Rapper Big Pooh
I was recently given the distinct privilege of interviewing rapper Big Pooh, formerly of Little Brother, and currently of, well, himself. With host of albums and projects released both with Little Brother, and as a solo artist, this veteran of the hip hop game has more than a few pieces of advice the up and comer should hear, as well as enough insightful, humorous information to make even the most jaded of hip hop heads crack a smile. He delves into the internet age of hip hop, who you should be listening to right now (besides him, of course), and his new project with producer Nottz. Fuck with it.
So, if it’s possible, for people who apparently don’t listen to music, and somehow don’t know, tell me who you are, where you’re from, and a little bit about what you do.
The name is rapper Big Pooh. Coming out of North Carolina. Been doing this for the past decade, plus, if you remember the group Little Brother. Released four albums with Little Brother, and I’ve released three, four, one, two, three, four – five albums solo, as a solo artist just under rapper Big Pooh. Worked with some of your favorite rappers, some of the biggest rappers. …and that’s me.
What do you think of hip hop and its current state? …and by that I mean, as someone who’s a key player in the more underground scene, but more of an observer in the mainstream shit, what are your thoughts on the game as a whole?
I just think right now hip hop is at a place, it’s kind of been at this cross roads for awhile now where – it’s not so much – a lot of people do the ‘bring real hip hop back’ and things of that nature, but I just think that now, what hip hop really needs is a sense of accountability more than anything. We’re starting to kind of get that, and some of the younger cats coming up who are doing their research. They know the architects, and they know the history of hip hop, and I think that’s probably what was missing the most from hip hop. I don’t really mind people who want to make dance songs, and they want to do that type of rap, but it’s room for everybody, but I think the thing that’s was really missing was the accountability, and people knowing the history of where this came from. The reason why it’s lanes for you is because the person that came before you and the person that came before them, and so forth and so on. So where the game is now, is just in the place where a lot of young kids are coming up and they understand the history a little better. A part of that falls on the older cats as well. We got to be willing to reach back and bridge that gap and teach the history of this genre of music. So, that’s just kind of where I see hip hop at right now.
What are your thoughts on rap stereotypes?
I mean a rap stereotype is like any other stereotype, to be honest. If you don’t take the time to do the research, which most people don’t, then that’s all you think of. It is what you see. What’s put in front of you, I say. That’s kind of how it is, so most people, all they know is what they hear on the radio and what they see on TV, so that’s what they think it is. When that’s far from the reality. I know, me personally, I don’t smoke. I don’t talk about women crazy. I talk about relationships in my songs, but they’re not really a bunch of misogynistic records, and things of that nature. So, a person that sees me, and I got tattoos, and I look the part, but when you actually listen to my songs, you’re seeing something different. You know what I’m saying? So it’s just, like I said, one of them things where rap stereotypes is the same as any type of stereotype, unless you take the time to do the research yourself and gain the knowledge, you’re going to believe what’s put in front of you. Most people believe what’s put in front of them. When what’s put in front of them don’t even represent of even 25% of what’s really out there.
Speaking of what people see, what people hear on the radio, what people see on TV, and what not. …do you think someone has to go that route? That sort of stereotypical route to reach mainstream audiences? Do you think that’s necessary?
I don’t. I mean I tell young cats when I work with them all the time, to make it in this business, it’s a few different routes you can take, but it all depends on you. …and what you’re actually trying to achieve. Obviously, if you think this the lottery and you’re looking to get rich quick, you’re going to take that route, if that’s what you see as successful. But that’s the problem with a lot of people, is that they allow others to determine or to define what success is to them. They don’t really define what success is to themselves. So, I think you definitely can be successful on the mainstream level by doing you. Then even defining what mainstream level is, like why the kids go wild when I tell them a guy like Tech 9 actually made more money than a lot of their favorite rappers last year. They’re wild, like, “what do you mean?” Like, “yeah, he’s getting more money than your favorite rappers, so…” It’s just a thing of, a lot of people get mainstream fame confused with success or wealth, when that’s really not the case a lot of times. So, like I said, it’s about defining what success is to you and moving on from there. Then from there, you can have some type of success, but you don’t have to necessarily give into what you think people want to hear instead of just doing what is true to you.
What does it mean, in this day and age, to be a rapper, when everyone calls themselves a rapper?
It definitely doesn’t mean what it used to mean. I used to tell this joke all the time. We had this inside joke where we’d be like, you go and tell somebody, you know, some older person – they ask, “What you do?” and I say, “I make music.” and they say, “what kind of music?” Anytime you say you’re a musician, they automatically assume, for an older person, that you play an instrument. So, they’d be like like, “What do you play?” and I say, “I don’t play anything, I rap.” “Oh yeah, my nephew, or my son’s friend JJ from around the corner, he rap too.” At that time, it really came where it was like everybody raps, you know? Everybody’s a rapper. So, you got to kind of weed out the guys from around the corner, from the professionals. I call myself, I started to call myself a professional, and a lot of people say, “what you mean? I mean if my man, he rap too, he’s a professional.” I’m like nah, I’m a real professional. I’ve actually been on these dates around the country, around the world. I’ve had my CD in stores. I’ve been in buildings where millions of dollars come through because of this industry. It’s a difference. This is not the JJ from around the corner. So, I mean to be a rapper is kind of – like one of them things now is like where you hear “yeah I’m a rapper too.” I’m like, ahh, okay. That whole thing has been watered down because so many people, as I eluded to earlier, they look at it as a lottery. It’s like “yeah, I’m going to get on TV and I’m going to make a lot of money.” They think it happens overnight, when most of the people they see on TV, it took them the better part of 10 years to get where they actually are at this point. It’s just one of them things where perception has turned into reality. So people perceive things to be one way, and they believe that’s really reality.
We all know in this day and age the internet plays a huge role in music, especially I feel like hip hop almost more so than other kinds of music. What role do you think the internet plays in hip hop? Specifically in regards to you, and in general.
I always said that the internet was a gift and curse of music, especially for this genre of music, the hip hop genre. The gifts is, you’re able to cut out the middle man, so you can go directly to those that support you. You can feed them directly. They can support you directly. You can talk to them directly. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s kind of what artists should be using the internet for. Like Talib Kweli, his new album, you had to go to his site to get his new album. Not iTunes, not Best Buy. You had to go to his site to get it, and that’s dope. You really find out who really rocking with you and who not, through that course of action, so that’s one of the gifts. Another gift is it allowed you to not have to go through the archaic channels of having to come out on the major labels. So you know that was a gift. But there’s a lot of curses that come with the internet as well. Now there’s no longer any type of quality filter. You can just start making music tomorrow and put something out, and it can become big, not because it’s good, but because it’s so bad that people would, instead of playing albums, pointing people in the direction of something they like, everybody points people in the direction of something they laughing at. That joke can be turned into something that gets out of control, and then you have people trying to mimic that joke now because they saw it succeeded on that level. So you have things like that popping up, and you have people who, in turn, become lazy. I think they believe the internet is their way out, so they don’t have to do the other things that come with becoming an artist. You’re going to have to a show where only 10-15 people are going to show up. You’re going to have to put out records and try to get people in your area to listen to your record. They think that, “I’m on the internet. I can get the whole world to listen at one time.” It don’t work that way. So the internet, it definitely helped and assisted, but with all the good stuff it’s done, it’s definitely done a lot of harm to the culture as well.
I know as a single women, I’d be pissed if people constantly asked me about an ex-boyfriend. It’s like, I’m not with that person anymore, stop asking about that shit. I don’t care how good a couple we were, we’re over. So. …do you get tired of being asked about Little Brother? Especially in terms of drama around Little Brother.
I mean, no. It’s one of them things we definitely, I think – it gets frustrating for the simple fact that people would rather pay attention to that, or focus on that, as opposed to things I’m doing currently. I know I can only speak for me on this front. That’s probably the most frustrating thing that comes in to play. I mean, it’s definitely a compliment, to some extent, because it lets you know that – or you hope that you made that type of effect on people, that they never want to forget it. In musical terms, that’s dope. That’s probably one of the biggest compliments you could have, but when you’ve continued on, and with being apart, and you’ve continued on, and people still want to focus on that, that portion of your career, that becomes very frustrating from time to time. You know, and then as far as just the negative, the drama or whatever, I tell people – and they just think answers are going change, but I tell people all the time we’re a family. Even though we may not talk, we may be estranged, that’s still family.
What happens inside of my family going to stay inside of my family. I’m not going be the one that who tries to get a little 5-10 minutes of fame speaking about the drama that went on inside of the family. When I know when that 5-10 minutes is over people are going to forget about me. I’d rather they come and holla at me because of a dope song I put out, or a dope video I put out, or an artist I helped develop, as opposed to being on for 5-10 minutes of gossip. That’s super wack to me. So, that’s the only really frustrating thing about the continued questions. I’ve definitely learned and do a better job now of ignoring a lot of the questions. I was just having fun with it, as opposed to trying to continuously say the same thing over and over again.
I find that when people have a really deep attachment to either a musical project or a group or a musician or whatever, it’s really hard for them to let go. They can’t put shit in perspective.
Nah. It’s crazy, me and my man was just discussing that, in life, people expect you to grow, mature, develop – but in music, they expect you to stay the same forever. It’s like that’s just damn near impossible if you’re really an artist. If you’re just somebody out there cashing checks, you can just do the same thing over and over again. But if you’re a true artist, you can’t stay the same because as you change and mature and develop as a person, your music would change and develop with you. It’s crazy how people look at it. They still want me to do things as if it’s 2005, or 2003 all over again. I’m like, “dude, that’s eight years ago.” I was in my early 20’s, now I’m in my mid 30’s. It’s impossible. Impossible.
It breaks down to the fact that a lot of people feel like, as an artist, one, we’re not humans. …and then two, even though we’ve given so much, they still feel like we owe them. “I paid this amount for your album so you owe me whatever I want.” It’s like, nah, it don’t work that way. It’s not what this experience is. I think that’s entitlement, and one of the curses of the internet age is entitlement. Now they feel like they entitled to all their information all the time. Back in ’93, ’94, we was just happy to get whatever information we got.
I mean, I ain’t feel like Wu Tang owed me an explanation when they decided, in 1997, they were goning start making all these solo albums and wasn’t gonna put out another group album for awhile. They didn’t owe me no explanation, you know what I’m saying? It was the information that I was given, and it’s like, “hey, this is what I got.” So, that’s another curse of the internet age.
See, that’s what you think. I was sending Ghost Face letters like, “hey what’s going on?”
So the Purple Tape – always been a favorite of mine. I love Black. I love you. Such a good collaboration. What’s your favorite project of yours so far?
I don’t even know. I’ve released – and it’s not that I believe it’s my best project or anything like that, but I think Fat Boy Fresh Volume 3 is probably my favorite project. Not because it’s the latest, but I think it’s because of the fun I had when we were making it, like The Listening. I was able to get a little of that back making this project. All of my other projects I made, I had an intention. I went into with some sort of intent. I was trying to prove something to somebody, or myself. I was trying to make records that felt like this and that, I was under certain restraints. So the Happy Birthday Thomas, that was me, the producer the Mighty DR, my DJ, my new engineer. That was just us in the room, having fun, making records, and I hadn’t had fun like that making records since we made The Listening. It just brought me back. I think the album brought me back to that time because that was innocence in making music. Once you’ve been exposed to the industry, you lose that innocence. But, that was just fun – that collaborative effort in the studio, doing records, collaborating on making records better. I think that was probably my favorite project to this day, was that record, for that reason.
What does 2014 hold for you?
I mean, there’s more music. Me and Nottz, we’re getting close to finishing up our collaborative album. We’re trying to actually finish it up by the end of this month, middle of next month, so it’s finally about ready for release. Our colleague had another EP come out late in the year, and I signed a two album, two project agreement with Mello Music Group, home of Odyssey and Apollo Brown. So, we’re getting those projects ready. I’m actually in the process of trying to sign my first artist, production wise. So, we trying to get that settled and once we get that settled then I’ll be getting him ready to go. Ready to come back and do something special for everybody.
Who influenced you? Initially, and currently? …and what are you listening to now that still influences you?
That’s a funny question. Actually, these days, I don’t really listen to as much music as I used to for different reasons. But I still listen to people I was listening to coming up. I still go back. I actually prefer to go back and listen to older albums. It’s almost like studying what made them great in my eyes. So I go back and listen to old Nas albums. I go back and listen to old Roots albums. I listen to old Mos Def albums. I think I spend a lot more time doing that than anything. Last week I was listening to a bunch of old Erick Sermon, just to hear what he was doing production wise, and what made it special. Why was I attracted to it? So, I spend a lot of time doing that, and that is really what has influenced me lately, is just listening to them older records and figuring out what made them special.
So nobody new? Nobody new you’re fucking with?
I mean I fuck with some new cats now. Everybody know I fuck with Kendrick, been fucking with him for a minute. School – the whole TDE movement. Fuck with Smoke DZA. Just some of those new cat like that, I definitely, when they put stuff out, and I try to peep it. I mean for the most part though, I’m an old listener. I try to keep up. It’s hard for me to keep up really. There’s so much music coming out. Like on the daily, people be asking me, “yo, you heard this?” Somebody asked me you heard the Chance The Rapper joint yet? …and I was like “nah.” He was like “What?” I don’t listen to music like that. Even like artists like J Cole, I didn’t hear of him until the mixtape he put out before his first album came out. That’s when I first listened to him. Big Krit, I didn’t hear him until his first mixtape. Not his first, but his second or third mixtape is when I really started with Big Krit. So I don’t listen to a lot of when people come out. That shit is just damn near impossible for me. So I definitely try to keep my ear to the street and check for the new cats, but I know I’ll end up hearing about them a little later, like most people.
What do you love about hip hop? …and what do you not love about hip hop?
I think what I love about hip hop the most is, for me, it’s a release. I mean, with the freedom, love, expression. It’s almost like therapy for me. I’m able to write down things that I’m feeling, things that I’m going through. Then have people that I don’t even know, and never met, relate to a lot of the same things. I think that’s what I love about hip hop the most as an artist, is being able to express something, and strangers, essentially, are able to relate to that story that the artist is telling. One of the things I hate about hip hop is, well, now, the sense of entitlement. People don’t think they have to pay dues. Once again. because perception has become reality. Everybody thinks things happen overnight, and because I rap, I’m supposed to be rich and I’m supposed to be on TV and things of that nature. Just that entitlement, it ruins careers before they even get a chance to start because you feel that as soon as you write your first verse, you’re supposed to be famous. Like I said, a lot of these cats, they be working for the greater part of 10 years to achieve their dream, but you never hear of them until they emerged, as opposed to when they first started. But everybody thinks that, if I start tomorrow, by Monday I’m supposed to be famous. That’s one of the things that I really dislike about hip hop.
What do you see as your place in hip hop now?
I think I’m beginning to see my place. It was real cloudy for awhile, I really wasn’t sure, but I think my place now is just more as an elder and really helping the younger guys start their careers in the right way. A lot of cats, they get up on stage and perform. I think my place now, I’m really seeing that my place is becoming – helping others achieve their dreams. Helping others getting on the right path career wise, as far as music is concerned. I think that’s where I’m probably going to have my biggest influence in my lifetime in music – is going to be helping others as opposed to being in front of the camera or on the mic. I think it’s going be behind the scenes.
What do you think one can do to keep themselves stay relevant, but also authentic in this genre?
Well, I think as an artist it’s about connecting with – once you find out who you are, and you stick to who you are, I think it’s just about finding ways to connect with your audience. Sometimes your audience ain’t going to be a million people, it may only be 10,000 people, but you got to find a way to connect and find who those 10,000 people are. That’s the whole point, I mean, I ain’t going to front, it took me a long time to even realize that. “Yo, I just got to find out who my audience is. I got to find out who are those people that – who are those people I speak for? Who are those people I’m speaking to?” …and find them. Find ways to connect with them on a different level. Once I do that, I’ll always be good. Like, I’ll always have some success in music. That’s the key to it, is just finding who you’re speaking to and who you want to speak to – and find them and then stay connected with them.
So that begs the question, who is your audience?
I think my audience is people who, you know, young professionals, people who grew up with hip hop, but they don’t feel at home partying with the 20 year olds. …but they’re not over the hill yet. Like, they still got the flavor, they still got the style. It’s just they’re grown up now, and I think that’s who I speak to. Because those are the problems that I address, those are the problems that I have, and those are the problems that they have, because we’re the same age. So, I think that’s who I speak to – I speak to the young professionals. As opposed to trying to attract the kids, or definitely not over the hill either, but it’s the young professionals that actually act and recognize and realize they’re young professionals. …and know, like, “I can’t be in the club turning up every Friday and Saturday”, right? Those are the people I speak to.
…what’s a question that you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview but never have been?
I don’t know, I’ve been asked some wild shit before. I don’t know, I mean it’s one of these – for awhile I’ve been getting the same questions. I could have just wrote all the answers down on a piece of paper and handed them over, see what I’m saying? …and do interviews. Every once in awhile I get a thoughtful and in depth interview, like this one. People tend to cover a lot of things of – I really don’t know.
Thank you for that compliment. I hope I’m not boring you to death!
Oh nah, nah. You don’t really realize, when people asking you things that make you think, and make you comment with in depth answers – you don’t really realize. Time doesn’t – you don’t look at your watch. You don’t look at the clock. You don’t, “Oh God, she asking the same shit over and over again.” Cause I’ve done some interviews where I literally gave no longer than five words per answer because I was tired of the people. If you can go on the internet and pull up my Wikipedia page and find all this shit out, the interview sucks. There’s nobody doing this interview. When you ask in depth questions and you really try to figure out – because, seriously, the questions you ask and the answers I give are supposed to go a little more in depth to who I am, as well as whatever angle you’re trying to approach it as. That’s something you did, or are doing, as opposed to somebody else who’s just trying to get stock answers and shit.
I appreciate you saying that. …and I get it, trust me, because there’s nothing I hate more than reading an interview and having that same feeling, “I could have just Googled this shit. I didn’t need to read this interview to find this information out.”
Yeah, that’s the worst shit ever. I read interviews, and I was like, “c’mon man!” Like, it’s a shotty ass interview.
So, no question that you wanted someone to ask you?
You’ve talked a lot about younger artists, or people that you might be taking a mentor role with, like, rep for your people. Who should we be fucking with, besides you, of course, right now?
Oh, yeah. Definitely should be listening to my man Scolla, from the RLES. Let me see, my man J Pinder, from out of Seattle. My man Lute, from out of Charlotte, North Carolina. My man King Mez, from out of Raleigh, North Carolina. My man, he’s not rap, he’s R & B, he’s soul, my man Eric ‘Blakk Soul’ Keith from out of Tacoma, Washington. That’s at least some of the people that I definitely have a working relationship with, kind of a big homie status with them. So, definitely some of the people we, you know – I would encourage people to go check them out. They are talented, not just cause I’m saying they’re talented. They’re really talented people. They all got something different to offer and I think – and they all – I’m not sure how old Scolla, is but they’re all pretty young, in their mid 20’s. You can hear the mid 20’s in them, but you can also hear the maturity in them as well. Check all them cats out.
…what advice do you have for new kids coming up, trying to make it, trying to do this?
I think that – I just tell them like, what I tell most of the young cats I encounter is you got to make a choice. When you first start, you got to make a choice. You got to figure out, do you want to have a career? Or are you just trying to hit it big? Having a career, you can still hit it big. That’s my biggest thing, is they need to figure out which one it is they’re really trying to do, cause having a career, you build yourself differently. You’re not chasing that one hit. You’re going out and you’re building, organically building a foundation that hopefully is going to be there to support you for years and years and years. That takes a lot of work. That takes a lot of effort. That takes planning. That takes timing. That takes help. So, in doing that, you need to figure out who you are as a person and what you want to represent. I say this, like I heard Pimp C say in an interview a few years ago before he passed, and he was like, “how people first see you, is how they will always look at you.” So you can’t come out trying to tear the club up, the next time people see you, and you trying to preach righteousness. The first time they heard you was tearing the club up, so it’s pretty hard to make that change. So be very wise on how you introduce yourself to the world, because that’s how they always view you.
Tell me a secret.
It wouldn’t make it a secret, would it?
Yeah, it would make it a told secret.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh man. I don’t know. Shit. Oh – I had Ashley Simpson’s first two albums.
I don’t know if you want me to print that. Honestly.
I really don’t care.
I’m going to let that marinate for awhile.
I don’t know how I feel about that, but I’m going let it go.
It’s one of them – you hear a jam you like, so you buy it.
What did you hear that you liked though?
Oh my God, I can’t even remember, I haven’t listened to them in so long. I know for the first album I think it was probably the first single, or the second single from off that first album. I went and bought it. …and on the second album I think I went out and bought just cause I had the first one so. I had a that, I had Vanessa Carlton’s album, and I had uhh. What’s that other white girl? I don’t know. I hear it, and if it’s something I like, I go buy it.
So what you’re saying is that you love terrible pop music? That’s what I’m hearing from you.
Yeah, I definitely do love some terrible pop music. But hey, I love some terrible rap music too, so it’s all the same.
I get that. I do too, trust me. …what do you want people to know about you?
Oh man. I think what I probably want people to know the most is that I’m a hard worker and I put my all into my craft. I’m a pretty funny guy, a cool guy, or whatever.
…oh I ain’t cool?
Not after that secret, you’re not, shit.
Nah, I think it’s just other facets of my personality besides my music. You know, I love sports and uhh, and then I love music. So that’s probably what I want people to know about me.