When we were preparing for our interview with Shyne today, we had a laundry list of questions to ask the rapper, who was released from prison just over a year ago.
However, the answer to one simple question about his upcoming albums almost rendered the rest of our questions irrelevant.
In February 2010, LA Reid flew down to Belize, where Shyne had been deported to after his release from prison, with a reportedly seven figure recording contract in hand. On February 16, Shyne once again became a Def Jam Recordings artist.
But apparently, things aren’t going too well for Shyne at the label.
I understand you have two albums dropping this year. Is that correct?
Not this year. I’m not coming out until first quarter, like March.
One will be under Def Jam and the other under Cash Money?
Right now I don’t know what I’m doing with Def Jam. It’s a new chairman over at Univesral Music Group, so I don’t know what’s happening over there.
You’re talking about Lucian Grainge who replaced Doug Morris?
Yeah, and I know LA Reid ain’t gonna be there no more. I don’t know what’s happening over there. It all depends on who takes over and his commitment to hip-hop music. I think that’s why…. It’s really tricky. I don’t like to judge nobody or throw anyone under the bus, but I don’t think there was a strong commitment to hip-hop from LA Reid. I was on my way out the door a few times and he begged me to stay. Now that he’s leaving, that’s definitely the door opening for me to spin off myself, you dig. I don’t know the direction they’re going in. I don’t know if they’re gonna put another guy in there that don’t care about hip-hop music. You understand? We need people like Russell [Simmons] and Lyor [Cohen] and Jimmy Iovine, people that bled and got their hands dirty and were in the trenches. We need the Eisenhowers that are gonna be there on the warfield with us to keep this going, and L.A. Reid wasn’t that. I’m interested to see who they’re gonna put in there. If anything, I might do everything through Cash Money or somebody else, but it’s a real question mark with Def Jam right now.
Last week, a letter Nas had written to Def Jam made its way on to the internet where he was talking about how they only gave him $200,000 budget for the album and he wasn’t having that. Was it a similar situation with you?
Yeah yeah yeah! You know, I wrote a letter too! I got a blog on MTV, I’m surprised they haven’t posted that up yet. It was called “Def Jam Is Dying.” I feel the same way. I’m all with what Nas is saying. Absolutely! He’s 1000% right! In the letter I wrote, it says “Def Jam is dying thanks a billion L.A. Reid. Middle finger to you too.” You know, because he don’t care about us, man.
It’s crazy that you’re telling me this, I said that he don’t understand that Nas and Ghostface are modern day prophets. When he was perming his hair and getting pedicures and manicures, Jimmy Iovine and Russell were putting in work. R&B dudes used to run it, and then this hip-hop thing came along and hi-jacked pop culture, and I don’t think L.A.’s one of those dudes that likes that.
At the end of the day, it’s about great music and great people making music. Nas is really a hero. What he did for hip-hop is indisputable, and L.A. Reid don’t get that! This is not about Def Jam the brand, it’s about the Nas brand! It’s about the music he makes. You need a machine behind you that believes in that. These dudes aren’t doing that. You got executives out there that get an act that sells a few million, and now they think they’re geniuses. Then you get a person like Nas, who is a legend and has a legacy, and you got a machine that doesn’t know how to preserve this legacy.
In my letter, I talk about how unless you give LA Reid a song with Ne-Yo on it, or one of his R&B singers, you’re outta luck! That’s not hip-hop!
I used to work at Def Jam some time ago and I saw that happen all the time. They would sign an R&B singer then next thing you he or she is all over everyone’s record. I understand the business behind it, but it doesn’t always make artistic sense.
It ain’t even business, my dude. It’s that homeboy don’t mess with hip-hop! He don’t give a curse word about hip-hop! He don’t even wanna talk to rappers! My man told me that, even Jay… it’s crazy…
Just to give you some background, this wasn’t even L.A. Reid’s deal. This was Jimmy Iovine’s deal. Jimmy Iovine put this paper on the table. He believed in me. I was messing with Hova. He was talking to Jimmy on my behalf. Everybody was supporting me when I came out. And me and Hov, we got a freeze in our relationship because I didn’t listen to him. He told me not to mess with this dude. He said “Good luck getting that dude on the phone!” This is Hov! This is arguably one of the most influential musicians ever, the most influential of our generation, you understand! How do you not renew his contract? Nobody talks about the fact that Hov dropped the label. He broke out! That oughta tell you something when you can’t keep the biggest rapper around. That shows how much L.A. cares about the music. He don’t get it! It ain’t even business with him. He don’t get the culture. He don’t understand why we talk the way we talk, dress the way we dress… He thinks we need to put a suit on and you need to be clean and have an R&B singer on our record for us to go anywhere. Now Outkast was a fluke!
I was just having that conversation with someone recently. No other hip-hop act that was signed to LaFace had any major success aside from Outkast and Goodie Mob to an extent. You mention a group like “Highland Place Mobsters” to somebody and they have no idea who you’re talking about. When he was running Arista, if it wasn’t for Bad Boy being part of the company at the time, there wouldn’t have been much of a hip-hop presence at the company. When your first album came out, L.A. was the man in charge at Arista right?
Yeah he was over there. But you know, one thing I can say about my co-defendant [Diddy] is that no one tells him what to do. So he was doing whatever he wanted to do. So L.A. Reid can’t take credit for that. At least Clive Davis, he may not get hip-hop, but he’ll support you. A lot of these guys, they may not get hip-hop, but if you’re gonna be in the business, you give it your all! You gonna find the guy that knows what he doing, and you roll with him. But homeboy, he ain’t been able to do that. When I was on Bad Boy, that was all ol’ boy [Diddy], That didn’t have nothing to do with LA Reid.
[Ed. Note: Def Jam declined to comment]
Is your relationship with Jimmy Iovine good enough where you could go to him and get a deal with Interscope?
I can’t really get into that right now because we’re in a legal situation. My lawyers are going through my exit right now. So I don’t wanna put my cards out on the table right now. But Jimmy is definitely someone I admire, and someone I want to deal with. Whenever your gut tells you something, you go with it. But the Devil always comes by and tries to throw you off from where you’re going. “Hey look! There’s a shortcut over there!” I’d love to work with Jimmy if the opportunity presented itself.
I was looking at an old interview you had done while you were incarcerated. The topic of your name came up and you said that you were detaching yourself from the name “Shyne” and people were just calling you Po.” Why did you go back to Shyne?
King Solomon said that there is a time for everything. When I was in the pen, what these people don’t understand is that this isn’t CB4. This ain’t some 8 Mile movie. Everything is not going to end okay. When I’m in the pen, I’m in there with murderers and killers. Ain’t no rapping in there. “You’re a rapper? You’re a who?” They don’t want to here that. The only thing they want to know is if you have your ratchet and go gun somebody. Don’t walk with them if you’re not ready to bang on the police. All that rapping stuff meant nothing to nobody. They wanted to know since I was busting that gun in the club, am I ready to bang now. So I was “Po.” There was no Shyne. There was no time for that. That’s not who I was. I was a man trying to understand why I was dealt this hand. There was no time to be thinking about rapping and music. I was in a real life situation. I’m not one of these people out here getting pulled over with a gun the week before my album comes out so I could be in the New York Post. I’m talking about ten years of my life. I’m talking about the fact that I might die in prison. I might have to kill somebody in prison. I might come out and have nothing. So I’m trying to figure it out. And the best person to figure that out was intially “Po” and eventually Moses Leviy.
Did you write while you were locked up, or did all of that get put on the back burner?
I made a lot of records and a few albums. It was really a gift. It was God letting me know that he didn’t forget me. It wasn’t something abstract. I didn’t catch the bad end. It was deliberate, orchestrated. We live in a Godless world. I believed in this all my life and going to the pen was no different. When I’m up there stressing about my mom, I didn’t know what was happening to her. Sometimes you can’t use the phone for a month. You don’t know what is happening in the outside world. Through all that, I had the ability to make music. Even on the bus, shackled up with a song in my head. When I was starving in my cell with no food to eat, I had a record. That’s how I knew I was a musician. It was a gift that the Most High gave to me, the ability to create music throughout my lowest point.
So it helped you get through everything?
I guess you could call it that in some small way. It was just a part of getting through it. Praying and being a good dude got me through it. I took the food I had and made sure everybody was eating. Minding my business and always trying to help, trying to be a stand-up dude is what got me through it. The music was part of that. It wasn’t the ultimate factor, it played a role in the day to day. I would lift weights, run around the yard, gunning somebody down, I made records about those things. I’m a music dude and He didn’t take that gift away from me.
Is there a difference between Shyne the MC back in the 90s and Shyne in 2010?
Yeah. I have been putting out these letters. I did a few things for MTV you might want to check out. I go into the details of what happened. What it goes down to is not Shyne the MC, but Moses Leviy. It goes down to the man. You have to understand what I went through. This wasn’t going to a daycare center for a couple months or a year. This was ten years! You have a son and he would grow pubic hairs in ten years! We had three presidents. So many things take place in ten years. What do you think happened to me in 10 years? I was fighting for my life. Like I said in my letter, Jamal died and came back as Moses Leviy.
When my mom came to see me, I couldn’t cry. When my mom got up and left, what was I suppose to do? Trembling with my lips and looking all shaky? No. I had to suck it up. “It is what it is, mom I love you, I’ll call you. Be safe!” So when I wanted to tear somebody’s head off, I can’t get all emotional and let the cops know what I’m thinking about. That’s how I get knocked. No matter what I was going through, I had no emotion. I became numb. When a person is going through war and he gets shot on the battle field, he is going to run until he is somewhere safe. That’s when he is going to realize he just got shot in the leg and he can’t walk.
The point is I shut down from the pain. I became numb. When I came out and started making records. I was still the boss I was in the pen. I was emotionless. So when you listen to first records I put out, there was no life there. If you listen to the new stuff, there’s life there. That’s the difference.