Redman Gets Real About Def Squad, Leaving Def Jam & Staying True To Self (Audio)
Approaching this Friday’s release of Mudface, Redman’s media campaign rages on. The MC extraordinaire appeared on The Combat Jack Show with a one-hour interview that covers Red’s career with the questions so many want to know. Reggie Noble goes in, from his support of Fetty Wap, to the break-up days with Def Jam, to making a quarter-mill behind the turntables. This is a definitive conversation with a Hip-Hop giant.
The discussion begins with Redman speaking about his class of peers. Red reveals that he speaks regularly to The Game, Busta Rhymes, Keith Murray, and other artists that faithfully support each other’s direction. Explaining the balance this inner-circle gives him, the Def Squad MC said, “[I am not] trying to win by doing the new era music when you know you’re from the ’90s.” He continued, “A lot of artists try to implement some of the new wave into they situation. It works and [does not] work, because, sometimes the fans, they want originality. They want that artist that they grew up with. Like Redman, [the fans] couldn’t see me doing any Trap music—even though I’d air that shit out; I’d air anything out.” Of his overall demeanor, the Brick City native deduced, “I keep a level head from my circle, and my kids, and just making the right decision [to] keep the Redman brand going.” The father of four sons and one daughter later said, “I have survived this long with the method that I’m doing, so why to fix what ain’t broke?”
Combat Jack and A-King ask Redman about the tutelage of Erick Sermon, whom Redman performed with last month at the BET Hip Hop Awards Cyphers. “Even though we had our lil’ issues—everybody in the [Def Squad] had issues—I still respect [Erick Sermon] and love him to this day—for mentoring me, showin’ me the Funk 101, like a big brother to me. He was just like that big brother that watched over me and Keith [Murray],” said the MC who first appeared on 1990’s Business As Usual album by EPMD. “Even though he was busy, he still made sure we was alright, just like we made sure he was alright—we definitely ride for ‘Dub. But his legacy is here. Everyone respects Erick Sermon. Every body respects Erick Sermon. My thing is, Erick Sermon gots to get the fuck out more, and reach out more, and be more [communicative] with his circle, with his peers. His whole team know it, and he know it.” Red’ alleged that the EPMD co-founder’s shyness is his greatest setback. “He was the one who started that Atlanta shit…that nigga brought hope down there.” At last month’s BET Awards, Redman said Rick Ross recalled getting a ride from the airport to Sermon’s basement studio by the then-Def Jam star. Notably, Red’ joked that he had forgotten the affair. Interesting, Ross’ foe, 50 Cent, was another MC who had recorded with Sermon in Atlanta, Georgia. Funk Doc wishes E-Double would have better capitalized on his ear for budding musical talent. “As a person, he’s the dopest guy, the coolest guy, and the funniest guy; you’d love to be around him…I just wish he would take ownership [of it].”
Speaking about the early ’90s days with EPMD, Redman recalled working at a New Jersey Sizzler, before going on tour with Sermon and Parish Smith. He also says that his DJ abilities, knowledge of records, and MC style influenced EPMD records including “Rap Is Outta Control.” In turn, Red’ said he learned about the Funk from Erick, and developed a deeper vocal tone from PMD.
The EPMD discussion leads to Def Squad, and the aforementioned cypher. Of the major response to Redman, Erick Sermon, and Keith Murray’s cypher performance, the standout explained, “[The general public] forgot what Def Squad was about. Def Squad was about lyrics, beats, and rockin‘. When your ears are whored out to all this music that’s on the radio, [Def Squad] is like a breath of fresh air when you hear a dude spitting.” Notably, the Def Squad collective extends back 25 years, despite only releasing one album: 1998’s El Niño. “We just gave a good eargasm that night.” For Redman, the cypher response is a wake-up call to an industry who tends to overlook independent veterans. “We’re bangin’ out [musically]. We didn’t just get nice the night of the BET Cypher; we been nice. Y’all just now gettin’ up on is.”
That sense of being passed over prompted Combat Jack to note Redman’s lyrics in the cypher surrounding Def Jam Records. In solo and group work, Red’ released 10 albums with Russell Simmons’ label between 1992 and 2010. However, as ownership and staff changed, so did the Manhattan-based label’s treatment of one of its biggest homegrown stars. “Every couple of years we had a new CEO, new staff, new A&R people,” explained Redman of the guard following Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles in the mid-2000s. “When [the old regime] vacated the building, we got people up that was blind to the fact of the culture and the history of Def Jam.” Redman said that the new brass did not treat Method Man, LL Cool J, him and other onetime flagship acts the same. “It was so heavy and so noticeable…it felt real disrespectful.” In December, 2010, Def Jam released Redman’s Reggie, Ghostface Killah’s Apollo Kids, and Sheek Louch’s Donnie G: Don Gorilla almost effortlessly. The December releases are often called “tax write-offs” to fulfill contract obligations and post losses. The move was noticeable to an 18-year Def Jam veteran. “Me, Ghostface, Sheek Louch all [released] in the same month…with no promotion,” recalled Redman. “That was when me and my manager was like, ‘we out.'” The #118 debut on the Top 200 was the lowest of Redman’s solo career, the first time in his career he debuted below the Top 50.
Admitting that in the late 2000s, he and Method Man visited the Midtown offices once a year, even that act came with an air of disrespect. “When they started [nametagging] me and make me wait downstairs for a meeting, I was like, ‘Fuck this. I helped build this mothafucka. I ain’t waitin’ downstairs for nobody.’ Nah, they wasn’t gettin’ me with that. ‘Nah, y’all not makin’ me wait. This’ll be the last time y’all fuckers see me,’ and it was. I told ’em from the phone.” The artist who released four gold, and two platinum albums with Def Jam claimed free agency for the first time in three decades. “I immediately started making calls and gettin’ money. It was good.”
Red’ explained that with career independence comes a lifestyle shift. He jokes that he no longer uses car service. However, as he plans Muddy Waters 2 for 2016, with extensive sample clearances, Reggie Noble appears in good fiscal shape.
Discussing the Mudface producers including Rockwilder, Rick Ross and Stressmatic, Combat Jack brought up recent news surrounding the likelihood of a Dr. Dre and Redman collaboration. Speaking briefly to that, Redman shouted, “We gotta have a [DJ] Premier beat, and Premier’s right here!” Pressed as to why Gang Starr and Def Squad have yet to make that connection, Red’ said, “Preemo be—I love Preemo, but damn it Preemo, we want our beat!”
The discussion of Redman’s association grows to him shouting out M.O.P., as well as the late Sean Price. “P was my nigga!,” said Redman. “We used to call each other just to hike on each other.” Publicly, Redman hoped that he could rap to unrecorded Sean Price lyrics. “Do they have any Sean Price lyrics?” Reggie Ossé asked Reggie Noble about what drew him to the Random Axe MC’s style. “Sean was just so genuine about the streets! He was so genuine about his mojo and confident in it. [On “Like You”] he said, ‘Wu-Tang ain’t nothin’ fuck wit’ / Boot Camp Clik ain’t nothin’ to Wu-Tang…‘ […] When me and Meth’ and first heard that, we was baffled—like he’d say that about his own crew?” Redman also gave major respect to Sean’s Heltah Skeltah partner, Rockness Monstah.
Speaking of poking fun at one’s own crews, Redman was asked for his thoughts on Keith Murray’s battle against Fredro Starr last month. “That Rap battle was fuckin’ hilarious!,” said Red’, almost immediately. “First of all, I told him not to battle. Don’t nobody 40 need to be battlin'” Red’ added that the same opinion holds true for Fredro Starr, who he is a fan of. “They made their cornerstones.” He explained telling Keith, “Let these young guys do what they do, and just continue with your career.” Evaluating, Redman weighed in, “Fredro did a good job! […] Fredro came there to battle.” Despite working with Keith for nearly 25 years, the MC candidly declared, “I knew he’d get up there and show his ass.” Red’ added that he found the battle production hilarious, from Keith’s repeating lyrics to make sure they were heard to microphones falling apart to the referees dressed like NFL officials. Questioning the possibility of Keith—another Def Jam alum—losing status in a 20-plus year career, Redman clarified, “He kinda redeemed himself in the BET Cypher.” Murray did later claim that his medication affected his performance.
Combat Jack asks Redman if he would battle. “I’m not built for goin’ to find little details,” said the Gilla House founder of today’s Battle Rap tactics. “If we had to just go on skills, cool. But I’m not with all that.” However, Redman says that he declines all battling offers. At the possibility of a $3 million purse, the Newark, New Jersey veteran joked, “For $3 million, I’ll battle Jesus.”
The Garden State also elicits another interesting part of the discussion. Redman professed his support of Fetty Wap. “I try not to be biased. When we came in the game, we had the generation before us talkin’ too: ‘Who’s these guys with the fuckin’ Timberland boots, smokin’ blunts, [wearing] afros and shades?’ But we proved ourselves to be that era to be pivotal, of elevation—we elevated from the era before us. First of all, you’ve got to understand what [New] Jersey’s about. Jersey’s a state that was always overshadowed by you mothafuckas: New York.” He continued, “We was always fightin’ for that balance from y’all.” Redman said that even when he would run into the late Whitney Houston—who was quite a fan—there was a respect surrounding artists from NJ. “We support our own to continue that movement of shining […] Big up to Fetty Wap; he’s doin’ what the new generation do, and he’s staying relevant.”
Also in this hour-plus chat, Redman reveals that he does DJ dates regularly, but only overseas. He claims to have made $250,000 from doing the same thing that got his career started. Later on though, he dropped some severe wisdom: “The money comes second, but do it for the love.” Also in the discourse, Redman explains the love Damon Dash showed Red & Meth over the years, and gives a candid take on Meek Mill vs. Drake, and why Canada produces amazing Hip-Hop talent.
Going out in style, Combat Jack and A-King ask Redman for his “non-Hall Of Fame” Top 5 MCs. This excludes the usual suspects.
Redman’s list (in no order):
What’s the most surprising thing you learned about Redman in this awesome conversation?