Who's next to blow up in hip-hop? The answer to that question is often pondered, and everyone has his own opinion. Some regard the mixtape market as a barometer of who's hot, who may be the next to make it big. And when they look to that market, they likely see Harlem's Jae Millz.
Aside from the strong buzz he's maintained in the streets, Millz gained national notoriety after appearing on an episode of MTV's Making Da Band 2. In the show, Puffy pitted the young Harlem rapper against the best rapper on the show, Ness. Puffy ruled the battle a draw, but most viewers felt Millz had flat-out won.
Prefix sat down with Millz recently to find out more about one of the game's up-and-coming stars and learned about his thoughts on battling Ness, Puffy's mohawk, his history with Mase and the pain of growing up a Knicks fan.
Prefix Magazine: What made you decide to sign with Warner Bros./Wanna Blow? That's not exactly known as a hip-hop label.
Jae Millz: Part 1: I don't know. We weren't looking necessarily for a big hip-hop label; we weren't even looking for a deal. We were just recording. We weren't in the process of recording songs to take them to the radio station or take them to the labels. We were just in the studio everyday, and I was in the studio everyday recording my three songs. Somebody from Warner Bros. came by and heard some songs, and they was with it. They liked everything they heard and saw a vision. With everybody else, we would've still had to prove ourselves. There's no more proving. I don't have to prove nothing. They already believe I'm ... PM: One of the most talented guys out there.
Jae Millz: Part 1: Yeah, they saw that from the beginning. When someone can see your vision from the beginning, I kind of respect that, and we saw eye to eye. They wanted to let us do what we do, and they understand what we're doing. PM: You're the first artist on Wanna Blow?
Jae Millz: Part 1: Yeah. Just trying to kick the door down so there will be some more. PM: When they came to you, was that after the Making the Band appearance?
Jae Millz: Part 1: Yeah, that was after Making the Band. I did the Making the Band thing a while ago. Actually, I did it a while before it came on TV. PM: But they came after it aired?
Jae Millz: Part 1: Yeah, it was after it aired. They were familiar with that, and my mixtape buzz was a little heavy, so a couple people already knew about that, probably through word of mouth. I remember a week or two before I got my deal, DJ Enuff opened up the Rush Hour -- that's his show at 5 o'clock -- everyday of the week with "No No No." He played it on Friday and he was like "Jae, this song is really hot, I really like this song. Watch what I do." Then the next week, everyday at 5 o'clock ... he was playing the joint. After that, everybody was like, "Who is this kid?" PM: Speaking of "No No No," you worked with Scram Jones on that, right?
Jae Millz: Part 1: Yeah, Scram Jones did that. He got a couple of joints on the album, too. PM: How did you link up with him? He's had some buzz for a while, but he's still a bit under the radar.
Jae Millz: Part 1: At the studio where I work, one day he was in the back-room studio and I was in the front-room studio. I went back there with my man, who was like, "This is my man Scram; he do beats, he hot." I'm a real humble dude, so I was like, "Let me hear something." I might like something and we could build a relationship and we might be able to work. He went up to the computer and thirty joints came up. "No, No, No" was track four. By the time track four came on, I was just like, "Put that on the CD for me." I went home, but I couldn't really figure out how to flip it. My man was just like, "You need to just take the 'No, no, no' and run with it. Don't stray away from the original or the authenticity of the song." I just ran with it. People get it twisted though; some people might say, "He's not even Jamaican or even West Indian. That's not keeping it real." I just wanted to try something different and be a little creative. It didn't have to work. It could have worked against me, but it worked for me. Some people see the creativeness and respect what I'm doing with the dancehall music, with the reggae song. They respect how I still kept the lingo, still kept the speech. I didn't try to shoot all through the whole joint. I kept that vibe. I shot the video in Kingston Jamaica. So I kept the vibe. So they can't say I'm trying to be down or nothing. I'm just trying something different. PM: I thought it was great what you did, because it's a classic song, but a lot of young kids might not have heard of it. Now they might go back and seek out the original and go back and listen to more songs from that era.
Jae Millz: Part 1: I just wanted a song that was a complete banger. When it comes on in a club, it's just undeniable. It's like, it don't even matter what I'm saying. And it's not like I'm just saying a bunch of bull. I'm spittin' and being creative, but I just wanted something that the crowd loves. We just did the remix; we got Cam'ron and T.I. on the remix. So, we working. PM: What other producers do you have on the record besides Scram?
Jae Millz: Part 1: Omen produced some joints. Heatmakers. Presidential Beats, that's a group out of Jersey. Agallar. I got a new producer from Harlem named Don. Scram Jones did a lot of joints on it. PM: What about guests?
Jae Millz: Part 1: It's pretty much just me right now. It's my first album and I want to introduce the world to me before I introduce the world to me and somebody else. It's nothing against none of the new artists or the established artists, but this album means a lot to me, so I just wanted to get the most out of it that I could before I let somebody else get something out of it. PM: People's first impressions of you might be that you're like a lot of the other rappers out there, but it seems like you're doing things differently, whether it's signing with Warner Bros. or not loading your album up with big names.
Jae Millz: Part 1: Nah, it's just me. I already have my vision -- since when I was kid, man. If I sit up here and tell you everything I did as a kid, you'd think I was a rap fanatic, and rap wasn't even my first love. I went to school for art. I went to the high school for art and design. Cartooning, architecture, fashion, all that. I used to be serious with it. I used to be serious with my pencil and my cross-hatching and rendering. But when I hit the tenth grade, the lunch room [taps a beat on the table] and everyone doing all that, and we'd just go around the table rhyming. That did it for me. I was doing battles and everything. I was always listening to Hot 97 and the radio and the mixtapes and watching Video Soul, Rap City, Music Box. Listening to Future Flavors, Stretch Armstrong. Staying up crazy late on Sunday with my hand on the record button, knowing I had to go to school the next day. Listening to Clue on Monday. That was me. When people like the Lox was on the radio, I had my hand on the record button. When somebody was on Flex, I was ready. I still got the tape with Cannibus, Nore and DMX when they rhymed for like forty-five minutes. I still got that on tape, on a ninety-minute TDK tape. I'm no joke with this. My uncle used to listen to Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Prince. My grandmother listened to Patti Labelle, Aretha Franklin. One of my other uncles listened to Bobby Womack, Al Green. And my mother listens to everything: rap, R&B, old-school rap, old-school R&B. She used to tape videos. That's where I get it from. And my uncle was the youngest of my grandmother's children, so he was into Rap City and De La Soul and Brand Nubian. He's into all of that. So you got all of this in your family, and I'm young, so I'm trying to still find myself so at this point -- I'm in junior high school or high school -- my family listens to all this type of music, so I grow up listening to all types of music. I hit my pen game, and due to the fact that I listened to so many types of music, I can adapt. I know how to do a song where I want to go out in the rain. The normal rapper can't sit and listen to that and understand. They'd be like, "This is wack. Cut it off." You listen to it and he's saying the same thing that rappers are saying. My man Tone, on Wanna Blow, him and Nige always tell me that Marvin Gaye was the first rapper. He's always like, "Listen to 'Trouble Man.' " He was the first rapper. If you listen to it, he was basically saying the same thing that half the people who talk about something say. Pac was saying the same thing Marvin Gaye was saying a long time ago. But Pac was just putting it into a street form. Marvin didn't live that, but he spoke that. B.I.G. spoke another story. Jay-Z speaks another story. Nas speaks another story. X comes from a group home; X speaks another story. Everybody got their own story. So me growing up in between all of that, I just adapted to everything, and it shows on my album. That's what I like about my album. A person doesn't even have to know me, but he can listen to the first four or five songs on my album and feel like he knew me my whole life. PM: That's a refreshing perspective, because nowadays a lot of guys are strictly in it for money.
Jae Millz: Part 1: I mean, everyone is in it for money. If this was free, 85 percent wouldn't be doing it; they'd have another hustle. For me it's a way to make money, but I wouldn't want to do nothing else. I wouldn't say that I'm in it just for the money, 'cause I was been battling before I got money; I was in the studio before I got money; I was been writing rhymes before I got money. So the money aspect is a part of it -- I'm getting paid to do what I love. What's better than that? I wouldn't want to do nothing else. I've had a nine to five. I ain't no hustler. I ain't no basketball player. I'm not gonna make it out the 'hood with sports. I'm not gonna make it out the 'hood on the block just selling, 'cause that's not for me. My mind is there, but I'm too caught up with what's gonna happen at the end of the day if I get caught. I can draw, but I don't want to be an artist. I don't want to be a fashion designer right now. Sometime I might go back into that, but right now I don't want to be a cartoonist; I don't want to be a graffiti artist; I don't want to design clothes. I don't want to do nothing else, I just want to rap. I just want to make music, go in the booth, write, rap. I want people to understand that I'm serious with this and to respect what I do. I'm a cool person; I'm crazy humble. The same way I'm sitting talking with you is the same way I talk to everybody. You know a person might hear me and get the wrong perception. "Oh, he think he a tough guy." Nah, I ain't no tough guy, I ain't no gangster, I ain't no thug. I'm me. At the end of the day, I'm me. I was born me, so I'm gonna die me. I'm not gonna be born Jae Millz and die gangsta. That's like a way of living. It's nothing against that, it's just not me. I just do what I gotta do. Whatever I gotta to do to get by, whatever I gotta to do to make sure my mother and little brother is alright -- make sure I'm all right and my peoples are out of trouble. That's just me. It's a gangsta mentality, because every gangsta would do whatever it takes to see his family good and make sure they good. If that's what you want to say is keeping it gangsta, yeah, that's me. But as far as just running around and poppin' off all day, I'm not gonna lie to you, that's not me. PM: Within the first few minutes I met you I could tell you were pretty intelligent and not like a lot of the other rappers out there.
Jae Millz: Part 1: Cool, cool. I ain't with all the craziness and I don't even like to party a lot. I stay in my house, play Madden, Live and Grand Theft. And chill and listen to the radio all day. That's me. PM: Are you worried about being typecast as a battle rapper? Cannibus, for example, is known primarily as a battle rapper, and people say he can't make a great song aside from battling.
Jae Millz: Part 1: People can notice me as a battle rapper or portray me as a battle rapper or say I'm a battle rapper, 'cause I am a battle rapper. But I'm also an artist, I'm also a song writer, I also come up with concepts and I also have confidence and creativity. At the end of the day, you can see I'm a battle rapper, but don't forget everything else I do. Don't forget I go in the booth and do most of my albums in one take or that sometimes I do four songs in a day. Serious. Don't forget that I'll be in the studio from three in the afternoon until three in the morning. Don't get it twisted. PM: You may not have a problem, since a lot of people are gonna know you through "No, No, No." I mean you did the battle on Making Da Band, but since the song was hot ...
Jae Millz: Part 1: Yeah, they sort of forget about the other thing. PM: Was the battle with Ness strictly for the cameras? Was there any animosity?
Jae Millz: Part 1: Homeboy, I heard he had a freestyle or something getting at me, but I saw him out in Puerto Rico and I told him I ain't with all that. It's the same thing as basketball when it comes to battles. Y'all can be the best of friends, but when you get on the court, you ain't looking at him like you're his friend; you're out to bust his ass. It's the same thing in a battle. It don't matter who get at who, y'all both playing the same game, y'all should be able to walk away from it the same way y'all walked into it. I guess he might have gotten caught up in the "he say, she say." I'm not with all that. That ain't my style. So we put that on a quick stop, 'cause I'm not with all the back and forth. We might as well just battle. PM: Speaking of the show, we have to talk about Diddy. What did you think about him running the marathon?
Jae Millz: Part 1: Man, I'm not gonna lie; I have a lot of respect for Diddy. I always had a lot of respect for Diddy, 'cause he always showed me that respect and he was always somebody who you had to respect, because he's always on top of his job, he's always on top of the situation, he's always trying to better the situation. People just look at him and say [in a disgusted voice], "Oh that's Puff Daddy and ..." But they don't look at all the good things he does, and he does a lot of good things. He didn't have to run that marathon, he didn't have to raise that money, he didn't have to do anything. He's a human being, just like you're a human being. What right does anyone have to say he's supposed to do that because he's got all that money? So? Ain't nobody else make that money or run that label? People supported him, but ain't nobody bust their ass the way he did. He didn't have to do that. That man did that out of the kindness of his heart. He ran a marathon and tried to raise a million dollars for the kids and raised $2 million, and got all these rappers to go in their pockets. Anyone could have done that, but they didn't. He was the one that stepped up and did it. And I was watching him run that marathon, and that's a lot man. I saw how he went through the training and everything they had him do. You got to tip your hat to Diddy for that. PM: Did you think he wasn't going to be able to finish it?
Jae Millz: Part 1: Nah. I never knew he was running twenty-six miles in the first place. Once I found that out I was like, whoa. When I saw him running I was like, that's big right there. That's big for hip-hop. 'Cause when a person looks at that, they look at hip-hop. PM: What about the mohawk? Were you feelin' that?
Jae Millz: Part 1: I mean, myself personally, I wouldn't have. But he's to a level now where he's done everything. That's where the difference is. He's different. I doubt Jay-Z would have done it. I doubt DMX would have done it. I doubt a lot of people in the game would have done that. I doubt 50 Cent would have put a mohawk on his head and run a marathon. But Puff is different; he's just about being different. And he just wanted to do something else and try a new look. People get things confused; he didn't do that for no one else. He did that for himself. He ain't do it to impress nobody. He was like, "They can say whatever they want. I'm a black nigger with a mohawk trying to raise a million dollars for the kids." What's wrong with that? The man got a mohawk. I'm good with my Caesar though. I'm gonna keep my Caesar. PM: What about your crew?
Jae Millz: Part 1: In Harlem man, I got an army behind me. Most Hated. To my peoples up on Lennox Ave. A lot of them aren't from Lennox Avenue but are from Harlem or New York City, but mostly Harlem. They love me up there, just to see me doing this right now. They hype. We go to Miami, Atlanta and just sit back. And I'm their man from the block. It ain't even like they're street team. These are my people I grew up with, used to play basketball and knockout on the handlebars. These are my peoples, and now we in Miami just to give these shirts out and CDs. They don't have to do that, but they wanna see their man win, they standing by their man. That's my crew though. I take them with me whenever I can. Let's all get up. The dude you see with me is Nige. Tone and Nige run Wanna Blow. PM: Now that you've enjoyed some success from the single and from the battle on Making Da Band, do you have random girls calling you?
Jae Millz: Part 1: A lot of girls who never called me before call me now. I'm not a person that feeds into the female thing. It's cool to have female friends the same way you have male friends but ...