NEW YORK — Saigon is tired of acting like a rapper.
Although the decorated underground lyricist landed a recurring role as himself on the HBO hit "Entourage," Saigon has made it clear he would much rather be living out his days as a real MC instead of just playing one on TV.
Well, the wait may finally be over for him.
Saigon recently wrapped shooting the first video from his debut album, The Greatest Story Never Told, tentatively due at the top of the new year on Just Blaze's Atlantic-distributed Fort Knox label. According to Sai, the long-delayed project now gives him a chance to both reconnect with his increasingly impatient hip-hop fans and introduce newly acquired admirers to his musical talents.
"It's been a long time coming," a smiling Saigon said two weeks ago while on the Harlem set of "Pain in My Life," featuring Trey Songz. "People see my promotional van and will be like, 'Is this guy real? Is he really an artist?' When I taped my first episodes of 'Entourage,' they only had one season done and no one really knew about the show. So I came and taped during the off-season. No one expected it to be so big, and we downplayed it like, 'Yeah, it's whatever, a little look.' But it gave me another opportunity. And I want people to know I'm really an artist and not just playing one. I want people to know I'm real and have a message."
The MTV You Hear It First alumnus first rose to prominence just after the turn of the century. A series of unfortunate events — label woes, personal misjudgments, etc. — kept Saigon from releasing his project, although fans never stopped clamoring for it. And for The Greatest Story Never Told, he's partnered with much of the same producers and executives responsible for making Jay-Z's early albums critical and commercial successes. However, Saigon is quick to point out he's not expecting to sell units like 50 Cent.
"I made music from my heart," he explained of his album and the choice behind the cautionary first single. "I didn't go down to the studio thinking what could get me 20 billion spins. I went in there and thought, 'If you potentially had the world's ear, what would you say?' That was my mentality."
The DJ Cocoa Chanelle-produced "Pain in My Life," much like the rest of Sai's album, is a mixture of the rapper's observations and his experiences in prison. The Q-Tip- and Fatman Scoop-assisted "The Invitation" is a possible next single. Rather than a regular invitation to a party, Saigon said, the track is a metaphor for the distractions that invite kids on the streets to land in jail. "Everything we glorify is nothing but the invitation to get you behind the wall," the rapped said. "Whether it's drugs, girls, whatever."
In addition to production from Just Blaze, Kanye West is also slated to help Saigon shape his album. But don't expect many vocal collaborations. Saigon said he's been waiting too long and has too many things to say to share the microphone during this crucial stage in his career.
"It seems like too many people are scared to be themselves," he said. "I don't know if it's because the labels are pressuring them, but they end up making jingles. That's what I call them.
"Hip-hop has gotten too repetitious," Saigon continued. "It's almost everyone tracing the same picture. If we're artists, and we consider ourselves that, we got to all draw different pictures. We can't paint the same things. And that's why I do me — and I'm going to live or die with that."