Sheek Louch: True Blue
The L.O.X. emcee talks about taking his reach to the next level, why D-Block never compromised for sales, and an update on the prospects of a Bad Boy reunion, and Kanye West studio sessions.
Business man, Label executive, artist. These are all hats Sheek Louch wears. But you don’t get to be successful at being any of those without hunger and a will to win. And looking at Sheek’s resume, his hunger and will are the size a silver backed Gorilla and getting bigger every year.
After gaining popularity as one-third of the New York super group, The L.O.X., Sheek released his own solo debut Walk witt Me independently through their newlly-founded Universal-backed D-Block Records followed by After Taxes and Silverback Gorilla. While the albums did well on an indie level Sheek felt he needed a bigger machine to take his solo career to that next level and after rumors of re-signing to Bad Boy Sheek announced via Twitter, that he would be ending his stint as an indie artist and signing with Def Jam.
With the release of his new album, Donnie G: Don Gorilla, Sheek has a lot to say and even more to prove. But instead of the usual bragging and fantastic boasts that Hip Hop has become known for Sheek chooses to let the music speak for itself.
HipHopDX: You’ve had a career in Hip Hop spanning over 15 years. What do you feel it is that has kept you around so long?
Sheek Louch: I listen. I pay attention to everything that's going on around me. I think I can speak for my brothers [in The L.O.X./D-Block] too when I say we watch everything that’s going on. We watch what niggas do but we never become these muthafuckas. We be like “Oh, I see that, that’s how niggas is doing it it, huh?” but we don’t become these muthafuckas man. We stay ourselves no matter what. That and we keep music in the streets. We can go with mad time between albums because we still feed the streets. A lot of artists get to a certain level and be like “Nah, I ain’t doing no freestyles, I ain’t doing free songs, I ain’t doing this, I ain’t doing that.” Man, fuck that, bring that shit on. Fans want the music, here. Here you go. Here websites, take these joints. You want some shit for your mixtape? Take it. I got records.
DX: And that’s what prompted you to drop the mixtape with Green Lantern, Donnie Def Jam - Gorilla Warfare Vol. 1 ?
Sheek Louch: Man that shit came out of nowhere on niggas and straight shocked everybody. I sat back and just chilled then after I dropped it it was like “Yeah, muthafuckas.”
DX: Yeah, the mixtape has definitely been well received. What was the process when putting it together?
Sheek Louch: That joint right there was all new music. Everything on there was all new music. Straight new songs. A lot of people put shit from their albums on the mixtapes. I did like 40 records and then I pick which ones I want on the mixtape.
DX: How does your process when working on a mixtape differ from when you’re working on an album?
Sheek Louch: It’s not as intense. It’s definitely less structured. You’re more lenient with the process. Like, some joints are just mixtape joints. Like I don’t have to put a hook on it or nothing I can just rhyme straight for six minutes and let the beat ride out. With the album it’s a lot more structured and a lot more detailed.
DX: Which do you like more, working on mixtapes or albums?
Sheek Louch: With the mixtapes I definitely have more fun with it but I do it all man. I’m thankful to be able to be here to make albums. I’m just happy to be making the music.
DX: As an indie artist you have a solid fan base. You’re able to easily sell upwards of 200,000 units and could probably make about six figures a year just doing shows. With that in mind what made you want to sign to another major?
Sheek Louch: It was more of the machine I wanted. Not so much getting money-wise. I had just left Koch [Records]. Shout out to them. I didn’t leave for any bad reasons what so ever. It was just there were records that I had that were big but just stopped at a certain point because of the amount of coin. They didn’t have the money to push it to the level that these other machines can do.
DX: I agree. That “Good Love” record from Silverback Gorilla had the potential to be a lot bigger than it was.
Sheek Louch: That’s my point. The “Good Love” record was my last big joint and it stopped at a certain level. That record could’ve gone way further. Point blank. But it stopped at a certain level, which I knew it was going to do because we didn’t have the marketing money to make it go to that Z100 [Pop radio station] level and shit like that. And lately I’ve been making those records that, with the right money, I know can go beyond that level. Like, say you got a manager. You might have love for the nigga but you know he can only do but so much for you. So you have to find someone that can take you to that next level and that’s pretty much what I did.
DX: While Def Jam has had success with southern hip-hop artists like Rick Ross and Young Jeezy, they haven’t had a successful New York artists in years. Even in a broader sense, the label is very different from the Hip Hop giant that Russell Simmons built. Does that make you a little shakey when you’re about to release this Album?
Sheek Louch: The times have definitely changed. There’s nothing to be shakey about because I know what it is. I know it’s a new day and it’s not like those times when Russell [Simmons] and them were up there. But I know for a fact that they can boost it to a level I couldn’t get to where I was with my last project and that’s good with me. If I go a zillion times platinum, great. But even if I don’t I know I’ll at least do better than my last project did. If I can just continue to show growth and continue to go up, I’m good with that
DX: You’re still a member of The L.O.X., which is kind of a super group of emcees. Though you’ve managed to hold your own and make noteworthy appearances over the years people still sometimes look at you as being a step behind Styles and Jadakiss. Do you feel that way at all? Are you still looking to prove yourself?
Sheek Louch: At the beginning. At the beginning it was like damn, all they hearing is these two niggas, man. Like I need to go out there swinging to let niggas know I’m here. But now it’s different. Now, I’m mashing on shit. Not to take anything away from my brothers or nothing, because it’s always going to be us against the world, but I feel like lately, the respect for my ability has been more solidified. With the stuff I’ve been doing lately I’m letting people know. But I’m still swinging. On every record I’m giving 100%. I feel like a new artist right now. When you pop in this new album I want you to be like “Oh shit, who’s that? That’s Sheek?” I want you to feel like that’s that new Donnie G right there.
DX: But, to be fair, you were the last to put out a solo project so that may have played a part in things.
Sheek Louch: Real talk, while everyone was doing their solo projects I took some money and opened up a studio. I was more like how Baby or Slim [Williams] is in Cash Money [Records]. Like I said, "Let’s start this label, let’s have these meetings." When Styles [P] was in jail I was like, “You know what, we ain’t ever going to Sony or any of these other studios again.” I took like $40,000 or $50,000 and bought the studio. It wasn’t until later I decided to do a solo project.
DX: Now you’re a label executive, a solo artists, part of a group, and a business owner. How do you manage to do all these things at once?
Sheek Louch: I guess I can say it’s the good energy from the good people around me pushing me to do the right thing. And it’s definitely the fans. The fans leaving comments on songs on websites or seeing me and telling me “Yo, that song was hot” and this and that. That stop is a big part of what keeps me going and keeps me wanting to put more music out.
DX: Has there ever been a time where you were getting pressure from all angles and was just like “Screw it. let me just go back to being only an artist?”
Sheek Louch: Nah. I love the store and taking on the new challenges of running a business. Making the shipments up and shit then stopping by the car wash later that night to make sure the counts are right. Shit, if I’m in the store I will fold the shirt and put it in your bag for you. I be in there selling shit and all that and I got people working there. I just love the shit that much. We came from trapping and doing all that silly shit so selling a shirt or some shit like that is nothing. Matter fact, I just came off tour with Ghostface [Killah]. Soon as I touched down, I went right to the store to see what was going on. I’m in there like “What we missing? Make the shipments,” and all that shit.
DX: You probably get asked this question more than anything but people still want to knw, what’s the deal with that L.O.X. album?
Sheek Louch: I want to say it’s not us. Me, [Jadakiss], and Styles are ready to get to work. We’re ready to get in the studio and get with everybody. But it’s Ruff Ryders and Interscope [Records]. When we come out we want to give it a new look. We don’t want to be where we were at already. We want to do it with some of the people who’ve been making us offers. But Ruff Ryders and Interscope are kind of not budging on their percentages. They don’t really want to let up but my lawyer just told me that we’re at a good point right now. But everybody’s been making offers. I know you heard Diddy and [Bad Boy Records has] been making offer. Everybody wants that for the streets. And every label we told how much we want each, everybody said yes. Everybody’s ready but they’re not budging. [Jimmy] Iovine and everyone else.
DX: Holding things up isn’t exactly a smart move. I mean you guys have the fan bas plus there’s no groups from New York, or anywhere for that matter, really making any noise like that right now so there’s a wide open lane for you.
Sheek Louch: Exactly. I would love it if we can make that happen real soon. Like why not do some shit to make the cover of Rolling Stone and all types of mags and shit. And we could just put a joint out without the labels but I think that’s jerking the fans. When we do it I want us to do it right. I want to link up with Kanye [West] and a couple other producers to delivery something big because the fans have been waiting a long time.
DX: Speaking of Kanye, the last time I interviewed you, you mentioned you want to work with Kanye and will.i.am and try to make some of those big, crossover records. Are you still interested in making that happen?
Sheek Louch: I still want to do all that. I like what Kanye’s doing. I think will.i.am is dope too. But I wasn’t able to link up with them on this project. I still got some shit on there though. As far as my pen game, my word play has gotten crazier. I’m definitely going to deliver that grittiness that people know me for. But one change I’ve made is making records for the women. Once I saw what that “Good Love” record did for them, I try to deliver for the ladies on a couple joints too. Since that record, they been showing me crazy support at the shows and all that. The L.O.X. has always had fans but when you go to the shows it’s a fucking sword fight because our fans are mostly dudes. But now I do shows and it’s a good mix in the crowd.
DX: You came up in the era where you were constantly either directly or indirectly in competition with guys like Notorious B.I.G., Cam'ron, Beanie Sigel, and Jay-Z…
Sheek Louch: Yeah, those were good times man…
DX: Coming from that era and having to compete on that level, how do you feel about today’s standards for an emcee?
Sheek Louch: It’s kind of low. I don’t think most of these dudes care about what they’re saying. Like you said, the era we came from you had to be spitting. It was a honor to be on them Ron G’s and them Doo Wop [mixtapes]. Those tapes were like albums in the streets. As an artist, you were happy as hell to be on that new DJ Clue [mixtape]. Now I don’t know half these niggas that be on these mixtapes, man. I don’t what they’re saying and don’t give a fuck. Like, they didn’t put no effort or thought into they’re shit or nothing. Everybody’s the best and hottest out, but how’re you saying that when your bars is low? The standards are real low. That’s why when we drop songs and shit people always say, “Y’all are one of the reasons why we still like Hip Hop.”
DX: So in this age where a lot of the newer guys are “anti-lyrical” you never feel the need to simplify your rhymes or change your style to compete?
Sheek Louch: Hell no. Never. You’ll never get that from me. The only thing different I do is the records for the ladies. But I didn’t change to doing only those records. I still keep my rawness and content. Never in my life have I or the The L.O.X. switched up. I think that’s one thing that people in the streets…shit people everywhere love about us. We never jumped on the bandwagon and we never bent over. If we would’ve bent over we probably would’ve sold like 30 million records and shit, but that’s one thing we’ve never done and that’s why we have so many people who still fuck with us. Like certain dudes may have these certain fans, but I got the other fans that don’t like that shit. You got to set your way and stick to your people. But still don’t be afraid to try some other shit. Because you can always try other shit, just stay true to it. Stay true to yourself and to the people who ride with you and shit.