"Name a rapper that I ain't influence." Yes, it's a Nas line from "Ether" back in 2001, but more than a decade later, in light of 2012's rap landscape — dominated by Southern rappers, producers, crews and the sound they created — it could definitely apply to 8Ball.
As one half of ground-breaking duo 8Ball & MJG, the Memphis rapper helped birth a brand-new lean, a distinctly Southern take on an artform that theretofore was dominated by the coasts. Their 1993 sophomore album, Comin' Out Hard, set a blueprint that the region's rappers still follow to this day. But 8Ball isn't done molding music and moving crowds yet: He's readying a new solo album, Life's Quest, dropping next Tuesday, July 17, via eOne Music/Push Management LLC. With one eye on his old legacy and the other on building a new one, 8 Ball recently sat down with BET.com to talk his impact on hip hop, his evolving sound and working with Drake.
First off: There's no need to worry about the state of 8Ball & MJG's long partnership. As attention-paying fans already know, both rappers have been releasing solo albums for years now. Ball first struck out on his own back in 1998 with Lost, and he says this newest project is just an continuation of that same creative process.
"The difference between Life's Quest, which is my new one, and Lost, which was my first solo album, is really just time," he tells BET.com. "My flavor of music is just 2012 8Ball. It's still my style of music, but it's right now; Life's Quest is the evolution of Lost."
Though the album's first single, "Good Girl, Bad Girl," has a brash, Lex Luger-inspired sound, 8Ball warns listeners not to expect that throughout. "I love soul music and I really wanted this to be a soulful rap album, and I think for the most part I got that," he says. "That was my goal when I first made the song 'Life's Quest' with Drumma Boy, and Angie Stone laid her vocals on there. I was like, 'I want my whole album to sound like this.'" Other contributors to Life's Quest include Big K.R.I.T., Jr. Reid, Slim and 2 Chainz — all rappers who have no doubt been impacted by 8Ball & MJG's pioneering early music.
Unfortunately, one admitted 8Ball acolyte who won't be appearing on the album is Drake. Last year, the Toronto rapper had repeatedly said that he and 8Ball were working together, partly for his sophomore album Take Care, but when the acclaimed album came out in November — and topped the charts — the Memphis legend was nowhere to be found. "I don't know man," 8Ball says of their collaborations. "He sent me some stuff, I did my thing and sent it back. My honest and personal opinion is I didn't make the cut. It's all good though — it is what it is."
Still, Drake's shout-outs and praise have only helped 8Ball & MJG's legacy stay strong, impacting hip hop in the South and far beyond. Drizzy's Canadian upbringing certainly didn't prevent him from absorbing the duo's laid-back Tennessee swagger. "I can only blame it on the music," 8Ball's says of the group's long-lived relevance. "I think that a lot of the stuff the newer cats do, when younger people hear 8Ball & MJG it's something so familiar about it. Everything from the South was spawned from us — you can feel a little bit of us in just about everything that comes out."
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