While promoting the release of his third album in an interview with BET, Joell Ortiz spoke about his decision to leave Aftermath Entertainment in 2008 and breaking the news directly to label founder Dr. Dre by phone.
Speaking about his early disillusionment with the music industry after tepid label interest, Joell explained being turned down by a handful of labels for non-music related issues.
“The moment when I realized I wanted to ask to leave Aftermath, it was scary because for so long I was going in labels, having these meetings and getting let down,” he said. “Going in there hype and leaving out discouraged for reasons that had nothing to do with music. That’s what was so discouraging. One major label was like, ‘Yo man, the music is fresh but you just a little heavy. If maybe you could drop it down a bit, we could work something, figure out how to target some women.’ Another label, powerhouse label, these are all New York, East Coast labels: ‘Yo, I love the music but you Puerto Rican so we would have to figure out a Latin Rap route.’ Another powerhouse label was like, ‘You didn’t come in here with whatever in your eye. I didn’t see it.’ Little do they know I walked in…I’m fresh off, I’m just rhyming. These meetings are happening for reasons that have nothing to do with what ya’ll talking about, it’s just music based. I got a quick dose of what the music business is. I didn’t like that very much.”
On his breakthrough with Aftermath via the label’s distributor Interscope, the House Slippers emcee said it was the first meeting of its kind in his career.
“Out of left field, someone from Interscope got my CD over in front of Dr. Dre,” he said. “He flew me out and it was the first breath of fresh air meeting. He was just like, ‘Yo this is crazy I want you here. This is crazy. I just want you to be a part of Aftermath. What do you say?’ Like, ‘Hell yeah.’ So that day is the day that played in my mind when I was about call him and be like, ‘I don’t wanna be here no more.’ That’s a tough day you know what I’m saying? The person that gave you the chance from 2800 miles away: ‘Yo, I appreciate it, but I wanna tap out.’ Long phone call. It lasted all of seven minutes but it felt like seven days. ‘Dre, check it out. I don’t think me waiting for Detox and then another Em album and then me is what I’m looking for at the moment. If my window’s open I wanna jump through if it ain’t like be now or around now, I wanna tap out.’ He didn’t wanna let me go, not to jam me up though. He just wanted me to stay, like, ‘I want you here ‘cause I see it. I know what it is. I know what’s gon’ happen. I want you to bear with me but I’ll respect what you wanna do.’ That’s rare in this game, somebody that don’t wanna jam you up. You know, I was contractually bound.”
After signing a group deal to Eminem’s label as a part of Slaughterhouse in 2011, Joell returned to the same Interscope distribution umbrella that powers Dre’s Aftermath as a member of the affiliated Shady Records. Recalling the experience of reuniting with Dre in person, Ortiz remembered a chance-meeting at the Grammys.
“I remember when Slaughterhouse, we was at the Grammys with Em in I think ‘11 or ‘12, one of the years, like two years ago,” he said. “And Dre was like, ‘Joell, what’s up? Come here.’ I said, ‘What’s up?’ He said, ‘You couldn’t escape me if you wanted to, you back in the family.’ It’s a good thing. I know Dre honored that decision of mine because it validated the person that he thought I was, like a leader. He told me that too, ‘The songs you making, they lead the way. I hear it and I love it. It’s you.’ I know when he heard me on the other end of that phone call he was like, ‘Here he go again.’ But it’s the same kid he loved. You understand? So when I bumped into him at the Grammys it was like Kool Aid smile status from both of us.”