Crooked I sat down with HipHopDx and revealed his approach towards his latest album, which he considers his debut album ” Apex Predator”. Crooked I expresses why there is a lack of features on the project, touches upon West Coast Rap, and his interest in a Slaughter House / Black Hippy collaboration despite any rumored “tensions”, Hit the jump for the interview!

Adriela Batista

HipHopDX: Apex Predator is in stores now, so how do you feel about the reception you’ve been getting?

Crooked I: I actually love it. I think that’s the best part of the whole shit. The fans are hitting me up like a mothafucka. Last night, I was trying to be on my late night shit, and I went to this drop box where you drop off clothes and shoes and shit for the homeless. I had a bunch of shit, I’m in my truck, and I’m trying to creep ‘cause it’s kinda in the hood, and I’m solo bolo. I’m good everywhere, but at the same time, I’m not foolish. Anything can happen at any time; anybody can get it. So I’m putting all these bags and shit in, and this dude walks by like, “Hey, that Apex shit is hard.” I’m like, “Damn,” it’s late at night and shit, and I got a tan, so it ain’t easy to spot me on a dark street. That’s the type of shit that makes me feel like, “You know what? That’s dope.” That’s what I do it for.

DX:You’ve stated that this is your debut album, but you’re definitely no newcomer to this. How did you approach this album differently?

Crooked I: I got so many bodies of music out there that it’s more music for the people. I hate that music has to have a price tag on it. To me, it’s just like drinking water…we charging all these mothafuckas for water when we got oceans. The world is covered by three-fourths of water, and we still charging niggas to drink it? Pretty soon, they gonna be charging niggas to breathe air. Music is a gift to me. It’s a God-given talent, and it just feels like it should be free to the people. I really don’t like putting a price tag on music. I think that’s one thing that has, so called, “held me back” in the industry…because they love putting price tags on music.

DX: The music business…

Crooked I: I’m not mad at that. You gotta eat, you gotta feed your family and do all of that. But I really don’t like putting price tags on music. I put out a lot of free shit in my career, and I’ve been blessed to be able to maintain myself and stay relevant. With the Apex shit, it’s been a while since I’ve been in the store and had my own bin. It’s definitely a little different from the other projects. But musically, it’s the same old thing, and I’m just trying to give the people good music and create more awareness about what we doing over here.

DX: Given that Slaughterhouse is collectively signed to Shady Records, this is probably the biggest machine you’ve had behind you in your whole career. Why specifically did you choose to cut back on features with your solo album?

Crooked I: I just wanted mothafuckas to get to know me. I know I gained a lot of new fans with Slaugherhouse, being with Em and all that. So I’m just reintroducing myself to the new people who just started getting into my music. I really wanted to be intimate with the listener. I’m tired of all these big ass collabos and shit. Niggas have never even been in the studio with each other, it’s just mothafuckas emailing verses from here, there, and there—and never even slapped hands with the mothafucka before. You met the mothafucka at the Grammys, and y’all got six songs together? That’s not organic to me; that’s just the industry saying that there’s a formula you need to follow to be successful. Then the listeners think that’s the way it’s supposed to be like, “I guess a nigga gotta have seven niggas on his album and seven or eight big features on the album.”

People ask you “Well, who do you got featured on the album?” I don’t want to hear that shit. What the fuck you talking about? If you fuck with me for what I do, then listen to what I’m doing. Illmatic didn’t have 20 features on it, and Blueprint didn’t have 20 features on it. Why the fuck are we in this feature game? Then I hear these albums, and it’s niggas rappin with niggas on songs that don’t sound right from a producer standpoint. As artists, we gotta be producers too. So you listen to a song, and think, “This aggressive ass nigga should have been on track two and not track 10 that’s all laid back.”

It’s just mayhem. So I was like, “I’m not gonna have nobody on my album but Tech N9ne.” I chose Tech N9ne because he’s always supported everything I’ve done. And this is a real independent album for me; Tech N9ne is the independent guru—the king. He’s somebody who motivates me as an independent businessman in Hip Hop, to do better, be better and to be greater. So I was like, “Yo, that’s the perfect nigga for this mothafuckin’ album, because I need somebody who is a predator…somebody who is gonna fucking tear some shit up. I need someone that represents this independent shit, because that’s all we got out here.” My shit is super independent. I’ll shoot a video off money I make from shows. When I’m by myself—when I’m just doing my shit—it’s all independent. Ain’t nobody gonna jump out no closet with a fat ass check. It’s a nigga coming out of his own pocket and making music to give to the people. That’s why I put Tech on there, ‘cause he definitely is the man when it comes to that.

DX: You mentioned the predator mindset and how Kendrick’s bars from “Control” factor into that. How does all of that play into West Coast emcees being acknowledged for their lyricism? What impact does the fact that Joell Ortiz—a member of Slaughterhouse—was one of the first emcees to respond?

Crooked I: On the West Coast, there’s always been this urban legend that we don’t got bars. All the spitters do everyday is fight that fight to show, “Nah, we got bars over here.” A lot of people think that we’re just only good gangster storytellers. [The perception is that] nobody could get in a gladiator arena and fuck somebody up lyrically, but they might tell a dope ass “gangster story.” Well, we got gangster rappers, gangster stories, we got niggas who strictly backpack, and then we got the mixture of both in one fucking artist. I’m happy for what Kendrick did. What he did is, he went and annihilated a track on a mainstream level that made people pay attention. He called out that group of his peers…those are his peers. He said, “We all good, and we can make music together. We can do all this together, but when this mic turn on, I gotta be the victor.” Kobe and them, they shake hands with everybody they play against, but they want to win that game though. It’s just friendly competition. It’s somebody speaking out loud, saying something that a lot of rappers think anyway. I salute what he did.

On the flip side, I salute what Joell did [with “Outta Control”]. He’s like, “Okay, you say you the king of New York? I’m from New York; I’m from Brooklyn. I gotta hold down this Big Daddy Kane legacy, this Jay Z legacy, this Notorious B.I.G. legacy. I gotta hold this down. Okay, let’s compete.” So I understood where Joell came from, and him being my brother, I salute you too. You stood up for your coast, for what you believe, and for everything you rap for. Kendrick, I respect you too, ‘cause you went out there and showed them mothafuckas that the West Coast do have bars. I’m not even torn. On this hand, I salute [Kendrick], on that hand, I salute [Joell].

DX: So is there ever a conversation, like—let’s use Joell since he doesn’t have any issues—is there a conversation like, “No, Joell, we don’t need that right now?”

Crooked I: That’s the thing about it; I think Kendrick opened the door for competitors to step through and it not be so negative. It’s not really a diss song, it’s more a response. I’m liking the fact they’re using the word “response,” ‘cause it takes some of the negativity off the whole shit. If it was diss, now that’s where things start getting crazy. It’s just a response. Kendrick opened the door in a smart way. He did it like, “I just want to compete.” It ain’t about guns, but let’s just compete on some lyrical shit—on the sport of Hip Hop and taking your fan base. If your fan base thinks you doper than me, then I’m gonna take your fan base. The way he created that whole moment, it’s just like, “Okay, it’s just a response.” In my mind at least, there can still be a Black Hippy/Slaughterhouse track—which I think is what the fans would rather see than motherfuckers in Slaughterhouse individually responding or whatever. I would rather see that. But that’s my opinion, and we all got individual opinions. I would rather see the Black Hippy/Slaughterhouse track.

Checkout the rest of the interview on HipHopDX