A.G. (Showbiz & AG)

Hip Hop Icon Series

card_agAG is half of the duo Showbiz & AG and a member of the Diggin in the Crates crew (DITC) along with Lord Finesse, O.C., Big L (RIP), Buckwild, Fat Joe and Diamond D. He came out the Bronx in the early 90’s debuting on Lord Finesse’s Funky Technician album. He’s been “show(ing) all these corny motherfuckers what Hip Hop’s supposed to sound like” ever since most notably with classics like ‘Soul Clap’ and ‘Next level.’

Halftime: So what’s poppin out there in Cali? It’s gotta be a big difference from recording in NYC.

AG: Well, we in the dungeon right now recording some joints. We not really socializing like that but we down here and we haven’t left since we got here.

Halftime: I was listening to your first album, thinking about D.I.T.C. and you guys are like the most slept on crew ever. Looking at the talent you have and the current scene do you guys ever sit down and be like what the hell is wrong with the people out here?

AG: Right now, I definitely feel that we could have gotten more notoriety during the course of what we were doing which would have been crazy and great. Looking at hip hop right now though, I still appreciate it. A lot of dudes from before or when I started aren’t into the music coming out right now but I have a different take. I know that once the money becomes involved and it becomes a multi-million dollar industry people have to do what’s regular. They have to do what has already won. When you are dealing with budgets like most major labels are they aren’t really gonna take a chance on some new stuff or take a chance with an artist. They are gonna go with what’s already proven and that’s why a lot of music today sounds like the same format in my opinion. Every once and a while you get someone with some creativity that turns it into their own and come up with some original stuff. But for the most part I think the industry is just following certain patterns. I am not knocking or condoning it I’m just saying what it is. You get the sense that a lot of artists are scared to take a big chance musically. I can understand that because at the end of the day they have to pay their bills. They moved up a whole circle and you keep moving up in your career and in life and who wants to chance all of that just trying to make a creative song? I understand that as well but that’s why some people are artists and some people make money. The ones that make money are gonna make it and the artist is still gonna survive somehow.

Halftime: I read a lot of your past interviews and even on your albums you always stressed not selling out and the problems that come along with that. In a way you foreshadowed everything that’s happening right now. It’s everything you were speaking against.

AG: I learned that if you pay attention to what’s going on now instead of focusing on how things should be you can rise easier. If you pay attention to how things are you get a better grip on it. I didn’t think I’d be condoning or listening to a lot of the stuff that’s going on but I try to get caught up in the now. I have a lot of young people around me which keeps me young at heart. Hip hop is a movement of the youth and any rebellion or revolution is a movement of the youth. If you are not in tuned with the youth then you are not really in tuned with change. You aren’t trying to make things change. You are trying to keep them stable and I’ve never been one who has tried to stay the same or wanted society to stay the same. I’ve always pushed for the fight and the fight is with the youth. If that means accepting some of the things or music that they are making now to understand what’s going on then I would rather do that because my ultimate goal is to make music and have as many people hear it as possible. If I have to come with the wolf in the sheep’s clothing and then at the end of the day reveal what my real motive is like now listen to some real music then so be it. I think I tend to have that attitude about business and music nowadays. A lot of my views have changed and if it’s changed it’s to camouflage some other shit. There are a lot of artists from past eras that are still around trying to do things and they are very sour at the music and the people making the music today. Within that it becomes hard for them to see where they fit in or how they can survive. I see that through them. It’s easy for them to make money with the history they have but now you are going against the grain. They going this ain’t how we started it and that’s not real music. Alright cool but now you over here on an island by yourself. There are ways to interact and still stay true to who you are. Just use that to your advantage. There is no doubt that there are people who know there are forefathers who started this before them but then when you hear something from the pioneers its real sour. Even with the KRS-One and Nelly situation I think there is no way possible that’s supposed to go down. At the same time if you put yourself in Nelly shoes and you have KRS, who you have to respect to the fullest extent, calling you out what are you supposed to do. I’m not talking about KRS cuz he is still rocking now but I’m just using it as an example that the older cats and younger cats need to bond somehow. It would be better on both ends you can get some knowledge and I can get in on how the youth is thinking right now.

Halftime: That’s a lot of knowledge you just dropped right there.

AG: I didn’t even mean to go like that.

Marcus: Interview’s over!

Jbutters: Haha, nah that’s ill you broke it down and summed it up in a nice two paragraph package.

AG: I went through a struggle myself and this is what comes out at the end. You like damn I still know I have the capabilities and the talent to shine at a peak now. But then you have these certain old ways like this is how it’s supposed to be. As an artist you find yourself on a fine line where you are judging a lot. I think as an artist you’re not really supposed to judge. You’re supposed to take it for what it is. A lot of times when you judge that means you’re choosing a side and you can’t see the other side. As an artist you’re supposed to represent a whole community with your voice. You can’t just represent the people who want to rebel, you also have to represent the dudes who are like I like it here. You have to represent the dudes who are like look at these young kids bugging out and then represent the kids going yea but look I don’t have any guidance. You have to represent the whole spectrum. If you can complete all of that in an album and the music is good then I think it’s a good concept. That’s what I’m trying to do on this next project. Some people see me reaching here and there but its music I approve of 100% so there is no selling out. Selling out is doing something you know you’re not supposed to do but you do it anyway. If my music reaches out in anyway it’s just trying to make it bigger with the same message I’ve always had.

Halftime: Let’s say the album comes out and some of your loyal fans are questioning the direction you are taking..

AG: I have reservations about that already, haha.

Halftime: Haha

AG: That’s just the struggle every time I’m in the booth or listening to production. That’s in my mind everyday. A certain amount of fans have gotten me this far. There are times where you are not even on the radar and there are some loyal heads reaching out. If I put out a 12″ and 3,000 heads buy it at $5, they just made me $15,000 that will pay rent for the next couple of months, the car note and all of that. At the end of the day it’s hard to think without thinking about them because they got you through the roughest part. But sometimes at the end of the day that also hinders you on your creative level of being an artist. Being put in a box or saying I have to do this for a certain amount of people is contrary to being an artist. You have a voice and you have to speak out and let the chips fall where they may and see who accepts it. They say a rose by any other name still smells as sweet. That means you can call it a fucking onion and it still smells sweet. So if I change what I’m doing over here its still gonna have the all the ingredients for everyone that liked me in the first place. As an artist you die when you don’t grow and I’ve been doing music the same for so long it can limit my passion. If I don’t have passion for this then I can’t be successful at it because my confidence won’t show. If you have passion you have to kinda change the approach. You’ll never hear a song and go nah I know he ain’t just do that but you will see me reach and try different things. When I’m reaching you’ll know this is the same shit anyway, it’s just done in a different format.

Halftime: Looking at the crew D.I.T.C do you feel that you guys have the same chemistry that you had back in 1992?

AG: I can’t say the same chemistry. I have to be totally honest. We worked on so many individual projects that when we come together collectively it’s a struggle but at the end of the day it’s for a good reason. If you ever seen the marine commercial where they stick the iron in the fire, burn it and chisel it down to make a sword that’s how I’d describe our chemistry. Some might not agree on things but you won’t see that side at the end of the day. What’s presented is a great album or song.

Halftime: I never thought Fat Joe would get to the level he has.

AG: I did. Anyone who knows him knew he was gonna reach that level. From day one I remember when he did Apollo and he was winning every night. He would show up in limousines with dancers, Gucci suits and the whole first three rows was his whole neighborhood. Some people look at the Apollo as a small situation but he was kinda bigger than amateur night. Normally they have amateur night then the special performance but his performance was like the special performance. You knew when you witnessed that he could be big. And this was when he was on his smooth shit, he wasn’t even doing the gangster shit. “Big Shot” was the name of the song and he had dancers, a green Gucci suit, and a cane. He just looked like a star.

Halftime: He had that Heavy D shit going on. Haha

AG: For those that know Joe, they know LL is his inspiration so he always has to do it on that level.

Halftime: When you guys did the Runaway Slave album the topics seemed like you were just having fun. Ya’ll wasn’t trying to fall into any particular. How did you come up with songs like ‘Bounce to This’?

AG: Honestly, when we did that album Show and I were together like every hour of everyday so we thought in unison. We did the same things together so a lot of the music was just a reflection of our everyday life. When we were first trying to get our foot in the door Black Sheep was really taking off along with Nice & Smooth. The first time I ever saw Black Sheep perform was opening up for Nice and Smooth who were also in our circle. They showed tremendous love to us. We would go on the road with these guys and it’d be Gangstarr, Show & AG, Nice & Smooth, and Black Sheep. On ‘Bounce to This’ with Dres, what we did was reflect on what we did on the regular after the show which was going to clubs. But then you can go somewhere totally different with ‘More than One Way out of the Ghetto.’ That’s how I felt that day going to the studio. Then it could be ‘Party Groove’ where we want to bend and stretch. Then we go over to ‘Runaway Slave.’ That’s what was great about it. We doing so many things and making so many moves that each move presented a song. I think that’s why that album is very special. Show had the music to represent that feeling with the big band sound he was working with. Nobody was really using the drums he was using or the horns and stuff like that so it made our stuff seemed really to the left but the message was what everybody was thinking about in the hood. That’s what I was talking about with the album I want to do. It doesn’t matter how left or right your music is, if your message is really on point some people might see through that and take the music as a breathe of fresh air. People are tired of hearing the same loops or same drums flipped a thousand ways. The only person who I haven’t gotten tired of that yet with is Lil Jon. I was onto Lil Jon years ago before anyone knew who he was. It was different and he was yelling on the whole record. I was telling Party Arty this dude don’t even rhyme he just say the hook the whole record. What got me was he’s doing what he wanna do but he has a message we all can relate too. I’m going to the club, this nigga wanna play, and we get crunk I’ll see you outside.

Halftime: How did you take Big L’s death and what was going through your mind when you first heard about it?

AG: That was very hard. Everything that I explained to ya’ll, about my music and how its time to do different things regardless of what fans think, L went through that. We even spoke about it at times. We used to tour a lot together overseas and I saw it working. The single ‘Ebonics’ was the first time dudes went outside of the camp to get music and it was a different sound. I don’t think there is a sample on that record. He showed that if we update what we doing and apply our skills like we always have then we can make a bigger mark. Then to see it about to happen with Roc-A-Fella and Jay-Z feeling him and then to see it get taken out it makes you want to make a decision and carry it out as soon as possible because nothing is guaranteed. Before he came out with those singles we all were doing independent things trying to get our niche back and he did it. Him not being able to carry that out made me see that I have to live everyday to the fullest. He touched new fans and the niggas he was worried about felt him even more because they hear the talent, passion and the history. I think you’re gonna hear that on my album. This album is done solely just to fuck with some of the cats that I haven’t fucked with that’s not really on the radar like that but are in the same kind of market as me. That’s how this whole thing came about with Madlib, Jaydee, Oh No, Jake One and Dave West. These are artists that are doing some numbers in the market that I’m in and are really being felt. And of course I have Show, Buck and Finesse on the album too.

Halftime: I was gonna ask what’s up with Showbiz and the possibility of you guys doing another album.

AG: Yea we are gonna do another Showbiz and AG album. That could be the biggest album coming out of our camp. This album is to get me back on the radar and make some noise. That would be the complete album because he brings so much to the table that it makes my whole job easier.

Halftime: What do you think it was about your styles that really complimented each other?

AG: I think his knowledge of music blended with my raw talent. I might not know the records or loops he knows but I know this is my passion and this is what I love to do. So when you get the non-formatted with something that has organization the contrasts that come together to make it work like a battery which has positive and negative sides. If you noticed on the first album on the songs that we rhymed together on I may have come from a totally different perspective like on ’40 Acres and My Props.’ We are talking about something totally different but they both go under the concept and that’s what makes it dope because you are covering more than one person’s point of view.

Halftime: Do you think he’ll rap on your next group album?

AG: I doubt it. He really never had a passion for it. He only did it because one day I didn’t show up to the studio and him and Diamond recorded vocals and everybody said that shit was hot. At one point I thought he was a better rapper than I was. Lyrically, I could be on the street and burn a cat or too but he had the melodies and he knows how to make sharp choruses. When you got an artist like that like Biz Mark they don’t even have to rhyme. They can do whatever. Show had that and the talent to rhyme as well. I thought Goodfellas, where he didn’t rhyme, was a good album as well. It was gloomier than the first because it was totally my thoughts whereas the first was both of our thoughts. I feed off of other people a lot though. I’d rather do that than something by myself.

Halftime: So how is your new album going to be formatted? Are you gonna have a bunch of guest emcees or are cats like Finesse just gonna do beats?

AG: The guest emcees on the album are the ones around my camp like Party Arty, D-Flow, some new cats called 9:50 and a 13 year old girl named Lil Lo.

Halftime: A 13 year old girl?

AG: Yea, she spit. She’s in my hood. I really wanted to give people in my hood a chance that had some talent. I didn’t go outside of that. The album is gonna tell you about what I went through. This is how I felt, this is where I am now, and this is where I’m going. The artists on the album were around during that whole process, so I felt it was good to reward them. These are the people that keep me young because without them I wouldn’t have as much passion for the music.

Halftime: Yea and who’s hungrier than the cat going through the everyday struggle?

AG: I think a lot of music today is made to make you believe there are people hungrier than those in the everyday struggle but I don’t think so. You can’t tell me you hungry when you got a big ass crib and cars. They don’t even want the money they just want to be heard. They just want to be on the radio. That type of hunger is always infectious and good to have around. When you start to think about the business side the music starts to suffer. The great ones manage to put it together or have a great team that allows them to concentrate on music.

Halftime: It’s messed up to see someone lose their passion because when you are a fan of an artist and you hear them the first time and they just fucking rip the track you can feel that hunger. Like the first time I heard Canibus, I was like damn this kid is hungry as shit he won’t even put the mic down!

AG & Marcus: Yea!!

AG: A lot of times what it is since I’ve been through is a lot of people tell you how they like you to do music and if you’re not strong minded somewhere down the line you give in. For instance say I’m a Canibus type rapper and I’m spitting, I’m walking bare foot on the sun looking for shade or shit like that. That’s crazy saying, I roll up on your crew quicker than long sleeves at a speed that would confuse Keanu Reeves. He says shit where you are like oh my goodness. But imagine an artist like that and after your first album your management, label and everyone saying you need to make some records for some girls or an older crowd. You hear that enough and you gonna start making music that way. Maybe not the whole album but they’ll start trying to reach to that audience. Every artist wants everyone to like them so when you start getting feedback its better to just filter that out. If you’re not a strong minded person you’ll end up doing all types of music.

Halftime: Sadly, you see that in the best of artists. As a fan you think damn this dude was so ill why they even listen to these people.

AG: When you in a magazine and artists coming up to you and people are like that’s the sickest album of last year but yet your landlord is telling you that you have 30 days to pay your rent you start making some changes. Some of the artists who made the best albums didn’t sell the way it was supposed to and now he is questioning himself like I know the album was hot but how do I make money doing what I do. That creates a lot of the change as well.

Halftime: Yea, I am on message boards and its crazy how in tuned fans are with record sales and shit like saying people flopped when that has never been an indicator of skill or quality.

AG: You might get ate up on the corner but imagine getting ate up and going to a six bedroom mansion with three cars in the lot. Is it really gonna fuck with you?

Halftime: True, so how did you hook up with this new label?

AG: I met DJ Design in 1994. They promoted a show I did out in Seattle and I see him from time to time overseas. I tour a lot overseas and make a lot of moves out there. I seen him over there and he was doing this label thing. Me and Show were working on the album but we knew it would take a while and I needed something out. He talked about bringing in Madlib and Jaydee and I was like I never really rocked over anybody else so let’s try it and see how it comes out. That’s how that went down.

Halftime: That should be a good look because Madlib and Dilla have loyal fans that will check it out and definitely helps you open up your market a bit.

AG: I respect their musical approach more than anything. If I didn’t then I wouldn’t do it regardless of their fans. I like them as musicians. I like their approach, it reminds me of myself. I just want to take that to a whole new level and make it bigger. The music that Jay-Z makes and the way he rhymes you could say he is an underground artist with a lot of exposure. He is an independent, underground artist that got a chance because he wasn’t afraid to make his music sound bigger.

Halftime: I dunno. He also said he dumbed down his lyrics just so people could feel it. I don’t know how I feel about that. At least don’t tell me!

AG: Nah, I’m gonna tell you because if you saying I’m a fool talking about money then I have to address that. I have to let you know that if you think that cool but I got to let you know the reason I dumbed it down. It may have sounded bad saying I dumbed it down to sell records but what he was really saying was he became the voice of the average nigga in the hood and now they start talking like him. He could tell you how shit should be, but what he did was tell you how it really is. So not only did I give you the truth I sold some records and you and I both got what we wanted. He stepped it up so he isn’t representing for the dude on the corner anymore but he is saying I was where you were at so you gotta feel me too. Now I’m over here because this is what I do. I think he motivates dudes to step their games up. I read Russell Simmons book and he said hip hop is the movement of the youth but truth was one of the elements. If no one tells the other side of the story then corporate America and suburbia think everything got better. So if no one says listen nigga I’ll smack the shit out of you with a bat with crack in my pocket or whatever the rest of the world will think that’s not happening any more. I know people who think he’s the best ever just because they believe he knows how they feel.

Halftime: The way I think about it is to flip it on that note and say I’m not street cat but I can relate to the style and flow and things like that. At the same time when you are an educated brother getting your grind on you want to hear some other shit.

AG: You can get Common Sense or Nas for that. He’s like this is my audience. I guarantee you if Jay-Z made a conscious album that shit would go gold, barely platinum because people don’t want to hear that message from him. Let him or 50 tell me some positive shit, I’m throwing the album away. I don’t want to hear that from you B.

Halftime: I feel you on listening to Common or Nas for some conscious shit but all of them dudes always say they dropped out of school and they got their hustle on doing what they do. Its not really a bunch of people like me who are like I went to school, got my master’s degree and I’m rapping. There have got to be some educated cats that actually finished school.

AG: If I got my master’s degree and spent some years in school why would I want to rap?

Halftime: Because you love it!

AG: Honestly, I’d rather be the manager of the fucking rapper and have ten rappers on my roster. I think to be a true rapper somewhere along the line you weren’t happy with the institution. And there is no way you gonna do twelve years and then get your master’s and say you didn’t like the institution. You wouldn’t have even made it past the twelfth. I knew from the get go I’m not with this that’s how most rap artists are. R&B artists are different. Hip Hop doesn’t require any criteria. All you have to do is have a voice and heart. You can be the ugly, funny voiced, fat nigga but if you got a point a view and you rhyming from your heart then you can be successful. You can be anybody and be successful. In an arena like that I don’t think you are gonna get too many smart cats. The smart ones are the ones doing management or production not the ones recording.

Halftime: What were some of your most memorable moments you’ve seen throughout the years?

AG: First thing was seeing Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, and KRS-ONE at the Apollo. That changed my life. I was a fan and I was like this is crazy I have to do this. Biz Mark came out of a big ass nose and did ‘Pickin Boogers.’ The showmanship was there with Scoob, Scrap, and Kane with the flattop jumping over their leg. It wasn’t no I’m gonna just stand here and rhyme they had fun. You had fun watching. The second most memorable moment was three years later being on the same stage with KRS-ONE, Rakim, and Kane. I would say ‘Microphone Fiend’ made me quit my job. I was working at McDonalds on Canal St. I was closing actually. The manager was my man and when we were closing we could bring out the tape deck. One of my co-workers throws in ‘Microphone Fiend’ that he taped from the radio three nights ago and it’s my first time hearing it. I remember this shit so perfectly. It was a Friday night and we had just got paid. I gave the nigga $40 for the tape, just for that song. I had to know the words by tomorrow. When he came out with that record it had been a long time before he came out with anything. It was describing my life. The next day I took Chuck D’s order and I told him I rapped. He said you can do whatever you put your mind to you just have to do it 100%. That in combination with the tape made me say I’m out of here. I performed at the Armory one year and Chuck D came up to me and said Andre the Giant is the baddest name in hip hop. He didn’t even remember me or know the full circle of it. Those types of moments are very special because I was and still am a fan. To reach the same plateau as those who inspired me to take this serious you can’t give me a plaque or money to make me happier than that. Everyone around me from grade school knew this is what I do. When we had events at school I would rhyme and back then this was still a fad. We had a senior show but I’m a freshmen performing in it. I’m making announcements over the loud speakers rapping. The principal tried to incorporate whatever I was doing into the system. So anyone who has ever known me or been around me when they saw me on TV or wherever I know it made them feel good to say damn I knew he was gonna do that. That’s probably every rapper’s story but I’m just telling you mine because during the time that I’m talking about everybody wasn’t doing it. They weren’t giving money to emcees like that. It was selling it out from the back of your car. That whole journey is something I’m doing all over again and that’s where this conversation started.

Date: March 10, 2006