In a few hours, Kurupt will be en route to Portugal to accompany Snoop Dogg as the opener on his European tour. For someone who has spent the past two decades embodying a certain sort of snarling, Crip-walking persona as a rap artist, he is in a surprisingly chipper mood when we first speak.
“I'm just livin' it right now, player … you know what it isssss. Totally inspirated by all this,” he says, in what might be considered his best Don “Magic” Juan impersonation. He goes on to enthuse about the Patrón awaiting him in first class for his flight.
This isn't the first time he's used the nonword “inspirate.” But it's a welcome surprise from a rapper I've been told can be awfully standoffish. After all, he came into the national consciousness in 1993 by claiming that if he “gave a fuck about a bitch, I'd always be broke/I'd never have no motherfucking endo to smoke.” But, as I'll soon learn, these days he completely gives a fuck.
Born Ricardo Brown in Philadelphia and relocated to Hawthorne at an early age to be with his father, he's a natural combination of the East Coast's obsession with technique and the West Coast's obsession with slang and demeanor. He's an MC's MC known for career-making cameos on the twin towers of G-Funk, The Chronic and Doggystyle, who later went double-platinum with Daz Dillinger as Tha Dogg Pound.
But he never reached that rarefied level on his own, though solo tracks like “Girls All Pause” and “It's Over” were near-hits. Since then, he's managed to maintain his core audience despite bouncing from label to label.
Now, at age 38, possessing an enviable résumé but still not a household name, Kurupt has somehow charted a third path for himself between fame and obsolescence, serving as something of a West Coast ambassador, equal parts politician, power broker and curator.
In 2011 he's holding down a local collective called 1st Generation, stocked with artists like Sir Jinx, Tha Alkoholiks, Tha Chill, Jayo Felony and MC Eiht, who also rank somewhere between all-stars and Hall of Famers.
Kurupt also serves as executive producer on upcoming compilation The Academy, which will be released Sept. 13. Over the course of 18 tracks, the work features some 55 master-class rappers representing the past 20 years of streetwise emceeing — from stars like Method Man and Redman to punchline specialists like Chino XL, the one guy called out on 2Pac's “Hit 'Em Up” that no one younger than age 25 has heard of.
Then there's the solo album Kurupt is working on, the follow-up to 2010's subpar Streetlights, and an upcoming Dogg Pound movie, which he describes enthusiastically and vaguely in the way most hip-hop movie projects tend to be described.
Despite being in what's generally considered the autumn of a rap career, Kurupt feels he's got new life.
“I believe you go through all that dumb shit with pettiness and egos in the business up until you're in your mid-30s, because that's really when life begins,” he explains.
He would know: He had a bitter falling-out with Daz that went public and led to some vicious diss tracks but has since been reconciled. Then there was the time in 1995 trailers were shot at, during the filming of Dogg Pound's notorious “New York, New York” video, released at the peak of tensions between the coasts.
Kurupt rebounded at the height of hip-hop's double-album infatuation in 1998, releasing Kuruption!, split into “West Coast” and “East Coast” discs as a seeming offering of reconciliation. The work came out on his own Antra imprint through a deal with A&M and kick-started a solid but commercially unremarkable solo career that spanned the early 2000s. He found something of a new audience, however, in 2009 when his BlaQkout collaboration with DJ Quik — who produced the album and rapped as well — became a surprise critical hit. It didn't sell well, but to hear his rhymes about partying, irresponsible alcohol consumption and wack rappers over North African bounce and harsh electro allowed those who considered him inextricably tied to G-Funk to think of him in a new light. “Jupiter's Critic & the Mind of Mars,” after all, is a long way from “Ho's a Housewife.”
But The Academy is his most ambitious project yet. Set for release as a joint venture between Penagon, Bonzi Records and Terminal 3 — known for the favorite Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture — the album came about after Kurupt was sought out by the latter label to serve as executive producer.
How did he handle his duties? “You know, massage egos, make sure no one had problems with each other,” he explains with a laugh. “That's how I executive-produced all my albums, too!”
The work canvasses the major and independent circuits, the old and the new school, the East and the West Coasts, the legendary and the not-so-much. Though the work leans a bit heavily on the “not-so-much” aspect, any record that has Canibus and K-Solo on it and still feels like a major event is doing something right.
In fact, the project demonstrates how Kurupt has taken it upon himself to be something of a patron saint for the West Coast. “I want to show them folks out there that the West Coast isn't just about murder, murder, kill, kill, you know?” he explains. Recently, he was onstage at the Music Box when a cavalcade of L.A. rap royalty — including Snoop Dogg and Game — made a symbolic passing of the torch to phenom Kendrick Lamar. Meanwhile, he's sought to unite his colleagues through 1st Generation, which is positively dripping with west side gravitas. It's unclear how the group will proceed, but their debut performance at Club Nokia was a promising show of initiative, considering most rap “supergroups” don't make it out of the Internet planning stage.
Perhaps most surprising, Kurupt feels particularly “inspirated” when it comes to writing rhymes. “I'm like … King Kong mixed with Godzilla these days, my pen is on fire,” he brags.
It's a good description of the style he's flexing, actually, simultaneously rawer in tone and more refined in delivery than his previous work.
But he derives most of his internal energy from being a married father of six; his kids range from age 9 to 16, and he describes each as a future model, athlete or actor. When he's on the road he uses Skype to keep in touch with what he calls the “Kurupt Dynasty.” “They changed and saved my life, for real,” he says of his family. (This seems not to be exaggeration, considering he was not far from the crossfire that took 2Pac and Biggie.)
And if you're tempted to believe that he remains the same guy who, on Dr. Dre's “Xxplosive,” admonished the “hoes” who “forgot to eat a dick and shut the fuck up,” it's clear that you should lend him some artistic license. After all, these days he doesn't appear to be broke. Or, at least according to his recent raps, any longer in danger of running out of endo to smoke.