|Label:||Squid Ink Squad|
|Next Project:||All In A Day's Work|
|Twitter:||Saigon on Twitter|
Though hip-hop fans are intimately familiar with the ‘major-label horror stories’ that have derailed the careers of so many promising up-and-comers, it could be argued that more attention should be paid to the exceptional artists who manage to rise above a less-than-ideal situation and find innovative ways to reach listeners. Case in point: Brooklyn emcee Saigon, who clearly didn’t let his much-publicized disenchantment with Atlantic affect his passion for creating music—now that he’s moved on to greener pastures at Amalgam Digital, he’s so driven that he considers recording an entire album All In A Day’s Work.
Recorded in a mere 24 hours in collaboration with producer Statik Selektah and released in digital format immediately afterwards, All In A Day’s Work represents both a innovative approach to marketing and releasing music, and, as demonstrated on featured cuts “So Cruel” and “The Rules,” a damned good LP in its own right. Now, Sai’s preparing to drop his Warning Shots 2 mixtape, which will serve as the precursor to his long-awaited debut album, The Greatest Story Never Told.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Saigon steps into the Booth to discuss how he and Statik translated a marathon studio session into hip-hop gold (and impressive digital sales), the ugly realities of fame and fortune, and why, in a few years, the business-end strategies he’s currently pioneering will be the new status quo.
Listen to the Interview
Saigon 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 an emcee who has yet to tell us his great story, however, just last week he did manage to showcase 24 hours’ worth of work. Please welcome, for the second time, the Yardfather himself—Saigon, how you doin’?
Saigon: What’s up, Z? What’s poppin’, baby?
DJ Booth: Congratulations on the digital release of All in a Day’s Work. It’s doin’ great at iTunes, man!
Saigon: Yeah, it’s killin’ ‘em right now. We’re in the top five after like one week—no promo or nothing, just the love of real hip-hop, people are going and picking it up. And anybody who went and picked it up, thank you very much; I appreciate the support and hope you enjoy it, real talk.
DJ Booth: I listened to the entire album. It’s solid all the way through. Here’s the question, though: had you taken two or three weeks to complete the project… ?
Saigon: Oh, it would’ve been killer, it would’ve been so much better.
DJ Booth: What would you have done differently?
Saigon: The songs would’ve been longer. I probably would have done two more concept records. And more Saigon records, ‘cause I do a lot of records like “Pain in My Life” that have stories and concepts. I think it was lacking that a little bit, and I probably would’ve done one more up-tempo [record]. But for one day, I think it’s pretty damned good!
DJ Booth: No complaints from my end, I’ll tell you that much!
Saigon: [laughs] I see people who go in there for eight months who can’t make that sh*t, you know, man?
DJ Booth: Absolutely—or longer.
Saigon: I’m patting myself on the back, to be able to accomplish that. And Statik Selektah, of course, who impressed the sh*t out of me.
DJ Booth: Let’s talk about that. Up until this point, there was only one producer with whom you were synonymous, and that’s of course Just Blaze. Describe the similarities and the differences between your work with [Just] Blaze and your new collaborative partner on this project, Statik Selektah.
Saigon: I’ll go as far as to say Just Blaze is my mentor in this game, as far as makin’ records. He taught me a lot, so when I’m with Just in the studio, I’m more like a student. At the time when I went in there with Statik, I went in there with the swag, like, “I know what the f*ck I’m doin—I’ve worked with Just Blaze!” I had a little bit more confidence, and it came out. Statik let me do me, like, “Yeah, man, do what you feel.” Just is gonna be like, “Change this, change that!” But it worked; with me and Statik, the chemistry was automatic, just like with me and Just. It was automatic chemistry, and I think that’s why the music came out well. And the fact that we were both drunk as sh*t. [laughs] We weren’t really carin’ about much; it was just like, “Throw on another beat! Let’s do another one! Sh*t, let’s do another one,” until we came up with the 10 or 11.
DJ Booth: Well, like I said, I think the project turned out great, and you just explained that it was done in a carefree atmosphere. Do you think that that would translate better in the future, for your studio sessions?
Saigon: Yeah, absolutely, man. When you go in there thinkin, “I’ve gotta make a hit record,” it’s too much pressure; you start overthinkin’ the situation. When you go in there like, “F*ck it,” you don’t have a care in the world, everybody’s vibin’, drinks, you know, sh*t comes out better, ‘cause it’s feels more real. [It isn’t] forced.
DJ Booth: The idea of creating new music and then making it available digitally immediately thereafter is something few artists have attempted, at least successfully. What do you think the success rate could be for artists to do this in the future?
Saigon: Well, in a few years, they ain’t gonna have a choice—they’re gonna have to do that to be able to sell music. The reason why I did it is, I wanna be ahead of the curve. I want people to say, “Saigon was one of the first ones to do that.” No other artist has done that. I didn’t even promote this sh*t at all; we didn’t spend one dollar on promo. We just went in there and said, “People want music; let’s make it available to them.” CD sales decline, every day they’re goin’ down—I give CDs another two year to be relevant-
DJ Booth: If that.
Saigon: If that. ‘Cause Virgin‘s shuttin’ down. Best Buy and Wal-Mart are the biggest sellers of music right now, for CDs. And who the f*ck is goin’ to Wal-Mart to buy a CD?
DJ Booth: You’re right. If you’re goin’ to Wal-Mart, you’re probably picking up an iron or some saran-wrap, and then you just so happen to see the CD, and you’re like, “Eh, I’ll get it.”
Saigon: “Eh, what the f*ck!’ Exactly!
DJ Booth: You mentioned that no promotional dollars were spent on this release, and you’re very familiar, unfortunately, with a lack of label push, at your former label home over at Atlantic. Moving forward in your career, how does Saigon get properly promoted? How can you be best promoted?
Saigon: I’m gonna have to be creative, man. The thing about the Internet is, it’s free. You can upload your own videos. It’s all about content now. What you do sets you apart from people. Videos are dead—no more Rap City, TRL is gone, 106 and Park is on its way out-
DJ Booth: It’s a damned shame!
Saigon: Yeah! You’ve gotta find a new way to introduce yourself to the fans, and it’s the Internet that’s comin’ up with creative content and creating excitment, and I’m gonna have to continue to do that to keep myself relevant and keep makin’ great music. At the end of the day it’s about the music. And I’ve always believed the best form of promotion is word-of-mouth, because when I hear about something from five different people, that arouses my interest, like, “Damn, somebody else was just talkin’ about that!” Then I start getting curious, inquisitive, and I wanna know more and more about it. So I figure that’s how I’m gonna get promoted. It’s not gonna be so much of a money thing. I can do a lot with a little bit. Dealin’ with Amalgam, like, on this Warning Shots project, they are gonna put up some promotional dollars, and some damn good ones, too! I’ll be able to compete with a major artist, and I think what’s gonna give me the edge is the music.
DJ Booth: Well, you know what? If they don’t, tell ‘em I’m gonna be knocking down their damn door!
Saigon: All right, I’ll tell ‘em, “Better watch out for DJ Z!” They’re probably listening in there.
DJ Booth: I hope they’re listening. We’re gonna test out whether or not they put their deodorant on this morning. I’m serious!
DJ Booth: I wanna focus on one of the songs on the new album, it’s called “So Cruel.” You spit a line, “I could be richer than Phil Drummond and still bummin’.” There’s an old saying, I’m sure you’re familiar with it, “Money makes the world go ‘round,” and, as we both know, in the rap world it certainly makes it go ‘round—do you feel like your ideal about money not equating to happiness is something that is shared by any of your industry colleagues?
Saigon: Not in the music, but in real life they know. ‘Cause I know a lot of rich motherf*ckers who’s miserable, probably a few days from blowin’ their brains out. And they have all the money in the world. Money’s just like anything else: once you’ve got it, it don’t have the same allure like when you’re broke. You get used to it; you’ve driven every car, had every kind of fake b*tch around that only wants you for your money, and you start to realize nobody really like you they just like you ‘cause you’re rich. And then you start to really get more problems that you thought you had in the first place. What rap’s become is a big commercial for Gucci and Louis Vuitton. I’m sure whoever owns those companies is so happy that we’re in this phase of rap. These guys get so much free advertising from rappers, you would swear they own a percentage in the company! [laughs]
DJ Booth: It’s unbelievable!
Saigon: F*ckin’ unreal!
DJ Booth: We already know that you are capable of recording a complete project in 24 hours, but what could you go 24 straight hours without doing?
Saigon: I can go 24 hours without sleep.
DJ Booth: Okay, well, we knew that, because that’s how long it took to record the album—what else?
Saigon: Something else? I can go 24 hours without eating.
DJ Booth: Okay, but a lot of people have to fast because of religious purposes, so what else? Give me something else.
Saigon: I can go 24 hours without using my cell phone.
DJ Booth: That includes Email?
Saigon: No Email, no texts, nothing. The next day I’m out of the loop, I’ve got some catchin’ up to do, but I can do it. ‘Cause there have been times when, to focus, I’ve had to turn off my cell phone for the whole day, and then the next day you’re behind on so much sh*t, like, “Johnny got shot last night! Someone’s in the hospital!” So, it’s f*cked up afterward, but I can do it.
DJ Booth: Let’s flash back for a second—last time you joined me inside the DJ Booth was July of ‘07, and you had just created an online firestorm when you wrote an open and honest MySpace blog entry about possibly quitting rap. The timing is interesting, because just last week Kid CuDi revealed on his blog that he’ [been] unhappy since signing, and he [planned] to retire after releasing his debut. What do you think it is specifically that can change an artist’s mind that quickly?
Saigon: Have you ever heard the saying, “Be careful what you wish for, [because] you just might get it?” A lot of people don’t know, when you come into this business, what you’re doing is you’re putting yourself out there for ridicule. People feel like, hey, you’re public property now, because you’re an entertainer. Your job is to entertain us, and if we’re not entertained, we’re gonna build you up to break you down. You’ve gotta have thick skin to deal with it, especially now with the Internet where you can go on and read these comments; you don’t know who they’re coming from, but they still have an effect on you. So you’re sittin’ there reading this sh*t, like, “This motherf*cker don’t know me!” and if you ain’t built for that, that sh*t’s gonna eat you up. Me, I never wanted the whole fame part of this sh*t. I’m not big on that; I’m too much of an introvert and too secretive to want that kind of sh*t, and I think he might be like that as well.
DJ Booth: If they’re talking about you, obviously you’re doin’ something, ‘cause if it wasn’t important or you had nothing to offer, your name would not be in their mouth.
Saigon: That’s not true, ‘cause just as well as being famous, you can be infamous. You can’t walk around with a booger in your nose, when you get to a certain level!
DJ Booth: Otherwise you’re gonna be all over YouTube and TMZ the next second…
Saigon: Like, “Oh my God, look at Halle Berry’s booger!”
DJ Booth: If you’re Halle Berry, though, I don’t think she cares about the booger thing. She’s got everything else goin’ on for her, right, so what’s a little booger?
Saigon: But if she gets the booger, you don’t understand: they’ll talk about it so much, like, “She’s not human!” If she has that crust in her eyes when she wakes up and somebody catches a picture of that, they’re gonna go crazy with that.
DJ Booth: I think we both would agree: she doesn’t have to wash up, take the boogers out of her nose or the crust out of her eyes.
Saigon: No, she can rock with me with a booger any day of the week. I might pick it out, like, “Excuse me, can I have this? Can I frame this?”
DJ Booth: Keep it as a souvenir, exactly!
DJ Booth: I wanna go back to our other interview for another second. I asked you what would it mean for you to release your debut album, The Greatest Story Never Told, and you stated very clearly, it’d be better for the whole world. We both know that this world needs a lot of healing.
Saigon: Yeah, yeah, it needs healing bad, and I got it for ‘em, I got that medicine. It’s like I’ve got the cure for cancer and AIDS, but I can’t get it approved by the FDA. Even if I know it’s harmless, I’ve gotta get with the right pharmaceutical company and the right business has to come into play, ‘cause they need to make their money off the top. And that’s what it’s become: it’s corporate.
DJ Booth: That medication analogy was brilliant—did you think of that off the top of your head just now?
Saigon: Yeah, I swear to God.
DJ Booth: That was really good!
Saigon: That was brand new, baby!
DJ Booth: The album was supposed to drop like five years ago, so when it does get released, how much of it is going to be the original story, if you will, and how much of it is going to be newly-written?
Saigon: 95 percent is original. We’re refurbishing it. There were probably two or three lines where I needed to go back. But we’re talking about adding another song, ‘cause Just be comin’ up with these ideas, so we might add another song to it and take one off, just to keep it up to date. And you don’t wanna sound too outdated, but it’s classic, it’s timeless music. ‘Cause I’ve been hearin’ it for three years, and I still love it, it’s still my favorite album.
DJ Booth: Well, it’s on rotation for you; it needs to be on rotation for everybody else…
Saigon: Yeah, I know.
DJ Booth: I know that everyone’s pretty jazzed up about the fact that they have the opportunity to go out, support you, and purchase one of your projects, which is out right now, digitally-available. Tell everybody right now why, if they’re concerned, they shouldn’t be, and they can rest assured 2009 will officially be your coming-out party.
Saigon: Because I’m working and thinking like a businessman as well as an artist. Amalgam Digital has put me in a situation to release music and get the proper funding and the proper marketing that I needed, that I never had before, to get me from point A to point B. I think my future’s pretty bright in this sh*t. I think I still have a great chance to make something out of it.
DJ Booth: As I tell everybody, the music needs to speak for itself, and in your case it does just that.
Saigon: Thank you Z, thanks a lot.
DJ Booth: You’re very welcome. Give everybody, Sai, a website, a MySpace page, something so they can find out more about you and how they can pick up a new digital copy of All in a Day’s Work.
Saigon: You can pick up All in a Day’s Work at amalgamdigital.com or itunes.com. Check me out at myspace.com/saigonthayardfather. I’m just gettin’ up on Twitter, I know I’m the last Mohican, I’m a little late, but I’m on Twitter now, sayin’ what’s up to the people.
DJ Booth: I thank you again for takin’ the time to join me inside the DJBooth.
Saigon: Thank you, my pleasure, man. Thanks a lot.