NEW YORK — Spending almost half his young life behind bars gave Black Rob all the incentive he needed to cling to his hip-hop career.
The rapper (born Rob Ross), whose debut album, Life Story, comes out Tuesday on Bad Boy Entertainment, spent 12 of his 28 years in group homes, juvenile detention centers and prison, thanks to armed and unarmed robbery convictions.
"It's hell," Black Rob said of his past on Wednesday from New York. "Once they get their teeth on you, they keep biting ... until they feel like, 'Let's throw away the key on this cat' " (Real Audio excerpt of interview).
Black Rob, who grew up and still lives in Spanish Harlem, used the lyrics on Life Story to vent his anger about his previous life of crime, which led to a 51-day stint behind bars early last year on a parole violation.
"Never had a God/ My life of crime/ Had to be when I was nine/ Mom was drunk on wine/ Running with all kinds/ Her mind stayed a stupor/ To the point she paid no mind to the super," Rob laments as the title track (RealAudio excerpt) begins. The song, also layered in strings, finds Rob continuing to reflect soberly on his circumstances. "My life story is absurd," he says midway through the song.
"A lot of people don't appreciate jail. That's because they go into there and don't learn nothing," he said. "Those are the people who love jail. I hate jail."
Black Rob said he took his performing name not for racial reasons, but in the sense of "black" meaning raw, blunt and truthful.
The lyrics of "Whoa!" (RealAudio excerpt), produced by Buckwild of the Bronx collective D.I.T.C., attack "anything ill you seein'," including "a bitch who's fucked up in the head" and cocaine addicts who are "strange and arranged." A chorus of male voices sternly chants, "Whoa!" The song routinely ignites club-goers, who raise their arms and chant along.
"Kids love it. It's definitely a hot song," said Marc Buckley, manager of the Tunnel, a popular New York nightclub. He said Black Rob has performed at the club four times in the past year.
No Bad Boy album would be complete without an appearance from label head Sean "Puffy" Combs, who rhymes on "PD World Tour" (RealAudio excerpt) and "I Love You Baby." Combs' Hitmen stable of producers helmed most of the album's tracks.
Black Rob said the purpose of his recording career is to get himself far away from the robber's life that ruined his childhood.
"This is it. This is my job. This is my life," he said.