[EXCLUSIVE] Rapper Big Pooh Talks Kendrick Lamar, ‘The Art Of MCing, Little Brother Split & More
When you think “North Carolina Hip-Hop,” Rapper Big Pooh is one of several MCs that will come to mind. Not only for his lyrical gifts, but his undeniable place in the legacy of the state’s music scene (the well known Little Brother should ring a bell).
Many have tried their hand at transforming N.C. into the music mecca it seems to fall short of, but Pooh is one of the handful of artists that has even come close. It’s not just his butter-smooth lyricism, but also his unselfish perspective on the culture that has made him a staple for Hip-Hop devotees.
In his one-on-one with Hip-Hop Wired, the solo MC discusses the art of lyricism, the division in North Carolina Hip-Hop, his friendship with Kendrick Lamar and where he currently sits with his Little Brother partners 9th Wonder and Phonte.
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HipHopWired.com: What new projects or albums do you have in the works?
Rapper Big Pooh: I’m still promoting my current album, Dirty Pretty Things and I’m working on a few things. First up is gonna be the second installment of my Phat Boy Fresh series, Phat Boy Fresh Vol. 2. It’s almost entirely produced by a kid named Astronote out of Orleans, France. I have a couple other things in the works, I’m working on something for my birthday on February 12th, re-release a project on that day. A couple things I’m working on.
HipHopWired.com: How do you feel about your place in music right now?
Rapper Big Pooh: I think I’m in a weird space right now. I haven’t been here long enough to be put in the same class as Talib Kweli or Mos Def, but I’m not young enough to be with the new generation like a Kendrick Lamar, Wale…them guys. I’m kind of in the middle and I think I’ve always been caught in the middle. I’m a little too late, but a little too early. It’s also a good place because I get a lot of respect from my peers, guys that were before me and guys that came after me. I’m working hard to stay on people’s radar…especially the position I’m in, that’s what it’s all about. You got to continue to feed the people.
HipHopWired.com: How do you do that without over saturating the market with music?
Rapper Big Pooh: It’s definitely all about timing, I don’t even have the right math equation to tell you what’s the perfect time but I guess it’s about feeling. I put out my project Dirty Pretty Things November 1st. I’m kind of waiting to see when people, in my eyes, are ready for something else. There’s no way to calculate when to release music.
HipHopWired.com: Being in the music industry, it can be easy to get desensitized to its underlying value. Having been in the game for a while, what does music mean to you now verses when you first started rapping?
Rapper Big Pooh: It has definitely changed. When I first started I approached it with certain exuberance, being naïve and being younger and having a whole bunch of energy…I wasn’t tainted yet from being in the business. As of now, a lot has happened a lot of time has passed and I’ve released a lot of music. I still love it, but I have to sometimes remind myself to not focus so much on the game and the business of it…just go back and have fun. That’s where I get caught now, is doing the actual game and not being in the moment.
HipHopWired.com: How do you keep your passion fresh? How do you keep from a monotonous routine?
Rapper Big Pooh: Inspiration. Just like this Phat Boy Fresh Vol. 2, I didn’t even intend to do anything that quickly. I was going to the studio and doing verses for various people and doing different features…I was just sitting I the studio one day and the kid Astronote hit me up and sent me some stuff and I was just inspired to go. In a weeks period I had [finished] four songs. I kept that momentum going and let that inspiration take over.
I learned that when you try to calculate you end up over-calculating, so I just try to be in the moment and try to let inspiration take over. That cures the monotony of Okay, I gotta make this type of record or I gotta make sure it does this. Instead of doing that, I just [make music]. I let it be what it’s going to be.
HipHopWired.com: As an artist, you seem to have looked up to NY MC’s as far as inspiration…I know Nas has been a huge influence for you, why is that?
Rapper Big Pooh: I’m based out of NC but I was born and raised in VA. It didn’t have its own scene, and New York was where everything was coming from. That was some of my first experiences with Hip-Hop. I’m definitely a fan of music from all over but New York was how I was introduced to Hip-Hop. There’s favoritism towards New York Hip-Hop, it was just the stories. It ended up taking place even when I became a fan of NWA, UGK, Outkast…the stories. You hearing about these different places and what goes on, it’s so magnetizing.
It’s even extra when you actually go to these places. I remember the first time I went to New York. I didn’t go for the first time until 2001 maybe. Just riding across the GW bridge into the city, listening to Mobb Deep…nothing like it. I started having those experiences when I began to travel and it made me more of a fan being able to see some of these places. New York was the beginning for me, that’s where it all started for me.
HipHopWired.com: You mentioned a few already, but what southern MC’s have most influenced you?
Rapper Big Pooh: Outkast, UGK, Ghetto Boys, I was a fan of early Rap-A-Lot. I was a fan of 8ball & MJG, those are definitely some of the artists that I grew up listening to.
HipHopWired.com: Where do you look to for inspiration when he and maybe some other artists who may have inspired you don’t release music as consistently or don’t have the same presence within the public eye?
Rapper Big Pooh: I was re-energized after doing some work with TDE out of the West Coast. Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, SchoolBoy Q and AB-Soul. Just being around them, you pick up some of the energy that they have. That’s inspiration. There are others like that but I have a personal connection with those guys so it’s a little different.
HipHopWired.com: At a earlier point in Kendrick Lamar’s career you two did a song together, “Thanksgiving.” Also, the first time he came to perform with SchoolBoy Q at Greene St. he brought you on stage at that point, did you know TDE would take off as fast as he did?
Rapper Big Pooh: No, I had no idea. It was crazy how we ended up connecting. This was back when Myspace still had a little pull. Their people hit me up on Myspace and they wanted myself and Phonte to do some work with Jay Rock. He was on Warner at the time, and I had went and did my research…I had never heard of them before so I went Googled them, heard a couple of songs, I liked what I heard so I hit them back, I was like Yo, I’m down.
Me and Phonte did some stuff for them, but I kept in touch with them. I ended up going out to L.A., I went to their studio and checked them out. That’s where I ended up meeting Kendrick and AB-Soul. SchoolBoy Q wasn’t part of the picture yet. That’s when I started hearing all the records that they had over there and I was a fan instantly. I kept in touch with them, and we were passing records back and forth. I made sure I always checked them out when I went their way and vise versa. We formed a working relationship and then we would just hit each other up like Yo, you good?
I had no idea what it was going to become, I didn’t know all this was going to happen I just saw the talent. I didn’t care what their names were, I just wanted to work with the talent. You can be MC Joe Blow with 10 fans…if I think you’re dope, I’m working with you.
HipHopWired.com: What do you see next for the NC Hip-Hop scene?
It’s in a weird place. They’re trying to re-create a scene again. There was a scene when we were first coming up as Little Brother, the scene was bubbling and then it fizzled out. They’re trying to re-create a scene again but it’s just fractured. As long as the scene is fractured and you have 10 or 15 different people trying to create 10 or 15 different scenes, there will never be a strong scene. Everybody wants to be the first to put North Carolina on as they say. It’s one of them things where the music scene reflects real life…as long as there is no true unity, it will never be as big as it could be.
HipHopWired.com: Why do you think that is?
Rapper Big Pooh: I don’t know honestly. We’re in the age of where people don’t like playing their position, they don’t like playing up to their strengths and people don’t like to be criticized. I’ve scene it within our own crew when we were coming up. It could be a thing of like Look dog, you are better at doing graphic design than you are at making music. If you just stick to graphic design we don’t have to go outside of our team to get graphics…ever…because you’re the man. But, that person who does the graphic designs wants to be an artist, so they’re not doing graphic design.
Then you have fraction within the circle and you taking money outside of the circle. That’s just one example but it happens so often. If something that small can affect it, the issues just get much bigger than that. The power is in numbers, until people realize that then the scene will always be what it is.
HipHopWired.com: As of now what’s your relationship like with 9th Wonder and Phonte?
Rapper Big Pooh: We don’t have a relationship. Not business or personal. I haven’t spoken to either one of them in awhile, it’s just a thing where it was time for me to walk my own way. I wish those guys the best, I see them, they’re doing shows together and putting out records together…I wish them the best because Little Brother is and will always be a part of my foundation. At the same time I had to step away and finally start taking care of me.
HipHopWired.com: You’re a judge for the MC battle that’s coming up, what do you pay attention to when you look to give a rising MC constructive criticism? What criteria do you have prepared?
Rapper Big Pooh: Part of it is feeling. A lot of people just think I got hot rhymes, so I’m nice and it’s like nah…it’s about the totality of a song. Can you make a song? You don’t have to be the best rapper to make a song. I’m looking for songs, I want to hear what the hook sounds like, I want to hear your ear for beats, I want to hear if you’re making sense. It’s [about] the total picture for me. I’m interested in hearing what a lot of these guys come up with.
HipHopWired.com: Is it challenging to give guidance to an artist who is in a different sub-genre? Like what if it’s a trap artist or an artist with a more commercial sound that comes to you for advice?
Rapper Big Pooh: I think it’s just going to depend on the artist, if they’re open to listen. True, I don’t make trap music or what people would deem commercial but I know a good song when I hear one. I’m not biased enough to believe that only people who make my type of music make good songs, I listen to everything.
I know it when I hear it and I can still analyze and point you in a better direction if what I’m hearing doesn’t compare with a Young Jeezy trap song, or compete with a Wiz Khalifa type of song. I know it, whether a person would believe it or not from the type of music I make. The artist just has to be willing and open to accept certain criticism.