Don't get it twisted, Premro "8Ball" Smith is very grateful to his core audience, largely made up of hip-hop fans in the South. Those fans have helped him and his partner, MJG, accumulate plaques ranging from gold to double-platinum for their group and solo efforts since they came on the scene in 1993.
After eight years of putting in work, getting props from critics and collaborating with peers such as Jadakiss, Redman and the Dungeon Family, though, he just wants to get some love from a broader audience. He doesn't feel he's become a star just yet, hence the name of his fifth solo LP, Almost Famous.
"I ain't just mocking the movie title 'cause it sounded good," 8Ball said Monday from his Houston home. "It is what it is. From my eyes, I'm on the fence. I'm there but I'm not there."
Ball's been working on building up his moniker by putting in work with two of music's most well-known names via Almost Famous' first single, "Stop Playin' Games." P. Diddy chimes in with his vintage ad-libbing on the club-friendly song and Fred Durst directed the video.
" 'Stop Playin' Games' is just one of them terms we be using," Ball nonchalantly explained in his Memphis twang. " 'Be serious about the situations.' It's not a real serious song but you know, 'Stop playing games, stop hating.' For the groupie chicks, stop playing games how they do. It's got a bunch of different meanings."
Ball who, along with MJG, appeared on "Roll With Me" from P. Diddy's latest album said he and Diddy have been cool ever since former Bad Boy artist Mase asked him to appear on 1997's Harlem World LP.
"He hollered at me and MJ for his thing, and I hollered at him for this," he said of P.D. "We're usually able to get in contact for things like this."
Fred Durst asked 8Ball to appear, along with E-40, on the Timbaland-produced remix of "Take a Look Around" for the upcoming Limp Bizkit remix album (see "Timbaland, P. Diddy, Neptunes Do It Their Way On Bizkit Remix LP").
"[I'm rhyming about] motherf---ers hatin'," Ball said. "He sent me a copy of the original, I felt the song and I wrote some sh-- that just sounds like it could have been on the original. He let me get in there, do what I wanted to do."
Ball said the vibe with Limp's frontman was so tight that their collaboration "exploded into a whole bunch of different sh--." Durst directed the video for "Stop Playin' Games" on October 10 and 11 at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.
"I don't want people to get me wrong, I'm not a video director," Durst said the day before the shoot. "I direct videos for people who are in my family and people close to me. I became close with 8Ball, he asked me to do his video and I said 'I'd love to do it.'
"He's really dirty and from the South," Durst added. "He just hangs. He has this real raw style. I couldn't think of a concept to go with the song so I decided, why don't we go to the soundstage at the movie studios and film what it's like when you have to [shoot a video]."
"We makin' fun of how hip-hop sh-- is so serious now," Ball said a week after the clip was shot. "Pat O'Brien from 'Access Hollywood,' his scene is actually the funniest part of the video. We got like 100 girls lined up on one of the walls of the studio, and I'm riding past them on a Rolls-Royce golf cart inspecting them. I pull up, and Pat O'Brien jumps out of the line, he's dancing or down South bouncing. Fred jumps up and grabs him.
"One of the more serious scenes, we got a big ass monster truck," he continued. "A big truck where the tires are taller than me. And we got some chicks with some Tennessee Titans cheerleader outfits on and I got a Tennessee Titans jersey on. The [camera] angles are real crazy. We got the [camera on a] crane going all around me."
For his album, Ball said he worked with a mix of newcomers and established stars. Along with Koncrete and Cl'che, who are signed to his independent label, 8 Ways Entertainment, MJG checks in, as do Keith Murray, Ludacris and Carl Thomas. The latter two appear on the songs "Witcha' Lookin Ass" and "Holla Back," respectively.
"It's a mental adventure, a virtual parade," Ball said of the album. "It ain't a whole bunch of dance sh--, a whole bunch of party sh--. It's just me."
Ball said it won't be just him on future albums. He plans to record with MJG again, after his partner's solo project drops in February.
"People love us as a group," he said. "We feel that to not give that up to the people who want that, we'd be trippin'. [Plus] we like working together."
But will people like 8Ball's album enough to propel him to new heights of stardom? Maybe, but he knows he'll stay a favorite with his core following.
"It all depends on the public," Ball said. "I know it's gonna be a hit down South though. I can't speak for nothing else but I know it's gonna be a hit down here."