Glasses Malone's Beach Cruiser finally comes out today. But the Watts gangsta rapper was offered a deal more than four years ago by Cash Money Records co-founder Birdman on the strength of the single "Certified," and Beach Cruiser was originally slotted for release in early 2007.
Not just anyone snags a deal with legendary Southern label Cash Money, whose artists Lil Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj dominate the pop charts. It wasn't just his gangsta music that got Malone signed, it was his gangsta lifestyle, toward which Birdman gravitated.
"My reputation in the street is really good," Malone says during a recent visit to the LA Weekly offices. "I've been a part of crime but never told on anybody. Birdman had heard I was a real dude, and told [my mentor] Mack 10 to send over some songs."
Beach Cruiser seemed like a surefire hit, if only from the guest appearances -- Snoop Dogg, Akon, Rick Ross, T-Pain and, of course, Lil Wayne and Birdman. Singles included "I Get Doe," with the Cataracs, and "Til Da Sun Come Up," featuring T-Pain at the tip-top of his AutoTuned fame. None, however, cracked the Billboard charts. "There was this pressure to deliver hit singles, and I wasn't coming through," Malone says. "They believed I'd become this superhuge artist, and when it wasn't panning out, everybody got a little frustrated."
Beach Cruiser was put on hold, and on hold again. Malone began to worry he'd hit his peak, or that he was making the wrong music. But after his mother said, "Don't let this beat you," he realized he didn't want to give up, and his patience paid off. By Malone's recollection, Birdman told him, "Let's do it the old-school way, the original Cash Money Records way. We're not gonna depend on radio. I think you're a legend in the making. Let's let everybody hear the music and let them decide."
This "original way" made sense, considering Malone had already been in the studio with Cash Money's golden-era producer, Mannie Fresh.
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Malone's self-doubt seems surprising for a gangsta rapper. Despite his imposing stature, history and lyrics, he's gentle, dressed today in black, with no visible jewelry. His voice is soothing, softened by a hint of drawl. "I think everybody has this ill perception of me. I understand, I've been through some stuff, but it's never tainted my view of the world," he says.
He made good grades in school and considered college, he adds, but dealing drugs came more "naturally" to him. His parents were both active in his life, even though his mother died in 2009 while serving a 20-year prison sentence for possession and taking drugs across state borders.
He suspects part of the reason for his album's delay was that he's not flashy. "I'm not willing to make a fool of myself to get attention. I just make really good music. This is a big success for me 'cause I didn't make a fool of myself to get to this point. I retained my dignity."
That might change, for a night, at least. Though he's never smoked and never drank, he plans to drink some Champagne the night Beach Cruiser finally drops. "A whole bottle."