|Next Project:||Blood in the Water|
|Twitter:||I-20 on Twitter|
Each and every one of us has, at one point or another, wished that we could escape the workaday (or school-a-day, as the case may be) world, and experience life in the fast lane, with all of the money and acclaim that stardom entails. Though many try, few manage to climb to the top of the heap and achieve this lavish lifestyle. Southern rapper I-20 is a man who got a chance to see what the world looked like from the top, performing alongside Ludacris and the rest of the Disturbing Tha Peace collective and releasing his own debut full-length, Self-Explanatory, before being dropped by Capitol Records and ending up right back where he started.
After a four-year hiatus, I-20 is back in the saddle with a new sense of perspective on the rap game. With preparations underway for the release of his sophomore album, Blood in the Water, with DTP/Koch Records this month, and a successful first single in the Rocko-sampling “Really Like Her,” the Decatur native is gearing up for his triumphant return, and is ready to show both longtime devotees and newfound fans that his initial rise and fall was merely the prologue to a career-long success story.
In an exclusive interview with DJBooth’s DJ “Z,” I-20 steps inside the booth to talk about the lessons he’s learned in his time away from the game, which female artists he Really Likes, and the feeding frenzy he’s prepared to unleash on the music industry this time around.
Listen to the Interview
I-20 Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a native of Decatur, Georgia, who will release his sophomore album, Blood in the Water,, this October. Please welcome one of the most distinctive voices in all of hip hop, DTP‘s I-20.
I-20: What’s good, Z, how are you?
DJ Booth: I’m great – how are you?
I-20: I’m feelin’ good, man, I feel blessed.
DJ Booth: You should; you have a new album coming out.
I-20: Definitely, man. A lot of people don’t make it to the second album, I got my second album coming out. I know it’s been a while, but I feel good about what I’m doin’, and I feel good to be comin’ back out. It feels good to be back.
DJ Booth: 20, as we all know, sharks, they smell blood in the water, so, would you classify yourself as a shark in this music industry?
I-20: Ironically, that’s exactly where I got that title from. I’m not joking – me and my oldest son were watching the Discovery Channel, and they were talking about how sharks can smell and/or taste blood in the water, and once that happens they get into a frenzy, so I made it a metaphor for that fact that my initial album, and rappin’ with Ludacris and Disturbing Tha Peace, I got a taste of what it’s like to be in the music industry, what individual success can be like, and now I’m just prepared, [on] my second album, to be a much better artist, and give my fans and audience much better music, and it’s Blood in the Water.
DJ Booth: You are now the second rapper to tell me that they watch the Discovery Channel. I spoke with Sheek Louch last year, and he said he can’t get enough of it.
I-20: Sheek Louch is a good friend of mine. Let me tell you something right now: there is no shame in watching the Discovery Channel; it is both entertaining and educating, so I’m tellin everybody out there, Discovery Channel’s the way to go. I’ve been tryin’ to put a couple of videos up on the Discovery Channel, see if that can work.
DJ Booth: Especially in HD – it looks amazing in HD.
I-20: It looks amazing in HD, especially Shark Week. I’m addicted to Shark Week.
DJ Booth: There you go, an exclusive. You just let the whole world know, and I’m proud of you for it.
DJ Booth: 20, after the release of your debut, Self-Explanatory, I found myself fighting in the club because of you. After I listen to the brand new album, what do you think I’ll be doing?
I-20: I think you’ll see that there’s been a lot of transition. There’s still gonna be hot energy tracks like “Fightin’ in the Club,” but this album’s a lot more personal, and I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that between Self-Explanatory and this album, I went through a lot of trials, a lot of tribulations, a lot of growth, a lot of maturation, my children were growin’ up. I always tell people I got to see both sides of the music industry; prior to Self-Explanatory, I saw the beautiful side, how fast the success can come, the amount of money you can acquire in a small amount of time, award shows, videos, trips, and so forth. But then, [during the hiatus after] leaving Capitol Records, I also got to see the ugly side. I also saw how fast people could start forgetting about you, how quickly they’d stop answering their phones, and how much work it is to get back to that previous position, so I think you’re going to hear a lot more growth and a lot more of me on this album than you did on the first one.
DJ Booth: You mentioned “trials and tribulations.” If you feel comfortable, elaborate personally on what you have gone through over the past four years.
I-20: Well, I think it’s mostly psychological, Z, to be honest with you. I think that people don’t understand that – you know, people always say, “I wish I could see what it’s like to have this and have that.” I don’t think that people really recognize how difficult it is to have it and lose it. One big thing that happened to me is the reality check, and I’m not ashamed to say that. When you’re with an artist of Ludacris’s caliber, you kinda convince yourself that his success is your own. You begin to convince yourself, “I’m living in the same house, this is my jet, these are my cars,” and then [there’s] that reality check when your own album comes out, it doesn’t get the same success as his album, you have to then deal with the reality of, “Okay, I’m on my own.” It’s kind of a like a teenager leaving the crib – now I’m dealing with the world myself, now [my success] is directly proportional to who I am, and how will I hold up? So, the reality check as to how much work it is and how difficult it is to maintain that level of success, to even achieve that kind of success… you know, bein’ on a label, I was on Capitol, unfortunately that situation didn’t work out, so I got to see, once again, the joy of bein’ signed to the joy of leavin’ a label, being dropped, and havin’ to start all over again, goin’ back from studio sessions in elaborate studios to bein’ right back in home studios, tryin’ to get your name moving from various houses to different houses, really havin’ to deal with the social strain. People don’t realize the toll it takes on your family, especially for me [because] I have young children, when you’re gone for that amount of time, and the distance that can go between you and your children when you’re out there on the road, tryin’ to be successful in this music game.
DJ Booth: You mentioned the first album [was] released off DTP/Capitol, this album’s gonna be released off of DTP/Koch and your own multimedia company, Dukor Entertainment. Explain the transition that you’ve gone through, business-wise, behind the scenes.
I-20: One of the best things that could have happened to me, again, is this hiatus, because it taught me to take more control of my own career. I don’t care who you are or who you’re associated with – nobody’s gonna care about your career like you will, so it’s very important that you are in control of your career, and you’re able to make business decisions for yourself. Not only that, you’d better learn fast how to make money outside of hip hop, ‘cause hip hop, although it’s my favorite form of music, and it’s a very insightful form of music, it’s also a very fickle form of music, and you’ll be the man one year, and people will hate you the next, so you have to learn to use it as a stepping stone to expand yourself into other business, and learn to be an entrepreneur. You can’t rap forever.
DJ Booth: Especially now, with the climate of the US economy, you really have to make that dollar grow.
I-20: And you definitely have to find different ways to make that dollar.
DJ Booth: Exactly. Your debut, it was released a week before your former labelmate, Shawnna, dropped her debut. The new album dropping this October is going to be right before your label boss and good friend Ludacris is set to drop his new album. What does this consistent string of releases, over such a long period of time, say about Disturbing Tha Peace as a label?
I-20: I love Disturbing Tha Peace as a label, and I think what Disturbing Tha Peace does is risky, but I understand the thought process. We believe in putting our artists in unison and marketing them simultaneously, giving them twice the exposure. There’s pros and cons to being on a label where the lead artist has had so much success. One of the cons is that people have a hard time distinguishing you as your own artist, and want to consistently link you with him. So one of the things I think Disturbing Tha Peace does a good job of is getting their artists out there, getting their artists branded, trying to give then a name, and then kind of co-marketing them. It represents the label better, because you’re getting to see more than one artist, and what the hope is, if you say to yourself, “Well, I like Shawnna,” then what’ll turn back around is, “Now I’m listening to I-20, I like him as well,” and it increases your chances of getting both albums. This time around, I’m coming from a four-year break. I still feel blessed and fortunate. I always say to myself that for me to take a four-year break, I’m one of the most known unknown rappers in the game, because I still get a lot of love and a lot of respect. What they did this time around is tied me in with Luda, to just make this transition a lot easier in terms of the promotion. If he does 106 I’ll go in with him, if he does Rap City I’ll go in there with him. Fans are more open to Luda, and then when they come in they’ll go, “Oh, yeah, dude – there’s I-20. I kinda enjoyed his first album.” It makes the transition a lot easier.
DJ Booth: What are you talkin’ about? I thought that you let him come on your record to give him a little extra exposure!
I-20: That’s between you and – you [were] not supposed to release that and let people hear that!
DJ Booth: [laughs] Let’s talk about the single, “Really Like Her.” You’re on it with Ludacris. What direction do you take when you start creating new material?
I-20: I’m a rapper that works backwards; I let the beat kind of dictate what I wanna do. I’ll sit down and ride with a beat for two or three days without ever putting a pen to a pad, and I literally just try to say to myself, “Where is this beat taking me, what am I going to do with it?” With “Really Like Her,” at the risk of sounding like I’m making a pun, it was kinda self-explanatory because the sample was already there, and it spoke for itself. That Rocko record was huge in Atlanta, and he’s definitely a legitimate artist here in Atlanta. I let the beat kinda marry what I think my subject matter should be, and I took it from there.
DJ Booth: Okay, we’re gonna play a game now, based on “Really Like Her.” It’s gonna be fun. I’m gonna say the name of five high-profile music stars. You’re going to tell me if you either really like her music or you really like her looks. Can’t be both, has to be one or the other. Cool?
DJ Booth: Okay, first one: Christina Milian.
I-20: Really like her looks.
DJ Booth: Missy Elliot.
I-20: Really like her music.
DJ Booth: Mariah Carey
I-20: Really like her looks.
DJ Booth: What is she doing with Nick Cannon? Do you have the answer to that question?
I-20: Hey man, I’ve met Nick Cannon before, [he’s a] good dude. I say hate the game, not the player. Congratulations, Nick!
DJ Booth: Yeah, he is one lucky SOB. Next one: Jennifer Hudson.
I-20: Hm… Like her looks.
DJ Booth: How about Aubrey O’Day of Danity Kane?
I-20: I guess I’ll go with like her music. D. Woods is my homegirl, by the way; shout-out to D. Woods.
DJ Booth: Are you an avid fan of Making the Band 4, every Tuesday evening?
I-20: I’m an avid fan of Puff’s hustlin’ ability, period. But I’m an avid fan of Making the Band because the audience gets to see the grind of the music industry.
DJ Booth: Would you say the show is an accurate representation of what goes on behind the scenes?
I-20: Yeah, for the simple fact that you’re gettin’ to see the artist, you’re gettin’ to see how much they love the music and how hard Danity Kane works, how hard Day26 works to put out their music, and the trials and tribulations you go through as an artist, strugglin’ to have your own identity and break the mold. So yeah, I think it’s an accurate depiction.
DJ Booth: Okay. 20, Blood in the Water, in stores this October. When people pick up a copy, what will they know is so true about what you have to offer to this industry?
I-20: Man, that’s a great question, by the way.
DJ Booth: Thank you.
I-20: I think what’s it’s gonna show people is that I am my own man, I am my own artist, and I think I do a very unique form of quote unquote “Southern hip hop.” I think what they’re gonna be able to see is maturation between the first album and the second album, and I think they’re also going to learn a lot about me. The first album was called Self-Explanatory, and I wanted the angle to be an exploration of myself, but I think that what happened was, I had enjoyed such success from “Move” that, you kind of get into that mode and say, “Let me give the people what I think they want to hear. I think I did a better job [on] this album of keeping my ears open and being open-minded, not just to what my fans wanted to hear, but makin’ that perfect mix of what my fans wanted to hear, what I felt like was necessary, and what I felt was a direct representation of who I was, and my ability to show my growth and talent.
DJ Booth: Well, you sold me. I don’t have a copy yet, but as soon as I get my hands on one I’ll let you know. 20, give everybody a website, a MySpace page, something so they can find out more about the release.
I-20: Check this out, you can get at me at myspace.com/i20dealer. My own website is currently in production, it’ll be called knowthedealer.com, kochrecords.com, or, like I always tell people, Google me.
DJ Booth: So basically what you’re saying is, really, there’s no way someone could go on the Internet and not find out about you.
I-20: That’s the point, man; I think that digital media has taken over, and you’d better have a strong online presence if you want to be successful in this game.
DJ Booth: I could not agree with you more. I wish you nothing but the best of luck, and thank you so much for takin’ the time to join me inside the DJ Booth.
I-20: No, thank you for inviting me, man.