How do you see yourself as a seasoned veteran in the rap game with the younger rappers coming up? Is it tough to talk to them because it seems like they’re so confident already in their music?
It really didn’t take that much. A lot of the younger acts feel like they’re already good at it. Even the Durk’s and the Keef’s and Reese’s and all of them, they all reach out. I’ve worked with Louie. I’ve worked with Durk. They all show love and I show love to them too because I want that next generation to really succeed. I want them to get better so they can carry the torch from the guys who are a little older than them, proudly. The same way Common and Ye and all of those guys, even Twista… When Common and Twista passed the torch to Kanye, Lupe, me, and all of the new generation, we gotta do the same thing.
As everyone knows, there is a huge problem with gangs, and violence in general. How did the situation get so out of hand and how do you see it being solved?
The right way is stepping in with the leadership of the gang, through the community centers and changing the dynamic, helping them legitimize what they’re trying to do. It’s like nobody sells drugs for the sake of selling drugs. People sell drugs because it’s an economy where there’s little opportunity for people to make a certain amount of money. It’s the heart of capitalism. If you can provide viable alternatives to the youth, that’s what’s gonna help solve the gang problems. When you can build community centers, teach entrepreneurship, train people, allow some of these guys to run the neighborhoods to make sure these kids are on the right path, provide them with viable leaders in the community already doing positive things like the pastors, or link them with the gang leadership to intrinsically turn the path of the kids. To lock the leadership up, it caused way more chaos. We are reaping the fruits of that strategy. And that’s the wrong strategy. You send people to jail, not rehabilitating them. There’s no intervention for the kids. It doesn’t speak to the heart of the problem which is poverty and lack of opportunity. So when you build centers with studios and gyms and fields, that’s when you’ll start seeing change.
Letting the leaders know, “Look man, you don’t want to go to jail? You want to stay on the street? We’re gonna partner you with someone like Barack Obama.” Barack Obama was a community organizer in Chicago. “You guys are gonna help lead this organization. You’re gonna guide Barack and show him the dynamics of the hood. He’s gonna show you the business acumen and we’re gonna put you in these classes to get your GED. We’re gonna help you become a community organizer.” People on the outside shouldn’t always be the community organizer in the hood or fight for these grants. We need to take the kids born and raised in their communities and start putting those kids and gang leaders in leadership. And if they don’t want to straighten up, then we have the alternative of locking them up if all they want to do is negative.
But they just did sweeps. They took the gang leaders out of the neighborhood, took all the structure from the gang, and all the kids were left to fend for themselves. That’s unacceptable; no programs added. Then all the gangs just fractured and splintered into neighborhood gangs-block gangs. Now you have 100 more gangs than you did before. All it did was help the prison industrial complex.
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So as a rapper, this plan has been brewing in the back of your head?
It’s not in the back of my head. It’s in the forefront of my head. I feel like that’s part of my mission and my role in my life. It’s to find ways to give back to this community that birthed me, that birthed the Kanyes, that birthed the Lupes, and birthed the Commons and birthed the Derrick Roses, and all of these people. I’m talking to people everyday on how to implement the proper programs to do what we need to do. That’s something I want to be a part of alongside my rap career. I want the music to spearhead what I want to do on a greater scope. The music is more of the means than it is the ends. Everyone’s after the same end. It’s like, “What are you really gonna do when you get it? Just be famous? How are you gonna affect people’s lives in a positive way?”
Let’s get into the specifics of your plans.
One of my main goals is to really put community centers in the worst neighborhoods. I’ve traveled to Manhattan, they have boys and girls clubs. Almost every neighborhood, those centers are where people come together. It’s free of charge. It’s a safe haven. In Chicago, we don’t really have that. To search for that is like a needle in a haystack. School lets out. That’s it. You’re left to your own devices. It’s one of my goals to find a partner to help build these safe havens throughout the community-the Southside, the Westside, the Northside. and then take it from Chicago to other places and do the same thing-Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, New York! I feel like it’s a process that can be duplicated. You take the leaders in these communities, whether they are gang leaders or drugs dealers, and you pin point them to try and turn. You don’t try and lock them up. You influence them. If you can influence the influencers and actually have infrastructure, where they can not only make a living but have a respectable title, then I feel like that’s how you really affect change in your community long term. That’s something I’m working on pro actively right now.
Right. When you affect the youth and they grow up, then the youth following them have an example to follow.
Related to this passion you have to give back, I read that you have a Masters degree. How did you find time to obtain one?
I got signed by Jermaine Dupri at Virgin. I got out of my deal with Cash Money Records. Basically me and No I.D., who was running the show at the time and I was signed to, chose Virgin Records in the bidding war I was in. As soon as I got over there and started working on a project, Jermaine didn’t see eye to eye with the label hierarchy and he left. He was the whole Urban department at Virgin, so when he left I was stuck in limbo. I had just had my first son. It was a crazy time in my life. Then trying to get out of that deal was hard because I didn’t really have anybody to talk to. Then Capital bought Virgin out, so I had more red tape to get through. So I was stuck for a couple years. I didn’t have an A&R, no president. I had no plan. I looked at my son and said, “This rap industry is funny. So let me go and secure something for my family.”
Why a Masters in education?
My first degree was in education. Before I signed to Cash Money, I was teaching already in the city, the ghetto, in Englewood-same neighborhood Chief Keef is from. I was one of the hottest independent rappers in the streets at the time and I was in the classroom. I had great relationships with those kids. One of them I basically mentored and he came and lived with me for a little. I wanted to give back. So I chose a Masters in education because eventually I wanted to build these community centers, have my own school, and be a principal. I wanted to support my family and keep giving back. That’s been one of my passions.