Queensbridge. As Nas once said, it’s “the world’s most largest and notorious project.” For those of you who don’t know, QB has been one of hip-hop’s most fertile breeding grounds of lyrical talent since the days of Marley Marl and MC Shan. The way Brooklyn breeds point guards, Queensbridge does emcees.
In the mid- to late ’90s, it seemed as if there was a renaissance brewing from the housing projects out on Long Island City, led by Nas, Mobb Deep and Capone-N-Noreaga, with young guns such as Nature, Cormega and Lake waiting in the wings. Since then, though, the relationships between most of these rappers have become frayed, with both lyrical and physical confrontations ensuing. One such instance occurred last year when Nas become the target on wax of his former protégé Lake.
But while Jada and Ja seemingly try to live off of beef, Lakey the Kid is moving past all that. If you were hoping to read more about the alleged beef with Nasir, you won’t it in this interview. What you will find is a profile of a man on a mission who, through My Brother’s Keeper, his release with Cormega that should be released later this summer, is out to aid the millions affected by America’s often corrupt prison system.
As Mos Def said, “Beef don’t come with a radio edit/ Beef is when the judge is callin’ you defendant/ Beef, it comes with a long jail sentence, handed down to you in a few short minutes.”
You’ve got the new album coming out with Cormega. How long have you two known each other?
We knew each other since we were little kids. We used to live together and all of that. When nobody was thinking about rapping or putting out an album, me and ‘Mega was down together. Our history goes beyond the music, and when we stop making music we’ll be together. When we both were incarcerated we wrote each other and kept each other up. That’s my dog.
There’s a lot of suburban kids that listen to rap music, but have no idea of what really goes on in American projects. How would you paint a picture of what it’s like to live in QB?
It’s a struggle. That’s the first thing you get adjusted to, the struggle. You will never have anything easy. Everything that you get you’re gonna have to work for. Growing up in the projects, you’re already in a low-income area; you don’t have a silver spoon in your mouth. You’re not gonna be blessed with things. A lot of things you’re gonna get denied. That’s what gives us our ambition: We come from having nothing.
You’re gonna have to fight. You’re gonna have to learn how to defend yourself. You learn not to be in certain places at certain times. You learn the element of survival. Then you take those traits everywhere you go. Me and ‘Mega went through a lot because of the choices we made, but we handled it and it makes us the people we are today. That’s what we’re giving out in our music. The main word is struggle, and that’s the main thing we go through in the projects.
What’s the meaning behind the title of the album, My Brother’s Keeper?
All we got is each other. The way the album came out is, a few friends got caught in situations that were jamming that up, and we had to fight for them and try to help them. We came together on this album to try and generate monies to keep them afloat and the resources they need to fight these situations. This is our life, day to day. This is what we do; we support each other. The title represents our life. We’re gonna be like this until we die.
Will there be more albums with you and ‘Mega, or is this a one-shot deal?
Me and ‘Mega is gonna work at a drop of a dime. We definitely are gonna put out more projects.
Who are the producers for the album?
We got Buckwild, Premo, C-4, Alchemist, Ron Browz. Our production is incredible. [Editor’s note: This interview was given before production had been confirmed. The album includes production by J. Waxx Garfield, Buckwild, Ax the Bull, Ski, Get Large, Now or Laterz, and Cormega.]
You once said “The strong rule the weak, but the wise rule the strong.” But aren’t there pitfalls in the American education system?
The education system, they teach you what they need to teach you as far as working for them or fitting into society. They’re not gonna teach you anything to excel. That’s where it comes on individual research. The only way to learn things is on your own. Most of the stuff they teach you [in school] is not required learning. The stuff that we’re being successful for, we didn’t learn in school. This entrepreneurship, the music, creativity: we didn’t learn none of that in school.
That’s why they said in the African universities is “Man, know thyself.” The purpose of education was to draw it out, to develop the gifts that you already have.
Is a street education is just as important as a formal education?
Definitely. That’s what makes you well-rounded. If you have one side more than the other, you’re not gonna understand certain things or be able to adapt to certain situations. If you can balance them out and utilize them both, it will make you a very wise individual.
You’ve also said, “My revolution is as real as Bobby Seale’s” and “twenty-one-gun salute the new Huey Newton.” It seems as if you’re very well-versed in the history of the Black Panthers, but is their spirit alive within the hip-hop community? Do we give enough respect to what they did thirty years ago?
History repeats itself. The way they had [counter intelligence programs in the FBI] and they were setting up and locking up all of those Panthers, it’s because they were a threat. Now, with the hip-hop music, we’re gonna go through similar situations because we are a threat. As soon as guys get focused and realize how much of a threat they are, we will be powerful. Right now we’re only a threat because we’re not channeling our energy in the right direction. We don’t have our own political party, we don’t have anybody advocating for us. We’re just saying, “Vote or Die” — vote for somebody we don’t know anything about just because he’s running against somebody we don’t like. Our priorities are all over the place, and dudes got enough money to really substantiate that.
They got the hip-hop police now, a whole bunch of stuff that’s similar to Cointelpro, and they’re not learning from their history; that’s why they’re gonna get faced with the same situations. Everybody’s coming out trying to battle with this dude and do that, but you gotta recognize who your enemy is. I know everybody’s not gonna get along, but he’s not a threat. Because the same thing is gonna be hovering over us, and that’s the system. If you don’t recognize that for what it is, we’re gonna fall victim to that, and that’s what happening now. I got different things that I don’t agree with certain people about, but at the end of the day I know who my enemy is and where I have to keep my focus at.
What’s the most pressing issue right now in hip-hop?
It’s the lack of unity. It’s the people that are in positions of power, that’s the most important thing. The people that are there are not doing the right things. The music that should be heard is not, because you have the wrong people there that are trying to clone the artists and make them sound like somebody and taking away from who they are and who they could be to the world.
We have some great artists out there that may never be heard. I know there’s a lot of artists we haven’t heard yet and didn’t get the support needed because of these people telling them, “You gotta switch this; you gotta make a record like this,” and you take away from who this person really is. The format is “come out and do what you see somebody else do.” That’s taking away from the music. Most individuals are not standing out the way they should. We need a new structure.
Being independent is good because they respect your views and your vision; they want you to get in a position where you can do what you want to. It’s like a school we go through. Once we graduate we can run our own businesses and run our lives the way we need to.
What other areas are you venturing into outside of music?
I’m trying to help dudes in prison. I’m trying to start organizations that are gonna benefit people in lower-income areas and people fighting cases without good representation and speak out against stuff like that and get people to champion our cause the way it needs to be. I’ve been doing production, clothes and I am the president of Death Row East, but overall I’m trying to construct a movement that’s gonna be beneficial for our people overall.
During your stint in prison, what was the most important lesson you learned?
The impact of my decisions. The power that I have.
I’ve always been a leader. I know I can do anything I want to do, it’s asking, How do I want to be effective? And what do I want to do with myself? And, ultimately, what are my goals?
In prison you learn patience and control, and that’s what I utilize everyday to keep me doing what I’m doing. If I didn’t get those two characteristics, I wouldn’t be here right now. Even though I didn’t want to go there to get them, I got ’em and I utilize them and apply them anytime I want to. It is trying out here, and there’s a lot that you go through day to day. If you don’t stay wise out here, you’re gonna fall victim.
Who is Lake?
Lake is for his people; he won’t turn his back on his people. He wants to see people struggling have some shine on their day. Anyway I can be of help to that, through my music, through an interview, that’s the most important thing. It’s not about getting a reward for a show or the recognition I may get for an album. If I said something or did something that could save somebody’s life or change somebody’s life for the positive or help somebody through a trying time, that’s the most important thing to me. That’s what I do with my music and that’s what I’m trying to get from it — to give back to people that I know will appreciate it and that it will help them. If I do that, then I’m doing what I feel I am here to do and what I want to do.