Today (July 30), Crooked I released Apex Predator. In a career that spans over 15 years, this marks the Long Beach, California emcee’s first studio full-length album. While an album with 19th Street/Virgin Records was shelved in the late ’90s, his Death Row Records debut Say Hi To The Bad Guy never released in the 2000s, this marks the first authorized full-length from the Slaughterhouse member.

Last night (July 29), Crooked I spoke with HipHopDX by phone. Asked if he considers the album the fans have been waiting for, Crook replied. “That’s a tough question, man, ’cause to be honest with you, I’ve been puttin’ out so much music that it just feels like another body of work with some joints on there that I hope the fans fuck with.” After time spent on major labels and famed imprints, Crooked I also noted that Apex Predator is releasing through the indie, Treacherous Records. “[Apex Predator is] truly independent. Some of these independent [labels] are backed by major [labels] in some sort of way; this is truly independent. This is diggin’ in your own pocket—rockin’ a show, and then using the show money to shoot a video.”

With its indie budget, the album features Tech N9ne (“Let Me Get It”) and longtime associate K-Young. To Crooked I, this is by design. “When I look at [Nas’] Illmatic and [Eric B. & Rakim’s] Paid In Full, and taking it way back, I wanted to put the fans—and I have a lot of new fans, due to this whole Slaughterhouse thing, so I just wanted to introduce myself to the people than crowding it with a bunch of features.” Crook then acknowledged that many new fans know him as a feature artist lately, simply for his quarter-role in the Top 10-selling Shady/Interscope Records group. “I just wanted to talk to the people directly, so they get an idea of who I am, and where I’m at now.”

Over the years, Crooked I’s projects, Mr. Pig Face Weapon Waist, Say Hi To The Bad Guy and now Apex Predator have had grim titles. However, in interviews and on social media with his fans, the vet is amicable and approachable. Asked about this juxtaposition, Crooked said, “Rap is like therapy to me. All the things I’ve gone through in life—the negative things, they kinda come out in the music in the music instead of in actions, most times. Just allow me to get the therapy off in that booth so I don’t have to do a drive-by [shooting] or some shit.” After a hearty laugh, he continued, “Part of it is being influenced by lyrical murderers of Hip Hop,” pointing to Rakim and Kool G. Rap, along with fellow Death Row alumni Kurupt and Lady Of Rage. “[Those were] people whose mission it was to destroy a fuckin’ mic.”

Additionally, the emcee points back to a challenging childhood, as an inspiration for his kill-or-be-killed mic persona. “I grew up in the ghetto, so we seen a lot of shit, been through a lot of shit, and there’s a lot of aggression in the streets. The music reflects that.” However, Crooked adds that predators doesn’t simply mean guns and bowie knives. “A chick can be an apex predator. She’s at the top of the food chain when she gets to the club. She sees her prey, what she wants, and she’s gonna bag that dude and take him home.”

The Circle Of Bosses leader’s album, rather, comes from a self-prescribed mantra. “The idea behind Apex Predator is hunt. Kill. Eat.” He elaborates the manifesto, “Hunting opportunities, killing competition, so the family can eat.”

Calling back to his youth experiences which included homelessness and extreme poverty, he says, “That anger is still somehere in me, but I try to deal with it. It comes out, in a good way.” With Jay-Z’s recently-released Magna Carta Holy Grailcurrently topping the charts, as well as albums by Tech N9ne, Eminem and Snoop Dogg. “Who knows, maybe when I’m in my forties rappin’, like some of these guys—who are doing a great job—maybe [the subject matter will] be more rosy.”

Apex Predator is in stores today. Asked how he’ll spend this release day, with a laugh, he said, “in the lab.”

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