In the last two years, Chicago has emerged as one of the preeminent sources of young hip hop talent, producing artists like Lil Bibby, Lil Herb, Chance the Rapper and Chief Keef. But before major labels were even venturing beyond the coasts, Twista was helping to put the "Windy City" on the hip hop map.
With his ninth studio album, Dark Horse, set to drop August 12, the venerable MC looks to mix that vintage sound with a few modern stylings. In an exclusive interview with BET.com, the Chi-Town legend talks about why the early years of fame are so challenging, how hip hop could help stop the violence in Chicago and why he plans on "cornering" Kanye West the next time he sees him.
You got a song with Chief Keef. As one of the artists that's the future of Chicago, do you worry to see him getting in trouble so much and do you ever talk to him about it?
I do a lot with him 'cause I look at him as my little bro, so when I hear stuff about him that's negative, I think about it a lot ... a lot of stuff chases him, too. With this fame comes a lot of responsibility. Once he understands how famous he is and how in some ways he is a role model, he'll start to come out of certain things that he's into and start to be a little wiser.
But he's definitely a smart, intelligent young brother and for every artist that first few years of their career is like survival almost. But once you get past that to the next level you're able to grind it out. I saw Snoop Dogg go through that, I went through it, Scarface, Jay Z...
With all of Chicago's up-and-coming MCs, including Keef, how does it make you feel to see your city getting all this recent shine?
I'm happy that we got that outlet. Being in the middle of the map, we can't get to the record labels and the MTVs as quick as you can in New York and L.A. and Atlanta, so once social media started crackin' ... you started to see the talent that's always been there. So better late than never. Chief Keefs, the [King] Louies, the Lil Bibbys, you can see it on an innovative level.
And speaking on all that talent, do you think a "Stop the Violence" movement similar to the one the East and West Coast had in '89 and 90 could help what's going on in Chicago?
We need to do that. I definitely discussed that with a few people before and I have somebody that's working for me trying to put a track together. I definitely think that's something you'll see from Chicago very soon with all of us artists doing a "Self-Destruction" and "We're All in the Same Gang" type of song. Because if they see all of us do that, the same way they see all of us turn up or get wild in videos and they wanna emulate that, I think if they see us all do that, it will have a positive effect. I'll make sure it happens.
You and Kanye have made some classic music together. Have you guys worked on anything lately?
I haven't talked to him in a while but definitely I'm gonna end up catching him or running into him and when I do, I gotta corner him and be like, "'Ye, I need something!" We'll make it happen. I actually got one track that's not on the album 'cause of sample clearances, but eventually it will be heard, produced by Kanye West and the legendary Traxster and it's called "I Love the Lord," so eventually you're gonna hear that song.
That sounds like it might be the "Jesus Walks" Kanye that some of his fans are missing. You've been through a few eras in hip hop, what's your most memorable on-the-road moment?
One time I was doing a show in Cleveland. It was Biggie and Mobb Deep and there was another cat, and I didn't know who he was. I was like, "Who is this?" I didn't get a chance to see him on stage but I got a chance to see him when he [walked back to] the hallway and it was Big L. So me and Big L got a chance to kick it in the hallway of the hotel and kick rhymes back and forth. We talked after that. The thing I learned from Big L was how to dress on tour. Big L taught me that. This was before social media when everybody could see what you had on. He taught me how to pick a few outfits, how to pack the clothes, how to bust them out at different times throughout the week but still look like you fresh.
Speaking of some of the greats that are no longer with us, Pac had so many unreleased recordings. Did you two ever connect on a record?
When I first was in the game I was on Loud Records, which was on the West Coast, so I started doing a lot of my promo runs on the West Coast and I was going to the college radio station ... I was walking out and in was walking Tupac and he's got the hoodie on, the green Miami hoodie that he wore in Juice. So I saw him that day and said, 'What's up,' got to talk to him a little bit. And then another time we kicked it, I had a show on the West Coast opening up for Digital Underground. So I came out, did my thing and then after that, he was chillin' in the hallway, Shock G and Money B were in another part chillin' and Pac walked up to me and was like, "What's up, I heard you was the man down in Chicago" –– 'cause back then there were no other rappers in the city –– and he said, "When I come to Chicago, I'ma link up with you." We never got a chance.
On the new album, you have that song "Crisis" with Tech N9ne. You both came up in the same era, same region and with a similar style. How competitive is it when you two connect?
We actually drive each other crazy, in a friendly way. I did a verse for Krizz Kaliko on a song and he talked about how he hated having to write his verse for a song after my verse. Same thing when I work with Tech. I hate writing behind Tech N9ne because he makes me have to work extra hard. But it's always fun. Back in the day, when the style was kinda new, we maybe had more of a competitive vibe with everybody taking it more serious, but at this point, we're like pioneers. We can just have fun with the lyrics being two of the top guys that ever did it.
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(Photo: Kevin Mazur/BET/Getty Images for BET)