Robbie from Unkut.com talked to Joell earlier this year. The interview is reprinted below.
Check the original post for some rare Joell songs.
Robbie: You recently got an XXL cover. That’s a good look, man.
Joell Ortiz: Yep, I’m hyped about that – even though they’ve got me looking like I’m a million pounds, and I’m really not! Shit, it’s all good. That’s my first cover.
I heard that new song you did with Smif ‘N Wessun. Are you doing many features right now?
Actually man, I remember when we first did that shit, that shit was sounding real fun, but when I heard the finished product with Rock’s vocals I was like “Wow!” ‘Cos I didn’t hear it with Rock’s vocals on it, so when Rock had did the chorus I was like “Oh, that shit’s crazy!” I don’t really do too many features, but Smif ‘N Wessun are dudes I listened to growing up, so I got up with them. That was really dope.
You were in LA a couple of weeks ago working with Dre, right?
Yeah, I’m just working on the Aftermath record. I was working with a couple of different producers, it wasn’t just Dre. I was also working with this R&B female who’s signed over there. I’m always recording, brother, whether I’m in LA or New York. Whenever I go somewhere I’m trying to record and get recognized. That’s how I move.
Did you roll to the VMA’s with Dre for his appearance?
Nah, I don’t really do too many of those kinda things. Until the time is right, I don’t wanna be a spectator. I wanna be up there trying to hold something up myself. I don’t feel that’s my place yet – my place is the studio, so that’s where I pretty much live.
I also wanted to talk to you about some of your earlier work when you went by Jo-Ell Quikman. How did the 2001 Rawkus single come about?
That was my boy Mike Heron, who’s my manager now. He had a gig up at Rawkus and he had just got wind of the record. He was working with this dude V.I.C.– they was called Ghetto Pros – and I did a record with V.I.C. and he was like “Yo, this one here is a pretty good. I’mma pitch it to Rawkus”, and they bit and we put that out. We got a pretty good response from that. It was a one record deal, and after that me and Mike hit the studio hard, and that’s where we sit today.
There was also the “Street Knowledge” single on Hydra in 2004.
Wow, you know about all those early records, huh? [laughs] Yeah man, that was a classic. That’s vintage Joell, man. On those records I was going by “Quikman”. After those records I got some good feedback and some responses, I realized that I had to become Joell Ortiz, because my situation in life started becoming real and I started seeing things clearly, and I just wanted to go by my government name to let people know that I’m a real person, man.
Wasn’t “Humble” meant to be on Hydra as well?
I just did that to talk shit on a record. Just to fuckin’ rhyme over a hard beat. My boy MoSS is putting that out. It’s crazy that you mentioned that. You’re doing you’re homework somehow – you’re secretly finding things out, huh Rob? [laughs]
Mike said that you’ve “got the Purto Rican community in a fuckin’ headlock”. How important is that to you?
[laughing] Yeah man, I’ve got ‘em goin’ crazy! Since [Big] Pun, outside of Fat Joe, there’s really been no Latin icon in the hip-hop community. They’re just embracing me with open arms right now, ‘cos I’m running around just having a ball, and letting people know that Spanish dudes do hip-hop too. Don’t say “Yo, he’s nice for a Spanish rapper” – just be like “He’s nice!”
Have you got any comment on the T-Ray / Mike Heron situation?
T-Ray thinks he knows me somehow. I was like twelve when I was brought around to him. He doesn’t know Joell Ortiz, he doesn’t know Joell Ortiz. He’s only met a little kid that was 13, trying to rhyme.
I remember there was an internet contest to make a beat for you a while back. Was that for the old mixtape?
No, it actually was for this album, and we ended-up working with some of the winners. Frank Dukes had sent in some beats – I believe he’s from Sweden. Dude’s were sending in some heat. It was real hard to pick from, but we narrowed it down and we picked a few. We got some good stuff outta that one.
“125 Grams Part 5″ killed it. How many parts are there going to be?
Aww man, I did eight of those! I put a few of them on the album, a few of them are gonna leak during the album – I’m just gonna be sending them out to raise the standards and let people know that sixteen bars just isn’t gonna cut it anymore [chuckles].
You got Big Daddy Kane on the “Brooklyn” remix. Was he your favorite Juice Crew member growing up?
I’m early nineties – you feel me? I’m Big L, RIP Big Pun, early Nas, Raekwon Purple Tape, Smif ‘N Wessun. That’s the era I come from. I would be lying if I didn’t say that my favorite rapper is Jay-Z.
It’s good to hear that some real lyrics coming back after all these “Speak and Spell” MC’s.
[laughing] I understand, brother. I’m a fan first – then I’m a rapper. I’m a fan with a deal, I haven’t been excited in a long time, so I’m not gonna disappoint anyone with this album. If you wanna know what you’re gonna get on this album, it’s hard beats and emceeing – that’s just about it. If you wanna press the rewind button again, if you wanna say “Ohh” and “Ahh, did you hear what he say?” then this is the album for you.
Why do you think record sales are down right now? Is it because of so many weak albums, or something else?
Two things work in this game – you either follow suit, or you don’t. Both of them will work, you can’t coast in the middle. You can’t be like “Well I’m underground but I gotta give ‘em a commercial one” – it’s not gonna work that way. You feel me? You’ve either gotta be all the way commercial, and doin’ what they doin’, running around in videos and all this stuff, or you’re just gonna like “I don’t do that” and then you’re gonna have all the people that be like “Exactly! I agree”. That’s what I do. I just rap. I don’t target the club, I don’t target the radio – I just target the beat. My job is to rip them to the best of my ability, so that the joints you hear from me on the radio or in the clubs are loved by the DJ’s – they’re fans. They’re not directed at anyone.
Damn, so no token Dirty South songs huh?
Ha ha! Nah, man. No knock to the South, but that’s just not my thing. I’m a New Yorker, I came up on New York rap. That’s just how I do it.
Did you do much battling coming up?
I really only did one battle. I did NBA Live, an EA Sport battle, which I won throughout the US. That’s how I landed a song on NBA Live 2005 (”Mean Business”). But I never really did the battling thing, outside of my block. You’ll always have some ciphers on your block where you gotta be like “I’m the man on my block! Don’t forget that!” but I was much more of a recording person, trying to do my songs.
Air Max or Air Force Ones?
It depends on the situation, man. Yesterday I had Hush Puppies on! I mix it up real crazy sometimes, I ain’t one sneakered out.
“Brooklyn Bullshit” was my favorite cut off the album. That must’ve been great to work with Show.
Yeah man, when Show came through the studio he actually came through like “Yo man, I got a couple of beats I want you to hear. I know where you’re trying to go with this.” He played a couple, then when he got to “Brooklyn Bullshit” I was like “Hold up! This beat right here…that shit just brings something out of me.” I just wrote the record right there. I wanted to make it hood, but funny and catchy at the same time. I’m probably gonna be working with Show in the future, on some new shit.
Nice. What is it about Brooklyn cats that makes you guys stand out?
You know what it is, man? The competitive nature, that’s just different in itself. Not just music, you understand? I could just be standing in a store and be like “Oh, dude tries to crush his outfit? Man, he can’t dress better than me. What is this guy? Crazy?” We’re competitive down to the littlest things. “Oh, that’s the potato chips that dudes is eating now? Them shit’s is corny, man” [laughs] We’re just competitive about the littlest shit, so with music we over-critique ourselves. I guess that’s why sometimes the product sounds the way it sounds, or may come across the way it comes across, ‘cos we’re so hard on ourselves out here in Brooklyn.