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Interview: Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco headlines Irving Plaza next Tuesday, December 18. The show is sold out.

Interview by Ben Westhoff

It’s the best of times and the worst of times for Lupe Fiasco. As of next week’s release of his sophomore effort Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, he remains critically beloved. Plus, the day I called him, he’d just received his fourth Grammy nomination for “Daydreamin,'” off his debut, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. Meanwhile, he’s had a rough couple of months, flubbing the words to A Tribe Called Quest’s song “Electric Relaxation” at the VH1 Hip Hop Honors awards in October, and then threatening legal action against Vibe after they quoted him saying Tribe wasn’t all that. (He complained that Vibe misrepresented the timing of the quotes, and Vibe issued a correction.) On the phone from L.A., he doesn’t backpedal from his recent assertion that he may quit recording after The Cool‘s follow-up, but does talk about his love for Chris Brown and, unexpectedly, Ian Astbury.

Congrats on the Grammy nod.

Huh? I got another Grammy nomination? Oh, snap!

Glad to be the bearer of good news.

Nah, my publicist woke me up [with the news] this morning. So, that’s four.

Do you care about awards as much as Kanye West does?

Nah. I was thinking about this one, though, I was kind of pondering the importance of a Grammy nomination. It can really affect sales and things of that nature. We’ll see if I win one. It’s starting to be the little things that matter to me. Like, last night I got invited out to see The Cult, with Ian Astbury, and he shouted me out on stage. I’m a big fan of Ian Astbury. I think The Cult is a little bit before my time, but I’m a big fan of Ian Astbury’s due to a lot of the stuff he’s done with UNKLE. So, yeah, it’s more those little things and occurrences, which are the milestones. Like, “Frank Sinatra went over to Sammy Davis Jr.’s house and they had a barbeque.” It’s starting to be like, “Damn, guess who I was just with yesterday?” I got a chance to perform with UNKLE, which was phenomenal. It was with a live band, we were all in Vegas. Some people might be like, “Who the hell is UNKLE?” But for me it’s like, “Damn.” Those are the stories I’m gonna tell my kids.

So, are you actually going to quit?

I think I’m obligated for like, three more records on my label after The Cool, but you ain’t necessarily gotta do ’em. [Laughs.] If you really don’t want to, you don’t necessarily got to keep recording. But as far as quitting, that just [refers to] recorded music. The entity of recorded music really sucks, it’s really wack, especially when you’re doing it through a major. It’s like, you don’t make any money unless you sell tons and tons of records. And I’m not selling tons and tons of records. So, financially, it’s like, this ain’t making no sense. I’m making more money off my shows or off sponsorship or whatever. So, you start to feel like it’s 1950 again, like, “Damn, did I just sign away my life? Damn, I feel stupid.” I’ll still tour. It’s funny, because I just had the same conversation with Ian Astbury last night. I was like, “This recorded music shit sucks,” and he was like, “Yeah, it does.” But, we’ll see.

You’ve said you don’t think you have much to say on records, but your fans would argue that you’re saying more than many rappers out there.

It’s not that hard in this climate. [Laughs.] Especially in the realm that I’m kind of in – like, a commercial guy who’s on TRL – as opposed to the people who are not. In the realm that I’m in, it’s not that hard to be saying something. If we go down a few tiers to more underground [artists], there are people who are saying more than I am. But I just don’t think I have that much to say. A lot of the stuff that I want to say musically, it has a limit. You can’t compress and process certain things into 16 bars, or a song. It needs to be in a book, or it needs to be in a dissertation, or a speech, or a movie.

Are you going to go back to school? Write a book?

I might go back to school – I’ll never say never – but I’m writing a book now. I’m battling with Nietzsche. I went back and [read him] because I wanted to see what all the hub-bub was about, and I was like, “I don’t particularly agree with that.” So, now I find myself filling my spare time articulating and de-articulating Nietzsche.

You’re writing a book of philosophical essays about Nietzsche?

[Laughs.] Nah, the Nietzsche is in my spare time. The book I’m writing is about a window-washer.

A novel?

Yeah, it’s deep, though. Imagine all the stuff I don’t put into my music because I can’t find a word to rhyme with “plethora.” I’m trying to practice how to write for an extended period of time. In writing, you kind of hit a ceiling. I hadn’t wrote on it in like, a year or two. So, hopefully, when I have more time [away] from the recording and the road I’ll jump back into it. It’s really good. They printed a chapterette of it in a magazine in London called Blag.

Briefly run down the concept for your new album.

For this album, it picks up on a [song] from the first album called “The Cool,” which is about a hustler who gets killed and comes back to life and who digs his way out of his own grave, and goes back to his old neighborhood and gets robbed by these two kids, ironically with the same gun he was shot with. I kind of took that story and expanded on it. I just started to tie in all these different stories and characters and plots, to make it kind of the pre-history for “The Cool.” So, it’s about how The Cool starts off as this little boy, he grows up without a father, he’s raised by The Game, falls in love with The Streets, goes on to be this big-time hustler, gets killed, and comes back to life. He ends up at the crossroads with the little kids.

I went back and took the little boy from “He Say She Say,” off the first album, and now he’s The Cool. The three main characters, The Cool, The Streets, and The Game, they’re all walking, talking characters. The Cool is played by Kadeem Hardison, from A Different World. The Streets has dollar signs for eyes, and tattoos of all her slain boyfriends across her chest. She’s like a temptress, almost. When you see her tattoos you see Al Capone and Alexander the Great and King Tut. And then you have The Game, who is an amalgamation of all of those vices in the world. He has dice for eyes, he has bullets for teeth, he has crack pipes for lungs, and he breathes crack smoke, and his suit is made out of blackened dollar bills. It’s a really graphic, really intense kind of character.

[The concept is] only on five records, and some of it is done kind of abstractly. The artwork ties everything in, and if you want, you can go backwards into [my] albums and the mixtapes, and figure out the characters and the story. A lot of my fans are doing that now. It really has kind of a cinematic feel to it.

The song “Go Go Gadget Flow” from your new album is ridiculously catchy. Were you an Inspector Gadget fan?

Oh yeah, big cartoon fan. But, the song really came from the Go Go records in Chicago. In Chicago we say you’re from “The Go,” and so it’s really my anthem for Chicago. Just so Chi-town can have another anthem. Just to recognize that, yes, Lupe Fiasco is weird, yes, he’s eclectic, yes, he appeals to all these people worldwide, but the first song on his album is “Chicago.”

I know after your first album dropped you got pretty caught up in its sales figures. Do you think you’ll be watching the numbers as closely this time?

No. I don’t really care, to be quite honest. Unless it gets to the point that it [sells] a million records, or gold, because we sold 400,000 worldwide of Food & Liquor. But not really. It’s more to promote different entities [tours and merchandise]. I just did it for my fans. But I did make it somewhat commercial, with records like “Superstar.” There is an attempt at big records. Not really radio records, but just big records, that kind of appeal to everybody.

I’m just happy to see the longevity of the situation, to see that records from the first album are still getting nominated for Grammys now. To me, this album is much better than Food & Liquor, so I’m like, “Damn, I wonder what the response is going to be to this album.”

The Cool seems pretty light on big name guest appearances and producers. Did you consider trying to get will.i.am and T-Pain and Akon and all of them?

I had a song called “Blackout,” which is probably going to pop up on one of these store’s bonus tracks, and I was trying to get Chris Brown on it. And they turned us down. [Laughs.] I was like, “Oh, okay.” So, that was probably the only attempt to try to get somebody huge. But, I really like Chris Brown. He’s dope.

This has been a controversial fall for you. Are you sick of hearing the words “Tribe Called Quest” yet?

No. I have no problem with Tribe Called Quest. I never did.

I mean, are you sick of “Fiascogate”?

No, because it’s dying down. People are like, “Whatever.” You still got people that are using it for ammunition, but there’s no war to fight. I’m not at war with anybody. Me and Q-Tip are cool. Everybody’s cool from the situation that could have been disrespected by it, but weren’t. So, what’s the point?

Are you still planning to sue Vibe?

Um, no. I want nothing to do with them, though. They could give me 50 covers, I want nothing to do with them.

So, I knew you didn’t drink or smoke, but I was surprised to hear on that your rider stipulates yellow M&Ms. Only yellow M&Ms.

I don’t eat red #40 food coloring, especially when I learned where it came from, which is like these crushed up insect bodies. I was like, “Ewww.” So, I just have an affinity for yellow M&M’s. I bet everybody has that weird, kooky thing, and that’s mine. They all taste the same. I actually had to stop, because they gave me wicked heartburn.

Your new song “Gotta Eat” is told from the perspective of a cheeseburger, and it’s about the lack of healthy food in many black neighborhoods. Do you avoid trans fats and fast food and all that?

No, not at all. I’ll eat a bowl of grease. Solidified, white, crusted, all with a spoon. [The song] kind of reflects the health situation in the hood. People in the hood eat a lot of garbage. I was setting up this community activism group that works on the south side of Chicago, and one of the bullet points – outside of gang violence and drugs – was health. There’s definitely a lack of attention to the health issues [facing] black communities. You go through there and you’re like, “God damn, you can’t eat shit around here. There’s nothing but McDonalds and Taco Bell.” For a lot of people, if the bullets don’t get them, the diabetes will, so to speak. And my father passed away from diabetes, so that’s a real personal issue to me.

Since your future is kind of in flux, can you think of an entertainer who’s done his career the way you’d like to do it?

I don’t really want to follow in anybody’s footsteps, but I look at people like Ian Astbury, to see his career and see him on a personal level, how comfortable he is, and all the accolades and everything he’s received. So, if you can kind of make it out of the storm, and make it out to the other side, and still be comfortable with who you are and what you do, to me, that’s cool. But that doesn’t necessarily mean $100 million in the bank, everything’s lovely. It might just be, “I got a Prius and a nice little house in the hills, a family, and I’m cool.” But we’ll see.

Do you still live in Chicago full time?

Yeah, but I don’t have a house though. I’m kind of, like, Marc Jacobs-ing it right now, just living out of a suitcase. I’m so busy. I lived downtown when I was, like, 19. But now I’m kind of a drifter. No place to really call home. I’d like to live in Paris. I’d like to see what Paris is talking about.

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Interview: Rapper Big Pooh from Little Brother

Which one’s the Big Pooh? Depends on who you ask.

Tonight, Big Pooh and Little Brother headline Southpaw, 125 Fifth Ave, Bklyn, 718-230-0236. 8:30pm, $15-$17. [Tickets]

Interview by Ben Westhoff

Thomas Jones, a/k/a Rapper Big Pooh, is one half of the Durham, North Carolina hip hop duo Little Brother. Earlier this year Pooh and his partner Phonte announced that their elder brother DJ 9th Wonder was leaving the group–and the DJ gets production credits on only one song on Little Brother’s new album Getback. The most recent disc was released on Bay Area indie ABB Records, after Little Brother severed ties with Atlantic due to poor sales of 2005’s The Minstrel Show. (That album was critical of modern rap, and somehow proved eerily prescient of Soulja Boy.) In this recent interview, the 27-year-old impeccably named Pooh discusses these splits, Southern rap, career goals, and why he doesn’t care if fans steal his music.

What’s the main theme of Getback?

Just getting back to why we started making music in the first place, to enjoy making music again. After a while, you start getting distracted by everything, the politics of the business, who is and who isn’t in your group, what label you’re on, how many records you sold. You get away from why you started making music in the first place.

Why did you start making it in the first place?

Because I love it. When we made that first album [The Listening], we didn’t make it with the intentions of being famous or getting rich. We just made it because we wanted to make some dope music. If you listen to the record, it’s all over the place, but, we’re having fun. The Minstrel Show wasn’t a fun record. This is a fun record.

How would Getback sound if it was released on Atlantic?

I couldn’t tell you, to be honest, because there wasn’t a real difference between how [our first two sounded]. I can’t deal in ‘What ifs.’

How much of it had been completed when you split from the label?

About 90 percent. The first and the last tracks on the record were the ones we ended up adding after we totally dissolved the relationship with Atlantic. That happened in January, February, something like that.

Would you say it’s been a tumultuous year?

Nah! It’s been a year of liberation. To most people it looked like a lot of things was collapsing in our careers, but that’s not the case. The whole Atlantic situation, we could see that coming for a while. The whole 9th situation, that was happening for a while too–it just looked like it happened abruptly. But that’s part of life. We just deal with the changes and keep it crackin’.

What happened with 9th?

It’s just part of growing up, part of growing older–people taking different paths in life. 9th is in his early ’30s, we’re in our late ’20s. We might have started off with some of the same goals, but over time that started to change, and I think we went as far as we could go together as a three-man team. It just came to that point in time where it made better sense businesswise to stop while we were ahead.

What are his goals right now?

That’s a question you have to ask him.

Do you still talk with him?

Not really, no.

How have your goals changed over the years?

I just became better aware of the aspects of the business. When I started out, I wanted the whole fame thing, all that glitz and glamour. But as I started making more and more records–and being in this business more and more –none of that means anything to me anymore. I just want to put out good music and be able to support myself and my family doing that. And I’ve been able to do that since 2003. Putting out dope music, that means the world to me, and I’ve been able to do that.

Big Pooh on Little Brother’s Atlantic split: “We asked to be released.” Uh-huh.

Were you guys dropped from Atlantic, or did you ask to be dropped?

It was a mutual separation. We asked to be released and they released us.

Would it have happened anyway?

Maybe, maybe not. Who knows. I don’t have to worry about that now.

Why do you think The Minstrel Show didn’t sell like you wanted it to?

First of all, it was due to the lack of promotion and support we got from our label. And at the end of the day I just don’t think people was ready to hear that message from Little Brother. Because, not even six months later Nas came out with Hip Hop Is Dead, and everybody started talking about how rap was a minstrel show.

Why were people ready to hear it from Nas, but not you?

Because Nas is a more established artist. Little Brother isn’t, or wasn’t. That was only our second album. People probably thought that we should conform, just be happy we was on a major and know our place. I don’t know.

Did anyone at Atlantic say you should be doing things differently?

When we told ’em what the name of the record was, they were like, “Ahhhh, okay.” But they showed us how they weren’t feeling it by not supporting it. And if they did [try to tell us to do things differently] it would have been a ‘Fuck you.’ Nobody will ever tell me how to make music. You could be Barry Gordy. You could give me some pointers, but if I choose to change, it’s not because you’re making me change. I’ve never had to deal with that, and I don’t plan on dealing with it.

How’s promotion for Getback going? Better?

Nope. It sucks, we still on somebody else’s label, still have to depend on somebody else. If you’re depending on somebody else, shit ain’t gonna get done the way we want it done. That’s why we on no labels right now.

You’ll release your next album yourselves?

Of course, on our own label. We done built up the Little Brother brand enough to be able to secure our own distribution deal and put out records like we want to put out records. If I wanted to, I could put a record out every week. Ain’t no red tape. And, if my record fucks up, I know it fucked up because I fucked up. Not because somebody else didn’t care and they fucked it up. I can’t deal with that anymore. That’s probably one of the most frustrating things on this earth. What you have to understand is, we’re not concerned about being famous. That don’t mean shit to us. We want to put out dope music. If I put out a record and only 15,000 people get it, I know that those 15,000 people are fucking with my music. They’re not buying it because they see me on TV or they think I’m rich. They’re really digging my music, my movement. And I’m cool with that. I can make money off of that. As long as we can continue doing that, I really don’t give a fuck. Nobody will ever fully understand my trials and tribulations. This is more than just music to me, it is my livelihood, and that [was] in somebody else’s hands. They’ll never understand how you’re feeling. They’re sitting in the office, getting paid [regardless]. I’m not.

What are your thoughts on the way music distribution is changing?

We doing what we been doing all along. We were probably the first group that was really discovered via internet, back in ’01, ’02. We’ve always been firm believers that you got to go with the times, and right now people can go download your whole catalog for free. And you can’t fight that, it’s hard to fight technology. So, I don’t care how you get my music, whether you paid for it or whether you get it from somebody, so long as you get to hear it and you come out and support by coming to a show, buying a t-shirt, getting a picture, or getting an autograph. That’s what means the most to me. Not how you got my music. I’d rather have 20,000 people get my music for free, bring a friend and have 40,000 people coming to see me on tour, than only 10,000 people paying for my music.

Would you consider putting out an album the Radiohead way?

Maybe, maybe not. We’ve got a couple different options, a couple different things we could do. When the next [album] comes, we’ll approach it then.

Is there a burgeoning hip hop scene in North Carolina?

There’s a lot of talented artists down there. It’s just gonna be hard for them to get really get noticed on a national level, though, until North Carolina starts supporting North Carolina.

Do you relate to Southern rap, or do you consider yourself more of an East Coast rapper?

The first thing people always look to is a sound – but the South is more than just a sound. The South is a whole different culture. If you’re from the south, you understand that culture. Just because we don’t rap in a southern twang and don’t have those southern style beats, that doesn’t mean we’re any less southern than Trick Daddy. It’s just a different aspect. North Carolina, even though it’s the South, it’s not really the South. It’s more middle-eastern than anything. Where we formed was a college town, you got people from the South, the West, North, Midwest, coming from all over, so there’s a whole bunch of different styles and sounds going on in North Carolina. I’m [influenced by] a little bit of everything. I’ve been influenced by NWA, UGK, EPMD, Geto Boys, Outkast. I’ve not one more than I am the other. I mix all my influences together.

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Interview: Brooklyn’s The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep Wake Up

By Michael D. Ayers

There’s no shortage of love for The Big Sleep around these parts; so when their second full length arrived in ye ol’ postbox, I jumped on the opportunity to get some more information on the surreptitiously titled Sleep Forever, due February 19, 2008 on Frenchkiss.

Oh, you don’t know much about them? They’re a three piece consisting of husband/wife team Danny Barria on guitar / vocals and Sonya Balchandani on bass / vocals, and new father, longtime Redskins fan Gabe Rhodes on drums. They’ve garnered a favorable following over the last few years, mainly due to a blistering, ear-splitting live show that teeter-totters between fast, hard-hitting guitar heavy instrumentals and swirling psychedelic-post rock. Post-post rock, if there is such a thing.

Sleep Forever, while still delivering more of the swirling, sprawling psychedelic goodness from before, shows a bit of their softer-side. Tender, and at times delicate. But they haven’t gone all James Bluntified; there’s still enough hard-hitting jams to blow your socks off.

Full e-mail transcript below. . .

First, lets get down to the nitty-gritty: where was Sleep Forever recorded?

Danny: We recorded the basic tracks at this amazing studio called Shorefire in Long Branch, New Jersey. It has this great live room and the amps of my dreams all in one spot. It’s not that far away, but it was just the right amount of distance from the city. It let us focus on getting things done, and this record is about nothing but taking care of business. Then we came back to Brooklyn and recorded all the overdubs and mixed at Stay Gold. The whole recording process took about a month and a half, which was lightning fast compared to Son of the Tiger.

Did you work with anyone?

Danny: We co-produced the record with Chris Coady, who’s worked with TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead, Celebration, etc. He was the voice of reason and experience to all our amateur hour ideas, and he provided a lot of ideas of his own whenever we were trying to get somewhere and weren’t quite sure how to get there.

Was there anything that the group wanted to do differently (in terms of recording) than what was done with Son of the Tiger?

Danny: We definitely wanted to do things quickly this time, to capture a sense of urgency and intensity, but not in quite the same “reckless abandon” way as the first record.

We did a lot of preparation for this record so we could make the most of our time in the studio, and knew going in that it was going to be a tighter, more focused affair.

Sonya: We wanted to capture some sense of the live sound, and to be a little less precious about things – to try to keep in mind the point of each song and focus on that coming across.

Gabe: Also, there’s a depth of emotion in this album that was missing from the first one, so I’m glad that we found it and were able to capture it in the studio.

There seems to be some slower tunes this time around – near ballads that I don’t recall existing on Tiger. Did you guys want to slow things down a bit. . . or at least dabble in more quiet arrangements? Slow might be a bad word choice.

Danny: Personally, I want every record to feel like we’ve grown or developed in some way, but it’s not really a conscious choice to have quieter songs.

Sonya: There were a couple of slower/mellower ones on Son of the Tiger, and that is definitely a side of us that’s there. It often doesn’t come across live, mainly because of the songs we choose to play. We weren’t trying to slow things down or soften things – it’s more that’s a part of what we do as much as anything else. We can be tender. In terms of the feelings those songs evoke, they are consistent with the rest of the material to me, just maybe executed differently.

Gabe: I don’t think we have an agenda to slow things down; it’s just where the mood of the band took us, I guess.

Sonya, your vocals seem to have a much more immediate presence, than the last one- maybe just because we hear you first. Was there a decision to get your voice into the record earlier this time?

Sonya: Not really. Danny and I each did a few sequences, and we ended up with similar ideas for it. So the order just felt right. We didn’t really think about it in terms of vocals/no vocals, or Sonya singing/Danny singing. It was more about the feelings of the songs going into each other. But since I sing first, I guess I win.

Yes, you do win. And is that a drum machine I hear on “Chorus of Guitars?”

Danny: When Sonya and I first started playing music together, it was mainly a guitar and keyboard affair, and we went out and got the most basic, K-Mart style Yamaha keyboard. “Chorus of Guitars” was supposed to be me on piano, everyone else we could get on guitars, and I wanted a drum machine that sounded like a heartbeat. It ended up only having two guitars on it, but the title stayed. Anyway, I borrowed a few drum machines and tried a bunch of different things out, but it turned out that the drum sounds on this Yamaha just fit perfectly.

That said, how are Big Sleep songs constructed these days?

Sonya: Most songs started with Danny bringing in an idea, and then all of us building on those, arranging things together.

Danny: It gets put to the Sonya and Gabe test. We can usually tell right away if it’s something we want to turn into a song, and I do a lot of self-editing, so I don’t really come in with anything that is too outrageous for us. Then we go through a few different arrangements. While we’re doing that, we also hammer out parts to add on top of that main basic idea. We demoed all the songs on the record before we actually went into the studio, which was really valuable in helping us figure out what worked.

And lastly, to get a bit sentimental on you: what are you all most proud of with Sleep Forever?

Danny: I’m really proud of the fact that we went in with pretty clear ideas for what we wanted, but were still open to spontaneity and input from our producer. It was a different experience for us because we did everything so quickly, so there wasn’t a lot of time to deliberate, and it felt good to just pick an idea and know you were committing to it. I also cut out a lot of feedback guitars, which was my usual way of filling in the spaces. It was something new and good to let the spaces stay. The whole record just generally feels more adventurous and like it strayed from our “safety” areas.

Sonya: This record takes some listens to get, but I love these songs. I think there’s a consistency to it, and a depth that I’m pretty proud of.

The Big Sleep play the Knitting Factory on December 3; admission is free. They’ll also ring in the New Year at The Mercury Lounge with Earl Greyhound.

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An Interview With 50 Cent

DISCUSSED: Russell Simmons, The Sopranos, Kanye, Lil Wayne, Detroit, marriage, Hillary Clinton, and asparagus.

By Ben Westhoff

Recently, I met up with 50 at G-Unit Clothing headquarters on 23rd Street, which boasts a faux-library of gold-painted books and topless ebony mannequins. In the flesh, Curtis Jackson III repped his brand loyalties by wearing a white Yankees cap, white Reeboks, and having the office stocked with more Vitamin Water than one person could drink. He was shorter, but just as thick, as I’d imagined, and much, much nicer. Charming, in fact, and generous with his time. He answered thirty minutes of my questions–complete with compulsory Kanye, Fat Joe and Lil Wayne disses–and would probably have gone another thirty if I’d asked.

How would you describe the impact of “I Get Money”?

That record has impacted in a way that you can’t gauge. Hands down it’s the hottest record in the nightclub.

What’s your favorite song on Curtis?

“Man Down.” It’s censored, though. Even on the dirty version.

Why?

I think companies are sensitive to the nonsense that goes on in the media.

The Russell Simmons stuff?

Yeah, totally that. While that’s there, they want to avoid any possibilities of CDs being pulled off the shelves, with record sales the way they are.

Do you disagree with Simmons about self-censorship in rap?

I think he displayed to everyone that he aspires to pursue politics. I just think he was being politically correct. He said, “The rappers should censor themselves.” It’s the middle [ground].

Do you think he’s going to run for governor?

One of these days you’ll see him running. I’ma vote for him, too.

What’s the question you’re most sick of hearing right now?

It’s impossible for them not to ask me a competition question, with Kanye West. But I don’t see him as my competition. We’re so different as artists. He doesn’t have my sales history. I feel like his company’s done a great job of promoting him by putting him out on the same date. Because we’re from the same [genre] to some people we’re just the same, period.

And, you’re expected to do better, so. . .

If he even comes close to me, it’s going to look great [for him]. And they’ll probably do everything within their powers to make that happen for him.

Do you think he’s trying to appeal to white kids?

Absolutely. With the record that he’s releasing, it’s [clear] that he doesn’t care about the same audience. We’ll see who it actually matters to create for.

There’s not a lot of significance in my being successful–there’s a lot of successful people. The difference is my not having to compromise myself in any way. Not everything that comes out of my mouth is something you would hear from a role model. I’m inspiring to different classes of people out there, who have similar experiences. My CD reflects the harsh realities.

But it’s not your reality anymore.

Absolutely not. I’m in a whole ‘nother space, based on the finances from writing about it the first time. There are no real money references on Get Rich Or Die Trying, because I didn’t have any money at that point. Now, I’ll write “I Get Money” and “Straight to the Bank” because I’m in a new financial space.

What’s your favorite city, besides New York?

Detroit. The whole energy level–they embrace me immediately. I popped out in a few cities on the Screamfest tour. Virginia, Houston, St. Louis, Massachusetts, New York and Atlanta. Each one of those states was great, but for me, prior to that, during Get Rich Or Die Trying, Detroit was a big city for me. I don’t know if it’s my direct association and attachment to Eminem, but it showed me a lot of love.

Take me through a typical day in your life.

You know what’s crazy? I had a personal nutritionist and trainer come stay with me. I’d be up, about 7 o’clock, and I’d be working out. It allows you to have your thoughts fluent in your head. But I haven’t been using him [recently]. I was preparing myself for a film project, with myself and Nicholas Cage [The Dance, a film based on the life of prison boxing coach Billy Roth], but it’s actually further away than I anticipated. I got another project I’m working on now, for which it didn’t make sense for me to be [chiseled]. It’s called Righteous Kill, and it’s myself, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Donnie Wahlberg, John Leguizamo. I’ll be shooting in October. I don’t need to be as big for that film, so I kind of chilled out.

Do you have a cook at your house?

Yeah. They prepare the food specifically the way the nutritionist tells ’em. It’s a lot easier to be able to pay people to just help you with it. The money you pay them is a good motivation. You say, “I’m paying these people, I’m going to do everything they tell me, to get the best out of it.”

What do you eat for breakfast?

Egg whites. A lot of asparagus–it takes the water out of you. Later, I have three different supplements throughout the day. Protein shakes. So, I really eat six times.

What time do you come in from Connecticut?

By about 11 o’clock. I spend most of my time in the records office, unless it’s the buyer’s week, when everyone has to physically be here. But if I have to record something I’ll [sometimes] come here.

How many bottles of Vitamin Water do you drink every day?

It depends. I’ve been on water. That’s why you see so much SmartWater in here. And then I use Vitamin Water as a supplement to soda.

Do you think people want you to fall off?

I think they was giving me resistance with “Straight to the Bank” and “Amusement Park,” but with “I Get Money” and “Ayo Technology” they changed their mind, full circle. If you watch the computers, they were saying all kinds of stuff, but then, everyone [suddenly] changed their minds. I have so many more hit records to deliver.

What is “Ayo Technology” about?

It’s about not wanting the technology to bring it to you, but [rather] wanting her physically right in front of you. That applies to so many things. Like watching TV as opposed to seeing entertainers in the flesh. That’s why we tour internationally. They want to physically see this person there. But we made it a little sexier than that.

There’s a lot of guys so addicted to Internet porn they never meet a real girl.

That, and you got the guy out there who is, while not really addicted to pornography, just in a hotel on a business trip. Instead of being with someone outside his wife, he’s being with his hand. He’s got on-demand television playing, and he’s doing what he got to do!

If you got married, would you sign a prenup?

Absolutely. Even if she had more money than me I would. Because I see myself going so much further in the future. 53 percent of the people who get married, get divorced. Those are the facts. It makes sense.

You’ve been complaining about Interscope recently. Have you ever thought about doing what Fat Joe is doing and just going independent?

Nah, because they’re willing to pay me. See, Fat Joe’s in a space where no one wants him. [Laughs.] The majors don’t care for Fat Joe. He’s not generating any interest in the music he’s releasing, so that’s why he’s forced to go on his own to sell his records. I call Koch the graveyard. Because that’s when the majors no longer feel like you’re a safe investment.

But you probably didn’t tell KRS-One that.

But he’s a different case. Look how long he’s been around. Hip-hop music is so driven towards the youth, and that’s why we’re taking such a hit, based on technology. Because they’re not conditioned to go purchase the CD. They’re young, so they’re like, “How can I get it?” They’re anxious–they get it the best way they know how.

If I complained about my boss in public–

–It’s hard to replace me. [Laughs]

Is it part of your marketing strategy to complain about Interscope publicly, or a way to acquire a bargaining chip?

I’m not going to say that. [Winks and laughs.] They get nervous when I say that, though, because they know it’s not easy to replace me.

If you could meet one person, alive or dead, who would it be?

I would probably meet…Did you say alive or dead? That’s a great question. Hmmmm….alive or dead. Man, that’s a good question, because, dead, there’s so many people who have had significant lives. Alive? I guess, I still haven’t met Michael Jackson.

Do you ever worry that you’ll become as crazy as uber-superstars like Michael Jackson or Prince?

I don’t think I’ll go crazy. But, then again, crazy people don’t think they’re crazy. Prince, Michael Jackson, they think that’s the norm. Having spent that many years in that position. It’s difficult searching for normalcy in an abnormal situation.

I noticed that you have Sopranos DVDs in your office. What’s your favorite plot line on the show?

My favorite part was the last episode. I liked it because it was entertaining, and then they just shut it off, to keep you buying the next thing. So, you’ll go see the movie. I was like, “What’s going on? Something’s wrong with my TV.” And that’s great marketing, because I’ll definitely go see the next thing they got going because of that. People who were upset about the ending, will still remember what they liked about the actual show. It’s going to be tough for them to forget how angry they were at that point, and we can remember anger a lot better than we can remember joy. Painful moments in life, we remember a lot easier than playful.

Were there any particular characters you liked?

Vinny. [Vito Spatafore.] I was just, “Wow.”

You call people gay sometimes, like Lil Wayne and Baby…

It’s the competitive nature of hip hop. Hip hop doesn’t have anything against gay people. It’s just that some people associate being gay with being soft. See what I’m saying? [Pauses.] But, yeah, I think it’s odd for a man to kiss another man on his mouth, even though it isn’t his biological father. For the father/son relationship, I think that’s a bit much. If it was my son, I would kiss him on the cheek. He’s a grown man! [Laughs.] Does your father still kiss you on the mouth?

I don’t think he ever did. So, do you have any close friends who are gay?

No. Not that I know of. [Laughs.]

What if, like, a top-of-the-charts caliber rapper came out as gay. What do you think would happen to him?

It depends on what kind of music he was making. Kanye West could come out and people would be like “You didn’t notice how he dressed?” Not to disrespect Kanye – because Kanye says he’s not like that.

Do you have your own jet?

Nah. On this promo tour, I’ve been flying commercial. When I go somewhere I don’t want people in my face, I go private. [Getting your own] plane is a bit much. You’ve got to pay maintenance, pilot fees. If I bought a plane, I wouldn’t do nothing but fly on it. That would make better sense than buying a boat, though. A boat is like just putting your money in a hole in the water.

Anybody you’re romantically involved with right now?

No, I’m just chillin’. I’m single, man. I like my lifestyle. Nobody’s disappointed, nobody has no false hopes.

You once said something about how George Bush was gangsta. Do you still think that?

I don’t support him, but I think George Bush is concerned with maintaining order. That’s the way gangsters move. So, there are similarities. That’s why I said that initially. [Pauses.] Kanye says, “Bush don’t like black people.” [Laughs uproariously.] Whether that’s factual or not, I don’t think it matters much to make that statement. It doesn’t change what’s actually going on. I don’t bother to say things I know don’t affect anything.

Who do you like in ’08?

I support Hillary.

Not Barack?

Why, ’cause he’s black? [Laughs.] Nah, I like Hillary. I like the fact that she didn’t leave Bill, under those circumstances. I like a lot about her. She’s been around, too. I think she was the [real] president when Bill was.

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Siren Call: A Conversation With Voxtrot’s Ramesh Srivastava, Interrupted

Austin’s Voxtrot need no introduction–which is another way of saying that ignorance is the best way to appreciate the following conversation with songwriter/frontman Ramesh Srivastava. You are about to read the most ill-fated phone interview I’ve ever done in my life, thanks to NYU, who’s next door to the Voice offices and responsible for all that goes wrong in the East Village, including this particular incident. Not-so-coincidentally, Voxtrot is playing Siren Music Festival this Saturday. All things considered, enjoy.

Where are you now anyway?
On Mars somewhere. Nah, I’m in Cleveland, but it’s totally fucked up. Oh, I’m in Youngstown.

Why’s it fucked up?
It looks like some weird, decaying haunted village.

Sounds like Ohio. So you just played the Pitchfork Music Festival. How was that?
It was cool. It was fun. It went surprisingly well, I thought. I just figured 2pm it could be, er, bad, but the crowd was really nice.

Were you pissed that Pitchfork asked you to play after they gave your last record a 5.9?
Unfortunately for them, they’d already asked us, so they had no way out of it. But no, it’s fine, they’re nice to us usually.

I think Siren’s going to be better.
You think so? I’ve never been before.

There’s a rollercoaster. Pitchfork didn’t have a rollercoaster.
That sounds pretty good.

So I saw that you’re DJing on Friday night. What’s that about?
I just know it’s at this club Trash, but I don’t know where it is. [Editors’ note: The night is called Trash, the club is called Rififi. Flyer above.]

Why’d you agree to it if you have no idea what it’s about?
I let the powers that be present things to me and then I say yes.

Are you going to DJ with an iPod?
Oh no, with vinyl.

Oh, so you’re not just some, like, music-blog-celebrity DJ who’s going to expect people to dance to their Recently Added playlist.
No, I’m a real DJ. I have records with me.

What do you spin?
I don’t know. Techno and related forms.

Listening to Voxtrot, I wouldn’t have–

[Shrill, earbleeding alarm offline] Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! [Stops.]

Sorry, we’re having a little fire alarm testing in my building.

Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! [Stops again.]

That sucked. Okay, ah. . . what’s your favorite song to end your sets with?

I guess, for the last song, they say you always have to do something a bit more rock. Something like Sonic Youth’s “Teen Age Riot.”

Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep!

Wow, that’s really loud.

Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep!

Yeah, and I have my hand over the receiver.

Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! [Pause]

So anyway–

Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep! Beeep!

— Aw, fuck. Can I call you back in like 20 minutes?

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Voxtrot, “Kid Gloves” (MP3)