By Andres Tardio
Crooked I has no time to rest. He's fresh off the "Shady CXVpher" and is gearing up for the release of the Shady Records compilation Shady XV, but he's also got a lot more on his plate, from a new solo deal and mixtape to a new Slaughterhouse project.
It's safe to say Crook's staying busy. And in the middle of all of that, he's also changing his name?
Here's what Crooked I, now known as Kxng Crooked, has to say about Shady Records' status among other labels, why he only wants to be compared to rappers who've died and why he believes Eminem's greatness should be celebrated while Slim Shady's controversial lines shouldn't be censored.
MTV News: In the Shady cypher you announce the Kxng Crooked name change. Officially, are you going by Kxng Crooked?
Kxng Crooked: Everything needs to change and everything has to evolve. Creatively, I just want to go other places. I just think that was the appropriate title to describe where I want to take it. People ask me, “Why the X instead of the I?” Well, the X symbolizes the Roman numeral 10 and it’s also the multiplication sign. So, I’m really just trying to challenge myself to be ten times better. Now, you’ve got people saying, “You’ve got this king and that king and that king,” you know, when it comes to rappers and my name change. But I’m like, “Yo, I don’t ever base what I do on what other rappers do.” I base it on the people who are supporters of my music and trying to be better than I was yesterday. That’s my main ambition when it comes to music. Plus, I know my culture. I know where I come from. I know I’ve got the blood of kings in me so it’s also some higher knowledge sh—. So, it just seemed appropriate.
MTV: Speaking of the cypher, you also have the Ferguson line in there. You knew this was going to be a big platform with all the Shady artists on there. Why was it important for you to come with that line in this cypher?
Crooked: I don’t think we should give up on that, the whole Ferguson thing, because obviously the protestors aren’t giving up, the city of Ferguson is not giving up. I just wanted them to know and the people who feel like this, that the abuse of power needs to stop. I had to use that platform. I was like, "Something needs to be said.” I was raised on that type of hip-hop. 2pac - even if he did a song like “How Do You Want It?” - he still would drop some politically conscious bars in whatever he did. I was raised on that. That’s something that inspired me. I just felt like, “Somebody needs to speak on it on a big platform.” Any chance I get to speak on it on a big platform, I’ma do it.
MTV: It’s interesting that you mention ‘Pac because you also say, “Compare me to the best rappers who died” in this cypher. What inspired that line for you and can you talk a little bit about those inspirations?
Crooked: The fans like to make their lists. Hip-hop publications love to make their lists. Top 50 MCs. Top 20 MCs. Top 10. Hottest MCs. But a lot of these dudes breathing haven’t surpassed the guys who had an unfortunate demise. When I think about Big L, Big Pun, 2pac and B.I.G., I could probably put those four dudes against anybody living right now and they would probably come out on top. So, if we gon’ be compared to somebody, compare me to those greats. I call them the fallen rap gods. That’s who I want to be compared to.
MTV: We’ve heard “Y’all Ready Know” off Shady XV with DJ Premier and Slaughterhouse. What was it like for you to hook up with Premier? How did you approach that track?
Crooked: That’s the very first DJ Premier/Slaughterhouse collab. It’s so crazy because when we did our first album, we recorded it in the studio that DJ Premier is a partner in. I think it’s his lab. So, the first Slaughterhouse album was recorded right there in DJ Premier’s spot. And we always wanted to record. Who wouldn’t want to have joints produced by him? But scheduling wise, it just didn’t work. Once we got word that it was going to be an official DJ Premier joint with Slaughterhouse, it was just like, “Let’s take it back to the old school, man.” Well, not the old school, but you know, like the ‘90s hip-hop, the boom-bap, the multi syllable flows and different patterns and all the shit that we love. Plus, he’s a hip-hop icon so we just had fun with it.
MTV: We mention that and we have to mention the other Shady XV track, “Psychopath Killer” [with Eminem and Yelawolf]. We’ve seen those styles mesh in the cypher, but how did this track come together?
Crooked: It’s a crazy joint. [Royce Da 5'9"] brought it into the studio. Royce brought this banger of a beat into the lab in Harlem and the whole House Gang was there. He had an idea cut to it. That’s how Slaughterhouse works. Sometimes I might have an idea. I bring it up and I cut the idea and then everybody’s like, “I’ll f--k with that.” So, when Royce played it, everybody just lost their f—ing minds. So, everybody was hyped, excited and juiced about the joint. I just went in the booth and said, “Yo, I gotta get on this right now.” His idea and the beat, it brought that instant verse out of me. You don’t gotta pace the floor or think about it too long. It’s so dope, you’re gonna go in the booth and you’re gonna drop this in five minutes and walk out. I can’t wait until people hear that song. That song is one of my favorite songs on this whole project and not just because we’re on it. But, as a fan, standing back and listening to everything, “Psychopath Killer” is one of my favorite songs.
MTV: And you bring the whole cypher crew back for this one with Em and Yelawolf.
Crooked: Let’s just get down to the point, man. Shady, when I say Shady, I mean Eminem, he’s considered one of the GOATs. I put my GOATs in different categories. So, I put him in the wordplay GOAT, greatest of all time, ever. He’s got other things that he’s leading the league in too. But he has an ear for MCs. So, just him choosing to sign Slaughterhouse and Yelawolf shows you that this man respects bars. He respects lyricists. He respects people who are true to the foundation of hip-hop. So, it’s dope to be able to do a cypher like that. 18 minutes. No beat. No music. Just raw spitting. Bars. A lot of people can’t do that. They lost that passion once they got on MTV. I’m talking to MTV right now and I could still go and do 100 bars standing in an alleyway right now. That’s what kind of artist Em f--ks with. So, to be able to do that cypher and then come back and have “Psychopath Killer” come out with all the members that was on the cypher, it’s just beautiful. It’s just dope. I don’t think it can happen in too many labels. I’m not trying to throw shots. I’m just being honest right now. I don’t think there’s a label that could fuck with Shady as a whole, as far as when it comes to hunger, passion, bars, lyricism, when it comes to MCs. People talk about famous rappers battling each other. But if labels had to battle, I’m pretty sure Shady would come out on top.
MTV: We’ve got these tracks and the cypher from Slaughterhouse. How much of this is a taste of the new Slaughterhouse album? What does the new Slaughterhouse album sound like?
Crooked: The new Slaughterhouse album, I think, just sounds like four veteran MCs seasoned in the game. It is personal. You’re gonna get to know us personally. For me, a great album is one where, by the time you get from the intro to the outro, with everything in between, you know that artist a little more than when you started listening to the project. The artist opens up and tells you things you might not know about them. These are the things that are happening on the new Slaughterhouse album. I think it’s important because not everyone knows our story. You’ve got some hip-hop heads who know our stories, but then you’ve got some new generation hip-hop heads who are very curious about our pasts, what we’ve done, our ups and our downs. With this album, we’ll bring them closer to us. They’ll understand us a little more.
MTV: You mentioned your story and struggle. I know you’ve got the new project coming out. What can people expect from the new album?
Crooked: Yeah, man. I partnered up with SMH Records. In today’s music climate, for an independent guy like myself, it’s more lucrative and it’s better for the fans, if I partner up with other independent companies that see music and the climate the same way I see it. SMH, they’re real dope people. They have a passion. They understand that music and the way people purchase music and the way people support music is going into that next era. It has been, for awhile. I just wanted to hook up with people who understood the game. We’ve got this new project. It’s a mixtape. I like to call it a mixtape experience. It’s called Sex, Money & Hip-Hop. I started out rapping when I was six or seven years old. My first song that I recorded in the studio, I was eight. It was called "Microphone Controller.” So, I started out on some hip-hop, love for the culture as a kid. That’s the hip-hop part. You’ll never take that out of me. That’s the part that says the Ferguson line during a cypher with Eminem. That’s that hip-hop, true, raw, gritty, me loving my culture. Then, you get a record deal and you start making money. You doing shows. You touring. You’re smart. You’ve got a couple of good deals going, sponsorships, merchandise. Now you getting the money. And we all know what comes with the money: sex. You start meeting different chicks. You hope not to get caught up on TMZ. But, that’s what it is. It’s all an experience. That’s this mixtape. It’s me reflecting on the last couple years, being reflective about my life and being very blunt about what it is… I’m very adamant about calling it a mixtape experience because there’s going to be a lot of audio clips and different things in there that’s gonna take the listener on a journey, so I think it’s going to be a step further than just being a mixtape with a DJ hosting it and yelling on every track. It’s not going to be that way. It’s going to be totally different… I just caught the fever to do this mixtape. You know, House Slippers came out, Joell Ortiz. Some Love Lost came out for [Joe Budden]. Royce Da 5’9" teamed up with Premier to do PRhyme. I said, “You know what? I have the fever.” So, I basically went in, locked myself in the lab for two weeks and came out with something that I think is special. It’s going to be released December 16. Right on time for Christmas.
MTV: We just talked about Eminem being celebrated for his wordplay and for his flow. But he’s also been criticized for a lot of things. On this cypher, he was criticized for the Lana Del Rey/Ray Rice line. What’s your take on the criticism?
Crooked: Ah, you know what, man? I don’t really think you should censor an artist. I’ve got a group called Horseshoe Gang and they’re my little brothers and they say a few controversial things here and there. They’ll ask me, “What you think about this joint?” They might have some controversial sh-- on there, but I could never be the one to say, “Hey, man. You shouldn’t say this or say that.” I don’t think there should be censorship on that. Now, I understand both sides of the coin. You’ve got battered women, coalitions and when they hear something like that, they don’t understand the art of being in a cypher. Being in a cypher is about being the most disrespectful you can be, verbally murdering the competition. That’s what cyphering is about. It’s a blood sport. He drew blood. Now, what we’re chosen to do is to bring what would really be said in a real cypher if none of us were famous and bring that same energy to the mainstream. Now, if you want to really see how these cyphers go down, if you want to see how underground rappers do it and how we did it when we was underground, we can’t censor ourselves. We have to be raw and uncut. Period.
MTV: You talked about how when you’re in a cypher, there’s competitive energy. With you guys, it’s more of a brotherly competition. How did you feel after watching everybody else’s verse?
Crooked: Ah, man. I just saluted everybody, as usual. It’s just dope to be a part of something where I know people aren’t going to disappoint. I love to watch the fans talk about it. I hate the word fan, by the way. I love to hear the music supporters talk about it on Twitter, Instagram and say, “This was the best line. That line was corny. I didn’t f--k with that dude, but I like that dude.” All that back and forth. You know, music is about your opinion and your taste. So, I tried to just put my fan hat on when I’m watching the guys perform. I don’t want to be a Slaughterhouse member watching other Slaughterhouse members. I kick back and try to really just zone out and it’s always amazing, man. With this cypher, we were filming in different cities and locations, so I requested to not see or hear any of those guys’ performances. I wanted to see it at the same time as everybody else. So, my first time was everybody else’s first time seeing it. So, it was really, really dope, man. Everybody did their thing, man. It’s just dope to be part of a team that comes to play every time.
MTV: Outside of music, you’re making moves in TV. Can you talk about why you decided to become part of "One Shot" target="_blank">One Shot" and what you think will come from that?
Crooked: Six months ago, I was like, “I need to do something that helps up and coming artists.” Everywhere I go, people rap for me. I go to the airport, somebody pulls me to the side and says, “It would be an honor if I could bust this 16 for you.” I sit there, I listen. I’m like, “Woah. This dude is dope.” The other day, I was at the grocery store and one of the kids was a butcher. He went over to his manager and said, “That’s Crooked I. West coast legend. I gotta go rap for him. I may never see him again.” His manager was like, “Crooked I? Slaughterhouse? Go ahead.” He comes over. I’m in the vegetables section, picking out vegetables and sh--. He’s like, “Yo, can I just rap for you?” I was like, “You gonna get in trouble, bro? Don’t lost your job.” But he just spit some unbelievable sh--. My whole thing is, I’m tired of hip-hop having this dark cloud over it as if everything from hip-hop is negative because it’s not. This is a hard working dude, 9-5, just like every other American. He’s not a retired drug dealer. He’s not a dude that got out the pen and got hot in the streets. I’m not knocking them because I was raised by everything above that I just mentioned. But here’s a guy going to work, hit the alarm clock, wake up, get dressed and go to work every day. And he has a dream to be a rapper. So, I said, “I want to create a lane.” I can’t help everybody, but I can help as many people as possible. And I created "One Shot". That is the equivalent to a hip-hop "American Idol," but different. We’re going to different cities, looking for the hottest rappers. My man Sway, who’s been a brother of mine for 15 years, is hosting every episode. Tech, King Tech, his partner from The Wake-Up Show, is a reoccurring judge. Mike Smith from SMH Records is a reoccurring judge. I’m reoccurring judge on the show. And we have celebrity guts judges in each city we go to. Rappers are gonna get a chance to spit original material in front of a live studio audience, in front of execs, real hip-hop people and take their one shot to win $100,000 for the pocket, by the way… And then we’ll give them a record deal, too.
MTV: Did the butcher get on the show?
Crooked: I went back in and I found him and I told him to submit. How you do it is you film yourself rapping a 16 to one of the beats on our website and that’s your submission on myoneshot.tv. I told him, “Listen, dog. You’re dope. Go there and submit.” And he did. That’s the first step. We’re gonna go around the country and I guarantee you, we’re gonna change hip-hop and change the way artists are found in hip-hop and we’re gonna help some people. To me, it’s about giving back. We’re all on this Earth to provide a service to each other and one another. This is me giving back. I got a chance to be in front of 50,000 people with Eminem on stage, rockin’. Now, I’m trying to give somebody else that chance.
MTV: Was there anything else that you wanted to bring up before we end this that maybe we didn’t get a chance to touch on?
Crooked: Yeah, man. I’m part of a new network called Opposition. It’s a multi-channel network on YouTube. We’re partners with Broadband. Broadband TV is one of the biggest YouTube partners in the world. This platform is for hip-hop music, urban lifestyle and culture. We’ve got partnerships with Twista, Cash Out, WorldstarHipHop and many more. We’ll be launching very soon. Everything I’m doing right now is all about the culture and creating platforms for artists to be seen and heard. Opposition is about to be massive. Trust me. Everything I’m doing is on that page, right now. I’m bringing out the Kxng in myself. That’s why it’s so important for the name change and so important to bring out new material right now, for "One Shot" to do what it has to do, for Horseshoe Gang to get out there and be as good as they are, be who they are
and who they’re meant to be and with Opposition...It’s just a perfect storm.