Photo credit: David Morrison
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I met Scarface in Harvey Illinois, in hmmm I want to say 1990. Tribe and The Geto Boys were on the road together, and a lot happened. Honestly, we were kids. That's so crazy for me to imagine because I think of Scarface as this versatile legend. Like, I remember when he was running Def Jam South, and I remember "Smile", and I remember when Office Space dropped The Geto Boys into a whole other audience.
Yeah he's done so much, but underneath it all he's just such a unrepentant music lover, and I totally relate to that. Scarface is a true original and we so appreciate him just coming by and being himself.
SCARFACE: This is Microphone Check, and I'm Facemob.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: What up. This is Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and in case you didn't get that, we got Scarface.
FRANNIE KELLEY: And I'm Frannie Kelley, and this is a childhood dream coming true.
ALI: Aka Akshen!
SCARFACE: DJ Akshen to you my friend.
ALI: DJ Akshen!
SCARFACE: What's up?
ALI: What up?
SCARFACE: Man, it's cool.
SCARFACE: How cool is this? Man, you got a Psychedelic Furs-looking bass over there.
ALI: So that's the Low End Theory. That's, like, Tribe –
SCARFACE: Man, that's a cold-ass – you know what? I just did the damn – no. I did the first album.
ALI: People's Instinctive Travels?
SCARFACE: I did that one today on Soren Baker.
ALI: What do you mean you did it?
SCARFACE: That was like my favorite album ever.
SCARFACE: Yeah, that's my favorite.
ALI: So I saw you at Nam.
SCARFACE: Yeah, yesterday.
ALI: And then I hadn't seen you – and I don't know how long it's been.
ALI: And then you started to go, and I was like, "Wait! Don't! I'ma see you for Microphone Check, so save everything you want to say." And I really didn't want to stop your conversation, but –
SCARFACE: Yeah, it's like, we all started together, as kids, man. We was kids on the road together.
SCARFACE: In the early part of our career, it was always the Geto Boys and A Tribe Called Quest. So that's how we met. We met in Harvey, Illinois.
SCARFACE: And we been friends ever since. And we had a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot fun, didn't we, man?
ALI: Yo, we did have a lot of fun, but you guys got us kicked out of a hotel, man.
SCARFACE: What happened?
ALI: What happened?
SCARFACE: "What happened was!"
ALI: What happened was somehow word got out that Geto Boys were at this hotel, which was – you could see the venue from the hotel. It was that close. And – I don't know – there were a lot of visitors in the hotel that evening, and you know, everyone's just having a good time. It was a great show. Geto Boys murdered it.
SCARFACE: I don't remember none of this.
FRANNIE: What year was this?
SCARFACE: What year were you born?
SCARFACE: Was it '82?
FRANNIE: Man, shut up!
SCARFACE: Nah, it was like '90.
ALI: I'm like, we were 12 years old.
SCARFACE: It was like '90. Was it '90? '89? '90?
ALI: It was like '90.
SCARFACE: Yeah, '90. '89.
ALI: '89? Yeah. '89, '90. And –
SCARFACE: So you were 7.
ALI: And anyway, they brought –
SCARFACE: You got kicked out?
ALI: Yeah, because it was just so much noise in the hotel and police came, and they were like –
SCARFACE: Kicked us out?
ALI: "Anybody in the hallways. If we catch people in the hallways." Cause they were annoyed. I guess they were getting a lot of complaints. Anyway, we got bounced, cause we happened to be in the hallway when the sheriff came.
FRANNIE: Oh shit.
SCARFACE: We was in our room.
ALI: You guys were in your room at that point. And so, you know, anyway.
FRANNIE: Of course, of course.
ALI: But I will say, the first time that Tribe played in Houston, man, you came and rolled out the welcome.
SCARFACE: Yeah, we had a good time, bro. That was almost 30 years ago? I don't remember much about it.
ALI: Me neither.
SCARFACE: But I know we was – I know we had a great time. And I'm looking back at that 20, 30 years, and I'm wondering do the O'Jays feel like that about the musicians and great artists that they came in contact with?
Man, I just did that with Soren Baker. With that album. I talked about how inspirational that whole entire album was to me. Like, it was – it was special, man. It was real special. It was something that we had never heard before in hip-hop. It was something that we'd never heard before. Cause the game was switching. Everybody was hard now, and the Tribe dropped. "Can I kick it? Can I kick it? And I don't eat ham and eggs at all."
ALI: You know, it's a little too surreal to hear you talk – well, I mean, you've always expressed your love for us and just the stuff that we sampled, and so I know it's made an impact, and I've known that since day one of meeting you. But I'm sitting here ready to ask you: so how does Isaac Hayes and Eddie Kendricks and Curtis Mayfield, what kind of – how did their music impress upon you – what kind of inspiration? And hearing you talk about Tribe is kind of boxing that out. But can we go back a little bit?
SCARFACE: Eddie Kendricks? I love Eddie Kendricks's voice. He had a high – "Mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm under-touched." Remember that? "Now we're old and we don't hold each other so much." He was cold with that, man! "You say" – I don't how he did that shit, but he had the highest voice. Eddie Kendricks, man. That was hard. That dude was hard.
He even had that song that Jay-Z used for "Song Cry." Did you know that?
SCARFACE: Yeah, it was an instrumental. That was hard.
ALI: I gotta go back and listen to it. So how did those musicians – I mean, you stick with Isaac Hayes a lot. What was it about the music that made a huge impression on you?
SCARFACE: I just sit in the backseat of the car with my eyes close crying listening to music, cause it was so touching, man. Music touched me in a manner that nothing else in life has ever grabbed me. To say Isaac Hayes or Willie Hutch or Curtis Mayfield, that's an understatement. When you start digging into the rock side of it – I'm into the country side of it, into the classical side of it. I'm an all-around music lover musician.
I think that music was the only way that I could express myself, because I couldn't – I wasn't a great speaker. I was an introvert. I didn't really like to talk too much. I just liked to make music – and fight, and maybe play some football. But if I had to be interviewed about the music I was making back then, I didn't know how to express it. But I just know – or I knew – that I loved it. And even right now to this day, I don't really know how to express.
All I know is I love it. I love music, bro. I'm a real live walking music note, living and breathing. I used to think that it was no way that you could see music, but when I look in the mirror, I see music. When I close my eyes, I can hear it. So that's me.
ALI: How has any of those, I guess, artists – cause there's the artist side; there's a producer side; there's a songwriter aspect of it. There's the playing. How have any of those artists shaped your writing? Cause you're such a prolific writer.
SCARFACE: I listen to those people write and listening to those writers – like, the guy that write for Elton John – what was his name? Bennie Taupin? I like his writing. I like Lou Reed's writing. I like Curtis Mayfield's writing. I like Prince's writing! I like Frank Ocean's writing. And listening to those people write, man, it pulls something out of my writing. It makes me not afraid to go there and be vulnerable to my paper, be vulnerable to my listeners, to my audience. I don't give a fuck.
If I'm not crying when the song is done, then I didn't write the right record. You feel me? Or if I didn't feel sad or inspired or – if I didn't have a feeling at the end of the record, it wasn't the right record to put out. That's why I have so many records that never came out. Because I didn't feel anything at the end. See what I'm saying?
ALI: You mentioned a moment ago, 30 years ago we were standing on stage. But 30 years ago Public Enemy put out a song called "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos."
SCARFACE: Bruh. Don't do it.
ALI: I have to, because here we are now, 2018, and you just put out a song called "Black Still."
SCARFACE: I know, right? They had the "Black Steel," and I had the "Black Still." After 30 years, it's still the same song.
ALI: Yeah. Can you talk about – I mean, it's very clear if you listen to the song. Some people – well, nah, cause you even reference Public Enemy in that song, in the way you twisted the title up a little bit. But can you just talk about what you've seen in the past 30 years if you could sum it up, from that song?
SCARFACE: Wow. I never really thought about that. What I've seen in the past 30 years?
ALI: From a hip-hop perspective.
SCARFACE: From that song to that song?
ALI: From that song to that song.
SCARFACE: I've seen the game go from nobody could do it to everybody doing it. You know how tough it was for us to get record deals back then? You had to really be good. Didn't you, man? Tell the truth.
SCARFACE: You had to really be good to get a record deal. And then they had some that were really really bad, but not very many. You had to really really think about all the great music that came out then, and who was the keeper of the gate. You had to really be good to get a record deal.
Man, you had to look at N.W.A to get a record deal. You had to look at the Tribe. You had to look at the Geto Boys. You had to look at P.E. You had to look at LL, Run-DMC to get a record deal. OK? You had to look at dope-ass artists like Shan, and you had to look at Cube and Dre. You know what I mean? You had to look at that! That was the record deals. It went from nobody could get them to everybody could have them.
Erick Sermon said something to me a long time ago, and it didn't really dawn on me until a few months ago. He said the rap game was bumper to bumper. And it dawned on me how much traffic it is in the rap game. It's a lot of traffic. It's a lot of traffic. And to be here 30 years after the start and still be in the traffic, it's a blessing, because it's a lot of people that can't get back in traffic no more.
ALI: That's true. I think though what probably is missing right now – cause there is a lot of traffic. There's a lot of noise, and not a lot of good noise. I think though with a lot of that, it's more distracting. It's not really telling what's real. Like for an example, with "Black Still," you're telling it like it really it is. It's so raw.
SCARFACE: Well, the current administration was the inspiration behind that record. The current administration makes me write records like this. If I look at a man or a woman, I know that that's a man or a woman. I don't look at that as, like, a black man or a white man, or a white woman or a black woman, or a Muslim or a Christian, Jewish. I don't look at it like that. I look at it as that person. But this current administration got us looking at each other like we don't belong together as human beings. And I had to address that. That kind of bothered me a little bit.
We been – well, I've been viewing it with a closed eye. Maybe I'm just late.
ALI: I don't think that you're late.
SCARFACE: Maybe I'm late.
ALI: I don't think that you're late. I think that obviously this current administration has moved the meter so much that everybody's pretty much more woke now, so they want to –
SCARFACE: I appreciate that too.
ALI: But I feel like you've always been.
SCARFACE: I have. I'm not going to lie. I've always looked at life through open eyes. I knew what it was in the beginning. But it's just amazing how you can really lift the dress up on her, and really see what's going on up under the dress. At first, you can hide the way you feel about somebody by not saying something about them. But now, shit, nobody cares.
ALI: I really wanted to laugh at that analogy, cause descriptively, that shit's funny. You just say lift up a dress. But I know what you mean.
SCARFACE: Look, yeah, you see it. Don't have a problem saying it.
ALI: Do you feel from your perspective as having longevity in the music business, specifically within hip-hop and rap, which longevity is not an easy thing to do? Do you feel that at this point it's mandatory that you make the type of songs that you do? Cause some people I think are just – they're taking more of a leisure.
SCARFACE: Feeling their way around in the dark, huh?
SCARFACE: Nah, it's my responsibility to speak to my people. It's my responsibility to speak to my people. And my people is everybody that wants to listen to what the truth is. I want people to know what's going on here. I always say, if you see something fucked up, say it's fucked up. Say it. If you see it, say it. And I see it, so I gotta say it. This is bad. This only makes for bad – this is for a bad outcome.
If you trying resegregate, then let's do that. Let's resegregate. Let all of the people that don't want to be around everybody else get the fuck away from everybody else. But the people that don't mind being around black, whites, Mexicans, Asians. What else is out here? Indians?
ALI: I think you named everyone.
SCARFACE: Middle Easterns. Natives. Like, get away from them. You feel me?
SCARFACE: I'm cool with that. I don't mind that. And I'm fine either way. Just be cool. If you don't want to be around me, then get the fuck from around me. Don't laugh. We have a lot of things in common as human beings. We got two eyes, nose, ears, shit between two shoes. We got more in common than we don't, right? Don't you agree?
FRANNIE: I would, yeah.
SCARFACE: OK. Cool.
FRANNIE: How do you apply what you said before about back in the day it was very hard to get a record deal and also what you feel strongly about in terms of responsibility to when you were president of Def Jam South, to signing artists and developing artists? Like, kind of about your criteria for signing somebody.
SCARFACE: I mean, it just had to be different. If we already had a 2pac, I didn't want another one.
SCARFACE: "I got a friend sound just like Biggie."
SCARFACE: "He an artist. He sound like Biggie." "Nah, we don't want another Biggie. We already had one." So that was pretty much my criteria. I don't want nobody that sound like nobody else, because we already got them. I don't give a damn. Like, if he sound like Eminem, I don't want him, because we already got Eminem. "Man, he sounds just like you, Face." "Nah, I don't want him. We already got a Face." So it just had to be different.
What makes an artist different? Delivery, voice. I mean, all around the world same song, so subject matter can vary. But your voice and delivery's gotta be something like I've never heard before. Like Busta Rhymes gets a deal. You know what I'm saying?
FRANNIE: Yeah. Was there anybody that you signed that you were really surprised didn't do what you thought they would do?
SCARFACE: It's a guy named Triple J. He changed his name to Fresh Dope. I had him signed to Def Jam South. If you listen to Fresh Dope's record right now when you get a chance, Fresh Dope is the shit. Absolutely. Nothing better. He deserves to be there. And when everybody left from Def Jam, I had to take him out of – I had to make sure that when I left, I got him out of that situation, because he didn't – I didn't want him there when I wasn't there to protect him.
But he did his thing. He got an album out right now called Write – you know, W-R – Write My Wrongs. So dope. Fresh Dope.
ALI: We'll look for him.
SCARFACE: Check him out. That's one of the artists that I knew. And along with another cat named Haystack. I signed – I don't know if y'all ever heard of Haystak.
SCARFACE: Haystak is a big country boy out of Nashville, Tennessee. I signed him to Def Jam South. Awesome.
ALI: And where is he now? Do you know?
SCARFACE: I don't know where Haystak is right now. But it was so awesome. I was getting it all together, getting it all together.
ALI: How did you like being in that position? Because even though Def Jam was such a foundational label for the genre, for the culture –
SCARFACE: Yeah, yeah.
ALI: – it was inside of a corporate structure that worried about shareholders.
SCARFACE: Right. Def Jam was where everybody wanted to be. We all wanted the turntable with the needle on the – I did. I know I did. And when I got it, I was like – it felt like I'd accomplished something, because the whole while I'd been trying to rap, all I saw was the Def Jam logo. On the Beastie Boys, on the LL Cool J record, on the Public Enemy record. I always wanted that black label with the turntable. I wanted that for me. And when I finally got it I felt like I accomplished something. It was a honor to have that on one of my albums. As it would've been for Boogie Down Productions – what was the name of that record label they was on?
SCARFACE: Jive. No. Before that.
ALI: Oh. Criminal Records actually.
SCARFACE: It was Criminal?
ALI: It was Criminal Records and then I forget. It was something imprinted Criminal Records. B- –
ALI: B-Boy. Yeah, B-Boy and Criminal Records.
SCARFACE: Yeah, I think it was B-Boy. I'd've loved to have been a part of that. I look at Def Jam now, and you know what? It's not a black executive at Def Jam at all. Did you know what?
ALI: Nah. I'm not really –
SCARFACE: I know you're not.
ALI: – as connected with executives anymore.
SCARFACE: Neither am I, but I feel like the – I feel like we still gotta have some representation of the culture in there. Hello? Yeah. That's just a slap in the face to the culture, to take us all the way out of it when we were by far the creators of it.
ALI: I didn't know that, and just you saying that is so reckless.
SCARFACE: Yeah. It is.
ALI: I don't have any other words. It's really mind-blowing.
SCARFACE: Yeah, you got – what's the guy's name? Eminem's manager.
ALI: It's not Paul – what's his –
FRANNIE: Paul Rosenberg.
SCARFACE: Yeah, Paul Rosenberg. He's over at Def Jam now.
FRANNIE: Yeah, he's one of them.
SCARFACE: Yeah, and it's some other people that's in there. I mean, not nothing wrong with Paul, but I'm just saying ain't no black execs at Def Jam no more.
FRANNIE: So that's obvious that that's a problem kind of, but can you say what specifically you felt like you needed to protect your artist from? Like, you were saying you needed to protect Fresh Dope.
FRANNIE: Like, what happens if you're not there?
SCARFACE: This is East Coast that never had no dealings with the South at all.
SCARFACE: We didn't know what they were going to do with artists from down South if we didn't control how we got out there.
SCARFACE: So that's –
FRANNIE: In terms of packaging? In terms of marketing?
SCARFACE: Marketing, packaging, sound.
ALI: Yeah. I understand.
SCARFACE: The RZA dope as hell, but it doesn't blend. You can't make that right.
SCARFACE: And then I didn't want him to get lost in the shuffle and then be locked in, tied down. So I had to protect him and make sure before I left, I got them out of they deal, and then I parted ways.
ALI: You know, I think something like that only an artist really understands, cause there are a lot of people who get –
SCARFACE: Lost in the sauce.
ALI: Unless they have a key man clause in their contract, which some people don't even know you can do that.
SCARFACE: Yeah, you can do that.
FRANNIE: What is that?
ALI: So a key man clause is the person who signs you or brings you into the company –
SCARFACE: Can take you away. A key man – exactly.
ALI: You put that in the contract, that if that person leaves, you're out. Or the company relieves you of the contract. Because that person usually has the vision, and they fight for you. And once you lose that person, your ally's gone and then whomever –
SCARFACE: Well put.
ALI: – replaces that person, they may care about you, but they may care about their vision more, a little bit more.
SCARFACE: Well said.
SCARFACE: Very well said.
ALI: And so the poor artist is left to try and figure their entire life out based off of that loss.
SCARFACE: Somebody didn't see that vision, not that I saw or he saw when we brought you.
ALI: And then sometimes you get into a situation where you're stuck, and the label knows that they're not paying you any attention but at the same time they don't want to relieve you of the contract.
SCARFACE: They won't release you.
ALI: Because there's a possibility you might blow.
SCARFACE: You might blow.
ALI: But we don't want to invest anything, another penny, into you to even make it happen. It's just like, your life is on hold, and a lot of people actually leave music behind situations like that.
SCARFACE: I remember when Dre signed Rakim, right. We never heard a Dr. Dre/Rakim album though. Why not?
ALI: I should text him right now and ask him, but I'm not going to do that.
FRANNIE: So rude.
ALI: Some people say it's two sides to every story.
SCARFACE: Had to be.
ALI: Let's get on some real journalistic hip-hop, roll our sleeves up, and you want to join the team and help us get some answers. Join the Microphone Check team?
FRANNIE: Nah, you agree for everything to be off the record. It's the worst.
ALI: Who? Me?
FRANNIE: Yeah. You're always like, "It's OK."
ALI: You gotta protect the people.
FRANNIE: "We don't have to let it out." No we do. We're going to run it.
SCARFACE: No. We gotta protect the people. This ain't the fucking – this ain't Wolf Blitzer. This is the real deal.
FRANNIE: That's you. Rap Wolf Blitzer.
SCARFACE: The rap Wolf Blitzer. Rap's Wolf Blitzer.
FRANNIE: What was your experience then on Rap-A-Lot? I mean, how old were you when you became of part of that sort of institution? Or not your age, but how much did you have under your belt?
SCARFACE: I first joined Rap-A-Lot in August the 18th, 1987.
SCARFACE: Yeah. So I was 16 years old, fresh off the fucking streets, right off the corner. Dirty t-shirt and run-over tennis shoes, bruh. It was going down. I was a kid. I was a kid for real. Damn. That's heavy.
ALI: How old is your youngest child?
ALI: OK. How old is your oldest child?
ALI: You got any in between that's around 16 years of age is the point I'm getting to.
FRANNIE: Jesus Christ.
SCARFACE: I got a 16-year-old.
ALI: 16? You have a 16 – so that's like your 16-year-old getting –
SCARFACE: But it's two different types of 16s. Like, he's a 16-year-old mama's boy. And if he's not a mama's boy, then he's a 16-year-old kid. You know what I mean? He's a kid. He lives in the house with his mom. He get up and go to school every morning. When I was 16, I had my own fucking apartment. I had dropped out of school.
ALI: Did you really know what you were doing in life then though? 16. You might have some direction.
SCARFACE: Yeah, I made it.
SCARFACE: I made it. But I look at my children, and I look at the possibility of them making it back then when I was doing me. I'm putting them back then, and it's probably one that'll make it. But I don't think nobody else would.
ALI: Is that cause you made it too easy? You're doing the father thing a little too well?
SCARFACE: I think that they may not have grown up in the same environment that I grew up in.
SCARFACE: It may have been a difference. They didn't have to resort to the street.
ALI: Well, that's a good thing.
SCARFACE: I don't know. It could've been a bad thing.
Like, my upbringing makes me respect everything that I go through, everything that I have right now. Back then, growing up and having it, I felt like I was owed that. But when I snapped out of it and snapped back to reality, I look at my life back then – I look at all of the homies that I grew up with, and I look at they situation, and then I look at mine. I'm like, "Fuck. Wow."
I got a homeboy been in jail since my career been in place. He's maybe ten, maybe nine, eight or nine years, but shit when my career finally took the fuck off, he was gone. I got friends that did 30 years, 15 years, 17 years. My brother doing – he did five, and now he's doing nine more. So you know how it go. I'm looking at that life and I'm looking at mine, and I'm like, "Oh, shit."
A lot of the people that I rap with and made songs with or hung with or played football with and chilled with, like, they dead. They just – dude just shot Chris in the back of the head. He was a rapper, 3-2. Shot him in the back of the head for nothing. Killed him at the gas station. I'm looking at all my friends, bro. And then I'm looking at my life and my upbringing, and growing up into that shit back then make me really appreciate what I have going right now. I could've easily fell off into that shit.
A buddy of mine driving, just driving, and run into the fucking freeway pole, blow up. They don't even know who in the car. They find out who in the car; it's him. Shit like that. I lose my friends. I'm burying my classmates. Three of my friends die of heart attacks within a month of each other, two women and one dude, 47 to 50, dead. So I'm burying my classmates.
So everything that I went through make me really appreciate what I go through now, cause I could easily just wake up in the morning and find myself dead. Sad but true. Yeah. One of them things, big homie.
ALI: It's interesting, cause I'm listening to you say that, and it makes me wonder, roll the clock back 30 years and what was the environment like then? Cause you listen to your records, and you would think that you would say the exact same thing you just said.
ALI: Just saying. You know, if you just think about the environment, how you might have been making money, how other people making money at the age of 16, 17, and what it took to do that, right?
SCARFACE: Yeah, yeah. But I feel like all of the work that I put in 16, 17, 18, 25, 30, I feel like all of that money I got, I deserved that shit. I look at my life back then and look at my homeboys lives back then and right now, and I'm just glad to have been able to sustain myself for that many years.
ALI: What would you tell that 16-year-old who just signed the biggest deal of their life, the young you, to look out for?
SCARFACE: Shit, man. Remember, and this is important, there is no such thing as a homeboy in business. I don't give a fuck if y'all slept in the same bed growing up. It's something about money that separates a friendship. It's something about money – excuse me. It's something about money that can destroy a brotherhood, OK? Because I'll kill my brother over my money. It's fucked up. Don't fuck me out my money, cause I'll kill you. Over my money. We'll become enemies over my money. What's yours is yours and what's mine is mine. Don't fuck with mine. That would be the advice I give him, bruh, that money destroys brotherhoods.
ALI: So how do you work around that so that you go into this venture of love of music, of realizing that you guys could build a career, you could tour the world, you can do a lot of fun things behind music, right? Change your environment, change your family's environment. But you boys.
SCARFACE: You have to make sure that that paperwork say what it's supposed to say from day one.
SCARFACE: Make sure that that shit is etched in stone and notarized, and the lawyer read over it and it ain't no legal language that can bind you anything that you don't want to be a part of.
FRANNIE: Are you saying, have a contract between group members?
SCARFACE: I would. In a perfect world, I think the group members should come to an agreement, and that agreement should go to the label, then the group should work the deal out with the label. Not one individual or the label work the deal out for the group. That's not supposed to work like that. You go to the label and say, "Hey. This is what I want to do." Or you go to the distributor and say, "This is how I want to do it. This is how I want this broke down." Alright.
That keep the fucking out of play.
FRANNIE: But people sort of don't want to do that, because it's like getting a prenup.
SCARFACE: Yeah. Well, then don't get married then.
FRANNIE: It seems to devalue the relationship, but –
SCARFACE: Then let's devalue it.
FRANNIE: Yeah, exactly.
SCARFACE: If I can't have a prenup I don't want to be married. Period.
SCARFACE: Period. I love being by myself. Straight the fuck up. I love being by myself. So when it's time to break some money down, I'm looking at me. So if I owe me some money, then I'll pay myself, how about that?
ALI: Sounds great, man.
SCARFACE: Cause ain't nobody else gon' pay me. Shit.
FRANNIE: So the first time I heard you was actually The Diary, and I heard it off a mixtape –
SCARFACE: Oh damn.
FRANNIE: – that my cousin, her swim team or something had made this mixtape, and "It's Goin' Down" was on it. And me and all of my friends, I guess we were in middle school or something, we just couldn't believe that this song existed.
FRANNIE: Because it was like, "Oh, you can talk about sex? We can talk about sex? That's allowed?"
SCARFACE: You should.
FRANNIE: It kind of changed things for us. And also we were able to just not take our middle school dramas that seriously, you know? We were like, "It can be funny. It can be what it is."
SCARFACE: I can just imagine you guys –
FRANNIE: Bumping it, like, super loud in suburban spaces?
SCARFACE: Y'all were in middle school listening to this?
FRANNIE: I got the tape in middle school. I used to move around a lot, cause my dad was in the navy. I introduced that song to a lot of young girls over the course of the next ten years. And we would listen – I have very distinct memories of listening to it in – I remember this one time in high school in this parking lot behind a grocery store by a school, and it was me and this other girl, and this guy walked by and he was just laughing at us.
SCARFACE: Shit. Like me, huh? Laughing like me?
SCARFACE: That's pretty cool. I never knew I reached the – I didn't know I crossed over.
FRANNIE: To young-ass, sex positive girls, yeah. I mean, but I think that's kind of a hallmark of your solo work especially, the combination of serious and casual kind of.
SCARFACE: I can casually be serious.
FRANNIE: Yeah. And also kind of joyful and kind of gothic, kind of dramatic.
SCARFACE: Gothic. Dark.
FRANNIE: I'm also thinking about "My Block." How it's both.
SCARFACE: Yeah. That's pretty cool. I never looked at it like that, but I guess I can be pretty gothic. Goth.
FRANNIE: Well, I mean, if like "Smile" is –
SCARFACE: That's pretty goth. I'm goth.
FRANNIE: – your most popular song ever.
SCARFACE: I'm so fucking goth. I feel like I'm getting mean in my old age.
FRANNIE: Like how?
SCARFACE: Like I'm just mean now.
ALI: To who?
ALI: So I get the "Shaheed, you're cool" pass or I get the "Happy I see you all the time?" What is it?
FRANNIE: Yeah, exactly.
SCARFACE: Nah, nah. You didn't feel like I was being mean yesterday?
ALI: Hell no!
SCARFACE: I slapped your hand hard and shit.
SCARFACE: I gave you a hug, a hard hug. That's hateful shit in my opinion. Fuck! Damn. It's all good though.
Man, who would've ever thought that 30 years later man we can sit in front of each other and have a conversation about what we did when we were kids in this business.
ALI: That's crazy. It's a blessing.
SCARFACE: That's fucking crazy. And again I say I wonder if the O'Jays is talking to like Stevie Wonder about – cause they kind of came up along – you know what I mean?
ALI: Yeah, indeed.
SCARFACE: Yeah. It's deep.
ALI: It is.
SCARFACE: And it's a lot of people in our class that won't never have the opportunity to do this again. It's not there no more. And that's crazy, bro. Y'all in the hall of fame yet?
SCARFACE: I want to go with my classmates.
FRANNIE: Me too.
SCARFACE: I want to go with my classmates, bro. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? I want to go in with y'all. Cause these are my classmates. I want to go in with them.
ALI: Well, the big controversy, if you haven't heard and he didn't hit you, is that we didn't get even a nod on the Grammys this year.
SCARFACE: Oh yeah, Tip was mad at that shit.
ALI: So it would be nice, but –
SCARFACE: I don't have to be recognized by the Grammys. Who the fuck is that anyway?
ALI: Nah. And I'll –
SCARFACE: And I'm being serious.
ALI: Well –
SCARFACE: Who's that? Who is it? I want to know who the Grammys is.
ALI: I don't know. I don't have an answer. I know –
SCARFACE: Well, who gives a fuck if you get one or not?
ALI: I'm not even talking about them. I don't really –
SCARFACE: See, I told you I get mean, bro. Sorry.
ALI: But in reference to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, that would definitely be –
SCARFACE: You definitely gon' get that.
ALI: I don't know. When people say that, I kind of instantly get deaf. So you just said it.
SCARFACE: Alright. You just got mean too then.
SCARFACE: But this is how I know you gon' get it, cause they running out of motherfuckers to give it to. So I know we coming pretty soon. Motherfuckers can overlook me for only so many years, OK.
ALI: But it is a blessing. I didn't think that when I was 18, 19, that it would be this kind of a life.
FRANNIE: You mean your life now?
ALI: See, he's showing out right now.
SCARFACE: Oh, I'm bumping the mic. Hey, did you play that?
ALI: No, that's a sample.
SCARFACE: That's cold.
ALI: Neither Q-Tip or I was messing with instruments at that point. The instrument was still the sampler.
SCARFACE: That was cold.
ALI: It wasn't till later that we could do stuff like that.
FRANNIE: So what is it like when a song that you made goes worldwide like that? Leaves your circles kind of, and people take it on, and they're like, "This is my favorite song," and people put in a movie and everything. Does it feel like –
SCARFACE: I get mad for like ten minutes.
ALI: Can you get on the mic?
SCARFACE: I said I be mad for like ten minutes, son.
ALI: "You ain't hear me?"
SCARFACE: Nah, seriously. Cause it's mine, you know? I'm real possessive about my music, especially if somebody – I know when I was making music with Rap-A-Lot, James would take some of the old shit and put it out, some shit that never made the album. He'd just put it out. And I'd be fucking furious, just so mad. Like, jump out of the window and kill myself mad, cause somebody took something from me, took my music.
You can take my fucking shoes and shit, and I'll just hunt you down and fucking dog you out, but not my music, man, that's a totally different love. It's tough to revenge music, bro. Like, you can revenge a buddy's death and all that shit, but you can't revenge music, man, stolen music. You be trying to hide that shit so can't nobody hear it or won't nobody find it. And then somebody just say, "Here goes some Face music." And you be like, "Man, you let somebody else hear my shit?" That's fucked up.
Then it's too late. Now you don't even want it no more. It's kind of like fucking the baddest chick in the world, and you the first one that got it. You the only one that can have it, but then you find out she fucked somebody else and you don't even like her no more. That's how I am about my music, bruh. Straight up.
FRANNIE: But so you're talking about when somebody takes it from you and does something you don't want to be done with it, basically.
SCARFACE: Basically. If I got a song and somebody love it, then by all means, love it. But it's almost like I lost my song now. Man, that's my song. Motherfucker, that's my song. You can hear it though. That music shit, it's different to me, man. Like, you know "My Mind Playing Tricks" is my original song, right?
SCARFACE: Yeah. But I'm a team player, so there we go.
ALI: We all appreciate you being a team player, cause that's a great song.
SCARFACE: Pretty great, man.
ALI: That's, like, one of the greatest songs ever made. It's not a lot of people that can say that.
FRANNIE: Yeah. That's Hall of Fame-worthy just if that was the only thing you ever did.
SCARFACE: Yeah? It's one of greatest songs ever made.
ALI: Yeah. From American music.
FRANNIE: And it's so many things at the same time, like what I was saying. It doesn't sound heavy, but it is. It's haunting, but it's not like a nightmare, but then it is like a nightmare, but it's too close to reality. It's just everything.
SCARFACE: It's just like a good drug trip.
SCARFACE: That'd be the best way to sum up that song. It's like a great fucking drug trip.
SCARFACE: And then you come down off the high when the song is over. It's like, "I'm glad that song's over."
FRANNIE: I want to ask about "That's Where I'm At."
SCARFACE: "That's Where I'm At." "I don't expect protection from a Jeffrey Sessions. The Klan is still alive using that very weapon. Rewrite the Constitution that you using. Stop making up excuses. I am only human." What parts you want to know about?
FRANNIE: Well, what struck me about that song is that you were saying things like that over production that was, like – it would've worked in the mid-'90s, but it also works today. It sounds ultra-modern.
SCARFACE: That's N.O. Joe. He's a mid-'90s –
FRANNIE: Yeah, I know. Wait! He was close with Mike Dean.
SCARFACE: Yeah, him and Mike Dean, they made music together.
SCARFACE: That's true.
FRANNIE: You don't have to make a song like that, but you do anyway. With a song like that, how do you know if it's working? What do you want to achieve with that song, and how do you know if it's doing what you want it to do?
SCARFACE: What do I want to achieve with it? I don't want to be mean, but I don't – I'm not really trying to achieve anything with it. If people want to hear it then fine, listen to the motherfucker. But if you don't want hear it, then by all means don't listen to it. That's how I am with all music. If you want to hear it, then we should hear it. It's not that I'm trying to accomplish nothing from it.
SCARFACE: But it was on my heart, and that is where I am in my thinking. So that's where I'm at right now with it. Like, I'm definitely right there. "Old man's starting wars on Twitter." I had Curtis Mayfield on the end. When he says, "N****! Whitey! Crackers! Choose!" Yep, I had that on there. But I took it off. And that's how it went. It went like, "Old man's starting wars on Twitter. White boys, why y'all so bitter? Toward – 'N****! Whitey!'" Like they was – they mad at everybody.
SCARFACE: With the Home Depot wicker sticks, the alt-right, alt-white, alt-whatever the fuck that is.
FRANNIE: So it's expression rather than persuasion.
SCARFACE: Expression is a good word. A good word, expression. "I'll express it to the best of my ability. Now I'm living in a criminal facility." Whatever it is.
ALI: Facility. Yep.
FRANNIE: So if you were still signing artists right now, would it be important to you that the people that you signed were as clear in their expression as you are?
SCARFACE: I don't understand what you saying, but if you asking me if it's clear in their expression as far as what they're doing in their music? Like, if I could understand what they're saying? If I'm convinced that what they doing is how they really feel in they music?
FRANNIE: Yeah. That's what I mean.
SCARFACE: Yeah. I would. As long as it's original and it's authentic, I want to be a part of it.
FRANNIE: How can you tell?
SCARFACE: You know.
FRANNIE: You just know.
SCARFACE: Oh yeah. For sure. You know. When you listen to Kodak Black – I like Kodak Black. I understand him. I like him a lot. He may sound a little mongoloid-ish at times. Like, I can't really understand him. But it's dope, because he's saying some dope shit. I love him. I wish I could've ran into Kodak Black first. I would've signed him. I'd've gave him an opportunity.
But then you have rappers that's just like way too creative to even rap. Like, to me, Kendrick Lamar is way too creative. I heard – like I said, I was talking about his song today "Love Me" or whatever that song is. When I heard that song I was fucked up. That's probably the dopest song that I've heard in years. He just went into some totally different character, and it was just explosive, man. Like, damn.
We got some great kids making music. And then we got motherfuckers that sound like they can't even speak English, so. "(gibberish) boom boom boom boom boom! Turnt! Turnt! Turnt! Boom boom boom!" Like, fuck! What the fuck?
ALI: Everyone has a computer; everyone has a studio, and there we go. Here we go.
SCARFACE: You remember how hard it was to get in the studio?
ALI: Yeah. You tell people a building like this. You need an uncle or aunt with a couple hundred thousand in the purse they just throw your way, or you need to be good as I don't know what.
SCARFACE: Bruh. And this room not –
ALI: To press record.
SCARFACE: Now, all you gotta do is buy a fucking CD and put that shit on the laptop now. You in the studio.
SCARFACE: "What you doing?" "I'm sitting in the studio." "Motherfucker, you upstairs in your bedroom! My son." "Oh, I'm up here. I'm in the studio." "What? Really? When did you leave?" And then I hop upstairs. I'm like, motherfucker open up his computer and now he in the studio. From bed to studio immediately.
ALI: Some good things come out of that though. But anyway. You're looking good. So what are you doing lifestyle-wise to stay healthy, stay youthful.
SCARFACE: When I go on the road, I go plant-based. I'm all vegetarian on the road. And when I'm home, I go for what I know, but I work out. But when I'm on the road, I do, like, real healthy – and portion control too. So instead of going to the Flying Js and get me some Ding Dongs and some milk, I grab me some carrots. I eat bad during the day though. I can eat a little bad. I might eat a candy bar or something or some chips. But on the road I don't play, cause I know your ass can be sitting in there looking like the blob.
ALI: Is there a motto you live by? Any words? A mantra?
ALI: You want to share it with us?
SCARFACE: I stay in my own lane. Doing my own thing. I don't fuck with nobody, and I ain't to be fucked with. I stay in my own lane, doing my own thing. I don't want to be like nobody else. I don't want to – when you see me, I don't be with no whole lot of people. I ain't got a entourage. I move by myself. I'm in my own lane. I think a lot of people draw heat. Not really worried about nobody bothering me. It's one or two ways that can end up.
FRANNIE: Have you always operated like that or was there a turning point when you were like, "I gotta cut them out?"
SCARFACE: Nah, I've always been me and one dude with me, but now it's just me by myself. I might bring a chick with me, but no dudes. Nah. I pretty much always been like that, been by myself.
FRANNIE: Like philosophically, not just –
SCARFACE: I've always been by myself. I'm an introvert. I love it by myself. And when I want to be bothered, I'll come out. When I don't want to be bothered, I'll stay in my shell. That's the coolest part about being me. I don't have to come out if I don't want to. I don't have to come out. I can just stay in the house for months.
ALI: Me too. It's either studio or the cribbo, which is not that far away. So I don't know if it's a good thing. Sometimes I feel like, "Eh, maybe I'm missing out on something." But I'm like, "Not really."
FRANNIE: Question for both of you: do you think that you have fulfilled your potential?
SCARFACE: No. No.
FRANNIE: What is left to be done?
SCARFACE: I think that if Raphael and Ali Shaheed Muhammad got together and did my album, that would be the shit.
ALI: See, when you put it like that –
FRANNIE: Do it.
SCARFACE: Then I could really go into artist mode.
SCARFACE: I could go really go into – if you want to see me go into songwriting mode, do that. Hook that up.
ALI: Well, I was going to ask what's a session with you like? So having a personal invite, doesn't get any better than that. But to all of our listeners on Spotify –
ALI: – they won't be able to – well, maybe if we record it and give them a little video clip. But I just know – I always got this joyful feeling from you. And I think your music though brings – it has always given me fun, something really thoughtful and reflective, something to make me think that life is really impossible, and then I feel inspired to go get over the impossible. But when I see you in person, it's just always love and joyful.
ALI: And so it makes me wonder, what is it like to be in the studio with you? What happens in that session? Can you give us a glimpse?
SCARFACE: I'm an extremely creative dude. You'd have to have the cameras rolling.
SCARFACE: I'm very very creative, bro. I can take a click track and turn it into a fucking banger. A banger. A lot of people get credit for the work that I've done. They've always had to attach their names to my shit, and I don't mind it. But I think that when you listen to that, and then you listen to this, then you'll know where that came from. And I've never changed.
ALI: That's true.
SCARFACE: I've never changed.
ALI: Thank you for coming to spend time with us, man.
SCARFACE: I appreciate y'all having me.
ALI: It was really a surprise to see you.
SCARFACE: Dope, right?
SCARFACE: I'm talking about at Nam. No, I ain't talking about right now.
ALI: No, that's what I'm talking about, cause I was like, "Yo! Is this really happening right now." I was about to –
SCARFACE: "Yeah, I get to see you tomorrow."
ALI: Exactly! I was like, "Alright. The creator's telling me something. I don't know what, but all good."
SCARFACE: The master of all planets.
SCARFACE: How about some cold water for old junior?
SCARFACE: How about some cold water for old junior?
ALI: We got you. I apologize. My hospitality skills –
SCARFACE: This is supposed to be the hospitality suite, ain't it?