Hot Rod Talks ‘Dance-Pop’ Rap, Working Under 50 Cent
"I didn't know how 50 Cent was going to accept my sound," Hot Rod tells the BoomBox of his move from boom-bap rapper to one more comfortable rhyming over dance-friendly records. "I thought he was gonna say, 'Get the f--- out of here, man.'" However, the G-Unit captain welcomed the new hip-pop ship the California native was sailing on. Signed to Fif's record label since 2006, Hot Rod found himself sitting in musical purgatory after tracks like the Mary J. Blige-assisted 'Be Easy' failed to soar up the charts the way executives would have liked. Hot Rod didn't lose hope though and trekked to Europe, where he earned cold cash for performances and picked up on the Euro-house sound that has soaked many hip-hop songs in recent years.
Now the ever-changing rhymer is calling home to 50's G-Note imprint, which gives him more flexibility to play with a myriad of genres like the house music he's been dabbling with lately. His debut album, 'My Life,' will finally rest on store shelves this fall, after flying between the East and West Coasts to shake hands with his boss man to secure a release date. This time around rap enthusiasts may be a bit taken aback by his approach but he's never been one to follow the straight and narrow path. "I'm not gonna be a cookie cutter artist," he states. "Other people try to be safe. I'mma be me and I'mma be the only one like me in this genre."
Read on as Hot Rod lets loose about his studio sessions with David Guetta, what he finds in Lady Gaga that intrigues him, 50 Cent's lasting words and being a raunchy rapper.
You were initially signed to 50 Cent's G-Unit Records in 2006, and now, five years later, your album is just coming out. So what have you been doing for five years?
There was most definitely struggles. Just the communication with the label and with 50, that got really, really weak. I had to pretty much fend for myself. In the record business, if your single doesn't do what it's supposed to do, budgets and all that just goes away. It's up to you just to come back strong, whether it's a record or some type of buzz. You know you have to gain the interest of the label back. So the whole time I was in Europe, in Asia. I traveled the world; I was touring for three and a half years. I did countless shows. I was just on the super grind. I'm on my second passport. This was just me grinding -- me, my management and my booking agent when I first got signed and my first time going out to Germany. I pretty much traveled the world, kept money in my pocket and that's where the inspiration and the influence came from, the house, dance, techno world, it came from the European side of it.
I compare the house music, that genre, I compare that to soccer. Here in the states, the biggest sport is what, baseball, football, but that's just here in the states. But if you go worldwide, the big sport is soccer. That's the same thing with dance music, house music. That's the biggest type of music worldwide. As soon as you leave the states, that's what you hear. You're not gonna hear no Rick Ross or Lil Wayne everyday. You hear David Guetta, you hear Afrojack, you hear Roger Sanchez.
You're from the West Coast and your sound now is very different from the veteran MCs we're used to hearing. What do you bring to the table that's unique?
Well, you know, I'm just West Coast. I can't really pinpoint a super difference. It's really West Coast. But I've been influenced by so many different types of music. That's what really speaks through your music -- what music influences you. I guess what you're gonna hear is a West Coast accent from my voice. But as far as musically, I'm influenced by all kinds of music. You'll definitely get a West Coast flavor but my music is so diverse that you're not gonna really pinpoint where I'm from. As far as hip-hop I'm influenced by Lil Wayne, Drake, obviously 50 Cent. In the dance world, I'm influenced by Lady Gaga. She gets it. She jumps out there and thinks outside the box. I look at more than the music. I look at the image and how they carry themselves, their entertainment value. The creativity from Coldplay in their visuals. I look at the pioneers and I feel like I'm carving my own lane. I feel like I'm gonna be one of those people that they see took a risk to bring more of a raunchy, hip-hop feel to it.
The album is titled 'My Life.' Why did you choose that name for your first LP?
The album is real positive, really energetic, party-oriented. Put it like this, I live my life crazy. I stay up 'til 100 in the morning. I'm either in the studio til 1,000 in the morning or partying or I'm out doing something crazy. One thing I always say, me and my boys, every night's a Friday night. I've always lived that way ever since I moved out of the house at 17. That's always been my motto even when I was working my 9-to-5. I never let my work be my excuse not to have a good time. I'll go out, drink, chill with my boys, but I was always responsible enough to get up and handle my business. So on this album, it shows you never have to use that excuse, it's a party. Why not live your life like a party? I say 'My Life' because on the album it's straight partying, having a good time. Forget all this recession and sadness, when you pop my album in, it's a Friday night. That's the theme of the album: just live your life.
How is the progress on the album?
I do a lot of recording in New York; I recorded the album in New York. We're like 95 percent done. You never stop recording until you turn an album in 'cause you never know if you'll come with that heat at the last minute, you know what I'm saying. I have everything I need for the album. I'm constantly getting music from different producers. I'm always in the studio.
You worked with David Guetta on the album. Can you give some premise as to what the song is about as well as reveal the title?
No, but it's more a surprise. I did two records with him so it's still undecided whether it's gonna go on my album or his album. I can't really let the cat out of the bag at this point. I went in the studio with him out here in L.A. with 50. We did four records that day. That was late March. I'm not sure if you heard the song that leaked out ['Bulls--- & Party'] from 50 and Guetta, and that was one of the records they did. That was like the unfinished, unmixed version, so it was kinda frustrating for Guetta. He went out on a rant on his Twitter, like, "Hackers, stop disrespecting me and leaking out my music." But yeah, we're still doing the paperwork on the records.
What's it like being in the studio with a producer of David Guetta's caliber, considering he's a lauded music veteran?
It was crazy. I've always been a fan of David Guetta. That was something that was real epic, a legendary situation. Even though I'm sitting there with 50 Cent waiting for David Guetta to walk in the studio, it was just weird. It was like a surreal situation. It was him and his manager. My heart jumped a little bit. I was like, "Wow, this is David Guetta." You know, I rocked to his music in the clubs for the past 100 years. It was crazy to see him work and to see him and 50 vibing out to music. Just to see those two powerhouses going at it. That's something you would never think you would see. I pinched myself a couple times during the session. I had to get a picture with him and all that so I can always remember that.
So what do you label yourself as, considering you're a rapper that's moved towards rapping over dance-heavy beats?
I'm like a dance-pop artist. It gets confusing with the different genres. I guess it's kinda like a thin line. I kinda want to clear that up; I'm not a dance artist. This is what my goal is and I will complete this goal. I listen to a lot of different types of music and my foundation as an artist obviously is hip-hop. Different types of people feel like they cant play certain types of music. Say they're driving around in their drop-top and there's four black dudes, who think they're cool. They might like the Black Eyed Peas or a Taio Cruz song, and they might feel like they can't turn that up. But see I'm an old pioneer type, so I don't care. I know I'm cool, so I'll turn that up and be rocking to it. With my music, I'll make it cool for other people to listen to the music they want to listen to. I'll turn Lady Gaga's 'Judas' up right now. That's the confidence that I want to give people. I want to bridge that gap from the dance-pop world into rap. I'm gonna be the flagship artist to say that and do that.
Are you comfortable being placed in the same category as someone like Flo Rida? He's done some of the same kinds of rapping over records that are dance-oriented.
It's obvious but he's more a rapper on these beats and that's it. He raps the same way, every song. I'm more diverse but I can understand the comparison. I'm not opposed to it. But I think I'm more diverse in the records that I'm doing. You haven't heard the album but I do a lot more singing, harmonizing, rapping. It's more of a fusion. The best way to describe it, to make it simple, I'm more Drake-ish over these type of records. It's like rapping incorporated with singing. It'd be more of that over more house, dance, pop-type beats.
We posted the remix you did to Dev's 'Bass Down Low.' Your lyrics in that song are really raunchy. Do you feel like you eliminate a younger audience when you're rhymes include material like that?
I gain a younger audience from that. The first record I did that was more uptempo was a record called 'I Like to F---.' The record was a young crowd favorite. It's crazy, we know the world we live in. I was on the Internet and 'I Like to F---' was out, it was a viral record, and I see the song is on a pregnancy mothers message baord. I click on it and I see this lady is [telling] all her motherly friends in the forum that she found my video on her daughter's MySpace page. And she said "Should I be worried? I think that my daughter's going to be pregnant listening to music like this." I just knew that my music was out there and it was so controversial. The young people are crazy. 'Cause I know when I was young I wanted to listen to people cursing 'cause I thought that was cool. I'm not saying I'm doing that for a younger audience but that's just how it works. People think because you're cursing you're eliminating a younger audience, but what you're really eliminating is the fact that the parents aren't buying it for them. But these days these little kids have iPads and iPhones anyways so they got some money already. I'm not being filthy for the little kids. Really that's just me and how I am. What you hear in my music is not fabricated, it's really just how I'm feeling when I'm recording the record.
When you had your last meeting with 50 Cent to discuss your 'My Life' album, what were his lasting words that you took away from your talk with him?
Four words. Are you ready? "Don't f--- this up."