To be signed to Aftermath, no matter what, you got to be nice on the mic. Joell Ortiz is nice on the mic any time, place, or day. We caught up with the Brooklyn MC to talk about his recent KOCH project, The Brick (Bodega Chronicles), what to expect in the future with Aftermath, and most importantly his karaoke game. Oh yeah, perfectly fitting in with our recent DJ Premier beat drop, find out what Joell’s favorite Primo beat is. Read (no ctrl+f allowed)!
MetalLungies: What’s going on, man?
Joell Ortiz: I’m chilling, man. You chilling today, you good?
ML: Yeah, yeah, I’m good.
JO: All right.
ML: The first thing I want to ask you is, for those that don’t know, for those that have been sleeping, tell them, who is Joell Ortiz?
JO: Man, Joell Ortiz is a Puerto Rican dude from in front of a corner store in Brooklyn that just been grinding and doing everything it takes to be a rapper, from dropping his first twelve inch on Rawkus Records in 1999, being Source Unsigned Hype, XXL Chairman’s Choice because of his shows, and being Live ’05 freestyle battle winner. I’ve done songs with Kool G Rap, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, the OGs co-sign me.. I rapped live on Stretch Armstrong’s show in ’98 as a kid, so I’ve pretty much been in rap for the last ten years.
ML: All right, all right. When did you start rhyming, and when did you decide to make a career out of it?
JO: I started rhyming about 1991 as a kid, when I first came out my project building and seen what a cipher looked like, and how much love you got to make two words rhyme at the end of a sentence, that’s when I first started rhyming. I made it serious in about ’97 when my boy Dennis put me in the studio and I listened to myself over a beat and that was pretty much it for me, I said this is what I’m gonna do.
ML: All right, how old were you then?
JO: I was 17.
ML: 17, all right. You were fortunate enough to perform with the late Big Pun, right?
ML: Talk about that experience?
JO: The performance I did with Pun was a different performance and incredible because I was alive and he wasn’t. His wife called my management and wanted me to perform at his memorial and I actually rocked with his urn on stage. So he was on stage with me and that’s one thing I’ll always remember in my career, that’s one of the events that I’ll always remember and it’s an incredible feeling when you get that phone call from a pioneer’s wife because he’s a pioneer to me, and a legend, so that lets me know that I’m doing something right and I’m repping the Latino community in an ill way.
ML: I know I was reading the journal that you ran last year and you mentioned that you scrapped half of your album, right?
ML: So how many changes overall has The Brick gone through? Talk about those changes.
JO: Well, The Brick’s pretty much been through the wringer, so when new things happen and you get excited and you get new opportunities to meet new producers and new artists, new work is done, and you start beating other records, you understand?
JO: So from beating other records to leaking some just to keep the buzz going and keep your name in people’s mouths, there’s usually a big change for the album, so you’re not gonna really hear too much that you heard, it’s gonna be a whole bunch of different things but it’s going to always remain one thing and that’s hip hop, so if you haven’t pressed the rewind button in the last five years, if you’ve haven’t been excited like I haven’t been excited, this is your excitement.
ML: You ran that journal, you have probably one of the best looking MySpaces I’ve seen, how big does the Internet play in your career?
JO: The Internet was huge in my career. Just from basically people logging on to see who I was, that was huge, but in different other ways it dominated the reason why I am who I am because it let me get one-on-ones with my fans, you know what I’m saying? I have to know who I’m targeting, who’s responding to me the strongest, and I also got a chance to let people know who I am as a person by working through the journals and telling them how my day-to-day was on the grind to try and be successful and try and have a career in rap. So it’s one thing when you hear somebody in music, but when you can read something they write, you feel like you know them better, so outside of just regular promotion it gave me a chance to get a one-on-one with your average Joe like I am, ’cause that’s all I am, I’m just your average fan with a deal. So it makes them feel like I’m no better than them, like I’m one of them.
ML: Do you check your MySpace daily?
JO: I check my MySpace here and there when I get a chance to. Every time I check it I got a load of friend requests, and I got a lot of comments on my page and it’s usually positive so I feel blessed right now and I encourage people to keep hitting me ’cause I do read it.
ML: All right, all right. I know you’re signed to Aftermath, so you’ve probably been getting dozens and dozens of questions regarding that, but how is The Brick different from the project you’re working on for Aftermath?
JO: There’s actually no difference, but the difference is that The Brick doesn’t have Dre and Aftermath will. I don’t change my format of making songs, they’ll always have that feeling. I like hard beats and I like to be an MC over them and Dre’s pretty much going to give me free realm with that. I’m happy that I’m over there because he doesn’t try to switch anyone, he just takes what you do, your art and puts it on a bigger platform, a bigger stage. So nothing’s going to change outside of production, and the phone calls that Aftermath make that Koch can’t get me in bigger places and stuff like that. But as far as the music, there won’t be a big change. I’ll always sound the way I sound.
ML: But you can expect the same high quality.
JO: Of course.
ML: All right.
JO: Of course, it’s gonna be up there.
ML: When I first heard you, you were killing a bunch of Premier beats. What is your favourite beat to ever freestyle over?
JO: *Laughs* Wow that’s ill. Well, to ever freestyle over! You wanna know something!
JO: My favourite beat to ever freestyle over is a beat that I’ve never got a chance to freestyle over that I’ve always wanted to. It’s the Premier ‘Boom’ with Royce Da 5’9”.
JO: I love that beat. L-O-V-E love that beat and never got a chance to get to it. That’s my word, I’m gonna get to it, I’m gonna destroy that.
ML: Right. We can expect that soon?
JO: You know what? I’m gonna do that beat. You can expect that soon. I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna put that on the Internet.
ML: All right. You heard it here first!
ML: What I usually do with everyone I interview that has an album coming out, I like to run through the track list and you give me any tidbit, any behind the scenes fact, anything about the track. Does that sound cool to you?
JO: It depends on the – you know, I don’t wanna tell the kids what’s under the tree before Christmas, but I will help you along.
ML: All right. We’ll start with 125 part one.
JO: All right. 125 part one is Joell Ortiz vintage. Whoever believes, you know what I’m about to give you: whoever doesn’t believe, *Laughs* listen to this! You know what I’m saying?
ML: All right, all right.
JO: It’s a song bio.
ML: Yeah. So you start smashing.
ML: What about Brooklyn?
JO: Brooklyn’s my neighborhood, everyone loves it when it comes on, it feels good, I got the veteran Big Daddy Kane on it. It makes sense – you don’t have to even live in Brooklyn, it makes you proud of where you’re from, it’s just an ill anthem record.
ML: Caught Up?
JO: The downside to hustling that no-one talks about. When you mention hustling you talk about bricks, you don’t talk about when you lose your stash, when you’re low on money, when your connect won’t pick up, or how you feel when you go upstairs knowing that you just served drugs to someone that… a pregnant female, or someone like that, or your friend’s mother. It’s just the downside to hustling.
ML: All right, well, quick segue – can you talk about the title for the album, The Brick? What led you to go with that?
JO: Well, I had 125 grams, I had originally did eight of them, and eight of them equal 1000 bars, and 1000 grams on the streets is a brick. So that was the original concept. In the end I actually didn’t put all eight on there, because people want to hear records, you know what I mean? I don’t want to brag, but they’re all like five and a half minutes long. So I put a selected few on there that have different feelings to them ’cause what I really wanted to do with those was raise the standard, like the ill 16 has been the 16 and that’s it, you feel me?
JO: But I’m gonna keep you interested for 125 bars. That’s what I wanted to see. But now it’s actually turned into “With a name like The Brick, are you nervous that it may just come true?” *Laughs* But I’m having fun, and Dre’s excited, Koch is excited, me and my team are excited, I think I’m gonna do well and the Bodega Chronicle part is just the simple fact that I’m gonna give you the picture – I’m from the hood; if you haven’t been in front of a corner store then this album will put you there on certain records. You’ll know. You’ll know what we talk about on interviews if you’re not from the gutter.
ML: All right. You see, I wasn’t gonna ask that question; ’cause I know it’s not gonna brick so I didn’t even bother asking that.
JO: *Laughs* That’s good! Thanks!
ML: All right. Well, let’s talk about Keep On Calling.
JO: Keep On Calling is an Akon record, and it’s basically, it’s telling everyone to keep on calling our names. If you’ve been a supporter, keep supporting, if you a hater, keep hating, because both of those energies benefit us, you understand?
JO: Because when you support, it makes us go out there and go hard for dudes like you, you know what I’m saying? If you hate, it makes us even want to make you hate more. Keep on calling our names, because in both ways, it benefits us.
ML: Two Tone Interlude?
JO: *Laughs* Two Tone is just a funny dude. He just comes on and you gotta laugh. I don’t want to explain that, Two Tone’s a funny dude. Shouts to Two Tone.
ML: All right, so you don’t want to spoil it.
JO: Exactly, I don’t really want to – *Laughs* Y’all gotta hear that one yourself.
ML: All right, what about Little Fun?
JO: Basically, when you want to get a deal from the hood, the new money? And they say do the right thing with your money, because too many dudes have blown their money, and things like that. And I took all that into consideration, and thought ah, what the hell! I’m spending some money, I’ma have a little fun anyway! It’s just like, don’t monitor my money, don’t tell me how to spend my money! You wanna call me new money, call it whatever but I never had it before and I want to enjoy some of it.
ML: Yeah. So what good is the money if you’re dead and you have a stack.
JO: You come from the ghetto – personally, I got myself in a nice apartment, off a project, you know.
JO: Certain things you have to do, I didn’t go out there and go on a crazy bender, you know what I mean, but I got myself from A to B and I got myself out of the project.
ML: All right, what about Latino?
JO: Just very proud of who I am so I’m very proud, just happy with my heritage and you know, Latino is so widespread and we’re so vast in the world that I wanted to try to make that anthem and keep it hard, though. So I give you a picture of a kid from the hood and what a Latin, you might see in a Latin community and just how good, how different we are from everyone else.
ML: All right, all right. What about Testing with Sauce Money?
JO: Ah, see, Testing is just rapping. *Laughs* Me and Sauce conversing. You feel me.
ML: All right. I wanted to ask you about that track. Sauce Money, he hasn’t been doing a lot of things as of late – what made you go, “oh, I want to hook up with Sauce Money” because, you know, a lot of these new kids, they haven’t heard about Sauce Money so what made you do that?
JO: Well, I’m a hip hop dude and I always reach out to hip hop dudes and my man Ashley, the Queens dude, Ashley had a record that Sauce was working on and he was like, you know, I think you’d like this guy and I want you to hear this and I was like, dude, this is crazy, I would like to do something with Sauce. So he hooked that up and that was that, but for those who don’t know who Sauce is, Sauce Money was one of the illest lyricists and I don’t forget things like that. I come from that early 90 era and stuff like that so that’s just it.
ML: Night in my P’s, with Big Noyd?
JO: Big Noyd’s just – he’s telling people what goes on in Cooper projects, he’s telling people what you might see in Queensbridge. You know, just a round the way anthem for the Brooklyn and Queens people, but at the same time real hip hoppy so it’s got a real good feel.
ML: All right, all right. What about Brooklyn Bulls…?
JO: *Laughs* Just the way of thinking in Brooklyn. That’s a funny record, I’m actually going to do a video for that one. You know, like, something that, you know, only Brooklyn or mostly Brooklyn people would know, like – let me give you the answer to one line, one of the lines I say, “So what I act for an ace on your cigarette/
On the first and third I’m happy cuz all the fiends get a check/ So what I still go up to the roof to bone/ With a bird from the p’s who gives ruthless dome” The whole record I say “so what” because people will be like, hey, that’s grimy but so what? That’s Brooklyn Bullshit.
ML: Yeah. That’s what goes on! All right, what about BQE?
JO: That’s the Alchemist record, and boy does that have a knock. For so many years, Brooklyn and Queens, we’ve been so close to each other but we’re going to fall apart like the unity, Brooklyn has its own sound, Queens has its own sound, well the BQE connects and I’m the king of that right now. So that’s the message I give out: enough’s enough, Brooklyn and Queens, we’re together now, along the BQE line and I’m going to forefront that.
ML: All right. Any special stories, any favourite moment from the touring so far?
JO: Ah, I had a great, great dinner in DC, a spot of real old soul food like someone’s grandmother was in there, like ridiculous, it was a great place to eat. DC, man, the party was great, so DC is a plus for me. *Laughs*
ML: So how many shows do you expect to do? Five, ten…?
JO: Uh, about a million! *Laughs*
ML: About a million, all right!
JO: Just as many people that want me to come out, I’m gonna try my best to come out. You know as many as Koch can lineup and Aftermath I’m going to so that’s, that’s a – my show, cause I’m gonna go out there and let it hang out, so I’ll be going just for as many shows as I have to.
ML: You don’t mind hitting the stage?
JO: Nah, I love the stage. The stage is my living room! *Laughs*
ML: All right. Who handled – can you talk about who handled the production for this album, just to give everyone a brief overview?
JO: Alchemist. Showbz. Domingo. That’s just a list in itself, so you pretty much know where this album’s going, this is real gutter underground hip hop.
ML: All right, all right. You have a track with Immortal Technique, talk about that track.
JO: Yeah, that’s called Modern Day Slavery. That’s just a conscience record that lets us know that the actual whips and slaves don’t go on right now but we’re still mentally trapped and we still limits on what we can do. I don’t think I should ever have to pay for water. I don’t think I should be walking around with identification card labels – you know, political things that I zone out with and Immortal zones out with and we both have so much of an underground feel that that was an easy record.
ML: How’d you hook up with him?
JO: Like I said, we both bumped heads at BB King’s in the city, SOBs, Shane’s math, We’d always kick now and then, and he’s working on his project. And that was real easy, I just called him and I told him I got this one, it’s ill, moving, and I got together with him early the same week and we just knocked it up.
ML: You know a lot of people have been waiting for a spot, do you know when he’s going to put that out?
JO: Actually putting that together now, I’m actually gonna – he wants me to be on it, so we’re seeing what is up with that and he’s gonna get it down. *Laughs*
ML: Do you know when to look for that, any guess?
JO: I don’t want to shoot it out there, but it should be in the near future.
ML: All right, all right. The one thing – the two things that I always ask people that I interview is what’s the last thing that you bought?
JO: What was the last thing that I bought? I bought a couple of pairs of shorts on the tour yesterday.
ML: All right. That’s what, that’s the kind of answers I’m looking for. Are you a sports fan, and what teams are you a fan of?
JO: I am a sports fan, and there’s so many teams I’m a fan of because I am a sports fanatic! *Laughs* So when you’re talking about basketball I’m a Bull, I’m a Chicago Bull, when you’re talking about baseball I’m a Yank, when you’re talking about football I’m a Jet, when you’re talking about college basketball I’m a Dukie. I’m all over the place. College football I’m a Hurricane. *Laughs*
ML: All right. How’d you become a Bulls fan growing up in New York?
JO: A fellow by the name of No. 23, Michael Jordan! *Laughs* That was really easy, I just loved Mike, and just figured out – you can’t switch teams, that was the rule, so when he left I wanted to leave, but you can’t so…
ML: Yeah. And you know, you don’t want to be catching heat from your friends, Oh, you want to be a Knicks fan now…
JO: Exactly, I’ll never be a bandwagoner so that’s it. I’m a Bull, Ben Gordon, let’s go!
I was upset when Jay Williams got injured, ’cause he was a Dukie and gonna be a Bull both my squard.
ML: All right, how many times you watch SportCenter?
JO: I watch SportCenter probably seven times in a row, I don’t know what I think I’m gonna miss. *Laughs* I just keep it rolling, I don’t know why I do that, maybe it’s because I wanna see the top plays ninety times. I just let it roll.
ML: Yeah, yeah. You know, I feel like something’s missing if I don’t see the top plays.
JO: Every time I look at it I look for something different! *Laughs*
JO: I love sports, man.
ML: Do you go Knicks games sometimes?
JO: Ah, nah, I tend to go once in a while… baseball game before the garden, I’m not really, I don’t know. I like to sit at baseball games, I watch basketball games.
ML: You think the Yankees have a good shot this year?
JO: We’ll see what happens, man. The other day Mariano disappointed me. I don’t know, we’ll see what happens, man. I like – you know, those Mets are gonna be crazy, though.
ML: Yeah, that’s true. You don’t sound so confident about the Yankees this year, do you?
JO: I don’t know, man, I don’t know, man. I just have a gut feeling, like, not this year.
ML: The other thing I wanted to ask you – what are some of your favourite spots, outside your house, that Joell Ortiz likes to go chill in New York?
JO: Um, let me see. I like loungey spots, like in the north side of Brooklyn, there’s this bar called Taku Taku, that’s cool. You know, we go get a bite, have a drink and bug out and do karaoke! *Laughs*
JO: I like that. I’m not a big, big club guy, clubs that have too much going on – I like to see what’s going on, but I like bars and lounges and nice little eat spots.
ML: All right, all right. That’s a very good answer. So if you go to one of these spots you might see Joell Ortiz some day, karaoke!
JO: Yeah! When I go to karaoke I never sing rap. It’s always rock or some soul or R&B, so don’t be asking me bug out.
ML: All right. So let me ask you, this’ll be the last question – what is one of your favourite tracks to karaoke to?
JO: Um… Carl Thomas, Summer Rain. *Laughs*
ML: I’d pay money to see that.
JO: I like bugging out with that one.
ML: I’d pay money to see that.
ML: You should add that to your live show, you know, we’re gonna push it up a little bit, I’m gonna cover a Carl Thomas song.
JO: That would be classic, wouldn’t it!
ML: Yeah! All right, man, I really appreciate your time, can’t wait to hear the album next week, good luck with everything, I think this year’s gonna be monstrous.
JO: Yeah, you know what, I’m working hard so thanks for interviewing me and taking time, man.
ML: All right man, have a good one.
JO: You too.
Joell Freestyling somethin crazy:
Watch The Video for Brooklyn Bullshit: