“Joell Ortiz Interview”

 |  April 13, 2007

By Kevin L. Clark


      Joell Ortiz is not a stage rapper. He doesn’t have a catchy nickname manufactured from the T.I.’s of the music industry. He doesn’t have an entourage or diva-like tendencies. All the kid from Brooklyn needs is a hot beat and a microphone to set on fire. The Bodega Bully is a throwback to an era when New York just needed a few simple things to turn the world on its ear.


      With those days seemingly replaced by cookie-cutter rappers, Mr. 125 (Grams, that is…) is set to drop one T.R.O.Y. of an album on your with the Koch distributed joint, “The Brick (Bodega Chronicles).” The rapper has overcome adversity to become one of the most buzzworthy artists to come out of the Tri-State. After signing a deal with the Quincy Jones of Hip-Hop, Dr. Dre, Ortiz is looking to pick up the torch that was put on hold when Big Pun passed.


      Comparisons aside, Joell is a man’s man. To be respected as such is a rarity in the world of hip-hop, but Ortiz is looking to change things for the better. He sits down with CrackSpace as he talks about his comparisons with the late Bronx MC, explains why New York never jetted and explains why his mother is his biggest inspiration.


HHC: A lot of heads regard you as an ill emcee, but I know Pun was one of your heaviest influences. What about his style is mirrored with yours?


JO: The one thing that I can say we both bring to the table is that real element to a track. If you had never met us, but heard us on a track, you would believe our stories. If you see how we address the streets and rap on the beat is beastly. You can tell that we’re not fronting. I mix up the way I spit my flows. The comparisons also come because I’m Spanish, but I have to enjoy that comparison, he’s a legend. So, with that, I’ll just have to take it in stride.


HHC: How’d you come up with the 125 Grams series?


JO: What happened was I got tired of people getting mean 16’s from me. So, I was utilizing the Internet early on in my career, so I felt like I had to raise the standard. I started to spitting this track and I counted the bars and it came out to 125. My dude, Mike Heron, told me to put that together and throw some songs around it and call it, “The Brick.” What was interesting was that we were talking to Koch Records before we spoke with Dr. Dre at Aftermath. He was really feeling me at the time. They flew me out there, ASAP! A few days later, we had a dinner meeting with Aftermath’s staff. I met Dre in the studio. He heard the record and liked it. He brought me out there because he wanted to make sure that I wasn’t a knucklehead. I told him that I just like rapping over beats. The only thing people were going to say about me is that I’m a problem… on these records! Dude, you have to think about it… for ten years of grinding, it only took a ten minute meeting to change my life. He gave me a blessing by letting me drop the album on Koch. I made promises to the people over there, so it was cool. I sent him out the album. He called me and let me do it. Everyone at Interscope didn’t know what was going on at the time. I was bugging when I heard that Dre was on the phone for me. He said the album was crazy and told me to get my money.


HHC: I was reading in a bio about you and you said that your eyes “speak poverty.” Do you think Hip-Hop, Incorporated will ever get a hold of the real Joell Ortiz?


JO: I’m pretty sure it would… but not Dre. He’s really into letting you be you. He’s a hip-hop pioneer, of course, but a fan first. He hasn’t changed anyone in his entire career. He takes the craft that you do and puts it on a wider stage. He lets you do you. When you heard Eminem first out, he’s still the same dude, today. 50 Cent was a beast on the mix tape circuit and became a beast under the Aftermath label, too. He doesn’t change you. He just puts you out there. I know there will be bigger things, like a bigger budget, but I cannot lose touch. I can’t because I don’t know how to. I’ve been in the gutter, dude, for twenty years and some change. This is what I live. I will never change what I talk about.


HHC: I mean, it’s a rule of thumb that once you start doing well, you got to live the part. B.I.G. was the perfect example of doing that with some semblance of balance. How do you think you can tip-toe the fine line between being street respected and a viable commercial artist?


JO: It all goes back to not fixing what’s not broke. You got to dance on that line. Me being from the underground, I saw the dudes who have the potential. But the audience isn’t always as smart as they are. Sometimes you have to spoon-feed people. Let’s be real, there’s not <i>that</i> much to talk about. Everyone says the same thing in a different way. We can all say that we’ve sold crack… but that’s not vivid. I paint vivid pictures. Like talking about how bad I felt to sell crack to this woman while holding a baby. Think about B.I.G. Rest in peace… he was the best one to leave gutter joints over the pop tracks. No one ever said that B.I.G. sold out. That’s the angle that I plan on following.


HHC: After Dre signed you to a deal, what was the first thing that you did?


JO: I called my moms and told her that Dr. Dre was going to sign me. She was ecstatic. I mean you have to know my back story… my pops jetted when I was young and my mom was on drugs when she was younger. Now, she’s off the stuff… I remember telling her that this music was going to pop. From that point on, we’ve counted the days together that she’s been clean. So, when I got the deal, she was the first one that I thought about.


HHC: Dre is truly a decision-maker, but his last few acquisitions – namely Rakim – fell through. Do you think Dre can put out this effort with no hassles?


JO: I’ll be fine. I have a great work ethic. I love what I do. We already kicked it and he’s [Dre] excited. I like making words rhyme. I don’t try to over think it, I just stick to what I do. I’m going to do it every chance I get. Dude will respect that. The whole Latin thing is huge, so I represent that, too. The things that I do on April 24th with Koch will make this Aftermath thing even sweeter. I’m moving in such a positive way that there’s no way that I won’t be heard. It’s not even sales that I’m going for. At the end of the day, all I want is your respect.


HHC: New York rap, in the opinions of others, is failing… I don’t really see that when you have artists like yourself, Papoose and Saigon trying to do something for all the boroughs. Is your album an affirmation of New York being “back”? Or do you want to make a totally different statement altogether?


JO: My album is not bringing New York back… it never jetted to me. We just stopped making the records that worked for us. A lot of up and coming artists started aiming and directed their songs to certain audiences. Songs shouldn’t have a direction. The beat tells you what to do and you just lay the vocals. Producers try to tell me what type of beat I want. But there is no club joint, there is no song for the ladies, there are no joints that get in the club. I’m going to bring that feeling back, though. That feeling that people need in their life. We just shied away from what works with us. The DJs didn’t help, either, no knock on them, but you can’t say you’re bringing New York back and then play a Southern song. No hate to the South, either, that shit with them was long overdue. New York never left, they just left the feeling at home. Come to the studio with real producers. That’s what you’re going to get with “The Bricks” when it drops on the 24th. I love hip-hop. I love the culture. The money will come, so right now, I’m just happy with the respect.


HHC: You scored 1400 on your SATs… why didn’t you go the academic route?


JO: My moms was running around and getting high at any early age. So, I didn’t want to do me and then get a phone call with some drama. I was writing in the midst of all this, developing a passion, so it was a beautiful thing. I was putting my experiences on paper and I elected to stay home on


HHC: Do you think that too many people turn to the streets to try and find a way out or does it boil down to whatever works for whoever, just as long as it works?


JO:A lot of people turn to the streets. It’s easy. You don’t need an application, you don’t need any qualifications. You can get a pack from anywhere. You’re easily accepted in the streets. You don’t even have to finish your sentence. You go in the store and you’re on. Real life is hard to find your way in, so when you’re in, it’s hard to get up. I’m living proof that hard work reaps the benefits. Joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain. I’m glad I got out and got into music. I know how to hustle anyway, so I’m going to be in this business and make sure that people hear my story. When the lights go up, I want to be here. I don’t have a stage name because I’m not a stage guy. I’m just like you, Kev. With my albums, you’re going to hear the guy that you chop it up on the block with. I’m nothing without my fans. I got love for y’all.


HHC: You said that you’ve taken the long way to become successful. Through your journey what’s the one pivotal thing that you’ve learned that you’ll never forget?


JO: One thing I learned is that you have to do everything. On the path to reaching your goal, you cannot pick and choose what you do. You have to do everything. Because in life, you’re no one until you’re someone. You do everything! Drops on mix tapes, stand in front of radio stations – I’ve done that. I’ve done press, I’ve handed out CDs in the middle of the Winter. Until you get on that stage and that light hits you, you’re just a fan with some dreams. You have to get into this game 100% and love it. It’s hard to do that, sometimes, because you don’t see the benefits off rip. But believe me… once you see them, you’ll be happy!


HHC: One of the most poignant things that I read about was with your mother. How did her quitting drugs cold turkey inspire you within your personal aspirations?


JO: It was great, man. We counted the days together. When the time got to a year… we cut a cake and all that! It was crazy. You know, it could have gone the other way. It could’ve gone the other route. You know you take that sigh of relief. That definitely leaked into my pen. It let me know to let y’all know that we’re all one bad decision away from a different lifestyle. That could be it and you’ll never see again. It’s scary, dude. I’m at one with myself. I know my purpose. It’s to break down that wall of Latin rappers to go from that to having people say that that dude is nice. I have a job to do and I’m here to bring the feeling back. My moms… that was ill, that’s one of the hardest things to kick. Drugs become physical; my mom kicked that with no doctors, no nothing. She kicked that for me. So, now… when I’m on these beats, I kick that shit for her.

  • http://www.ihiphop.com/homemg Preview

    The nigga rips shows down.

  • http://www.ihiphop.com/cebcombs Don_Mega_G

    Ive been following JO for a minute now, Im GLAD he’s finally reaping what he sowed. Time to EAT now.

  • http://www.ihiphop.com/ob1thefool28 ob1thefool