A West Coast Conversation About Hip-Hop
2867 S. Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034
I recently sat down with Midnight Records owner and Hip-Hop guru Sam Fuston to talk about the state of Hip Hop. Midnight Records is the #1 independent Hip-Hop retailer in LA, mostly because Sam carries a lot of stuff you can’t find anywhere else, like exclusive mixtapes. If there’s a mixtape in the streets, chances are it came from Midnight Records. Freshly signed artists will often ship mixtapes to Sam so they can get an understanding of how the product will sell before their first record comes out. For example, just before Young Jeezy blew up with Thug Motivation 101, he flew Sam down South on an all-expenses paid V.I.P vacation. Sam met with Jeezy and saw how much of a celebrity he was in his own hood. He watched Jeezy perform in front of thousands of fans that were singing Jeezy’s lyrics back to him. And this was all before anyone really knew who Jeezy was. When Sam got back to LA, Jeezy shipped a box of mixtapes exclusively to him so the West could discover Jeezy.
Sam is on a first name basis with any popular rapper you can think of.
Midnight Records is also a barbershop.
To get a better idea of Sam’s perspective on Hip Hop, here are his three favorite albums and his favorite Hip Hop movie.
Also in the Hip Hop conversation is Hip Hop Artist X2C. Check out your boy’s material right here.
Finally there’s Dangerous, who works in the studio and is also a hype-man for Topic.
Friday, August 17th
Losanjealous: I want to start with the big issue Nas brings up: Hip Hop is dead. Do you think Hip Hop is dead?
X2C: Hip Hop to me is a culture. It’s not just music, you know what I mean? He’s just saying Hip Hop is dead because East Coast Hip Hop ain’t poppin’ off right now. All the attention is down South and that’s Hip Hop to them. So you can’t say that the South’s music is dead because that’s how they represent themselves. Nas’s music is dead, how he represents himself is dead. But that’s just one kind of Hip Hop.
Sam: I think Hip Hop is dead. I think it’s dead in the sense of what Nas is saying: there’s different genres of Hip Hop: you got the South, you got the West Coast, you got all these new styles, but the real Hip Hop isn’t being acknowledged, like Talib Kweli and Common, they aren’t getting the numbers they should be getting. Artists today are jocking albums off of hooks, and the hooks don’t make any sense. Anytime you got someone rapping about sandwiches and lip gloss and all that, it’s like c’mon man. That’s another genre of Hip Hop, but that’s not real Hip Hop.
You got to look at what’s controlling the radio waves right now. If you ain’t shaking no ass or rolling on 20 inch rims, you ain’t selling no records. It’s rare for an artist to make it without those things. I think the only one doing it is Kanye West with his “Can’t Tell Me Nothin” video.
Dangerous: I don’t really think Hip Hop is dead, I just think that it’s evolving. When Nas was first coming out, the Sugarhill Gang was probably like â€˜What kind of Rap is this?” And now that Hip Hop has evolved, Nas is asking himself the same question. It’s all Hip Hop though. Nas’s version of Hip Hop is probably dead because how many battles rappers do you have out there now? Hip Hop to me is about battling rapping and through battle rapping, taking your music to another level. So to me it’s not dead, it’s just a way for one of the pioneers of a certain genre to say that his genre is dead. But I think we’re slowly but surely coming back into the real essence of Hip Hop.
X2C: But who’s to say what the real essence of Hip Hop is?
LA: Right, I remember T.I. saying that Hip Hop is whatever you make it.
X2C: It is. Hip Hop is the way you wear your pants, the way you wear your hat, that’s Hip Hop. So you can’t sit here and say since the South ain’t spittin’ lyrically like the East Coast does, that it’s not Hip Hop. It’s a culture, it’s bigger than everyone.
Sam: That’s true about Hip Hop evolving, but we’re back in the same situation we were in the early 90’s when America was at war. How many artists are rapping about war and politics today? Back then, you had Public Enemy and even a gangster rapper, Ice Cube, who took a stand in the political direction. Today we’re in a time of war, and here we are talking about snapping fingers. Nobody’s out there talking about the gas prices, the president, or none of that.
LA: There’s Immortal Technique, that’s all he raps about.
Sam: But that’s why I say Hip Hop is dead because there’s no market for Immortal Technique, he ain’t on the radio.
X2C: But sometimes you want to escape with music. You don’t always want to sit down and think about war all the time. You don’t want to get out to club and be depressed because a war’s going on.
LA: It seems that battling, reunions, and comebacks have been overused for blatant marketing purposes. Are these things still relevant in Hip Hop?
Dangerous: To me, battle rapping is the true essence of Hip Hop. What is rap without a battle? For me, the LL Cool J and Cannibus battle, that’s the greatest battle of all time. Look at Nas and Jay-Z. That resurrected Nas’s career. Nas was almost forgotten about but Jay-Z brought it out of him. Look what it did for Hip Hop because the battle wasn’t like “I’m going to kill Jay-Z” even though Jay-Z was saying some pretty nasty stuff about Nas and his baby momma. It could have got violent, but it didn’t go there. They kept it Hip Hop. Battling is a good thing, it boosts record sales and it promotes competition between artists.
Sam: Look at Kanye West and 50 Cent right now. Both of their albums drop on September 11th and 50’s trying to start beef with Kanye. I think it’s for publicity. I met 50 before, he’s a smart cat, but I think this is a bad move on his part. Kanye’s got a sick fanbase, I think Kanye might have an edge of on him.
Dangerous: But in the case that Kanye were to say something about 50, they would both sell a lot more.
X2C: Yeah, true. And Kanye’s real cocky man. He don’t even have to respond to 50. His record sales right now on iTunes show that he’s outselling 50.
Sam: I understand what you’re saying: Kanye is cocky, but he’s smart too. He’s doing the opposite of what Ja Rule did by not responding. Kanye’s just saying â€˜Good luck’ to 50 because Kanye never claimed to have street credibility.
LA: Right, whereas Ja pretended to be something he’s not, Kanye’s just like “Yo, I’m from the suburbs and I make music.”
X2C: Yeah, and as far as who’s going to sell more on September 11th, Kanye’s going to beat him. It’s going to be a landslide.
Dangerous: You think so?
Sam: I’m in retail, I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen.
It’s two different kinds of rap. People will walk in the stores and buy both albums. You have to think about that, you’re not buying two different gangster rappers, know what I’m saying?
LA: You’re buying backpack rap and gangster rap.
Dangerous: And 50 Cent has done something to game. He makes street records and still sells like a Nelly or Eminem. He’s sells hardcore stuff to the public. I don’t know who’s going to sell more than who, but I know they’re both going to push a lot of records.
LA: I’m gonna say 40 Cal’s Broken Safety 2 is going to beat both of them on Sept 11th. It’s Dipset all day.
Do you think the career of a rapper is limited to his youth? Is there a certain age when a rapper should stop?
X2C: Naw, if you still tight, then you tight and that’s the way it is. The artists that are older have fan bases that have followed them, and you can’t pull that fanbase away.
Sam: Funny you ask that, this Tuesday, WC’s album came out. He came by my store on release day and he’s an older rapper, but his fanbase did come out. I asked him about his older fanbase and he said “I’ve got older people buying my stuff, but they’ve been my fans since I came out. I’m happy to have a good fanbase like that.” So I don’t think there is an age issue with Hip Hop. LL Cool J could drop an album, noâ€¦LL could drop a single tomorrow, and the women in his age group will be in here jocking him. Take his shirt off, do his thing.
X2C: Lick his lips.
Dangerous: I feel that artists get better as they get older. Jay-Z, Nas, Eminemâ€¦they could get in the booth with anybody. Lil Wayne is hot, but I don’t if you can throw him in the booth with Eminem or a Nas. Lil Wayne’s been in the game since he was 14 or something. He’s like a Lebron James or Kobe Bryant where you knew what he was going to be even when he was a kid. And now Lil Wayne’s like 23 or 24? I don’t know if he’s proven himself. I just think older rappers make better records.
LA: Rap embraces the villain over the hero. Rap likes the coke dealers and killers. Now when an everyday normal person decides to be a rapper, does he also commit to a villain character? Like let’s say Cam’ron Giles decides he wants to be a rapper and tomorrow he’s Killa, does he have to uphold the villain image in and outside of the booth?
X2C: To me man, being an artist, the best thing to do is to be yourself. You got to be true to yourself before you can be true to your music. A lot of people change their image into something they aren’t. In the end, your real self is going to play out or people are going to bust you out, just like Ja Rule.
LA: So let me ask you this: do you think artists that rap about pushing drugs like Clipse or T.I. have actually sold drugs?
X2C: Yeahâ€¦.some of them have. But not all of them. Definitely not all of them.
Sam: I met Clipse. I think those guys pushed a lot of dope.
If you not true about what you doing, it’s going to come out. For example, I was talking to these two cats that were here earlier, and they got some stuff set up with Dre. Young guys, they were writing lyrics and pretty soon, they ran out of stuff to write because they were writing about made up characters. They hadn’t even come out yet and they needed ghostwriters and it was because they were creating characters that weren’t them. You got to rap what you about.
Dangerous: Whoever you come out to be, be you, whether it’s a villain or not. If a villain is what you’re trying to create, then you have to be that, you have to live it. If you want to rap about pushing dope, push some dope.
You can’t rap about what you don’t know.
LA: Does it matter how real a rapper is?
X2C: As an artist, you have to be real because how are you going to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day?
Dangerous: But then you look at Eminem. Is he really doing all that stuff that he says? He knows he’s not, but he’s a lyricist. That’s his talent, that’s what he’s best at.
Sam: Eminem came to my shop on Pico when he had black hair and him and his boys were selling a magazine that they put together before he got a deal. They told him to go out to The Proud Bird by the airport and I went there that night to see the MC battle. And there’s this kid with dark hair who looked like a trailer park dude, just like he was in 8 Mile. He steps up to the mic and I’m thinking “This guy’s going to rap?” He was real quiet, but as soon as he touched the mic, it was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he turned into somebody else. He ate up a whole crew that night.
X2C: Look at an artist like Devon the Dude, his whole thing is getting high and getting laid. Devon the Dude is sick and he’s not rapping about anything fake.
Sam: Oh my God. Now that’s the most underrated Hip Hop rapper ever. Devon the Dude.
Dangerous: When it comes to underrated, I got to say Outkast. They mature every single album.
Sam: What? Outkast man?
Dangerous: I only say that because I heard on the radio that MTV voted UGK as the best rap duo ever. Not only that, but they also say that Lil’ Wayne is the best rapper alive.
Sam: Eh. Kids come in my store all the time asking for the next Lil’ Wayne mixtape. I listen to the tape, and to me, it’s garbage man.
LA: Yeah, I sit and listen to Lil’ Wayne trying to figure out why everyone thinks he’s the best. I mean, he’s good, but I think people started believing him when he claimed to be the best rapper alive. You got to listen to rap and decide for yourself who’s the best rapper alive.
Sam: His albums are better than his mixtapes.
X2C: I think Lil’ Wayne is hot.
Sam: Yeah, but how old are you?
Sam: That’s your era.
X2C: We watched him grow from â€˜wobble-dee wobble-dee’ and â€˜Drop it like it’s hot’ to where he is now. That’s great for an artist, man!
LA: But best rapper alive?
Sam: Yeah, best rapper alive? C’mon man.
X2C: I don’t think he’s the best rapper alive, but I think he’s the most worked-with artist.
Sam: He’s the most overrated artist right now.
Dangerous: Jay-Z has that song “Watch What You Say To Me” on T.I. Vs. T.I.P where he says â€˜My DNA is in your records.’ Lil’ Wayne is nothing but Jay-Z style gone South.
X2C: But Weezy never denied that he looked up to Jay-Z.
LA: Last question – where do you see Hip Hop in five years?
X2C: Totally different than how it is now. Hip Hop evolved in the last five years and it’s going to evolve again. If I had to guess, with Diddy coming out with Play, I think we’ll see more Pop Rap. I don’t see it going back to hardcore West Coast or super-lyrical East Coast again.
Dangerous: I think there’s a lot of problems with Hip Hop getting enough support, but despite all that, I like where Hip Hop is going. You still got new cats coming out, like Cassidy. Cassidy is lyrically sick! But it’s hard for him to sell records because people aren’t looking to buy that kind of Rap right now.
Sam: Rap is in a state of emergency right now. It may not even exist in five years. From a retail point of view, R&B records get better numbers than Rap. You don’t get the same support for Rap like you used too, and add downloading to that. It’s really not up to us, it’s up to the major labels. If the independent labels can get their songs on the radio too, then Hip Hop will live on. But, in five years your favorite Hip Hop station could be playing some Country-Western shit, you know? The only stations you can hear Rap right now is K-Day and Power 106. So if even the stations don’t give Rap support, where do you think it’s going?
LA: That’s all the questions I got. You want to end with your favorite verse?
Danger: This is from a song Eminem did called â€˜Bad Influence’ on the End of Days soundtrack:
My laser disc will make you take a razor to your wrist
Make you satanist
Make you take the pistol to your face
And place the clip and cock it back
And let it go until your brains
are rippin’ out your skull so bad
to sew you back would be a waste of stitches
Sam: I got to go with what I did earlier, Ice Cube from Amerikkka’s Most Wanted:
Once upon a time in the projects, yo
I damn near had to wreck a ho
I knocked on the door – who is it?
Its Ice Cube, come to pay a little visit to you
And whats up with them niggers in the parking lot
She said fuck em, cause they get sparked alot
I sat on the couch but it wasnt stable
And then I put my nikes on the coffee table
X2C: I got to go with Eminem too man. It’s a song we were singing earlier off of his Marshall Mathers album. And it’s because his metaphors and his lyrics are so sick.
Yo, you might see me joggin’, you might see me walkin’
You might see me walkin’ a dead Rottweiler dog
with it’s head chopped off in the park with a spiked collar
hollerin’ at him cause the son of a bitch won’t quit barkin’
(others join in)
(grrrr, ARF ARF) Or leanin’ out a window, with a cocked shotgun
Drivin’ up the block in the car that they shot ’Pac in
Lookin’ for Big’s killers, dressed in ridiculous
blue and red like I don’t see what the big deal is
Double barrel twelve gauge bigger than Chris Wallace
Pissed off, cause Biggie and ’Pac just missed all this
Watchin’ all these cheap imitations get rich off ’em
and get dollars that shoulda been theirs like they switched wallets
And amidst all this Crist’ poppin and wristwatches
I had to sit back and just watch and just get nauseous
and walk around with an empty bottle of Remi Martin
startin shit like some 26-year-old skinny Cartman (“God damnit!”)
Sam: That goes back to what I’ve been saying, Hip Hop is dead. No one’s looking for lyrical Rap like that anymore. They want that “A Bay Bay.” C’mon man.