Cassie Looks Back On Her Work With Wiz Khalifa & Rick Ross
Exclusive: Cassie recalls the relatively quick process behind her recent "RockaByeBaby" mixtape and getting features from Rick Ross, Fabolous and others.
For many, a major project release from Cassie has been way overdue. We all remember back in 2006 when the R&B songstress caught lightning in a bottle with the Ryan Leslie-produced single, “Me & U,” which instantly captivated listeners—one of them being Rap mogul Diddy—and eventually landed her a record deal with Bad Boy.
The time between her self-titled debut album and her follow up album (to be released later this year) has been a lengthy one, but Cassie’s recent mixtape release of her New Jack City-inspired RockaByeBaby already has the masses buzzing days after the release. You can argue whether or not the mixtape constitutes as a “comeback,” but even the thought of new material coming from the 26-year-old has made enough people turn heads and give heed to the 13-track project—which, by the way, features a Keisha-influenced, mean-mugging, gun-wavering Cassie on the project’s cover.
With her new album on the way and a fresh mixtape in the books, we caught up with Cassie during the aftermath of her mixtape release date, and discussed her move to the West Coast, her updated status with longtime collaborator, Ryan Leslie, and what a “bad bitch” really is through her eyes.
HipHopDX: How are you feeling today? It’s a big day.
Cassie: I feel really good. I’m excited and a little bit tired, because I worked straight to the end. [I worked] all the way to last night. I’m so tired, but I feel really good about it. I’m excited that people are going to get a chance to hear it.
DX: Did you sleep at all last night?
Cassie: A little bit in between phoners. The tape is definitely where I want it to be. I can’t even complain.
How Moving To LA Influcenced Cassie’s Music
DX: How has that transition moving to LA been for you? You’re typically an East Coast girl.
Cassie: It’s good. I’m definitely an East Coast girl, 100%. I’m from Connecticut, and I lived in New York for eight years but I’m getting used to it. I got a lot of work done out here, and I did the whole ‘tape here over the past nine or 10 months. It’s been a cool transition. I’ve been really working.
DX: Has moving and travelling inspired your music at all?
Cassie: Yeah, I shot both the “Numb” and “Paradise” videos in LA. With “Paradise,” I finished the record and then got Wiz [Khalifa] on the record. It just really reminded me of the Cali vibe to it. That’s how I kind of wanted to keep the video. Even though the mixtape is not about New Jack City, it’s been inspired by New Jack City, which is in New York. It’s like I brought two elements of my life together in LA and New York.
DX: You look pretty badass on that mixtape cover.
Cassie: Thank you. It was so crazy how it all came together. I shot that with one of my good friends.
DX: What about the other cover where you were in the middle while being surrounded by dudes with guns?
Cassie: We used that picture as an announcement picture. But that was when I was in Kingston, Jamaica a little bit after the New Year. We went with the cool soundclash thing where they have all these different guys who play their favorite records for like the first three seconds, and then the crowd goes crazy. That’s actually what I walked through in Kingston with these guys. It’s like a teaser.
DX: What’s your favorite record on the ‘tape?
Cassie: Oh, good question. I have a lot of favorites. I mean, everyone for a different reason but my favorite one that has just me on it is “RockAByeBaby.” Another is “Do My Dance” with Too $hort, “Paradise”—I love all of the records.
DX: I was really feeling that “Bad Bitches” record.
Cassie: Oh yeah! I always forget to say “Bad Bitches” because it’s at the end. A lot of people been playing it here and it’s in the past few clubs that we’ve been to and it’s really a lot different than the rest of the ‘tape but I think it’s dope.
DX: What’s your definition of a “bad bitch?”
Cassie: Oh man, it’s the confidence, the go-getter. A confident woman that has her own and wants what she wants and go gets what she wants.
DX: Would you describe yourself as one?
Cassie: Yeah, I mean women don’t really want to call themselves a bitch. [Laughs.]
DX: But if you put the word “bad” in front of it then it sounds cooler.
Cassie: I think a bad bitch can be a sexy woman, too. Both men and women can reckon what a bad bitch can be. I’ll take it.
DX: So the mixtape dropped today, and even though you did drop records here and there along with the tape, would you say you went through somewhat of a brief hiatus over the past few years?
Cassie: You could say that in some ways. I’ve had my times where I’ve disappeared for a little bit. Even when I disappeared I was always working and recording. That ultimate goal is to find the right record for you. Sometimes people are way easier on them than others. They know what they want and they put it out. It’s just a completely different sequence of events. I just really took my time with it and tried to find my sound and where I wanted to fit in the music industry. I threw out records like “Official Girl” and “King of Hearts” that were all in a lane where I wanted to be in. Some things work out differently, and I’m glad it worked out the way it did because it got me to now and I’m making the ‘tape and I’m excited
How Cassie Got Features From French Montana, Rick Ross & More
DX: The way this mixtape was put together, it seemed like you were putting as much effort into this as if it were an actual album, with the big-name features like Rick Ross, French, and Meek. Did you feel extra pressure when making RockaByeBaby because you knew that it was the first major project you’ve released in so long and you had no room for error?
Cassie: The way it came about is that “Numb” was the first song I recorded, and we really wanted Ross on it. I spoke to him about it and he did it. That was the take-off point for the ‘tape. I didn’t know I was going to have all these features. I didn’t know what direction I was taking it. It happened really organically. I would finish a record and be like, “Who know who’s really going to be dope on it? I’ma call Fab[olous]. French, where you at?” It fell into place. I feel like in the past week, there’s been more pressure because it was such a big project in my eyes out of an idea that I had years ago with me and my producer Rob Holliday. It has definitely become something else so I’m excited for it. I can’t even believe I’m sitting here talking to you about it now.
DX: When did you actually make up your mind saying you were going to do this mixtape?
Cassie: It was definitely after I finished “Numb,” which was nine months ago. Maybe even less than that. It was that I stayed consistent, and I think it benefited me to move out to LA and not be distracted by—you know what I mean, I have tons of friends in New York. I moved to LA and I didn’t really have any friends or not really know what I wanted to do yet. Just going into the studio and constantly making music. It just kind of happened. I don’t really know how to explain it. [Laughs.]
DX: You were even able to get Wiz on there singing halfway through his verse on “Paradise.”
Cassie: Yeah, his verse was so dope. I had been able to call in favors with people. Wiz has always been somebody that I wanted to work with because we shot a video a while back for him. It kind of just came back around, and I was glad I was able to use a favor on the ‘tape. He’s such a great person, and I’m glad we got to work on it.
DX: I feel like Esther Dean is such a dope songwriter. Do you guys have any plans to work together in the future?
Cassie: Yeah. Actually, we were working on my album when I did “Bad Bitches” with Esther. She was like, “I know you’re working on this ‘tape through a couple of people.” I hadn’t even told her I was working on the ‘tape. She was like, “I have this really dope song I want you to try.” That’s how it came to be. She and I are shooting a video for the song so it’s going to be big. I love her as a songwriter, though. We’re definitely going to go back into the album.
DX: I wanna talk about the record “Numb,” that you got with Rick Ross. In the hook, you repeat the line, “I make music to numb your brain.” Can you explain the meaning behind that line?
Cassie: For me, it’s just like a vibe. “Numb” is such a vibey record and it sets the tone for the whole mixtape. I feel like over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of flack for my voice and whether or not people want to get into my tone. I feel like my tone is something that’s very distinct and that’s the way I delivered my line.
Cassie Explains Her Hiatus & Early Work With Ryan Lesie
DX: You mentioned previously about how you hated your tone on “Me & U.” Do you think that was something you improved on?
Cassie: [Laughs.] I didn’t know they were going to feature that as the title of the article. But no, I didn’t hate the song, I just didn’t understand why everyone—I made all these records with Ryan Leslie that were so dope to me and everybody just gravitated towards this one sound. It was so different at the time. I think that’s what set it apart from anything else you were hearing on the radio. Yeah, I didn't hate it but I didn’t understand it. I didn’t really mean it that way.
DX: Do you still talk with Ryan? You guys still work together?
Cassie: I haven’t worked with Ryan in some time. We had linked up a couple times about a couple years back, but I think musically, we’ve moved on in different directions. I would definitely like to work with him again. We definitely made some dope stuff together, Maybe in the near future or even on the next album.
DX: And to step away from the business side of music, would you say you had more fun or you prefer working on this mixtape than say working on the next album? Just because with the ‘tape, you had so much more creative control whereas there are more strings attached when making an album?
Cassie: Yeah, there’s a lot more people that—even though it is a mixtape, I still have to get things cleared and my label definitely has to get involved. It’s not as simple as you want it to be, but it definitely lends itself to me having more creative freedom, which I did love and I really had a good time from the artwork to the videos to being all the way involved with the designing of the clothes I wore in the videos. Top to bottom, it’s all me. I hope it speaks for itself and people really get to know me better through this project. I hope it sets the tone for the next project I put out.
DX: Would you say you’re still in an experimental phase in terms of finding your sound? Like one day you can make a record such as “King of Hearts” and then the next day, a record like “Balcony” comes out.
Cassie: Everyday. Every single day. I did the Kendrick Lamar remix called “I Know What You Want.” I was apprehensive to get on the Kendrick track. He’s so big this year and last year. You want to be careful with the things you touch on with certain fans and things like that. I wanted to take chances and I wanted to do things that had me step outside my comfort zone, which I think I did. I’m still experimenting everyday with records and I’m like, “Man, I want to try something like that.” I might go to the studio and try it. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and maybe it does.
That’s kind of how “All Gold, All Girls” came about. When I spoke to Trinidad about it, he’s like, “Why don’t you put some girls” on there. That was another experimental thing because nobody had ever heard me in that way before.
DX: So what about “Balcony” featuring Young Jeezy? That record surprised me when it came out.
Cassie: That was actually for the album and was released because—actually, we were going to put it on the mixtape after we released it and we pulled back from it because of politics and certain things I’m not really supposed to talk about. I really loved that record. That was one of my most classics. I like that record a lot. I wish it got more play but I really love it.
DX: I feel with RockaByeBaby, most of the records—especially at the beginning—were such chill, vibe-out type of records. It’s very relaxing to listen to but at the same time, you can still get turnt up to those same exact records no matter where you are.
Cassie: Yeah, that was kind of the vibe we were going for. We wanted everybody to be able to press play. If you’re in the house, you can have it low, if you have people over then you can turn it up and it’s a whole ‘nother vibe. I wanted it to just be pretty straightforward that way. I’m sure you noticed that it transitioned so after those slower songs in the beginning, it transitioned over to the records with Fab like “I Love It.” Then it got a little bit tougher and I start talking about other stuff. It was a transitional album to me.
DX: I noticed you released several trailer videos and promo shots to keep the fans engaged and wanting more, like what are some of the ways you use the Internet era to your advantage in order to stay connected with the fans and turn it into a positive effect for your music?
Cassie: I mean, I originally started on MySpace, which we all knew was our thing when we were younger. That’s the generation I came from. I think it’s about adapting to what’s new and making yourself available to it. I am so bad with Twitter. I never tweet. I always just Instagram and upload pictures on Instagram to Twitter. I try to tweet more. There are generations and communities and different things when it comes to Internet presence. I felt with this project, because there have been so many delays and setbacks in the past six years for me, doing a visual overload was due. I just thought, “Let’s just shoot and keep putting it out. Let’s make sure every song has a story and that’s how they see it.” They don’t get the mp3 before they get the video. They get the video before the mp3. There’s a certain story I wanted to set and people to get into a certain vibe before they got into the whole ‘tape with the music.
DX: Hit-Boy released a mixtape through MySpace. Would we ever see you go back to MySpace?
Cassie: Yeah, I went to their offices recently and the way they designed the site was so dope. We’ve definitely been talking. I would definitely want to work with them again.
DX: Are you now onto album mode?
Cassie: Well, I’m going to let this marinate a little bit but you know, I can’t stop recording. I’m just one of those people that like to be in the studio and try new things. I’ll definitely get to the album very soon.
DX: A word you like to use when describing a lot of your records is “vibe,” so what type of vibe or direction are you going in for your upcoming album?
Cassie: Ah, I’m not sure yet. I guess we’ll see how people soak this up. We’ll see how they react and how they feel. I even got online a bit to see what people’s favorite songs are, and to see what they want to hear from me. I think it was a good set up for that.
DX: You talked about how RockaByeBaby showcased more of your tougher side, but you also have a sexy, more feminine side. Which image do you like better?
Cassie: From one of the two? [Laughs.] I think women always want to be feminine and sexy and that’s just a natural thing. I never really showed a tougher side of my personality or nothing of that sort so it was fun to play around with that. I’m definitely a girly girl at the end of the day. [Laughs.]
RELATED: Cassie - The Rebirth [Feature]