GH Exclusive: Ice Cube, Bun B., Big K.R.I.T. and DJ Drama on learning Industry Rule #4080

Ice Cube and DJ Drama live at The Fillmore
Charlotte (June 30, 2012) – Ice Cube and DJ Drama host Coors Light Search for the Coldest semifinals at The Fillmore. (MillerCoors/Jamar Caldwell)

Coors Light’s Search For The Coldest emcee contest rolled into Charlotte’s Fillmore Saturday night with free beers and a panel of celebrity judges. Ice Cube, Bun B., Big K.R.I.T. and DJ Drama sat down for an exclusive with GrownHeadz before the show.

Cube, who seemed to be reserving the main of his energy for emceeing the competition, kept his responses short but pointed, while Bun B.’s guest lectures at Rice University(!) really seem to be paying off. Homey’s thoughtful, measured answers were just short of brilliant. K.R.I.T., too, was impressive as the panel’s youngest member and the newest to fame. And Drama? Well, we at GrownHeadz have high expectations for deejays, and he didn’t disappoint. Check it out below.

What Makes for a Cold MC?

Ice Cube: The coldest MC is someone who knows they’re a star before anybody discovers them. Lyrics, confidence onstage, mic control and different flows.

DJ Drama: I think it takes creativity, confidence, someone who understands beats and hooks, but definitely the bars. The lyrics are most important of all, the ability to put a good song together. I’m sitting here with Ice Cube and Bun B and Big K.R.I.T., so definitely someone who can stand onstage next to such great talent.

Bun B: They have to have command of the English language. Some people assume rappers all speak broken English, but the best MCs are masters of vocabulary. Also, depending on the crowd in various cities, [performing] can be intimidating. Some people start off with boos. You gotta have heart and confidence. I’ve seen dudes lose battles before the first word is spoken because they let the crowd break them. You have to have the will and the confidence to turn those boos into cheers.

Big K.R.I.T.: The coldest MC has to be able to get the crowd hype, no matter what.

How Do You Stay Sharp?

Bun B: Just because we’ve made it to a certain level because of our status, we can’t rest. I get challenged by young cats everyday. They try anyway (laughs). I love it. I don’t want to sit around eating off a rhyme from 2003. You gotta stay on your toes in this world, and not just as an MC but period.

K.R.I.T.: You’ve got to invest time; run your business, but sharpen your weapon at the end of the day.

Cube: I always got something to prove. You never know what people will hear from you, either a radio cut or a deep album track, so you never know where your next “audition” will be coming from. Whoever thinks you fell off next, you gotta change their mind. I was a B-boy so I had something to prove on every record, every album, to the general audience and to myself.

Hip-hop the art form is so different from the business of hip-hop. When did you learn, far as the music industry, that there’s no Santa Claus?

Cube: The day I met Jerry Heller.

DJ Drama: I can speak to that, though I’m not an MC. I can talk some really good shit, but I can’t make it rhyme. Spending a lot of time trying to get to the top takes dedication. Even after the great moments, even LeBron has to say OK, I made it, but what about next year. When I was coming up, it felt like rappers were superheroes. I don’t know if it’s because Meth is tall, but they were like 10 feet tall to me. Now, not to say the industry is tainted, but it’s still a business. You need passion day in and day out to love what you do and put in the work. Just remember Industry Rule #4080.

Bun B: The day I got signed. We saw KRS-One in the hallway and were like, yo, whattup, we just signed to your label! And he asked us, ‘Did you sign the paperwork yet?’ ‘Yeah, we just signed it five minutes ago!’ And Kris was like, ‘Damn, I wish I could’ve talked to you before you signed!’ I went from my highest high to thinking, ‘We just made the biggest mistake of our lives.’

K.R.I.T.: When I realized there is about a 3-month rollout period between finishing an album and releasing it, and that sample clearances change everything as far as retail value is concerned. “Can I use that? No. How bout that? No.” I just want to give my music away for free! But I had to be smarter.

What kind of background and output are you looking for in new rappers who approach you? How much of a catalogue?

Bun B.: For me looking at new rappers, it’s quality, not quantity. Plus a work ethic. Some cats have talent but drama. Always on the phone with the baby mama. That has nothing to do with getting in the studio. I’m not saying don’t look after your child, but you gotta decide who you are willing to offend, and who are you going to look after, in the course of making your dreams come true.

DJ Drama: For me, it depends on what the person in general is looking for. The way the game is going now, the Internet and social media give artists more leverage to come to the table and show what they’re worth. 50 destroyed what a demo tape was; it went from the ‘90s ‘Please listen to my demo’ to independent artists now being able to really make a living on their own mixtapes. It depends on the level you are coming to. With Coors [the competition], I could tell which people were in different positions, just by listening to them. I could feel who could be the coldest MC.

Cube: I don’t care about the catalogue, or how many songs they made. You gotta excite me. If I’m not excited listening to you, then I don’t feel like it’s ready. Plus, you never know if you’re building a star or a mess. Most artists, when they blow up, feel like they don’t need you anymore. On the flip, if they don’t blow up, it’s [my] fault for not supporting enough. ‘How come you did the first video, but not the second?’ Gotta find someone with their head on straight. It’s easy when the crowd is packed. It’s when it’s empty and the sound ain’t right that you ask what are you in it for, the music? The money?

K.R.I.T.: [Independents] have to go out and compete with the majors before you land a deal. You’ve got to be able to promote and brand yourself, keep that independent mindframe so when the label’s not acting right, you can go out there and create your own buzz. Promote who you are as an artist, or you’ll make songs you don’t believe in. Spend as much time on your craft as you can mentally, then get out there and put your all on the line.

Did your age change how you approach your subject matter?

Bun B.: I have children, and I have a grandchild. I take care of my family, speak the truth as I see it and go to sleep peaceful at night. All my music is reflective of me at the time. If it’s still relevant, I speak to it. People want to give us a bad rap. But I don’t consider it Cube’s or Drama’s responsibility to raise my kids. Too much is put on us that way.
Cube: Age ain’t nothing but a number.

DJ Drama: As a DJ, it’s a little different; I believe our main focus is to be the median between music and people. Sometimes, what I personally listen to may not be what’s hot at the time. I like to break what I believe will be hot. Back with the explosion of crunk, I felt there was a lack of attention to the lyrical skills of Southern artists. So on Gangsta Grill, I got Killa Mike, T.I., Big Boi. People asked why I didn’t use White Tee or Knuck If You Buck, just to pick those songs at random. Because they’ll be on every other mixtape. I promote what I think will be important to the culture.

K.R.I.T.: The way I approach my subject matter is by writing about my life experiences. The album I just dropped won’t be like the next album. I’m going to see different things: personal things, relationships, financial and spiritual changes. I write about the journey.

Following the Q&A (and a wooden endorsement from Cube: “Coors Light. The world’s most refreshing…beer?”), DJ Trauma got on the wheels to warm things up before the competition began. They had the models in silver leggings walking around, an ice bar (which is still news in N.C.) and were plying everyone with free Coors Light, but it was so damn cold inside the building I had to keep going outside to warm up in the hundred-degree heat.

To my surprise, the contest featured only two competitors, Felony Fame and Eddie Blaze, neither of whom I’d heard of. They seemed chosen more for their contrasting styles than any great skill. Felony is a stereotypical crunk rapper, clichéd than a motherfucker (“shining like diamonds,” whoo!) with the requisite piss-poor enunciation. Though his lines were more thoughtful and generally more positive, Blaze lacked stage presence and couldn’t seem to connect with the crowd. His “Where my college kids at?” drew a chorus of boos.

They went four rounds and I wasn’t moved by a single line. Charlotte’s real lyrical talent was NOT on display—anybody at Monday Night Mic Fights could’ve Antoinetted those suckers. I don’t know what label paid to push these dudes, but their skills were a joke. For what little it’s worth, Felony Fame took the prize.

Lackluster amateurs aside, we actually got to see some real emceeing when the panelists performed. Special Ed came through for a surprise appearance, and Big K.R.I.T. warmed the crowd up with “Forever and a Day,” “Cool 2 Be Southern,” Me and My Old School” and “Money on the Floor.” Bun B. gave a 12-song set of favorites including “Gimme Dat,” “Big Pimpin” and “International Player.” He also did “Sippin on Some Sizzurp,” but it was a bit off-putting, given Pimp C.’s demise just 2 years ago—I felt like he should at least put a disclaimer on it, out of respect.

Cube wasn’t bouncing all over the place like Big K.R.I.T., nor was he on Bun B.’s mellowed-out molasses vibe—he was just…Cube. Rock-solid confident and in complete command of the crowd. I’ve never seen a performer spark that kind of energy with just a “Yay-yay.” His ‘fro was like a black halo. The crowd, which had been mostly civil (poor Blaze) all night, just seemed to wake the fuck up. At the first signs of “Check Yourself,” hands were up, and “You Can Do It (Put Your Back Into It)” probably got its best reception in years. He finished off the night with “Today Was a Good Day.”

Coors Lights’ SFTC contest heads to NY for the grand finale July 26th.

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