In 2004, Ron Artest became the center of one of the biggest atrocities in NBA history. In the closing minutes of a regular season game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, a fight broke out between the Queens native and big man Ben Wallace. Artest, looking to stay out of the melee taking place between the teams on the court, laid down on the scorers table, when a fan threw a beer on him. The Pacers forward leaped what looked like 20 rows into the stands and went… well… Artest… all over him. He was suspended for the rest of the season. The NBA went into full damage control. The rest went infamy.

The next day, Artest appeared on the Today show. Those of us watching knew the conversation would be about the Malice In The Palace. Apparently, the artist now known as Metta World Peace was told the conversation would be about an album he was releasing through his Tru Warier imprint. It was one of the oddest interviews I’ve ever seen.

The irony is that, 12 years later, I don’t remember what Metta said about the brawl. I don’t remember what he said about David Stern. I don’t remember anything other than that he had an album dropping the following week. If marketing is what he wanted more than reconciliation, it at least resonated on an individual level.

“That was interesting,” Metta World Peace tells HipHopDX in this exclusive conversation. “That CD was Allure. That was the first artist that I signed… We had a November 23 release date… On November 19, the Malice In The Palace happened. On November 20 I was on NBC because I had this record coming out that I put a lot of money into. When I got suspended, it was over. That whole check stopped. That was some of the money that I invested in Allure—touring and marketing the project. I was in a tough spot because the season’s over for me. They cut the whole check off and I’ve gotta continue to push the girls. When I went on NBC I was like, ‘Yo, I’m not talking about the brawl.’ Matt Lauer, he’s a big time columnist, he’s definitely a scumbag. He’s asking me to his show. When you’re asking me to your show, you’ve gotta show me some respect. He’s automatically taking the sides of everybody else instead of embracing a talent on your show. He’s definitely mean and irresponsible to invite somebody to your show. Anyway, they knew the whole time I was going to promote my CD. Now I look like a hoodlum promoting a CD because NBC didn’t back me up when they knew this is why I was coming on the show. So it looked like instead of talking about the brawl, I was talking about music.”

That’s the history. But if you thought Metta World’s music ambitions were strictly side hustle, you’ve missed out on the last decade-plus of his public life. At this point, he’s been rhyming for over 17 years and has a gaggle of artists he’s helping to reach their rap dreams. He released Streets & Ball earlier this year and has another project featuring Prodigy, Havoc, Tragedy, Capone, Nature, Cormega and several other Queensbridge elites. He explains his passion for music in this exclusive conversation, reflects on the life of Big Kap, details why Murda Mook deserves to be considered as a Top 10 Greatest Rappers Of All Time, shares how he repaired his dismembered reputation, and why New York artists are “selfish and full of shit.”

Also, if you missed it, check Metta World and his artist Southside Tre kick rhymes during #DXLive.

The Best Baller-Rappers

HipHopDX: I don’t think people realize how long you’ve been rapping and releasing music. It’s got to be at least 15 years of your life at this point.

Metta World Peace: I started in 1999. Now it’s 2016. I only had one hit. It’s cool though. I’m grateful for it. Nature, that used to be with the firm, we’re from the same block. I used to go to his house every Thanksgiving. We used to watch WWE and Royal Rumble. Nature wrote my first rhyme in college. I was gonna start rapping before I got to the NBA. Then it died down a little bit. Then I got back into it.

DX: Is it because the league is that demanding?

Metta World Peace: Yeah, man. I had some things I wanted to say coming out of high school and going into St. John’s [University]. Then I had some more things I wanted to say going into the NBA but I wasn’t able to write. I was into the game, practicing my defense, practicing my offense and things like that. I never got the chance to really do my best with the music.

DX: I remember when Allen Iverson tried to rhyme and David Stern had a real problem with it.

Metta World Peace: When AI was rapping, he said some things that was attacking some genres. I think that was the main issue. In my rhymes now, I still speak uncensored, but it’s coming from a place of things that I’ve been through. I think AI just made a slight mistake in one of his raps. But he’s one of the best baller-rappers. Everybody was looking forward to that album. He had the album ready. I think it would’ve been a little too uncensored; kind of like Eminem, but Eminem was not playing in the NBA. We missed out on hearing a great album from AI. It would’ve been amazing.

DX: Did you ever hear it? Did he ever play it for you?

Metta World Peace: I never heard the AI album. I heard the Kobe [Bryant] album, which never got released. I heard the mixtape. Kobe’s a really good rapper. There’s a lot of other ballers that rap, also. Ben Mclemore from the Sacramento Kings, he’s one of my favorites. Iman Shumpert is probably the best all around artist that’s an athlete, because he can produce videos, he writes his own videos. He’s very creative and a really good rapper. Damien Lillard, he just came on the scene last year with that freestyle on Sway, so he’s got more work to do. There’s a lot of other good, talented athlete rappers.

DX: Kobe’s project was a big deal. A lot of people wanted to hear it. Back then, coming off of Will Smith’s Big Willie Style, which was really popular, a lot of stuff that Steve Stoute was doing then was running. You’re saying it’s a good project?

Metta World Peace: Kobe’s a great writer. He probably won’t rap, but he can if he wanted to. I heard his music. We used to freestyle in the room sometimes. I think his bigger calling will be big theatrical movies. He’ just a great writer.

DX: Have you guys ever recorded together?

Metta World Peace: Nah. We never had a chance. Me and Kobe love the game. We can be in the room freestyling and talking about music, then we’ll forget we ever had the conversation because it’s game time. That’s it. Nothing else matters.

The Malice In The Palace

DX: I remember when you released your first album, [My World], in [2007]. There wasn’t whole lot of cursing on there. There wasn’t a lot of profanity. I was surprised by that.

Metta World Peace: A couple of things hurt me with that project. I was holding myself back. When I’m giving you music on my life but I’m cutting certain parts out, that’s not going to relate to the people I’m talking to. The other problem I had was I didn’t use any help. I didn’t use outside producers. I didn’t use outside engineers which is very important when you’re making an album. I didn’t use outside writers for the hooks or nothing. I’m competitive. I want to compete against whoever’s out there, whether it’s Jay Z or Nas. I don’t care. I’m competitive. I’m gonna do something. I’m gonna get into it. I’m gonna give it my all. In order to compete in that same field, you gotta have just as strong of a team. We was in a point where we was doing everything ourselves. I was doing most of the mixing and production. It wasn’t a great project.

DX: Tracks like “La La Ladies” and “Workin The Pole,” you produced those as well?

Metta World Peace: Man, I did a lot of the co-production. It brings me back when say that. Those were fun records. We spent a lot of time on them, but the time wasn’t used smart. We didn’t go out and do the right amount of shows.

DX: You opened for Ludacris at one point.

Metta World Peace: Yeah, we opened for Ludacris. We had a song called “Nasty Norf” featuring my man Knotie The Pimp. He’s from Queensbridge. He was accused of being one of the lead racketeers. He was facing a lot of time. A couple of my other dudes was on that record. We performed with Fat Joe overseas. It was great.

DX: I remember not being able to tell how serious you were until you were on the Today show following the Malice In The Palace. There were rumors floating around that you were interested in music. What’s interesting is that, I don’t remember what that Today interview was like. I don’t remember what Matt Lauer said. I don’t remember what you said about the brawl. I remember Tru Warier. I remember you pushing a CD.

Metta World Peace: That was interesting. That CD was Allure. That was the first artist that I signed. Allure used to be signed to Mariah Carey. We had a November 23 release date. We had this great R&B album that was coming. I was the manager and the label at that time. On November 19, the Malice In The Palace happened. On November 20 I was on NBC because I had this record coming out that I put a lot of money into. When I got suspended, it was over. That whole check stopped. That was some of the money that I invested in Allure—touring and marketing the project. I was in a tough spot because the season’s over for me. They cut the whole check off and I’ve gotta continue to push the girls. When I went on NBC I was like, “Yo, I’m not talking about the brawl.” Matt Lauer, he’s a big time columnist, he’s definitely a scumbag. He’s asking me to his show. When you’re asking me to your show, you’ve gotta show me some respect. He’s automatically taking the sides of everybody else instead of embracing a talent on your show. He’s definitely mean and irresponsible to invite somebody to your show.

Anyway, they knew the whole time I was going to promote my CD. Now I look like a hoodlum promoting a CD because NBC didn’t back me up when they knew this is why I was coming on the show. So it looked like instead of talking about the brawl, I was talking about music.

DX: I think it might’ve worked, man, because 12 years later, I don’t remember what you said about the brawl.

Metta World Peace: The whole brawl happened because it was a $50 bet. The guy who threw the cup at me, him and his friend was at the game. His friend bet him $50 that he could hit me with the cup. That’s what the whole thing was. Granted, I attacked the guy who hit me. Was I wrong? Who knows. Should you attack someone who hit you? That’s a question to be answered. The whole thing was I didn’t initiate that whole thing. That’s what I was trying to get across. I’m not saying I was the perfect kid. I always rep the ghetto to this day. That situation was not my fault. If that situation was my fault, then I would have to take full responsibility. I take responsibility for half of that, but nobody knows the backstory. That cost me a lot of endorsements. It cost me fans who liked me for just basketball, they turned on me. That whole day was crazy. Matt Lauer, that interview was crazy. He didn’t understand any of it.

DX: Have you spoken to the fan that threw the cup?

Metta World Peace: The guy who hit me with the cup, we’re cool. Four years later, I reached out to him. I don’t like to hold grudges. Too many times in the streets, I’ve seen people hold grudges. People die over grudges. I’m not that type of person. I’m transforming. As part of my transformation, I was talking to my psychologist, part of my transformation was reaching out to people you have problems with. So I reached out to him and we became good friends. He’s a white dude from Detroit. I’m a black dude from New York. We had issues. We talked and had a beer together. It’s a dude named Johnny Green. I’m cool with that.

DX: That reminds me of Troy Ave’s recent situation. Whatever the details really are, it sounds like there’s a grudge somewhere in there.

Metta World Peace: Hip Hop is definitely to uplift. And then somehow, I guess when N.W.A came out, people labeled that as gangster rap. That was not gangster rap. I don’t care what Ice Cube says. That music was inspirational because they were talking about things that they went through. If you’re from the east coast and you look at N.W.A, you’re like, “Wow, that’s gangster rap.” If you looked at what Biggie was doing, now you want to try to make that kind of music. But if you look at Afrika Bambaataa or MC Shan, that was real Hip Hop. The music was all about uplifting and having a great time. Somehow it went left. To me, it’s not really Hip Hop unless you’re making that type of music, which is the foundation of Hip Hop: having a good time and being inspiring. I’m not saying that the club music is not good. I like to go to the club. I like to go to Atlanta. I like to go to the strip club. I like to listen to that music and do what I gotta do in there: throw money. I love it! At the same time, that’s not Hip Hop to me. When you talk about Hip Hop, you’ve gotta protect it more. You can’t label irresponsible lyrics as Hip Hop, irresponsible music as Hip Hop. It’s not real Hip Hop. It’s different and it should be treated as such. Good music, cool music, whatever—but definitely not Hip Hop.

Rebuilding His Reputation

DX: You mentioned you’re endorsement issues. I feel like you’ve recovered better than many might think. You were on Dancing With The Stars. You were talking about your own reality show at one point. Your label’s growing. You’re working with different artists. How’d you do that?

Metta World Peace: When I first decided after the brawl, publicly I was humiliated. Maybe I humiliated myself a little bit. What I did was I spoke to my partner Heidi Bush and I said, listen, we’re not going to change overnight, we’re going to let it happen gradually. By the time I’m 35, we’re going to make a little transformation. By the time I’m 40, we’re going to make a full transformation. But I didn’t want to go on TV the next day in a suit and start crying and begging for forgiveness. This is a real reality situation. This is what happened. And overtime you’ll see change. That’s with anything in life—humans, animals, trees—everything grows over time. I wanted to grow over time and find myself over time. Even to this day, I’ll do interviews where a typical athlete will have on a suit and tie, I’ll go on TV in a t-shirt. I don’t live in the suit and tie era. To this day in my hood, they’re still coming down the street with 50 people, taking my friends to jail. We’re still having street problems. I’m out the streets, but a lot of my ties are to the streets. That’s the reality of my situation. I’m ready to move on and totally forget about the streets. That’s what a lot of the fans don’t understand. They’ll say, “Wow, Ron Artest’s rapping.” Well, I rap because of the shit I’ve been through. My big brother did 10 years in jail for selling drugs. A lot of my friends is in jail for murder and things like that. This is what we do in the streets. I play ball and I’m from the streets. Music is the best way to get the message out; the best way to get your artist out of the same circumstances and get that message out. That’s what people don’t understand about that connection that anybody can have with music.

DX: You were back in New York for a season [with the Knicks]. Now you’re back [in Los Angeles]. When I think about Hip Hop, I think about New York. When I think about opportunities in entertainment, I think about LA. From your point of view, how was your perspective on the entertainment side that season? Did it feel like things slowed down for you a bit?

Metta World Peace: It slowed down a lot for me in New York. I was trying to do other things. LA is different. For content, you come to LA. Everybody comes here for the content. In New York, they are too, but there are more corporate decisions in New York. It was different. I ain’t really know how to move in New York, to tell you the truth. I move way better in LA. I get more creative in LA. The problem is I need to get my fan base in New York. So for this project, we’re really focusing on New York. New York is a tough crowd because if you’re not a great artist and you’re trying to rhyme in New York, they’re gonna see that right away. I’ve been booed off of stage in New York before, but I kept rapping. I ain’t give a fuck. Nigga from New York, I’m from New York: “Get the fuck off the stage!” “Nah, nigga! You get the fuck out the club! I’m doing this fucking music.” I’m from New York. I know how that goes already. Even when I went to the Knicks, I know how to approach those New York fans. The problem was in New York, back in the day, I wasn’t ready. So I stayed away. I wasn’t a dope artist. Now I feel I’m confident in myself, so I’m going to New York and we’re going to get it back in, go to the clubs and perform. I got my crew with me this time. We ready. I ain’t gonna lie. We’re ready to do our thing there then take it here and then grow. I got a whole crew of young motherfucker’s that’s hungry. They’re from the streets and ready.

DX: I know you worked with with Big Kap. He went on tour with you. He passed away and it was tragic. What do you remember most about Big Kap?

Metta World Peace: Kap was my man. We went on tour overseas together. That was my DJ. We had a show with Ludacris together, a lot of shows together. He was on my album on a track I had with Game. We talked a lot. That was my man. To see him pass was tough. Everybody on my label, we was all cool with each other. We’d go out, eat, party, whatever together. That was a tough loss for us. For everybody.

DX: What’s coming up with Tru Warier?

Metta World Peace: I’ve got the album that I’m working on. Southside Tre is my artist. The Deacon. Then we’ve got other artists from the neighborhood. Mad Flow. Chef La. Bars & Hooks. They’re all from Queensbridge. Prodigy and Havoc is actually on the project. Nature’s on the project, too. Capone’s on the project. Capone is my cousin, C-N-N. Infamous Mob. Nitty. G.O.D. I’m gonna wait for Nas. Tragedy’s on the project. That’s my big bro. Poet from Screwball. I can’t get Hostile. He’s not functional right now. That’s actually my brother-in-law. He’s not gonna be on the project, unfortunately. The Tru Wariers, that’s my group. We’re all on the project.

Then there are other artists on the project, too. Noble Ali from Chicago. I don’t know him. I heard his music. I’m giving him a shot. He’s on the project. We got Hollow Da Don. He’s so nice. DNA is on the project, one of the best rappers out. We got a nice group of guys on the project. I’m excited. Then we got more music coming too. We’re going to be consistent.

DX: What I wanted to capture from this conversation was how sincere and serious music is to you. It doesn’t feel like a side hustle to me and it doesn’t sound like it the way that you talk about it.

Metta World Peace: I like performing. I like going in the booth. Some people say you’re a studio thug or fake when you’re in the studio. In the studio you have to portray some type of emotion. Obviously, if you’re in the studio talking about shooting people—I don’t talk about shooting people—but if you were in the studio talking about shooting people, maybe that’s something you’ve been through. So obviously you’re not shooting someone while you’re in the studio recording. Being in the booth is fun. You get a chance to let out something that you’ve experienced. And being on stage is even better. I’ve performed over 100 times. Some shows weren’t good. I ain’t gonna lie. We’ve had some bad turnouts where nobody shows up—literally nobody. Then we’ve had great turnouts. That’s fun. It’s different than basketball. During a show, they’re here to see you. On a team, they’re here to see somebody else. You might just be the bench player on that team. That’s why I like performing, you get a chance to be yourself a little bit. We have a great time on stage.

DX: You mentioned that you’re waiting on Nas. Have you been talking to him about music?

Metta World Peace: Not about featuring, but we talk about other things, maybe go bowling or something. He’s busy. When the time is right, I will be asking him to get on the record. He’s been motivating me since I was 10 years old. Nas is right from Vernon. I’m from 10th Street—two blocks away. Havoc’s one block away. Nature’s from the same block. Capone, one block. Tragedy [Khadifi], same block. They’ve been motivating me for a long time. MC Shan, one block away. Roxanne Shante, one block away. Lakey The Kid, he basically held it down for Queensbridge because we had a lot of opportunity in the hood if you were trying to hustle. Lakey kept a lot of outsiders out when they were trying to run the hood. Lakey put it on the line for the hood. I’ve been inspired for a long time by all artists. This time, I’m inspired by Nas to actually do some really good music because if I can do really good music, then I can get Nas. There’s no sense in me asking Nas to get on a mixtape right now. I see J. Cole do a song with Nas. I get hungry by that because Nas is my nigga. So I get motivated to do good music so one day I can say, “Big bro, I need you on this track.” But now is not the time.

“New York [Rappers] Are Selfish & Full Of Shit”

DX: I always look at New York as the most competitive place when it comes to rap.

Metta World Peace: Selfish, too. New Yorkers are selfish and full of shit. Most of the artists are so fucking selfish. It takes Jay Z and Fat Joe 20 years to do a song together. What the fuck is going on? It takes 50 Cent and Fat Joe 10 years to get on stage together. You should’ve been doing that. They’re selfish.

DX: Do you think that’s part of the reason why New York isn’t viewed as being as dope as it used to be or as successful as it used to be?

Metta World Peace: New York self destructed. Let alone, my hood. A bunch of selfish motherfuckers. Nas and Mobb Deep do minimal songs. Cormega and Nas can’t get along. Nature and Mega can’t get along. They’re tripping. We had an empire. You got Mobb Deep. You had Bars & Hooks under them. You had Bravehearts under Nas. You had Infamous Mobb under Mobb Deep. C-N-N doing their own thing. What the fuck is going on? And they can’t do records together. Nas can’t do a hit and then do a hit with Cormega and make more money. Mega make a hit with Bars & Hooks and make some more money. But these motherfuckers can’t get along. That’s how New York is. New York motherfuckers is selfish and they want it for themselves. Then you go to the south and they’re eating together. The Bay Area, they know who the Don is, E-40. They know who the Don is and they eat together. New York is everybody trying to get it on their own. There’s no way you can do it on your own. That’s the problem. And then they get mad when the music infiltrates our city. I go to New York, I don’t even hear Papoose. I hear Future. I wanna hear Future in Atlanta. I don’t wanna hear Future in New York City.

DX: Desiigner’s from New York.

Metta World Peace: [Laughs] Desiigner sounds like Future, huh. He’s got a great song called “Panda.” I love it. That shit’s dope. That’s not a New York sound. That’s not a typical New York sound. It’s not about the sound. It’s more about how selfish New Yorkers are. They don’t work together. A young kid from Brooklyn might be inspired by someone from Atlanta. That’s fine. I was inspired by Michael Jackson. He’s from Indiana. I don’t just have to listen to New York music. But what made New York New York is gone. And they don’t pay homage. They don’t respect KRS-One. They don’t respect MC Shan. They don’t pay no homage, no respect. Hopefully young guys pay respect. Hopefully these older guys get off their lazy asses and start mentoring these young guys from New York.

Murda Mook Is Top 10 Greatest Of All Time

My favorite artist right now is Murda Mook. Murda Mook is the total package. Nobody can do what he do. There’s not one artist that’s on the Top 5 Greatest Rappers Of All Time that can do what he do. All the greatest Hip Hop battlers look at Murda Mook as being the king. People gotta give him his just due. They gotta place him in the Top 5 or Top 10 because the toughest thing to do in rap is battle. All the battle rappers are giving Mook the crown, so he deserves some type of underground respect. Every time they mention Top 5 they always mention Jay Z, Nas, Biggie. We gotta talk about Murda Mook. In the mainstream, when you talk about the top artists it’s Eminem, obviously. But they got Interscope behind them or Universal or Def Jam or Atlantic Records. Mook ain’t got that shit behind him. Mook made his name off just being dope. So we have to throw his name in the conversation. We have to.

DX: That’s a point I’ve never considered and I think you’re absolutely correct. I may not necessarily agree with Mook forever, but whoever’s at the top of battle rap, why can’t they be listed as Top 10?

Metta World Peace: You have to mention them because it’s hard to do that; to entertain with no music with a group of people who come out and pay to see you and that’s not supported by mainstream media. That’s tough.

DX: Sold. I’m with you on that. That’s a whole editorial right there. I’m a diehard Chicago Bulls fan. You were on the team with Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Jamal Crawford. I think Jay Williams is the greatest basketball player in Duke history and it’s tragic that he had that motorcycle accident. Had that not happened, how far do you think you guys could’ve really gone? That team was built for the NBA as it looks today in my opinion.

Metta World Peace: We had a great team. We had no real vets that can play. It’s good for teams like that to have a vet that can play. If you have a vet whose career’s over, some of the young guys might’ve never seen the vet play. With that team, we was basically the leaders. We had Charles Oakley a little bit. For the most part, I wasn’t stable enough at 19-years-old. I didn’t understand what it took to be a professional. I was doing a lot of things that weren’t professional. You can’t really rely on something like that. You’ve gotta coach 14 other players. It was never gonna work for me in Chicago. I was not ready.

Metta World Peace’s Streets & Ball is currently available on iTunes