MC Ren: RenIncarnated
A conversation with Ren yields talk of picking his kids up from school, visiting the pyramids at Giza and fond memories of his N.W.A. days. Is this the end? Hardly. Before The Doctor and the Don Mega left N.W.A. to pursue solo success, it was Ren who cornered the market on reinvention. He received his own platinum plaques for Kizz My Black Azz and Shock of the Hour. The latter saw him trade his N.W.A. persona for an equally fiery and introspective one after converting to Islam.
Now, removed from the spotlight, Ren is up to his old tricks. Hes got his own movie plans, and he continues to embrace the contemporary artists who catch his ear. Furthermore, Ren now operates on both sides of the mic as an emcee and a producer. Not that any of this should come as a surprise. After all, Ren already did the reinvention thing back in the '90s. This is RenIncarnation.
HipHopDX: Everyones got their own N.W.A. stories. When I was in elementary school, my mom busted in on me listening to Dopeman and gave me the worst beatdown ever. Do you get a lot of those stories?
MC Ren: Yeah, man. I get a lot of the same type of shit. Its just like how when I was little, we used to sneak and go listen to Richard Pryor. We used to get in some serious trouble for that shit [laughs].
DX: Good to know we were carrying on the tradition.
MC Ren: Yeah, man. Those tapes kept us coming back.
DX: You werent too far removed from those times when you started rhyming, and there were a lot of other groups from Compton putting out music when N.W.A. formed. Did you ever do anything with Mixmaster Spade, Toddy Tee, or Rodney O and Joe Cooley?
MC Ren: Nah, it was N.W.A. from the start. Before everything tripped off, [Eazy]-E signed me as a solo artist. This was around the time he first put out Boyz N the Hood [click to read] independently. From that point on, he just snatched me up and put me in the group. Every since the beginning, it was N.W.A.not knowing that shit was going to get as big as it did. Like you said, there were a lot of people out. So the chances of us just blowing up the way we didthat shit was unbelievable, even to this day.
DX: Given that, how far did you think it would go when you guys were signed to Macola and selling tapes out of the trunk?
MC Ren: When E put out Boyz N the Hood, Macola was who we took it to first. Even though we ended up dealing with bigger companies later on down the line, that shit was big to me. It was like walking into Def Jam or any other major label. We used to go up there every damn day. So Im seeing these people in the music business that I think are really big. I was pumped up, and I really thought we were on our way. But looking back at it, it wasnt until we got with Priority Records that things really got big. Thats where I was like, Okay, this is it right here.
DX: I read an old interview, where DJ Yella said Eazy-E was notorious for forgetting the lyrics to some of his songs. As the author of Eazy Duz It, [click to read] Radio [click to read] and Ruthless Villain [click to read], is that true?
MC Ren: Nah. Most of the time he had the words right in front of him, so hed never go in the booth and try to do the songs from memory. Hed just go in there with his paper and bust the lyrics. If somebody wrote him a rhyme, wed just give him the paper. Hed go in there, and wed coach him on how to say that shit.
DX: After N.W.A. became a household name, the FBI stepped to you guys with a letter regarding Fuck the Police. You guys got them back on 100 Miles and Runnin, [click to read] but what was your initial response to seeing the letter?
MC Ren: Shit, we was happy! It was free publicity for us, and we werent even trippin off that letter. It was the record company and the [executives] who were scared. A letter? That was nothing.
I was watching [N.W.A.: The Worlds Most Dangerous Group], and Cube was talking about that letter. He was like, Man, weve dealt with all kinds of shit, and yall tripping off a letter? Its not like the letter has a mouth. The letter cant jump up and just shoot up everybody in the room. He said it just right, because thats exactly how we all felt.
DX: True. Since were talking 100 Miles and Runnin,what made you sample The Warriors. You know the breakdown where the chick starts talking, and then she goes into Martha & The Vandellas just like in the movie?
MC Ren: Yeah, Dre put that in there. He used to do all the fill-ins. Actually they had somebody come in there and say that part. It sounds like the clip from the movie, but they had somebody come in.
DX: So, just out of curiosity, are you a fan of the movie?
MC Ren: Hell yeah, I love The Warriors. I remember being little and watching it back in the day when that shit first came out. That shit is hard. Ive got the DVD somewhere around here. Everybody likes that movie. Its classic, and that shit is comedy.
DX: Niggaz4Life would be the last N.W.A. album, and afterward we heard a lot from Dre and Ice Cube about Jerry Heller skimming money off the top. As someone who stayed with Ruthless, did you experience that too?
MC Ren: Everybody there had experiences with that shit. A lot of people had problems with it, and a lot of people had problems with Jerry. When it was just us from the group together out on the road or something, wed voice our opinion. Wed ask, Why is he getting paid this amount and were not? Thats where a lot of that tension and all that other shit came in. It all started over that.
We felt he didnt deserve what he was getting. We deserved that shit. We were the ones making the records, traveling in vans and driving all around the place. You do all those fucking shows trying to get known, and then you come home to a fucking apartment. Then you go to his house, and this motherfucker lives in a mansion. Theres gold leaf trimmings all in the bathroom and all kinds of other shit. Youre thinking, Man, fuck that.
Everybody knows what happened. A lot of times you see Jerry talking about that shit, and hes acting like George Bush or [John] McCainlike nothing wrong happened. Hell say some shit like, Everything was alright. They got what they deserved. And Im like, Man, cmon. We were supposed to get super paid off of the first album, as big as it was and as many copies as it sold. But we didnt really know the ins and outs of the business side, and certain people did. Those were the ones who took advantage of everybody.
DX: Cube and Dre were both on bad terms with Eazy before he was diagnosed with AIDS. Did you and he get to talk before he passed?
MC Ren: Yeah, we did. It was a time when we werent even talking. Everybody was doing their own thing. I remember he called me, and he was telling me about this and that. Then he started talking about getting N.W.A. back together. I was like, Yeah. Then he asked me to get on his album, and that was the last one he did, Str8 Off the Streets of Muthaphuckin Compton. I agreed, and we hooked up at his house. Me, him and Yella did [Tha Muthafuckin Real] [click to read]. We were all talking, and he was talking about everybody hooking up to do the N.W.A. thing. Right after we did that song, that was the last time I saw him. I heard he was in the hospital about a week or two later, and then that was it.
DX: Considering all the drama that went down, why stay with Ruthless after that?
MC Ren: It was a lot of shit going on, but after he passed, I had a lot of meetings with everyone who was about to take over. At the time, thats where I wanted to stay. I had been there so long, and I didnt want to go somewhere else and have the label put me in the mix with their other artists. They told me I could still do whatever I wanted to do. At that time, a lot of labels werent doing that. Theyd bring people in to try to change your image and all that. Ruthless was like, Shit, just do you. So I just kept putting my shit out.
DX: There was a lot of young talent on the label then. You had Bone Thugs-N-Harmony [click to read], Black Eyed Peas, Kokane and Baby S. Were they all looking up to you as the OG?
MC Ren: When Bone was recording, I wasnt really around for a lot of the studio sessions. I would be off doing some other shit. A little after that, I was on tour with Bone. We kicked it, and I got a chance to meet a lot of them dudes. It was cool, and its nothing but love to this day.
DX: Did you ever see the potential in any of those acts to become as big as they eventually did?
MC Ren: I really saw it in Bone. When Eric was still alive, he had other artists. But he was putting his everything into Bone, and they were really tight. He was so pumped up over Bone. They did exactly what he thought they were gonna do, but he didnt get to see it. They really blew up, man. So, yeah, back then I definitely saw the potential in Bone.
DX: I want to get into your solo work for a minute. Around 1993, you dropped Shock of the Hour, which was different from anything you had done as a soloist or a member of NWA. What was your frame of mind going into that album?
MC Ren: Man, Shock of the Hour was just me coming into Islam. I had a lot of new ideas, and I had a big perspective on life. I looked at everything different. When you listen to that album, I recorded the first half right when I was thinking about falling into the Nation of Islam. Then the whole second half is songs I made after I fell in. I was like, Okay, let me go.
But I didnt want to make the whole album like that, so I said, Shit, Im keeping everything I did. I let everybody hear what I did on the first part, and then the second part allows you vibe to what I was doing at the time.
DX: Yeah, you definitely get the sense of growth and the impact of your conversion as the album progresses. A few years later, you converted to Orthodox Islam right?
MC Ren: Right.
DX: This is a little off topic, but a few weeks ago, we asked a few emcees to speak on the passing of Imam W.D. Muhammad. What was your initial reaction?
MC Ren: Man, I was shocked. I didnt even know, but my wife saw it on the Internet. I was just like, Damn. I aint seen nothing on the news or anywhere else.
MC Ren: They didnt show him one time. You feel what Im saying? Nobody talked about it, and it didnt even make the news. They show so much bullshit on the news, and youd think his passing wouldve at least been on there. Were talking about Elijah Muhammads son Wallace. Come on, this is Warith Deen. But thats how the media is. Everyone acts like theyre scared.
DX: I just had to sneak that in there. We couldnt get anybody to weigh in on it that week.
MC Ren: Well youve got me.
DX: No doubt. Getting back to the music, the next album, Ruthless for Life, featured 8Ball & MJG [click to read] on Who in the Fuck." How did you guys make that happen?
MC Ren: They had this song I heard back in the day called Space Age Pimpin [click to read]. I was out of town when I heard it, and I remember thinking, Damn, this shit is hard. These niggas is tight. I listened to that song all day over and over and over. I remember seeing their video when they first came out, but I cant remember the name of the song. After I heard that Space Age Pimpin, I was like, Man, I gotta work with these fools.
So I got on the phone, and I told Ruthless to get in contact with Suave House [Records] so I could fuck with Ball & G. They hooked it up, and I went down to Houston, cause thats where Suave House was at the time. We hooked up with the homie T-Mixx, who did the track for Space Age Pimpin. We all just got together and knocked that shit out, and it came out cool as fuck.
DX: Its interesting that you guys got together, because a lot of artists in your position think theyre too big to do those types of records.
MC Ren: Yeah, some people trip like that, but I dont. If like you, Im gonna try to work together. I dont usually work with a lot of motherfuckers. But if I like you, Im gonna work with you.
DX: After almost disappearing for a while, you resurfaced in 2001 with Hello, Chin Check and cameos on both Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dres albums. During that time did you entertain thoughts of a major come back.
MC Ren: Yeah, I did. At that time I got a few offers for an album. Motherfuckers were coming out getting all this money. People were coming out with a little buzz, but theyd still walk into the label and get a million bucks for their advance. I was like, I was signed to motherfuckers for so long. And if Im gonna fuck with your label, youre gonna have to break me off, cuzz.
Back in the day, it was kind of cool. You could get the lower advance and end up keeping more money on the back end. But if you take less and they dont push your album correctly, you just walk away from that motherfucker with less. And you end up in the red on top of that. Next thing you know theyre telling you, Oh we had to buy this, this and that. Your album flopped.
So around 2000, maybe 2001, I decided a motherfucker would have to break me off at least a million up front. That way, just in case they fucked my shit up, I still would get $1 million out of it. The game has changed to the point where if a major label isnt willing to break me off, then I can just do the shit myself.
DX: These days, Dre is promoting a line of headphones and different types of liquor, and we all know Ice Cube is doing films on the side. Yella is directing pornos. What is MC Ren up to outside the realm of Hip Hop?
MC Ren: Outside of music, I have a radio show thats starting on the 29th of this month. Itll be on 92.5 KYHY, and people can catch that at www.925burbank.com. Im doing radio, and Ive got some other shit in the works. The company Im working with told me dont speak on it right now, so I gotta keep my mouth shut. As soon as it happens though, Ill let you know, dog. Its gonna be big.
DX: I also read somewhere that you were into Ancient Egypt and Kimetic culture.
MC Ren: Yeah, man. I went out there in 1995 on a study group with Ashwa Kwesi. That shit just blew my mind, so Im all into that. They were making shit perfectly thousands of years ago, and they cant even recreate some of it today. That is straight up mind-boggling.
DX: Absolutely. You guys were doing something very similar in terms of Hip Hop and you ended up being associated with the terms gangster and gangster rap. Since the definition has gotten twisted over the years, what do you define as gangster?
MC Ren: Well, we never called it gangster rap. They just threw that shit on us. We used to just say our shit was hardcore or underground. Today, its so garbage. Gangster rapthat shit dont even sound right. It sounds like some made up, garbage shit. And youve got a lot of niggas running around talking about theyre gangster rappers. It just sounds crazy to me, because Im not a gangster rapper. Motherfuckers might label me that, but if they ask me, I tell them, Man, I aint no gangster rapper.
DX: Correct me if Im wrong, but Gangsta Gangsta was about the only time you guys actually used the word in reference to yourselves. How did that label get associated with N.W.A.?
MC Ren: Man, it was this interview we did with this motherfucker. I think he was from the Los Angeles Times. This white dude comes to Erics house, and he was scared. Actually we were in Compton at Erics moms house. So he did a little interview and took some pictures of us and shit. He was so scared, man. He had nothing to be afraid of, but you could physically see him shaking. After we saw how nervous he was, Eric went in the house and got a gang of guns. Dude backed up and then tried to sit back down. But he was shaking so hard that he mustve moved, because this fool missed the chair and fell on the grass.
When he left we were laughing like a motherfucker. Everybody was just going, What the fuck is he scared of? You could just see the expression on his face like, Oh damn, Im about to die. I guess he got back to his office like, These are some gangster rappers! So he put that shit in the article, and ever since then thats what it was.
DX: Compton has a ridiculous history, in terms of Hip Hop. After your generation there was Quik, MC Eiht, The Game [click to read] and others. What is it about Compton that produces all this good music?
MC Ren: Back then, I just believe the west was rising at that time. New York was dominating everything, and everybody I knew in Compton was just grinding. It was just great competition. Everybody out here wanted to be the best and compete with New York. I think that had a lot to do with the music. We used to be in the studio saying we wanted to outdo this person or that person. That motivated us to a point where we said, We gotta make our shit the hardest out. Then youve got them saying, Man, we gotta outdo N.W.A. We were getting a lot of the shine on the west coast, so they were thinking, Man, we gotta outdo them niggas. But, you know, it is what it is.