Chamillionaire Interview (Part 1)
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It is well-known in the rap community that mixtape releases can be the stepping stones that lead up-and-coming emcees to mainstream success, and the game today offers countless examples of artists who have taken this route to the big-time. Weezy, for example, wouldn’t be the superstar he is today if it wasn’t for his hot streak of mixtape releases between Carters II and III, and it’s not unlikely that one of the rhymesayers whose free mixtapes we’re currently enjoying is soon to become the Next Big Thing (Charles Hamilton, we’re looking at you). No discussion of mixtape successes would be complete, however, without mentioning the Mixtape Messiah himself. Yes, we’re talking about Hakeem “Chamillionaire” Seriki, whose mixtape career gave him the fuel he needed to ascend to the very peak of mainstream ubiquity.
Cham’s success has been so tremendous, in fact, that he’s begun to see the dark side of fame and fortune. Though 2007 found the emcee reveling in his Ultimate Victory over the industry, the forthcoming Venom will showcase an artist more ambivalent about his stardom. Case in point: lead single “Creepin’ (Solo),” in which the Chamillitary Man laments the fact that his success has made it difficult for him to trust anyone. Though Venom‘s drop date is yet to be announced, fans shouldn’t forget about Cham’s recently-released Mixtape Messiah 5, available now.
In part one of Chamillionaire’s exclusive interview with our very own DJ “Z,” the emcee steps into the Booth to talk about his famous rap impressions, why his attention to rhyme patterns sets him apart from the pack, and how Venom will fit into the overarching story he tells through his music.
Listen to the Interview
Chamillionaire 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 Grammy award-winning emcee whose career I have watched blossom over the last four years. From a local superstar to an internationally know name, please welcome the Mixtape Messiah, Chamillionaire – how you doin’?
Chamillionaire: I like that intro – that’s gangsta, man.
DJ Booth: I know you really like the “Grammy award-winning” part, ‘cause that carries a lot of weight.
Chamillionaire: Yeah, it holds a lot of weight, man. Even though I’m gonna erase that from my slate this time and be a new artist on this new album and all this new material I’m releasing, you can’t take that from the history books.
DJ Booth: Definitely not. Since last we spoke, Cham, you released two more editions of Mixtape Messiah, including the newest one, MM5. You’re manufacturing mixtapes these days more than General Motors is manufacturing vehicles – how long does it take you, usually, to complete a project?
Chamillionaire: That’s funny… Honestly, it don’t really take me that long. The only thing with me is, I’m a perfectionist, so sometimes I have a lot of material that I just don’t release. I’ll be like, “Eh, I’m not feelin’ that.” Everybody else around will be like, “You’re crazy! You gotta put that out,” but I know how my fans are. I spit so many verses that are so hard that when I do one that’s just okay, then they’re always comparing it to the one that I did that was super dope. I try to only put out the ones I think are super dope. That’s kind of a curse in itself.
DJ Booth: It absolutely is. You’ve murdered beats, though, that other artists have used to create semi-successful singles, so has anyone ever called you up whose stuff you flowed over, and said, “Man, Cham, you did it dirty – you did it better than I did!”
Chamillionaire: A lot of people in the industry respect my mixtapes. It’s surprising how far they get out, man. There’s been a lot of big artists who, I see ‘em, and they’ll say something about a freestyle that I did, and I didn’t even know they were listenin’. Like, I was trippin’ when I ran into MC Hammer, and he was sayin’, “Thanks for the shout-out on the mixtape,” and I started thinkin’, “Oh, shoot, I did shout him out on a mixtape.” When I bumped into him, he was tellin’ me he was listenin’ to the mixtape, so I was like, “Whoa, that’s crazy!” Nobody’s came at me foul, or said anything crazy; everybody mainly shows me love. Even when I’m imitating rappers or something, it’s all good – they know it’s mainly flattery.
DJ Booth: Speaking of imitation, on “Roll Call Reloaded,” which was on MM4, whose imitation do you think you locked down the best?
Chamillionaire: Man, that’s a good question. I don’t know man, I really don’t. I kind of did all those first take – like, if I wanted to get them closer, I would’ve tried a little bit more, but whatever came out, that’s what I did.
DJ Booth: Well, I’m gonna tell you, I liked the Jeezy; I thought the Jeezy was good.
Chamillionaire: He’s kind of got the distinguishable ad libs and stuff like that, but it’s hard to mimic him – actually, it’s probably not, because there’s a lot of dudes that sound kind of like him, but you’ll know it’s Jeezy when you hear the album because of the ad libs.
DJ Booth: What I’d be curious to hear is if someone else could do a good Cham impersonation…
Chamillionaire: That’s gonna be hard, man! I couldn’t see nobody impersonating me, ‘cause I be switchin’ it up all the time. That’s one thing I listen to a lot; there’s a lot of rappers, I could tell you the pattern they’re going to rap in on a beat when I hear it, know what I’m sayin’? Say, for instance, you put a beat in front of me, and you told me about an artist; I could tell you what pattern they’re gonna rap in. But I don’t think people could say that about me, man. I kinda switch it up a lot. The way I rapped on Ciara’s “Get Up” is way different than the way I might rap on a mixtape freestyle. The way I rapped on “Ridin’ (Dirty)” is way different than the way I might rap on another song. I study patterns; a lot of people don’t get too deep into it like that, they just wanna hear something dope.
DJ Booth: I agree. A lot of emcees are very predictable, that is not the case with you. One of the two featured tracks to be run from the new release is your “Swagga Like Us” freestyle. First of all, are you more of a “swagger” or a “swagga” type of guy?
Chamillionaire: I don’t even know. I’m neither of those – I think that’s wack, man. Me, I like the song and everything, but this whole trend of everybody thinkin’ that’s cool, braggin’ over who got the most swag, that’s nonsense right there. That’s some little kid stuff. That’s why, when I rap on the track, I just rapped on it. I even said, “You can take swag back/ That’s a word for rappers that can’t rap.” It’s kind of against the grain; I didn’t get on there and brag about my Louis scarf and all that nonsense, man – that’s weak, to me. That’s just my opinion, I kinda put it down on that track
DJ Booth: Well, post-MM5, your gears will be turning toward the release of your third major solo album, Venom. Instead of asking you how you chose the title, I’m interested in knowing, are you planning to poison the game with this release?
Chamillionaire: Definitely, man, I couldn’t say it better than that. I gotta come with some infectious stuff that just kinda spreads. This is it, man. When I listen to it in the studio, I’m very happy with the material. I feel like it’s not overly [reinventing] the wheel or anything, I’m not bein’ too much of a brainiac for people, they’re gonna get it, and I just want ‘em to feel like it’s dope. I want people to have Venom in their system, know what I’m sayin’? Everybody – all my fans that listen to this, you have to, you have to go support this album. I don’t care what you think. I don’t care what you think about the way I used to be or anything like that. If you want me to keep on making music, go and support my album when it comes out.
DJ Booth: Speaking of Venom, you’ve already poisoned plenty of people, ‘cause they’ve heard the new single with Ludacris, “Creepin’ (Solo),” which we featured in the Booth. In the song, Cham, you stress the importance of keeping a low profile and refusing to trust people. So, is this a catchy song idea, or something that you’d say you personally follow?
Chamillionaire: It’s definitely a little bit of both. I’d say the combination of me and Ludacris is a good combination of lyricism and purpose, Luda being the lyricism and me being the purpose. Originally, when I was doin’ it, I was like, “Man, I have to actually get another verse on this song,” and it went real hard, but then I thought about it, and there wasn’t really a purpose to it. And the purpose of the hook is very real to me; it’s not just something I made up. Everybody that’s gonna keep up with my story, they know, I kinda lost a lot of people that was down with me. It’s like this little story. Everything kind of has to have a story. When I first came out, on my first album, there was a story. There was a story that people were following, and now I’m about to start painting this picture, and this song represents part of it – you know, why I’m by myself, why your friends try to sue you, why all this kind of stuff starts happening. I want to add purpose into the song with those words, and I’m going to paint the picture very clear on this promo run to promote the album. People are gonna get it, and they’re gonna know a little bit more about why I’m takin’ this direction. Venom is not as friendly as people are used to, but it’s cool with me.
DJ Booth: Everybody likes to say that they use their trials and tribulations as motivation and inspiration behind their new music, and it seems like that’s exactly what you’re doing with your backstory for this new album. Do you regret having gone through anything, or do you think that has just helped you create better, more inspired material?
Chamillionaire: I definitely don’t regret it. Everything I went through, I wouldn’t change nothing. [That’s] the test of showin’ you’re a man: being able to deal with it. There’s a lot of people who say they want fame, I don’t think they even could handle it. Look at a lot of these entertainers, man, how they’re goin’ off the deep end. This is some powerful stuff! Fame itself can be like venom; it gets in your system and slowly deteriorates your body over time, the person that you knew. It just changes you. And I’m sittin’ here watchin’ all these entertainers and all the stuff that they’re goin’ through, and it’s like, “Man, this is a very powerful drug.” With this album, I’m just paintin’ a picture and showin’ you so many different things that can happen, which is not necessarily the good side of it, it’s the bad side. People are used to seein’ a rapper on TV with the bottles and the Lambo and all that stuff, but they don’t really see the negative side, and the people that come out of nowhere tryin’ to sue you, and all this crazy stuff that happens, man. In return, I took fame, I took success, but that’s the reason why I’ve got to be by myself – the more people I have around me, the worse.
DJ Booth: Cham, has the game changed you, and, if so, did you predict that that would happen when you first entered?
Chamillionaire: I think the person that I am is still the same. Right now, the person that’s standin’ in this room right now is the same person I was when I was movin’ mixtapes back in 1998. Internally – it’s like, personality-wise I’m that person. But you do change, I will say that with bold letters: you do have to change. Because there’s a lot of people right now that might be talkin’ to somebody else and be like, “Man, Chamillionaire, he ain’t like he used to be,” but I can’t be like I used to be. The other day I tried to go to San Antonio [by] van. I’m a person who kinda rolls by myself, I don’t have a lot of people. People see me in the airport, I don’t have a lot of people with me. I have to start changing that, because people start treating me different – they just won’t leave me alone. I’m tryin’ to be normal, but you’re not allowin’ me to! I’m tryin’ to just live in a normal crib, and have my life, but then these people start coming, and start taking pictures in front of your crib, and knockin’ and runnin’ and all that stuff, and now you’ve gotta get gates in front of your house, ‘cause you don’t know who’s who. Now you’ve gotta live in a gated community, now you’ve gotta start hiding from people. You want to pick up your phone for everybody that calls, and you wanna save the world, but then, when you start pickin’ up your phone, every single person is complaining, they need some money, they need this, their mother is sick, and you can’t pick up the phone for everybody. You can’t – you have to start lettin’ it go to the answering machine. So, the guy that I used to be would always pick up the phone for everybody. I don’t pick up the phone for everybody now. I don’t even talk on the phone now, ‘cause I already know what it is when somebody’s callin’ me: you know, they’re looking at Forbes, they’re seein’ all that money, and they’re trying to get some of it. There’s people that don’t even know me like that. It’s amazing how somebody that I might see [from] high school that never really even talked to me might feel like I owed them for something. It’s crazy.
DJ Booth: Yeah, don’t you know, they’re your best friends. What do you think is the biggest misconception?
Chamillionaire: I see people every now and then saying, like, I think I’m perfect or something, ‘cause there’s this “good guy” image out there or something like that. I didn’t tell nobody to paint that picture! When I go out there and talk, I’m just bein’ myself. When I go up there and get an award, I’m just bein’ myself – that’s who I am! They tell you to keep it real, so I’m bein’ real to who I am, and I don’t see why all of a sudden now that’s a problem, I need to stop bein’ like that. Honestly, some people don’t even matter, ‘cause they’re just haters. At the end of the day, I’m gonna be me. But sometimes the image can get painted out there, and people look at it a certain way, and then other people start attackin’ it. That’s kinda what’s happening now. But I honestly need more haters now; I felt like it was gettin’ too friendly for a minute. Everybody was comin’ to me with all the charity stuff. I want the other people to come out, I want the haters to come out now, because I had them when I was underground, I had them when I was doin’ all the mixtapes, I had them on the first album, and I want them to come back, know what I’m sayin’?