From Kriss Kross to Lil Romeo, child rappers have long been perceived more as marketing schemes than bona fide artists. Yet even the harshest of critics can’t deny the level of artistry displayed by Hip Hop child prodigy and former Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Shyheim. Now, 16 years since debut on 1993's “On and On” at the age of 14, Shyheim is still hard at work rocking the mic. He released his fifth solo album, Disrespectfully Speaking, this past October on his label Bottom Up Records and is planning for two more releases in 2010. Shyheim spoke to HipHopDX about how he has grown as an artist and what it means for his career.
“I just grow with my music,” explained Shyheim. “Everyday is life with my shit and I think that’s what my music different from that of every other artist out there. I grew up in Hip Hop. Everything that was recorded from when I was a child until now, it was my life. It wasn’t a marketing scheme. It wasn’t something created like someone going over and saying, ‘Yo, let’s make these type of records’ when I don’t make those types of records. If I had a marketing scheme and did that and sat down and made records, then I’d probably be triple platinum. But then again, I’d be sacrificing what’s real to me.”
Shyheim touched on one of the most personal tracks featured on Disrespectfully Speaking called “Pain.” The song finds the Staten Island emcee tackling the subject of his late mother’s drug addiction. Shyheim explained the therapeutic elements of writing such a highly personal song and how his music acts as a sobering reality to the glitz and glam of most modern Hip-Hop.
“[Songs like 'Pain' are] my therapy,” he said. “I’ll be honest, I lost my mom on July 7…from an overdose. It’s like I just take the cards that were dealt to me and by me saying lines like, ‘I’m looking in my mother’s face/Seeing drugs eat her away,’ I felt that way. I watched drugs eat her away. I watched it…she was sitting like ‘Yo, I want a sandwich,’ but I know what she was going to buy. But I still had to give it to here because I couldn’t ever see my mother working for nothing.”
He later added, “I think a lot of artists nowadays get caught up, and I think what I see as an artist and [how] I keep it so real…reminds [people] of what’s really going on. So a lot of people get in the smoke and the clouds of illusion of, ‘Yeah, yeah, I got this, I got that,’ and you may want that and get caught up in that illusion, but when you wake up, it’s what it is. That’s why people drink and smoke weed and dust and shit, that’s how they escape. My music is not the escape drug. My music is rehab, we’re going to talk about this shit.”
The Rugged Manchild also discussed his transition from strictly being an artist to becoming the head of his own independent label Bottom Up Records. He says that his experience in the industry with the Wu-Tang Clan primed him for taking on such a role and has shown him the best way to handle a roster of up-and-coming artists.
“I’ve seen the bullshit and I’ve seen many labels like Bottom Up before me come and fall apart and I asked myself a question: why is that?” said Shyheim. “Why is it that I’ve seen Wu-Tang, I’ve seen Roc-a-Fella beefing, I’ve seen Dipset [break up], I’ve seen many crews [fall apart] after getting money? Why is that? And ultimately, I always hear that ‘Oh, I wasn’t getting me money, this person wasn’t doing this for me, he wasn’t doing that for me’…[what] I have to…basically have is independent contract[s], so any artist on Bottom Up is an independent contractor. As they come to Bottom Up and they do music and do music videos, I may put out their album. But if they don’t continue walk and pursue their own career, and watch my steps and learn from me and take the knowledge to go on, it’s not my fault. It’s their fault. I’m not locking them into [a place] where they can’t do what they need to do.”
With two albums slated for release in 2010, Shyheim doesn’t appear to be letting the industry or the economy keep him down. He spoke on the as-of-yet untitled projects and how he hopes to build a legacy through them not just for himself, but also for his Staten Island brethren.
“This album is going to be more transitionary,” he explained. “I think it’s time that I give people 100% of me…just making quality music. You might hear some shit that may be club-going. You may hear some deep shit, but I’m going to give it 100% Shy. And then the next quarter [in] June, there will be another Bottom Up album where I feature…all the talent that is coming from Staten Island…[they] are all independent artists from Staten Island that I’m trying to teach ownership…so [they] can have longevity and a legacy because if I don’t pass the torch, who’s going to keep it alive?”