8Ball & MJG: Back To The Future
DX got up with 'Ball & G in Memphis to discuss their relationship with Grand Hustle, working with MC Ren and Redman, and to talk space age, Twitter pimpin'.
8Ball & MJG’s debut album, Comin’ Out Hard dropped in 1993. If you do some quick math, and factor in the half dozen or so underground projects released on OTS Records, it’s clear their career is older than some of the people reading this right now. Despite losing at least a portion of their publishing while with OTS and Suave House, you’ve never heard them complain about album sales. They haven't been on the charts in over three years (2007’s Ridin’ High peaked at number eight on Billboard’s Rap/R&B charts either because of or despite Sean Combs—depending on whom you ask).
They pioneered the term “Space Age Pimpin’,” but their methodology is definitely pre-Buzz Aldrin. They perform with a live band, and are one of the few bands and who meet their fans face-to-face as opposed to bombarding them with a month’s worth of “freestyles” via the Internet. When asked how they’ve adapted to “new media” (something most labels have a whole department dedicated to), 8Ball admits that, in a lot of ways, they haven’t. The emcee that registered his Twitter account under “GoldMouthElvis” says he tweets his over 1,200 followers “only when necessary.” And his partner (PimpTypeMJG for those following) has a paltry eight followers. So how do they do it?
They’re certified Hip Hop heads. During an April visit to their non-descript studio in Memphis, the only thing signaling the presence of a legendary Rap duo were the two blacked out SUV’s. There were no diva-like tour rider requests and there was no entourage. Amid the nearly constant chain of blunts rolled were runs to the local Sonic, talk of Guru’s passing and the construction of a few beats for future projects. True to the chorus of their 1999 hit, they started this shit and have every intention on finishing it.
HipHopDX: Most of us have followed you from Suave House to JCor, Bad Boy, and so on. What makes E1 Entertainment the ideal situation at this time?
8Ball: What makes it ideal is that we’re not artists on Grand Hustle [Records]. We have a deal with 8Ball & MJG and Grand Hustle and then a distribution deal with E1. It gives us control over a lot more things than just music.
DX: A lot has been made of the partnership with T.I. and Grand Hustle, was the song "Bezzle" the first time you guys worked together?
MJG: I think kind of, unofficially. Didn’t y’all do something?
8Ball: Yeah, I think “Look At The Grillz” was the first one.
MJG: But we had always been around Tip, and he was around us. We were in Atlanta doing a lot of recording. Back when he was a younger cat, he was always around the studio. So we were already kind of mingling on that type of tip. But, “Look At The Grillz” was the first official thing.
DX:You guys make no secret that you weren't happy with the business end on your first deals. Does that affect how you deal artists under you like Hillcrunk or Rock Dillon.
8Ball: Definitely. Every experience that we’ve had, from Suave [House] to JCor to Bad Boy, and even now, is still a learning experience. As far as our labels, or whatever we do in the future, all of that was learning for us. Now, in order to do some of the stuff we did at Suave, you have to be in a different mind frame. Most of the stuff I learned from Bad Boy, I might use in the future with my artists. With 8 Ways, I’m more trying to build my own lane and keep it a certain way.
DX: Does the same apply with you and Space Age Entertainment, MJG?
MJG: Yeah. I just want to be big in Rap and R&B. I’m just writing, doing my own projects and do different things. We just want to make quality stuff and stand the test of time like we have. It’s an avenue to keep this type of stuff out there.
DX: Let’s talk about some of your collaborations. A lot of people never expected to hear 8Ball and Redman on the same album...
8Ball: Man, I seen Redman for the first time at a How Can I Be Down convention back in the day. He was in the lobby with his own booth. He had this big radio, a towel wrapped around his head and no shirt on. He was just rapping all his songs while people were walking by. Kevin Liles was either his manager or his road manager at the time. I used to see them everywhere, and we used to go to New York a lot too. That was one of the things I had to have for that album.
DX: A while back, MC Ren explained how he went to find you guys after hearing one of your songs. How do you remember that collaboration?
8Ball: Around that time we were doing a lot with Tony Draper, and Suave House was doing a lot of stuff with Ruthless Records at the time. Eazy-E’s wife (Tomeka Wright) and Tony Draper were real cool. [MC] Ren came to Texas and worked with T-Mixx for his [Ruthless For Life] album, and that was one of the joints.
MJG: We was like, “Oh shit, this is Ren!” And we love him as far as being an artist on the mic. He was cool, we hung out and also learned.
DX: Some of your greatest collaborations have been with UGK. Can either of you explain why people can't mention 8Ball & MJG without mentioning UGK and vice versa?
MJG: Really, I think it’s all about timing and placement. With both [groups] coming out of pretty much the same region and at around the same time…
8Ball: We both have that Soul music. People who relate to them can relate to us, and vice versa. And at one time, it was the visual too. You had one big dude and one little dude…Bun [B] was a little bigger back then, and Pimp [C] was a little thinner.
DX: Another memorable collaboration was “Stay Fly,” which really did a lot for everyone involved...
8Ball: “Stay Fly” just kinda happened. Juicy [J] had already produced it, and he called us up. Memphis needed that at the time, we needed it and Three 6 [Mafia] needed it. That catapulted them, along with some other things…
MJG: But it was right on time though. They were already in a good position, but that was a good thing to help that.
DX: Most definitely. In terms of unifying the city, did you take the same approach with your Memphis All-Stars compilation?
8Ball: With that, I just wanted to do something with everybody I could think of in Memphis. Hopefully we can do a Memphis All-Stars Part Two.
DX: Let’s back it to when you first met…do you remember?
8Ball: Not the actual first day, but yeah, it was seventh grade at Ridgeway High [School]. We took classes together, and we were two of the same. Every high school has cliques, and we ran with the weed-smoking, class cutting…damn near misfits. We weren’t the D-boys or the football players.
DX: Given the history of Memphis, what were some of your influences?
MJG: We’re all around the Blues, Country, Rock & Roll, Soul…all the stuff from Stax [Records], Al Green and the Gospel from the church. It’s a very musical city, so we’ve always been around that growing up. It has influenced our sound a lot.
DX: You guys are synonmous with the term, "pimpin'." Some people only associate pimpin with putting women on a track and getting money from them. What does pimpin mean in 2010?
MJG: 8Ball & MJG—space age pimpin', and taking stuff to that next plateau. That’s what we’ve been doing, and that’s why we’ve been using the term real loosely over the last decade. That term should always be fresh and should represent what’s next and what’s new. As long as you use the phrase “Space Age,” it lets folks know that you’re trying to be ahead with what’s next. It’s a whole format. Just put that in the dictionary, “Space Age Pimpin,’" then a picture of us next to it with the name 8Ball & MJG.
DX: When you’ve been in the game this long, people tend to focus on what you’ve already done instead of what you’re currently doing. Is that a problem?
8Ball: Sometimes. You’ve got your die hard 1995 8Ball & MJG fans who don’t believe in nothing after In Our Lifetime. Anything after that to them, is like B.C. and A.D. to them—two different time periods. And that’s what it is, because we’ve been blessed to survive decades in this industry.
We’ve also been blessed enough to have those shows where it’s all kids. We do anything before “Pimp Hard,” and they know nothing. But then “Pimp Hard” and “Y’all Don’t Want Drama” come on, and those are their classics. “Lay It Down” is kind of that song that bridges the gap between the old and the young people.
DX: When you use the live band, does your work from either period lend itself to that more?
8Ball: All our music is perfect for that. That’s when we realized it was such a good idea to do that. On our set, we do “Don’t Give A Fuck,” , which was produced by David Banner and has Bun B on there too. We do that and it blends right in with “Paid Dues” and “Pimp Hard.” We can go right down the list. We love them intimate shows, so we’ll do a crowd of 400-500 capacity...bars and other spots that only do live music. Right now we use a keyboard player, bass guitar, two lead guitars, drums and a chick from Memphis named Candy Fox who sings. Hopefully we’ll be adding horns, strings and a couple extra singers in too.
DX: In terms of mixing old and new, how important is it to have people from back in the day like Mo B. Dick on the album as well as Drumma Boy and Tip?
8Ball: Mo B. Dick, Drumma Boy, Bun B, Soulja Boy—yeah, and other artists do that too. It’s nothing new, but it just puts us in that light to let them know, “We’re still here too.”
DX: MJG, you’ve got Space Age Entertainment. As a producer, was there any kind of transition from 48 tracks and SSL boards to Pro Tools, or is it all just music?
MJG: Basically, it’s all just music in the end because that’s how we learned it. At the same time, we always try to keep up with the times on the Space Age [Pimpin'] tip. If things changed, we try to get weaned into it. We still apply other stuff and older techniques and used the skills you’ve built over time. That way you can still get the same sound out of whatever equipment you use. But we definitely tinker around with whatever is new at the time.
HipHopDX: Between mixtapes, leaks, blogs and sites like us, artists have to give away a lot of music and put out material a lot more often. Was that a difficult transition?
8Ball: I’m not really big into that, but I Twitter when necessary—my screen name is @GoldMouthElvis. I’ll check YouTube every once in a while to watch something. It’s still hard to get used to with cats like us. It ain’t the point of giving away so much music, we just come from another time. But we’re rolling with it, and we’ll do a mixtape here and there. You might never see 10 8Ball & MJG mixtapes in a month or a year like some of these cats.
That bitch that you fuckin’ everyday? That pussy gets old. But then you got that other one who you might hit every couple of months, and it’s like, “Damn!” when you in that motherfucker. That’s how we wanna do, man. We wanna just tap it every once in a while so you can love it when you get it.