Out of all the upcoming artists in New York’s revivalist movement, Papoose is what the game has been missing: lyrics, prose and poetics. He first floated to the surface of the underground scene in 1999 with “Alphabetic Slaughter,” an impressive lyrical debut that not only highlighted his ability to flip it but also alluded to the hurdles he needed to overcome on his heavily anticipated debut, The Nacirema Dream, expected to be released in April.
Already seventeen mixtapes deep into his career, Papoose is nothing if not consistent, a lunch-pail emcee. But despite his ability to spit heavenly bars-and despite the short trip down memory lane he took us on in “Flashback”-the man remains a mystery. Mainstream success lies in selling the artist’s story, turning a personality into a pop commodity. America loves a good story. But even if Papoose can turn himself into a commodity, the Bed-Stuy native’s conceptual tracks and complex metaphors don’t necessarily translate into ringing registers. With a reported $1.5 million advance from Jive on the line, can Papoose pen a hit and validate the numbers?
As somebody who’s made a career off mixtapes, how do you feel about the whole DJ Drama and Don Cannon situation with the RIAA?
I feel like eventually they want to make it seem like everything we do is a crime. Hip-hop music and culture is from the streets; it belongs to the streets. Nobody should try to violate that or try to take it away from the streets. Period. This is our culture. Shout out to DJ Drama and his whole camp, man. I hope he come up out of that situation.
For me, it seems like the industry is collapsing on itself. The industry uses mixtapes to promote albums, and that’s how a lot of A&Rs find artists. They aren’t in the streets. If hip-hop ain’t dead already, if they continue to do this, it may kill the industry.
It ain’t gonna kill the industry, man. It’s a myth. All that shit about the industry being killed, that’s not gonna happen. It’s way too powerful. It lives through the kids. Hip-hop is something that has been passed onto us, and then it will be passed onto the next generation. But doin’ things like that-arresting brothers for putting out music-may make people feel that the industry is suffering. But at the same time, you can’t stop hip-hop. I also feel that a lot of these artists feel so much pressure to sell that they’re callin’ these police saying, “Yo, they bootleggin’ over here, they bootleggin over there.” They so nervous that they ain’t gonna sell, so they go call the police.
You recently recorded a song for Sean Bell called “Fifty Shots,” which showed the entire political mess surrounding that incident. You talk about the police, the police union, the mayor, newspapers, and the peoples’ reaction.
Being from New York, you see this shit go on all the time. There are a lot of incidents that go unpublicized. This goes on every day. If the police ain’t beatin’ someone up, they shootin’ ’em. It won’t be the first; it won’t be the last, man.
About six months ago, Ghostface said he felt New York hip-hop began to decline after Amadou Diallo got shot and the city didn’t react as strongly as it should have. With everything that’s happened with Sean Bell and the way hip-hop has come out against it, do you think this is a turning point?
At the end of the day, it’s a beautiful thing. Hip-hop has a very powerful voice, and when incidents like this happen and we speak about ’em, it shines light on the situation that they want to sweep under the rug. After the first week, the media slows down on the coverage, but our hip-hop voice is just as powerful as the media’s, and maybe even more powerful-we sell millions of copies around the world. When a tragedy like this happens, we have to speak up.
You don’t get credit for being a political or a conscious emcee, but you talk about the police in “Sharades,” Sean Bell in “Fifty Shots,” Katrina in “Mother Nature.” Why do get overlooked?
I’m not here for that. My message is to the people. I’m really not here to please nobody. I’m an artist, but at the same time, I stand for my people. When I make them records, it comes from the heart. Just to try to make a difference and a change.
All of your mixtapes are super lyrical. As Jay Z once said, “I dumb down my lyrics to double my dollars.” In recording The Nacirema Dream, are you thinking you should water it down a bit?
Good music is good music, whether you commercialize it or you make it what some consider complicated. If it’s hot, it’s hot; if it’s not, it’s not. I represent real lyricism and real talent. That’s what this is about. People that make you try to think that it’s about something else; that’s because they lack talent, that’s all. They just tryin’ to cover up the fact that they don’t have pure talent. People be tryin’ to make you think that hip-hop is about everything else except for talent. It’s about how many people you shot, how much money you got. That’s not the foundation of the game. This is something that certain individuals were born to do-same as basketball, baseball, or football.
You have a lot of conceptual songs. How long does it take for you to put one on wax? What is the songwriting process like for you?
Actually, the concept songs come out faster for me. My song-making process is this: I don’t write with a pen and paper. I feel that it confines you to one environment. I like to walk around; I like to move around. Sometimes I just be in the booth and I tell Slay, “Yo, man, play the beat,” and I stand there for about ten, fifteen minutes, and I’m ready to go.
Back when you were grindin’ on the mixtape scene, was the goal always to get a major-label deal or did you feel you would just stay independent?
I put out seventeen mixtapes and reaped all the benefits-I did shows all around the world off of those mixtapes-so I feel like I’ve done everything I could on the independent level. Now it’s time for me to go on the major level. I’ve done everything an independent artist could do. I’ve reaped all the benefits of being independent.
Speaking of your mixtape, you have a really tight relationship with Kay Slay, and he’s kind of a wild brotha . . .
I’m gonna be one hundred percent honest with you: If you come in sideways or with some under-the-table nonsense, then you’re gonna have a problem with Kay Slay. He’s not the type of person who is gonna ignore it or turn a cheek; if he sees it, he’s gonna address it. But if you’re straight up and about your business and you’re a real person, man, Kay Slay is one of the coolest brothas you’ll ever meet.
Is there a firm release date for the new album?
We’re aiming for early ’07. On the production side, we got DJ Premier, DR Period, Focus, Pharrell, Kayne West, the list goes on. And on the feature side, we got Jadakiss. But I ain’t gonna put everything out there. It ain’t final ’til it’s vinyl. But I’m still working, even though I have enough material for three albums.
You got a lot of new artists coming out of New York: Saigon, Tru Life, Corey Gunz, Hell Rell and JR Writer. All of them are getting ready to release albums, and you’re going to be the first to do it. Is it exciting that you’re going to be leading a new generation of artists coming out of New York?
I grew up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. I didn’t grow up with any of these cats. So the foundation of my project and my career rests in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. My work comes form my trials and tribulations, not my peers in the industry.