggests. Zee also said that he wrote for The Fugees’ Pras on The Score and that Wyclef tried to take credit for his rhymes. For more from the unapologetic emcee and his producer, read on.
Photograph by Justin Butler.
DX: We have to start with “I Love It.” That’s a fun record. It has a great summer vibe to it. It’s been out for a while. Is that more or less the direction of the album?
Young Zee: It has a fun vibe to it because that’s what we felt like bringing that day. Every day is something different. That day, we just ended up going to the pool, doing flips into the water, cooking food and there were people there. Actually, we had to give out hamburgers to people to make them do flips into the water. You remember, Mr. Green?
Mr. Green: Yeah.
Young Zee: Yeah, we gave out cheeseburgers to do flips in the water. It was mad fun, though.
Mr. Green: That’s kind of how it felt when we were making the album. We didn’t stress out much. We were just having a good time, making some music.
DX: It’s been said that this album was recorded in one weekend. That must have been a crazy weekend. What was that experience like for you guys?
Young Zee: It was actually really fun. There was a lot of partying, a lot of girls around. We was about to go hot air ballooning. We couldn’t stuff everything in one weekend. But we recorded that weekend. At night we went out and had fun. But it was actually three days, like Friday through Sunday night.
Mr. Green: I remember I played him a bunch of beats and within a day and a half, we had like eight songs recorded. So, definitely a bulk of the album got done that weekend.
DX: When you go back and listen to it, are there things you’d like to change about it? Have you gone back to revise some of the material?
Young Zee: Um, nah, there wasn’t anything I wanted to change because that’s how I felt at the time but I did change one thing about Whitney Houston. I didn’t feel it was appropriate so I just switched it up.
Mr. Green: Yeah, if you listen to the iTunes version, the Whitney Houston line is still on there but if you listen to the CD version, we fixed it in time. So, little things like that might be different from one version to another but pretty much the way we laid it down that weekend is the way you’ll hear it.
DX: So, it was recorded before her passing?
Young Zee: Yup. It was recorded a week before she passed.
Mr. Green: It was a good line, too. It was a funny line. But it stopped being funny once she passed.
Young Zee: Yeah, it’s out of respect, you know? I’m not the type that minds hurting peoples’ feelings with my lyrics but that’s just not the types of feelings that I want to evoke.
HipHopDX: Was that the first time you’ve changed lyrics like that?
Young Zee: That’s the first time I’ve ever done that. I remember back in the days, my record label used to tell me to change a couple lines and I used to be like, if I have to change some lines, I’d rather just make a whole new song.
Mr. Green: Yeah, we had a chance to get “I Love It” on TV and the people who were getting it on there were like, “Yo, you need to change some of these lyrics.” He was like, “Nah, they’ll use it anyway.” They ended up using it anyway. We never made a clean version of “I Love It” and it got on TV.
DX: That song was on MTV. It was on a major TV show [Jersey Shore] but you didn’t have to compromise those lyrics. Was that part of the glory of having that presence on TV?
Young Zee: Yeah. It’s never words I have to change; it be whole phrases. It’s not necessarily a curse word you have to change, it’s just something real ignorant that I said. But that’s how me and people I started rhyming with do. We don’t care if it’s ignorant. That’s what gets you noticed! Let me say something that’s the most ignorant stuff I can think of and make it rhyme the most quadruple syllables I can. That’s how I do it. Lyrics count so I’m into a whole bunch of syllables. I’m not into just rhyming the last words. You know how people do that? I’m not into that. I’m into lyrics, wordplay, run-on lines…You know what I’m sayin’?
DX: Mr. Green, did you have all the beats prepared beforehand or did you make them on the spot?
Young Zee: He had a few that he played but a lot of songs, we’d just be listening to certain songs and we’d look at each other and be like, “Start looping it!”
Mr. Green: I had like five beats ready but a couple of them, Zee would call me and be like, “I have a couple things I want you to sample.” That’s how some songs came together.
DX: Mr. Green, many fans are also anticipating your project with Pacewon. What would you say is the difference between both projects?
Mr. Green: I would say One Crazy Weekend came together in a real crazy way real fast with a couple dudes having fun. The album with Pace Won was more something we thought about for a long time. I really can’t say which one is better. I love them both. They’re both nice.
Young Zee: He know. He just don’t want to say that. Nah, I’m just playin’. [Laughs] The difference between me and Pace is that I’m just the freshest emcee I know. Pace ain’t the freshest emcee I know. You know what I’m sayin’? We both can’t be the freshest emcee I know!
Mr. Green: I worked with four rappers this week and they all think that they’re the best in the world.
Young Zee: That’s what we ‘posed to do.
DX: Speaking of emceeing, your son’s a guest on this album. As he was growing up, when was the first time you knew he’d be an emcee?
Young Zee: When he was in elementary school, I got a call from his mom and his principal. They said he was writing terroristic notes in school. We was ‘posed to have a meeting. You know I got there all late, I’m all buzzin’, cookin’. So, they were all walking out the school, my son, his mother and the principal. So, I walked up to them and they handed me the letter. They said, this is the type of stuff he’s writing in school. So, I’m reading the letter and it was like, “I will kill / I don’t real care / I will rob and steal.” I was like, “These is raps! These are raps! These ain’t no terroristic letters. These are rhymes.” So, he left with me. I was like, “Keep rhyming but stop talking with curses and about killing. Talk about stuff you really do in real life.” I told him he wasn’t old enough to curse in his rhymes or to talk about killing. That switched up his little style right there. That was the first time I noticed he was rapping.
DX: Some emcees who are also fathers of young emcees take a really hands-on approach. Some emcees back up and let their kids kind of do what they like as emcees. What was your approach?
Young Zee: I do songs with him. I tell him whether I think it’s fresh or not. I basically just got a recording studio for him and nothing else. I got a recording studio for him to do what he wanna do and basically that’s what he does. I don’t give him rhymes or nothing like that. I just tell him what I think is fresh or not fresh, how he should emphasize this or that or not stuff so many words in there.
Young Zee: Yeah, I give him pointers that I don’t give other emcees though. I tell them if I like it or don’t like it. I wouldn’t help them get better. I wouldn’t care about nobody else. But my son? I want him to be the best he can be so I try to help him.
DX: His name is Krash Battle. You were known as a great battle emcee as well. People have seen your Blaze Battle and so on. How do you feel about the evolution battles have taken with the acapella, written battles?
Young Zee: If you look at my Blaze Battle, I told them to stop the beat. Sometimes, the beat is not the kind of beat you rap to. They just throw on beats. I don’t know. I think it’s cool though. Acapella is better. You can stop. You can pause. You don’t have to try to be on beat or whatever. I think it’s cool.
DX: Do you keep up with the battling scene now?
Young Zee: I fuck with Arsenal. Arsenal is my boy. He’s from my hood. We were doing songs together. We’ve done shows together. My son be beat-boxing for him at his shows. I like the battle scene. That’s what I started off doing so of course I like it.
DX: Who’s been the best battle emcee you’ve ever seen?
Young Zee: Besides me and Eminem? Arsenal.
DX: You just mentioned Eminem. What can you say about the first times you met Em and the transitions you’ve seen him make in his career?
Young Zee: Em’s a great rapper. I’m happy for his success. We’ve come a long way. Even though I’m in the underground and he’s more of a limelight artist, every time I’ve worked with him, he makes sure I get a big check. You know what I’m saying? It’s a cool thing. We’ve had a really good relationship from the start. We could just be somewhere at a restaurant and just start rapping. I’d be like, “I’ll do thirty murders / I want twenty turkey burgers.” Then he’ll be like, “Give me a napkin before I start slappin’ the captain.” Then we’d go from there. That’s what we’d do all the time, just rhyme about everything we’d see and make it funny.
DX: I’ve also heard you speak on the Fugees record The Score in the past, but not in detail. What did you get from that experience? I’ve heard you say you ghostwrote parts of the record. Was there some animosity that came from that?
Young Zee: Yeah, I wrote a lot of lyrics for um…for um…for um…What’s his name? Not Wyclef [Jean]; the other one…I forgot his name.
Young Zee: Yeah, [Pras], Praswell. I wrote a lot of lyrics for him. But besides the fact that I wrote lyrics for him, the lyrics I did myself on their album, they tried to say they wrote my lyrics. They wanted to take credit for the lyrics I wrote for them and the shit that I wrote for myself. We had the same lawyer at that time. My lawyer was like, “That’s not fair to Zee.” He put in a claim for us to sue and they paid us, me Pace and [Rah] Digga. That was that.
DX: Have you spoken with Pras since, or the Fugees about it?
Young Zee: Nah, I haven’t. I haven’t spoken to none of them about it. I spoke to Lauryn [Hill] about it when it happened. Me and Lauryn was actually on the phone for like an hour. She was like, “Why y’all suin’ us?” I was like, “Yeah? For what?” Then she told me. I was like, “Well, I didn’t know but I guess if y’all tryin’ to say y’all wrote my lyrics…” She was like, “It wasn’t me. It was Wyclef.” You know what I’m saying? Whatever. Whatever goes around comes around. I’m not really mad. I mean, they paid me and…shit happens. If you’re not fresh you not gonna be around for a long time, especially fucking everybody.