Premro Smith, better known to every emcee from the Southern states that ever picked up a pen as 8Ball, has a knack for pulling listeners into his lyrics regardless of the musical accompaniment to his words. Proof of his amazing ability to turn out any track can be found in the Memphis native’s motivational second verse to the acoustic guitar-driven “Soap Box” from the Drumma Boy-helmed Premro mixtape released earlier this year.
“I’m a President, a leader, a teacher, a crooked preacher / I’m the star of the team, a fan up in the bleachers / I’m a baby off in Haiti with no mom or pops / I’m a farmer in Botswana trying to water my crops / I’m that young nigga out there trying to hustle them rocks / I’m that O.G. with that hook-up trying to wrap up them blocks / I’m that kush that ya smoking, I’m that coke up your nose / I’m that feeling that you get when you spit game to hoes / I’m that feeling every entertainer get, when they do what they do and they be so up on they shit / (Yeah) / I’m sex on heroin with back-to-back orgasms / In my mind, what I’m doing is way more than rappin’ / When good get to talking to you, devils get to walking with you, evil get to reaching for you trying to take it all from you / It makes you stronger, filthy rich or on the corner / Feeling good, living good, that’s what we all want.”
Unfortunately, the living legend appears to be the last of a dying breed of Southern spitters that would even think to take the time to construct the above bars and make the effort to do “way more than rappin’.” And it was with that sad state of affairs in mind that 8Ball was asked about the decline of his region’s rhymers during his recent interview with HipHopDX to promote his forthcoming solo album, Life’s Quest (due July 24th). And what the man who came into the game 20 years ago demanding that folks “Listen To The Lyrics” of the fat mack had to say about his regional offspring that have chosen to not follow the blueprint for southern rapping he helped draw up might just manage to kick start a long overdue debate on just what folks in Hip Hop’s final frontier should do, or not do, to salvage their credibility and truly deliver on Andre 3000’s prophetic declaration at the 1995 Source Awards that “the South’s got something to say.”
HipHopDX: First off man, I’ve been waiting two years to dap you up for your verse on “Life Goes On” – one of the most powerful grown-man raps in recent memory. You’ve come a long way from the hoe-smacking, gun-busting guy on “Lay It Down.”
8Ball: [Laughs] Definitely. And thank you.
DX: I mentioned “Lay It Down,” I just wanna note that you got my brother and his friends kicked off of their junior high school bus back in ’94 for chanting “Lay it down, lay it down, you hoes lay it down” in unison. A dozen kids of all different races chanting that together. It was beautiful. [Laughs]
8Ball: [Laughs] Oh man, I’ve gotten a million stories, straight up.
DX: Switching gears here, “I wanna make them happy songs but it’s not an accurate reflection / I make street poetry with my immaculate perception.” Any theories on why cats are still making them happy songs in these days and times?
8Ball: I think when I said that [on “Immaculate Perception” from Premro] I wasn’t like really trying to downplay what anybody else is doing, ‘cause it’s all necessary. It’s all necessary to make what I do necessary.
It’s just, [happiness is] not what I see all of the time. Like, I can’t [lie and say that it is]. And it’s not just that, because a lot of people that make those great party songs, they lives be something else on the flipside. So, [Reality Rap] is just what I choose to do. I don’t know why when I listen to producers’ beats, tracks, when people make music for me, I gravitate toward that kind of [content] for some reason. And so why not do that stuff where I’m comfortable at? I feel comfortable doing that. Why not do that if people enjoy it, I enjoy it, than force myself to do a song that’s not me?
DX: “Your city, my city, every night the news is / Who got killed and the corruption in government / And I’m supposed to be a role model to the youth / But all I got for a muthafucka is the truth.” Do you understand the younger generation’s apathy when every night the news is so hopeless, or do you feel like that’s precisely the reason why they should be making more than them happy songs?
8Ball: Well, I think that … I don’t know. I was on two different levels when I wrote that. The every night on the news [part], that’s like [what’s happening] in any city. Everybody feel like it’s only in their city. “My city is [the hardest]. Over here, nigga, we hard. You gon’ get robbed if you ain’t got the right muthafucka wit’chu.” And that shit is in every city. It’s not just your city. It’s more prevalent in some than others, but the element is in every city, mayne. And it ain’t even urban no more, it’s everywhere. So that’s the origin of that lyric right there, like this is what our kids have to see on free TV every night [but] I’m supposed to censor what I do? And all my shit is is words.
It’s just the world we live in, that’s what that song “Drought” [from Premro] is all about to me. All that shit that I’m talking about on there, that’s just the world we living in. And people expect people in my position to be these great role models when it wouldn’t be the bad without the good, the yin without the yang. Our world wouldn’t work without negative and positive. And, I try my best but I’m only human.
DX: I can tell from your answers to these past couple questions that you really don’t wanna be critical of the younger cats but going through some of your bars here, man, it just makes me have to bluntly ask you: What the hell happened to Southern rappin’? I mean, wasn’t Waka Flocka’s excuse on “Immaculate Perception” for not following the lyrical blueprint that you and MJG, Scarface, UGK and Outkast laid down kinda lame, [that he shouldn’t have to step up his lyrics because he’s eating]?
8Ball: Well, I mean, I can’t control what comes out of somebody else’s brain, how they think. I just said this yesterday to somebody: You know how you in a city, you’re in New York somewhere or wherever, and you go across the street and it’s you and 10 muthafuckas going from one side of the street to the other? Y’all taking the same journey, y’all taking the same steps, but y’all not in the same place mentally. You might be thinking, Damn, where I’m fin to go get something to eat lunch at? And this muthafucka on the side of you might be thinking something totally different, but y’all on the same path.
I’m not downplaying nobody when I say whatever I say, it’s just my opinion on what I feel that I’m doing and what the world is doing. But whatever these young cats wanna rap about, whatever kind of music they wanna make, it’s on them because that’s still the shit that’s shaping tomorrow. Like I said, it’s necessary. All of that is necessary. We wouldn’t have the Big K.R.I.T.’s and the Lupe Fiasco’s and the Kanye West’s if we didn’t have the Future’s and the Waka Flocka [Flame’s] and the cats like them.
I been here for a while, and it’s all full circle, man. Cash Money and No Limit [Records] in the ‘90s were those cats that people were like, “Why do people like these muthafuckas? All these niggas talk about is money. These niggas can’t rap.” And now look at what that spawned, a whole generation of [rappers with that hustler’s mentality]. These cats aren’t only just rappers; a lot of these dudes is businessmen too. And all of that spawned that.
And I’m not dissin’ nobody when I talk like that, I’m just [telling the truth].
DX: Do you have personal conversations with the artists you’re working with trying to sorta put ‘em up on how you go through your thought process or the importance of focusing on their writing, or are you saying you just kinda let ‘em go wherever they’re going?
8Ball: Yeah, that’s what I do, I just [let ‘em do their thing].
With whoever, you can’t say in this world today what’s gonna work and what’s not. You can say what you love and what you don’t love, that’s your opinion, but we cannot say in this entertainment business that we are working in and flourishing in right now that that’s gonna work or that ain’t gonna work. If you got a machine, the machine can say what’s gon’ work and what ain’t gon’ work, ‘cause they the machine, but the niggas that making the music, mayne, [they don’t have any sway over that]. From [Jay-Z & Kanye West’s] Watch The Throne to “got a condo on my wrist, nigga, and I’m cashin’ out,” those are two different ends of the spectrum and so can’t nobody say what’s gonna work.
You never know. Who coulda seen Gucci Mane right now, what he is right now years ago? Nobody saw that. Who coulda seen 2 Chainz, what he is today, when he was [part of Playaz Circle signed to DTP Records through] Ludacris? Could you see who he is right now? Nah, ‘cause we don’t know what’s gonna work. The lady, what’s her name? Nicki Minaj. Who could have predicted that? And that’s Hip Hop. All of that is Hip Hop.
That’s just my opinion. That’s just where I go with that; you just gotta let muthafuckas do them. It’s all art.
DX: I appreciate that perspective, I’m just angrier than you are. [Laughs]
8Ball: Yeah, I know, I know, that’s just how I look at it man. I’m a Libra, I’m a free spirit.
DX: Let me switch gears on you again, the first single, “Good Girl, Bad Girl,” from your forthcoming solo album, it’s cool for what it is, that strip club song. But how much of that Soul music are we gonna get on Life’s Quest, like “The Man Under The Bridge” from Premro?
8Ball: Ten songs are that. The only two club-ish songs that I have on my album are “Good Girl Bad Girl” and I got another [Rock-tinged] joint called “Far Away.” And, “Good Girl Bad Girl,” it’s club-ish but it’s still in my own way ‘cause it’s a little story. Even the song with 2 Chainz on the album, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” it’s not the norm. It’s all me.
DX: Was that a conscious decision? Like, I need to take it back to the Lost days, I need to take it back to the In Our Lifetime days?
8Ball: I mean, it wasn’t really taking it back it’s just how I feel right now. Everything that I do has always been how I feel [at that time]. And this album is where I’m at right now in my life, what I’m thinking about and how I view the world.
DX: It ain’t nothing but money in your glasses [on the album cover]. [Laughs]
8Ball: Exactly. But see, it’s a lot attached to that. And I talk about that on this record. There’s a lot that goes with that. So, I think once people get the album, it’ll kind of explain a little more of what I’m talking to you now about.
I got a song, “Life’s Quest,” that’s the title-track with Angie Stone, and that’s really [personal]. She’s really close to her kids, and I’m real close to mine, so we both kinda gelled on this song ‘cause it’s like, “If I die today I wrote this song to let you know I love you so / Always on my mind even though I’m always on the go.” And every song on the album is kind of like that. I got a song called “Indestructible” and it’s probably gonna be one of them graduation theme songs ‘cause it’s straight inspirational. I got a song called “Good Days” with Slim from 112 and the hook basically says that I can’t complain – I rap about other people in my life that have had like terrible downfalls in they life, but I can’t complain compared to the shit they going through. And the whole album is like that; it’s all me.
DX: You mentioned Big K.R.I.T. before, I understand he did some stuff for the album?
DX: That’s exciting news to hear that y’all got more stuff coming with K.R.I.T. He’s like the continuation of that “Backyard Mississippi” vibe. He wasn’t even born till like ’86 but he feels that, he’s parallel with what y’all were doing in the ‘90s and taking it forward.
8Ball: Yeah, I say his old man or his mama, they had to be playing that Soul shit when he was in the womb or something, mayne. ‘Cause, he got it in him fo’ sho.
DX: Yeah, I just wish there was more of that soul food to feed this fast food generation.
8Ball: Yeah. And it’s out here, but you know the powers that be [aren’t gonna let that become mainstream]. I think that everything now gets a good push though with the freedom people have to go on the Internet and listen to what the fuck they want to. And I think with that people pull the good shit out of the bullshit.
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