Method Man Gets 100% Real About His Album, The Media & Why He No Longer Curses on Songs (Interview)
We had the opportunity to speak at length with Method Man to discuss his forthcoming new album, The Meth Lab, and more. The veteran MC had a lot on his mind and did not hesitate to touch on several issues with candor and depth. In addition to talking about his new music, Meth delved into how he’s maintained his razor sharp flow for more than two decades, his complicated relationship with the media over the years, the role of seasoned MCs in Hip-Hop, predatory practices of the music business, the continued support he receives from his Wu-Tang Clan bretheren and more. Also, while he spoke with plenty of “colorful metaphors” during the interview, he also revealed he has not uttered a curse word on a song since 2010’s Wu Massacre album.
This was not a surface level interview. When Method Man spoke on a subject, he went there. Whether he was talking about Jay Z and MF DOOM as being lyrical peers in the same class or how an unjust practice regarding sampling robbed him of his publishing on his biggest hit, he gave the real and raw. No matter how much you know about the venerable MC, you will learn something.
The first solo-based project in more than five years, legions of fans are eager to the analyze the product coming out of The Meth Lab. Coming August 21 via Tommy Boy Entertainment, Method Man says he loves writing rhymes again, for the very same reasons he started more 25 years ago—so they can be appreciated.
Here is the audio of the conversation, and the entire interview is transcribed below.
Ambrosia For Heads: Thanks for taking the time, man. I know you’re on-set, so I really appreciate it. First I wanted to say, your flow is considered one of Hip-Hop’s greatest. It has evolved with time, and never gotten stagnant. Even “88 Coupes” is a testament to that. Musically, how do you stay so sharp, and how important is flow to being a great MC?
Method Man: Yo, I’m glad you said that [flow is important to being a great MC]. To me, cadence is very important. Because the cadence of a record is what makes the beat shine, or brings the beat out. Anybody can just go and—we write rhymes all day. Anybody can go in and say a rhyme they already wrote, over a beat. But it doesn’t always go together. When you’re flowing, and you’ve got that [command]…the best way that I can describe it is Ol’ Dirty Bastard, in his hey-day, when he used to do his sing-song cadence. Cadence is what gives us our identity. It’s my new word for flow: cadence. Like Nas: like when Nas came out, like the way he flowed, you knew it was Nas—and a lot of niggas was bitin’ his style. Das EFX—that’s a flow. It’s very important.
Ambrosia For Heads: So how do you stay sharp with that? How do you keep your cadence sharp and stay in the pocket so well?
Method Man: Just gotta write. I remember, I spoke to Sean Price. I was askin’ him, “Yo, it seems like you’re havin’ a little writing renaissance right now. You’re hotter than you’ve ever been. What’s your secret?” He said, “I’m better than these niggas—it ain’t no secret, it’s fact.” So I took it as my inspiration. Even if it ain’t true, I’m gonna tell myself that: I’m better than these niggas.
Ambrosia For Heads: “Trillmatic” was one of my favorite songs of 2013, in large part because of your verse. On that song you said “Look at Meth, breakin’ bad like he cookin’ meth in the lab.” Is that around the time that you started formulating the concept for this album?
Method Man: Naw. I was actually already workin’ on it when I did that “Trillmatic” jawn’. That was actually the second verse that I wrote to the “Trillmatic” song. [I originally gave them something I had already written, that I rhymed to their beat]. They called me out on it. I respect them for even keepin’ it 100. “Nah, that’s not the Meth’ we want, right there.” I went back in and wrote that mothafucka over, with a chip on my shoulder.
I think I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder ever since…I don’t know. [I have encountered opinions that] felt like I’m one of the wackest ones in [Wu-Tang Clan]. I think it’s just hatin’, really. When you hear stuff like that…you can get a thousand great compliments, but you only remember that one fuck-boy, you know what I mean?
Ambrosia For Heads: Yeah, totally. So where do you think that chip on your shoulder comes from?
Method Man: Probably because I was the only boy; I got two sisters. I didn’t have any back-up. I didn’t have any big brothers or little brothers [to fight beside me]. I don’t know. I guess I’m sensitive and shit.
Ambrosia For Heads: You’ve said your favorite “Breaking Bad” character was Walter White, but from a character standpoint, but it was Jesse from an actor’s standpoint. And that it would be an actor’s dream to play a character like that. As an actor, what do you think you would have brought differently to that character?
Method Man: You know what? I’m not taking anything away from Aaron [Paul]. Aaron did an excellent job; I don’t think anybody could’ve brought what he brought to it. And that’s the sole reason [for] my comment I made—he had done such an excellent job, that it’s an actor’s dream to have a part like that, just to toy with it, in so many different layers. I’m not sayin’ anybody could’ve did that part, but that is definitely the meat and potatoes of acting right there, man. You want parts like that.
Ambrosia For Heads: This new album is going to be your first solo work that’s not affiliated with Def Jam. Does it feel any different to you, in making the project?
Method Man: Well, let’s clear it up: [The Meth Lab] is not a solo project. But mark my words: when I do drop a Method Man exclusive Method Man album, it’ll be mostly just Method Man on the album, like my past ones.
This one here, it has one solo Method Man joint on it. The rest are songs that I did in conjunction with other artists that are from Staten Island, and a couple of artists that aren’t from Staten Island that I admired: Uncle Murda—who murdered his verse. Cory Gunz destroyed his verse. I just want to put that out there so these [people] will know that I could’ve had a million guest appearances on there, but I only chose those two. ‘Cause I needed room. The rest of those spots are taken up by Staten Island artists that I believe you will not be disappointed listening to.
Ambrosia For Heads: I saw that. I think that’s really dope to put on artists like that now that you’re more established. I was wondering if there was someone who kind of looked out for you in that same way, when you were first comin’ out?
Method Man: Yeah, RZA. But I was doin’ it to make money. I was still doin’ it for the fun. Call me stupid, naive, whatever…I had a one-track mind, and my one-track mind was I love doin’ [Rap]. I love writin’ rhymes; I love the reaction I get when I say a dope one. RZA—definitely RZA.
Ambrosia For Heads: What was it about Uncle Murda and Cory Gunz that made you say you had to get them on the album too?
Method Man: It wasn’t nothin’ at first. It was more about, “What about Uncle Murda?” Oh yeah, fuck it. I like Uncle Murda. Murda can spit. “Well, what about Cory Gunz?” Oh shit, yeah, I like Cory Gunz. That m’fucka [can] spit. Then, once I got those two in the can, there were a few other people—I won’t say any names—who I was more or less like, “Nah. Nah. It doesn’t fit the project.” Plus, there’s certain people I want to save certain people for my last solo album.
Ambrosia For Heads: I’m glad you said that. So this is different than the Crystal Meth project you’ve talked about in the past? Are those two separate projects?
Method Man: Two separate projects. Meth Lab is a precursor to Crystal Meth.
It would be incredibly naive of me to think that people are still checkin’ for me the way they were checkin’ for me in the ’90s. So I have to honestly approach this like a new artist would: drop songs [so listeners] can get familiar with me again, before I have to remind people that I still know how to rhyme. And then, once the buzz is goin’, then you drop the album on ’em. You know?
Ambrosia For Heads: I’ve got to say…with our fan-base, when that trailer came out, it set things on fire…Literally, 300,000 people, like in a day, have circulated that comment. The excitement was just incredible—
Method Man: —Not to cut you off, but see, a brother like me needs to hear shit like that. Honestly, we sit in our own little worlds, and we mostly get negative feedback. A brother will sit back and go, “Eh, I don’t know if I’m gonna do this now if people aren’t checkin’ for it, or checkin’ for me,” when that’s not even the case. The case is, they have to see you. Then there’s the whole stereotype about old rappers and shit like that. And I get it, honestly. When I was in it, I was having fun. That’s why I can’t knock these young artists doin’ what they’re doing now—they’re having fun. Leave ’em the fuck alone and let ’em have their fuckin’ fun—can’t be knockin’ what they do. “Oh these niggas suck! They dress like this, or they be doin’ that” who give a fuck, man? You had your fun. Move the fuck over, you old fogy; you sound like our fuckin’ parents, talkin’ all that shit. “Pull your pants up!” [Chuckles]
Ambrosia For Heads: It’s interesting. When you were coming up, Rap was 15 years old. Now Hip-Hop is more than 40 year-old genre. Like Rock & Roll, Jazz, and different things, people grow up. The subject matter is different. You’ve got grown-man rap now. How do you think that subject matter has changed, over time?
Method Man: I suggested doing the Adult Contemporary Hip-Hop category. Of course everything’s changed for me. I can’t talk about the same shit I used to talk about. I mean, I barely talk about smokin’ weed all the fuckin’ time anymore and shit, ’cause I don’t smoke weed all the fuckin’ time. It gets to a point where you just gotta keep it 100 with your core audience, and they’ll know it when they feel it—inspired by you being you being yourself. “You know what? That shit just ain’t interesting to me no more.” “I don’t want to play Playstation 4 games every morning. I want to build cars.” So now you’re not talkin’ about Playstation 4 games, you’re talkin’ about buildin’ cars. I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s the best analogy I can get.
Ambrosia For Heads: Absolutely. One of the things you said…being authentic cuts through over everything. That’s the kind of thing that stands over time. For example, we just did a 20th anniversary piece celebrating “I’ll Be There / You’re All I Need To Get By.” That song was a statement on Black love, and togetherness, and family. It still resonates. When you did it, did you think it’d still resonate 20 years later?
Method Man: Nah, ’cause I didn’t write it for that. The person I wrote it for knew what it was for, and we’re still together. So I guess it worked.
You get in the business. You don’t think about tomorrow; you just think about today. You think about what you can do today to the point where you look up and it’s like, “Jesus Christ, 22 years? I would’ve never thought.” The average life-span in Hip-Hop is what, maybe five years?
Ambrosia For Heads: What do you think it is about you that allows you to stick around that long? ‘Cause that’s a good point: not many people can.
Method Man: I got nine other niggas around me that say I’m dope. I think it’s strength in numbers, most definitely. I attribute a lot of my success—whether they wrote a rhyme, or just showed up to the studio and didn’t do shit—to my crew, Wu-Tang. I attribute my success to my brothers, man—all of ’em, not just RZA. All of ’em, ’cause they all played a part in the man I am today.
Ambrosia For Heads: On the 4:21 album, “Say” was—and is—such a bold moment. You went places that a lot of your peers, especially at your status and in position, had not. As a whole, do you think media treatment of artists has gotten any better?
Method Man: Not really. I’ve learned that there’s a difference between a seasoned MC—I don’t want to say “old,” as opposed to a five-year guy, an MC who’s been in it five years or maybe less. Honestly, it’s still the same [game] in a sense, but the players have changed. I’m just a little more tolerant. I’m not bitin’ my tongue for no-fuckin’-body, ’cause when I wrote [“Say”], a lot of that shit was goin’ on—and probably still is goin’ on. For every Jay Z, there’s an MF DOOM out there—a dude who doesn’t have access to everything, but he’s just as dope. Me bein’ an older artist, I know you can’t do and say certain shit. Because you’ll get—not only sabotaged yourself—but you’ll have people not wantin’ [to be] around you. When you’re young, you get away with so much shit ’cause ignorance is bliss. You don’t have to care. You just have to stand there and serve your purpose—whatever that freakin’ purpose is, man. I didn’t like the energy that they put into the business side of it now, that has the industry scratchin’ its fuckin’ heads. It’s a young man’s sport. They say what’s cool and what isn’t, man.
Ambrosia For Heads: That’s what makes “Trillmatic” so interesting, right. ‘Cause you’ve got a young crew in A$AP Mob, that in a lot of ways, has similar parallels to you guys (Wu-Tang Clan), when you started. They reach out to you, as that veteran, to complete the circle…
Method Man: For the idea they had, it was perfect for them to reach out to anybody from that era that has an impact. I’m just happy that they had called me. I think [A$AP] Rocky was supposed to be on it, originally. I don’t know what happened with that. But I’ve been [perceived as someone who rushes in the studio]—someone who doesn’t take time to write the rhymes. I think there was a time where I had obligations to a [Method Man & Redman] album, a Wu-Tang [Clan] album, as well as my own project, and I had to get those projects done. So there was a lot of [fast writing]. And that’s when it stopped being fun. Later on in life, now that I have more time to write, it’s a lot more fun. And in the immortal words of Sean Price, I’m better than the majority of these m’fuckas out here.
Ambrosia For Heads: It’s interesting that you mentioned Jay Z and MF DOOM. We had a [Finding the GOAT] contest where we posed the question to Heads as to who was better and they picked MF DOOM. And, it’s no know on Jay, but I think it’s a credit to our readership that they recognize the talent of MCs like DOOM and Sean P.
Method Man: Yeah, I’ve always been that kind of dude and shit. They’re not even underdogs to me. They’re like unseen, unheard MCs that I’d be sittin’ next to the radio on Friday and Saturday and flip between Mr. Magic & Marley Marl and [DJ] Red Alert and “the youngest DJ in charge”: Pete Rock. These were dudes that weren’t heard on the radio. They were on slotted with that Friday night slot with Mr. Magic & Marley Marl. Or that Saturday night in the mix with Chuck Chillout n’ Red Alert—”Red in effect.” I’ve always gravitated towards those dudes, ’cause I felt that they were hungrier than the established artist.
My thing that I don’t like that people do with—let’s say a Jay Z—is they try to put all this shit on him, like he’s supposed to be responsible for everything that happens in the Black Community. Which is so fuckin’ wrong, because there’s plenty of Black people—affluent Black people who never get the finger pointed at them or blamed for anything. People that have moved out of the ghetto and never came back. Never contributed. Never even gave advice on how to to get the fuck outta the hood. Jay, on the other hand—and I know I sound like a Jay Z advocate right now—but I just read some shit where people were trying to tear him down, I think he’s a very genuine dude, I think he’s a very smart dude. So he don’t owe y’all Black asses shit. [Laughs] I’m sayin’ it. Word is bond.
I been on each side of “You a loser” and chicks not wantin’ to holla and you can’t even borrow a dollar from your man and shit—I’ve been on the other side of that. They kick when you’re down, and they kick you when you’re up.
Ambrosia For Heads: Jay often says he’s the Michael Jordan of recording. Mike got some of that flack back in the ’90s too, as you’ll probably recall. But the funny thing is, a lot of those cats, on the low, are doing things, they’re just not shouting about it. It’s not for anyone to judge what someone’s actions are at this point, ’cause most people don’t know what they’re doing anyway…
Method Man: I know, but we live in a copy-paste-click-send-post era. People is real fuckin’ bold, man. They’re so bold behind those keyboards and shit. You know who I respect? I respect the people that state their opinion, not in a malicious manner, where you can see the point they’re tryin’ to make. [I do not respect] the person that gets on there all huffy, “Her feet too god-damn big!” or “Why she wearin’ that belt?” Shit like that. Like, who the fuck cares about shit like that? Do they build us up to tear us down? That’s what it’s starting to feel like. Media is taking…this is why I have a problem with doin’ interviews and shit. Media tends to—not everyone, there are media outlets that just stick to the facts and give great articles and don’t ask you these same questions over and over again. But then there’s people that try to make a story out of a story. You know what I mean? It’s that—I won’t say her name, but it’s those tabloids, TV women that constantly talk about other people’s business, because they don’t have any of their own—without it they wouldn’t be that fuckin’ interesting.
The things that the news is running with. Look back at the [catholic priest scandals]. Before that, had you heard anything like that? No. But all of a sudden, every week, they was catchin’ a new priest touchin’ a kid. Or a teacher, sleepin’ with the students. I mean, I’ve heard of it before, but in this new age of media? Every week, a new teacher was up there [on TV] touchin’ a fuckin’ student. Are you guys searching up underneath rocks for this shit?
I knew once they showed the footage of the cop and this police brutality shit like that, in this new age, I knew every week we’d be hearing about another cop—which I didn’t think was fair, at all. And trust me, I’m from the hood! There was a lot of times where I was like, “Fuck the police!” myself. But I don’t like bullies, and I don’t like propaganda. So if every week I’m seein’ a fuckin’ cop—and this shit been goin’ on for years. They’re startin’ to show it every week: a cop did this, a cop did that, a cop got shot. I don’t think that shit is fuckin’ fair! Just ’cause you want people to watch your fuckin’ lame-ass news channel. I don’t think it’s fair at all. And I’m not siding with anyone, cops or robbers or whoever. Shit, I’ve gotten my ass kicked before by police. I’ve been lied on by police. But I’ve gotten my ass by niggas too, and lied on by niggas! What we need to do is have a median where everybody can sit down and talk to each other so they can understand each other, because both sides are being run by fear.
Ambrosia For Heads: It sounds like you’ve got a “Say, Part 2” where you have a lot more game to give on it too, and a lot more perspective.
Method Man: You know, if you don’t learn nothin’ while you’re in [the world] and shit, you gonna make the same fuckin’ mistake. I think I learn from things.
Ambrosia For Heads: At the end of the video for The Meth Lab, a new song starts playing along with different footage. Can you give any details about the song and what to expect from the video?
Method Man: Yeah, that’s a song called “Straight Gutter.” We couldn’t get the [sample] clearance for it. I don’t know about that clearance shit, and who’s in charge of that, and how they know about how they do it…’cause honestly, if an artist wants to sample somethin’ I did, I’d be like, “Go the fuck ‘head and do it. [As] long as you’re not degrading me or my people, go the fuck ‘head on and fuckin’ do it.” But now, it’s like we couldn’t get the clearance for the sample for that record.
But I’ve heard that [sample in films, commercials, and other places]. Why, when it comes to Hip-Hop, I guess they don’t want rappers usin’ they music and shit, which I think is fucked up. It is a form of music. Even if you don’t respect it, there’s millions upon millions of people who fuckin’ do. They’re killin’ us with that shit—actually killin’ us.
[Editor’s note: Tommy Boy Records confirmed that “Straight Gutter” was re-produced by Ron Browz without the sample in question, and will be included on The Meth Lab.]
Ambrosia For Heads: Samples bring shine [to the original sources] too…
Method Man: There’s some fuckin’ hardcore Rock group that re-did “Bring The Pain.” Re-did it, but the Rock version of it. There’s people out there that say they like that version better than my shit. But you don’t see me complaining. You don’t see me goin’ and callin’ my publishing people like, “Find these dudes, and sue ’em!” Like, naw. Fuck it. I think they fucked my record up, but what am I gonna do? They’re artists. They’re musicians. Let ’em fuckin’…it’s music, it’s free, it’s for the people. Let ’em fuckin’ run with it. I’m not gonna fuckin’ pull out my pen and write the label and tell ’em, “If you don’t cease-and-desist and all this shit, I want millions of dollars for a record, that when I dropped it, didn’t even make two cents…” The shit is not fuckin’ fair. And they don’t do that to the—well, they just did that to Robin Thicke. But that was [the family of] Marvin Gaye—and that was a straight…I won’t even speak on that. Usually with Pop artists, they’ll be trying to hook us—squeeze every little fuckin’ penny out of us, man.
You know I don’t even own a penny of “All I Need”? They took 100% publishing—I’m not gonna say who because I still love them as artists. They’ve had some hits back in the days, but that wasn’t fair. How you gon’ take 100% pub? Really? Fo’real? Don’t let me do the record at all. Say no. But to take 100% publishing? That’s foul. And I don’t think they would’ve did that shit if it was Marvin Gaye or Diana Ross or Beyonce; they wouldn’t have taken 100% of that fuckin’ publishing from [Beyonce]. Because it’s a rapper—I mean, I don’t think they even listened to [“I’ll Be There For You / You’re All I Need To Get By”]. ‘Cause if you listened to the song—you even said it yourself—[it] transcended what hood love is like. It wasn’t too soft for dudes. It wasn’t too hard for the ladies.
Ambrosia For Heads: I know you got the short end, but you gave the people a gift that endures…
Method Man: I’m not really worried about it. But when I see commercials that use it, or it’s been used in movies, and I don’t get a fuckin’ dime off of it, when I blood, sweated, and teared… I mean, that fuckin’ song meant a lot to me when I wrote it and shit. I did the lessons-thing with it beforehand, but they should’ve fuckin’ felt great that a record they fuckin’ wrote inspired me to write somethin’ with somethin’ not tearin’ women down, but biggin’ ’em up as our wives and our rocks in our lives, and they go take 100% of the fuckin’ publishing. But don’t get me wrong, I still love ’em as artists. If I see ’em tomorrow, I’d probably want to take a flick with ’em and tell ’em how great they were. [But it was] an asshole move, straight up and down.
Ambrosia For Heads: That’s the business side…
Method Man: I don’t think that’s fair. Do you think that’s fair?
Ambrosia For Heads: Not at all. Not at all.
Method Man: People’d be like, “Oh my God, Beyonce wants to sing my record? Go ‘head, girlfriend! You sing that record, baby!” They’d probably take some of the publishing, but they’re not takin’ 100-fuckin’-percent.
Ambrosia For Heads: When you break it down, they’re discounting everything you did on [your version of] the record. Everything. It clearly is not [worth] 100%. That did happen to—do you remember the group called The Verve? They had a song called “Bittersweet Symphony.” The Rolling Stones took 100% of their publishing, but I haven’t heard of that happening too many times.
Method Man: Wow. That’s terrible. Did The Verve do a word-for-word [remake] of the record?
Ambrosia For Heads: They did nothing, dude. All they was the…you know the violin beginning. The violin sample was all that they used, everything else was original.
Method Man: This is the shit that I’m talkin’ about, man. That group that I was tellin’ you about, that did “Bring The Pain” over? [They sang] every fuckin’ word to the record on their record! Never been sued.
One thing I wanted to inquire about before we go is the the “88 Coupes” record, right. What’s one thing you noticed on there?
Ambrosia For Heads: Uh…
Method Man: It’s a pretty vague question. But what I’m getting at is, what didn’t you hear on the record?
Ambrosia For Heads: I gotta think…
Method Man: No. There’s no curse words.
Ambrosia For Heads: Wow. I gotta go back. That’s so crazy; I didn’t even notice that.
Method Man: I know. That’s how I write ’em now. I haven’t cursed in my rhymes since Wu-Massacre.
Ambrosia For Heads: That’s crazy.
Method Man: So if you hear a rhyme where I curse, just know that’s before [2010’s] Wu-Massacre. Listen to the whole Wu album, A Better Tomorrow—not one curse word [from me].
Ambrosia For Heads: So why’d you start goin’ in that direction?
Method Man: I just wanted to separate myself from the pack, for one. For two, I challenged myself to see if I could do it. I was writin’ for somebody, and they didn’t want curse words in the record. So I was sayin’, “You know what? Let’s see if I can write something hard without putting curse words in it, and don’t tell nobody and see if they notice.”
Ambrosia For Heads: Well, we appreciate you and everything you’ve given to the culture and guarantee you your fan base is incredibly strong. So, we all thank you.
Method Man: I appreciate that, brother.