The B-Sides: Bishop Lamont Interview

Q: What was it like for you growing up in Los Angeles during the 80s?

A: It was the LA of the Reagan administration. Drugs were really heavy in the streets at that time…more crack addicts…crack babies. It was a good time simultaneously because there was more creativity within the music and it showed. You had

Beat Street
, Krush Groove, Wild Style, there was more rebellion and risk-taking and the music was great. Life wasn’t always great but I’m here and I’m happy and it’s a better time for me now.

Q: Did you grow up with brothers and sisters? Was your dad around?

A: I grew up with my brother Mike and my mom. That’s all we had when my father left. So that’s what it was then and that’s what it is now.

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Q: Did you go to Carson High?

A: For a little while, but I was rarely ever there.

Q: What about Sports?

A: Not really, we’d play football in the streets, but I was mainly into the music… freestyling, that type of stuff, I was also into martial arts, grappling, crazy Capoeira , to stay out of trouble.

Q: Did you ever go the gang route?

A: Not really, I was always into the visual thing. I’m an idiot, so I partied with anybody, whatever local bloods I was down with, or whenever I’d go somewhere else, there was always just me. I do me, they do them. I loved to drink at that time, being 13 and 14 and I’d get fucked up on the blocks and they’d do what they do. Y’know they’d sell and they’d do their drive bys but my thing was to give them positive energy to keep them away from having to do that.

The most stone cold gang bangers in the hood were the ones that played Wu-Tang for me for the first time. You’d never expect that. They’d be like, ‘I listen to Wu-Tang cuz…I was like ‘Wu-Tang…What’s Wu Tang?’ And I remember looking at the cover and being like, ‘Yeah Right.’ I used to pass it all the time in stores, like ‘What’s this ‘Mystery of Chessboxin’ shit.’ But it all tied in. It’s always been positive and negative. Even out of the negative there was positives. The music and my mentality reflects that.

Q: Did The Chronic and Doggystyle play a heavy role in shaping your musical tastes and sensibilities?

A: Of course. But it wasn’t just that. I grew up in a household where my mom played Al Green, Luther Vandross, Con Funk Shun, Marvin Gaye, Parliament, Earth Wind & Fire, Creedence. My father would play a lot of Hendrix, so really, I got a variety of everything—as well as jazz like Coltrane and Theloniu. My fondest memories are hearing Jackson 5 and Gladys Knight and the Pips. My crazy ADD self latched onto all that. I don’t listen to much new stuff, unless it’s by SlumVillage or something out of the D or some real hip hop shit like Immortal Technique. I find most of it boring.

As for Chronic and Doggystyle, we’d never heard music like that before. Everything they were saying on these records really hit home because they were talking about things we were doing and living and the culture and day-to-day experience in LA. The Riots had just popped off and here we were, hearing the soundtrack of what we were going through. It had more of an impact than anything today because everything today has nothing to do with the art. You can’t party every day, you can’t be happy every day. You don’t know everything that’s going on. You can’t buy a Bentley off a stimulus check. Where are you getting this money from? This isn’t working, the music doesn’t reflect what’s going on in life.

But I’m rambling…the point is that the music felt real to us. The whole gang bang culture got to an extreme in the early 90s and that includes the period where there was the truce before it got broke up by the police and other factions [mumbles into the mic, “Fuck the police”… smiling) It was a great time for music and then corporate got involved, the music stopped having the same purpose. When you listen to The Chronic you have balance, a “Lil Ghetto Boy,” records that dealt with life on the street, it wasn’t just all, ‘Kill kill kill…sell drugs.” It wasn’t about that, that was the difference.

Q: That’s why I liked “Grow Up,” it was a really reflective and poignant song, especially when it’s so tempting to have tried to make a club banger to score radio play?

A: Yeah, I could’ve done some club shit but it would’ve been corny.

Q: How did you get started rapping in the first place?

A: I started rapping from doing art. I was drawing and wanted to eventually work for Disney or Marvel or Image. It transferred to poetry. I loved Poe and Frost and Nikki Giovanni. The music took over, and what I couldn’t do with my pastels, I could do with writing rhymes. I was young and listening to Run Dmc, Mc Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, then Daz and Kurupt. When I heard “New YorkNew York,” it made me want to go harder. Then I got into Canibus, the Fugees, Organized Konfusion. The first thing though was Too short and NWA…hearing them cuss and make people squirm and the expression…it was that aggressive expression…it was disrespectful but they believed in what they were doing and it made me want to rhyme.

Q: When did you start to think this was something you wanted to pursue professionally?

A: I don’t know, I never looked at it that way, it was just something I did. Even when I signed, I didn’t take it that seriously at first. It comes in phases, growing up you hear the stories, you work the underground, you book your own shows, press your CD’s, your fliers, then you get a deal. You know those are the phases but you love what you’re doing so you do it. I never took it seriously beyond it got the ghost out of my skull and kept me stress free. It took my insanity and allowed me to make some sense from it. After I got singed, and people started reacting to the music and it got love from fans, I started to take it seriously.

Q: How did you go about getting signed?

A; We went to every label…it’s such a long story. We were pressing up vinyl, getting records on the radio. I did a record with Scott Storch before I had a deal. I worked at hole in the wall studios, interning for free studio time. I went as far as being a production assistant, stuntman, and stunt coordinator on music videos. I worked as a driver….there was a lot of sacrifice and meeting connections and getting doors slammed in your face. That’s how I ended up at MCA doing street team. I was hustling, you go the ways you go, to the point where I was in New York homeless and trying to shop a deal, going through a bidding war. There’s a lot people haven’t seen and don’t know and think I met with Dre overnight. That in and of itself was a task in securing the deal and making it right.

Q: It would seem like getting a deal is just the beginning, especially with labels so reluctant to actually release albums these days?

A; There’s so much work required of you just to be in position to have the opportunity to get a deal, then when you get the deal there’s even more work. Everything you did prior is eclipsed by how much more you have to go to actually achieve.

Q: I read somewhere on the Internet that you got a deal after Dre heard you rhyming on the radio?

A: Not at all…my boy Floyd had got my first mixtape, Who I Gotta’ Kill To Get a Record Deal and he’s really tight with Common. I’ve always been a big Common fan, so he played it for common and he dug it and then they played it for Ye and they both dug it. He said, ‘you should try to get at Kanye and make something pop off,’ so my boy Adam Blessings called me about Game doing the video for “Dreams” and how Kanye was supposed to be there. So me and Glasses Malone break onto the video set, steal a security cart, run from security, hide on-set, eat up all the craft services, wait around for five or six hours and Kanye never shows up. But who comes out the trailer? Dr. Dre.

That’s where it begins. My boy Delaney, who manages Game had given him my demo and there were some girls down there who I was trying to impress; I’d already told them that I was 50 Cent’s little brother, 40 Cent, So I saw and told Delaney, ‘I’ve never asked you for anything but can you introduce me to Dre? Just so I can get a story out of it.’ So he introduces me to Dre and Delaney put so much on it, he was telling him I was the next big thing out of the West Coast. I was like, ‘Damn, I was just trying to talk to him,’ Meanwhile, Dre looks at me like I’m two foot tall and he’s like, ‘you got some hot shit,’ I was like, ‘I, think it’s dope. I’m not putting all that on it but I can get down.’ He says he’s going home to his wifey and I’ll play it in the car right now,’ I’m like ‘Yeah right, you’re going to throw it out the window.’ Two weeks later, he’s on Power 106 on his birthday saying he wants to meet me and that he’s been playing my stuff for a while. And that’s how it started.

Q: Dre said you and Eminem are the only people to people to ever make him feel uncomfortable. How did that make you feel and what do you think he meant by that?

A: I was honored. This is the dude who made ‘Fuck the Police,’ what’s going to bother him? Eminem rapes people’s mothers, 50 kills a million people on record, what I supposed to do?

Q: Incite a holocaust against the gypsies?

A: [Laughing]. I tell the truth y’know….I like being ignorant and I’m ADD. All I do is watch South Park and Family Guy and I’ll say stuff and he’ll be like ‘I don’t know about that,’ but that’s how I feel, am I supposed to be PC about it? That’s just cornball. There’s got to be a balance and saying what I feel might not be the truth for everyone, but if that’s your truth, you’ve got to say it, and you’ve got to know that you’ll say things that not everyone is going to agree with. It’s about what you’re in for it… are you in it to say the truth and inspire people or are you in it to get a check? If you are, that’s cool, just say that and be up front about it. It’s when people say otherwise, and try to give people a false lifestyle that it isn’t valid.

Q: What are your thoughts on the decline of the music industry?

A: I love it because out of the chaos will come a new order and people will be forced to work harder and step their game up. You’ll need to be complete artists because the time when people would go multi-platinum is through. Shit, it’s a big success when people go gold. It’s gotten so bad that labels are buying the records for the artists to make sales look good.

People really have to start speaking…its not about just downloads, it’s about having a purpose to make people want to go out and support the artists. People aren’t excited and stimulated by the music today because it’s not relevant to their lives in any way. You might hear a song passing you by on the sidewalk and you’re like, that’s cool, but you’re not going to go and get it. Or if you’re at a party, you might not really like a song, but the bitches like it, so you’re cool, but it’s not something you can take to heart and relate to, When 2pac did things, you could relate to it on one of many levels, he didn’t have to be the illest lyricist or always be in pocket, but the melody and the spirit and the words and his convictions made it so you could be happy coming home from a wedding and then you’d hear a Pac song and suddenly want to fight. Or you could have a bad day and hear “So many Tearz,” and you’d feel better. Everything had a place in the human condition music today doesn’t. Everything’s a ring tone…’Marco polo, Marco Polo.’

Q: I wouldn’t even care if they made fun, catchy ring tones, provided they actually had a modicum of talent on the mic.

A: It’s true and they’ve got this thing called swagger, which is a term a wack dude invented. Swagger is a shield to protect wack people…’Oh, he can’t really rap, but he’s got swagger.’ What is that? He doesn’t have a good stage show, but he’s got so much swagger. Back in the day, you were either dope or you were wack, there was no swagger to get away with. Cam’ron can say a bunch of non-sense but it’s the way he’s saying it, so he’s got swagger. Lil Wayne doesn’t have to say anything, but oh, it’s that he’s got swagger, or it’s the way he pronounces his words. C’mon dude…cut that out, swagger’s a great word but people took it too far.

Q: What do you think about everyone trying to jock Big and Jay by never writing down any of their lyrics?

A: People are like, ‘well, if they did it, I can do it.’ What’s irritating is how people brag about that shit. I’m like, ‘yo, you need to start writing lyrics down, so you can look at your shoddy craftsmanship.’

Q: Alright, so let’s talk Detox. Rumor has it you’re supposed to be the Snoop on the project or so your Wikipedia would have me believe. Then again, it also says you’re supposed to be the new Hittman, which might not be the ideal scenario for you.

A: That’s wikipedia for you. Bless y’all for giving me a Wikipedia page, I’ve never talked to the guys who made it, but God bless them. Hell, I didn’t even know I had a Wikipedia page. As for Detox, it’s been a long arduous task. It’s the unicorn of albums, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, at times you feel like you’re in a lake trying to catch the loch ness. I’ve got pictures of his fins, he’s come up from the water a couple times… What can I say really? We got a lot of records, Dre isn’t satisfied with what he has and the direction. His thing is, where do I fit into the scheme of things. He’s 43 now, going to be 44 and it’s been eight or nine years waiting. It’s like waiting on another Guns N’ Roses album, Snoop is on the record. I’d love to be like Hittman, he was on more records than anyone else on Chronic 2001. My position in it is more on the writing side and getting my features. For me, my story doesn’t come from Detox, it comes from the Reformation. I’m on the basketball team doing what I gotta’ do. As far as the album goes, its been a serious difficult. The more time passes, the higher expectations get, his gears shift to a higher degree. It’s almost self-defeating. He likes a record one day, he doesn’t the next. He wants to change his vocals, his words, the whole beat. Will it happen this year? I don’t think so.

Q: If it does see the light of day who can we expect to see on it?

A: Of course, the Doc. Focus, Nas…I can’t really say all the features, they want to keep that quiet…Kahlil from self scientific, a kid named Kobe who’s dope. Melman and Hittman came back, Slim the Mobsta, Earl Hayes, Eminem. Dre, Em and 50 recently went to Florida to work on their records and Em and 50 came back with records for their own albums but nothing for Detox. People are still waiting like its going to a 4th Quarter release but it’s nowhere near finished.

Q: Is it difficult to stay focused, having to work simultaneously on Detox and making sure your own album comes out the way you’d like?

A: I don’t think there’s any artist who can relate to my plight, writing a billion records for Dre and me. Imagine the burnout of trying to write the illest stuff you can write and brainstorm on relevant concepts, running back and forth from back studio to front studio, it’s been crazy. I’ve been working on The Reformation since I was born—literally, I’ve been working on it for three years and it can become a burnout. I always look ahead; I’ve even done records for my second album The Impossible Possible.

Q: What about all those mixtapes?

A: The mixtapes…those are the street album. I’m like, ‘we gotta’ put stuff out, I can’t starve the people and make people lose faith in me as a new artist and Dre as a seasoned veteran. We’ve got to put music out and feed the masses on whatever level, to keep the movement correct and the momentum going. I don’t want the fans to be disappointed, we’re bringing stuff that’s going to give the west coast and hip hop a resurgence. There’s lyricism and just banging beats and that’s really the thing for me…just creating music. Every time I create though something gets pushed off the album and the release date gets pushed back,

Q: What’s the deal with the release date? I thought the album was supposed to come out six months ago.

A: There was a date and now everything gets pushed back when you deal with Interscope and the corporate entity. It goes so far beyond just the music…shit’s just fucked up. They’re not in it for the music, they’re in it for the commerce. The commerce screws them up so badly because they’ve lost sight of how great Interscope used to be. Now the music’s suffering, our franchise is suffering and after a while, people stop looking to you and your system to herald in the next movement.

I’m sitting here at the crossroads, thinking how are we going to do this. It’s not only how are we going to motivate ourselves and others, but how are we going to motivate Dre. It’s a crazy time over at Aftermath and with the tragic passing of his son, it put it on a whole other level. There are many elements factoring in, the obvious life situations, a corporation that doesn’t care about great new music coming out or great artists breaking, but that’s a whole other story altogether.

Q: The West Coast has been pretty stale musically for much of the decade.

A: Well, you have the same old cats putting out corny shit, trying to sound young instead of staying in their lane. When I do interviews I tell cats, don’t blame me, don’t get me mad at me, blame Interscope. Blame them cats. I’ve been giving you the best free downloads with great producers…pushing the movement , but at some point it only goes so far when you’re up against the corporate structure.

Q: My favorite of your tapes was the Caltroit collabo with Black Milk. How did you two hook up in the first place?

A: Me and black met in New York actually. At the time, Black milk and RJ were BR Gunna and I was down at a SlumVillage shoot and me and Hex hit it off, so all of us stayed in contact. When Proof passed, that was the first time I came to the D and then after the funeral, all of us were obviously upset and said, ‘lets just get fucked up and make music.’ Hex kept saying, ‘you and Black should do an album.’ At first, I was like ‘ah, you crazy,’ but he was right. So now we’re going to do Caltroit Metropolis Part II. Which is even more stupid.

Q: Let’s talk about “Grow Up,” your first single…you’ve been getting a lot of play on Power 106 lately.

A: Was…until Interscope put a stop to it and we’ll leave it at this: they said it would be a distraction from Detox, there’s been a cease and desist put out to stop the record, a record that was tested by researchers as a number one hit record, I appreciate the fans supporting it…that was the official first single but there goes the label BS. You’d think they’d have wanted to at least do a video to promote it, but no…nothing. Have you ever hear of a label threatening to sue the radio station not to play a hit record?

Q: Are there any broader themes or concepts on The Reformation that you’re trying to get across?

A: I want the album to be more personality and more story driven. Those are the elements I find lacked from albums today. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I want it to be a cross between All Eyez on Me and Life After Death, with some elements from Ready to Die and Illmatic. I want it to be in-depth and spiritual but not at the expense of having a good time. I want to make feel good music that surprises people, stuff that’s unorthodox. You can’t be comfortable as an artist and make stuff that dumbs it down. I don’t want and won’t do that. Not saying you have to be super lyrical on every record… people know I can rhyme, so I’m trying to stay focused on conveying my story and message.

Q: What about the record’s producers?

A: What have you heard. They’ve all cut records. Start naming.

Q: Ok, Primo? Pete Rock?

A: Yup, they’re both on there. I wanted to go to all the people I admired and looked up to: DJ Quik, Battlecat, Dilla, Hi-Tek, Lord Finesse, Dre, Focus, Kahlil, Denaun Porter. So many people. I’m still waiting for a Black Milk record…so I’m gonna’ put that on the record. 9th wonder made a beat for me too. It’s to the point where cutting gets so difficult. You can only put so many records on the album and you always want. It’s not about just names though, it’s about what makes sense, what fits. You don’t see Primo doing that much lately, nor Pete Rock, not many young cats are fully up on those dudes in this corny day and age. Hell, I’m trying to get beats from Clark Kent, Buckwild, King Carnage…there’s so many dope cats I want to work with.

Q: Ever since the concept of the underground really kicked in during the late 90s, you’ve seen guys typically stick to arbitrary divisions with major label dudes ignoring the underground and underground guys kicking sour grapes whines about major label bullshit. Why do you think this is?

A: I think they believe the hype and they see another world that they think is more important. All going mainstream means is that it’s a bigger projection for your sound and a bigger system to put out what you’re doing from the underground. For me, underground is my essence; I just want to project it onto a bigger landscape on Aftermath. But really, I’m the same dude that used to wear fisherman hats and overalls. Dudes want to run from that but I believe in standing by what got you there, that’s why I do stuff with Dilated. I’m on Babu’s new album and people seem surprised by that. They’re like, ‘Why don’t you just hang out with 50 and Eminem.’ That’s just the corniest outlook. When I walk into certain underground hip hop spots, people look at me like I’m not supposed to be there, I’m like ‘why?

Q: I heard you were trying to get Coldplay on your record.

A: I was going to try to get Chris Martin because I love Coldplay but then he did a record with Jay and then Kanye and I’ve never been a dude to follow trends. I need to not speak on my ideas in interviews because other cats will have the same ideas or steal them, We got some magic in the works though. I’d love to work with Fiona Apple or Bjork. Right now, Coldplay thing just isn’t exciting to me.

Q: There’s also rumors that you’re doing a SouthPark themed mixtape?

A: It’s a mixtape with my boy In-def, who was on Caltroit and N*igger Noize. We’re like Meth and Red, we wanted to do something ignorant and I was inspired by Team America. So we’re spoofing the songs, he’s spin laden and I’m Kim Jung Scril, because both dudes are deluded ballers who want to be artists. If you look at guys like that they’re always on TV, always tried to find a way into the picture, making videos, so we going to parody them as rap stars. It’s stupid.

Q: What about LA? How does living here influence and impact your music?

A: It’s where you live, it’s the air you breathe but I think the music transcends that because if I just rapped about living in Carson and Compton, how exciting would that be? [Mocking gangster rappers] I’m Inglewood, there’s bloods on the corner…oh yeah? There goes some eses’, y’know. It gives it a landscape but it isn’t what the music is exclusively about. It can give it an aggressive edge, a hood feel, but it goes bigger than that. Then there’s the flip side of the Hollywood scene; wack ass rappers out east hanging in Hollywood and get Mtv’d out. I look at it as a trendsetting place where you never know what’s going to pop off next. I love that unpredictability.

When I look at the west coast as a whole, I look at it as the Panthers starting here and what happened in Watts. I look at the Watts Riots and not just gang life. That’s why my music is gangster, because I’m around gangsters.

Q: Do you follow politics much? I had to ask considering you’re wearing an Obama shirt.

A: I do but I get frustrated because I’m not stupid and you can see through the bullshit and there’s only so much patience I have.

Q: What are your favorite spots in town?

A: I love Bubba Gumps…Chili’s, Yamashiro…Wokkano Sushi. But really, Bubba Gumps’s strip and dippin chicken and their bucket of boat trash is beautiful. It brings tears to my eyes. But really, I’m either at the gym or in concentration camp with Dredolph Hitler [Laughing.]

Q: So beyond getting The Reformation released, what are your goals for the future?

A: Beyond the obvious, the thing that made me want to deal with Dre was the opportunity to have my own label. I’d rather be a catalyst and open up the door for fresh MC’s, producers and musicians. I’d take risks to break new and unconventional artists and all kinds of grous: rock, jazz, everything you can think of. I just don’t want to hear the bullshit that I’ve seen. I’m more of a businessman really. I really only want to do three or four albums. My goals and I think my gift is to give hip hop a breath of fresh air by picking up other fresh artists to put out fresh music. If you’re fresh and a country musician, I’d put it out. If it was the next Ramones or Bad Brains or the next Coltrane, I want to find them.

The problem is that hits don’t make you a star. Labels no longer nurture artists. They just say, ‘hey, you have a hot song on Myspace, let’s throw it out there.’ Think about Outkast, their first album didn’t go platinum because it’s a growing process to sell 10 to 15 million. Most labels would’ve dropped them after AtLiens. The life span now is one album and most don’t get a sophomore shot. The system is currently set up for ring tone sales. Or think about The Fugees, look how long it took for Lauryn Hill and Wylcef to get to their level. Or how long they were developing 2pac, or Usher. Labels have no patience, they’re not making same money so they throw out bullshit artists. Really though, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, if there was more balance. I guess that’s what I’m trying to bring.

Download:

MP3: Bishop Lamont-"Grow Up"

MP3: Bishop Lamont ft. Crooked I & Stylistic-"Funky Piano"

ZIP: Bishop Lamont & Black Milk-Caltroit (Left-Click, follow link)

ZIP: Bishop Lamont-The Confessional (Left-Click)


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