Joell Ortiz is an O.G. in this thing we call rap. Fourteen years deep in the rap game, the Brooklyn emcee has proven to be a savage on the microphone. But he’s also maintained his relevancy that is often overlooked in an industry where artists have the shelf life of a gallon of milk. As ¼ of the superrapping group Slaughterhouse, Ortiz doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. And with the release of his latest project That’s Hip Hop, Ortiz continues to appease the hip hop heads who are salivating over the release of Slaughterhouse’s third full-length studio album Glass House.
2DopeBoyz sat down with Ortiz to get his take on whether the new wave of emcees needs to learn their hip hop history, his ultimate goal as an emcee and the latest on the Glass House project.
Everyone has a goal when they first started rhyming. Whether it be a millionaire or be called one of the greatest. What was yours and does it still hold true today?
My ultimate goal when I first started rhyming was to be the nicest when it was all said and done. I wanted to hop on whoever has a hot beat, destroy it and let them know they can’t deal with me. I wanted to be one of those dudes that you would see their name and be like “aw man, I’m listening to this!” I came from the cyphers and being the hottest dude on the block. I conquered that and wanted to be the hottest dude in the neighborhood. When I rolled up on my ten-speed guys would be like “Here comes Joell and he’s coming to finish us!” That’s all I ever wanted to be. When people construct their top 10 greatest emcees of all time I wanted to get a couple of mentions. It’s still all I ever want. I don’t do this for any other reason than to be nice bro.
You were first heard by the masses on Kool G Rap’s “It’s Nothing” back in 2002. Did you think that you were on the highway to stardom?
First of all, I was super fanned out being next to somebody I hold in such a high regard. People like him don’t have to do songs with people like me. I didn’t see this as stardom when I first started though. Instead, I saw it as a big opportunity to hold my own. I never looked at as an avenue to success or popularity. Just somebody else I respected and wanted to hold my own with when I collaborated with them.
Fourteen years later, you’re still here with a new album that has a simple title.
I chose the title because it’s a self-explanatory project. I always hear people thanking me for continuing to do “real hip hop.” Hip hop is one thing and you have this other avenue with what I feel is trap music meets hip hop. I personally don’t feel like the divide is between the music, the divide is trying to figure out how to rename this genre of what kids are doing now. Even in rock you have Heavy Metal and Soft Rock, but it’s still all rock music. The kids that are doing these records… it is hip hop but it’s not the same category. And we have to figure out a way to name this new genre. When I get into something, I go into it representing that golden age when you had to be hard, rap hard and rip something apart. You had to make someone’s face scrunch up. When you heard the beat you had to frown. That’s what I stand for.
This album features Domingo, Kool G Rap, Tony Touch and Doo Wop. It’s interesting because you are introducing these artists from your era to a younger audience. Did you think about that at all?
This album took such a natural course it just happened that way. But I’m happy it did happen that way because I want these new fans of mine to understand what shaped and inspired me. I’m nice because of the guys I came up listening to. That’s what the Doo Wop tapes and the Tony Touch 50 emcees joints did for me as a kid. I know what Kool G Rap’s triple entendre and multi-syllable raps meant for me. Anytime I can showcase the pillars of hip hop I’m with it. I didn’t think about schooling my new audience. It was just what I wanted to do. There’s going to be a whole bunch of kids that will double back and check them out. I’m just happy that I can provide a platform to shed some light on some people that I respect.
Do you think the younger artists need to know their history of hip hop and that it could help them with their craft?
I don’t know. I don’t know if we should feel that these young cats are obligated to double back to listen to these people and be inspired. I just want people to draw inspiration for whatever they draw from. But I will say that I believe it’s the duty of radio and DJs to mix the music up that the kids get a chance to hear. Right now, an up and coming kid can only be inspired by the Futures and Drakes of the industry. There are only a certain amount of artists that get that platform to be heard. When I turned on my radio, there were so many different people so I can draw inspiration from anywhere. These kids don’t have that opportunity. They have to dig. And if you’re not teaching them, then I’m not going to yell and scold them for not knowing. They’re young and if you don’t put them on, they don’t know what to dig for. I think that radio and the outlets need to split it up more. There’s no reason that hip hop listeners should have to dig for what they are looking for.
In the intro you talk about being a prideful Puerto Rican but do you really still get people who say that you’re nice…for a Puerto rican?
Don’t get it twisted, I have the respect from everyone. Nobody fronts on me. But I still get “You’re the nicest Puerto Rican I’ve heard in my life” from my peers. I’ll do a collaborative record and they’ll say “I had to get the nice Rican!” I love it though because I’m proud of who I am. I can’t shake it and don’t want to. As long as they respect me for what I do, it’s all good. For years I was compared to Big Pun and I feel like the comparisons came solely because I was Puerto Rican. There’s only one Pun. I don’t sound like Pun. I’m flattered but I’m not the new Pun. I’m Puerto Rican, yes. We both stood up for that but he was nice in his own right. I’m trying to be great in my own right. When I was trying to get record deals the biggest things was execs telling me “You’re dope but you’re Puerto Rican so I don’t know how we’ll get you into the Latin market.” I’d get booked for all types of Latin hip hop shows. What is Latin hip hop? I thought hip hop is hip hop.
Speaking of Pun, you’ve been working with Chris Rivers. That’s like looking into the past. What does he have that was passed through his bloodline?
He’s got that Christopher Rivers gene, man. I remember back in 2010 or 2011, I got a call from Pun’s wife and she asked if I could come rock out at this tribute show. When I got there, Pun’s urn was on the stage. I was like, is that what I think it is? She said she wanted him to be here. That’s insane to me. So when I walk into a session with Chris Rivers, I’m like “your dad was that guy!” I’m honored to work with him necause he’s passionate but also because of how well his dad did this. His dad opened the door and the road he paved for Latin artists is unmatched. I never had the pleasure of meeting Pun but I hear stories about him from people all the time. Lil Fame told me that he was the funniest guy ever. Chris Rivers has those same traits. He’s a really funny guy but very humble. His flow is right there with Pun’s in terms of playing with syllables and stuff like that. It’s in there man. Doing stuff with Chris Rivers is like I get to meet a piece of Pun.
Here’s the obligatory Slaughterhouse question: Is The Glass House completely done?
With everyone doing their solo thing, when you get back in the studio again what are the new challenges?
We just love doing music together. We all miss running around together. We miss the tour busses, the jokes, the late night movies that we’re bugging out on. Musically, we challenged ourselves on this one by bringing in Justus League, Just Blaze, Illmind and Araaab Muzik and it was like an assembly line. This album is going to feel different. We’ll always have introspective records and then the joints with straight bars but a lot of these records are coming off a little more fun. There is so much growth within the group. The biggest challenge though is going in the studio and not feeling like we need to record again. I know us. When we get in the studio we say “put some beats on and see what happens.” Before you know it, we’ll have a new Glass House album. Somebody has to get in there and tell us not to touch anything. We’re all just so passionate about rap and we love it so much that it would take nothing for one of us to say “bring that beat up, I want to try something to it.” And before you know it, Joe is in another room with a beat on, Royce is writing somewhere and Crooked walking around thinking about something and here we go, we’re recording again. Now Glass House is getting amended.
Last question, you’re really Papa Ortiz with a 12 and 15 year old. Do they realize who their dad is?
My oldest son gets it now. He’s always checking in on me on social media to see what I’m doing. My youngest son listens to all new music on the radio. He’s a little nerd. He hears my songs and says “ Dad, you rap too serious.” I tell him to put his skinny jeans on and love whatever he wants to love. I keep my career away from them. I try to spend as much time as I can in between working. I’m definitely just pop. Now, to their teachers when I go to their open house? I’m the rapper guy.
That’s when they take advantage of having a popular dad?
Yeah! And those young teachers be like (in a girl’s voice) “How are you doing Mr. Ortiz?”