My life was the craziest, surprised I’m even walking.” –Crooked I

For Crooked I, this has not been an easy journey. The barriers have been plentiful and the ride has been shaky (the ride has also been shot at, as you’ll read in this piece). While life has handed him a series of strenuous situations to handle, this industry has only piled it on even further.  “I learned my lessons early,” he explains. “The industry didn’t waste time shittin’ on a nigga.”  

He says that with a laugh, which begs the question: Knowing that life’s journey has been such a challenging one, how is Crooked I laughing?

That laugh may be coming from a place of peace, an understanding. He’s not bitter. He’s not upset. In fact, he sounds calm and confident today, characteristics that emanate from his voice in a clear manner.

Why shouldn’t he be at peace? He’s maneuvered through treacherous times, maintained an impressive work ethic and is now signed to Shady Records as a member of the Slaughterhouse crew. He seems to be happy, but he isn’t satisfied yet.

The leader of the C.O.B. movement has a lot on his plate. With a new EP, In None We Trust, out this week and an upcoming Slaughterhouse album out early next year, Crooked I’s ride may not be as shaky now, but it’s certainly moving with some velocity, bringing new challenges to face and to conquer.

Crooked I Speaks on “In None We Trust” EP, Faith & Religion

HipHopDX: In None We Trust is an interesting title. Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into it. But, as a person, what are some things that you really trust or truly believe in today?

Crooked I: First and foremost, the architect of the universe, God. That title, some people say, “‘In None We Trust?’ Nah, it’s, ‘In God we trust.’” Don’t be stupid. Of course we trust in God. This is about a lot of these industry fakes and snakes. I don’t trust none of them. I just trust my camp, my family, my Slaughterhouse brothers and my C.O.B. family.  That’s all. In none we trust outside of that. I think I’ve got a good reason to say that because the game hasn’t been proven trustworthy to me. So, In None We Trust, it’s a circle, it’s C.O.B. for life. We’re going to go out and show the world what we have. I think we got the strongest movement on the West coast since Tha Dogg Pound movement. We recently dropped a cypher video and you can see my guys get loose in there. But, there’s way more music to come from me and my circle. So, I don’t trust in none of these crooked execs out here in the industry. We ain’t trusting none of that shit. We’re trusting each other. Period.

DX: Interesting that you mention the God reference because on Joe Budden’s “Sober Up” , you say, “I know God is in my radius.” What has allowed you to witness that in your life?

Crooked I: Man, so many things, so many things. When I was young, my mother was real religious. She still is a religious woman, spiritual. So, as a kid, I was coming up reading The Bible. I read that front to back and then read The Quran. I was always interested in different religions and beliefs. Me personally though, you know something is real when it’s affecting your life. I remember, when I was like 15 or something like that, I got into a fight. Me and my older brother and my cousin got into a fight with some dudes. You know, we handled our business or whatever. It was a scuffle over some bullshit, whatever. We get in the car afterwards. We’re driving. Now my homie’s car, he had problems with his car, carburetor problems. Sometimes, when he would turn the corner, the car would just shut off. So, we get in the car. These dudes start shooting at us. I guess they were upset about how the little scrap went down. So, they start shooting at us. They’re right behind us. When we turn the corner, [my friend’s] car cut off. Man, they Swiss-cheesed that car. It was a [Buick] Regal so you know, a Regal back then; it’s a two door. So, you’ve got four guys inside, boxed in. You’ve got bullets flying everywhere in there, ricocheting, glass breaking, coming through the metal. Being 15, that’s an experience where you don’t know if you’re going to make it out. That’s a young age to digest people trying to murder you. Walking out of that car in one piece? My brother was shot but he recovered. So, coming out of there in one piece? I know that God was watching out for me that day and on many other days after that. That’s just my personal feeling. People can say it’s a coincidence. People can say, “When it’s your time, it’s your time.” I believe in divine intervention. So, that’s when I really figured that God was in my radius.

DX: On that same song, however, you say, “Can you blame me if I’m Atheist?” What prompted that line? It’s a compelling line because you follow that up by acknowledging that God is in your radius and that you can see Him often.  

Crooked I: You know what it is, bro? To be honest with you, organized religion, a lot of it is straight up B.S. and even in The Bible it tells you to not follow man. You’ve got organized religion and you can take for instance the Crusades and killing people so they’ll bow down to your religion. Take a Klansman who has no problem lynching a minority and then going to church on Sunday. There’s a stain on religion. If you really study it, there’s a stain on religion. A lot of people misinterpret it. A lot of people have killed in the name of God. So, as a person out here in the world, trying to figure out what’s my purpose or why I’m here, I don’t blame a person if they don’t believe. That’s because a lot of these men, a lot of churches or even with the Radical Islam factor, it’s hard to believe in anything. With the way that certain religions are represented, it’s hard to believe in anything. So, I don’t blame a person who is Atheist or Agnostic or on the fence. Me, personally? Yeah, I believe in God, straight up and down. But, I wouldn’t judge somebody who didn’t because in this world, it’s so crazy. Sometimes you wonder how a four year old can just get molested repeatedly or how can somebody just kill a senior citizen over five dollars or other crazy things that go on in this world. So, I can understand that way of thinking, even if it’s not my own.

Crooked I Talks About Slaughterhouse’s Sophomore Album, What He’s Learned From Eminem

DX: Switching gears a bit, fans are waiting on this Slaughterhouse project. When we spoke in March, you said a few things. I just wanted to get an update on that. You first mentioned that you’ve been getting life music from producers. How’s the process progressed from then, in terms of the overall direction of the album?

Crooked I: Aw, man. It’s just a great progression. It’s funny because people know each one of us for a certain thing. They’ll say, “I know [Joe Budden] for being introspective from his Mood Muzik thing. I know Royce [Da 5’9] for being violent and talking about shooting m’fuckers all the time. I know him for this and him for that.” But, really, we’re all pretty much well rounded, man. It’s just that people might not get a chance to see certain sides. So, on this album, you will see an introspective side of Royce. You’ll see a shooting every mothafucka side of Joe Budden, you know what I’m saying [laughs]? It’s really an interesting thing. Now, when I say “life music,” I mean that in life, you get happy, sad, you mad, and it’s just a range of emotions. They’re all covered creatively on this album. I really believe people will be able to relate to this album, whether they’re Slaughterhouse fans or not. There are going to be songs on there that I know they’ll be able to say, “I can relate to that.” Musically, producers brought it to the table. We just had to go in there and do what we do lyrically and conceptually to match the producers’ energy. Producers went crazy. Then, at the end of the day, [Eminem] walks in. A lot of people don’t give Em credit as a producer but I get to sit there and watch him produce. We all know that he’s such a great lyricist. That may be what’s overshadowing his production but dude is ill as a producer. I mean, the whole package of the producer, not just, “Here’s a beat, fellas. Go rap.” No. I’m talking about, after the raps are done, live instruments being added, mixing the vocals and sitting in there for eight hours on one song, just producing the song. Then, he comes back the next day and does the same thing. Then, the next time you come in there to hear the song, it’s been taken to a whole ‘nother planet.

DX: So, Em was able to provide beats but also act as an executive producer, correct?

Crooked I: Yeah, with Em, he’s in there with us. That’s a big thing. I know some people tell me, “I wouldn’t want to be recording with Em all the time. It’s good that you guys are over there but I wouldn’t want to be recording with Em all the time. I would want my space to be the kind of artist that I am.” I look at that and that sounds crazy as fuck to me, man.  That’s like the [Chicago] Bulls back in the day saying, “I don’t want to practice with Michael Jordan.” You know what I’m sayin’? I don’t get that shit. So, every opportunity that I have to be in Detroit in Eminem’s studio, I’m fucking there. I almost thought about buying a condo out there just so I could go in and learn and make music under the umbrella that he created. He’s a fucking genius with that shit. It’s been a great ride and hopefully we can take it all the way.

DX: It sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience with that, observing but also collaborating. What’s been something surprising that you’ve encountered in your time with him in the studio or as a crew with him in the studio?

Crooked I: Um, what’s been surprising? He’s got a crazy sense of humor but that didn’t really surprise me because, just listen to his music and you’ll know there’s some kind of comedian in him [Laughs]. But, what’s been surprising? [Pauses for a second] You know what? It’s how much he knows each Slaughterhouse member. Obviously he knows Royce but I’m saying musically, how much he knows about our music before Slaughterhouse came to Shady [Records]. Sometimes when you don’t hang around a lot of these super-celebs, you don’t know if they’re listening to your shit or not. So, coming over to Shady, we find out Em bought our album the first day it came out. He was in the know about songs we did on the Internet, individually. That was surprising to me. And he’s real easy to work with. That was another thing. Dude is down to fuckin’ Earth. He’s real down to Earth and easy to work with. He could be a straight asshole if he wanted to be. Believe me, there’s a lot of fuckin’ assholes that sold less records than Eminem in this industry. That was real surprising. That first time I met him, I was like, “This dude is real humble. He’s a cool cat.”

Crooked I Expresses Desire To Collaborate More with Dr. Dre

DX: Now, another thing you had mentioned was that if you had it your way, Dr. Dre would produce tracks on this album. You also said that you had Dr. Dre beats lying around with Slaughterhouse’s name on it. Today, I’m wondering how that has progressed.

Crooked I: We did record something. You know? We did record something. [Pauses] Eh, I’m never going to be satisfied until I hear like five or six Slaughterhouse/Dr. Dre collabs. That’s just me, though. That’s me being a fan of Dr. Dre since I was a fuckin’ kid. That’s also me understanding that a Slaughterhouse and Dre collab could be potentially 2012-N.W.A. type shit. In my mind, if I was in control of this shit, I don’t want nothing laid back. I don’t want nothing that’s going to be mistaken for a club banger. I want some shit that sounds like straight mothafuckin’ chaos, rebellious lyrics, some I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, and some 2012 Dr. Dre/N.W.A. type shit going on in that fuckin’ beat. If you give me that, I guarantee you we’ll shut the fuckin’ game down with them songs. Guaranteed because that’s what’s missing right now: high quality production and I-don’t-give-a-fuck mentality on the mic. Since the recession in Hip Hop, those budgets are smaller now. The budgets are so small right now. It’s funny because I’ve been in the game for so long. Some people are recording whole albums with what we used to call an advance, just for our pockets. So, when they do get that high profile producer, they gotta do something that’s gonna hit iTunes and Billboard heavy, and the radio. So, they gotta get more bang for their buck. That’s why you might hear a high profile producer and an artist making the same kind of songs all the fuckin’ time because the record companies try to get as much bang for their buck for a producer that’s charging them an arm and a leg. But, when you say, “Fuck all of that. Fuck what the radio talkin’ about. Fuck what iTunes’ or Billboard’s talkin’ about. Let’s go in this mothafucka and make some shit, some we-don’t-give-a-fuck shit.” That’s what kind of shit I want to do with Dr. Dre.

DX: And that hasn’t all the way happened yet?

Crooked I: Nah, it ain’t happen yet. If it did, I’d be like, “We got a surprise for you.”  [Laughs] Nah, that ain’t happen but that’s not saying that it won’t happen. I’m definitely a persistent dude and I’m glad you asked me this question because every time this pops up, we get a step closer to that shit happening. It gets on everybody’s radar and they say, “Yeah, Crook really wants to do this.” [Laughs] It’s gon’ happen. It will happen. When it do, it’s gonna change Hip Hop for that moment in time.

DX: What do you think is holding it back?

Crooked I: You know what? I think it’s just scheduling. Dr. Dre is probably the greatest of all time in production in Hip Hop so obviously his schedule is bananas. He’s killing the game with [Beats By Dre], traveling around. Then, with Slaughterhouse, we all doing our thing separately, individually. I think it’s a scheduling thing but we gon’ conquer that. We will conquer that because I’m not going to stop until it happens. Period.  

DX: You mention scheduling. Did you guys make more of a concerted effort to get together in the studio and not email vocals for this second Slaughterhouse album?

Crooked I: It was kind of hard to do because everybody got shows and Joey might be in New York, Royce might be in Australia and I might be anywhere, Joell [Ortiz] might be…Yeah, it was kind of hard but we definitely didn’t want to do a bunch of emailed vocals. We wanted to be in there with each other. We managed to pull it off. We came together in Detroit three or four times, locked in for a week at a time. You could tell because the energy when we’re all together, man…Dog, I’m still shocked at the energy and power we all have when we all unite. It’s shocking to me, dog because I see peoples’ reaction. I’m a member of the group so it’s hard for me to put myself in the shoes of someone who’s on the outside looking in. Peoples’ reaction is like something crazy is happening with Hip Hop when we play songs for them. I’m talking about seasoned vets. I’m like, “Okay, this shit must be special.” [Laughs]

DX: That’s gotta be a good feeling.

Crooked I: Yeah, aw man, c’mon, dog. That’s the whole thing. My career should serve as inspiration to any up-and-coming artist. If they follow my career and research my career, they’ll find out that I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. To me, what kept me going is being motivated by peoples’ stories. I like to read motivational books and shit like that. Plus, I talk to the people who write those books. They tell me their stories and it’s just like, I could’ve came out 18 years old and sold a million records and been fell off by now, or still going strong. Who knows? But, it went down the way it went down and now it could serve as inspiration for an artist going through anything in this industry. From fake manager, bad record deals, lack of money so you can’t get in a studio how you want to, no connections, no networking capabilities because you don’t even know where to start, they can look at my career and learn from it and definitely be inspired by it. It’s all good at the end of the day. That’s why I’m not a bitter emcee. I’ve got people that came in the game with me the same year, we had the same rookie year, but when I talk to them, they’re very bitter. Things didn’t go the way they planned them, and they’re real bitter. I can’t be bitter because first of all, nobody gives a fuck. [Laughs] Second of all, why [be bitter]? I just want to be some sort of inspiration. People tell me, some rappers hit me on Twitter. They say, “I wanted to give up but if Crooked could keep going, I could keep going.” That’s big shit. That’s the reward right there.

DX: You talked about ups and downs there. What do you remember being the worst down that really made you get on the brink of saying “I’m going to get out of this industry.” What was the biggest down you could recall?

Crooked I: It’s kind of hard, dog. That’s because I learned my lessons early. They didn’t waste time. The industry didn’t waste time shittin’ on a nigga. My first deal at Virgin [Records], I remember they just got rid of the whole Urban department. They just got rid of the whole Urban department. I had a fuckin’ album done. I had a single called “You Ain’t the Homie” with Daz and Kurupt on it when Daz and Kurupt were burning up everything moving. I was a teenager. You know what I’m saying? I had another single with Nate Dogg ready to come right behind it. R.I.P. to my homie Nate. I’m just a teenger in the game and I’m thinkin’, “Aw man, it’s on and poppin’.” Then, they tell you they getting’ rid of the whole Urban department and I’m back on the fuckin’ streets. You know what I’m sayin’? [Laughs] Back then, it wasn’t as easy to just go bounce and get another deal, you know what I mean? So, it was like, it could all be over in five minutes. Then, I went to Death Row Records and that was tough for me mentally. I was making money. Whether I put out a record or not, I was getting bread so it wasn’t a financial thing; it was a mental thing with all the controversy surrounding Death Row, people being murdered and getting death threats on my life constantly. That was a mental challenge. Then it took me to another place in my life and it became, “Okay, I don’t give a fuck. I don’t give a fuck about shit. Nobody better not run up on me. Nobody better not talk no bullshit to me.” It took me to a place where I was out of character for a long ass time because it was going down that real. You know? You read the newspaper and you see a guy that you was just having a push-up contest with in the studio found dead, killed, shot in the head. It was like, “Damn.” I became friends with a lot of those guys over there and a lot of those guys was getting’ killed left and right. That’s just a tough thing to keep going to funerals. I understood why Tupac had a sense of urgency when he was on Death Row. I fully understood it because you never know if somebody is going to try to put you in the dirt with all the wild shit that’s going on. So, you just want to get your music out. You just want to beat the clock, like you’re racing against time. I could really understand where Tupac was coming from. But, I mean, there was good times too, though. I wouldn’t paint the picture like Death Row was just a dark and gloomy experience for me because it wasn’t. There were definitely ups. There were times when Suge [Knight] would say, “Yo, let’s go to Maui. I got the whole top floor of the 4 Seasons. Bring whoever you want to. It’s on me. Take a trip so we could get away.” Doing things like that. Suge also helped me learn the business. I was his right-hand man when it came to the music shit so he introduced me to a lot of execs that I got a lot of game from. He introduced me to Russell Simmons. He introduced me Lyor Cohen. So, that kind of shit is valuable. They gave me game even if we just talked for 10 minutes. I soaked it up and I learned and I took it into the game with me. So, we had some good times. We had some bad times. That’s just life but that was really on my mind like, “Do I need to back out of this for a minute? Because I might end up in that cell forever because I’m not lettin’ anybody run up on me. Period.”

DX: What’s allowed your mentality to shift or change to where you feel you are now? You said you were out of character, but now you feel you’re more of an inspirational figure. What’s given you that today?

Crooked I: Just turning negatives into positives. When I left The Row, I left in a way where, I could still-I haven’t spoke to Suge in awhile. I haven’t hung out with Suge in years, since I was on Death Row. But, if I see him in traffic, there’s a head nod [greeting] and we keep movin’. I feel it’s that way because I left as a man. I had a man-to-man talk. I think a lot of people that Death Row, when they left; it was on some shaky terms. So, the beef would just brew. Maybe they had more, a lot of them dudes had more history with him than I did. But, I was so comfortable with the way that I left. He told me, “I won’t stand in the way of your career.” He even sent me a message through somebody else that said, “Congratulations on the Shady deal. You with the right person right now. Good luck.” So, like I said, we don’t hang out or none of those things. We haven’t, for years.  When I left, I felt like, “Okay, I gotta press the reset button on my career.” I went independent. I partnered up with some people and we built our own studio. I just took my career into my own hands. It taught me. I got hands on experience of being on a major and being on the independent grind. I got both of those sides to me and both really helped me out, dog. Some of these people don’t respect the independent grind. Some of these super-celebrities, they don’t know shit about going out there and handing out mixtapes and shit, standing out in the cold in front of a Hip Hop club, grinding out mixtapes or even trying to get $5 for a mixtape. They don’t know nothing about that shit. So, they’re kind of arrogant toward that. But, I had to go through all of that shit. I’ve been in private jets and all the way down to the projects, selling $5 CDs, you know what I’m sayin’? [Laughs] So, I think that’s what made me a little bit more mature in the game. I just have the ultimate respect for anybody that works hard and I try to keep my work ethic up. I just think it made me more mature in the game.

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