U-God Talks 2 Chainz, New Book and Wu-Tang Album Title
Kanye West's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' had critics raving when it came out in 2010. Nas' 'Life Is Good' is considered one of the best rap albums of the past few years as well. Kendrick Lamar's 'good kid, m.A.A.d city' has many giving the project 'Illmatic'-level praise. The best rap album of the past five years came out this summer, however. And no, it's not 'Yeezus.' It's U-God's 'Keynote Speaker,' according to the Wu-Tang Clan rapper himself.
He makes the claim in a flippant manner that speaks to his confidence. 'Keynote Speaker' does meet high expectations -- his expectations. Although he admits Kendrick Lamar is running the game, U-God asserts that he's not interested in the competitive or critical aspects of the music industry.
U-God has been a staple in the hip-hop community for decades as part of the famed Wu-Tang. In 1999, he branched out on his own, and subsequently created four solo efforts. After the recent release of 'Keynote Speaker,' the 42-year-old is already writing for his next album.
Besides storytelling through his rhymes, U-God is penning a book detailing his experience growing up in the infamously rough streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn and Staten Island a.k.a Shaolin. The MC sat down with The Boombox to speak about what's to be expected from the yet-to-be titled book, 2 Chainz's rhymes, his approach in making music and how 'A Better Tomorrow' (Wu-Tang's upcoming album) may not even be 'A Better Tomorrow.'
The Boombox: So you’ve been quiet when it comes to solo material…
U-God: I haven’t been quiet. I just didn’t have nobody to do interviews. I haven’t had a publicist to get me the interviews. That’s why I’m getting so much now. You got to have certain things in play for people to know about your project.
What put you in the mindset to get the material together for ‘Keynote Speaker’?
I’ve been working on this way before this 20th anniversary [of 'Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers']. This [anniversary] has nothing to do with my solo album. My solo album was going to drop regardless of if it was going to go through Soul Temple [RZA's record label] or on my own. It was dropping this year. I can take two years; it can’t take no longer than that to make a record. It was coming. It’s like right now I’m trying to do another one in the next year and a half. So I’m not going to wait 10 years to put out a record. Nobody is going to care in 10 years. You’ve passed the point of the return.
Looking back on ‘Keynote Speaker,’ do you feel like you’ve accomplished what you wanted on the album?
I just like putting out music. In order for me to have longevity in the game, I just keep it going. If people give me praises, then hey, that’s what it is. I don’t look for, "Oh, they’re going to be looking at me this time. They’re going to salute the general." I’m on that, "Word? You like that? Which one y'all like? OK." That’s about it, and if they happen to gravitate toward a certain song and I get a good response to certain things, that’s one of the luxuries added in this for being an artist. That keeps me humble.
What type of collaborations do you have on your upcoming project?
I don’t like talking about that because dudes like to beat you to the punch and act like they thought of it. I learned a valuable jewel: If you got an idea and you tell somebody else, it’s no longer your idea. So it’s best to keep your idea to yourself. You risk the fact that you might tell somebody else, who’ll tell somebody else, who’ll tell somebody else, then somebody else might beat you to the punch. I just do it and you’ll be like, “Oh, it came from this dude.” That’s right. Try to get it out like that, but somehow or another they wiggle their way in there and beat me to the punch sometimes.
I also see that you have a book in the works.
It’s about my life story. I want people to understand something: This is not Wu-Tang s---, even though it’s going to have Wu-Tang in it. But this is my life story, and my life story is a f---ing story. It’s a mixture of all elements growing up as an inner-city kid, not knowing where you’re going, coming from poverty and just telling your story. Everyone always seems like they start from childhood and they jump to drugs, but there’s a middle process that these f---in' dudes don’t talk about. I’m telling about that story of my life. I’m going to put the drama we went through and the stuff that we went through. It’s going to be in it too. But there’s more to my life than just childhood and drugs.
That’s what the book is going to be based on: My story. Can’t nobody tell my story, just like how I can’t tell [Raekwon]’s story, just like I can’t tell Ghost[face Killah]’s story or GZA’s story. All I can tell is U-God’s story. Ain’t no lies. This is going to be straight truth. From the time I was born, from the time I met Wu-Tang, who I met first, how we meshed. That’s how it’s gon’ go.
At what age did you move out of Brownsville, Brooklyn?
I was back and forth. My mother was out there, so I had to visit her. Me and Raekwon’s mothers was from the same project, from the same building. His mother and my mother grew up in the projects together. They all migrated from there to Staten Island, because I guess there was good housing at the time. Welfare was giving you good s--- back then. It started off as a good neighborhood.
Even now people try to steer away from Bed-Stuy and Brownsville. How was it back in the day?
Brownsville was rough man. Brownsville was always rough. Brownsville is probably the roughest spot in Brooklyn to me. Everything else it is what it is, but there’s a different energy over there. There’s war stories going on over there. Them n----s is crazy over there. Just being around so much violence and poverty. It’s rough. That s--- don’t go nowhere. It either gets worse or stays right there.
What was your mindset like when going into the now classic ’Enter the Wu-Tang: (36 Chambers)'?
I was struggling in between selling drugs and rhyming at the same time. I was just trying to survive, and I ain’t know what I wanted to do. So I was caught up in the middle. Other brothers like Meth[od Man] and [Ol' Dirty Bastard], they was a little more focused than I was. I just had a lot of responsibility. I just had a kid. I just came from the can. I did three years in jail. You’re just trying to find your way in the world really. At 21, you get kicked out of the house, but I got kicked out of the house at 17. By that age you’re just trying to find out where you’re trying to go in life.
Sometimes you make the wrong choices. I happened to get caught up in all that bulls--- that the government put out there for us black people to get caught up in, which is drugs. They put stuff out like that until you get a record and they send you back to the plantation. You’re back to slavery again.
At that time, we didn’t know we were going to make a classic. I’m only on one-and-a-half songs on there. I’m glad to be on one-and-a-half and not zero. That’s one thing I realized, too. I’d rather be on one than on zero.
Are there any rappers you feel like are reaching that Wu-Tang plateau?
It’s hard because there’s not too many rappers that reach that plateau anymore. You got dudes that’s on the radio, but it’s like damn, dude, you suck.
I like 2 Chainz. 2 Chainz be having fun. One thing about him, n----s try to say some s--- about his rhymes. But I could put on his music and have fun. I’m like wow, OK, that’s what I’m talking about. Sometimes I think I’m rhyming too serious; I want to have fun like that. I want my s--- to have fun, and I hope he keep that element going with his funness. Don’t let the music community make him into a serious rhymer like me. I’m so f---in' serious all the time. I’m like damn, I’m too god damn serious. He has fun man, and that’s what’s missing in the game.
What’s going on with ‘A Better Tomorrow,’ the Wu-Tang 20th anniversary album?
Well, we don’t even know if that’s the title of the record, so I don’t want people to get sucked up into that. That was just what was said. Sometimes people say s--- and the next thing they know they just run with it.