Exclusive: MC Ren previews his upcoming album, "Rebel Music" and why he'd like to see more fans study their history in terms of Hip Hop's "Golden Era."
The genesis of the phrase, “Chillin’ like a villain” has remained a mystery, but it’s no mystery when the “villain” is a legend and member of one of the greatest Hip Hop collectives of all-time.
“I don’t have no pressure,” says Ren when asked if he feels any with his upcoming album Rebel Music, “I have nothing to prove to nobody. I’m 44-years-old. I’m about to be 45 years old. I was in one of the biggest groups ever. I don’t have nothing to prove to nobody. I’m just doing this because I’m an emcee. I’m just gonna do what I do. I ain’t tripping on nobody.”
Of course not. MC Ren is a living piece of Hip Hop history. It’s like watching a Basquiat walk around right in front of you. But why come back to make music in this era of excess and pop? While Rap flourishes within the context of its ubiquitousness, Ren and others of his ilk are back on the scene to add a counterbalance to all the noise.
So, with his new album Rebel Music on the way, produced entirely by another West Coast legend, E-A-Ski, Ren took a break from the studio to talk to DX about his latest project, his views on the game in general, and the origin of the “Gangster Rap” label among other things.
MC Ren Explains Why Hip Hop Doesn’t Support Its OGs Like Rock Music
HipHopDX: On the single, “Rebel Music” you’re going hard at the game in general. How representative is that of the common direction throughout the album?
MC Ren: It’s like, I ain’t even gonna try to blow it up like…the shit gonna be tight. It’s gonna have that basic theme, so yeah. But I’m not gonna over do it.
DX: You’re making a statement, but the whole album isn’t like that? There’s a perception that if you don’t hop out and co-sign everything, people say “Oh, he’s jealous of the new cats.”
MC Ren: Yeah.
DX: In Hip Hop, do you feel we give enough respect to our older artists? Rock groups like the Rolling Stones tour for decades, but do you think Hip Hop follows that enough in terms of the respect to the people who came first?
MC Ren: I think people do. Everybody that I know gives respect to everybody that came before them. Like me, I give respect to all of them. How can I not give respect to them? Everybody…there’s so many. Most of them are greats in the game. Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane, Whodini, Grandmaster Flash, Furious Five—all of them. The list goes on and on. Everybody that I know, when we’re in little circles, everybody gives it up to everybody that came before them. If you got somebody who ain’t giving it up for the people who came in front of them, to me, they ain’t gonna be that successful. A lot of these fools don’t give it up because they don’t know they history. A lot of them don’t study the history enough to even know about the cats. That could be a reason. If you don’t know your history, learn your history. Start giving it up for the cats that came in front of you. I be hearing cats giving it up for me; man, that’s love. That’s how you’re supposed to do it, because when I was coming up, that’s how I did it in interviews. I gave it up.
DX: Do you think the younger generation has a knowledge of the history of the music?
MC Ren: Oh, the fanbase? As long as I’ve been in the game, the Hip Hop crowd, they’ll forget about your ass. As far as the Rock groups touring, and still doing tours, as long as I’ve been in the game, I’ve seen people come and go. The Hip Hop crowd will forget about your ass and move on to the next. As far as the muthafuckin’ Rock crowd, they just be so devoted. They’ll go tour after tour, year after year. They just don’t quit supporting that artist that they love. Some people in Hip Hop will support an artist until they die, but then some will be like, “On to the next.” That Rock shit you was talking about…they be so loyal, and I don’t know what it is. They been like that since I was a little kid. We need to support Hip Hop more.
Why MC Ren Thinks A Single Producer Makes You Focused
DX: So you’re linking up with E-A-Ski for this entire album. Do you feel like that’s the best way to do an album, one producer?
MC Ren: Back in the day, that’s how all the great albums got done. All you needed was one producer, or one group of producers. Look at Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad. Look at Herbie Love Bug and Dre, and look at Mark the 45 King. You can go down the line and name a list of people that worked with one producer...Prince Paul with De La Soul. When you work with one producer, you can focus. Me, I feel like I can focus better with one producer that’s on the same page with me...someone that’s not no overnight producer. He really takes his craft as serious as I take my craft. I know I don’t have to keep explaining what I’m thinking in my head, and explaining it to four or five different producers so they can try to get on the same page. I got him that’s right there with me. I can just lock in and be focused from beginning to end, boom, boom, boom.
DX: Are you guys working in the studio together?
MC Ren: Right now, I’m getting tracks and writing. I’m doing it the same way I did the single, and it’s crazy how I did it. He sent it to me, and I took my time with it. We just trying to take our time. I’m not trying to rush. Fools be out here acting like they gotta rush to put they shit out, like they racing everybody. They racing each other. I’m just gonna take my time with it, make sure it’s right. That’s the only way people gonna feel the way I feel.
DX: Who have been some of your favorite producers to work with in the game, whether it’s a huge name or not?
MC Ren: Big Hutch 187—we did some good music. Me and Bobcat did some good shit. Dr. Dre, definitely we did some good shit. And of course Ski. I worked with a gang of other people, I just can’t remember… and Chill from CMW.
DX: You said in an interview with DubCNN that Ice Cube would be on the remix to “Rebel Music.” What other collaborations do you have in mind for the album?
MC Ren: I don’t even know. I’m sure it’ll come to me. Once I get the track, I write to it, then it’ll come to me if I want somebody on it. But I don’t even want a lot of people on the album. I just want like two or three people on it. That’s it. You know how them records be with a million people on every song.
MC Encourages Current Hip Hop Fans To Study Their History
DX: You feel like at times artists have too many collaborations on an album?
MC Ren: They been had too many. It kills me every time somebody come out, they gotta run they mouth like, “I got so and so on here, and I got so and so on here.” If you a emcee, you ain’t gotta have all those people. When you hear people do that, they just trying to get [the featured artist’s] fan base. That’s all it is...cut to the chase.
DX: On the single “Rebel Music,” you attacked artists for always rapping about money. Do you feel raps about money and material objects can be motivational at times?
MC Ren: If you motivated just for money, you ain’t matured that much yet. If you an artist, you must not be a real artist. A real artist will talk about a whole spectrum of shit. They express they self. If all you talk about is money…come on, man! You think about it, back in the day, the Hip Hop Golden Era, when everybody damn near became legends, who was really talking about money? Nobody. Who back then was talking about money like they talk about it today? Who was really on that money shit like every record back then? Nobody. I can’t think of nobody. Them was true emcees back in the day. Nowadays, they rappers. Niggas talking about what the next dude doing. They see somebody do it, they see everybody love it, they gon’ copy it...not everybody, but the majority of them copy. Look at the videos, it’s the same damn thing. It’s money, champagne, cars. I told somebody…
DX: So what would you say is the difference between an emcee and a rapper?
MC Ren: An emcee is somebody who got cadence when he rhymes, and he’s got style and his voice is distinctive some kind of way. An emcee will use his voice like an instrument. They have a distinctive, cadence, all of that. A rapper just raps. They have no kind of skills and no kind of metaphors. If they do have metaphors, they be wack metaphors. They don’t have nothing that make you say, “Damn, that was tight,” they just be like, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Then they’ll disguise it sometimes with a different beat and be the same thing. An emcee is gonna move you. You hear a rapper, you be like, “Man, get this fool out of here.” You hear an emcee, you’re gonna know as soon as he start off—how he bustin’, his cadence. It’s totally different. These fools need to study.
What MC Ren Wants People To Get Out Of “Rebel Music”
DX: Do you feel like Hip Hop is ageist, or those who support the culture have an issue with age within the culture?
MC Ren: I don’t know. We have to see. People still doing it. There’s people out there still doing they thang and they 40, out there doing shows. Grandmaster Flash and them. Chuck D is what, 50? He still out there touring the world and ripping stages. I don’t think nobody has a problem with the age. If you ain’t never put nothing out, and you trying to come out at 50 and 40, then people will have a problem with that shit. You gotta have a fan base from when you was younger, then we’ll be like the Rock dudes still doing concerts. The fan base gotta keep up with it, ‘cause Hip Hop is still growing. But if you 50, don’t even think about it.
DX: What is the statement you want to make with this Rebel Music album? What is it you want Rebel Music to say if somebody plays it from beginning to end? What is the statement you want people to walk away from the album with?
MC Ren: I want people to walk away from Rebel Music and say, “Man, I ain’t heard no shit like this in a long fucking time. This shit hard.” After I make it, and people hear it, I want people to walk away, when they see people doing shows, and they come out with some bullshit lyrics talking about money, they get booed off the stage. I want people to leave they shit chanting, “Rebel Music!” That would be the shit right there.
DX: I have to ask you this, because I have to ask everybody within the circle, and you were on the 2001 album. Have you worked on Detox, or heard anything about it?
MC Ren: Nah, I haven’t worked on it. I haven’t really heard anything about it, but they working on it.
MC Ren Recalls The FBI Reaction To Straight Outta Compton
DX: I want to go back to when you first got down with N.W.A. You got down with N.W.A straight out of high school, right?
MC Ren: Yeah, straight out of high school. It was like, I was rapping back in the day in the street. I had my little crew like everybody had they little crew, and it wasn’t a lot of people back then. You know, it’s a million fools now, but back then you could count everybody on one hand that was rhyming. Eazy-E stayed around the corner from me, so he knew I could rhyme. He had signed at first as a solo artist. That’s way back before Priority. Then I ended up in the group
DX: When you first got into N.W.A, did any of you guys think it would end up being as huge as it ended up being?
MC Ren: Nah. Nobody knew that. We was just trying to do it...trying to be local. Back then, I knew I wanted to be out there, but at that time, New York had a strong hold on everything. We was just trying to be local and get our name out there. That’s it. We had no idea. We had no idea all that shit was gonna happen like that.
DX: Speaking of New York having a stranglehold on everything, who were your inspirations?
MC Ren: KRS-One, Chuck D, Rakim and Big Daddy Kane was the main ones. As far as lyrically, it was KRS, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Chuck D. I liked DMC too. Them was my major influences.
DX: You got a lot of play on the Straight Outta Compton record, and a lot of those songs are still strong today. When you guys recorded “Fuck the Police,” did you have any fear of repercussions?
MC Ren: Nah. We just went in there and did it. Then when we did it and started getting all the flack over it from the FBI, they sent a letter. The record company, Priority, was tripping more than we was. We just looked at it as free publicity for us. We was making records, we didn’t give a damn what happened and it blew up. That’s another thing we didn’t know that was gonna happen like it did either.
DX: Did you end up having to deal with any consequences behind that. I mean an increase in being hassled even more than you were before after that record came out?
MC Ren: Nah. Nah, not really. It was more getting hassled before the record came out. Once the record came out, it was more like being on the road and shit like that and in the studio most of the time. Most of the time when the record came out and police pulled me over, they didn’t even recognize who I was, and I still got stopped. I had this dude leave me a message on Twitter one day talking about he was a police officer, but he liked that song. I retweeted that shit. I was like, “I hope he don’t get fired.” Police even liked it. It wasn’t talking about all police, it was just talking about the corrupt police. If you a police officer and you really doing your job, ain’t nobody gonna have a problem with you. If you really doing your job, you not just gonna be fucking with people for no reason.
DX: On your first solo project, Kiss My Black Azz, you had the track “Final Frontier.” For that video, everybody was wearing blue, and someone kept saying, “Loc,” which identifies with a certain group out here. Given all the issues between Bloods and Crips back then, did you ever have to deal with any issues being a celebrity and staying in the same area?
MC Ren: Everybody was cool with me, and everybody showed me love. Everybody used to show me love because we was putting our city on the map in a big way. We got love. Nobody never tripped.
MC Ren Speaks On Why Naming Your Movement From Inside Matters
DX: You guys were often labeled as “Gangsta Rap,” but given the subject matter, a lot of it could be labeled as “Conscious Rap” as well. Does being labeled ever bother you?
MC Ren: We never labeled it “Gangsta Rap,” and that’s the killer part. Somebody will label you one thing, and it sticks with you like you labeled it yourself. We did an interview one time at Eazy’s momma’s house in the backyard when we was first starting out. I think it was LA Weekly. This white dude came to E’s momma’s house. You gotta think back to when that music came out. This white dude comes out there, and he gets out the car shaking. This is a true story. I saw a picture the other day on Instagram of the photo we took back then. I was like, “Ah, that brought back memories.” Anyway, this dude get out the car shaking, and we back there—me, E, Dre and Laylaw—and E goes in the house with dude back there doing the interview. He asked if he wants to take a picture, and E says, “I’m gonna go in here and get some guns.” So E go in there, gets some guns and gave everybody a gun. This dude was so nervous. He was so nervous, he was standing up and went backwards. He was shaking so bad, he bumped into some shit in Eric momma backyard. I’m like, “Man, I ain’t never seen nobody that nervous.” The same dude that was nervous like that shaking, wanted to get the hell up out of there, out of Compton… that’s the dude that labeled that shit “Gangsta Rap.” He must have went home, with that in his head, scared as hell. We just chilling, waiting for the interview. He ran with that, and from that day on, that’s where that whole “Gangsta Rap,” shit comes from.
DX: Did you guys being labeled as gangster rappers mess with business at all?
MC Ren: Nah, it didn’t mess with nothing. It didn’t mess with nothing, ‘cause the music was so revolutionary. It was fresh, and everybody wanted to hear it. Once that label came, it was still the same shit. It’s just the label was on it, but it was business as usual.
DX: You spoke about everybody in Compton showing love, and you guys putting on for the city. You being one of the front liners from Compton as far as Hip Hop goes, how do you feel today when you see all the newer artists that represent for your city, like Kendrick Lamar and everybody of that nature?
MC Ren: They putting it down. It would be different if we was just like getting dudes from Compton that was wack as hell, but we done had artist come out that done did the city proud. You had us, then you had Game, then you had Kendrick. You got the whole TDE...all that. It’s so much going down...you got YG. Back in the day, when we first started out, I used to think, “Damn, I wish the whole West Coast was like New York how they just had groups everywhere, like all the different boroughs.” Now it’s like that on the West. They’re doing they thing for the West Coast. My hat is off to all of them.
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