A Conversation with Saigon (2009)

Posted: March 30, 2009 by Ismael AbduSalaam in Music Interviews
Tags: , , , ,

To this day we still don’t have a release date for Saigon’s official, Just Blaze produced debut The Greatest Story Never Told. But at least in 2009 Saigon made considerable progress with the Statik Selektah collaboration album All In a Day’s Work. Saigon gave me an insightful interview, and hopefully his own album will see the light of day soon.

 

What a difference a day makes. Before the release of his Statik Selektah produced album All In a Day’s Work, Saigon was one of the many new school MCs struggling to fulfill their potential amidst label woes and ever-changing consumer attitudes.

Over the past year, the Yardfather tried everything from a dramatic MySpace retirement blog to a humorous, pro wrestling-styled Youtube clip against rivals. But now with a successful Top 5 debut on iTunes with his digital, one week promoted LP, Saigon now has the attention back on what should matter most, his music.

Ismael AbduSalaam: Congratulations on the new project. Previously, the fastest I’ve ever heard someone doing an LP was seven days with the Makaveli album. What prompted you to come up with the idea to create a full album in just 24 hours?

Saigon: It actually wasn’t planned. I went to Statik Selektah’s studio which is like some basement in Brooklyn. He called me to do a record for Grand Theft Auto, so I thought I was just doing one record. After we did it he was like, “Yo, I’m going to play some beats.” And every beat he played sounded like a Saigon beat. I was like I’d destroy these so he said, “Let’s do it.”

He doesn’t even have a booth in his shit. The mic is literally standing right next to where he’s at with the computer. So I just went in there, cracked a few bottles open, and I just started to rap. I did like three songs and I’m like, “Yo Statik these shits are coming out kinda tough.” We get up to six and we can do an EP. They were still coming out good. Once we got to eight he was like, “We might as well do two more baby!” And we had the album and did the last two. It was all in a day’s work.

Ismael: You mentioned cracking open a few bottles. Was there anything else you did to help keep your energy up? There’s no audible sign of fatigue on the LP.

Saigon: We did cat naps but that was about it. The “yack” had me up. And Statik’s energy, he’s all day, he’s a beast. His work ethic is retarded. If it wasn’t for him saying let’s do another one [constantly], I probably would’ve stopped after two or three. He’s was like, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.” His energy was something new and fresh, and had a real Hip-Hop sounding feel. I was like fuck it, let’s just keep going. People’s reception so far is good. We were number four on iTunes on the Hip-Hop charts. I’m seeing dudes whose real albums didn’t chart that well over their first two days.

Ismael: What songs took the bulk of the time to complete over the full day?

Saigon: Probably “Loser” and “I Warned You.” I didn’t like “I Warned You”,” the bonus track. I tried a few times [on it] and was just like, “Yo I’m not feeling it.” And Statik was like, “Yo, trust me!” We argued about it for mad long. So finally when he mixed everything and sent me the product it sounded a little better. So I told him if he wanted to put it out there it was cool. I really was against it but now people like it.

Ismael: Was your dislike due to the way the beat sounded or the overall structure of the song?

Saigon: I didn’t feel the structure. Everything else was like a marriage, [but] that one was sounding a little forced at first. Everything else you knew right away that was it. This one was like, “Ahh I don’t know.” Once I do that too many times I scrap it. But nobody else wanted to scrap it, and was saying it’s hot.

Ismael: Last year you had posted a blog stating you were tired of the industry and wanted to quit…

Saigon: Pulled a Kid Cudi, baby! Or he pulled a Saigon really. [laughs]

Ismael: What prompted you to change your mind?

Saigon: I was stopping for all the wrong reasons. The record label politics drove me so insane. I was trying to leave and they wouldn’t let me. I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll stop rapping, what will you do then?” The contract would be null and void, anyway. But then I thought about how I didn’t come into this shit for that. So I’ll just ignore it and do what I love. I love to be creative and I love the power of Hip-Hop. People don’t know how to use the power, but when it’s used correctly we can reach the next generation with this shit. It can send some motherfuckers to college and help kids to make better decisions through this Hip-Hop music. We already teach them how to dress and what’s cool. The power is incredible. I figure if I’m gonna be a part of it, I’ll add on instead of take away.

Ismael: You admitted that before you felt foolish having to do some of those YouTube promos, especially the one where you’re flexing…

Saigon: Yeah [laughs], but I knew it would stir attention. Unfortunately we live in that situation where it’s the music business, but the business is everything but the music. I was putting out freestyles and dope records regularly, but people would talk about it for a day and then that’s it. So when I do something ignorant and act like a buffoon, it makes for great conservation and then I’m all over people’s minds.

I knew that before I even put it out. I knew exactly what I was doing flashing cars and money. Let me try some ignoramus shit and watch me attract the masses, and it worked. Since ’09 I’ve been taking swings. That was my way back in quick and get people talking. That was what started the whole Joe Budden beef. He lit a spark under me, I can’t even lie. He got me back on. If I was a boxer I’d feel like I’m training again, ready to go back out there and get some good fights.

Ismael: You mentioned that it got you a lot of attention. But then you hit them with the album that got the focus back on your skills…

Saigon: Exactly! Yes.

Ismael: Do you think you can put tactics like that behind you now, or does it need to be pulled out occasionally?

Saigon: I don’t like to play that card, but I will in a heartbeat. If I see it, [I’ma say] ok, it’s time for some buffoonery. Because I learned a wise man can play the role of a fool but a fool cannot play the role of a wise man. It’s easy to act like a fucking idiot. For some reason the masses, especially Americans, have the tendency to gravitate towards buffoonery. They love it.
Look at reality TV these days. All these girls are trying to date one dude. She watch him kiss another bitch right there in front of you, wouldn’t you not want this nigga no more? No, you love him more. But we sit around and are so entertained by this shit, the same shit over and over because we’re so easily entertained. That’s why I’m like if I gotta dumb down my level of conscious to get people’s attention, every now and then I gotta do it. But I do it for a reason.

When I was in prison an old-timer told me if you put a Playboy cover on the Bible more people would read it. He had a good point. Remember dead prez’s video for “Hip-Hop?” At the beginning there’s a fat ass walking. And then it goes, “Now that we got your attention!” It’s like that it a nutshell.

Ismael: Regarding Joe Budden, you surprised a lot of people in the way you rallied towards the end of that battle. It earned you a lot of respect. Throughout history, anytime there’s a good battle on a lyrical level the MC involved develop a mutual respect even if they continue to not like each other afterward. When you went through it with Budden, did you develop that same respect?

Saigon: Yeah, definitely! I never paid attention to his music or anyone else’s. I’d be in my own world unless it’s the obvious like Jay and Nas. When the whole shit was going down it made me do a little bit of my history and research and I came to find he’s extremely talented. I was oblivious to the level of his talent. I’m man enough to say that shit. He shocked and surprised me.

Ismael: Amalgam Digital was successful in promoting and releasing your album in just a week. Do you see any benefit of going to a major again, or is that completely dead for your career?

Saigon: For me to go back to a major they would have to break the bank and back the money truck up so much that it would be an offer I could not refuse. They want too much for the little bit they give you. Nobody is gonna give you a million dollar advance without feeling like they own you. The contracts are like 82 pages, and the one we care about is how much am I getting paid? What’s my advance? We don’t understand that it’s a loan, an advance on your royalties, and the money you’re gonna pay us back times 10!

Right now with these new 360 deals they want merchandising, publishing, touring, all that! And [they want] a percentage of your record royalties. So you’ll hardly make a dollar, especially with the climate of record sales now. You’ll never make no money. I’d rather build my fanbase and get my little 150,000 diehard fans that will keep supporting me. I’ll rock out with them. Then I’ll gain more and more. The best form of promotion is word of mouth. You keep hearing about something, it’ll arise your curiosity to check it out.

“When Kanye beat 50 in that sales thing, Hip-Hop went all the way hipster. That pretty much put the end to the gangster shit. [The labels] were like, “Oh he beat 50! Let’s sign a bunch of bootleg Kanyes!”

Ismael: For years critics and fans have said that Hip-Hop albums would benefit more from the one producer-one artist model. You’ve been one of the few to actually put that theory into practice. What is your overall stance on this idea?

Saigon: I believe in the overall cohesiveness of an album. All the greatest albums aside from Illmatic and Ready To Die were overseen by one producer, like RZA with all the Wu Tang albums, Premier with Gang Starr, and Dr. Dre with Snoop. To have that cohesiveness on an album and not just bunch of songs, you need that same guy to oversee the project. You get more bang out of an album like that. A lot of people just take 10 songs and throw them together and call it an album. One song don’t got nothing to do the other song, and them shits don’t last long.

Ismael: You’ve always been a critic of the misogyny in Hip-Hop directed against minority women and Black on Black violence. Do you see that changing in Hip-Hop this year and beyond with the influx of a lot of alternative and avant-garde MCs?

Saigon: I see it changing but I’m not sure how impactful that new sound [will be]. One thing I don’t like about the new era of rap is that it’s almost too sensitive. A man still has to be masculine to an extent. We have to differentiate men from women. When you can’t do that no more, we have issues.

It doesn’t have anything to do with homosexuality. When men go overboard with fashion and caring about how they look, how they dress, and get manicures and pedicures, that’s a little overboard. What’s the next group of young men going be like if all we have to look up to are these metrosexual men? Who’s going raise the next generation of strong warriors? Because we’re going to need warriors.

That’s what I hate about the marketing aspect of music. It’s become more about marketing, gimmicks, and promotion then the actual music. It’s more about [an artist’s] hairstyle and what he had on. It’s becoming like Hollywood almost and it was never like that. Corporate America is sucking it dry and they’re not going to let go until there’s nothing left in it. It’s up to us to take back the music.

I like to use the analogy of slavery times. Before we were taught how to read and write, we would communicate through drums. That was Hip-Hop in its early stages before they realized they could promote, market and sell it. Once it became corporate, all the artistic value in it became diluted.

Ismael: A good example of your point would be De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. They were considered alternative MCs but there was never any doubt about their manhood.

Saigon: Exactly! Especially De La Soul because they did their thing but would be the first guys to pound you out. People didn’t realize. They don’t come off as aggressive, but they demanded your respect. So when a person can come off like that, I respect it.

There’s got to be a balance in everything. It wasn’t just all Native Tongue shit. If you like more hardcore you still had your N.W.A, Eazy-E, and Kool G. Rap. It wasn’t all one way or else. That’s what it’s become now. Ok, this is the in thing, [and] everybody has to do it because it works.

Three, four years ago it was gangsta, gangsta, gangsta. Now the gangsta shit is played out. You come as a gangster no one wants to hear you. Again, when you’re dealing with record companies they’re only going to focus on what’s working at the moment. When Kanye beat 50 in that sales thing, Hip-Hop went all the way hipster. That pretty much put the end to the gangster shit. [The labels] were like, “Oh he beat 50! Let’s sign a bunch of bootleg Kanyes!”

Ismael: Let’s talk about the song on the album you have called “The Reason.” You give respect to the pioneers but also mention points where you feel they made career mistakes. You referenced the song Rakim did with Jody Watley [Ed. Note: 1989’s “Friends”]….

Saigon: [sings] Frieeends will let you down!

Ismael: Good memory! When you look at this generation of Hip-Hop, especially in New York, this is the first time where the older guard has yet to be pushed out by the younger MCs. So, it is the older guard that is carrying the music. Do you think this is due to label politics against the newer MCs?

Saigon: Absolutely! They’re gonna milk it until it’s dry. If you have an artist that you know will sell you at least a certain amount, you’re always going to put him before a new guy you’re not sure of. That’s not the smart thing, but that’s what they do. If you keep giving the same thing over and over, where’s the change and growth? If a fucking caterpillar never turned into a butterfly he’d be a furry fucking worm his whole life. You got to evolve. They’re going to keep milking these artists until they’re no longer any good to them. And then they’re going to say, “Oh shit, but fuck it we got our money.” They don’t care about the culture.

Ismael: If you had to select a new generation of NY artists to take over for Nas and Jay, who would you select?

Saigon: I pick me, then Tru Life. I feel he can lock down the Latin market. He’s very dope. Even back to the Fat Boys, there’s always been a big Latino presence. They’ve been there since the very beginning of Hip-Hop. He can hold down the Fat Joe/Big Pun spot. I figure…hmmm…damn New York ain’t got that much to offer. I think Sha Stimuli is dope and can get a spot. Maino would be the goon, super goon. We need a fly, flashy motherfucker to be the new Jay. There’s no one replacing him at the moment. I like Uncle Murda. I’m also liking this kid Nino Bless. I’m really liking Jay Electronica even though he’s not from New York. He’d definitely get a spot.

Ismael: Do you think Hip-Hop has evolved, or rather devolved away from female MCs?

Saigon: Oh yeah, the female element is lacking right now because it became all about sex. It goes back to whole label thing with marketing. All the female rappers just became sex symbols. They’ve become porn stars or strippers that rap. Back in the day you had Nikki D, MC Lyte, these girls were fully dressed and really rapping. Salt N’ Pepa was as sexy as it was getting back then. And they were a really talented group.

The artistic part is suffering so much. That why I’d like to see where it goes from here. When you can blatantly copycat and bite somebody’s shit and get no flack for it, that’s almost like snitching. Biting in Hip-Hop was like snitching in the gangster world. To call yourself a gangster and you are a snitch is like calling yourself an MC and biting somebody’s style. There’s a sign on the door no biting allowed. I can’t stress that enough. Remember “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’?” [Recites] “You have emcees coming out sounding so similar/It’s quite confusing for you remember/The originator/And boy do I hate a /Perpetrator/But I’m much greater.”

You weren’t allowed to just bite somebody’s shit! Look how many people copied the auto-tune shit. I give T-Pain the credit because he was the only one doing it at the time, but now it’s hard to get away from it. That’s called biting.

Ismael: Do you have a set date when you’ll drop Warning Shots 2?

Saigon: Warning Shots 2 is coming in late June, early July. We’re going to start working the single a little bit more, and give more of promotional push than this one got. There is a buying population for my music so we’re going to start working the single in April and take it from there.

Ismael: Everyone should be aware that late last year you celebrated the birth of your daughter. How has that affected the direction of your music and you as a person?

Saigon: Man, that had an affect on the way I’m taking my life. I’m 30 and I just had my first child. My life is not mine anymore. For 30 years, my only responsibility was to me. If I decided to jump off a building, sure my people would be sad, but there was no one depending on me. Now I have that with this little girl. This little girl is my whole world. Even the way I talk and treat women I have to be more cognizant of now because I wouldn’t want anyone to treat my daughter that way.

Ismael: Any final thoughts?

Saigon: I just want to thank everyone for the love for all these years. For years you’ve been riding for me. And for everyone that put my joint in the Top 5 [on iTunes], thank you, thank you very much. The best is yet to come. Look for the real album soon.

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