Saigon: Patiently Waiting

posted January 19, 2007 12:00:00 AM CST | 64 comments

For a rapper who has never had a proper album in stores, Saigon has a commendable resume. Solely off of the strength of his mixtapes, the upstate New Yorker inked a deal with super producer Just Blaze's Fort Knocks imprint with Atlantic, landed a recurring role in HBO's hit series Entourage, and earned a spot in TIME magazine (not just XXL or THE SOURCE) as one of the magazine's People To Watch. And now, with his popularity at its peak, the anticipation is even stronger for the opinionated, street-savvy rhymes of his upcoming debut, The Greatest Story Never Told. In a candid interview with HipHopDX, Saigon opens up about working with Just Blaze, acting, and the value of self-earned success.

HipHopDX: So how do you feel with the overflowing anticipation for the album?

Saigon: It feels good, man. As long as people want it, that's my main concern. I don't think it's going to get to the point where people are like, Fuck it, it's taking too long, I don't want it no more. As long as people are still anticipating it, and Just Blaze keeps coming with them good ass beats, and we keep making better and better songs. I'm trying to make the album as close to perfect as possible. My album is real different, it's not like nothing that's out. It's going to be really worth the wait, it's a deep album man. Every black man in America should own that album.

HipHopDX: What do you think makes it so different?

Saigon: Just the content, man; what I'm talking about. And the music...I think that Just Blaze pushes himself, man. Everybody knows him for making a lot of hit records and club records. We've got records that can make you cry, records that can open your heart up. We're trying to make a classic, not just as a hip-hop album, but as far as music-wise, lyrics-wise, and just the feel and the vibe, we want it to be as good as we can possibly make it. That's the way it's coming out, it's coming out phenomenal. People who I've let hear a sample of what I've got, they're like, Damn son, you're onto something real big. That's why I don't really sweat trying to rush it out. I've never been more ready than now to come out; it's not liked I missed my opportunity, because like you said, the buzz is growing still.

HipHopDX: Like you said, Just Blaze's beats are consistently pushing the envelope. How much pressure do you feel to deliver over his beats?

Saigon: I feel a lot of pressure. You've got to think, he's one of the best producers in the world. I don't want to come in and fuck up his legacy. He has a legacy that he's trying to keep going. And him taking on me as an artist is his way of saying, I'm willing to align myself with you. I've got to come correct. I can't half-step, because if I fail, it looks like I'm the failure, because he's been winning up to this point [laughs]. He's been building careers. Jay-Z had a career, but there's a lot of artists, like Cam'ron, and Fabolous...without Just Blaze's records, they wouldn't be where they're at.

HipHopDX: You've worked with some notable producers already, like Alchemist and Scram Jones. How is it different working with Just Blaze?

Saigon: I've worked with a lot of producers, but I've never worked with nobody like Just. Just is a perfectionist, and he's also a genius. He's literally a genius, because he knows what every single button does [laughs]. You ever look in the studio and see like four million buttons? You could point to any button and be like, What's that? He'll be like, Oh, that's the blah blah blah, break it down and tell you exactly what its purpose is. I think that's what makes him so inclined. He knows how to chop up everything perfectly; he just knows what all that shit does, like he sat there and read the whole manual. That's what gives him the edge. Anybody can take a record and sample it and put some drums to it. But it's almost like science when he does it, and I've never seen anybody work like that?

HipHopDX: How much of the album has he produced, and how much have you gotten from other producers?

Saigon: About 85% of it is Just Blaze so far. Me and Just record for it more than anybody else, so there's producers that I did songs with, and they keep getting pushed off the album, because Just keeps coming up with something better. We paid a lot of producers that's not even going to make the album, because Just Blaze keeps throwing some shit out the hat. It's like damn, you can only have but so many songs.'

HipHopDX: You should have the rest on a bonus disc.

Saigon: I think that I'm going to come out with my album, then soon after, come out with another CD, like a lost tapes type thing. Because I have so many good records.

HipHopDX: Since the album hasn't come out yet, some people have whispered that it's because of how shady record labels shit.

Saigon: I don't think that has anything to do with my situation, because we're still in the A&R process. We haven't even turned anything in to Atlantic yet, because most situations, Atlantic comes in and they want to hear every single song. We're just turning in the album when it's done, and saying, Here, this is what it is. It's not a situation where they're going to be like, We don't hear a single. This is our single, this is what we want you to push. I'm signed to Hip-Hop Since 1978, (with) Hip-Hop and G Roberson. That's who Kanye's signed to. Hip-Hop A&R'd every Jay-Z album since Reasonable Doubt, so these dudes know what they're doing. It ain't like this is some guy who just got the job because he got out of college and now he's an A&R.

HipHopDX: You've also forayed into acting. What made you audition for Entourage?

Saigon: G Roberson asked me if I would want to do the part. I didn't realize how big the show was, I hadn't even heard of the show at the time. I just heard that it was on some reality shit. I'm like, Yeah, that's cool. But when they flew me out there, and I met Mark Wahlberg, I'm like, Whoa, this is bigger than I thought. And I went back and watched the episode, that's when it hit me, like, Oh shit! This shit is real! [laughs] When they called me and told me I got the part, I was ecstatic. We went out there and did last season, shit came out great, everybody was happy. Went so good, they called me back to do this season. I filmed all my episodes, and shit's looking good, man. And the best thing about it, it's opening me to a whole new demographic that doesn't even listen to rap music.

HipHopDX: How do you think the show has helped you?

Saigon: It's helped me a lot, a whole lot. I always had a big underground buzz, but the white people know who I am now. There are 40-year-old ladies who know who Saigon is, because they watch Entourage. It opens me up to a whole new demographic. And those are the consumers, those are the record buyers. (Consumers) aren't the kids in the hood; the kids in the hood buy mixtapes, or they wait for you to be on a mixtape and dub it from their boy. But the record buyers are the same demographic who watch Entourage. So hopefully it translates (into sales). If it doesn't, it still was a good experience. I know it's going to help to some extent.

HipHopDX: Based on your music and your interviews, you're an opinionated dude, and your intellectualism shines in your music. In a past interview, Talib Kweli said that he gets tired of talking about politics and issues in his interviews, and that he wants to talk more about music. Do you feel that with your reputation, that the quality of your music is overlooked?

Saigon: I think that Talib Kweli must be reading them Internet forums too much. When I read them, they say the same thing. Shut up, put some music out! I'm a man before I'm an artist. If I see something wrong, I'm going to address it, point blank period. I'ma talk about it, because that's why I have a voice. That's the purpose of having a voice, so you can fuckin' speak. Of course I like talking about music, because music is what got me here, music is the reason why a mothafucka would even care to interview me at all. But at the same time, I live in this world, and I see certain things that go on that need to be addressed at some point. I'm not discouraged by none of that shit, I'm not discouraged by none of what other people say. If I worry about what other people think about me, then I'm in trouble.

HipHopDX: You're also one of the rare cases in music that's able to show his views without coming off as preachy. How difficult is that for you?

Saigon: It's very difficult. I learn from being around stic.man and M-1 of dead prez, those are my close friends. They've been around me since day one when I first got out the bing. They've been trying to help me get my point across, but at the same time be able to (communicate) with a kid on the street selling drugs who doesn't want to hear that shit. Everybody knows selling drugs is wrong, it doesn't take me to say that. On the same token, you've got to come to the people as they are. They say Jesus hung out with thieves and murderers; he didn't come like, I'm holy and you're not. The father Clarence Phillips started the Five Percent Nation, he was teaching the kids how to add and multiply by shooting dice with them. They thought they were gambling, but they're actually learning how to add and multiply. You can't come like, I'm smart, you're dumb.

That's why kids like me. Kids love me, because I've been a kid before. When I get around kids, I'm not like, I'm an adult and you're a child. They know that shit already. I sit right there and I turn into a three or five year-old right along with them. Then, you know they like you.

HipHopDX: Have you had any situations you've had like that? Where you're listening to the music, and you're thinking that the artist is preachy?

Saigon: What I get from a lot of these artists is that these dudes try to say something, but they don't really have a good way of saying it. I could listen to a whole song, and I understand, but I can understand how the average person wouldn't. You can't feed a baby steak, you've got to chop that shit up. It's like the difference between a baby eating apples and applesauce. Most of these kids have childlike minds in the hood, their minds aren't that developed. So when you come to the people talking about, The Emancipation Proclamation, it says dah dah dah dah dah, they don't understand that shit. You look at the Fourth Amendment, dah dah dah dah dah, they don't know nothing about the Constitution and their rights. But if you say, Hey, if you fuckin' sell that crack, that cop's gon lock your ass up. They understand that shit [laughs]. You fuck that shit without a condom, you're gonna get burnt; how's that? They understand that shit. It's all about coming to the people as they are. A person has to be able to relate to you to even want to hear your shit.

Everybody knows that we're fucked up in this country. We came here as fuckin' slaves, it's not a secret. They teach you that in school. Everyone knows the government is grimy. Everybody knows they killed the Indians off to take their land, they enslaved the Africans. We know who we're dealing with, so let's not try to keep reminding. We've got a problem, so come with a solution. What will we do to change this shit? Nobody hardly comes with that. They just keep drilling in your head that the government is fucked up, that there's police brutality. We know that shit already. There's racial profiling. Duh! We're in America.

A lot of times, people say, You contradict yourself. I'm a fuckin' human being, man! Being a human in itself is contradictory. You might wake up happy one day, and be like everything is good, and then the next day you're mad and ready to bust somebody's head. You're not the same way every damn day, no one's like that.

HipHopDX: A lot of artists who start off with the mixtape scene aren't widely accepted very much. But you were in TIME magazine, you're on the show Entourage, you're on a major label. What do you think it is that makes you so universally accepted?

Saigon: I think it's the fact that I paved my own way. A lot of these dudes pop up out of nowhere because they end up joining something that's already established. There's very seldom dudes who got in the game from their own merit. There's all these crews, and a nigga come joins a crew, and people automatically know who he is, instead of him starting from scratch. I started from scratch, and I built my brand up from day one by myself. I didn't have a Dipset to go get down with, I didn't have a G-Unit to latch onto. I didn't have a Roc-A-Fella to go get a chain and say, I'm down with the Roc now. I started my shit from scratch. It took me six and a half years to get where I'm at, but that's why I think I'm going to last longer.

These cats who get down with a crew, your name gets out there faster, but it's like microwave food. A lot of these dudes don't even know who they are. They feel like they've got to be tough guys, they're not really tough, they've never been through nothing. You haven't been through shit, because New York is not that big. If you were that much of a tough guy, somebody knew you before you got your record deal. So when you come out here like, I let the ratchet go bang bang! Bldatt! Nigga, you're lying. And people know when somebody's lying. Imagine if nobody believed that Young Jeezy ever sold drugs. Do you think he'd be as big as he is? People buy into that, they believe he was really pushing them birds. A lot of these so-called thugs, especially in New York, these gangsta rap thug rappers, nobody believes them. Nobody believes Jim Jones, nobody believes that. That's why they hit grass selling real fast.

HipHopDX: In your past interviews, you haven't been shy about cosigning 50 Cent, you really respect his grind. But in an interview that he had, he said he had never heard of you. Have you met him since then?

Saigon: Nah, I knew him before then. He did that on HipHopGame, but I met 50 way before that. I was in Sha Money's basement when they were recording the second mixtape they put out. I was going to work with 50. But the thing is, 50's so smart. I even took shots at 50 before, on some rap shit. He's so smart to know, at the time when I was just somebody coming up, for him to mention my name would just bring more fans to me. If he were to get in an interview and be like, Fuck Saigon, that would bring so many more people to me than I already had. That's how he got in the game. We have the same lawyer, he knows who I am. I was there when Eminem first signed him. I've got a song that Sha Money produced, when Sha Money was working with an artist named P Dap. 50's a smart cat.

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