My Mic Devotion Brings Out My Deepest Emotions

Still lovin the game

Just a few months after his full-length release “Undeniable,” AZ is back again with the help of Hot 97’s DJ Absolut on their forthcoming mixtape “N.4.L.” (Niggaz 4 Life). Arguably one of the greatest lyricists today, AZ has had a rather quiet career. He doesn’t tour much. He may not receive critical acclaim like his fellow Firm counterparts, but it hasn’t stopped him from putting together one of the most respected catalogs in hip-hop.

Although “N.4.L.” has a freakishly similar feel to Nas’ recent “Untitled,” AZ had no problems elaborating on the release and his association with Mr. Jones. No questions was left unanswered and “at the end of the day” you’ll see just where AZ is coming from.

Philaflava: Tell us about N.4.L. why is it dropping now along with all the concept behind it?

AZ: N.4.L. stands for Niggaz 4 Life and I tried to take a negative and make it into a positive. I got it from my nigga Pac’s album. I had an album come out in April called “Undeniable” and was doing a lot of interviews and got a lot of questions about me and Nas doing an album. I knew that definitely wasn’t coming into fruition anytime soon, so I ran to Absolut because he also is signed to Koch and he said let’s do a mixtape. I’m not really a mixtape kind of guy, so I figured I’d be better than a mixtape and do a mixtape kind of album. At the end of the day with all those people asking questions, this would be the closest thing me and Nas would have for an album cuz he was doing that nigger thing. I’ve seen him go through a whole lot of complications with Jesse and Al, which led to change of his title, so I figured I’ll join the panel. He brought it from one end; I brought it from another and just threw my perspective on it. With all that is going on with Mike Vick, Obama, Sean Bell, the climate was there for me to jump into the waters.

Philaflava: Are you afraid the mixtape may shift any attention or sales away from Undeniable?

AZ: Nah I’m not thinking about that, because I’m independent so it’s a win win. And I got love for the game at the end of the day so I’m going to consistently put out music. If you know me, you know AZ is gonna drop an album out every year cuz I’m independent and I’m my own boss and call my own shots. I’m not really worried about sales at the end of the day. I know I’m at the height of my career and I keep putting out good music and to my hardcore fans, I’m blessed to keep them around. This is an artist’s expression so I’m just expressing myself right now.

Philaflava: Did the timing of N.4.L. have anything to do with Nas’ album? A lot of people are speculating the motivation behind it, so do you mind clarifying?

AZ: The motivation was behind what he was doing. I saw him getting a lot of slack from the media and this is awareness. Awareness is a good thing. It’s not like I’m going to war or anything, it’s an awareness of our people and we’re uplifting our people so this is a good thing and that’s exactly what I did.

Philaflava: It’s impossible to do an interview with you and not bring up Nas, as I would imagine it would be if I did one with Nas and not bring up you or Premier. It’s like Kobe and Shaq’s relationship without the animosity.

AZ: True indeed. That is why I have learned to accept it. I’ve learned to embrace it, cuz its what led me to do what I’m doing now with N.4.L.

Philaflava: A few months ago I interviewed Cormega and we did a word association, which I’ll do with you later on. Your name came up and he said “Robin,” as in Batman and Robin. He was explaining that Robin is sometimes iller than Batman. Batman is all stiff and Robin is the cool one but Robin will always be in the shadow of Batman. Wherever Robin goes the questions about Batman will be asked. So I said AZ will always be that guy from “Life’s A Bitch” and Mega said exactly!

How do you respond to that?

AZ: I mean which is true. You gotta understand he sells more records, he has a bigger machine behind him so he has all the notoriety. At any given time in our careers if I would have passed his record sales it would have been a reverse situation. I would have been Batman and he would have been Robin but at the end of the day he’s relevant and I’m relevant so it’s makes for discussion. If we had the same machines around us it would have been more like Biggie and Jay-Z type of thing. They both the king of their castles but because Nas has a bigger machine it puts him in the forefront like that, and I’m still doing my thing—mashing up the underground and independent game. It is what it is.

Philaflava: How did you and Nas originally meet?

AZ: Me and Nas, well the homies were like I know somebody that lives in Brooklyn and I know somebody living in Queens and I bet he’s better than your man. We got on the phone and it was like a cipher. So we exchanged some thoughts and ideas. When I met him I didn’t see him for like a year after cuz I was going through my thing in the streets and all the bullshit. But we had stories and he started working on his album and I just started coming through and popped up periodically and as I said nothing was premeditated, no music we ever did together was premeditated.

Philaflava: Did he ever reach out to you after “Death Anniversary” where he said “what if I told you that AZ didn’t exist and I put him there played it like a ventriloquist?”

AZ: I guess he was being artistic at the end of the day. I’m sure he didn’t use that as disrespect cuz I don’t tolerate disrespect and I don’t give it out to receive it so I see it as him being lyrical at the specific time.

Philaflava: Do you really believe there is a possibility of you two doing an album together?

AZ: I’m not sure to be honest. He’s in a whole other zone. We’re doing our own different things but my proposal is always there. But I’m my own man. I’m independent and I own my own company and I’m going to consistently put good music out, but that door is open for him whenever he is ready. But I’m not too sure that’s what he wants to do. He seems comfortable with where he’s at.

Philaflava: Well promise us this, if that should ever happen you’d be the one responsible for the beats!

AZ: (Hysterically laughing) Now that was funny! It’ll be a group effort, but I’mma hope.

Philaflava: Have you ever thought getting into beat making?

AZ: Nah, I do more of the decision on the beats than the beat making itself. I was thinking about going that route but decided I’ll just stay doing what I do lyrically. I got a good ear for beat though.

Philaflava: How do you go about selecting producers?

AZ: I don’t select producers for beats. I mean if it was up to me I’d go get Pharrell, Timbo and Kanye, you dig? It’s just a vibe. I hear a lot of music and just whatever I vibe to is what I end up using.

Philaflava: One if my favorite release in recent years was Memphis Sessions, it was a brilliantly produced album that I think a lot of people took to it. How did this album come about and how involved were you?

AZ: I was very much involved to an extent where somebody brought the idea to me from Koch and said let’s lay some Al Green music over some AZ songs. But when they brought it to the table I just wanted to hear it and be able to live with it before I gave them the green light on it. Al Green is legendary in his own right so to be able to bring his music with mine was like bridging a generation so that was interesting to me.

Philaflava: How come you don’t tour that much?

AZ: I guess I was being greedy because I wanted a bunch of money. Cats weren’t giving me what I wanted so I just shut it down but I look forward going overseas and doing a bunch of touring. I’m getting a lot of offers now so I’m getting ready to jump on that wagon and have some fun. But as far as touring, I think its time to start getting into that zone and I’m ready right now.

Philaflava: Do you think The Firm will ever do a new album?

AZ: I mean that would be a good look. I’m being honest, even for me cuz now everybody is grown and more focused I would love to see what could come out of that situation right now. My door is always open when it comes to music. I’m for the magic, talent and love of the game.

Philaflava: What was your reaction when you heard Nature was replacing Cormega? And was that solely Steve Stoute’s decision?

AZ: It was Stoute’s decision to an extent because he was the man behind it receiving a cut, but I didn’t know either or. Both of them were brought to my attention from Nas and Steve Stoute. I love Nature for the way he spits and I love Mega for his realness. To me they both could have been down, you dig?

Philaflava: Foxy Brown, misunderstood or just a bit different?

AZ: That’s a combo. She is misunderstood because I know she has a good heart but she’s different because in her own right she’s different. Coming up in the game so young, being around a bunch of heavy hitters and having to keep her lyrics up to par.

Philaflava: Whatever happened to that Fresh?

AZ: He’s there, it’s just that everybody be having their own agenda at the end of the day. He’s actually Master Gee’s son from Sugar Hill Gang. He had a little daughter so he’s been out for a minute but he’s coming back on the set soon.

Philaflava: Who won more battles at Eli Whitney, you or Jay?

AZ: (Laughs) Funny–damn that’s some crazy shit niggas know about that. We battled a couple of times but we were just having fun though. He was more advanced than me at the time cuz he was with Jaz-O and I was just wetting my whistle around that time.

Philaflava: Speaking of more advanced, you’ve definitely advanced over the years. You have this complex writing skill with that intricate flow, yet smooth like Kane was back in the day. How do you go about writing a verse and how long does it take to pen? AZ: Right now I’m on a professional level so it’ll take me about a half hour.

Philaflava: You’ve been on quite a few labels, EMI, Virgin, Motown & Koch. Which one was the worst experience?

AZ: This is just for the fans; I’ve never been dropped from a label. That’s the best about the whole thing. The worst to me was Virgin because they didn’t know what they were doing at the particular time. They didn’t have a staff. The eastcoast was dealing with Rap-A-Lot and I had to make the transition from EMI to Virgin because that was the parent company and I was like god damn what the fuck, they don’t have a clue! But every record is a blessing at the end of the day.

Philaflava: Who was responsible for the Sosa bootlegs?

AZ: That was me trying to keep me out there, keep me relevant and get my weight up. And that’s exactly what it did; it helped me get to Motown.

Philaflava: What other music besides hip-hop influenced you?

AZ: Soul, the oldies but goodies–Luther, Mike Jack, Debarge, Anita Baker, all the oldies.

Philaflava: Do you have a personal favorite album of yours?

AZ: Ah man, mine is Aziastic. That’s my best album to me.

Philaflava: What’s your favorite track?

AZ: I got too many. All my songs mean something to me. Damn I mean each album I got one, but if I had to say just one I’d say Rather Unique.

Philaflava: I think that’s everyone’s favorite track!

Philaflava: Are you ever going to link of up Pete Rock again?

AZ: I think I’mma do that. I’m about to switch the whole game up in a minute. I’m not going to stop, I’mma keep it coming. Everybody is gonna turn into Indians cuz they gonna keep on saying how-how-how-how, cuz I’mma keep it coming. I know Nas and Premier almost did an album together so it gave me the idea that I should probably do something with Pete Rock.

Philaflava: If you got Pete Rock, Paul (Large Pro), Buckwild, Fame, Heatmakerz, that’s classic right there. I don’t know why more cats don’t reach out. You have an ear for beats, Mega has that ear too but a lot of talent rappers don’t reach out and end up putting out under whelming albums.

I hope you make promise on that and you reach out to Pete cuz we’d love to hear another Rather Unique.

AZ: Yessir, yessir and I appreciate it.

Philaflava: Other than the ones we mentioned are there any other producers out there you’d like to work with?

AZ: Like I said Kanye, I’d love to work with him. Pharrell, I’d like to hear a joint with him. I’d like some solo production from Dr. Dre. I’m sure there is more but that’s all of the head.

Philaflava: Years ago if you couldn’t get Preem or you didn’t have Preem money you got Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.

AZ: (Laughs)

Philaflava: Would you say Chop is the greatest Premier imitator out there?

AZ: In the world! He is the greatest Premier imitator. He must be Premiers number one fan. He is a DJ Premier imitator to the 10th power.

Philaflava: Who is Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.? On Wikipedia it says Mark Curry from Bad Boy and I never heard that.

AZ: Nah he is not from Bad Boy. He fell off though. I don’t know what happened to him.

Philaflava: Who produced Life off the Remixtape (Memphis Sessions)?

AZ: (Chuckles) Actually that was Chop.

Philaflava: Do you feel the industry is forcing you and many others into becoming a reactionary artists rather than a trendsetter?

AZ: I don’t think I’m changing. I think I’m stepping up my game even more.

Philaflava: What emcees influenced you?

AZ: Big Daddy Kane and Rakim.

Philaflava: Who are your top 5 rappers dead or alive?

AZ: Aww shit that’s a crazy one. Pac, Biggie, me of course, Rakim and G. Rap.

Philaflava: No Nas?

AZ: We’re talking about all-time. Nas is there, but I couldn’t even say 5. That’s the crazy part because there are about 10 or 15, 5 is just disrespectful.

Philaflava: Are you following the Presidential Election?

AZ: To an extent–It is what it is at the end of the day. I wish Obama a whole lot of luck. He made it further than any other black man but I just hope I’m not here to witness the assassination of the president.

Philaflava: I’d ask you about Soulja Boy and Ice-T situation but really what it comes down to is the state of hip-hop. What are your thoughts?

AZ: Hip-hop has grown crazy. Everybody is involved, every ethnic group. It started in the Bronx and now it’s worldwide. The talent isn’t spitting much. It’s more of a hustle right now. That’s a good thing too but it’s also a bad thing because what started it, the lyricism, the b-boy, the graffiti, that whole foundation is not respected as much as somebody who talks about money and jewelry. I love it for the fact it’s grown global, but I hate it for the fact what started it all is just not respected.

Philaflava: Are you concerned with downloading?

AZ: It comes with the game. For some people it helps them out and gets their music heard. That’s just a pitfall in the game.

Philaflava: Do you think New York hip-hop is coming back?

AZ: It went from lyricism, to battle rap to gangsta rap, then it went to booty shaking music. What started it could never end. Even in Atlanta those who are shining are real lyrical like the T.I. and Ludacris. As far as New York I’m sure it’ll be back, another year or two guaranteed—you can quote me on that.

Philaflava: Alright time for word association. I’ll give you a chance to return the favor on Cormega.

AZ: He’s lyrical. He’s showing consistence.

Philaflava: Joe Budden
AZ: He’s a lyricist.

Philaflava: Saigon
AZ: Definitely one of the up-n-coming NY representatives.

Philaflava: Ice Cube
AZ: Pioneer.

Philaflava: Lil’ Wayne
AZ: The one that got away with it.

Philaflava: Andre
AZ: Innovative.

Philaflava: Scarface
AZ: Father.

Philaflava: Ras Kass
AZ: The best kept secret.

Philaflava: Raekwon
AZ: The chief. Cooking, serving and slaying.

Philaflava: Black Thought
AZ: Ahh man, he always been here. Always was and always will be.

Philaflava: The Game
AZ: Outlaw. By any means necessary.

Philaflava: Jay-Z
AZ: Genius.

Philaflava: Nas
AZ: The truth.

Philaflava: I appreciate you taking out the time. Let me recap before we wrap it up. You have the album with DJ Aboslut titled N.4.L. dropping August 5th

AZ: Yessir.

Philaflava: You said you’re going to start touring

AZ: Yessir.

Philaflava: You made a promise if you ever do an album with Nas you’ll be in charge of the beats, right?

AZ: (Laughs) Yessir, I’mma try.

Philaflava: You made a promise you’ll reach out to Pete Rock.

AZ: Yessir.

Philaflava: Any last words?

AZ: AZ will always deliver. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not changing and I am not leaving the game. I will always keep it 100 for the love of hip-hop. And be on the look out for “Sound of Wars,” it’s a soundtrack and a movie I’m working on right now


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