The Daily Beacon had a chance to speak with U-God, born in Staten Island as Lamont Jody Hawkins. U-God was one of the original members of Wu Tang Clan; his upcoming release of "Keynote Speaker" on July 23 will mark his 21st year in the music business.
We asked him how the times have changed.
The Daily Beacon: How different is the music scene now than it was when you were with Wu Tang Clan in the mid-90s?
U-God: The scene is all about rocking. And at the end of the quarter, I know it's your job to talk about issues. And I feel like music is always going to be music, know what I'm saying? You're a journalist, I'm an artist, and I deal with sound. So the sound that you're hearing nowadays may have changed, but the content of rhyming will never change. Either you're dope, or you're not. So how I feel like it's changed? It might have gotten a little more computerized, or robotic-y, but at the same time I feel like things go in a circle. People still want to hear that raw sound, that choppy sound, that flavor that we've all sprung.
DB: Do you feel like Wu Tang Clan gets enough credit as a rap group?
U-God: No we don't. But you know why? Once you come up with that one hit record, then they'll give us our props. That's how the game is, if we don't come up with a hit record they'll probably just give us our props later on in the Hall of Fame... but as far as giving us our props? No hell no they don't give us our props. We from Staten Island, people write us off because we from Staten Island. It is what it is man. You gotta take it with a grain of salt. I'm not really looking for praise, to tell you the truth. I'm like, I just want to be remembered as like "wow, them dudes are some ill [expletive]." If I'm looking for praises all the time, that's kinda like vanity and that takes away from your powers of creation.
DB: How did you get into the music business?
U-God: When we was youngsters, we used to just rhyme in the hallways. My hip hop started just a little bit earlier when I was probably 12 or 13 and my man downstairs had crazy tapes and records and stuff like that. We used to DJ for hours. I used to go through crates of records, listening to old school stuff. Then on top of that, my uncle when I was a little bit younger, he used to bring me tapes... I come from New York, and it's the home and the mecca of hip hop. You were raised around it; I didn't think that it would become a part of me so much. I didn't realize that it would come in handy later on in life. As time moved on, I got more and more into rhyming. But then I got stuck into the streets, the crack came in and threw me off a little bit. But I was able to keep a balance; on the weekends when we weren't out doing our little hustle, our little one-two stepper, we was, you know, at the house. He had a four track studio, and with his four track studio, he made it sound like it was a big song with just a little bit of nothing. That's something I learned: you can have a little bit of nothing and you can make it sound way better than the dudes who have everything. So every weekend when we didn't wanna be chased by the police, we'd be locked up in the studio or locked up in his crib, a whole bunch of [guys] drinking and smoking and playing deuces and rhyming and throwing darts and just dreaming about being successful. Little did we know...
DB: How did you get the name U-God?
U-God: That name was given to me, I ain't chose that name. That name was given to me at 14 years old; my likeness gave me that name. Back in the day, you didn't choose a name, your name was given to you. The U stands for universal, the whole name was long, so I just chopped it down. I had many street names, but that was the name that really resonated. I'm the Prince of Staten Island, check my history. I wasn't the King Pen of Staten Island, I was the Prince of Staten Island (laughs). I was raised by a number of gangstas and wolves, and around all that stuff I was the Prince and dudes loved me and to this day I still got love on the streets based on the fact of my history.
DB: What made you want to get back into the studio after 2010's "Dopium?"
U-God: I'm not on a time schedule. I don't wanna be on a time schedule. I wanna do albums without the stress of labels telling me, 'we gotta get it done' and pressurize my cabinet. I don't want that. I don't want my [expletive] pressurized. Right now while I'm talking to you, we're working on a new record. Everybody says 'when is it coming, when is it coming' – already trying to pressurize. When you pressurize something... it gets constipated. It stops the flow, the natural flow of things supposed to happen. With "Keynote Speaker," I took my time with it. I recorded 50 [expeltive-ing] songs, I recorded 50 joints. And from those 50 joints I recorded, I picked 17 bangers and I put them on the album. [Expletive] got legs, it's gonna walk by itself. Trust me, that [expletive] is fire. So, that's what I do. And that's what I'm gonna keep doing.
DB: How is streaming music affecting artists financially?
U-God: One thing I can definitely say is that you get more shows these days. There's more merchandise being sold and more shows. I never see no royalties so I really don't care about that [expletive]. (laughs) The internet is helping us stay young. It teaches the kids, they wanna hear me, they type it in.
DB: Advice for people looking to get into the rap game?
U-God: That's a rough one. I been in the game since '94, when you had to have skills to get into the game. Now, when you're on the internet and you kinda hot, you got a little potential, somebody might see you and might snatch you up. ... Right now, all I can say is, don't force it. Get you a lawyer, of course, and right now, you really don't need no label. If you're hot, really hot, people are going to gravitate to you brah. That's just what it is. Don't be in denial, like "I'm hot, I'm hot." You must not be that hot if you ain't got no followers or [guys] ain't talking about you. For the people that try to get in the game now? Keep pushing, keep writing dope joints. Look at Kendrick Lamar. HE was an internet kid. I feel like the internet makes it easy for kids to get on if you really have talent. If you really have talent, that's the question. You gotta answer that for yourself.
DB: Do you stay in close touch with the other members of Wu Tang?
U-God: I talk to Rick every other day. That's my family. He call me whenever he feel like it. I known these dudes since I was eight, nine years old; we are grown ass men, I don't want to be around these [expletive] every day. Come on man ... I see these [guys] every [expletive-ing] day, I worked with them for the last twenty years of my life. I wanna see some [breasts]. I wanna see some money. After that, you know, whatever. My brothers are my brothers.
DB: You coming to Tennessee any time soon?
U-God: I love Tennessee, we just left Tennessee. We was at Bonnaroo. I would love to come back, the thing was rocking. I was blown away, I thought it was going to be some hillbilly [expletive]. I was like I'm starting to like the South. These [expletive] open they doors, invite a [guy] in for some chicken and some food. In the north that [guy] be a joke, they slam a door in your face.