Joell Ortiz: Life After The Aftermath

posted February 22, 2008 12:00:00 AM CST | 33 comments

Imagine an emcee with the conviction of a Tupac Shakur, the sincerity of a Christopher Wallace and the word play of a Christopher Lee Rios. Visualize an emcee in his room, with an instrumental tape, in his broken down tape deck, nodding his head to beats that made his heart pump creativity. Create the image in your mind, of an eager Latino boy; prepping himself for ciphers and sessions- held flights away, on the projects concrete, also known as the battle zone.

Within that battle zone, black and brown faces, rocked back and fourth, unintentionally landing spit on each others winter coats. Their Timberland boots, skullcaps and durable denim would be their protection from the dangerous heat that spread within that circle, and for them, the cold breeze would make as much of an impact as a Sheryl Crow show.

Nothing mattered in the arena of the battle zone, designed to prepare emcees for the future. The only thing that mattered to Joell Ortiz, was taking those skills as preparation for the future and applying them to the real work place. Just like college, an adult Ortiz discovered that with the skills and drive, the he possessed, it still wouldnt guarantee a permanent position.

Hope and consistently guides the Brooklyn born emcee, to a place called, progressive thinking and his lessons learned have him in the studio, prepping for his upcoming album, set for release later this year. HipHopDX caught up with  to talk about his industry battles, his relationship with Aftermath and his upcoming project.

Wait until you read the exclusive 16.

HipHopDX: A while back in a DX interview you said, My talent is Hip Hop and it doesnt have a color, gender, background, or ethnicity. It's just an art Do you think your ethnicity or color plays a role in your career's peak?
Joell Ortiz:
No, it doesnt play a role and it just so happens that Im Latin and large portion of my fan base is Latin. I have fans all over the place that are green, purple, red, blue- it doesnt matter. Hip Hop doesnt have a color, like I said, it's just an energy and a feeling. When you get that feeling of somebody rocking on stage or the music is on, I dont think my fan base has an issue my ethnicity.

DX: Cool. How important is it for black and brown people to understand the role and positions of Puerto Ricans and Latinos is the foundation of Hip Hop? Sometimes there is this perception that there is a glass ceiling for Latino emcees.
JO:
I agree, thats true. Growing up you had artists like Fat Joe and Big Pun, yet that wall is still up. In the early parts of my career I found myself being booked [exclusively at] Latin Hip Hop venues, first. We were trying to get in Hip Hop venues- not just the Latin portion. We wanted to rock stages, not just Spanish stages. The wall is still up and Im ready to chip away at it. I think Im doing a hell of a job - at least thats what my fans tell me. Im going to continue to continue to knock down that wall, in order to abolish that Puerto Rican rapper.

DX: Then you do agree, that its important for listeners to understand the contributions Latinos made to the foundation of Hip Hop? Latinos were a huge part of the foundation.
JO:
If you look at the DVDs of earlier days in Hip Hop, who do you think were doing all the break-dancing, holding the boom-boxes and all that? The Latinos were there. They had they own breaks and everything. Were not outcasts or new comers, weve been there since the beginning, also. We had the Kangols, we were walking up to each other, ready to breakso I dont get it how we gotta feel like newcomers or outcasts. But Im a chip away at it, to make sure that goes away.

DX: Word. As a child, you would think that all it took to be a good emcee was dope lyrics and hot beats-apparently thats not all it takes to be relevant emcee in the Hip Hop industry. How much of a shock was it for you, to discover that your lyricism didnt equate to mass acceptance?
JO:
Shit was [laughing] ridiculous. I was very, very disturbed, as a fan first. It had nothing to do with attempting to get a record deal, or make things out for myself- but as a fan. When I would hear things like, "Hes dope, but hes just a little bit chubby," or "I get it, I get it, but he doesnt have that twinkle in his eye or that star quality that were quite looking for." Im like, are you forreal? When I was 11 years old coming out of my building to get into these ciphers, I was just trying to bust niggas' asses over the beat. I would get into these ciphers, to just be the best nigga in the cipher and thats the way I still approach the best. I want people to say, Damn, that dude is nice. You telling me you dig the demo, but you wont give a chance because of reasons outside of that? That shit is bullshit and I dont like it. Right now, its like, Im riding the beats but they think Im going over peoples heads and they want me to Dumb it down a notch. Dumb it down? I dont know nothing bout that. What part of the game is that? I thought the point was for that wow or to get better. It's okay though, its making my road a little longer, but my foundation is stronger than these one hit wonders or these dudes who come in and fade away. I dont mind, my fans will follow me wherever I go, so Im fine.

DX: Where do you think the transition came in Hip Hop, when it went from dope lyricism to raw haircuts and $300 sneakers?
JO:
I would have to say late '90s early 2000s. People started to get a lot of money and the audience became younger and younger. People started to make a lot of dances records-which I dont knock, because a lot of those dudes come from the gutter and we share similar experiences, yet thats the music they make. I dont knock that kind of music, but I just think it needs to be bit more diverse and spread out. There is an audience for all types of Hip Hop music. Theres an audience for Joell Ortiz, theres an audience for down south music, for west coast music- theres an audience for all of it. I don think we spread the wealth enough. Right now, if you look at the top tens, the majority of them are dance records. Eight out of 10 are dance records and stuff like thatwheres the hard-core lyrics? Theres a huge audience of dudes who just waitin on a head nod, or to be like, This right here is hard.

DX: Growing up, whom did you admire in regards to the art of emceeing?
JO:
Im in my twenties, so I was listening to the Nas of the world, Jay-Z, Biggie, 2Pac, M.O.P., AZ, Wu-Tang, Smif n' Wessun- you know it was the early '90s thing. It all influenced Joell Ortiz and Im pretty sure they have people who influenced them. I try my best to over-stress, that Im a fan first. I just got a record deal. I listen to music all day. My iPod is still full of all the legends and Im the audience at these shows. I just came from seeing Rakim last month. Im a Hip Hop fan and I still listen to all of those dudes today and Im not afraid to say that Im a fan, of the people I named.

DX: I know you said that ciphers and freestyles were a part of your early remembrances of Hip Hop. How important is it to know how to freestyle and do you think, it even matters in the current state of Hip Hop?
JO:
In the current state of Hip Hop, does freestyling matter? I dont think it matters a bit. It doesnt happen anymore. People arent freestylingwhat theyre doing is coming in with pre-written stuff. Theyre calling it a freestyle because they arent making complete songs and spitting random verses. Youve already prepared it, so it wouldnt be considered a free-style. I wasnt allowed to do that. Back in the day, when we were in ciphers, we would look around our environment and freestyle. I know how to do that, because Ive acquired that skill. Thats a part of Hip Hop thats fading away and thats really gone. I havent seen dudes freestyle in years. Right now, it doesnt even matter. All you have to do is have an up-tempo beat, a catchy chorus and a string to catch up to the versus and the chorus and you got yourself a hit record. You dont even need an identity.

DX: Ha. [Laughs] I saw you in a freestyle and hopefully you were freestyling-
JO:
I do it. Thats what I do. Im a rapper. I do it. Im in he streets first, than in the studio. I not those other dudes, you know? You know what I mean.

DX: Word. In a Rap City freestyle, you said, There aint a scheme out there bigger, than what I design. Let the people know what you meant by that.
JO:
[Laughing] Say again. What I said?

DX: You dont [laughing] remember because it was a freestyle, right? You said, There aint a scheme out there, bigger than I can design.
JO:
[Laughing] Word. Alright. Well, everybody got a get rich scheme. We do this, if we do that, we can get this. The bottom line is, you can try to play lottery or you can bust your ass. When you bust your ass, youre in the studio, I wake up, I write- I live and breathe Hip Hop. I designed myself to win. So, you can say do this and do that, he can get braids, he can do whatever. Okay, thats fine, but hes not Joell Ortiz. He cant hang with Joell Ortiz. Joell Ortiz designs the best and thats just it. Im going to get it, because I earned it. Y'all can work on y'all schemes, but theres no schemes bigger than what I can design and I designed ways to win.

DX: Okay, [laughing] I believe you. Not too long ago, you werent concerned with the image, the shape-ups, and the 300-dollar shoes, etc. I heard in an interview you were in the gym, getting in the gym or whatever- do you plan on comprising your identity to become a superstar?
JO:
Nah. What happened was as you move forward and you progress and success comes little by little, you start wanting to look and feel better. Im not conforming to get in the industry- Im doing this because I feel better about myself. Im in the eyes of public war, I am feeling better about myself and Im one of the hottest free agents right now and still doing business with the biggest producers in Hip Hop. I want to look like a million and feel like a million. Im working hard and I deserve to look and feel like that. I dont need to conform to the little design and look they want me to be- I do this for me. I always did everything for me. If I were conforming, I would be making those little club records and I havent. I make Joell Ortiz records. I dont change for nobody.

DX: [Laughs] I guess we shouldnt look forward to a T-Pain hook.
JO:
[Laughing] Im just going to do Joell Ortiz records and thats what Im going to do.

DX: Lets take it back a year ago, and you were one of the most talked about emcees in the streets and online- did you get what you expected out of 2007?
JO:
Yeah. I got a solid fan-base that will follow me wherever I may land. I got a critically acclaimed album that I dropped on April 24, called The Brick: Bodega Chronicles. I have a journal that kids are really living by and reading on a daily basis. I got underground awards for album of the year, most exciting artist of the year- '07 was incredible for me. I got a deal with Dr. Dre; Im no longer there but I still got a deal with Dr. Dre. A Puerto Rican dude from in front of a corner store in Brooklyn, signed a deal with a dude from L.A. Thats huge! Im in a good place right now, Im happy as hell. Im looking for '08 to be better.

DX: Lets talk about your deal at Aftermath. Last thing I read, you said that you received somewhat of a salty, phony call from Aftermath, but you were still down with them. Has it changed? Apparently it has-
JO: Joell Ortiz
had all this buzz circulating me and I thought it was about time, that I get a release date. I got the records, I got the buzz, I came at you guys with the XXL cover, a BET added video, I came with a fan-base and good records and I needed a release date. They were sitting on my release date. I did all of that, with my crew and me. I would have been disappointed, more in me, if I would have just sat there for years. So, I didnt. I asked for a release date. It wasnt a sour departure. I still do business with Dr. Dre and hes still working on The Detox. Hes doing the beats on my new album and his word has always been good with me. He promised me that. Everything is good-Im just not an artist there anymore. Im going to drop this year, and thats all.

DX: You promised us, that you will drop next year and next year is here. Are you going to uphold that promise and what can we expect on this upcoming project, outside of Dres production?
JO:
Well if you like The Brick, youre going to love this album. Like I said, I can only make Joell Ortiz records. Its that gutter, hard, Brooklyn sounding music. I cant really explain it, thats what I am. If I dont do that, man. Hip Hop may go under- it needs Joell Ortiz. Hop Hop needs me right now, man. I got this.

DX: Honestly, are you more disappointed in the people, yourself or the industry, for Hip Hops current state?
JO:
See, I would have to take time on that one. The people are never to blame. Sorry. You know who I blame? Im sorry, I blame the deejays. Deejays are what makes records hot. Im a New Yorker and I went on a little tour and I went down south. If I was blindfolded and I came back to New York, I wouldve known if I was listening to the radio. You know what Im sayin? We got this little movement going on where both the people and the deejays are saying, We need New York records, and the radio is on and number two on the countdown its from somebody from other than New York with a southern accent. Im not knocking it but youre not being real. You guys have the power to make records hot and youre not doing it. I dont get it. So now, I cant blame rappers for making a southern sounding music. Rappers want to be on the radio. Correct? Thats the dream- to be rolling around with your homeboys and you hear your record come on the radio. What are you gonna do? As a human, okay, what are they playing? Theyre playing that. Okay, so give me the down south beat. I cant blame the people or the artistsyou gotta blame the people who are playing the records.

DX: Ha. If you could spit something to Jimmy Lovine and he could hear the verse, what would you spit?
JO:
[Laughing] Aww man, Im gonna leave that for the up and coming album.

DX: Good, we cant wait. I want to test the waters. I want an exclusive 16.
JO:
Hold on let me pull over. I cant be driving and doing stuff like that. Give me a sec.

DX: Let me find out, youre taking your notebook out of your book bag.
JO:
[Laughing] Nah, I cant do that driving. I cant cheat. You ready?

DX: Yeah.
JO:
"Just when y'all thought it was safe, Michelle gave birth/ his names Joell, the mission is to save Earth/ from all this garbage I hear son/ Im really ready to tell these executives to shoot me a fair one/ nowadays, all you really need is some air-ones, a chain and be fairly hand-some/ then theyll turn your bullshit ass record into Americas anthem/ My fans aint in to dancin/ I am fresh-air, the best fear, what Im tryna do/ Im here to bring Hip Hop back to its proper roots/ Im not one of these artists thatll cop a coup/ or can dance money, then drop an album and not re-coup/Im from the gutter, Ive sold dope off the hottest stoop/ like Desert Storm without they DJ, yall aint got a clue/ Ain't nuthin, y'all know, me/Joell Ortiz with a little freestyle for DX, while Im parking my V."

DX: Heeeey [Laughs]. I want an industry battle, Pay Per View status. You, Canibus, Luda, and Lupe. Im putting my money up.
JO:
[Laughing] You putting me on the spot?

DX: Ha. Heres your opportunity to say what you want to readers.
JO:
Well, if you dont know me, I just want people to know that Joell Ortiz is just like you. Im a fan first. I could have easily been your co-worker or your classmate. If you see me in the spot, please dont feel intimidated to approach me with beats, or anything for that matter. Im always here to help people out and thats how it is, we gotta help each other out here in this struggle. Im not a made up dude, Im not a gimmick, and I do not abide by any script. My name is Joell Ortiz and thats my stage name as well. I didnt make up anything and why I ran with my government name. If you see me on stage, Im the same dude when the lights come on and when the lights go off. Peace and God Bless y'all.

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