Your NFL Rhyme Reel has been a mainstay throughout the entire season. What’s that done for you?
It’s been a lot of fun for me because it allows me to show what I’m capable of doing on different levels. Sports have always been a passion of mine. I played football in college and when I tore my knee up, that’s when I started spitting and writing a lot. It’s funny how it all works together. I’m bringing football and hip-hop together, which are two things that I love. I would write Sunday night and then add comedy skits and bring in different characters. People started to understand who I am because I’m really a class clown who enjoys entertaining people. It’s allowed me to kind of open up and be a silly dude because sometimes cats are a little too serious. I take my job very seriously but at the same time I have fun doing it. It’s opened up a lot of people’s eyes with that stuff and now I’m looking forward to what it’s going to bring for the playoffs.
Is it ever a challenge getting it done before Monday morning?
I’ll tell you, it’s a challenge and there was only one time it didn’t get done on time when I was on tour with Premier in Europe. We just had no time and it was a day and a half late. That was the only time. Besides that, it’s on time. It’s one of those things that I really have a passion for. I get all the information in front of me and it’s like a puzzle. I do my mad scientist thing and just let it fly. I find a dope way of saying something that hasn’t been used on SportsCenter. I like making up new phrases and nicknames for players.
What’s the most overused catchphrase SportsCenter uses?
(laughs) Oh, that’s a tough question. I don’t know what they shouldn’t use, but I know that there’s quite a few that they should use and I’ve actually seen quite a few sportscasters and anchors, they’ve been using things from Rhyme Reel. I’ve seen it the following day on a bunch of different shows, whether it’s a nickname I made up the night before or some new terminology that’s used. I take that as a compliment. I don’t get any credit for it, but I know they’re watching and listening. I think Rhyme Reel is going to bring a lot of new flavor to football and sports in general, because I plan on doing it for other sports too.
That’s something you were able to create on your own and work it, similar to how you signed with DJ Premier. What was it like passing Primo your demo the first time you met him?
A friend of mine actually approached him. I didn’t even know he was there. I was over by the bar and my buddy called me over. Not until I walked up and got closer did I see him. I got caught off guard that he was there but I was very confident in my abilities and I was confident in my demo because I put a lot of work into it. I had that with me and I didn’t rush it. I was excited about getting it to him and where it would go. I didn’t even know that he was starting his own label. I just knew that was DJ Premier and if I could get any kind of feedback from him I would be grateful. I expected him to hit me right away but it took a couple months and we hit it off right out the gate. We’re very like-minded and on the same page. That’s my big brother right now.
Did you think you weren’t going to hear from him when it took so long for him to get back to you?
I did. And I was confused. I honestly was confused because I expected to hear from him right away and then time passed. Yeah, I was disappointed, like I was surprised he didn’t call me. Then one day I got the call. It was the day after the Super Bowl. I was cleaning up and I almost didn’t pick it up because I was in the middle of so much but I just stopped and picked it up and we talked for two hours and we just built from there. Better late than never.
What’s it been like being signed to DJ Premier so far?
It’s been awesome, man. I take it all in. I’m always asking for his advice on things because he’s been there. He helps me learn from his mistakes because he’s been there. He’s really been like a big brother and a mentor to me. We get along. On tour we bug out. We have a blast. We laugh all day long like two fucking little kids. On stage we’re laughing too because we enjoy what we do. That’s another thing. He’s been doing this for so long and he’s still so passionate about it. He’s such a fan of hip-hop, even now. That comes through on the stage. That comes through in his work and that comes through even in the way he talks about the history of hip-hop. He’s always trying to school me on the history of hip-hop. Premier’s a good dude and I feel blessed to have the relationship that we have.
“Opportunity Knoccs” is your first big song with Premier, where you’re talking about why he should sign you. How did that song come together?
The concept for the song just hit me. I daydream half the day and that’s a gift and a curse. That’s how these random thoughts just pop in my head. I came up with the concept for “Opportunity Knoccs” and I thought it would be dope to just go up and have the balls to knock on DJ Premier’s door. I just wanted it to be something that can inspire people that are sometimes nervous about taking that first step to put themselves out there and just do it. When you see the video and you see how nervous I am in the beginning and then my confidence grows throughout the song. I wanted to sound nervous in the first verse and I wanted it to be as real as possible. I wanted people to feel like they’re watching me from the grassroots of it and that it’s something that they want to follow and root for me.
What’s the feedback from fans been like for you so far as people learn you’re Premier’s artist, which probably raises fans’ expectations?
Without a doubt. Without a doubt. It’s like the people who are established in the game, before they meet me, they assume I can spit. I get a respectful handshake from a lot of these dudes that I always looked up to. They say they know I can spit if Premier signed me. But then you get other cats that expect you to sound a certain way. I know that being a Premier artist, cats expect me to go hard all the time but that’s not always how I am. I like to have fun too. I think people would take me as being a clown if I did a song that was meant to be funny. People might take it the wrong way but I think it’s helped doing Rhyme Reel. People get it a lot more when they see what I do. It’s definitely raised the bar for me but at the same time, it’s a challenge that I welcome with open arms because I set the bar so high for myself every day that it can’t really affect me in any way for somebody to hold it that high.
How did playing football for Rutgers affect your approach to the music?
It’s funny. I actually had a talk with one of my high school coaches about this. I actually thanked him because he was so proud of what I was doing. I told him he had no idea the effect he had on this because of the discipline they instilled in me. I always wanted to be the best at everything I did and I was just obsessive about it. But going through training camp and everything like that and going on to college, you really have to push yourself, mentally and physically. And if you can apply that same work ethic to whatever it is that you do, you can be successful and that’s just how I feel. I knew I had a talent for this and I’m just going to do my best to make the most out of my talent, so if that means that every Sunday night I’m staying up through the night and not going to bed until 9 on Monday morning, then that’s what it’s gotta be. There’s no excuses. You gotta do it. This is the task at hand and you gotta do it. And that works. That can be applied to anything in life.
Premier talked about an incident you had on the road when a fan was telling you to dress more street and that you weren’t “hip-hop enough.” How do you feel when you hear criticism like that?
I, honestly, I feel bad for somebody who even feels the need to say something like that because that does nothing but tell me that you’re pretty insecure with yourself. Like, why are you looking at another man and what he’s wearing? Why are you even paying attention to that? Don’t get me wrong, if I see someone with some dope kicks, I’ll ask them where they got them. But I would never approach another man, woman, child, whatever and talk about what they’re wearing. That sounds crazy to me. Hip-hop is an outlet for self-expression. That’s what it is. That’s what real hip-hop is. Real hip-hop doesn’t look a certain way. It doesn’t sound a certain way. It’s whatever’s real to you. And if you can’t do whatever’s real to you and feels comfortable to you then you shouldn’t be doing that.
When this dude started telling me that, I felt like he was overstepping his boundaries because I didn’t even know him and I was nice enough to bring him back and introduce him to Premier. I told him he had to go and that I couldn’t see where he got off making a comment like that. That’s not my problem. That’s their problem. I don’t dress to impress other people. I dress in whatever feels right to me and looks dope to me and it’s really nobody’s business.
How’s your official album with Premier coming so far?
The album is, I would say, roughly half-way done. It’s just crazy. There’s been so many other things going on right now and I don’t know when exactly we’re going to get that done. I’m trying to work on it but things have gotten so crazy with Rhyme Reel and it’s brought in such a wider audience of people who aren’t even hip-hop fans but they’re open to hearing my music now because they’re football fans. Now they want to know when the album’s coming out. It’s something that we were working on and we were shooting for early March but Premier has his own agenda as well and we’re trying to finish up the album together where he’s producing the rest of it. It’s still a work in progress and I can’t really tell you an exact time that we’ll be done.
What other producers are you working with?
M-Phazes. He has a pretty heavy presence on it, actually. He’s a producer out of Australia and he’s super-dope. He’s got quite a few on there, actually. There’s a producer Jay Brown from Jersey that I did a song with. A lot of these songs I recorded awhile ago and I’ve continued to record. That may change. I don’t even know what songs we’re going to keep for the album at this point because it’s evolving. Versatile is another producer out of Jersey as well who’s super-dope. We’re still in the process of deciding what’s going to be kept and what’s not.
What kind of potential does the album have?
I want the album to inspire people. I want people to feel like they know me when they listen to that album. I want them to be excited for my success because I hope they understand through the album that it didn’t come easy. I didn’t scratch off a lottery ticket and get here. I want people to understand what truly goes into pursuing a dream and turning that into a goal and turning that goal into reality. It’s not something that you just wake up and do. I can’t even tell you how many times I almost quit but I couldn’t. It’s not in my soul. I couldn’t allow myself to turn back. I feel like that can be applied to anything in life. You just can’t expect it to come easy, but there’s an old saying that says what’s worth having if you don’t have to struggle to get it?