In June it seemed as if Troy Ave’s Major Without A Deal made news for all the wrong reasons. Only Hip Hop Facts reported that the Brooklyn rapper’s latest sold 4,373 digital units and a paltry 30 physical copies. But what wasn’t initially reported was that, since the album was released on a Friday, the digital talley was based on only three days of availability (since Soundscan still updated every Tuesday), and the physicals were a total of units sold by retailers who broke street date (meaning they sold the album before it was supposed to be available to the public). While Major Without A Deal (released through Empire Distribution) would go on to sell over 7,800 copies by week’s end—a notable number for an independent artist—the meme-ification had already begun. The internet reveled in clowning Troy Ave.
“It really didn’t bother me,” Ave tells HipHopDX in this exclusive conversation. “When I first came on the scene, I was on some, ‘I don’t fuck with these weirdos. I don’t wear super tight pants. I sound like where I’m from. If you sound like somewhere else, you a dickrider. I’m the dealer. I’m not the user.’ So everything that I’m talking about is basically what they represent—the weirdo-media-pocket-types. So they took it like, ‘We got to do a smear campaign against Troy Ave,’ which is how you had people do a good write up on me, all of a sudden [they flipped]. You can’t let losers tell you you’re not winning, because I made six figures in one week. Where I’m from, that’s a mutherfucking W. That ain’t no L. You gotta know what’s real and what’s fake. We only entertain clowns when the circus is in town.”
Also in this inspirational conversation, Troy Ave describes in detail various investment and creative strategies he’s learned from 50 Cent, Fat Joe, Puff Daddy. His relentless confidence may pit people against him, but it’s also the lynchpin to his success. Here he also reflects crafting “Quarter Million” with Cam’ron, the visceral importance of back catalog and the freedom that comes by being self-made and self-paid.
The Making Of A New York Rap Album
HipHopDX: People talk about how New York is not unified. Does it feel like that to you?
Troy Ave: I don’t think so. New York supports me and I support people that I like from New York so I don’t think so. It’s just a lot of talk. You gotta separate fact from fiction. People do a lot talking. It’s like a bunch of talk show hosts, gossip girls. I just don’t get it. Are we not as unified as other places seem to be? Maybe. That all comes into play when people are winning and got heat. When other regions are winning and seem to be putting out hot music and dominating the airwaves it might seem like they’re more unified than everywhere else. I don’t know if New York was mad OD unified back in the 1990s when they was dominating radio. There are probably some people that’ll say “Hell no. We wasn’t fucking with this person,” or this clique didn’t fuck with that clique. So it’s just perception.
DX: I really enjoyed Major Without A Deal. I look at that project. It was a solid project and it flowed. There’s a lot of New York collaborations on there.
Troy Ave: I wanted it like that. I got that from being in the studio with Puff Daddy and Wyclef. I don’t just want to make songs. I’m trying to make records and there’s a lot of people I can do features with but I only want to do features with the person that’ll sound best on the record. It’s got to go together sonically. It’s not just for the name. It’s got to be this beat or this tempo and what I’m talking about matches with Fat Joe. Or this type of flow and this energy match with Cam’ron. This type of feel go with 50 Cent, as opposed to “Let me get a feature with whoever.” That’s just dickriding and it takes away from the quality of the music that you’re trying to put out. I don’t be trying to put out no bullshit for the people.
DX: How did “Quarter Million” with Cam’ron come about?
Troy Ave: I had met Cam before and he was like “I fuck with you, young boy.” You’re doing your thing.” Cam is probably one of the flyest niggas to ever do it from The City. I be on some fly shit, too. I went to Cam’s studio. He was knocking that joint out. I did a record for him and he basically just fucked that shit up and made it ill. Basically, it was just Killa Cam fucking up a beat that I knew he’d sound dope on and that shit just worked. The “Quarter Million” beat was a remix of “All About The Money” that Ted Smooth produced. Ted Smooth had said something about Cam on the shit. Instead of sending him “All About The Money,” he wanted me to put a drop on it, but I just rapped a whole-nother song. I sent it to him and he said, “Nah, I wanted to use it for ‘All About The Money.’” I said, “Aight, you can use it for ‘All About The Money.’ Remix it if you want, as long as you agree that we can use it for a song on Major Without A Deal, I’m cool with that.” He had just brought up Cam in passing while talking and that shit stuck in my mind. We put it together. It came out good.
DX: It came out great.
Troy Ave: Thank you. You know they I’m too fucking cocky so if I say it came out great, they say “Oh, Troy Ave is cocky.” I don’t give a fuck. What’s wrong with being confident? I promote confidence. I don’t promote being insecure and all that kind of chuck shit. Some of the powers that be in the other type of weirdo media pockets, if you got confident people that come on set and elevate, it’s gonna put you on a level where they are but they’re not the Real Deal Holyfield so it kind of exposes them. [They say] I’m confident. Yeah, that’s because I know who the fuck I am—self-made and self-paid. Now, if I’m on the level with you and showing people what it really is, it makes them obsolete. They try to tear you down, but if nobody built you up, they can’t tear you down. We self-made and self-paid and our foundation is the streets. It just so happened that we blessed that the Internet picked me up and started showing love. But my foundation is solid because it’s the streets and that ain’t never gonna change. I promote confidence.
DX: You have Fat Joe on “I’m Bout It.” For all the moguls that came through New York, I feel like his name isn’t mentioned often enough. He gave us Big Pun. We forget about how viable, how impactful his solo career was. We got Remy Ma from him. Why was Fat Joe right for that track?
Troy Ave: Joe Crack talk that shit. He talk that talk. A lot of people ain’t gonna talk that talk and be authentic. The beat just vibed. I’m more so of a producer than anything and the shit gotta coincide with each other so ill that it sounds like I’m taking people back to that time when they were listening to Jealous Ones Still Envy or whatever. The way that he just came on that beat was so ill. It was the way envisioned it but better. What I do is, I make the music and then I go about seeing who I can feature. I make my album first because, worst case scenario, I ain’t in control of no men. I’m just in control of me and mines, so you never know what another nigga gonna do. They might wake up on the wrong side of the bed and not feel like doing it. They may wanna charge me something that I don’t wanna pay. I try to always make sure that if my album had no features, it would still sound good. By the grace of God I’m blessed that everybody’s fucking with me. They felt my movement and what I’m doing. So when I started reaching out to put the people in the places that I needed them to be, they was with it. Fat Joe sent that back ASAP and I was excited. I don’t be pretending to be super cool. If I’m a fan of someone and they give me a track, I’m hype. Crack fucked that shit up. It was ill. I actually did a track for him first. He reached out and I did track for him called “How U Luv Dat.”
DX: This album looks like an expensive album to me. How much love did you catch on this?
Troy Ave: I caught a lot of love. Listen, I spend my money on shit like fucking real estate. I got two cribs and a condo, exotic foreign cars and shit like that. I rap so I can’t see myself spending money on no feature. If somebody tell me a price that I don’t wanna pay, I’m like, “Aight, cool. Your price is your price. I don’t wanna haggle you. I ain’t gonna pay that right now, dog. The song is already done without you.” That’s ill for me to have rap peers. I don’t even consider myself a rapper yet, but just for me to have that respect of my peers and for them to do it off the love, that shit saved me a whole shit-load of money.
It’s like a gamble that works out because I did “Your Style Remix.” I had Mase on it. I had Puff on it. T.I.’s on it. They all did it off the love. They picked that song up for HBOs Ballers. It’s on there so everybody gets their check. It worked out. You get your money in the long run. It’s lucrative if a song gets picked up and licensing and all that shit. I got the HBO check and was like, “I’m good. It’s going in the pocket.” Then, “Oh no no no, sir.” That money had to come back. I’m being honest, I hit my dog Chase N Cache. I’m like, “Yo, Chase, we just got this check. I’m gonna split half and send it to you. I know you got a publishing deal. Do you want us to run it through?” He said, “Yeah, tell them. Fuck it.” We tell HBO that my dog did the beat. Let’s get his shit. They go research and they take his half and then they split it up to Puff, Mase and even Lloyd Banks got a piece because he’s on the original. I ain’t tripping. The amount that they took is nothing in comparison to them doing the feature and what it did for me.
DX: I didn’t expect to hear you say you don’t feel like a rapper yet. I’ve seen you do SXSW years ago in front of 25 people. I know about your days hustling through XXL offices years ago just trying to get your name around. I’ve seen you performing at SOBs. You’re winning now. What does feeling like a rapper look like?
Troy Ave: I guess I just have higher expectations for myself. I always imagine that it happens like this: You start rapping. You sign a deal with a major. You be all over radio. You’re doing shows. You’re touring. You’re fucking with chicks. You’re fucking with nice cribs, nice cars. In the midst of me grinding, I came into the rap shit with a big body Benz. I got that off of being in the streets. I had women. I had a Rolex. I had jewelry. I didn’t get to have the big fame, but I had the fame within my community. I was a local celebrity just running around the streets and when I did the music it just transitioned into that. Everything that’s happened to me has been in baby steps when I’m thinking it’s supposed to be overnight your life changes. From the outside looking in it looks like that. But to me, in reality we here grinding for everything. It’s all hard work and hustle. It ain’t, you going on tour and you come back and your song is #2 on the charts. I just feel like I’m still just a hustler trying to get to it. It just so happened that music is a hustle. It’s fun but I don’t feel like a rapper yet.
Even sitting here thinking about it now, I got a lot of fly fancy shit, but I guess I just don’t act like a rapper. If I’m out and I’m meeting a chick, I keep it light. I don’t be like, “Check my song. That’s me playing on the radio,” or dumb corny shit like that. I just be cool. I guess it’s just me coming from where I come from, me being grounded and not getting caught up in the hype. I came for the money, I ain’t come for the fame. I think that’s what separates you. The fame makes you act like a rapper. I came for the paper.
50 Cent’s Advice
DX: What was it about 50 Cent that you gravitated towards?
Troy Ave: I’m from Brooklyn and 50’s from Queens. I’m wasn’t even thinking about rapping at that time, but you see a nigga from the hood just make theyself who they are. Nobody grabbed him and said, “Hey I’m gonna take you on tour. I’m gonna grab your songs and put you on radio.” He did that himself with hard work and hustle. It wasn’t no luck involved in that. It’s ill because now, what 50 is for me, I in turn became that for other people. I saw 50 put himself on. He got mixtapes floating around the hood. Hovain is the first one to put me on to a 50 Cent tape. There was a chick on Lexington Avenue in Brooklyn where they used to kick it. There was this chick rocking to the music and Hov took the CD from her and put me on to it.
You seen 50 Cent doing shit that’s obtainable. You can go make your own CD. You can put it out. You can make yourself hot. You don’t need to have radio play. You don’t need to have videos on TV. These are all things you can do with hard work and hustle. You don’t really even need money for this type of shit. Now, I’m talking to Young Lito—my artist. We’re doing an interview on Sway In The Morning. He’s like, “Me looking at Ave inspired me because Ave got exotic foreign cars, cribs, jewelry, touring around the US, and he don’t have no song on Top 20 Billboard or stuff like that.” This is all hard work and hustle. This is, “Nigga, I’m hot. I’m gonna make myself hot. I’m gonna pick up one fan at a time. I’m gonna shake every hand. I’m gonna retweet the people. I’m not gonna be too cool and fucking Instagram my album cover one time or two times. I’m gonna do that shit everyday.” I’m just hustling, picking up more fans and these are all things that are obtainable for somebody else. The same way I saw it with 50 Cent’s success, I’m inspiring other people. It’s not like you just heard of 50 Cent on MTV. We saw the grind dropping four or five mixtapes. I like that grind because I never felt like a lucky person. I feel blessed in hindsight. I don’t do the luck and I ain’t mad at it. I love the hard work. I don’t need no handouts.
DX: I love how you describe the importance of back catalog and remaining independent as long as possible so when you do sign a label deal, you still get to eat off of your back catalog because everyone will go get those just because of the newfound fame. Was that taught to you?
Troy Ave: Nah, I just figured that out. I think the first thing I put for sale was I’m In Traffick. It was a mixtape. We in the streets heavy hustling, going out of town. That was my actual Benz on the cover. I put that shit on Tunecore just to have it up there. I wasn’t on some Internet savvy shit. We were selling our shit hand-to-hand in the streets. Then when I started getting more Internet savvy, I dropped Bricks In My Backpack. By the time I got to Bricks In My Backpack 3, I went to look at my Tunecore account and I had $3,000 in that bitch. I’m like, “Oh shit.” This is some shit I’m not promoting at all. Niggas go back and buy your old shit when they’re fucking with you. That’s why I always stress the importance of putting out quality music, especially when you’re coming up independently. Niggas on a major, they can put out an album with two singles and 10 fillers. They can do that. Me, I never know where I’m picking up a fan from. You never know when a fan is going to Google you. A random song could pop up. You better make sure that shit is fire because if that shit’s wack, that nigga may never check for you again. The back catalog and having dope music out, if that shit’s wack, I ain’t gonna put it on the CD. You just never know.
DX: Was it meaningful when 50 Cent jumped on the album?
Troy Ave: Hell yeah that was meaningful. That shit meant almost everything to me. That’s like Michael Jordan telling Kobe Bryant, “Man, I see you doing your thing.”
DX: Do you guys talk often?
Troy Ave: We talk often. I talked to Fif before he went to Europe. The shit’s so ill that a fan tweeted that 50 Cent played my whole album before his set [in Europe]. While the deejay is warming up, they’re playing the whole Major Without A Deal. That’s some shit I would do if I saw someone coming up and I fucked with them.
DX: Does he give you advice?
Troy Ave: You better bend a rich nigga ear if you’re trying to be rich. I ask him questions like a mutherfucker. He gives me a bunch of tips on how to get to the money—real financial advice. I never knew that off of $1 million in the bank, you can collect $80,000 in interest a year. I never knew that. The way that I get so much money is that I live under my means. If a nigga see me in the strip club and I throw $1,000 or $1,500, I could’ve really thrown $10,000 or $15,000, and I’m getting paid to be there. Don’t think I’m ever living above my means. If you see me buy a fucking brand new car with $140,000, I really could’ve bought that brand new car a couple of times. I didn’t go buy the Lamborghini because that would’ve been extreme. I’m always looking for new ways to save my money and invest it and make the money work for me. That’s what it’s about. You gotta make the money work for you. The value of money depreciates unless you got it working for you. I always listen for shit like that. So when he told me that, I was like “Aight, I’m gonna make a move on that.” $80,000 a year ain’t nothing to sneeze at. You ain’t gotta have a million dollars and act like a millionaire. That’s how you go broke.
DX: Do you think that comes through your music?
Troy Ave: I my fans pick up advice like a mutherfucker because all I drop is jewels in my music. I got substance in my music. I don’t just talk about bullshit or just say shit because it rhymes. “Fucking your daughter / Cup full of water / Ran ‘cross the border.” I’m saying no dumb shit. I’m talking about shit because it makes sense. Some niggas talk about whatever like, “My computer can’t hack it / I got an orange jacket / Get the work and I pack it.” Nigga, you ain’t talking about nothing. A nigga like me, I’m talking about something and I tell a lot of stories. Like on “A Bronx Tale,” that’s a story. The one with Ty Dolla $ign, “Used To Fuck With Me,” that’s a story. All of these are real life stories. I’ll have a story within a regular rap that ain’t a story but I’ll have a short story. Whether the shit’s six bars, I’m telling you about a real life situation.
I’m always dropping jewels in my music. If a nigga really listen to my CD, there’s niggas that hustle and grind to my CD and they get motivated. More than anything, the underlying message is motivation, grind, don’t take no for an answer, don’t let nobody tell you what you can or can’t be, what you will or won’t be. If a mutherfucker don’t want to help you, cool. It might take a little longer, but you’ll get it done and you still going to feel more justification because you don’t owe anybody nothing. I don’t owe a nigga nothing. I don’t owe no label nothing. All my music recoups. I don’t owe no mutherfucking banks nothing. I don’t have a mortgage. My crib paid off. I don’t got no car note. I’m lying. I just bought a new car. I shouldn’tve bought it. I’m trying not to get caught up in the nigga business, as Butch Lewis would say. I called my manager Hovain like, “I’m about to buy this shit. Should I buy it?” He said “Yeah, it’s a good buy. Fuck it.” The only reason I got a car note on this shit is that my other car is way more expensive. The luxury van that we ride to shows with is way more expensive. The only reason I got a car note on this is to build my credit. That’s where niggas don’t know. You buy some shit that you can definitely pay off, but I’ll pay it off in six months and have my credit looking crazy because I paid off a car. That’s the only reason. That’s how you know I give it to you real. I ain’t gonna lie and be like, “Yeah yeah, I paid my shit off.” I got one car note. You got me. What you gonna say, “Troy Ave got a car note?” Get the fuck out of here. [Laughs]