Nipsey Hussle Talks Rick Ross, Gangbanging and Going Indie

"The major label situation wasn’t for me."

Posted: 04/25/2012 09:00 AM EDT

More often than not, the road to the top of the hill isn't a straight one — it's filled with turns, twists and maybe even a few potholes. Few know this better than Nipsey Hussle. The South Central MC was one of hip hop's most promising up-and-comers back in 2009, when he signed a deal with Epic Records after a flurry of buzzed-about mixtapes. Widely considered the West Coast's next superstar, he recorded with Drake and Lloyd, hopped on the all-star "We Are the World" remake after the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and was featured on the cover of XXL magazine's annual Freshmen issue, which spotlights rap's most likely to succeed. However, he parted ways with Epic and his management team last year, and is now back at square one, grinding as an indie artist once again. But Nipsey isn't your average unsigned MC: In February, rumors emerged that Nipsey was signing to Rick Ross's Maybach Music Group after the two MCs complimented each other back and forth on Twitter. Though the deal never happened, the reports, and the Bawse co-signs, speak to Nipsey's talent and hustle — as does his latest mixtape, the spirited The Marathon Continues, released last November, and his nonstop global touring schedule. Here, BET.com sits down with Nipsey to talk about the MMG rumors, his expanding business empire and doing his thing with or without a major. 

 

BET.com: You’ve been away from the spotlight for a short while. We heard you experienced some label and management changes.

 

Nipsey Hussle: Yeah, we just kind of reset our situation. [In terms of] management, we’ve got a partnership with DJ Skee and his team. We teamed up with all the marketing stuff he’s doing, obviously all the radio outlets he got, and he got a lot of good relationships with brands on the corporate side of things. So I figured it’ll make sense with us being independent and getting off Epic [Records] and all that. As far as the label situation, at the end of 2010 going into 2011 my situation with Epic, we parted ways. We cool though — it wasn’t no bad blood or nothing like that, it’s just I didn’t feel like the situation was going to be able to work. I felt like either I was going to have to compromise what I was doing or they was going to have to understand the vision, and it just didn’t line up the right way. We had a sit-down and I just was like, I don’t think it's going to work. They was smooth about it, they gave me my release. It was at a point where nobody understood what Nipsey Hussle was better than us. It wasn’t our money at that point, we was on a label it was they money, and you got to understand when somebody spending they money they’re going to do what they believe in and they’re going to do it their way, and you’ve got to respect that. I feel like me seeing that and coming from that grind, the major label situation wasn’t for me. Especially since seeing the game change and seeing how Mac Miller did 100-plus the first week indy. Seeing the Odd Future moving and growing, doing 50,000 the first week. Seeing how Chidish Gambino put up 50,000 the first week without no major radio. Fans are coming out and getting their content from different places right now than the places that the major labels dictate and are gate keepers of — TV and radio. You ask a 16-year-old girl what’s the music on her iPod and she’s liable to name five mixtapes. The game is going to keep going in that direction. I tweeted a while ago [that] signing a deal right now would be like buying a Benz the year before they change the body shape. You hop on a car and the next year they change the body shape; you’re stuck paying the notes on a old model. 

 

Ironically though, your buzz took off again recently when you and Rick Ross began tweeting back and forth, which made some people think you were going to sign with him. Why did you decide not to go with Maybach Music?

 

Well, not to make it sound like I was trying to create a buzz off tweeting Ross, ’cause that’s not what it was. It was natural, it was organic, Ross being a fan of music and the hottest MC in the game. We been had spoke about seeing if we could make something happen and we just, you know, reached out on Twitter, started speaking to each other, and was trying to see if we could make the situation work. He is just a stand-up dude and was basically like, “[There’s] an opportunity right here and if it’s something that makes sense with what your vision is, the door’s open.” I respect him and salute him for that, because a lot of artists don’t reach out. They’re more in a mode of competitive thinking, and I feel like that’s one of the reasons he’s so successful, because he’s got a different way of looking at things. [But] I just feel like we weren’t at that point yet to go back into the major [label] situation. One day we might do that, or we might stay independent, but I just wanted to build up what this Nipsey Hussle thing is a little bit more and solidify it amongst my fans before we make that move. I’ve been in a major label situation before and I know the Ross situation is unique [with] him being an artist and artist from the streets. He moreso understands what an artist like myself has to do to be successful because he did it. I felt like that was the upside to it, but [I wanted] to be in control of my situation and bring it to a level of maximum exposure myself, and raise the stakes and raise my value to the highest degree so that the bill will be something worth it on the back end. I’m a fan of what they doing — Meek [Mill], Wale, Ross. I feel like they got the biggest movement in the game right now. Ross is just A1 about everything, even when we didn’t make the deal happen he kept it 100. You know, we had records together; he was like, “Man keep those records, that’s for you to do your thing and much success.” So, 100 to Ross.

 

Going forward, what can your fans expect from you in 2012? 

 

This year my first goal, obviously, is to elevate my music and just get better at what I’m doing. The last project I put out was TMC [The Marathon Continues]; I dropped that in November of 2011, we’ve been on tour since then, and were getting ready to finish on May 4 in L.A. After that I’m going right back in the studio to work on my new project. I don’t like calling it an album or a mixtape because I don’t know until it’s done what I’m going to do with it. I always go into the process like I’m make an album, and then I gage the situation when I’m about halfway done with it. I see where I’m at so if I don’t feel like it’s time or I don’t feel like the fans are ready for a album I’m going to drop another mixtape. If I feel like it’s time and they’re ready I’m going to go ahead and put an album out. Outside of that, [I’m] just really building my business up. I got a team in L.A. which is my company, All Money In. We got a clothing store in L.A., we got a cellphone store we opened up, we got a medical marijuana clinic. We just trying to keep building business outside of hip hop, because like I said, I study the game and I feel like when you get in this position of depending on hip hop and music for your income, your music automatically suffers because the intents going into it ain’t what they need to be. When you make music, you want to make music purely as a creative outlet. If you looking at it like you got this crazy overhead or you got these car notes, you got bills to pay every month and you doing it to pay your bills, the music is going to suffer. I feel like we’ve been blessed to kind of take that burden off of us to where we ain’t in a rush to sign no wack deal. We’re more so looking at the game, and we want to partner up and we want people to work with us as partners, and if we can’t get our weight up to that point, then it ain’t for us. But we just getting the music where it needs to be to keep the fans excited and also just keep building business outside of hip hop.

 

What’s the biggest misconception about Nipsey Hussle?

 

The biggest misconception about Nipsey Hussle is that all I’m about is gangbanging. Part of it is my fault. When I came in, I had one foot in the game and one foot in the music. I was trying to tip-toe into the rap game and still be in the streets. At the same time, music is my passion. I don’t think anybody gangbangs because that’s the first thing that comes to their minds; you grow up in an area and you reach a certain age and you feel like this is what it is. But give somebody another option, give them a studio or job and give them a direction with their life, nine out of 10 people gon’ take the right direction. I feel like they might’ve type-cast me which is cool, because as an artist it’s your job to shout out your differences and define yourself. The more and more I drop music and the more and more people meet me and really listen to my music, they get a better understanding of the core of what I am and represent. I’m not all about Cripping and gangbanging; it’s music first.

 

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(Photo: Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic)

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