For Lil' Troy, "Wanna Be a Baller" was more than his most popular song. It was his mandate, one that landed him an 18-month stretch in prison as his single and Sittin' Fat Down South album were flying off record-store racks in 1999.
While the album went on to sell more than 1.5 million copies, Troy was incarcerated during its peak after being charged in a drug case. Now free, the Houston rapper and businessman (he releases his albums on his own Short Stop Records) is gearing up for the release of his second album, Back to Ballin'.
Although he was imprisoned as his album outsold the likes of Puff Daddy's Forever, Lil' Troy looks at his situation matter-of-factly rather than bitterly, as you might expect.
"I walked the walk, talked the talk and got caught up in what I believe in," Troy said. "I had to go pay my debt to society. Now that I've paid my debt, I'm back to ballin' again."
Troy expects his "We Gon Lean" single to reestablish him as one of the Lone Star State's premier acts. Houston rapper Lil' Flip and Short Stop artist R-Dis join Troy on the club-ready cut, which is more hyper than much of Houston's other hip-hop.
Unlike some of the songs from Down South, which were culled from 1980s recording sessions, "We Gon Lean" has a decidedly contemporary feel. "I had to make something happen for the new era," Troy said of the songs from his new collection. "My new song, 'We Gon Lean,' it's nothin' like 'Wanna Be a Baller.' I did a whole different concept to show that there's versatility to this here. There's a concept about it, 'Lean to the left, lean to the right,' about giving us some room. We wanted to let them know that I'm back and that they needed to give us some room. Plus, down South, we drink this stuff called Syrup, so we be leaning to the left and to the right all the time, just leaning."
Other tracks sure to make fans lean are second single "Mo Money," the controversial "Lesbian Night" ("The lesbian thing is real big down here in Houston and a lot of other areas I've been in," Troy said), the cautionary "Keep My Name Out Your Mouth" and the chest-thumping "For Years."
Four years could have been the amount of time Troy was in prison. Troy said he funded his music business with drug money, even though he had a late '80s recording contract with eventual Geto Boy and president of Def Jam South, Scarface.
Without a hit, Troy continued working the streets. In 1998, he caught a massive drug case, which was eventually resolved with Troy serving 18 months for the use of a communication device to commit a felony. Down South arrived in stores in March 1999. In November 1999, he went to prison, much to the surprise of his legions of fans.
"Everybody was saying when I went to jail, 'Man, why you selling drugs and getting in trouble when you're all on TV selling records and stuff?' Man, that happened before I done sold nann record," Troy said. "I had to get the money to put the music out. I couldn't go to a label and say, 'Loan me the money, I'll put a record together and it'll be the bomb.' They wouldn't have did it. I had to get it, put it together myself and show them."
Considering the platinum-plus success of Down South, Lil' Troy proved his point. On Back to Ballin', he raps on 14 of the album's 19 tracks. Although it is his album, he's not concerned with appearing on each song. After all, he only rapped on six of Down South's 14 songs.
"I own the company, so I'm just showcasing the other groups that I have," Troy said. "I'm more like a coach. I like to get the groups together, coach them and come up with songs and let them do it. That's what they do. I like to run the company, and the money's in the company. You can have all the fame you want. I've got bills to pay, so I need the money.
"I was ballin' before I went in the penitentiary, and everybody knows me for that," Troy continued. "I'm back and I'm already doing it again. I'm picking up where I left off at."