[Interview] Joell Ortiz Talks Where Hip-Hop Is At Now, YAOWA, His Growth As An Artist, First Concert And More

Interview By: Colton Beausoleil

When you’re talking lyrics, amazing concepts, undeniable skill and stage presence, Joell Ortiz has always been a part of that conversation. Since day one, that has always been something he has taken seriously – way before his debut album The Brick: Bodega Chronicles – and will always take seriously. Having such a successful solo career, and now one quarter of the rap super group Slaughterhouse, I believe Joell Ortiz is one artist, no matter how far in time you think ahead, will always be mentioned as an artist who stood for what he believed in and shed light on the art form of hip-hop and its origins no matter how up and down the music was. Working together alongside some of hip-hop’s greatest artists can definitely solidify that and it’s exciting to see where he takes us in the future, from his upcoming YAOWA album release, to the Slaughterhouse project in the works to future endeavors. The Come Up Show had the opportunity to sit down with Joell Ortiz to discuss where he thinks hip-hop is at now, his upcoming YAOWA album, his growth as an artist and more. Check out the full interview below.

TCUS: On behalf of The Come Up Show, I want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with us.

Joell Ortiz: It’s all love, thank you.

TCUS: How has the YAOWA Nation tour been so far? I heard you were in Toronto at Manifesto, how did you like that?

Joell Ortiz: The tour’s been phenomenal; we started in Guelph, then we went to Sarnia and Missisauga, Toronto and now we’re here in London. It’s just been phenomenal man; the people have been excited, Canada’s been showing me nothing but love so I’m really excited about tonight’s show just as I am about every other show coming up.

TCUS: Everyone always asks about a Slaughterhouse studio session. It’s been about four or five years since you’ve been working as a group now, have you noticed any growth as a group since working together and even amongst yourselves individually?

Joell Ortiz: There’s definitely been a lot of growth in the Slaughterhouse conglomerate, Joe Budden, Royce Da 5’9, Crooked I and myself. When we first formed [the] group, a lot of the music in my opinion felt like four dope artists doing records together and now that we’re on our third album – our second with Shady Records – being in the booth with these guys and creating songs, it kind of feels like we’re just one artist, and his name is Slaughterhouse. Even if you think you know the group, your going to feel like we re-introduced ourselves to you guys on this new project; it’s phenomenal. Just Blaze is the executive producer; we just can’t wait for it to come out to be honest.

TCUS: So you’ve been rapping a good part of your entire life, what keeps you inspired to write music nowadays?

Joell Ortiz: What inspired me as a child is the same thing that inspires me now: being nice. Know what I mean? I always try to one up everybody with verses and be lyrical and just stand for the art. I still treat it the exact same way, so every time I’m listening back to myself, I’m critiquing myself when I do songs and I just want to make sure I’m giving it my all and not lollygagging, or what we call like milling in the verse, know what I’m saying? If the YAOWA stamp is next to it, it’s got to be fire and I won’t let it not be. So the thing that inspires me right now is making sure we put lyricism, any art form in front of everything else because it’s an interesting state of hip-hop right now. It’s really, really diverse and I don’t hate any sort of music but I just think that the lyricism needs to be in the forefront.

TCUS: Some people nowadays say hip-hop is in another golden era and about three years ago you said in an interview that you believe lyricists will be back at the pinnacle of hip-hop instead of a lot of dance/pop type records, do you think we are at that state now? Or close to it?

Joell Ortiz: It’s safe to say we’re close to her, it’s really safe to say we’re close to her. I mean Eminem is [laughs]. I mean, let me just say something; if you look left and right right now, there’s a lot of dudes rhyming. Kendrick’s rhyming; J Cole’s rhyming; the whole Slaughterhouse conglomerate is rhyming; Nas has always been rhyming; Jay Z’s rhyming. There’s so many different dudes that are really putting the artform first and just for us to be mentioned in the same breath as some of these people is phenomenal. The state of the game, in my opinion, is on its way to where it should be. There’s a couple of little, you know, bumps along the road or whatever but it is what it is, because even when it was the golden era there was still that music that was just feel good music, dance music, it wasn’t necessarily your most complex bars and things of that nature but it felt good; hip-hop’s always felt good. We don’t mind some of the dance records and stuff, we just want to make sure that the new fan of hip-hop knows what it comes from and what it stands for and then you can pick and choose what sort of music suits you.

TCUS: Yeah, there’s definitely a need for all types of records out there. So you’ve been working on this YAOWA album for some time now, what do you hope fans get from this album?

Joell Ortiz: Well you know what, this YAOWA album would’ve came out maybe a year [or a] year and a half ago, but I’m happy it didn’t. I made some changes in my life that I talk about on the YAOWA project. From weight loss to stopping smoking and drinking, just lifestyle changes. I’ve traveled so much with Slaughterhouse; I’ve learned so many things from Eminem and I’ve just been along side some great people so my story got iller. I feel like if I told my story a year and a half ago it still would have been ill because I’m one of the dopest, but I just think that it’s so much more wide-spread now that this YAOWA album is going to be received in a way where people are going to learn a lot about the old me and the new me. I couldn’t have it any other way; I mean it’s been a while but worth the wait regardless, if that sounds cliche or not I really mean that.

TCUS: Speaking on fitness, we’re in an industry where there’s a lot of smoking and drinking going on and you recently quit both of those. Tell me about the moment you decided enough was enough.

Joell Ortiz: It’s been a year now; September 3rd, 2012 was my last drink and smoke. What happened was I woke up – and first off I didn’t plan on it being this long – I just woke up and I remember I went into the bathroom hung-over from the night before and I’m like “ahh man it’s two in the afternoon, do I have studio today? I don’t feel like going,” and I was actually, like, praying, like, “please tell me I don’t have studio today.” I looked and I didn’t have studio and I was like “Yes!” I sat down and turned the channel and I was just like “hold up,” I had a real spark. I was like, “you’re actually celebrating and really happy that you don’t have to go do what has saved your life.” You understand what I’m saying? Like, I was happy I didn’t have to go do music when music was the very thing that saved my life. At that moment I was like, “alright, there has to be some sort of a change. You’re praying you don’t have to go do what God gave you,” and from that day forward it’s been this way. I mean it was supposed to be a break to get things in order, two weeks turned into a month; I said to myself, “you did a month, you might as well make it into Halloween.” I remember how I did it. I got to Halloween and was like, “Thanksgiving’s around the corner, go until then,” then from Thanksgiving into Christmas, than I was like, “alright, New Years you can celebrate. You did it for four months.” Then New Years came and I didn’t drink and I was like, “uh-oh, I think this is over,” [laughs]. And here I am still clean so it is what it is; God is good.

TCUS: On your “Food For Thought” record, you talk about your introduction to hip-hop through the perspective of you speaking to a female. What inspired that?

Joell Ortiz: I mean, first of all, for a long time I feel people have referred to hip-hop as a female; Common talked about it as well as a couple of other people have touched on that. It’s just such an ill way to flip it. I guess in my case hip-hop in so many ways has been like what a good girl would be to you; it’s been there for me when I was down and out. I’ve always been able to write rhymes and that would be like when you consult with your girl. When I’m mad and s–t like that I would throw headphones on and close my room door, which is the same way I am now, when I’m mad I just close the door with my girl and f–k her. In so many different ways hip-hop has been like my girl and it’s always been there to hold me down, and I mean just listen to me, so yeah I just wanted to flip it that way.

TCUS: Do you remember your very first show?

Joell Ortiz: My very, very first show I was 12 and my projects has an annual day, Cooper Day – my projects [were called the] Cooper projects. I performed with three of my homeboys; we were a group called The Ill Team. I don’t remember the exact year it was; it was early nineties. I was so nervous and I had such a trash rhyme but I didn’t care though, but when I got off stage everybody was like “Yoo you ripped it!” I thought that feeling was kind of ill. I take pride in doing good shows, and a lot of artists don’t do that to be honest with you. I have a lot of peers and I see a little bit of bulls–t going on sometimes when doing shows. Although not everybody is a good showman too; you’ve got to understand that. You can have a phenomenal booth artist and he can get in there and be a technician in the booth and it won’t translate on the stage. I think that’s what makes emcees emcees. Some rapper dudes are great rappers but it don’t translate on stage. If you can perfect the booth, the stage and just your persona, like maybe in interviews and when people talk to you, then you’re a full well-rounded emcee in my opinion. Though I’ve seen to many people get on stage and lollygag; it’s not cool, but I mean it is what it is.

TCUS: Is there anything else you wanted to say to the people out there?

Joell Ortiz: Definitely, you can follow me on twitter (@joellortiz) that’s also the instagram handle. I always like to give a note to aspiring artists: just don’t give it up. This is a bumpy ride; there’s up and there’s downs, but it’s a ride. Know what I’m saying? Just enjoy the ride, don’t look left and right and listen to people telling you you’re doing it and people telling you you’re not doing it. Run your own race, look forward, you and your team look forward and keep your head down you’ll get there. YAOWA!