Touted as the second coming of Big Pun, Brooklyn rapper, Joell Ortiz, has some big shoes to fill â€“ literally. One of many up and coming rappers in New York, Ortiz has already made a mark in the city with his Block Royal fam, particularly in the Spanish community. Set to drop his debut album, The Brick in April of 2007, Ortiz is looking to expand his fan base beyond NY. Recent links with Koch and Aftermath should help dude get recognized, but make sure you keep your eye on him. Already on a diet in preparation of his Aftermath release, by the time you see him on BET, he may have lost 50 pounds.
Format: How did your release on Koch Records materialize?
Joell Ortiz: We was talking to Koch before we were talking to Aftermath, so itâ€™s just the grind, doing all the SOB shows, doing all the underground things in New York or the Tri-State and people just gained wind of me through the street talk, the bars and whatever, and that got us a meeting with Conscious. He was still in music and we decided to drop an album.
“You could be a big nigga and make big cool, you could make 320-fuckin’-pounds feel fuckin’ like 140 when you walk in a spot.”
Format: Please explain your come-up in the rap game.
Joell Ortiz: I did an EA Sports battle with the people over at EA and Jermaine Dupri had sponsored it, and I won that battle. I only did one battle. I just came up in a hip-hop orientated area where everyone was rhyming and shit, in Greenpoint and the Williamsburg areas of Brooklyn, but I was mostly in the studio. I wasnâ€™t really doing the battle thing. I was trying to record and know how to get songs together.
Format: You have a track on NBA Live 2005, how did you get a track on that?
Joell Ortiz: Yeah, Iâ€™m on NBA Live 2005 that was a result of winning that battle, that EA battle.
Format: How did your homeboys react when they found out youâ€™re music is on a video game?
Joell Ortiz: They were buggin! I must of received hundreds of calls that day, â€˜You know youâ€™re on a video game!â€™ I was like, â€˜Yeah dude, I ainâ€™t going to tell dudes, but thatâ€™s whatâ€™s up.â€™ Theyâ€™re like, â€˜Yo, this shit is hot!â€™ It is called â€œMean Businessâ€ and even to this day, I do shows and theyâ€™re like, â€˜Yo, that was the hottest track on there.â€™ That was a good look.
“Oh man, Block Royal â€“ we run the city. We run New York, right now we run New York.”
Format: You used to play basketball, what position did you play?
Joell Ortiz: I was a point guard and the truest of them all, too. I was ridiculous. I was all-city. If I were to pursue that I could have went to C-ball, I had scholarship offers. I could of went to division one and see what happens from there, but my heart was in the pen and paper so I stuck it out with this.
Format: Please explain how you were linked up with Aftermath.
Joell Ortiz: A friend of mine over at Interscope named Karen had got a CD to Dr Dreâ€™s assistant over in L.A. and she called Karen back and was like, â€˜Yo, Dre really liked Joell, like Dre is really feeling the CD.â€™ Karen didnâ€™t think nothing of it, she was like, â€˜Oh thatâ€™s cool.â€™ Dreâ€™s assistant is like, â€˜No, no, no, you donâ€™t understand. Heâ€™s feeling it, feeling it. He wants Joell to fly out and meet him!â€™ Two days after that I flew out and met Dre. Shit, it was a wrap from there! We spoke, he said, â€˜I really want to be brief, I just flew you out to make sure you werenâ€™t a knucklehead and if you want to be on Aftermath, welcome to Aftermath.â€™ Eight years of grinding for a ten minute meeting!
“Big Pun was huge in my community. Big Pun was huge in every hip-hop community â€“ Big Pun was just huge, literally, and everything else!”
Format: Youâ€™re compared to Big Pun. Explain how it is to be a Puerto Rican rapper in America.
Joell Ortiz: It is good. They say, â€˜Yo this guy Ortiz â€“ the Puerto Rican thing is moving, yo the nigga is like Big Pun, because heâ€™s Spanish and heâ€™s kind of chubby or whatever and his flow is crazy.â€™ Itâ€™s good in that way, because it is something to talk about and sometimes it bites me, because itâ€™s like, â€˜Yo, I ainâ€™t gonna front, that niggaâ€™s nice â€“ for a Spanish dude,â€™ you know what Iâ€™m saying, because there is still an invisible wall up for Puerto Ricansâ€“just for Latinos, in generalâ€“that weâ€™re still trying to chip away. Hip-hop is predominantly black for so long that it ainâ€™t going to happen over night â€“ Iâ€™m glad to partake in this revolution.
Format: Can you explain what Big Pun meant for your community?
Joell Ortiz: Big Pun was huge in my community. Big Pun was huge in every hip-hop community â€“ Big Pun was just huge, literally, and everything else! The nigga Pun was the man, dude. When he passed away it was like the old dude passed away. Like, Pun was the first rapper that I saw people lighting candles on the corner for. He didnâ€™t grow up over here, but weâ€™re putting candles up with his picture. It was like somebody in your hood that you knew all your life passed away, but it also brought us together, so even in an event that was tragic, he made something larger happen. February 8, Iâ€™m performing at his memorial. His wife called my boy Mike and lined it up. Iâ€™ll be headlining at his memorial and itâ€™s going to be incredible. Iâ€™ve done so many shows it doesnâ€™t even make sense, Iâ€™ve done Summer Jam out here in New York, 25,000 in The Garden and I donâ€™t care how many people show up for this, because itâ€™s going to mean something other than music.
Format: In your opinion, what are the challenges in being the first Puerto Rican rapper on Aftermath, that so happens to sound similar Big Pun?
Joell Ortiz: You know what, things could have been a lot worse in my life, so for millions of people to be talking about me Iâ€™m OK with it. Once they get the music, theyâ€™ll have a favorite song on there. Theyâ€™ll say, â€˜Number ten is my joint.â€™ They wonâ€™t say, â€˜Number tenâ€™s my joint, because itâ€™s a Spanish dude from Dre.â€™
Format: Do you have any ideas for the title of your Aftermath record?
Joell Ortiz: Iâ€™m thinking about Before And Aftermath, because Iâ€™m about to get seriously, seriously, toned-up and cut-up like gym-wise, so Iâ€™m gonna have my before pictures and my after pictures â€“ Before And Aftermath.
Format: How do you plan to get cut?
Joell Ortiz: Iâ€™m going on the motherfuckinâ€™ zone diet, motherfuckinâ€™ clean food in the crib, I got a treadmill, Iâ€™m getting focused. I got ladies that are gonna grab on me now. They already grab me, but now theyâ€™re gonna try and pull me in. Iâ€™m doing this thing for a couple reasons, because number one reason is to stay healthy. Ask anybody that gets a chance to drop a record or any kind of big break in their like, theyâ€™re obviously blessed and you want to prosper when you get that blessing, thatâ€™s the Lord saying, â€˜Yo dude, I gave you something, I put you hear for something, donâ€™t waste it away.â€™
“A lot of my friends live within a 20 block radius, they don’t get to see nothing outside of 20 blocks.”
Format: Out of all the music industries, the rap industry has the most overweight people in it. As a rapper, why is it so easy to live large?
Joell Ortiz: What it is, is that rap is â€“ the culture always is outgoing, like bam! So you could be a big nigga and make big cool, you could make 320-fuckinâ€™-pounds feel fuckinâ€™ like 140 when you walk in a spot, like damn. Itâ€™s all a swagger, itâ€™s all a smoke and mirror game â€“ itâ€™s an image. Niggas be feeling like, â€˜Hey I got a record in rotation, these chicks are still on my dick, because of who I am,â€™ so that donâ€™t even cross their mind, thatâ€™s them. Theyâ€™re in their zone, they got their shades on, a pocket full of money â€“ most of the time, not even money â€“ these niggas are swiping at the bar â€“ not even at the bar, in the V.I.P. â€“ getting bottles tipped over, the baddest bitches are wanting to come over; those niggas donâ€™t have a reason to want to look healthy, theyâ€™re alright with that. Me, Iâ€™m like, shit, let me add another 10 or 15 years to my life.
Format: How did you grow up in your youth?
Joell Ortiz: I grew up with a single mom, my pops had jetted when I was like two or three. I donâ€™t want it to sound like the regular story that everybody says, you know â€“ â€˜I grew up without a dad,â€™ but yeah, my pops jetted when I was like two or three. Me and mom-dukes was in the projects on our own for a while and she was kind of crazy â€“ my moms was in the street for a while doing the get high thing, or whatever, and I was just holding it up, getting my good grades. But, me and my mom both pulled through, and Iâ€™m proud of both of us.
“Showbiz is one of the humblest figures you could meet”
Format: What are the topics that you like to rap about?
Joell Ortiz: I rap about true things that happened in my life or true things that Iâ€™ve seen. Most of the time, itâ€™s not really happy. I donâ€™t really make happy songs, because my life, early on, wasnâ€™t really happy. It was really struggle and gutter. And, being the only child in the projects I grew up around blacks all my life â€“ that was expected and stuff, but you know, [it was] back against the wall type stuff. Thatâ€™s the kind of music youâ€™re really going to hear, predominantly dark music, but you know, shit, in years progression when I start seeing money, you might hear some happy shit!
Format: As a Puerto Rican rapper, do you feel that you have a responsibility to the Puerto Rican community?
Joell Ortiz: Responsibility to a degree, not responsibility like if I donâ€™t make it happen, shit, thatâ€™s the end of my community. But, I have a responsibility â€“ I got to see to it that I make it for them. It is a responsibility for me, not to everyone else. It is responsible to me that I give my community the look, and show them that you can come up out of the shit that I came out of life. There are ways out. Youâ€™re not trapped out on the corner, man. A lot of my friends live within a 20 block radius, they donâ€™t get to see nothing outside of 20 blocks. I want to show motherfuckers that theyâ€™re boys from the projects and can take this whole shit around the world.
“There is still an invisible wall up for Puerto Ricans â€“ just for Latinos, in general â€“ that we’re still trying to chip away.”
Format: Has your success brought give-me-something-friends to your doorstep?
Joell Ortiz: Youâ€™re gonna always get that. I donâ€™t care what youâ€™re successful at. You get the small ones, too, that donâ€™t have their handout, but play you closer than they ever played you in your life â€“ like stand beside you. But, you got to know how to see it and see who can benefit. I have no problems giving people a job, because that is the right thing to do, but handouts donâ€™t happen, because this wasnâ€™t handed out to me. This was an eight year, ten year grind for me. I had to go out and earn it, so you have to earn, too. Shit, if youâ€™re really my boy go help me put these fuckinâ€™ fliers up, come support me at the club â€“ there are other ways to get something, to earn something. The handout thing ainâ€™t going to do it. Iâ€™ll probably just give you a pound and be like, â€˜Whatâ€™s good, nigga?â€™
Format: Who are some of the producers you worked with on The Brick?
Joell Ortiz: I got Alchemist, Premier is on the joint, Showbiz is on the joint, my man V.I.C. (Victor Padilla).
Format: For some rappers, working with established producers is monumental, how was your experience with the producers?
Joell Ortiz: It was ill, because Showbiz is one of the humblest figures you could meet, like he doesnâ€™t show much emotion, heâ€™s like a real serious, humble dude, but it was a good vibe. He came in, he played his shit and I was like, â€˜Damn, that shit is hard.â€™ Heâ€™s like, â€˜You like this one? Cool.â€™ I actually two-tracked it â€“ for those who donâ€™t know what two-tracking is, it is like when you rap over the actual beat, but he didnâ€™t come in and play it. So I two-tracked it and I was like, â€˜Show, I did it,â€™ heâ€™s like, â€˜Say no more, Iâ€™ll be there this week.â€™ He came in so professional, that shit is crazy, came in and laid the beat down and got out of there. And Alchemist, Alchemist gave me one of my first beats when I was just a kid in `98, in a studio in Queens, so that was pretty easy, he knows my people, he knows who I work with. He got wind of the fact that I was on Aftermath and on Koch and heâ€™s like, â€˜I definitely have to do something for this dude.â€™ That was easy, too and heâ€™s another humble kid.
Format: There are a large amount of rappers on Koch Records. Does Koch ever try to combine Koch rappers on records?
Joell Ortiz: Koch is probably one of the labels that knows how to separate everybody the best, without everyone feeling separated. There is no talk of collaborations, but if you bump into somebody in the building, itâ€™s like, â€˜Whatâ€™s good!â€™ They pretty much make everyone run their own race. They donâ€™t develop you. Koch is like, â€˜Yo, he has his own movement, damn I think we can do something with him, lets see if he can put something out with us.â€™ Koch attaches itself to people that are already moving. That is why you donâ€™t hear about no up and coming dudes on Koch, you have established names. Theyâ€™re real good at what they do: getting a new record together, getting it in some ill places and getting some ill looks. So, I big-up Koch, but they havenâ€™t been talking about no collaborations. Iâ€™m pretty sure theyâ€™re really set on letting everyone run their own race.
Format: Explain the collaboration between you and Akon.
Joell Ortiz: Well, Akon â€“ the name of my squad is called Block Royal and Akon is Block Royal. Akonâ€™s manager, Screw, rest in peace, was killed about two joints ago, maybe two and a half years ago and that shit really divided Akon from all of us, because he had to have new management and kept on with SRC [SRC/ Universal] but he was a really close player with us a Block Royal. So, when I hollered at him it wasnâ€™t nothing crazy, it was just like, â€˜Hell yeah!â€™ Akon is family and we bump heads in the spot, it is all love.
“Once they get the music, theyâ€™ll have a favorite song on there. Theyâ€™ll say, â€˜Number ten is my joint.â€™ They wonâ€™t say, â€˜Number tenâ€™s my joint, because itâ€™s a Spanish dude from Dre.â€™”
Format: Can you tell me about Block Royal?
Joell Ortiz: Oh man, Block Royal â€“ we run the city. We run New York, right now we run New York. There is nobody that can get deeper in the club than us, there is nobody making more noise, the radio, give me a second, Iâ€™ll have that on a clamp. But, right now, the city life, the club nights, plus any DJ that fall in love with our movement â€“ Block Royal is the deepest in the city, right now. Weâ€™re just taking it in stride. Once Koch starts pushing the buttons and Dre makes those phone calls Iâ€™ll be all over the radio standing out outrageously. I get my looks now, because the DJs are already fans of my music. This is before people start working the radio, making the calls, taking people out for dinners behind the scene â€“ theyâ€™re already loving me. I get more spins than anybody without a major push. Block Royal, weâ€™re doing a hell of a job over there.
Format: Do you feel that there is a bias at major New York radio stations like Hot 97, to only push certain kinds of rappers?
Joell Ortiz: No, itâ€™s not a bias. I wouldnâ€™t say itâ€™s a biasness, I would say itâ€™s a comfort zone and normalcy. Itâ€™s really normal, they go really normal rappers like the new Blahzay Blah is coming out so youâ€™re on it and some dudes go with the wind, like when the wind starts blowing they blow out there and help it go along. Some dudes donâ€™t want to lead the change. But a couple people defy them, lighting a match over here and over there and before you know it, it will be wildfires â€“ Iâ€™m real patient with that. It ainâ€™t bias, everybody knows everybody. The record labels are walking in with the same guys most of the time so theyâ€™re scared to go, but it will happen.
More Info: http://www.joellortiz.com