|Next Project:||The Chicago Picasso|
|Twitter:||Naledge on Twitter|
Nobody seems quite sure what the 50-foot-tall sculpture in Daley Plaza depicts (Is it a baboon? A long-necked woman? A jungle gym?), but, since its construction in 1967, the Chicago Picasso has been embraced as a work of public art that represents the city’s greatness. Forty-two years later, Kidz in the Hall emcee and local hip-hop phenom Naledge is preparing to erect a musical monument that would make the legendary Cubist proud, blending multiple perspectives on his hometown’s past, present and future to create a hip-hop opus that will allow natives and outsiders alike to experience the Second City in a new light.
With The Chicago Picasso, Naledge will open his vault to showcase an impressive body of solo work created over the course of his musical journey. Composed of older unreleased cuts (including Booth-acclaimed single “Star Struck”) as well as a few recently-recorded and reworked originals, and featuring a star-studded cast of producers and guest artists (Bun B, Rhymefest and Curren$y among them), the DJ Mick Boogie and DJ RTC-presented mix CD is set to hit stores June 30th off Duck Down Records.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Naledge steps into the Booth to discuss the biggest misconception outsiders hold about his hometown, the ever-distracting commodity he considers his Kryptonite (and wishes he could get for free), and when fans might be able to expect a third Kidz in the Hall album.
Listen to the Interview
Naledge 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 fellow Chicagoan who, on June the 30th, will unveil his musical work of art entitled The Chicago Picasso. Please welcome, for the second time, my man Naledge—how you doin’?
Naledge: What up? I’m good, man. Chillin’, just enjoying the day.
DJ Booth: I checked out your Twitter, and it seems as though your week did not start off great—you have a busted tire thanks to one of our wonderful Chicago potholes, and the IRS came calling for 150 bones. Have things gotten better since then?
Naledge: Yeah. I actually got my laptop back; it had a virus in it, so I’m happy about that. Randomly, I got an ASCAP check, so, you know, things happen. [laughs]
DJ Booth: So things are lookin’ up for you?
Naledge: It’s never as bad as it seems.
DJ Booth: That’s what I’m sayin’: if you think you have it bad, there’s someone, somewhere out in the world who probably has it worse.
DJ Booth: The original Chicago Picasso, of course, is a sculpture by the famous Pablo Picasso, which is located in downtown Chicago. Naledge, as many people know, the work of Pablo Picasso was very abstract. Do you feel listeners outside our city will find your new project in that same vein?
Naledge: I feel like this project overall will allow people to appreciate Chicago for what it is, and not pigeonhole it. When we listen to Nas and he talks about Queens, or QB or whatever, we don’t think twice about it. When you hear Snoop talk about the East Side of Long Beach, you don’t think twice about it. I just wanna talk about Chicago to the point where you expect it, and you don’t find it unique and you don’t find it unusual. I want somebody to come here and not know what [Lakeshore Drive] is, but wanna go see it, because they’re like, “Well, he talks about this all the time.” It’s somewhat abstract, in a way, to just put together; it’s kind of a stream of consciousness. It’s up for interpretation. It’s the soundtrack to my life, and I know what I was thinking when I made it, but that doesn’t mean you may not take away the same feeling I take away from it. So I look at it as art.
DJ Booth: Do your fellow Chicago emcees do enough to make sure that our city is proudly represented in their lyrics?
Naledge: I have a lot of pride in bein’ from Chicago, and I’m not gonna let you forget it. I’ll say, “GO-ILL” before every verse, and I’m gonna reference things that you may not have heard of if you’ve never been here, take it a lot further than just the superficial, like, I’m gonna talk about Urlacher, or Derek Rose—nah, it’s gonna be a lot deeper. ‘Cause, at the end of the day, this is what I know and this is where I’ve been. I feel like people will get it and understand it, ‘cause I’m gonna make them understand it.
DJ Booth: Naledge, as an insider, what do you think is the biggest misconception for outsiders, of our city?
Naledge: People think we’re small, I think people think Chicago is smaller than what it really is! [laughs] I don’t think people realize it’s just as big as your L.A.‘s, and it’s not as big as your New York, but it’s big—it’s big as hell! People still come up to me, to this day, like, “Hey, I have a cousin from Chicago, do you know him?” and I’m like, “Do you realize there’s millions of f*ckin people in Chicago?” And I know a lot of people, but just to randomly say, “Do you know my cousin?” and have no frame of reference for it, it’s like, you must think I’m from some podunk-ass Midwest town! It was originally called the Second City for a reason: we used to be bigger than L.A.! It’s just a misconception, because I feel like people don’t recognize us as an industry here, because it hasn’t gotten to the level that it needs to be at. There’s talented artists, but they always seem to travel away, and I think the general consensus is, if artists leave the city they’re from, that means nothing must be happening in their city, but that’s not true at all. The city that we’re from, it birthed Kanye, it birthed Common, it birthed Lupe, it birthed Twista—it birthed a lot of hip-hop stars.
DJ Booth: How can it get there? Does it start with you?
Naledge: I’d like to think so, I’d like to think it starts with somebody like me—if it’s not me, well, the people have to decide that. If I had everything my way, it would start with me. I collaborate with everybody, I’m open, and I’m just real. A lot of people aren’t real—when it comes to bein’ an artist, they’re out [for] fame and they don’t really seek out uplifting the city at all; that’s not really their goal. So, if your goal is just to become a mega-superstar, it might happen, but, in that process, nobody is gonna remember you’re from Chicago if you don’t put that time and effort into making people appreciate where you’re from.
DJ Booth: You were quoted as saying, “I wanna show all aspects of Chicago, not just one sound.” Detail the various sounds from in and around our city, and what makes them stand apart.
Naledge: I’m a product of my environment, so, while people will compare me to certain emcees, I grew up listening to everything and absorbing everything. I’m just as big a fan of R. Kelly as I am of Common, know what I’m sayin’? I listen to 8Ball & MJG, you know, we listen to a lot of different types of music. And I think that’s derivative of bein’ from Midwest and bein’ from the center, but when you talk about Chicago you’ve got blues, you’ve got jazz, you’ve got House, you’ve got gospel—you’ve got a lot of things goin’ on; and not just goin’ on, goin’ on in a major way. It’s the home of blues, it’s one of the homes of jazz. There’s a lot of things that derive from Chicago—like, this was the second Harlem Renaissance. It happened here. When people came from down South off the train, they came to Chicago. So, all of that is infused into the soul sampling and all that stuff. But then that juke music, I still understand and identify with it; you couldn’t go to a party and not hear House music in Chicago. It’s things that I never really do, but I appreciate.
DJ Booth: In the press release for the project, you admitted that it consists of material that has been recorded, quote unquote, “over time.” So, Naledge, how far back were some of these records recorded, or is it, for the most part, basically all new?
Naledge: “Star Struck,” which was the first leak, I’d say that record was probably recorded in ‘05, and we probably did some edits or whatever, but it hadn’t been touched since February of ‘06. So that’s probably the oldest record. A lot of those records came right after the signing with Rawkus.
DJ Booth: When you hear your older stuff, do you think to yourself, “I don’t rap that way anymore. I sound much better than that now?”
Naledge: It’s ironic, man, the stuff that made the project made it for a reason: it stood the test of time. They were records that I’ve heard over and over and over and over and over, but I always believed in them. Yeah, I did add some new sh*t, I added a lot of new songs to the project. Three of them were records I recorded with my in-house producers, Nez & Rio. Other than that, a lot of these records were at least two years old, or one and a half years old, and I might’ve added a guest appearance to it, or cleaned up the verses, but not too much differs—a lot of these records were the records that were gonna be on [my debut] Naledge is Power.
DJ Booth: Well, good music is good music, regardless of when it was recorded. You’re joined on The Chicago Picasso by the likes of Bun B, Mickey Factz, Rhymefest, Curren$y, and GLC, just to name a few. Is there anyone in particular who you made a serious effort to nail down for a feature, but either wasn’t interested in participating or never got back to you?
Naledge: Kinda like both. I don’t know if they weren’t interested—like, there were certain people who, their career took off at the time I was creating the project, and then phone calls [became] fewer and further between, where, when I initially was starting to do the joint, it made more sense for them to wanna be on it. It was like, we were in the studio, we were all in New York, talkin’ about it, and they were like, “Yeah, the beat sounds fresh, I’ma go write my verse!” and then they never get back to you.
DJ Booth: On Chicago Picasso, you’re joined by Midwest natives Mick Boogie, RTC, and Timbuck2. So, describe the collaborative process when you have three talented DJs all involved, and they all need to get that stamp of perfection on the project.
Naledge: For real, RTC acted very much as an in-house A&R; he spent a lot of time in the studio, listening to the record’s flow, and placin’ the drops that Tim did. So, the idea was to recreate Timbuck2’s radio show, GO-ILL Radio, but do it in the studio, so it’s kind of a serious radio version on what he does on GCI. So, if people listening to the CD are like, “Well, I never heard this on GCI,” it’s cause you never did; we just recorded it! [laughs] ‘Cause we’re cursin’, and there’s all type of profanity. [laughs] He couldn’t do that on GCI.
DJ Booth: It’s what Clear Channel Radio would never allow.
Naledge: Yeah, yeah. He’s much more blunt, he states his opinion a little more than he ever would.
DJ Booth: Well, it’s certainly important to collaborate with people who understand the direction that you wanna take with your music.
Naledge: Yeah, yeah. Mick Boogie helped a lot with me sayin’ I wanted to get a certain guest appearance, and havin’ a connection with somebody, and bein’ like, “Reach out to so-and-so, reach out to such-and-such.” And that’s where he came in: he helped in an A&R capacity as well. It was kinda like having three A&Rs.
DJ Booth: Never a bad thing.
DJ Booth: All right, we’re gonna get into a game; it’s called “Title Mad-Libs.” Using five titles off The Chicago Picasso, all you have to do is fill in the blank—are you game, my man?
Naledge: Let’s go!
DJ Booth: All right, first one: “In My Own World, [blank] would be free of charge.”
Naledge: P*ssy. [laughs]
DJ Booth: [laughs] That would be nice. Two: “When I met [blank], I was definitely Star Struck.”
Naledge: Wow… when I met Just Blaze.
DJ Booth: Number three: “I sometimes lose my Focus if [blank] has my attention.”
Naledge: I’m gonna have to go with the same answer I said on number one. [laughs]
DJ Booth: [laughs] Sounds like p*ssy could pretty much be used for any of these right?
Naledge: Yeah, it’s Kryptonite.
DJ Booth: Number four: “I am Crazy for admitting this, but I secretly love [blank].” And I have a feeling it’s not gonna be what you just said.
Naledge: I secretly love Gucci Mane.
DJ Booth: Really?
Naledge: Yeah. I listen to his mixtapes a lot. [laughs]
DJ Booth: You got me there, I did not expect you to say that.
Naledge: And WWF wrestling—it’s probably a tie.
DJ Booth: Who was your favorite wrestler back in the day?
Naledge: I always liked Mr. Perfect. Mr. Perfect or Shawn Michaels, one or the other.
DJ Booth: Did you like Mr. Perfect’s periwinkle-blue leotard, is that it?
Naledge: Man, and he used to spit the gum out and knock it into the crowd—it was ridiculous! And he had the white man’s jheri curl. It was fresh!
DJ Booth: Absolutely. Last one, Naledge: “Whenever I hear about [blank], I think to myself, ‘It Is What It Is.’”
Naledge: When I think to myself about bills; my lawyer sent me a bill today, and I was like, “It Is What It Is…” [laughs]
DJ Booth: [laughs] That’s the best way to approach that.
Naledge: The work got done, it’s cool.
DJ Booth: Naledge, when you joined me inside the DJ Booth for an interview with Double-O back in 2006, you said, “If we have a strong budget behind us and we’re backed, we can take our music to the next level.” So, since then, having released a Kidz in the Hall album, and on the verge of dropping this solo project, would you say that your music has reached that next level?
Naledge: Nah, I don’t think so, honestly. Like, this project is a statement, because, literally, it’s something that I funded myself and that I [wanted] to do, and once I got near completion, Duck Down approached me about putting it out. This was looked at as a mixtape. But it took me some time, just ‘cause we wanted to roll with it, and I didn’t have any financial backing, and it was just me doin’ it all by myself. So I had to really find time and do it the right way, and I had to find collaborators and make our schedules mesh. Bun B’s a busy person, and Rhymefest is a busy person, Curren$y’s busy—all these people are are busy, and they all have their own things that they’re tryin’ to do and get done. For them to take time out and appear on something like this, that’s not even like the project, it’s just something that I approached them, like, “This is just a fun project that I’m tryin’ to do, with dope music on it. Do you wanna be a part of it?” So, for them to get down, just on the strength of me tellin’ ‘em that, it’s beautiful.
DJ Booth: Obviously, the project is going to be available June 30th, so, the question is, what’s up next after Picasso drops?
Naledge: Kidz in the Hall, new album, we’re lookin’ at October 13th right now. We’re tryin’ to reach the next album—like, we feel like this next album is what will propel us to a different place. Three albums in, you have material, goin’ from bein’ an opening act to bein’ a headliner hopefully, that’s [how] we look at it.
DJ Booth: Well, I agree. Hopefully, off the strength of Chicago Picasso and your great live performance skills, you will get to that place within the next year, my friend. Give everybody a website, a MySpace page, a Twitter account, so they can find out more about you and everything you’ve got goin’ on.
Naledge: You can get all things Naledge at brainiacsociety.com.
DJ Booth: Well, that was a smart marketing move, no pun intended, and, again, thank you so much for joining me inside the DJ Booth. It’s always a pleasure to talk to a fellow Chicago hustler.
Naledge: A’ight bro.