In such a disappointing hip-hop era, tears can be wiped away with a sigh of reassurance that a few artists still hold styles that leave a unique seal of approval. One dominant member from the strong Asiatic tribes lineage, descending from the globe’s eastern region, anoints western culture with laid-back mystique and original flow. AZ (Anthony Cruiz) continues to remain highly dominant among the rapper species. Speaking in a ’94’ native tongue, the same flow that ripped the hell out of Nas’ “Life’s a Bitch” track on “Illmatic” with an adolescent-like voice. In the past ten years, AZ has maintained his style without switching to mainstream junk. Halftime was able to bump heads with the Aziatic Prince and gain insight about his scarce appearances, career, relationship with the streets and thoughts.
Halftime: What’s up man, what’s going on?
AZ: Maintaining man, trying to get it popping again ya know?
That’s all I’ve been waiting for man. There ain’t shit else out here no more.
AZ: Nah, the east coast is going through it right now.
You know what’s crazy is that we’ve been trying to find you for like almost a year right now. Cats been telling us you got to go to Brooklyn and just look for him.
AZ: Haha! I be low man that’s how I like it. I don’t really mingle with a lot of people in the industry and I never did. I like to stay low, be easy and deal with my day one peoples.
I love your first album, “Do or Die,” I literally played it until one day the tape popped. Looking at that album what do you feel got in the way of you having much bigger success? That album was tight.
AZ: Well for one that era was just taking off. You had, Nas, Big, Snoop, Wu and we was just taking off and I locked into EMI and I don’t think EMI really knew the markets to tap into to blow up a hip hop artist. I think the only people that were signed with them at the time were Gangstarr and they were affiliated with the whole other movement. We were starting something new bringing Criminology to the table in like ’94. I guess they were learning just like I was learning. Then they folded a year after that and I had to keep it moving.
Can you define really quickly the term Asiatic?
AZ: Asiatic is the original people. Asiatic is the maker, the owner of the cream of the planet earth and that was given to me by the guy that put me onto the five percent thing. It’s the original man.
So are you still in Islam?
AZ: Nah, I’m just seeking information and trying to fill my reservoir up that’s it. I ain’t got no religion right now. There are so many religions out there to follow and if you tap into certain religions you see little pitfalls and shit. So its like do I really want to submit fully to that and then you got Mama Bear pulling you that way and your peoples pulling this way and you reading all types of books. It’s so much I just want to stay reading and put the love into the art that I’m doing.
Everything I read about you will always have you interconnected with Nas. How did you first meet up with him because we have heard various rumors? I heard one rumor that Nas was planning to try to rob you but then you got cool and everything was chill. Is any of that true?
AZ: Haha, hell no! How we met was at the time I knew a few cats from Brooklyn who knew a few cats from Queens and everybody used to get on the phone and rap and shit. It was at least six of us and the shit he was spitting I was like wow that’s just like the shit I was going for and he felt the same way. I was like I dig ya style. So everybody exchanged numbers and here and there he’d holla at me like my brother just got locked up and I’m like word my cousin just got locked up or my man just got killed and he’d be like word my man just got killed. So when he started working on Illmatic he was like come through the studio so I went through and I think he was doing Halftime. I heard it, I was like ok no doubt, that’s when he threw in that Life’s a Bitch beat, and I was fucking with it. He was like oh shit that sounds tight hop on that. I was like aiight we did it and it just went down like that. Nothing was even planned.
When “Life’s a Bitch” came out I remember people saying that was one of their favorites off of Illmatic.
AZ: Shit, to me that album was crazy. I felt like people weren’t going to like it to be honest. I was like damn they not even gonna like my shit because I listened to his album and I was like wow. By that time son was crazy with it. When they caught onto it, I was like wow there must be a spot here for me or something.
Your verse on there is pretty much legendary.
AZ: That’s real but I felt like Nas was that nigga spittin’ that shit like “The World is Yours” and all that and when it caught on it got me by surprise.
What’s really the story behind that verse and cats want to know how did that day really even go about when you recorded that joint?
AZ: I been had that verse premeditated because my man Poe had just got killed and another close friend of mine had gotten killed. A lot of niggas were dropping around me and I really wrote that sixteen or twenty bars out of emotion. I used to say in my head ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die.’ I got to the studio and when L.E.S started playing that record I was strong with it. I wasn’t even supposed to be on it, that was something for Nas to do. I wasn’t really even thinking about getting on his album. I didn’t really give a fuck about that, that wasn’t even my zone at the time. I just came to show homie some love, I was just fucking with it, and they was like spit that shit.
Did he follow your lead after that with the concept?
AZ: Yea he had to. He took it home for a couple of days for that one because that one was right on the money. It was one take too. I did that shit in like fifteen seconds.
I always like how you just be kicking the shit before a song starts and you and Nas be talking.
AZ: I used to think niggas didn’t like that and I was skeptical about doing shit like that. Now I’m like fuck it I don’t give a fuck. I’m doing that a lot on this album too because that’s the only way you get to express yourself.
A lot of cats have been talking about the duet album you and Nas said you are gonna do one day. That would be certified gold on the streets. What’s going on with that? I know it’s hard to come together but do you think that this is a serious possibility?
AZ: To be honest I think it all has to do with the success of what I’m doing. He really already bust his nut in the game and he’s like A it’s on you now to show and prove what you’re made of. I guess he is waiting for me to hit that certain plateau. I think it can really happen. Actually, I’m waiting for myself to hit that plateau. This album right here is like the best album I’ve completed. Hopefully it will get me that love I’ve been vying for.
The album’s called “Final Call” and that’s alluding to a few things.
AZ: I know. To me “The Final Call” is giving people the last chance to recognize me, what I stand for, what I represent and what I bring to the table. I consider myself the voice of the lost souls that never got a chance to pass on their lessons, like brothers who got killed or who are doing football numbers in jail. They never got a chance to pass on their lessons to their cousins or nephews and I speak for them. I speak nothing but the truth and that’s what the “Final Call” is about. It ain’t really got nothing to do with religion or the Farrakhan movement, it’s me telling people that it’s your last chance. I’m gonna fall back if ya’ll don’t grasp on to what’s going on now.
That was gonna be my question like are you talking about hanging up the mic?
AZ: I’ll be honest and put it like this though, if they don’t latch onto what is going on right now I’m gonna fall back. I’ve been putting a lot of work in over the years and if I’m not gonna get recognized for it I’m gonna fall back.
You definitely recognized. I think you stand out more by staying away from all the corny shit niggas be doing. Another thing that I notice is that nobody mentions you in their songs when they beefing with people. You can go through all of Queensbridge and Brooklyn and AZ has never really come out nobody’s mouth with negativity behind it.
AZ: You right. I don’t give off that aura. When I see niggas I show them respect, they show me respect, and I guess I carry myself with a certain mystique. That’s a blessing right there.
We just did an interview with Cormega and we saw you were on his Legal Hustle compilation album. We threw out the question to him but we figured we’d get your take. Since ya’ll were both down with The Firm initially we were wondering why did it take so long for you to collaborate?
AZ: It’s like this, Nas brought me into the game and that’s my man. I met Cormega through Nas. So with me being latched onto Nas, and Cormega and him going through a little drama I wanted to fall back. Mega is a real nigga. I can vibe with him on different notes but there are rules to the game also. I explained to him before it went down. I was like I know you and son going through it but I feel your story from the streets and shit. I owe Nas an obligation and I know you and him are going to war but it ain’t that serious, it ain’t like its some street shit so I’m gonna get on a song with you cuz I got respect for you but my love is with son overall because he brought me to the table. We just took it from there. Really me and Mega don’t really vibe like that. We don’t eat together at the same table and all that I know him through Nas. It’s a respect thing there.
I posted that we were going to do this interview on a few sites and I got some questions people wanted asked. There was a rumor that you were to be signed to Roc-A-Fella and even before Jay and Nas was beefing someone wanted us to ask why you hadn’t collabed with Jay or other heads like that. What does it take for you to get on the same track with cats, is it more of a family thing or do people just approach you and you feel it from there?
AZ: I just don’t really fuck with a lot of cats in the game that’s just my style. I will fuck with a couple people like Jigga and Scarface. I did something with Beans but there is a lot of corny shit going on in the game and everybody has hidden agendas and all that and it ain’t my thing. Not saying that I’d never do it but it ain’t my thing.
Stay how you are and don’t go hosting them dumb ass shows. (*Marcus is an adamant AZ fan)
AZ: I don’t like doing that and my mans and them be asking why you don’t get on all those mixtapes, go crazy and pop all that shit. I just can’t do the poppin shit and the corny shit like ‘My fucking name is AZ, I’m representing all this shit!’ I can’t do that. Where I came from either you bad or you not, talking about it you look stupid and sound stupid. Let your style speak for yourself when you in public. I can’t scream on mixtapes and all that, it never was my thing.
I think everyone here feels you should be regarded as one of the nicest emcees in the game but a lot people ain’t recognizing. Do you think this next album is gonna open their eyes and if so what do you have on here that will wake people up?
AZ: Guaranteed what I got on this album is crazy. Guaranteed hands down. I think it’s a matter of getting it out to the public. From the opening to the ending, it’s crazy. The shit’s gangsta. It’s basically just me on this whole album. I really vented and tapped into other zones. I don’t have any guest rappers besides my crew and that’s one song. And I did a joint with CL Smooth cuz that’s my man. Other than that I don’t have any rappers on the joint. It’s really an autobiographical album. I love this album and I know I’m gonna get a lot of flack for Final Call but its like if ya’ll don’t grasp on right now I’m gonna put my little niggas out and let them go crazy.
I know you have the label Quiet Money. What is the current situation with the label and what artists are you working with?
AZ: Right now Quiet Money is independent. Koch is distributing only this album. After this album is distributed I’m going to be looking for distribution elsewhere. As far as artists I got my man YG (Young God), Nu from Pittsburgh, Animal, Trav and everybody is just spitting it how I’m spitting it. If niggas really listen this will be the one.
Why did you call the label Quiet Money?
AZ: I was brought up to believe real bad boys move in silence and that silence is golden, that’s why the label is called Quiet Money. The real people who succeeded in this world and were making moves back in the days just did it. Quiet Money is what I’m living by.
Since your last album you have been on the low. What are some things that have been keeping you busy between the last album and the current joint you’re putting out?
AZ: I shot a movie in Detroit called Envy with Ray J, Lisa Raye, and Maia Campbell. It’s some gangsta shit. Ray J is my little cousin in the movie. I was dealing drugs and I’m trying to get out the game but he is following in my footsteps for so long he wanted to take over so I let him take over but I had some cats with me like we been your peoples since you started why you gonna give the whole shit to him. It’s kinda like “Belly” because at the end of the day when the movie is over nobody really wins. I was shooting a movie, then I started working on the album. I got my little son and I’ve just been chillin.
How did you get the deal with Koch to set up the distribution?
AZ: When I got off Motown there were a few cats who wanted to sign me but I couldn’t go that route again. I really needed to test the independent waters and I guess everybody was just falling back off that. Koch was more or less like we’ll fuck with you. They wanted to lock me in but I was like nah I can’t do that. I’ll do one album and see how it goes down.
I read in a recent interview of yours that at one point you were kinda estranged from everyone else and going through your own world. What was really going on at that point in your life that separated you from a lot of heads?
AZ: Everybody was just growing up going through what they was going through. Around that time I was still trying to find a home. I had four albums out and each album was on a different fucking label. So searching for the label and building those relationships and of course everybody got a lady so you going through that world dealing with your wisdom. Everybody want to get married and shit trying to box a nigga in and it’s like yo hold up! I’m trying to get my paper right so it’s a lot of shit. I’m still poppin in and out of the hood so I gotta hear the stories of family getting locked up or niggas getting shot at. The basic shit. So it was just growing and learning how to digest all of that and keep your head. That’s what I was going through.
Are you gonna be on the next Nas album, Streets Disciple?
AZ: Me and him did a joint last month. It’s crazy, but knowing Nas he do thirty to thirty-five records and then he picks them. I just do it and I don’t really be stressing it. If he put it on the album that’s good, if not I know we’ll do something soon but we did something for his album already.
What method do you and Nas use when ya’ll come up with your songs? Does somebody call up with an idea?
AZ: Nah, nah we just lock in that shit is natural for us. We just go, we don’t even talk about it. We’re just like oh we fucking with that beat? Aiight let’s write and that shit gets done same day, same hour. With me and him it’s just that magic. That’s the only nigga I know where with me and him it’s just automatic.
So when does your album drop?
AZ: August 24th Final Call on Quiet Money Records. This is a big move for me. I appreciate ya’ll holding me down for real because I be wondering why niggas not recognizing like yo I’m one of the top ten too. That’s how I feel.
I think Prince Paul put it best when he said the music out today is like fast food. They eat it and it doesn’t even stay in their system. So it’s like if you’re not constantly in fans faces they forget about you real fast. I don’t know how you can win over this audience because the scene has changed so much. If I were you I’d be pretty frustrated with the game.
AZ: I got so much love for the game. My paper’s right, I’m chilling so I’m gonna do it regardless. I never got frustrated throughout my whole career with nothing. I take everything with a grain of sort because I know that anything that could happen would happen. I just swallow it like that’s how it is. I ain’t no crybaby. If I gotta do a whole bunch of time its like let me suck it out and knock out this twenty-five. That’s how I am. So I never stressed it but I know if I keep on they are gonna recognize in a minute they have no choice.
Looking at the game right now with this album dropping where do you see your position?
AZ: The game is growing so much. Everybody has their story to tell. The Midwest has their story to tell, the west coast and down south got a story to tell. We in New York had it going for a long time so I’m never mad when another coast is eating because it’s what we all represent anyway. There are a few brothers like Jadakiss and Fat Joe that’s really bringing back over here and I think that with my album I’m going to just add onto that.
Was there anything that you tried on this album that may surprise anyone?
AZ: Yea, the joint I did with Tony Sunshine called “Talkin’ Gangsta.” It’s got a little Spanish beat and I’m just venting on it. It’s different for me. The flow ain’t switched up but the music is switched up and I’m just kicking it letting em know the Latin side of me.
Doe or Die (1995)
Pieces of a Man (1998)
9 Lives (2001)
Final Call (2004)
The Format (2006)
The Firm: The Album (with The Firm) (1997)
Visualizing the realism of life and actuality
Fuck who’s the baddest, a person’s status depends on salary
And my mentality is money-orientated
I’m destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it
Cause yeah, we were beginners in the hood as 5 percenters
But something must of got in us cause all of us turned to sinners
Now some resting in peace and some are sitting in San Quentin
Others such as myself are trying to carry on tradition
Keeping this wealth professing street ghetto essence inside us
Cause it provides us with the proper insight to guide us
Even though, we know somehow we all gotta go
But as long as we leaving thieving, we’ll be leaving with some kind of dough
So, until that day we expire and turn to vapors
Me and my capers will be somewhere else stacking plenty papers
Keeping it real, packing steel, getting high
Cause life’s a bitch and then you die