“Still Trained to Go” – Fam-Lay Talks His Career, From Star Trak To Tyler, The Creator
“Hmmyessirr…” As Pharrell launches i am OTHER today, let’s all take a moment to reflect on the Star Trak era. Sure, you might be most familiar with “Milkshake” and “Grindin’,” but as any Trakkie will tell you — and Neptunes stans really are as devoted to Star Trak as Trekkies are to Star Trek — Pharrell and Chad’s old label was home to some of the brightest talent that never shone. Countless artists got stuck in the Corrupt Music Machine’s cogs (*ahem*) under the Neptunes’ watch, but none was as promising as Fam-Lay. Today, Fam is free from contracts and bullshit, back on his grind with new music in the works. RESPECT. sat down with Fam to talk about that new-new, but also to rehash the past decade of his turbulent career. Below, he speaks on how industry politics held him back, why Tyler, the Creator Tweets him on the reg, and why Star Trak still ain’t dead.
You’re definitely an artist that a lot of people know, but they don’t really know that they know. Is that a fair thing to say?
Makes sense, man.
Do people recognize your face? ‘Cause I know they recognize your songs.
Not too much, man. I don’t get a lot of people recognizing my face.
But still, you’ve got fans. I see you on Twitter.
My Twitter’s doing okay. [Laughs.]
I know you’ve had a crazy, epic saga of deals, but I was wondering if we could go through that a little bit, let the people know how you first linked up with Star Trak and how you came to where you are today.
It’s been a rollercoaster, but I wouldn’t change one thing. Pharrell, he real, fam. We grew up in the same neighborhood. We were like childhood friends. He was talking about music back then, and you gotta know, from Virginia, you got a better chance of hitting the lottery [than making it in the industry]. We didn’t take it seriously. He was like one of the only dudes that really took music seriously to the point where he felt like he could break through.
He was doing shit for Teddy Riley back then and he would come down to my neighborhood just to visit. At that time, I used to rhyme just jokingly. We used to do like snapping on each other, joking, rhyming and shit. I started getting okay; a few people started telling me I was getting alright with it. I just took my chance one day and just made a record. I still remember the shit, it was a funny record.
I ran into [Pharrell] at a club on my birthday one night and he was like “Yo, I heard you rapping, man.” Shit caught me off-guard; he said, “Yo, let me hear something right now.” Like I said, it was my birthday, I’m drunk, and he want me to rhyme for him right now on the spot. He was like “Yo, just come to the studio and see how that shit works. I really want you to hang around.” I started hanging around and started getting closer and closer.
From then on, I just started coming around and just making records, and as this is happening, the Neptunes are blowing up. It kept getting bigger and bigger, so it came to the point where instead of shopping it to people, don’t it make sense for me to go with them, ride with the team? I ended up signing with Star Trak, which was something I wanted to do anyway.
What year was that, that you signed with Star Trak?
This was around ’03, ‘04.
They basically booked you up and signed you for an album, right?
Pretty much. The Clipse had a deal with Elektra. The Neptunes didn’t have a label at this time. I don’t even think their intentions were to get a label. They were just trying to put out artists and produce more people. Shit happened so fast, man, it grew so fast. The same thing I just told you about me, they did the Clipse the same way. They just snatched them up and was like “Yo, you can come to our label.”
So who else? It was you, the Clipse, Rosco [P. Coldchain]…
His name was Justin. I can’t remember his last name. Like Timberlake, but I can’t remember his last name. He was the guy in “Lapdance,” if you remember. White kid.
Lee Harvey. So we been grinding, man. Back then, like I said, before they grew to the point where they had enough power to go out for themselves, they were shopping us all at different places. Up in Atlantic, everywhere – Universal, trying to get shit going, DreamWorks, Interscope. It made sense to ride with them. So, as all this goes on, Clipse do they thing, pretty much smacked it out the park. Again, I’m fuckin’ coming from this little town, and I’m like the first guy from this area that shot to go nationally, or make a real mark.
I’m just gonna tell you a quick story about “Rock N’ Roll” that you might like. Clipse came out, [and Pharrell said to me,] “You ready to produce your shit? Like, what you wanna do? Let’s go.” So you know me, like I said, I’m coming from a small town, and Virginia shit is kind of crazy; it’s weird. We in the middle; some people fuck with the South, some people fuck with the North. And Hampton Roads, where I’m at, it’s like a military town, so there’s people from everywhere. It’s like a melting pot, for real. I felt like the people didn’t know how I really got down. So when it was my time, I didn’t want to be another regular dude. I wanted to show mothafuckas that I could really rhyme.
You know, if you ever met Pharrell, the nigga’s a fuckin’ X-Man. Him and Chad, they’re musical X-Men. One of them’s a genius; the other’s a sorcerer. You pick which one is which. When it comes to music, these mothafuckas are incredible, and always [have] been.
So Pharrell makes “Rock N’ Roll.” He makes the beat in like ten minutes, the shit took no time. He says, “Yo, I got a flow for you. I think you should rhyme like Too Short on this beat.” So I’m looking at the mothafucka like he crazy. I’m like, “Yo man, nah.” I thought he tryna fuck me up. I’m a Short fan, but I’m just like, “This is my first shit coming out. I’m with The Neptunes. Why I gotta rhyme like I’m somebody else?” He’s like, “Nah man, I’m telling you. Just trust me. We gon’ get ‘em on the other shit, but for this record, just go with the Short flow.” So, I was kind of leery, but again, like I told you, I respect his opinion ‘cause [the Neptunes] were the shit. So I said, “Aight, cool. I’ll give it a shot.” He said, “Aight, I’ll tell you what. I’ll bet your ten dollars to my hundred dollars that if you do this rap like I’m telling you to do it, the first time you perform this shit, you’ll say like three words [and the crowd will rap the rest.]” So that was the bet. I’m like “Aight, cool.” I mean, who’s taking the bet serious? Honestly, I’m ready to just go ahead and record this one record his way so I could do the rest of this shit my way. That was my intention.
He played the beat, I vibed to it. I’m like “Okay, this shit’s actually cool.” So I tried to give him my lil’ Too Short [flow] ‘cause, like I said, I was a Short fan anyway. I always fucked with Too Short. So I was just like, Rock and roll, man, roll and rock / I got tens, got twenties, got fifty blocks. I just stayed in that world, stayed in that lane. Then the shit actually started sounding cool to me, so I just rhymed like that the whole record. And there was a few people in the studio, and they was all like, “Damn, this shit is kinda sick, like, you on something.” But honestly, I didn’t feel like I was onto something. I was excited that it came out dope to me, and like I said, I was ready to go on to the next song. Like, okay, now let me rhyme in this mothafucka. Let me prove I can rhyme. So anyway, we do that, we done, whatever.
We go for the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour, it was like Pharrell – ‘cause Clones was out then, it was the Roots, who are the most incredible band ever, and the Black Eyed Peas. Wow. I just thought of that. Black Eyed Peas, man. Yo, let me tell you how shit was so crazy, Peas was actually opening up for us, I think. No bullshit. I’m just remembering that. I’m remembering meeting will.i.am. back then. That shit crazy. Now these mothafuckas getting, what, a million dollars a show?
They were opening up for y’all. Damn, man.
Yeah, no bullshit. Black Eyed Peas were opening up for us. That’s crazy. I just realized that. So that’s dope. But anyway, we do the show and in the middle of the show, Pharrell brought me out with him and the plan was for me to do “Rock N’ Roll.” This was really one of my first shows ever. I did shit around the town, but this was my first real show. So I come out, you know, I’m backstage drinking my little Grey Goose, so I’m fucked up, but I come out and say, Rock and roll, man, roll and rock, and the audience was like, I got tens, got twenties, got fifty blocks. It was fucking insane. It was the craziest feeling. To the point where I had the mike, and I forgot I was supposed to be performing. It was so crazy, they sung the shit. And at this point, the track wasn’t even out for like a week. It was like the record was out for days. I’m like, “How the fuck do they know this?” And it’s just like, yo, P was right. I don’t know if you’ve ever met Pharrell, but he’s got this look where he’s like, “Nigga I told you.” That’s how that shit came about. The look he gave me was like, “Yeah, nigga, give me my ten dollars.”
Working with them dudes was a good experience man, but the major label shit just… At that time, I never had to taste the politics of it, and like I said, I was from this small town and always thought that all I had to do I was make the music.
Aight, but hold up Fam, you’re being modest right now. You had a fuckin’ release date, didn’t you?
Yeah, but that’s what I’m trying to say. It was so fuckin’ crazy. If you got time I could take you through the stories. Like, there were situations, what I’ve seen, and it kinda tells you…
I would love to hear the stories, shit. I’ve been a fan since back then. I’ve been a fan since “Rock N’ Roll.”
Wow, man, I appreciate it. I had a release date. We did “Rock ‘N Roll”. Great response. But then it just started getting crazy. The business side came up, and at the time, I didn’t know much about BDS and all that dumb shit. [Def Jam] wanted a certain amount of spins a week and all that. I was the new dude; I was young. It was hot, the people said it’s hot, so I was like, “What’s the problem? What’s going on?” So we dropped the video. You had to have this certain amount of shit to get it on BET, or they need a like a whole bunch of spins. So at this time, I’m like, “What the fuck is going on?” It was a whole bunch of bullshit. That shit makes no sense at all. When I’m walking up the street and everybody is singing the song everywhere I go, I’m like, “Mothafuckas is on it!”
It’s the difference between a street record and a radio record.
How old were you at the time?
I was 23, man.
So you were young as hell!
But this what I gotta emphasize, that this town, man, it was so epic for this area at this time. It was like a fuckin’ tsunami. Even the Clipse is from the beach. That shit is like fifteen minutes from where I grew up, but it’s like day and night. They kind of look at me as one of their own.
They’re from the suburbs right?
The part where they’re from is definitely not like where I’m from.
Where’d you guys shoot the “Rock N’ Roll” video? That was shot in Norfolk, no?
Yeah, that was shot in my hood. That’s where I grew up at That’s what I’m saying, like, that was a major deal. It was a real production. We took lunch and all that shit. [Laughs.] It was a big deal.
But this is the story. This is when shit start getting fucked up. You should insert the mothafuckin’ dun dun dun. This is where you should insert that in. So dun dun dun, this is what happened: I’m still going through all that shit with the labels back before, when I didn’t know what was happening. But we’re smashing shit out, we’re still recording. Def Jam was giving out these SkyPagers back in the day, so everybody had them. I get a call and somebody says that Lyor Cohen is leaving. Mind you, this is the dude that signed me. I’m giving you exclusive shit yo, I always wanted this story out. So anyway, I get wind of it from the Internet. I don’t know for sure. Mind you, I’m a country-ass nigga that don’t know ‘bout none of this shit. All I know how to do is rap.
Like a week later, I get a call to my pager, and it’s Kevin Liles. He says, “Yo, we’re not leaving. It’s gonna be some switches. Me and Julie still gonna be here. We rockin’ and rollin’.” A week goes by. My pager goes off again. Kevin Liles is leaving. He’s leaving the fuckin’ company – there you go.
So it wasn’t even in your hands at all?
Nah, nah, definitely. I’m giving you the real exclusive.
On some top-down, business-level politics. Somebody leaves, and you get fucked.
Totally. Listen man, I don’t know if it’s some shit that I did in my past life and I’m paying for it. I don’t know. He was cool, he was a great dude. It was out of his hands.
This is how it works? Whoever signs you – your success is contingent not on the label but the person?
Pretty much man, pretty much. Mind you, at this time, this song was so hot. So I get this call, and the dude who just told me a week ago that he won’t leave is leaving. I got an album recorded, but it’s just stuck.
But [Star Trak is] not like an exclusive deal is it?
The rest of Star Trak is signed to Arista at this point, and I’m at Def Jam. The Star Trak offices were in Arista’s building so I’d go up there all the time. So I’m up in [their] office. I’d be the cubicles, and they got earphones in and shit, but it’s quiet as shit. It’s like an office. Then you go over to the Def Jam building, and mothafuckas was throwing footballs. They rollerblading and shit. It was wild. They got the music turned up. I felt more home over there.
I got to tell you this story too because it all adds up. So when I first go to Def Jam, before they left and all that, it’s just wild. When I first I go to meet Lyor, I go into his office, and he’s like, “Yo, you want something to drink?” And I automatically assume, like, “Yeah, let me get a Sprite or something.” And he was like, “What the fuck man, nah, I’m offering you a drink.” I’m like, “Oh, shit. Give me a bottle of tequila.” That’s what I drank then. Remember this bottle of tequila, because it plays an important part in my career. So he gives me the bottle of tequila, I’m drinking it. I’m laidback and kicking it, I’m relaxed now. We had a good meeting. So I go back to the Arista building. Shit was just quiet and all that. It’s L.A. Reid’s last day.
So I get the call that Kevin Liles is leaving. So I’m thinking I’m stuck. I don’t know what’s going on. Then I get another page, a week later. It’s a rumor that L.A. Reid is coming over to Def Jam. At the time, I didn’t know much about L.A. Reid. I knew he was an R&B dude. I feel like he didn’t know what I was trying to do. I’m just thinking, “This is why I’m over here and not Arista.” Like a week later he comes over to Def Jam. So I call Pharrell, like, “They got L.A. Reid coming over here, and Kevin Liles is leaving.” Pharrell, he’s a fuckin’ optimistic guy, always. He’s like, “Man, it’s gonna be good. We got a meeting.” And anybody that’s ever been on a major label, you know it’s always a meeting for every fuckin’ thing. So anyway, I fly out to meet with L.A. Reid. I had records. I had Lil Jon. I had “Rock N’ Roll.” I had a nice solid album. I wasn’t worried [about the music]. I was just concerned because I didn’t know how he was gonna carry it. So I go up there, we go in his office. He’s in the same [Def Jam] office I’ve been at.
Here goes the part where I might have played a part, and I think I fucked up, but I’mma see what you think. So here go the Law & Order shit again – dun dun dun. [Laughs.] I go into the office and right before that I see Pharrell and Pharrell’s manager, the CEO of Star Trak, Rob Walker. We all in the office. The intern or a guy who works there asks, “Yo, you want something to drink, you good?” I’m like, “Yeah, come through man. Give me some tequila.” So he leaves, and the now meeting is going on, and we’re all sitting across from one another. This mothafucka comes right in the meeting, and he sits the tequila right between me and L.A. Reid, and I’m like, “Dumb fuck!” I can’t even explain it. It was just an awkward moment. So everybody’s just looking around – the meeting was like 10:30 in the morning. [Laughs.] If I ever see this guy I have to say something to him. So L.A. Reid gets the record. He picks the singles. He likes “Fresh-N-Drivin’.”
And you had “Git Busy” too, right?
Yeah, “Git Busy” was something that we wanted to push. He had picked “Fresh-n-Drivin’,” and at this point I was ready to go. I just wanted to see some wheels turning. I fly back to Virginia with the plan. They said, “Give us a few weeks. We’re gonna do this and that, and then we’re gonna push it around Labor Day or Memorial Day.” One of the holidays. So I get a call from Pharrell, and he’s like, “Yo, I think I’m getting you off Def Jam. I think we going to Interscope.” I’m like, “What are you talking about, my nigga? We just fuckin’ met L.A. Reid. Everything was good. What do you mean?”
So what, do you blame it on the tequila? [Laughs.]
Man, to this day I still think it’s the tequila. But I don’t know. I don’t think they’d fuck up all that money just for me to get a shot of tequila at 9 o’clock in the morning. So I’m like, “Aight, cool.” I don’t know what this dude [Pharrell] talking bout. He’s the sorcerer. Fuck it, I’ll think about it later; it’s beautiful outside, I’m ‘bout to ride to the beach. My homegirl comes to get me, and somebody calls her while we riding to the beach. It’s a beautiful day, man – top down, music blazing, and we’re heading to the beach. So somebody calls her, and they read an article that Def Jam dropped a lot of artists and my name was on there. So now I’m thinking, “Oh shit, Pharrell was probably trying to cushion my fall.” So I ended up calling P back, and he’s like, “Yeah man, they trippin’ but we’re going to Interscope. We’re gonna fuck with Jimmy [Iovine].” So this shit was good – Interscope has Eminem and G Unit, they got Dre, man. These are monsters, for real. I’m cool. But the think about that is, [Pharrell] talking about the shit like it’s gonna happen tomorrow. His thirty days is not like my thirty days, put it that way; my shit is an actual thirty days. But anyway, that ended up going down. I get to Interscope and it’s the same shit pretty much, man. It’s the same shit.
Did you pop bottles with Jimmy?
Popped bottles with Jimmy. Everything’s good, man. We was in the fucking Mandarin, doing all types of shit. We making records, and we just living. We made like three more records. They picked the single. I go to the office and they picked “Da Beeper Record.”
This is 2007. This is second time. You’ve got Traintogo, and you’re still giving them the same version?
Same thing but tweaked. I got that “Rock N’ Roll” shit, we still couldn’t get rid of them and “Amalance.” We just kept those records, tweaked them, and just did more shit. We just kept on recording.
I can tell you a funny story about “Da Beeper Record,” man. People don’t know. So we get there, I go to record with Pharrell. This is the second time around. We recording on the beach, shit is lovely. We do some records. We actually do three records. I was there for two days.
This is out in L.A.?
This is out in Miami, on South Beach. We’re out there for two days, and this is the last day. The Neptunes don’t record late, so by 12 a.m., they out of this mothafucka. They don’t usually record like that. It was around 12 a.m., and I made like three records, and everybody loves them. So I leave out, and I’m playing “Madden,” and I’m so happy I have these records to take back, and I hear Pharrell in the background making another song. I just assume he’s producing something for somebody else. So he bust in there, and he’s like, “Come listen to this shit.” So I go in, and it’s “Da Beeper Record.” I thought it was cool, but I didn’t really fuck with it. I was like, “It’s aight. It ain’t really for me.” But he was so adamant. I’m like, “Man, this dude crazy as hell.” He was like, “Man, lay this record down. Please.” So I end up playing with the record, like, You want it, I got it. You need it. / I said you gotta come see it. I’m fucking around with it because I know for a fact I’m not keeping this record. I ended up doing like six or seven bars of that shit and hoped that I would never hear the record again in my life.
I leave and I go home with my record, and a week passed, and Pharrell was like, “Yo, we got a meeting with Jimmy tomorrow in L.A.” Pharrell asked me, “What happened to ‘Da Beeper Record,’ did you ever finish it?” I was like, “Yeah, I finished it.” I just lied to him. And he was like, “Cool, because I want to play it for him.” I was like, “Shit, why is he still on this fucking record?” I ran to the studio and finished it up with the engineer. I had two hours to record that shit.
It had that “Walkin’ on the block with life in my pocket” – that part was already on there before you hopped on?
Yeah, we had all that up there before we left Miami, and I had some parts of the first verse. My mentality was when the rest of the labels hear this shit, they not going to want this record, so I was just doing this record to satisfy him. I got to Cali the next day and I’m recording with Three 6 Mafia, and the dude said, “Why don’t you play them your shit so they can see where you at?” It just so happens that the engineer who burned the CD put “Da Beeper Record” as the first shit. So it comes on, and everybody in the studio is going off in the studio like, “What is this?” And I was like, “Yo, that’s nothing.” I skipped that and started playing some other shit, and they like it. I walk back in and everybody was like, “But yo, what was that first record?” I just played it down like, “Man, it’s just ‘Da Beeper Record.’” Pharrell comes in and says, “Man, I’m telling you, that’s the shit!” Six or seven other people in there are saying that’s the record! I said, “I don’t really fuck with it.” This guy named Big John, who’s a friend of all of us, pulled me to the side and said, “Yo, Fam, I heard these types of stories, like when Biggie Smalls wanted to go with ‘Machine Gun Funk’ instead of ‘Big Poppa.’” So I’m like, “Cool, if the whole room says you’re drunk, then you’re drunk.” They was like, “We’re taking this to Jimmy tomorrow.”
We took it Jimmy, and he loved it. He loved the record, and he was like, “This is what you need to go with.” So once again, déjà vu – I leave Interscope with a plan. I got a plan. I got a record. I got a date for the video. Then, same shit. Time kills. As time went by I got a date to shoot the video. I go back to my hood again to shoot “Da Beeper Record.”
Directed by Hype Williams.
Nah, see, this is what people don’t know. Somebody else shot the first version. By this time, people was like, “Don’t fight it, man. We gonna shoot it out here.” But I’m fighting to do it back in Virginia, in my hood. Hindsight is 20/20. I should have listened. But everybody was like, “Don’t shoot it there. We’ll shoot it here.” We tried to get Dianne Martel. She’s a friend of ours and she wanted to do it, but time conflicted so we had to get someone else to do it. Long story short, we shoot the “Beeper” video and it’s the worst shit I’ve seen in my life. We got that shit back and it was so boring, man. It’s the worst shit ever. Hopefully nobody ever sees that video.
I talked Pharrell into bringing the Enzo out to my neighborhood man! He done it. How could you fuck that up? How could you fuck that shot up? He brought the Ferrari Enzo to my neighborhood and they fucked that up. We had the Enzo in the projects! Come on, man! That’s another level. A million-dollar car. No power windows, nigga. It took him forever to agree to it. You couldn’t even tell it was the Enzo. We ended up throwing that in the trashcan, and luckily Hype was able to do it. I listened, my hands in the air now. I’m not fighting to shoot the shit in Virginia. I’m rolling with the punches. So we went to shoot it in Miami, and the video came out crazy in my opinion. I like the way Hype did it, and come on, it’s Hype Williams. So we had the Hype video, and people like the song. Here we go again. It was a lot of running around and a lot of bullshit. What killed me was the time. Labels operate on quarters, and all that. We shoot [the first version] and then it’s horrible, and then we reshoot it three weeks later. Time was passing. It was fucking me up. By the time we came back with the Hype version, the label wasn’t moving. The building wasn’t moving. I guess they was onto the next project. That’s where it’s been from here.
You would think, with backing from Pharrell of all people, that that man could do whatever he wants in the industry – if he could’ve put in the word to keep you off the backburner and make you a priority, he would do it.
That’s the million-dollar question that I’m confronted with everyday. It’s wasn’t like that, man. The majors is a monster. I got people that’s upset with him. They thinking that it’s him. It wasn’t him. I was there with him when he was fuckin’ flipping tables and screaming on them. It ain’t like that, man. The majors is a monster for the right people, but it can also just not work.
But Star Trak. It’s not even like it’s just you. It’s a trend. What is it about Star Trak that’s such a fuckin’ curse?
No one knows, man. I’m the type of dude that all that type of shit is taboo to me. Like they say “Oh, he’s with the Neptunes and he’s on Def Jam, he can’t lose.” Shut up! I don’t want to hear that shit. Don’t say that to me. I just hate that that’s how people think. And yes, that might be true. I did have the X-Men, I had Def Jam, and I did have Interscope. I was with two monsters, but when the building’s not moving, that shit is not budging, man. It’s a mountain.
So you’re saying regardless of whether you have the X-Men, or even if Jesus Christ is producing your records, when it comes down to it there’s just some idiotic humans just like it is for everything else?
Totally. I could have Jesus Christ on my records, produced by God. It’s just unexplainable, but these events, no one knows.
What’s different now? Now you’re independent, you’re completely done with your deals.
I just think it’s not for me. I went to the plate twice and it’s not for me. Now I’m just going independent and trying it out on my own. I feel like I’m in the best place ever right now. I feel so comfortable. And the shit that the majors would do for me, me and Shomi are rocking out. He’s a media monster. He shoots the video. I can just put shit out. I don’t have to have no three-day meeting. I don’t have to answer to nobody.
But the cool thing about it is that people still checking. And that shit is incredible to me. It’s totally a blessing. I don’t want you to get it twisted like I feel like I’m the shit about it, but it is. They still talking about Traintogo. That’s like six or seven years ago.
I gotta give credit to Tyler, the Creator though.
Yeah, no doubt.
The freestyle he did over “Strung Owt,” the “Splatter” record, that shit really put him on the map.
I just released a 28-second trailer for “Strung Owt,” and it’s all because of “Splatter” and the attention that Tyler gives me on Twitter. He was like, “Oh, this shit is so gangsta.” And mind you, “Strung Owt” is one of my favorite records of all time. And when [Pharrell] played “Da Beeper Record,” that’s why I was like, “I’m good, I don’t need nothing,” because I had “Strung Owt.” I had my Darth Vader shit right here. I’m Darth Vader with this.
[Pharrell] made that Darth Vader beat, and then he made that twinkly-ass “Beeper” beat.
Yeah man, and I just sat there and watched him make that Darth Vader in five minutes. I’m blessed that kids like Tyler and want Traintogo. He just randomly tweets me like, “Yo, where’s Traintogo?” I DMed him like, “I would love for you to have that record, but I don’t have it.”
Who has it? Call them up!
We got it. That shit is in the vaults somewhere. An engineer has it. I never listen to it.
You could put any of those tracks out now, and it would still be some leftfield shit that people have never heard.
That’s amazing, man, and I agree with you totally. I was in a place that was very fun. It was a great position with some great people. What you just said is echoing Shomi and many others who say, “Man, that shit ain’t old. Just put it out.”
It’s really not old. Music doesn’t work like that.
I even asked [Shomi] is it too late to do a video for “Strung Owt.” I’m testing the waters. I got a plan where I want to release that album. I want to do it on my own.
But what about “Beach Cruiser” and those other new great records? Would you release two projects? You have Traintogo in the vaults. Do you view it at it as a closed chapter?
I honestly want to put it out. I feel like it’s unfair if I don’t. People still asking for it. That record [“Strung Owt”] I did in ‘05, I just released it yesterday. It was a 28-second trailer, and people are on it like it’s new. And people are like, “Ah, man, no, that’s ‘Splatter.’” Contrary to what they might think, that shit make me feel better. It make me feel good. I love it when people comment on the videos and argue back over whether it’s Tyler’s song or my song. I fucks with Odd Future, I fuck with all of them! He didn’t have to do none of this shit, he just keep it a hundred.
Have you ever met him in real life?
Nah, I never met him.
You need to get up.
Definitely. I just didn’t want to be like, “Dude, alright, damn, okay, let’s work. Word, let me holla! Where you been?” You know how that shit go.
But if it happens, it happens. Hopefully it will. I get shit like that all the time. I’m a fan first. But I realized, nah, that ain’t how you really do shit. But listen, I wanna release that thing, man. I’m going through the logistics. I’m going to find out what I have to do. But I hear shit on the radio, that’s here today, gone today. I was kind of skeptical of putting it out.
There’s a few people out here that I run into that’s be like, “Yo, what’s up with ‘Amalance’? What’s up with Traintogo? What’s up, nigga. you need to drop that!” I be like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “That’s cool.” I’m not trying to beat a dead horse or some shit. I ain’t trying to squeeze blood out of stone.
It ain’t even like that!
I’m starting to get that. I’m starting to understand. I didn’t want to say it. I don’t want to sound like the old bitter guy. But I remember when I first got in the game, I was 23 and shit, and I heard older rappers be like, “Aw, what the fuck is this new shit? Y’all don’t know about real rap.” I never want to sound like that dude, but right now, man, what the fuck is going on? I got to keep it a hundred. C’mon man, not to say it’s no substance, but it’s no nothing!
But again, people like “Amalance,” man. Kids would come up to me like, “Man, yo, you don’t understand, I rocked ‘Amalance’ through my whole college shit, that was my shit! You changed my life in college!” And I’m like, “Wow, you hear these niggas? Wow, man.” I mean, kids of all colors man. I see an Asian kid, it be the same shit as a black kid. One day I’m out at the light, and an older white lady was playing “Fresh-n-Drivin’.”
Yes, man! She had to be in her 40s. That shit was just like, wow. I was like, “Hold the fuck on!” It was so crazy. Like I said, I feel I’m in the best fuckin’ position ever. I got people fucking with me. I’m independent; I can do all this shit on my own. I can shoot videos for the whole Traintogo album. I been overseas with N*E*R*D for the last three years.
That’s right. You were on the record with Santigold and Wayne. You leaked that shit!
I know better now.
Did you get in trouble for that?
Nah, I ain’t get in trouble. At least, not yet. [Laughs.] Anyways, we went to the four corners of the earth and people knew who I was.
Do you feel like the fourth member of N*E*R*D?
Oh yeah, definitely! This is what you gotta know – all those records that he was doing, all those records of N*E*R*D, I was there when they recorded them.
And you was on the Glow in the Dark tour, too.
Yeah, they took me out. With that being said, this is where T.Y.B.O. comes in at. I took most N.E.R.D. records that didn’t make the album, that they overlooked. That’s what I’m creating T.Y.B.O. (Turn Your Brain Off) with. The first record I have was a N.E.R.D. record called “Side 2 Side” with Pharrell on the hook.
People were saying online that it was right before Nothing that they made that up and scrapped it.
I don’t know how they know that! Yeah man, they have a fucking vault. [“Side 2 Side”] was from that era. I don’t know how that person knew that! They have to be somebody that’s close. But they have a whole vault of that. Once they changed their direction and got off to Nothing, I was like “Hold up, what you doing with those?” They was like, “Oh, we scrapping them.” I’m like, “No you’re not! Let me get those.” [Laughs.]
That’s what I’m gonna use for T.Y.B.O. (Turn Your Brain Off), and then I’m doing this shit with Nana [Rogues], whos is a fuckin’ incredible producer. That kid is incredible! You’ll definitely be hearing about him in the near future.
You have the “Beach Crusier” joint too. Is this all gearing up as one project?
Yeah, I’m putting a EP together called Playing with Fire. It’s pretty much done. I just gotta tweak a few records. We putting that out within the next couple of weeks.
“Trust me on this one.” [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] For the first time, you can actually trust me. I know my credit is fucked up with that type of shit. I got like a 500 credit score when it comes to putting shit out late. I’m trying to build my credit back up with the people. But this is definitely coming out.
How do you feel about Pharrell giving you the same beats as multiple artists? Wasn’t there drama behind “Wamp Wamp?” and “Mr. Treat Ya Nose” with Boo Bonic?
Any records that we want, we get. Pharrell don’t be like, “Oh, this is so-and-so’s record.” Like for instance, “Head Bussa.” First of all, when Pharrell made that record, it was for the Clipse. They didn’t use it. Then it went to, I think, Jadakiss. He put down verses to it, but he didn’t use it. Jay-Z had it, he laid verses down to it, but then at the end, he didn’t use it. So you know me, I’m sitting around; If I like it, I want to take it. If they don’t want it, let me get it. So I ended up recording it. I feel like it was a monster in my opinion. I think I did well on it.
It’s a couple different versions, right? We heard the record before, and then it came back out rebilled as the Shark City Click.
OK, now that’s another thing. Shark City Click was actually going to be me going out with a band. I was doing Traintogo live, all live shit. I had a band, Spymob, do it over. I still have these records, man! “Strung Owt” is live, “Beeper Record” live, “Amalance” live, all those records live. We were gonna record the whole record live, and I’d go out with a band.
Like how N*E*R*D did the digital version in Europe and the Spymob version over here?
Yeah, exactly. That’s what we did. But again, it’s always time. So we recorded it and did it all live, and it woulda been some new shit, a rapper going out with a band. Then, people got wind of this shit. People started getting their own bands. So now it ain’t different for a rapper to go out with a band.
That shit’s played now.
But at that time, with N*E*R*D and shit, I woulda gone out with my own band and killed it. I have those live records still. In my opinion, some of those live versions are way better.
You think so?
Yeah it’s a few of ‘em. “Strung Owt.”
How would you even do that record with guitars?
They done it man! Listen, it’s crazy!! [Imitates the beat.] The guitar, man, I don’t know what type of shit they did to it. But they done it like N*E*R*D. We did it live, and then Pharrell and Chad did what they had to do over it.
So these records actually exist?
Yeah, it’s done! The whole album.
You also had a bossa nova album at one point. You had a record called “War Zone.”
Oh, man, you know what’s crazy? I just listened to that record the other day. I was gonna be a guy called Dirty Way. I was rhyming over Fela Kuti shit. And it was dope, man. I did like four of those records too, man. You gotta hear them.
It’s only two tracks that exist off it online.
Actually, it’s four. But the other two, they still ain’t done. But the two that I put out… Man, that was my shit!
That was some leftfield shit right there.
I was ready to do it man, I was wit it! But listen. In a perfect world, all I would have to do is rap, man, make music. If a mothafucka was like, “All you gotta do is make records. Lay ‘em down. Don’t worry about nothing else; don’t worry about no digital shit, no marketing. You write this music,” I would be the happiest nigga in the world. I’d also be rich.
But don’t you feel like the whole industry is heading in that direction anyways?
Yeah, definitely. The old grandfather way is crumbling. That shit is going. All that I’ve went through has been a gift and a curse. I could’ve been limber and shit, but now, I’m well, I’m free, I’m where I wanna be. I can put this album out, I can do it. And it’s still relevant. I always tell Shomi that I’m getting off the milk carton the right way.
But I never really wanna feel like I’m reaching. “Listen homeboy, it’s over. Go to UPS, it’s over for you.” And it could be just me coming up being tutored by these guys, man. We always was on some music shit. What we were doing man, I look back on it now and I realize that shit was magical, bro. I’m so blessed to be a part of it. I learned so much from them guys. I easily can go try and make a song and conform.
I know you might not be the best person to ask about this, but are Pharrell and Chad still fucking with each other?
But in the “Strung Owt” promo video, it said produced by Pharrell, not produced by the Neptunes.
That’s off. I needa correct ‘em on that. Every beat that I’ve ever done, Pharrell and Chad have collectively worked on it.
But “Beach Cruiser” is just Chad.
The thing about that is, Chad and another guy was working and he just gave me a beat. Chad and this dude named E.J. from here, he’s from the beach. Chad will work with anybody. He’s got a few underlings, people that he’s working with. They just doing side shit, working on Kenna shit or whatever. And I just so happened to be in the studio that day, and he passed me that beat. I’m like, “Cool, this is it, this is going to be on some T.Y.B.O. shit.”
Yeah, it’s got that little shuffle.
It’s got a hell of a bop to it right? Everybody that heard it did that dance we did in the video. We shot a cool video out on the beach. We had girls and beach cruisers, which was nice, and I put it out. In my older days, I would had to had two fucking meetings before we even recorded it, and then two more… You know? That shit just feels good.
Now that you’re independent, do you have to pay for Neptunes beats? Is that how it works? [Laughs.]
Nah, man, I don’t. They’re my brothers, man. I’m always screaming Star Trak for life. Always, always. They birthed me man.
So Star Trak is not dead?
As long as I’m alive, that shit will never die man.
But on the flipside, are you looking forward to working with more diverse producers, like Nana Rogues or whoever?
Totally. You know where Nana’s from?
He’s from London, England, bro. He’s dope. There’s a few other people – of course I’m gonna work with Lex Luger. He’s a beast. We have a small history, but yeah, he’s taking over right now. We just discussed… We working it out. I’m putting out an EP, volume one, the whole shit produced by Nana Rogues right now. That kid is incredible. Wait till you hear this shit.
London is where it’s at right now, let’s be honest.
All across the board, let’s be honest, London is where it’s at.
I mean shit, Canada is taking over with Bieber and Drake. But you gotta embrace that.
That’s what I’m saying. You can’t cut yourself short. It’s music, man. When I get records from this dude, it’s reminiscent from how it was when I worked with the Neptunes. The way I record, I let the music write for me. It’s pretty much fill-in-the-blanks for me.
How can people reach out to you and get you beats? Are you looking for that?
Of course. Hitmybeeper@gmail.com. I don’t give a fuck where you from. You don’t even have to speak English. As long as you speak the universal music language, man, I’m rocking with you.
I’m not sure how clear it is to the people that you’re independent.
A lot of people don’t know. And people might think I’m somewhere just mad as shit at the Neptunes. I speak to Pharrell at least three times a week. And I run into Chad at the club on any given. They my brothers, man.
What was Star Trak in the beginning? Was it a label, was it a movement, was it a bunch of friends making their music? That shit has never been clear in the first place.
That was the problem. It was everything. It was a label, it was friends, we all hung out. And normally on a label, you don’t really get to call the boss when you got a issue. I was on Interscope, I can’t just call Jimmy phone or show up on his house. And I can do that with Pharrell and Chad, they’re my bosses, but they’re my brothers. So you can make decisions emotionally rather than business wise. We all could have done things differently, but that’s life. It’s shit Star Trak could have done, shit I could have done. I could go on all day with that. In closing, bruh, I can either do that, or I can I come up with my own ideas and keep going forward. ‘Cause I’m still in a great place. It’s crazy.