Crooked I has seen it all. He was on the front lines as a key player in Death Row Records’ final iteration, and when he decided the major label system couldn’t provide what he wanted, he helped usher Hip Hop into the Digital Age with his “Hip Hop Weekly” series. The story could’ve ended with him carrying the dreaded label of a “blog rapper.” Or to take things beyond the context of just music, it could have ended when gunshots were fired in his direction during a casual interaction with a fan in 2009. As it happens, Crooked I is still here releasing music on his terms both as a soloist and as a member of Slaughterhouse.
“Every time I even think about laying the mic down, I think of a bar that nobody has thought of yet,” Crooked says, in regards to his growing tenure in the Rap game. “I’ll be like, ‘Well, damn. If I can still manufacture some crazy rhymes, I can’t stop. I read a lot of success stories. People who overcame challenges and adversity and stuff like that. That’s always inspirational, too, just to keep going.”
You can make a solid case for Crooked living such a story, particularly if you listen to his music and understand the hardships he and his siblings overcame. With his own imprint, a radio show and arguably one of America’s biggest major record labels poised to promote the next Slaughterhouse album, Crooked I has plenty to discuss.
Crooked I Reflects On The Impact Of “Hip Hop Weekly”
HipHopDX: The last time HipHopDX talked to you, you mentioned writing a book on lyricism. How’s that coming along?
Crooked I: It’s coming along good, man. It’s taking longer than I thought it would, though, because it’s mainly compiled of lyrics from “Hip Hop Weekly” and side notes. But the more I get into it, the more comes out. So it’s taking a little longer than I thought, but it’s still coming for sure.
DX: Without letting the cat out of the bag, is it more about the technical aspects?
Crooked I: First and foremost, it’s like a book of lyricism of the “Hip Hop Weekly” series that I put together. So you’ll get every “Weekly,” and it’ll be kind of like a Decoded where I’m breaking down what I was going through and what was going on when I was doing that. Also, it’ll get into what you were talking about—the technical standpoint—of, “Why did I use that pattern in this specific spot?” and, “Why did I do this and that?” The way I see it, Hip Hop really needs more lyricism in mainstream. Instead of always arguing on Twitter about who’s wack, I figured I’d do something about it. So it’s like something to give the next generation coming up so they can say, “OK, why did this man have this certain rhyme scheme? Why did he use these metaphors?” I’m just trying to break it down technically and for other people to respect it. It is an art form. You’d be surprised. I sit in meetings with people about Hip Hop, and they’ll tell me that you can just find anybody walking down the street who can knows how to rap. No, it’s not. It’s definitely something you have to practice. It’s a skill, and it’s a craft. People in certain worlds respect it more when it’s written in book form. So, that’s another thing that I wanted to get out there. It’s coming soon, man. I feel like a jack-of-all-trades, and I’m doing too much shit right now.
DX: Obviously, a lot of people tried to copy that “Hip Hop Weekly” format. What do you think is going to be the lasting legacy of “Hip Hop Weekly?”
Crooked I: The work, itself. People weren’t even thinking of doing that at that time. One of the things I wanted to show was that if you work hard enough, you can make it look easy. I wanted to show people that every week, I can hit you over the head with something that can damn near fuck up a whole album, lyric for lyric. Every week, I can do this. I could have done “Hip Hop Weekly” because that’s just how hungry I was—and still am. At the end of the day, I believe that it will be the lyricism, it will be the work itself, and it will be the different things that was going on in the world that I was able to speak on. It was like, “OK, that happened this week? Let’s go talk about it.” Just the innovation of knowing that everything was coming towards the web and knowing that it was a place I needed to be and have some kind of presence. Helping other up and coming artists understand that you don’t need an A&R, you don’t need a publicist, and you don’t need all that shit. Just rely on your work, because everybody used to tell me, “You need this. You need payola. You need that. You need this.” One weekly series, and I’m on covers of XXL, you know what I’m saying? Just working. I think that’s inspirational to some kid in Iowa who doesn’t know what a publicist is or how to get his record on the radio or [thinking], “How the hell do I get an interview with HipHopDX?” If you work, it can happen. I think that’s what it can be, for sure.
Why Crooked I Says Fans & The Internet Created Slaughterhouse
DX: We can’t talk to any of the four of you without bringing up Slaughterhouse. In a recent interview, Just Blaze was really adamant about you guys all being in the same room at the same time for Glass House. How’s the dynamic this time around, having that emphasis on being together?
Crooked I: It’s dope man because this is how we did it, and this is how the group was formed. We like to say the group is God’s work, and we like to say the fans formed Slaughterhouse. It started off throwing an email over here, doing that and doing a song with Joe [Budden]. But, as soon as that song hit on the Internet, we decided to do the second song. The very next song, I flew in from Cali, Royce [Da 5’9] flew in from Detroit, and we all got together. From that point on, it was a different energy when we worked together. It’s kind of hard. It’s four guys, and everyone is trying to chase their own ambition. [You have to] get ‘em all in the same room and get everything done. What Just [Blaze] was doing was on point. I actually moved to New York for damn near two months just to work on it. Being in the same room with everybody, joking and having fun, and leaving everything outside of the studio door, coming in open-minded and ready to work—I think that was just the best formula for us, man.
I think this new Slaughterhouse album is definitely the best piece of work we ever did. House Rules and On the House from the first Slaughterhouse album was the big ones that I really [was proud of]. I think this one, right here, is going to be one of the ones. Just Blaze is amazing. I mean, to have him in there, Cardiak, Illmind, Araabmuzik, J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, and have them all cooking together? It’s not just us, know what I’m saying? It’s amazing what they came up with. I’m real excited about this project. I can’t wait to get it out.
DX: You mentioned the fans kind of creating Slaughterhouse. How do you balance that? The fans are very vocal, and obviously you want them to purchase your music. But, at the same time, you guys…
Crooked I: I’m trying to figure out how to just be, just to keep whatever quality of life I want for me and my loved ones. I’m always trying to figure out how to do that without worrying about what a fan purchases. ‘Cause when I start worrying about what the fans purchase, it’s going to be a rough ride, bruh. The fans, they go up, down. They get iffy, shaky, and they say, “I don’t like this that you did, or that.” And now, so much of our lives are exposed through the Internet and through reality TV. It’s just like, who can be a perfect artist for a fan, nigga? I have to be perfect for you to purchase everything that I do? I have to be your ideal of a perfect rapper? It’s a lot of pressure, man. So, I continuously keep my hand in things that will just allow me to rap and do what I love doing and still have a cool quality of life.
The fans, yeah, they’ll crucify you. You read the comments! My little brothers got the Horseshoe Gang, and I tell them, “Listen, you’ve got to play this like a quarterback. If the quarterback throws a couple of interceptions, the coach tells him, ‘Don’t read the papers, man’.” Sometimes, you just don’t need to get all them comments in your mind, cluttering up the creative space in your mind. ‘Cause they’re gonna try to outdo each other with who can say the worse shit. It’s like a competition out there. Certain sites, oh my God. That’s why I like HipHopDX. You get a fair chance with the type of fans you guys have created. I’ve tracked it. You get a fair shake. There are some sites where they just come to demolish you! I don’t care how dope your shit is. It’s a game. They’re battling each other with comments [like], “Who can say the most fucked up shit ever?” I kind of like the fans that y’all attract. It’s like Slaughterhouse. It’s like we’ve got some good, well-educated Hip Hop fans. If you’re a Slaughterhouse fan, I can trust your judgment if I’m about to purchase something. If you say, “Yo, this shit is hot,” I can trust your music judgment on that.
DX: That’s quite the compliment. Y’all have kind of groomed a certain type of fan.
Crooked I: Yeah, but it has its downsides, ‘cause that certain type of fan might not push you to like three million records. I ain’t trippin’ though. Like I said, it goes back to it. Rappers, stop worrying about getting every penny off a fan, dog. Go do something else, nigga. Get some money so you can keep your shit pure in the lab.
Why It Would Take $20 Million For Crooked I To Sign With A Major
DX: In line with that, I think the last time we talked up at the Skee Lodge, you were talking about being independent, having the CDs of Apex Predator on you, going hand to hand. How would you define being independent, right now?
Crooked I: It’s headache-free, man. It’s like being single versus being in a relationship. You’re gonna have your ups and downs but, when you’re single, you know one thing: you’re going to have your freedom like a motherfucker. Sometimes, you might be fuckin’ with a chick, [and] she might be bad as fuck, but then you start understanding that, “This is not better than the freedom I had.” The independent game provides so much freedom that I don’t have to answer to a lot of people about a lot of nothing. When I start dealing with majors, then, here we go. It’s like it [will] take me 10 dudes to speak to one dude.
That’s one thing I will say about being on Death Row a long time ago. I see a lot of negative news and press about Suge [Knight], and Suge is who who he is. But one thing I can say is when I was under his umbrella, it wasn’t a lot of Hollywood shit going on. If I needed to call Suge for whatever, it’s gonna go straight to him. It’s gonna go straight to his cell. If I ain’t get my check like I was supposed to [like], “Hey what’s goin’ on,” it’s like, “Aw nigga, come to the house!” Even though he was the CEO of a historical label, the way he dealt with it, it wasn’t a lot of Hollywood shit. Like, when I was on Virgin, it was a lot of red tape and [being told], “Call this guy or that guy,” and, “You can’t get to this guy or that guy.” It made me love being independent.
DX: Indeed. How much do you think the definition has changed? It used to be straight independent. Now, you can be independent and have a distributor. You may be…
Crooked I: You’re not all the way independent like that. A lot of these dudes yelling “independent” have a major machine behind them and, as savvy as the fans are, you would think they would know that. This generation has the savviest fans. They know everything about everything! They know your first week sales. Just imagine if first week sales didn’t matter. That’s a whole ‘nother thing. Now we’re judging people on what, talent? Get the fuck outta here. But a lot of these dudes say that independent shit, and we really out here, independent. Like I said, if I’m selling CD’s out my trunk, or I’m dropping them off at different mom and pop stores…I’m doing shows, getting the show money, putting the show money into a video. I’m gettin’ the road money and putting it into a Horseshoe Gang collab. We are really independent. We booking the studio, getting that money, and using that to keep the lights on in the studio so we can do our projects! So, everything is independent. These dudes say they’re independent like that and, you know, God bless ‘em.
I mean, if Universal came to me, right now, and said, “Hey, man. We’ll give you $20 million and we gon’ push C.O.B.,” I’d probably take that $20 million. You might say, “Are you still independent, Crooked I?” and I’d be like, “You know what? They did give me that 20. They are one of the biggest distribution companies in the world. I’m not fully independent anymore.” I guess it was trendy, at a certain time, to say, “I’m independent,” so a lot of rappers were saying that shit. You know, rappers be doing what’s trendy, dog. There aren’t too many real niggas that’s out there on the top.
How Eminem’s “Encore” Impacted Crooked I’s Perception Of Him
DX: Sad, but true. This fall, we’re going to be coming up on the 10-year anniversary of Eminem’s Encore. Just as a fan, what do you remember about when that dropped?
Crooked I: Ten years of Encore? Wow. I mean, the thing about Em’, man. What I remember most when Encore dropped was that he still had his potency. It’s like, “Alright, you’re gonna get famous, sell a bazillion records, and you gonna fall off with the flow. You ain’t gonna still be hitting that hard.” But he does. I don’t know what that is because some dudes who came out after him couldn’t keep the flow up as consistently as he has. Like, what is it? Is it just the competitive nature in an emcee that you have to have so you don’t fall off lyrically? That’s what I was surprised by. I was like, “After all this enormous success, what is this album gonna sound like?” It still was creative, and it was still lyrically potent. It was still Em. And, to this day, he’ll walk in and throw a notebook on the table [and I’m] like, “What you doin’ with that?” and [he’s like] “I’ve got some rhymes in there, dog. I was just thinking of some shit.” And it’s like, “What?” Then, these young motherfuckers want to go in there, party for 14 hours, make a half of a song and shit in 14 hours, and they think it’s all great like they’re on top of the world…[as if] they gonna be the next Eminem like that.
DX: The sword is still sharp.
Crooked I: The sword is still sharp. And that’s why I’m laughin’ when I see that somebody wants to battle Eminem. What the fuck? Get the fuck out of here with that dream. First of all, how the fuck would Em’ come from Mars to battle you? He’s a fucking alien. What the fuck is he gonna come down to Earth to battle your ass for? What does he gain from that? What, just thrashing you in public? You mothafuckas don’t listen to this man’s wordplay? Get the fuck outta here. The sword is still sharp.
DX: No lie, no lie. Let’s end it on this note. You’ve been in the game for a long time, seen success…
Crooked I: Seen failure. Don’t ever forget that part. I’m not gonna let nobody forget that shit. That shit was hard.
DX: Failure leads to the success.
Crooked I: There we go!
Crooked I Reveals What Still Excites Him In Hip Hop
DX: What still gets you excited about Hip Hop? You’ve never been a person to be like “fuck Rap” or anything like that.
Crooked I: Nah, I can’t, because there’s too much out there. It’s the new shit, man! I’ve got this radio show with [DJ] Skee, the C.O.B. Radio, and we about to revamp it. A lot of the shit I’ma start playing is just new, like, up-and-coming. I don’t even care. I’ve got demos, dog. I believe in music karma, so I get handed demos, flash drives, CDs, all this shit all the time. I can’t listen to everything, but I don’t ever throw it away because I wouldn’t want nobody to throw my shit away or my little brothers’ shit away. So, in my garage, I’ve got stacks and stacks of fuckin’ CDs, over the years that people have given me. So a lot of that music is going to find a place on my radio show. I’ma start really exposing that new shit. If it’s hot, we playin’ it. That’s motivational to me.
Seeing my little brothers and knowing that they could probably get in the ring with any rapper out and get busy. I don’t care who you name. Seeing that? That’s always inspirational like, “Damn, them little niggas is cold.” I’m really inspired by other people’s success. I read a lot of success stories. People who overcame challenges and adversity and stuff like that. That’s always inspirational, too, just to keep going. But it’s always something. Every time I even think about laying the mic down, I think of a bar that nobody thought of yet, and I’ll be like, “Well, damn. If I can still manufacture some crazy rhymes, I can’t stop.” I was talking to this kid, man. I ain’t gonna say his name, but he had just got out the feds, for like 17 years. He was like, “Dog, I’m too old to rap. I’m 40 something years old, now, but I still got it though.” I said “For real?” He was like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Shit, you’d better get out there, then.” Never stop, nigga!
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