Kid Capri’s last full album, Soundtrack to the Streets, dropped almost 20 years ago and featured some of the biggest names that Hip Hop in 1998 had to offer, including many that still ring out today, with the likes of Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Nas and Noreaga dropping verses.

It’s safe to say the legendary Bronx DJ has an ear for talent.

The roster for his next project, the long-anticipated Top Tier album, might not be as well known, except to battle rap fans, and for them, it’s a veritable who’s who of elite battlers.

Capri’s been associated with New York’s battle scene since long before it blew up and his goal with the project is to highlight battler MCs to listeners who might not realize how skilled some of them are on the right beat.

HipHopDX caught up with the Kid over the phone in August to talk about the album, his history with battle rap, and what needs to happen for the project to finally come out.

HipHopDX: What’s the update on Top Tier? I’ve seen you promoting it for what seems like years now. It is years. What’s the latest on it?

Kid Capri: Well, the reason why I’ve been promoting it for that long and not putting it out because I wanted to embed it in people’s heads. It’s kinda like the Detox effect with what Dr. Dre is doing. Let ‘em wait for it and even if it dies out of they head, bring it back through promotion and let them say ‘Damn wasn’t that album supposed to come out a long time ago?’ But oh no it didn’t come out, so now you got something to look forward to. It was just a matter of doing that and it was unusual because no one had ever done a battle rapper album. So that’s why it became special.

But also, as good as the album is, I don’t feel like I have the strong single that I need. I have strong singles but I don’t have the one that I want. So that’s what I’m working on right now, getting that strong single, but the whole album is done pretty much. I’ve really been in no rush to put it out because I wanna make sure it’s right.

Battle rappers have a bad name for not being able to make good records, which is kind of true, but really it’s not — some of the best artists started as battle rappers. Eminem, LL [Cool J], [KRS-One], they all battle rappers. Somebody just put them in the direction of making music … But a lot of battlers concentrate on the rhymes being hot but not the record being good.

I had to be real careful about how I do the album because it’s the first one. So I don’t want to put a bad taste in anyone’s mouth by botching it and not doing it right.

DX: We’re kind of seeing another level of battle rappers graduating into the Hip Hop realm with Dumbfoundead, who got his start in Grind Time, and Locksmith, who’s from the West Coast and making some noise out there. Then in the East you’ve got Loaded Lux, Charlie Clips, Tsu Surf

Kid Capri: Hollow Da Don, Murda Mook of course. A lot of those dudes except for Mook performed on the album. My last album was in ’98 and the reason why was to make that kind of album was too stressful and I didn’t wanna do it no more. I just wanna produce people and do stuff like that. My last album had Jay Z and Nas and Busta and people but dealing with clearances and all that shit, I just didn’t wanna do it.

But when I did this album it was like a breath of fresh air. Everything just fell in line and it worked out.

DX: Obviously you’re a battle rap fan. When did you get into it?

Kid Capri: Before I made this album I was dealing with the battle rappers five years before, and I come from the era of battles but this era of battle rap that would be these battle rappers I started watching Serius Jones and Murda Mook and from then on, one day I’m in my house and I find myself watching this all the time. Just as entertainment like television.

My television show Def Comedy Jam had been a hit on HBO for so many years they were waiting for me to bring them another and I didn’t know what to bring ‘em and I’m watching battle rap and I’m seeing all the aggression and I think to pitch HBO and Showtime so I call Loaded Lux and I got with Loaded Lux and we shot a show in the video shop where he usually do the Lionz Den and I got KRS-One, Rakim and Big Daddy Kane as my judges. Goodz vs. Tech 9, Cortez vs. Head I.C.E. We set up a big TV outside so the people outside could watch it and it was a historic day. We showed the movie in the AMC Theater. It went well. Then me and Lux had a certain kind of falling out so we ended up not doing it.

That’s why I’m so respected in the battle rap culture. Because I was trying to help them when no one was trying to help them. There was nobody that had a name that was trying to come in and helping the battle rappers. It wasn’t until battle rap blew up with Lux and Calicoe that the big names came. But before that, I was always there. So that’s why I’m respected and why the album was so easy to get done.

After that thing with Lux, a few years went by and then I started to make the album, and I went back and got Lux and put him on the record. We put our problems behind us. Plus two of the battle rappers attacked him about it, Mook got at him and also Hollow Da Don got at him about what happened with me and him because I was trying to do things with good intentions for the battle rappers and y’know, things happen.

But this is where I’m at, so I’m doing the battle rapper album — never the battle rap album — it’s the battle rapper album. I made good songs and produced the whole joint and I did it in my studio.

DX: As someone who’s been following the culture for so long, and who has seen the rises and falls over the years … I guess it was about two years ago for Total Slaughter where you were a judge and a well-known face there, and it felt like at that moment with Slaughterhouse getting involved, Joe Budden, Eminem’s name being thrown around … it felt like a huge moment for the culture. It was gonna bring things to the next level and we kind of saw that. But it doesn’t feel like the battle rap culture has hit the mainstream the way a lot of people were predicting it would. Do you think it ever will?

Kid Capri: To tell you the truth, I’d rather it not. I’d rather it be the way it is right now because once it’s too popular or too mainstream it becomes corny, it becomes dead. People get used to it and it ain’t no big deal no more. When you got something that’s underground but on a big scale, it’s still edgy and still daring and still something that people wanna be interested in.

That Loaded Lux vs. Calicoe, that was as mainstream as it was gonna get as far as I’m concerned. But even with that, it didn’t go over the top. But these guys are getting jobs in other ways. They’re doing movies now, they’re on the radio, they’re in Wild ’N Out, the television show with Nick Cannon. So they got the recognition through the battle rap so, battle rap is not really — it’s a service to television but it’s not a service to radio. So if you look at it on the large scale, if you don’t make good records as a battle rapper, you’re not gonna get heard on the radio unless you come and do a freestyle. That’s gonna be once so you’re not gonna get heard.

When you’re on television, that’s a bigger power. And when you’re on the internet that’s a bigger power. They have so many people watching, but it’s still a one-time thing. Once you watch the one battle, if it’s not attracting you don’t watch it again unless it’s a classic.

DX: Even if it is a classic, it’s hard to know what’s going on if you haven’t watched 1,000 hours of battles before it.

Kid Capri: Exactly, because they have different names and different people they talk about and if you’re not really a battle rap watcher, you won’t really know these metaphors and the different punchlines in what they’re saying. And some of that stuff might just sound like a puzzle to you. Even me being in battle rap culture as much as I’ve been, and knowing what I know, I get a little confused on certain things sometimes. So I know a person who might see it for the first time and it’s one of those complicated battles where they’re over everybody’s head. It’s gonna look like a big puzzle to them. They’re not really gonna be attracted if they don’t understand.

The earlier battle rap, like the Lux and Calicoe battle or stuff from that era, that was easier to understand because it was more straightforward. Now people are getting crazy with these punchlines, name flips, and all these different ways that they’re manipulating stuff. So it’s like a new person who don’t know battle rap, that might turn them off as opposed to the earlier battle rap.

DX: You said you’re working on the single and that you want something that’s the appropriate one to represent the album. Who do you recruit for that?

Kid Capri: I’ve been a fan of all these battle rappers, so me being a producer and a DJ and a person on the road who’s doing 200 shows a year since 1991 to this day, I pretty much know when I hear somebody, what beat they need to be on. So that’s how I made the album. I listened to Goodz, Charlie Clips, DNA, Lux, and I knew exactly what beat they needed to be on and how they needed to rhyme on it. Some of the battle rappers that came in might’ve heard a beat that they normally wouldn’t rap over.

For example, Ms. Hustle, when she came and she thought she was gonna be on a trap record. My thing was, nah, I’m gonna put her on something different. And she thought she wasn’t gonna sound good. I said ‘Let’s make the record first and then you can decide that.’ That’s what happens with a lot of artists, they think they producers. Sometimes you gotta let the producer be the producer. You may think you know what you wanna rhyme on but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna be good. After we did the record, she said ‘Kid, this is the best I ever sounded out of everything I ever did in my life.’

I said, ‘Yeah you gotta do it to see how it comes out. You can’t judge it before it’s done. You gotta do it when it’s done. And you gotta step out of the box.’ And that’s the reason battle rappers have the stigma they have. Because y’all think the way y’all think. Y’all never let yourself go and let a person that do that just do that while you do what you do. You can’t have all the jobs. If you wanna be successful, it’s a team that takes you where you gotta go.

Now at this point, listening to the album how I have everything, I know everybody’s right on everything and I know I have maybe three or four singles I can put out right now. But it ain’t the one that I want. The one that I want, when I make the music for it — I’m working on it now, but when I got the one that I know I need, then I’ll know what battle rapper I wanna put on it. But what I’m looking at right now I’m looking at Bill Collector right now so we’ll see. I’m gonna figure that out. After I get the beat done, I’m gonna hit him up again and we’ll move on it some more.

Another thing with the album too, there’s a little black cloud over it because I did the Dot Mob record with Shine, Mook and T-Rex and now Shine ain’t in Dot Mob no more … So it’s like a little bit tougher now. DNA and Shine became a tag team when I made DNA and Charlie Clips a tag team on the album. So a couple of things get in the way so I gotta figure out what to do with it but to tell you the truth, I don’t really give a fuck about their problems [laughs] I done made this album and I’m not gonna be bullshittin’ playing around just to put it out.

DX: Yeah battle rap politics move so fast it’s tough to keep up with it. In terms of an ETA: when it’s ready? What are you thinking in terms of putting it out? Is it gonna be on a label? Or a download?

Kid Capri: That’s what we’re talking about right now. I had a meeting with Atlantic Records, they liked it a lot. I wanted to have a talk with Em about it. We was gonna talk about it but I just got so busy with my road stuff I never got a chance. And also Drake too. He was supposed to be a part of that conversation. I’ma see what happens, if they come through, we’ll sit down and talk and we can figure it out. It’s good enough that it can go anywhere. But if they don’t, I can put it out as a free download. At the end of the day, it’s about battle rap. I never made it to make money. I never made it to put it in the club. I made it for the movement of the battle rap culture.

Just know that it’s a good album. It’s all produced by the Kid Capri and that it’s coming as soon as I get the single. Yeah, I’ve been promoting for years but that didn’t mean I was gonna drop it when I was promoting it. I’ve been promoting it for years to build it up to this point. And when I get the right single that I want, I’ll be dropping it very soon.