Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
1997 was a crazy year for New York rap music. In many ways, the scene was thriving, with Jay-Z and Nas on the brink of superstardom, and the Wu-Tang Clan making international noise. But the biggest artist of them all—Biggie Smalls—was murdered in March, two weeks before his sophomore double album was set to drop. It was a loss unfathomable to the Big Apple hip-hop community, and it forced the rest of B.I.G.’s peers to step up and rep even more to fill the massive void.
With pride and perseverance, that’s what they did. Biggie’s Bad Boy brethren Puff Daddy and Mase turned tragedy into triumph with a series of platinum hits. Jay and Nas continued to excel, and would go on to lyrically duel for the King of New York slot. And in the midst of it all, New York continued to show its depth, with talented rappers emerging and evolving throughout the five boroughs.
One artist in particular who had shown promise in the past was D.I.T.C. representative O.C. The Brooklyn MC was coming off his stellar debut Word…Life in 1994, which spawned underground hits like “Born 2 Live” and “Time’s Up,” and a critically-acclaimed appearance on the DJ Premier-produced single “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” alongside Chubb Rock and Jeru The Damaja. And in the summer of ‘97, he was set to drop his sophomore album Jewelz, and show the rap world that in the wake of Biggie’s death, there was another godly MC from the streets of Brooklyn worth worshipping.
Jewelz, like its predecessor Illmatic, was led by a Dream Team of producers, including DJ Premier, Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz, DJ Ogee, and D.I.T.C. beat monsters Showbiz, Buckwild and Lord Finesse. But the star of the show was O.C. himself, the smooth and insightful lyricist with a knack for storytelling and wise wordplay. He wasn’t flashy or overly-celebrated by the masses, but to those who had their ear to the concrete, he was one of the illest in the game. And in the three years since his rookie LP, it was crystal clear with one listen to Jewelz that O.C. had matured both on and off the mic, and had something to say beyond the typical braggadocio bullshit.
Now twenty years later, O.C. is still recording rap albums. He has a joint project with Apathy titled Perestroika out today (cop it HERE), adding another chapter to his ever-evolving epic. And he’s still down with D.I.T.C., in case you had it fucked up. But being that Jewelz just celebrated its 20th anniversary, we caught up with the man also known as Mush to revisit his often slept-on sophomore classic and break down the stories behind it, including why he scrapped an entire batch of Buckwild-produced songs, what it was like to record at the legendary D&D Studios in its heyday, and how “Dangerous”—his dope duet with the late great Big L—came to be. This is The Making of Jewelz with O.C.
O.C.: “After Word…Life came out, I toured for those three years. I toured a lot, and basically financed Jewelz myself before I got the second deal.
“My crew was on my ass about starting the next project. Everybody knew the situation with me and Wild Pitch at the time—it wasn’t so great at the end. I was fortunate to be able to tour and make a lot of money. So Show, ‘Nesse and Buck was like, ‘In the transition of you coming off this album and maybe getting released from Wild Pitch and going into another situation, you’re making money, you’re doing your thing—why don’t you just start going in the lab and pre-recording music? That way, when you go into another situation, you’ll have a blueprint of what you want to do.’ And that’s what I did.
“I went into it head first. I was young, man. I was touring, doing things. Between ‘94 and ‘97, it’s a big change. It’s growth. You know, two weeks is a big change. So in three years, you’re different.
“To be honest, Mary did the My Life album in ‘95, and me and Buck [coincidentally] recorded a lot of music similar to that album before it came out. A lot of the samples were the same. Yo, I don’t know Mary, I love Mary. It was just weird that what we started recording was a mirror of that. My album, if we had kept it, would’ve sounded a lot like that album, in a hip-hop mode. So we just trashed the album after that. My Life was an incredible album to me, but that’s not the direction I wanted to go.”
“My manager, who wasn’t my manager at the time, was Mr. Dave. He came from the Gang Starr Foundation, and managed Jeru. He’s on the back cover of Daily Operation. Anyway, he was working up at Payday, and I was in the middle of starting to record music, me and Bucky.
“I bumped into Jeru at a CMJ convention downtown. Me and Dave had a conversation, felt each other’s vibe and took it from there. I caught a meeting with him—that was a piece of cake. It was the greedy motherfuckers at Wild Pitch, Stu Fine, trying to get his bread. I was like, ‘Damn, I just sold 100,000 records, we not eating?’ And he was like, ‘Nah.’ So that was the holdup within them three years. Other than that, the Payday deal would’ve been done ASAP.”
“We did a few shows together. I did a few runs with him and Craig Mack. But I didn’t have a real friendship with B.I.G. I didn’t have time to.
“I had to do my album cover in L.A. for Jewelz right after B.I.G. got rocked. It was tension. What we seeing now with the skateboarders and tight jeans? There’s been gang-banging dudes that look like that out there for years.
“So I was out there doing the album cover right after Biggie’s murder. And me and my manager Mr. Dave was in the spot. For some reason, people kept stepping on our feet. Hoods is hoods, but certain demographics move different. I know my mouth get dry anytime I’m about to get into some beef, but I didn’t have direct beef with anybody. But I was getting that same sense of danger, like, ‘Caution.’ Next thing you know, my manager walked up to me and said, ‘Let’s get the fuck outta here.’
“Thinking back in hindsight, that might not have been a good time to go out there. I didn’t have anything to do with it, with what was going on between Pac and B.I.G. But the media made it a East Coast, West Coast thing. So a lot of artists wasn’t going out there, and a lot of their artists wasn’t coming out here. I wouldn’t have made that decision had I been a little bit older. I would have kept my ass in New York.”
In The Lab
“A lot of that shit was done at D&D, so it was another day at the office. You see Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun, Beatminerz, M.O.P. Nas and Jay and them was on the brink of superstardom, so you wouldn’t see them too much in there. Preem, Guru on the regular. You might see Heather B. Group Home. Jeru. KRS. It was the same, usual suspects. No real outsiders.
“It was a different atmosphere because I had never recorded a whole album in there before. I didn’t record anything from Word…Life in that studio. So Jewelz was more grimey. Pool playing, Hennessey, at the time I didn’t smoke too much weed. You know, bring bitches around to the studio. [Laughs.] Stuff like that. Just in a young boy’s state of mind, trying to get out what I wanted to say on this next record.
“It was night and day from the first to the second album. Preem was the first guy to take me overseas and DJ for me. I was seeing things I had never seen before, money I had never seen before. And being in a different space and in a different studio, watching Preem and Guru work. It was weird how they worked, so I picked up a lot of things from them. M.O.P. would have two mics in the booth on their dynamic duo shit. So I was still in a learning process making Jewelz, trying to do my thing.
“I remember being in the B Room, and Jay coming in like, ‘I need you to lay a verse on this.’ I did a record called ‘Crew Love,’ the original ‘Crew Love.’ The original record is me and Tone Hooker from Original Flavor, and Jay does the same hook. ‘It’s Crew Love, Roc-A-Fella ‘til we die…’ He walked up in my session, asked me to do the joint. I did it, then came back to my session. It was like revolving doors in that studio.”
“I was writing mostly at home because I learned not to waste time in the studio. I wrote three, maybe four records in the studio. Everything else I would definitely write in the crib when nobody was around—peace of mind. I always felt you couldn’t really focus if you had your dudes in the studio. That might’ve worked for other people, but it didn’t work for me.”
“Opening an album is like opening a book. So that’s basically what the intro’s purpose is for me. It was inspired by Organized Konfusion, they brought me in the game. I watched them make records, Large Professor make records. So I just took notes.
“I love Preem, and I love Beatminerz because they all came together with me on this album. They was the cohesiveness to the album, the producers. Buck, Preem, Beatminerz, Ogee. They put all those interludes in there once they heard each other’s music, leading up to the songs.
“It was natural. It was family. The label had nothing to do with it. They couldn’t make nothing happen. Everything was at my disposal because me and these dudes was friends. Showbiz and Premier go way back. Show is Diggin’, that’s my people. And Finesse got the relationship with Preem. It was something that just came together.”
2. “My World” (Produced by DJ Premier)
“I’m a Slick Rick die-hard. That first line is from ‘Runaway.’ That second Slick Rick album is slept on. If you’re a lyricist enthusiast, then you should know that you’re just now catching up to Slick Rick. But that was one of my favorite records when I heard that album. It was just dope, and that’s how the line became a part of ‘My World.’
“Preem didn’t give out beat tapes. He did his production on the spot. He came and scooped me up from my crib, and we went to the studio. He started laying a couple of joints, catching my ear a little bit. But then when he came with this record, with the bassline and the keys, and then he put the drums to it—he did the shit in like twenty minutes—and was like, ‘It sound like some Mobb Deep shit.’ And I’m like, ‘Yo, you buggin’. Get out the studio, leave me alone for like twenty, thirty minutes.’ And he was like, ‘I’m going to get me some weed anyway though, so I’ll be back.’ And when he came back, the song was written.
“He didn’t like that beat at first. He thought it sounded similar to ‘Shook Ones.’ But then when I said that first line to him—the Slick Rick shit—he was like, ‘Yeah yeah, go in the booth.’ So I went in the booth and I laid it, and he was like, ‘Yo, this shit hot right here. We good money.’
“That whole premise of ‘My World,’ that wasn’t about me. That was about people in general. Have that confidence in yourself. Who else gonna have confidence in you, but you?”
3. “War Games” ft. Organized Konfusion (Produced by DJ Premier)
“First of all, going back to Preem. This dude was in high demand. His prices was crazy. So to get Preem to touch on your shit was one thing. To get Preem to get paid for one joint and then do the rest for free is some other shit.
“Now, after ‘My World,’ he’s in the zone, like, ‘I got some ideas.’ And he’s playing me music. I’m like, ‘Who that for?’ He’s like, ‘That’s for some Gang Starr shit.’ I’m like, ‘Nah man. You shouldn’t have played that shit. I need that.’
“When I heard ‘War Games,’ I heard Pharoahe and Prince in my head already. I had the preconceived notion of how the record was gonna sound. It came together after I heard the music, right off the top. I heard their voices, and me doing the ad-libs for them on my record. They kill the fuck out the hook.
“‘War Games’ was like, coming off that first album, dealing with the record companies and lawyers, and then against some of my peers—you’re giving them credit and accolades and I’m like, ‘What am I, chop liver? I stand here with the best of them.’ I felt like that for a minute around that time. Like, ‘You know what? Now I gotta show my ass.’ That wasn’t my M.O., but I was prepared to go at it had the artist had something to say to me. I didn’t care who it was—Jay, Nas, B.I.G., whoever. I’m ready. Just in the spirit of competition.
“But that’s the era we came up in. It could happen as easily as someone saying your name on a record. I was ready for that.”
4. “Can’t Go Wrong” (Produced by DJ Ogee)
“That’s a true story. Put it like this—I don’t talk about my personal life, but that’s the same person I’m with today.
“I’m a fan first. I came up on LL. That’s another cat—he is the G.O.A.T., period. He taught me too. L made hard records, love records—he gave us that balance. It didn’t work for everybody who tried it.
“But my purpose wasn’t to give you ‘I Need Love.’ I was paying homage to the person who stuck with me since day one, just being honest. It was just part of the process of being involved with my music—you might get talked about, good or bad. But this one is definitely positive.”
5. “The Chosen One” (Produced by Buckwild)
“Shout out to another one of my mentors, Jaz-O. He had a lot to do with that record. Jaz-O had an artist that sang, and we wanted to capture like a smoky, jazz feel, in the club, so I could get on my punk smooth shit. [Laughs.] That’s one of those records that’s dear to me, though I’ve never performed it. And Jaz-O was there with me, sitting in the studio when I did it.
“Lotta people fronted on me on the first album, production-wise. And a lot of people don’t know that Nas stood me up too, on the first album. He was supposed to be on a record with me. It’s all cool now, we was kids.
“But fast-forward, I just felt a certain way. And I can admit that shit now. It could’ve been a little envy, jealousy. People don’t like to admit that because they think it’s coming off as a hater. But nah, it’s coming off as a young kid, in an industry where people build people up, and it can turn you against your peers. Albums like Illmatic and Ready To Die, they was getting a lot of burn. And I just felt like I was in that echelon, and I didn’t get the props I deserved at the time. That’s how I felt, at that time. I felt like, ‘I’m The Chosen One.’”
6. “Dangerous” ft. Big L (Produced by Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz)
“We was in the click together, obviously—D.I.T.C. L was in between deals too at the time. Show and ‘Nesse had got him a deal with Columbia in high school, that’s when he put out Lifestylez. And after he graduated, things didn’t go the way they should have. Or maybe he was destined to be on that label.
“I seen this dude progress. He was in high school when he got his first deal. He was still a kid. So he graduates, his album comes out, gets a little fan fare or whatever. I seen him evolve from ‘Devil’s Son’ to being on the radio spitting with Jay with Stretch and Bobbito. I’m like, ‘Yo, dude is a problem.’ Lyricists know each other. And you can’t sit in a room with Jay—if he opens his mouth—and rock with him if you wasn’t on top of your shit. But that’s the cloth we was cut from. Everyone had a book of rhymes, everybody could execute.
“But L, he was a problem. When he did ‘The Enemy’ record with Joe, he said, ‘Yo, I’m gonna kill you on your own shit.’ I seen him find his pocket, I seen him evolve. But now that I think about it, it makes sense. He was young, man.
“So anyway, I had to chase him around. ‘Yo, I got an idea.’ He’s like, ‘I’ll be there, I’ll be there, I’ll be there.’ He’s running around, doing things, starting Flamboyant. ‘Yo L, I got a check for you.’ He’s like, ‘I’ll be there in twenty minutes.’ He’s funny like that. He was coming anyway, but I’m like, ‘Nigga, I got some money for you.’ And he was there in twenty minutes. He’s like, ‘You got that in check or cash?’ He was funny, arrogant, he’d get on your nerves, push your buttons. But we laughed, he came in, and he did his part.
“He was on his grind. He was running out to Queens, chasing money. So I had to wait on him until the next day to do our back and forth parts. But the shit was magic, B. I was like, ‘You gotta come back.’ And I lied to him and said, ‘I got some more bread for you, too,’ just to make sure he’d come back. He came through on time, and stayed a little longer and did the back and forth shit. He was a quick writer. He was quick on his feet, on some Mayweather of rap shit.
“The original breakbeat I think is by 7th Wonder. It’s a normal record that the DJs would play in the park jams. And I’m one of the cats that grew up on it. I loved it. I brought it to the crew, them niggas laughed me out the studio. ‘Get outta here with that shit. We D.I.T.C. We dig, we chop, we sample.’
“Did the same shit with Walt, and he did the whole Santa Claus laugh with me too. And I’m like, ‘Oh word?’ So I wrote him a check. Then he was like, ‘So when we going in?’ I’m like, ‘Ohhhhhh.’ But Walt is straightforward. He’d shatter your whole shit. He’s like, ‘I still don’t like the record.’ I’m like, ‘I’ll rip the check up then.’ He’s like, ‘Nah, nah, nah, nah. We gon’ make it work.’
“And, like the dude he is, he didn’t take credit for it, but Preem did the scratches on that. Preem was a pivotal point on that record.
“That record got a lot of radio burn. ‘Dangerous’ was on primetime radio. Fat Boy was like [in an impeccable Fat Joe accent], ‘Yo, you need to do a video. What are you doing? You’re stupid, O. You have to do it, you have to maximize.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not doing a video, Joe. I got no bread for it.’ He’s like, ‘I’ll do it.’ He was a con artist. He could talk a whale out of water. I should’ve listened to him, he was right. It would’ve maximized the album.”
7. “Win The G” ft. Bumpy Knuckles (Produced by DJ Premier)
“Foxxx was there for them Cold Crush, Fantastic days. Or at least he had the tapes. We’re from the same era, but there’s a couple things that I missed. And he came up with that whole concept, and it was dope.
“Foxxx is one of my most highly underrated MCs. Shout out to my man Panchi too from NYGz on the commentating.
“Foxxx and Showbiz was peoples for years. I think one day I was recording in Unique Studios, on 49th and 8th I believe. I was finishing ‘The Chosen One’ record. I told Buck, ‘I’ma go downstairs and get something to eat.’ I go downstairs to McDonald’s and get on line, and who’s there but Freddie Foxxx. I’m like, ‘Oh shit.’ I didn’t say nothing though. You know, he’s like six foot and some change, had the no-nonsense face on.
“But I’m like, ‘Oh shit, that’s Show’s man.’ So I hit Show like, ‘What’s the chance of getting Foxxx on a record?’ He’s like, ‘100 percent.’ He gave Foxxx my number, we talked, and the rest is history.
“I just performed that record with Preem and Foxxx maybe three years ago. I forget where, but it was in New York. Naughty performed, M.O.P. performed with Foxxx, Flava Flav was hosting, Eric B. was there deep with the whole Paid In Full posse. It was crazy.”
8. “Far From Yours” ft. Yvette Michelle (Produced by Buckwild)
“If you listen to that record, first of all, it’s a long record. It’s too long to be on the radio. Second of all, the chorus is too long. But it was just one of those records I grew up on. The Brothers Johnson version, the original, not the Tevin Campbell one. I grew up on R&B, Tower of Power. I’m a ‘70s baby. People don’t understand it was R&B before hip-hop. This shit ain’t ancient ruins. It’s soul music and gospel before rap.
“But it was just a record. The label chose that to be a single, because that was the easiest one for them to work, and have an excuse to say, ‘We worked your record. We moving on now.’ They spent all this money on the video, and that shit ain’t even fly at radio like that. Because it wasn’t meant for that.
“Yeah, it charted. And I was happy about that. But people had this misconception that I was targeting the radio. But I was like, ‘It’s too long. It got scratches in it, and a Rakim sample.’ The format of what was going on at radio at the time, that wasn’t the right record. It just happened to cut through and chart a little bit. But it wasn’t getting no add. It wasn’t gonna compete with Busta’s ‘Dangerous.’ It wasn’t happening.”
9. “Stronjay” (Produced by Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz)
“That’s a straight reference from Boomerang. People be like, ‘What’s Stronjay?’ I’m like, Boomerang, man!’ They like, ‘Booma-who?’ People crazy, man. They don’t connect it.
“I was watching Boomerang one night, bugging out, seeing Grace Jones throw her panties in dude’s face, and I just came up with the idea. I wanted to use that whole premise in the movie, but they didn’t want to get sued behind that. The funny shit though is the guy who ran Payday Records—Patrick Moxey—actually managed Grace Jones. So we could’ve figured something out to get her in the studio. But they was too cheap to do that shit.
“It’s a mix of fantasy with a little truth in it. Basically, I’m talking about cheating. [Laughs.] I was in a relationship back then, so I couldn’t air no chicks out like that, but I was a young and I was slingin’ it.
“The original record has a different beat. The original beat was produced by Ogee. But the funny thing is MC Eiht used it for Menace II Society. And I didn’t want to disrespect MC Eiht, I thought his joint was better. So Beatminerz and O got together and remixed it. But if you listen to the cadence and the pocket on the original version, as opposed to the Beatminerz version, you’ll see the pockets are different and it fits to the original bassline.
“I wouldn’t have been mad if the original came out. I like the pocket better on the original, but I like both of them, though. Sonically, the Beatminerz one fits the album.”
10. “M.U.G.” ft. Freddie Foxxx (Produced by DJ Premier)
“Money Under Ground. Once again, Freddie Foxxx came up with the concept. And he just told me to go in. Like, ‘Once you hear that [makes intro noise], come in right after that.’ And that’s how I started it, ‘Penicillin on wax…’
“Funny thing about him is, even though I didn’t know Foxxx that long, it felt like me and him been in the basement doing routines forever. We have very few joints together, but the ones we do, the shit is a marriage. I can’t even explain how me and his chemistry is. It’s a weird connection, like, automatic.
“And people don’t know, this dude is a genius. He plays piano, horns. He’s a jack of all trades. He taught me a lot when it came to writing music—how to pocket the beat more, and cut down on words. Make it fit where it needs to fit, and don’t force it. He taught me a lot in that particular session. That was the first joint we did. We did ‘Win The G’ afterwards.”
11. “The Crow” (Produced by Showbiz)
“That’s a true story though, man. I was living in Crown Heights at the time. And you rarely see crows in Brooklyn, or New York for that case. They’re out here, but you don’t just see them on the norm. And that night, that shit just landed on my windowsill, with the shades up. And I’m looking dead at the shit, and I’m looking at the eye, and I’m thinking about The Exorcist, The Omen and all this shit. And I’m like, ‘Yoooo.’ The shit just bugged me out.
“I had an idea for it, and I stepped to Show about it. Show and Finesse and L had gone to Japan a few years before that, and he had this rare Japanese record. And he put that shit together, and it just fit. That shit fit perfect. I wrote the story in the studio after I told Show the idea. We recorded that shit in like an hour.
“I’m talking some Busta Rhymes When Disaster Strikes post-apocalyptic shit. Actually, I was ahead of my time with it, when I thought about it years later. Like, ‘Who’s writing shit like this?’ It also goes back to me saying, ‘Damn, how people don’t have me in this upper echelon of MCs with these other cats?’ It’s one of those stories that you don’t hear too many artists creating. I think it put me in a class by myself.
12. “You And Yours” (Produced by DJ Ogee)
“‘Boppin’ with Jigga, droppin’ jewels to beats.’ I used to ride around with Jay and Bee-High his cousin, and go to shows with them, Roc-A-Fella. He used to always ask me to get on stage with him, and I’d be like, ‘Nah, I’m good.’ I would just stand back and watch, and learn. This is after Word…Life too.
“I remember sitting with him in the Lexus, the bubble he always talk about, listening to Life After Death before it came out, when it was done. And listening to beats and shit like that. Me and Jay never had a rhyme session, we was cool though. But I was more tight with Bee-High. He would drive us around, or Jay would drive, and we would just listen to music. It was a friendship.
“That was one of those last submissions to the album, before it was closing out. It just felt good to me. I think around that time, me and Ogee got the green light to do the Soul In The Hole soundtrack, and we recorded that probably in the same session. It was a last minute thing, because the album was basically done before I did that record. I put my man U Nast on it to do the chorus, and that was it.”
13. “Hypocrite” (Produced by Buckwild)
“I was talking about myself on that record. Funny story, I remember doing a show one time, touring for Word…Life. I was somewhere, maybe in Rhode Island. And this cat, a supporter, approached me and was like, ‘I’m a big fan.’ I was like, ‘Appreciate it.’
“Then he was like, ‘But yo, why do wear jewelry and all this other shit?’ The dudes around me were ready to pound him out. But he didn’t say it in a disrespectful way, but with all the positive shit I was talking on Word…Life, to see me with tons of jewelry on, he didn’t understand that. I didn’t know him, but I thought, ‘Shit, I had a 190E before I had a record deal.’
“One thing we never did—and I say we as a collective, D.I.T.C.—you never knew what dudes did in the street or did behind the scenes. We always talked about positive shit. Runaway Slave, Word…Life, things of that nature. And this guy just didn’t understand why I had jewelry. And that shit just bothered me. It bothered me for a long time. That’s when I knew that music can affect people.
“If he’s like, ‘Why do you wear jewelry, but when I listen to your music this is not the shit that you talk about?’ Well, Rakim didn’t talk about all this shit on his first album, but you see the Paid In Full album cover, they had jewelry, on the back with Dapper Dan suits looking like hustlers. Did you say this shit to Rakim when you seen him? In a nutshell, that’s what made me write ‘Hypocrite.’
“Once you release music to the world, it’s not yours anymore. It’s everybody’s. So you have to be careful how you move, how you put your influence out there, whether you say it’s influential or not. Because people will check you on it. And when that happened, I just felt like a hypocrite. You are what you eat, you practice what you preach. That would’ve been like me seeing Chuck D with diamonds on talking that Public Enemy shit. I get it.
“That’s definitely one of my favorites. You know, those album cuts, those are the joints in essence that shape the album. Those joints you know you’re not gonna perform but they’re something you’re gonna place on an album—those are the joints people fall in love with.”
14. “It’s Only Right” (Produced by Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz)
“That’s another record they used to spin in the park. It did sound like something Rakim would write some incredible shit to, with that bassline, that’s why I started it out with that line. It just took me back to the park. I was always around music. I seen the Infinity Machine, I seen Albino Twins. I seen things unfold that right now is considered legendary, mystique. They think rap popped up with Biggie, Nas and Jay, but nah. There’s a long history with this shit. And I was a part of it, from early on.
“The original record made me feel good, of growing up, listening to Moms and them play music, sippin’ on Miller nips, joints being passed around. They wouldn’t have us in the room while they was partying, but we was kids. We’d find excuses to pass through the living room to go to the kitchen, get slapped in the head like, ‘Go back to you room. This grown folk.’ Shit like that. But I would hear the music through the door. And years later, I would be in the park and hear the shit on a bigger scale, on Cerwin-Vega speakers. That shit would sound incredible. It’s nostalgic for me.
“So when I asked Mr. Walt to do it for me, it was a no-brainer. Like, ‘What, you want to flip this?’ I was like, ‘No doubt.’”
15. “Jewelz” (Produced by Lord Finesse)
“I went up to Finesse’s crib, because he didn’t get on the album yet. He played me ‘The Message,’ which ended up on Dr. Dre’s album. I begged ‘Nesse to give me that ‘Message’ record, but he ended up giving it to Dre. He could’ve had my whole budget for that. He was actually holding onto it for himself, but business-wise it made sense when Dre came. Who wouldn’t get on a Dr. Dre album? But that was something in my mind that should’ve been on Jewelz. That might’ve been the title track.
“After an hour or two of trying to twist his arm, it wasn’t gonna happen. He plays ‘Jewelz,’ which was actually an interlude he was working on. I paused for a second, and it took me back on a rewind of my life. And I was just like, ‘Yo, you need to extend that record right there.’ Mind you, he didn’t like it. Well, not that he didn’t like it, but he felt he could’ve gave me something else.
“We kicked it, we talked, think we had a sip. He gave me copy of the joint, I took it home. And I think in the next few days, I went into D&D and I played it for Preem, and Preem was buggin’ off that shit. So Preem called ‘Nesse and was like, ‘Yo, you don’t like this?! You buggin’. You got drums for it?’ ‘Nesse was like, ‘Nah, I ain’t got drums for it yet.’ So ‘Nesse hooks up drums for it. Then Preem’s like, ‘Give it to me. I’ll lace it up and I’ll mix it.
“And that’s what he did. ‘Nesse added the drums and the elements to it, and Preem mixed the record. And Preem added the interlude to it. Preem loved that record—‘Nesse wasn’t so hot about it at first.
“I didn’t have no title for the album until that record was done. But just the shit I was talking about, I was like, ‘I’ma drop a gem.’ But I couldn’t use that, because Mobb Deep had ‘Drop a Gem On ‘Em.’ So I was like, ‘I’ma drop a jewel on ‘em, and just give people a perspective on my life.’
“I always tell people, everybody’s lives are parallel. We might go through different things at different times, but we all basically go through the same shit, whether it be emotional, physical, mental, monetary, life, death—we all experience the same things. None of us are immune to anything. We’re prone to experience any of those things.
“At the end of the day, when you’re telling a story, most people are gonna relate to that shit, because everyone experiences, in some form or fashion, the same things in life.
“People want to feel connected to you. I try to be as honest as possible and talk about things that other people might be going through too. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew people was gonna relate to it.
“It was like, ‘How can I sum up the album?’ I introed the album like the epilogue of a book, and how I’ma go close it now. And I felt like ‘Jewelz’ was the perfect ending to the story.”
“I remember at first, people weren’t feeling me. When the video dropped, they’re seeing the jewelry, me on an island, it’s sunny. It’s sort of like how B.I.G. said in that interview with Joe Clair—you can’t talk about the same shit. He couldn’t talk about Ready To Die anymore. You evolve. Now it’s Life After Death.
“And it was the same thing with Word…Life going into Jewelz. In those three years, I got jewels. I traveled, I seen places where people were poor, and they still came up with bread to pay for shows. I seen different ways of living as opposed to living in the States. I seen different kinds of women. Those are things I wouldn’t have seen staying at home. It was a change.
“But some people don’t want change. They want you to keep regurgitating the same shit over and over. And it’s like, ‘Yo, that’s impossible.’ Even if I tried to do another Word…Life, I couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle like that anymore. And I’m definitely far removed from that jazz-driven sound. I wanted to get into another space. And people weren’t receptive at first.
“It took a second, man. And it kind of made me sad a little bit, to be honest. Like, ‘Damn man, people’ll love you one day then hate you the next. And they’ll move on.’ And I just felt like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ It had me doubting myself for a second.
“Then things started to pick up. The reviews came out late, and people just started, for some reason, paying attention. It took me going overseas and promoting the record with L to see. And that shit was a trickle effect back to the States. A lot of reviews were coming from overseas. To this day, we have a stronghold in terms of support over there. So they was elated. And it trickled back and changed the dynamics of the record afterwards.
“I was excited about the album, but I’m always afraid—in a good way—about putting out music. I always say, ‘If I don’t get afraid before I go on stage or put out a project, if I don’t get that feeling, then it’s time for me to stop.’ And we human, man. People get so desensitized and think that we’re superhuman in professions of this kind.
“It was a slow burn, but people finally came around. I was definitely happy with the project when it was complete, but once you put it out to the public, it’s up for scrutiny, whatever. And now you gotta let the people decide if what you’re doing is dope, or right, or whatever the case may be.”
20 Years Later (Ranking Jewelz)
“I don’t rank my albums. These albums are chapters in my life. It’s evolution, it’s growth. You’re writing out the footnotes of pieces of your life for people to listen to.
“I never ranked none of my records. Honestly, besides me performing a few of the songs off those records, I don’t listen to those albums. They’re chapters in my life. I don’t look back.
“One thing I’ve always done is correlate each album to my life as a chapter. Each title to each album resonates with my life at the time. And I learned that from Rakim, looking at their albums and studying what they done, and what Public Enemy has done. I try to correlate each album title with what’s going on in my life.
“So I never rank them. I look at them as pieces of my life, which they are. Hate ‘em or love ‘em, this is my life. Get with it, or you don’t. That’s it.”
Purchase the new Apathy & O.C. album Perestroika HERE.
Special acknowledgement to two other D.I.T.C. classics—Diamond D’s Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop and Showbiz & A.G.’s Runaway Slave—both celebrating their 25th anniversaries today.
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