Cam'ron's Life Summed Up By Sports, Drugs And Entertainment

Rapper's second album preceded by hot single 'Let Me Know.'

LOS ANGELES -- The title of Cam'ron's second album, Sports,

Drugs and Entertainment, refers not only to the arc of the 22-year-old

rapper's life, but to the dreams shared by many young people in New York's

Harlem neighborhood, where he grew up.

"A lot of people coming out of the neighborhood I'm from, they don't

look at being a lawyer or a doctor or a pilot or something," Cam'ron

said. "Everybody looks up to the sports figures, the entertainers -- the

music people, the actors. And sometimes they look up to the drug dealers."

Cam'ron himself was a high-school basketball player who later dealt drugs

in Harlem before turning to rap, by his own account. The rapping has

paid off.

His song "Let Me Know," an advance track from Sports, Drugs and

Entertainment, which is due in August, is #2 on the Billboard

rap singles chart, and according to Cam'ron, it's not even the disc's

"real" first single.

"That's just a big underground hit in New York, so we ended up making a

video and trying to get the vibe everywhere else," Cam'ron (born Cameron

Giles) said. "We just want to put the buzz out."

The album features collaborations with Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol' Dirty

Bastard (on "Violence"), Mobb Deep's Prodigy (on "Losin' Weigh") and

jazz pianist Jimmy Jones and R&B act Destiny's Child (on "Do It Again").

The bona fide first single, Cam'ron said, will be "So You Wanna Be a

Hustler," a song about "guys who think they're big-time hustlers, but in

reality, they're nobody."

At the New York urban station Hot 97 (WQHT-FM), "Let Me Know" is in

heavy rotation. Ben Weber, assistant programming coordinator at the

station, said the song's catchy, sing-along chorus is a primary reason

for its appeal.

"It's a hard-hitting, crowd-cheering anthem," Weber said. "That beat,

combined with the chorus, caught a lot of people's ears in [here]."

While visiting Los Angeles for a few days recently, Cam'ron sat on the

balcony of his suite at the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood. Dressed in

a tank top and shorts, he smoked a blunt and peered over the balcony at

the smoggy city as he talked.

"If you're from New York, everybody knew me as a basketball player," the

onetime point guard at Manhattan Center High School said. "When I started

rapping, it was like a shock because I was a big-time basketball player

... The 'Drugs' [refers to the fact that] I used to sell -- not to be a

big-time guy, just to put money in my pocket."

Cam'ron said he's been rapping since he was a kid -- even rhyming his

own elementary-school graduation speech -- but he never considered it a

possible profession until the past few years.

"I didn't take rap seriously -- I was serious about basketball," he said.

"Rap was just a little hobby."

Cam'ron's first hip-hop project saw him uniting with his high-school

basketball teammate Ma$e (born Mason Betha) to form Children of the Corn;

they used the pseudonyms Killa Cam and Murder Mase. The group disbanded

after Ma$e signed to Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment to release

a solo album, and the late Notorious B.I.G. -- whom Cam'ron met through

Ma$e -- hooked Cam'ron up with Lance "Un' " Rivera, who signed the young

rapper to Untertainment.

Cam'ron's debut, Confesssions of Fire, came out last July and went

gold, meaning at least 500,000 copies were shipped to stores. It sported

the singles "Horse & Carriage" (RealAudio

excerpt) -- featuring Ma$e -- and "3-5-7" (RealAudio

excerpt).

"A lot of people feel that when Ma$e went to Bad Boy, he lost that Murder

aspect -- that street aspect -- whereas that's where Cam'ron's appeal is,"

Hot 97's Weber said. "He remained Killa Cam. A lot of people feel that he's stayed true. He kept a lot of the roughness that got his name known in the beginning, and I think people respect that."

With his debut, Cam'ron said, he was just trying to prove he could hold

his own in the rap game.

"Last album, I was more nervous," he said. "A lot of people are more nervous on their second album. The first one, it was like, 'Oh, this is my first time out ... Okay, people in California don't know me, I gotta do a song for California; people in Seattle don't know me, I gotta do a song for people in Seattle.' I was so worried about everyone else instead of myself. This time, I think people are checking for me, so it's more like Cam'ron."

Not everyone checking up on Cam'ron has benign intentions. The National Basketball Association is suing Untertainment and Rivera over an advertisement for Sports, Drugs and Entertainment that parodies the NBA's red, white and blue insignia by putting a gun in the hand of the player pictured. The league, which accused the label of trademark infringement, has won a temporary injunction against the ad.

Though he considers Sports, Drugs and Entertainment a more personal album than its predecessor, Cam'ron said the new album paints a realistic portrayal of life in the city's ghettos -- between party songs meant to "make you dance and jump around. ... I would say this is a 50/50 album, positive and realistic," he said.

A prolific, round-the-clock writer, Cam'ron said producer Darrell "Digga" Branch helped him hone his distinct flow of tempo changes by coming up with hot beats. The rapper said he pens his rhymes anywhere, anytime, often completing a song during a plane ride.

Though he said the album is done, Cam'ron said he'll work until the last minute -- in this case, the end of June -- because he believes the greatest work sometimes comes at the finish line.