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Crooked I Interview w/ The Smoking Section (04/10/09)

Quote:Fourteen years, zero albums.

You know the familiar tale of Dominick Whitfield, better known as Crooked I. Yet, the futility of the second stat should be overshadowed by the achievement of the first figure. Lasting relevancy in this fickle game of rap politics and fleeting celebrity ain’t no joke.

On a March evening, Crooked is recording at Premo’s studio in midtown Manhattan. No, he’s not at work on his debut, but rather the upcoming album from Royce Da 5’9′, another sublime lyricist suffering from major-label shelf woes. In fact, the commonalities are shared by all the members of Slaughterhouse, the rest of whom—Joey and Joell—will arrive later. But before the group lays down another lyrical massacre worthy of its namesake, Crooked chops it up with the Crew’s Devin Chanda to talk Death Row to Detox, Long Beach to New York and Muscle Records to Slaughterhouse collaborations.

TSS: So how many tracks into the album so far?

Crooked I: With Slaughterhouse? Basically man, the Slaughterhouse shit—we got a lot of tracks in. We just been leaking shit. I don’t know if we officially started an album. It’s like we just workin’.

TSS: Getting the chemistry down…

Crooked I: Yeah, just workin’ man and havin’ fun because that’s the thing about the business—the business is so shady sometimes that you can’t have fun anymore. And right now, we just find it fun to record records together. So we doin’ that right now. I think our first move might be an EP—just something for the collective, about 7 crazy joints, and working with producers who are actually producers. They gonna come in there and say, “Hold on, we gonna put the hook right here, we gonna do this right here.” I think the EP is really gonna set the standard—change the standard—of ’09 music.

TSS: What’s the standard right now?

Crooked I: If you ask me—what I hear on the radio, what I see on video—if I had to say out of the 100% of Hip-Hop that’s out there, I gotta say at least 87% is garbage. That’s not balance. We need balance restored to the game. Back in the day, it was like you had your steak, potatoes, green beans—you had everything you need. Now, it’s just like a bunch of sides—you ain’t got no main course no more. So we definitely trying to restore some sort of balance.

I’m not mad at rappers who make songs about dances. But the thing about it is back when Kid N’ Play did it, they actually knew how to rap, knowhatimsayin’? When Shock G. said, “Do The Humpty Hump,” it was funny—it was all fun and games—but Shock G. knew how to rap. It’s different now. People make up dance songs and they don’t how to rap.

It’s crazy, because more and more people are sinking. It’s like we not rapping no more. It’s like ever since Lil’ Wayne did “Lollipop,” which was a good song—huge success for him and I’m sure the bank account is on happy status right now—but since he did “Lollipop,” then T.I. came with “Whatever You Like” and Kanye came with 808’s, that’s three of the top emcees in the game right now—singing.

It’s not no knock towards them because they do what they do—I got respect for all three of those dudes—but I wanna hear them rap. As a fan, I don’t wanna hear them sing. So, I think what we gonna do is make people wanna jump back on that mic like, “Nah, fuck that. Put a beat on, nigga. I still know how to do this,” that type of shit.

TSS: As niggas who can rap, will you guys have any dance records then?

Crooked I: No, no records about a dance (Laughs). That’s strictly off-limits. We’re not having no records about dances, but we’ll have joints that people can dance to because that’s what it’s all about. It’s not like we trying to be super-hardcore dudes who don’t wanna have fun and make music that people enjoy. We wanna give these fans—this new era of fans—the same kind of feeling that we had when we was growing up 10,11,12,13 listening to Hip-Hop. We wanna give them quality emcees that they can debate all day and night about who’s the best. We wanna give them that feeling. I don’t think they really got that feeling. They almost there, but they not quite there.

TSS: As a youth, who did you debate about?

Crooked I: Rakim and Kool G. Rap all day. See, I got in this when I was 8 so I felt like a full-fledged Hip-Hop b-boy. At 9,10 or so I was listening, analyzing their lyrics way back then. Back then it was like “Rakim or Kool G?” or “Ice Cube or D.O.C.?” Then it became Pac or Biggie and Jay-Z or Nas. We would have them discussions all night and then somebody would throw André 3000 in there and this discussion starts all over again (Laughs). So that’s the type of shit we trying to bring back. When Jay said, “Who’s the best Jay-Z, Biggie, or Nas?” We really don’t have that. What are we gonna say now? What three dudes are you gonna say? You can mention some people.

TSS: Like a T.I. or something?

Crooked I: Yeah, you gonna have to say T.I. You gonna have to say Wayne. It’s gonna be T.I., Wayne, and Kanye, and like I said, I wanna hear them rap. That’s why I buy their records, because I wanna hear them rap.

TSS: Going back a little, when you were 17, you started your own label, Muscle Records right?

Crooked I: My man went back on me (Laughs). Yep, Muscle Records, man. It was me and two football players. Long Beach—it’s one of the cities that get the highest rate of NFL players to come out of high school.

TSS: Any you know personally?

Crooked I: Yeahhhh, my dudes I started the label with, Chucky Miller and Leonard Russell. At the time, Chucky Miller was playing for the Colts and Leonard was playing for the Rams. You know, Willie McGinest from the Patriots, he’s from Long Beach. It’s just a list. Some of these dudes are not as famous as other dudes but they in the league. They was getting some money and I was young and they just liked what my hustle was all about because I was out there doing everything myself. I was going to Kinko’s making my own CD covers, boxing up my own stuff, and paying for my own studio time. Back then I was making my own beats because I couldn’t find anybody who was dedicated to it as I was.

Now, you get everybody’s a rapper, everybody’s a producer, but that’s a good thing because that just shows you the growth of Hip-Hop. But back then, if you was a rapper, you’d be hard-pressed to find a producer. It’s like you had to do everything yourself—and forget about a record deal because you ain’t know how to get a record deal (Laughs). So it’s like I used to do everything and they came and said, “Yo, we like that. We like how you get down.” They built a studio on the east side of Long Beach on Willow Street and we started getting down, man. Pretty soon, Snoop was coming to the studio. He was already taking off in his career and Warren G, too. All these dudes, they would just come by the studio to listen to what we was doing.

That was the start for me to think for myself as far as on an independent level. So it was hard for me when I got my first record deal with a major to fall back and basically just let them drive the car as I was already used to driving the car. I had a mentor. My mentor Elijah—he’s a USC Law School graduate—he had a program on the east side of Long Beach for all the young dudes in the streets and he kinda showed me how to read contracts and stuff like that so I was fully-equipped when I got my first major deal. I thought that that would be a good thing but that ended up being a problem. They like it when you stupid.

TSS: What did that Muscle Records material sound like?

Crooked I: Ahh, man (Laughs). It sounds like somebody going through puberty (Laughs). I be listening to it sometimes because every now and then I run into my homeboy Chucky and he’ll say, “Listen to this!” and he’ll have the old stuff. And I’m like, “Damn, I sound like Mickey Mouse on that.” (Laughs) The sound changed—the way we was making beats back then and all that stuff changed. One thing that didn’t change was the content. It was always about the streets or this song I’m just trying to show somebody that nobody could put words together better than me or I’m talking about something political, even at that age. So the content never changed, it just matured. I hope to God that that never comes out. I hope to God!!! (Laughs).

TSS: Your Death Row record, Say Hi To The Bad Guy, began to leak. How do you feel about that?

Crooked I: Man, I’m really upset about that because here’s the thing: When they took control of Death Row Records from Suge—in my opinion, I haven’t even talked to Suge about it—it seems like they didn’t even let the man go in his office and clean up and move all his stuff. It’s like he can’t even walk in there. That’s how it seems because when they had the auction, there was stuff in that auction that I know he wanted, that he would’ve never let go. So, he must not have had the power to go in his own office because they were selling 2Pac plaques, 2Pac’s jeans, Suge’s underwear, etc. because he had a penthouse at the top of Death Row so he had a lot of personal items up there. They were selling all that in the auction. Some dude, I’m hearing, bought one of Suge’s briefcases with a CD of mine inside with like seven songs. Some other dude bought something that had a CD of mine in there with 8,9 more songs so these dudes are like, “We have the whole album. We gonna start leaking it.”

Now, keep in mind that a lady named Lara Lavi from Wideawake Entertainment just spent $18 million on a catalog. So, she wants me to be involved with putting out Say Hi To The Bad Guy sorta like Nas did The Lost Tapes. She called me about my involvement and she wanted to sit down with me. I told her, “Yo, do you know some of that product has been leaking?” She ain’t even know. That’s a double whammy. It don’t only just hurt me, it’s hurting her because she just spent $18 million on some of this music. There’s another dude who got some music. He said he’s gonna sell each song on eBay for $1500 because here’s the thing man—the more underground something is, the more that these Internet collector junkies will pay for it. “Yo, if I can get that and nobody else got it, it’s something.”

So, I heard one dude got like 500 pre-orders right now and he’s supposed to be selling an album for $250. And that’s just in this short time. He’s gonna get more orders and more orders. It’s like, “Yo, how much money dude think he’s gonna make without us getting none and blocking our money?” That’s something that’s being dealt with on the highest level of the law from her company. And that shit is wack man. You know we spent a lot of time making that music. Plus, the music means something to us. To just leak it out…like I had to ask the sites to remove it. It comes with the territory. We can no longer go to the corner and threaten the bootlegger no more. That’s over. The bootlegger is online, in his room, and we have no idea where he lives. What can we do? Can’t do shit.

TSS: Was the stuff that leaked even gonna be on the album?

Crooked: Yeah and they weren’t even mixed, though. These were unfinished joints. I would just do joint, joint, joint, joint, joint and then I’d go in, listen to everything, ride around in the car to it and say, “Ok, I need to put this here. I need a DJ over here.” That stuff was mad unfinished. Now, I ain’t even listen to the shit. I know the one with Ja Rule and Ray J leaked, and I know a record with Juvenile leaked, too. I couldn’t do nothing about it. Those joints were going on the record. So, I don’t know what we gonna do now.

TSS: When will we see B.O.S.S.?

Crooked I: This how I’m going to do that album because, I was just unhappy with my distribution situation. It was no way I was gonna get physical CDs to the people I wanted to hear my music. No way. Because they were just overlooking mom & pop stores. They didn’t care. The thing is, man, people gotta understand this—not everybody has a computer, as crazy as that sounds. I run up on kids all the time, like 17 years old, “Aye man, you my favorite rapper. Where can I go buy your mixtape?” I’m like, “Yo, it’s on every website for free. Download it.” “I don’t got a computer. I gotta go to the library just to get online and they don’t allow us to get on certain sites online.” So that’s a genuine need. This dude right here who wants to buy the music, we can’t give it to him if you’re not going in a mom & pop, yanamean.

I can relate because that’s how my situation was so it’s like, “I can’t release this album like that. I can’t do it.” So, in trying to restructure the distribution situation, time is passing because they keep giving us WACK OFFERS!!! And as time passes, I constantly evolve, maybe because I think so much. I’m like, “Yo, I was on that Wednesday, but I’m on this Friday.” So what I was on for B.O.S.S., some of the same stuff I’m still on, but I feel like I’m growing a little more so I’m gonna just leak B.O.S.S. for free.

TSS: Damn!
Quote:Crooked I: What I’m gonna do is leak one song a week kinda like the weeklies, but I’m going give a commentary on what I was thinking, what mindstate I was in when I made this certain song, what made me do it, and all that kinda stuff. Ricky got the “boss” shit right now anyway, yanamean? He’s doing a good job with it so he can have that lane right now. I was in that lane pre-“Hustlin’”. That’s cool, he’s doing his thing, and he can do that. But I definitely want the people to hear it because it’s some great quality music on there. I’m workin’ on my new joint, man. I don’t even know what this music is gonna be for because after the “incident,” I was feeling like I needed to switch lanes. I need to put a lot more perspective in my shit—just life shit.

I don’t wanna just be somebody that somebody on my block can relate to. I wanna be somebody that if they’re in Australia or they in Germany or they in London, what I’m saying is hittin’ them in the heart! So recently, I got with my homeboy King Tech from the Wake Up Show, he played me some beats man and we did like seven joints. They weren’t like all the way finished but around seven songs in one day—because we sat and talked for like hours and we found out that we were at the same place in our life. He started playing some instrumentals and they had so much feeling. That’s the direction I’m moving in for the future project. But yeah, I’m leaking B.O.S.S. I’m going to give it to‘em man.

TSS: You’ve yet to release and album after a decade and a half and now you’re leaking B.O.S.S. Was there any point you felt like it would never happen or you just felt like giving up?

Crooked I: You know, you get your ups and downs. It’s one hell of a roller coaster ride. On one hand, you think about all the negative shit, like, “Yo, I didn’t sign up for this. I signed up to release albums. I didn’t sign up for this.” It’s a mental game. I mean, the people who started off with me that was rappin’ with deals at the time I got my first big deal at Virgin, them dudes is either dead, in jail, homeless, or serving popcorn at the movie theater. Like, I see these dudes. It ain’t too many dudes who can go 14 years without releasing a debut album and still keep his chin up, because that shit is disheartening when you’re an artist and you wanna put your music out to the world.

On the other hand, I have to look at it like I bought my momma a house. I’ve taken care of myself and people that I love for 14 years and it’s all music money. It might be on the other side of the game—it might ghostwriting, it might be shows, it might be this, it might be that. How can I complain when you got people in Darfur living how they living? You got people with the whole Gaza Strip thing going on right now. What I look like complaining right now? I can’t really complain. It is what it is. I get respect and love throughout the industry and by my peers. If you ask a real head, I’m on the 15 list, at least. I ain’t gonna say 10, I’m not gonna say 5, but if you ask a real head, I’m on the 15 list. Those are successes to me. I smile about that. I can’t be mad, so it’s like a yin and yang.

On one hand you’re like, “Man, fuck this shit.” On the other hand, you’re like, “Nah, be easy. There’s a lot of niggas that ain’t eating right now, a lot of niggas who can’t even support themselves right now. You’re in New York doing interviews so that’s what it is, man. I always knew that I’m gonna put something on that shelf. I’m touching that shelf. I will touch the shelf (Laughs).

TSS: How did Slaughterhouse come about?

Crooked I: Man, it’s a kid named Nino Bless, dope emcee from Brooklyn. Joe was working on his record Halfway House, I think, so he’s in a conversation with Joe. It’s funny ‘cause he told Joe, “Look man, you ain’t up on Crooked? You ain’t banging his shit?” Joe’s like, “Man, I don’t listen to Crooked.” You know how Joe is—“I don’t listen to Crooked. Send me some music.” So Nino takes it on himself and sent him like 6 or 7 of my Weeklies. Joey’s like, “Yo, can you call that nigga?” (Laughs). “I gotta wrap this song up quick. Man, how quick does he work in?” At that point, me and Nino was just working so he was like, “Yo, dude will send them verses back to you the next day or the same day.” He sent me the beat and I jumped on it.

As I’m recording the song for that, a cat from out here calls me and he’s like, “Yo, I got this website. I wanna know, can you do a song with Royce. I was thinking you, Royce, and Budden.” And I’m like, “Yo, this is odd. I’m just doing a song right now with Royce and Budden on it.” So, after we knock the song out or whatever, the response was crazy because each of us had our own Internet fanbase. Joe has is, Royce has is, I got mine, Ortiz has his and Nino has his. It kinda shut the Internet down for a minute, you know. We saw that and said, “Yo, let’s do another joint.” So, I flew out here and we recorded “Onslaught” at Red Spyder’s studio and it was magic.

We wanted to keep doing joints and everybody was like, “Man, y’all should be a group.” And that’s kinda how it all unfolded—it really jumped off from that one song. The name of the group is because that’s what we named that song, “Slaughterhouse.” It’s been definitely a good thing, especially for me because sometimes a lyricist ain’t really heard over here on the East Coast if you from the West. It’s tough to get your voice heard if you’re not just all the way in their face, like, I’m talking about Iovine status. If you not rolling with Iovine, it’s tough (Laughs). It’s definitely helping me. I’m starting to see Joey and Ortiz pop up on West Coast websites now, so it’s helping them over there and it’s helping me over here so it’s a good thing.

TSS: Wait, so how did Joell come into the picture?

Crooked I: Oh Joell, man. It was me, Royce, and Joey on the phone. We was having a conference and Joey was like, “You know what? Joell Ortiz, man.” And me and Royce was like, “Call him up!” (Laughs). He put him on the phone and Joell Ortiz was like, “I’m with that. Let’s go.” And it’s been boom ever since.

TSS: So what happened to Nino Bless then?

Crooked I: Well, really, when me, Royce, and Joey was talking about it, we was like, “Yo, Nino is ill, but he’s still building his story right now.” Like, all of us have been on major labels and had disappointments. Joey is one of the most exposed out of us all because he actually had a hit record. With Joell being on Aftermath and going through whatever he went through, it was like, “You know what, it makes more sense if we do it like this.” And then we have an open door policy with dudes that we’ll jump on their records and they can jump on our records, like Nino, or even a dude like Charles Hamilton. We just thought it’d be better to have like four more experienced dudes that got a lot to talk about when it comes to that type of thing.

TSS: How do you guys deal with you being out in L.A., Royce being in Detroit, Joey being in Jersey, and all of that?

Crooked I: Basically, we come together when our schedules allow it. I’m out here a lot. Me and Royce are out here a lot. Royce been catching some flight mileage, but I been catching them 6-hour flights. Man, I’m telling you, I’m like, “I can’t wait until they get off the plane and feel like I do.” We make it work, though, we make it work. So far, everything’s been unfolding in a way that’s like stars lining up. I’m with this 100%. If I gotta be in New York, if I gotta lay on somebody couch, I’m here. Let’s get it. And that’s everybody’s mentality.

TSS: Going back to what you said about being a b-boy, what’s the first album you ever bought?

Crooked I: Oooh, that’s a good one. That I paid for after I cut somebody’s yard (Laughs), what is the first album I ever bought? I remember the first 12-inch I ever bought. “Eazy Duz It.” I’m young, me and my homeboys playing video games at the arcade, and we go across the street to the record store. I’m looking at this dude on the album cover. He got a jheri curl, some Jordans on, and I’m like, “Who is this dude?” That was the first—I remember walking home, carrying it under my arm, and putting it on, like, “Wow.” Because I knew Ice Cube was in a group called C.I.A. already before he was in N.W.A. I was up on Cube already but I wasn’t up on E like that. And then I was like, “Wow, this shit is dope.” And I knew Dr. Dre was doing his thing because I used to go watch Dr. Dre perform with three turntables when I was a kid. He used to hook up three turntables and just be spinnin’ at different spots so when I was a kid. I used to see that when he was part of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru. But yeah, that was probably the first 12-inch I bought. I think the first album I ever bought was Paid In Full. And that was probably like, what, ’88?

TSS: Maybe ’87.

Crooked I: Pssshhh, damn I wasn’t supposed to be buying albums. But that album really opened my mind because he was saying some stuff that was so foreign to me, like, “What is this dude talking about? Now I gotta go read a Koran.” (Laughs). I’m that type of dude. I don’t like to not know what the hell somebody’s talking about. So yeah, Paid In Full. And that’s why I’m still like I am and it gets me in trouble sometimes because I be icin’ up with the jewelry and everything. But that’s what I grew up looking at—the cover of Paid In Full, with the Gucci leather and dookie ropes hanging everywhere. These are the dudes that I looked up to. The Big Daddy Kane’s and the Ice-T’s—with the bulletproof door on his Porsche and pistol medallion on the end of his gold rope. Blame them, don’t blame me for that. Yeah, Paid In Full. Man, that’s still a classic. Ain’t fucking with Paid In Full—they not fucking with that.

TSS: Did you do any writing on Detox?

Crooked I: You know, the thing about Detox is—on a sidebar, what’s going on with these leaks? (Laughs) I don’t know what the hell’s going on. Honestly, that’s the part of the game changing that I don’t think they was ready for, yanamean? It ain’t no more like getting on a CD—like we used to ride to “Gin & Juice” with no hook on it because we snuck it out the studio somehow. Ain’t no more of that, it’s right online. But the Detox project man, they called me to come over there to a few sessions. My whole thing is this: Everybody knows how I feel about Dr. Dre. I think he’s the best producer in Hip-Hop history and then comes my man right over here, Preme [DJ Premier].

TSS: He here?

Crooked I: I don’t know if he’s here. That’s my opinion, though. I love him to death but I gotta stay moving. I can’t sit down for three months writing songs, not knowing if this song is gonna make it or just being around—not even if I’m not even writing, just being in a session—for three or four months while they’re creating something classic that’s gonna benefit them. I gotta be working on what I’m doing. And it’s a recession, too! Shit, I can’t just be sitting in niggas’ studios, I gotta be grinding. That album…I heard some joints that’s retarded, I will say that. That’s just one of them albums that you gotta buy physically, crack it open, and read the credits. You see Dominick Whitcliffe on something, you know what it is (Laughs).

For more info, check out for Crooked I at
Good read, does this mean BOSS still has a chance of being released and available to buy??
nice interview, good questions.  i like that open door policy.
hehe fucked up his last name
(04-10-2009, 05:26 PM)ogtripleg87 link Wrote: hehe fucked up his last name

LOL, It took me a minute to notice that!
(04-10-2009, 05:26 PM)ogtripleg87 link Wrote: hehe fucked up his last name

So I take it Dominick Whitcliffe is Crooks real name then? (that's the last name he says at the end, or is that one wrong too?)

Good Read so do you think we know Crooks age now lol?

14 years without an album and started Muscle Records at 17 so 31, which is a number I have seen thrown around a few times

Wish he would have mentioned when we could expect B.O.S.S. to start leaking...I knew he was going to do the write up on each song(as we all did) But it makes sense now and seems very interesting to not only hear the songs but hear what his mind state was at the time, and how he grew as a person....I would like if it came out in Chronological order(from oldest to newest) rather then a track listing(we can always reorder them once they are all released) That way we may see a more interesting development...just a thought who knows if the music would reflect that(other then Crook quite obviously) 
 Defective Crooked I Robot
Wish they also mentioned something about HHW2. But any news is good news!
brilliant interview, come on out BOSS and SH EP
Cool interview. This was obviously done a while ago so I wonder what his plans for BOSS are now?

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