Crooked I Keeps It 100 — Talks Industry Politics, the New West, Ghosting Writing & More
"I got into this industry to express myself to the most people as I can," explains Dominick "Crooked I" Wickcliffe. The rapper has invested everything into his craft and he's reaping its benefits. Through hip-hop, he's shattered the cycle of complacency that once haunted his family. Hip-hop has even empowered his younger brothers, the collective unit known as the Horseshoe G.A.N.G. (Grind And Never Give Up) to follow his path.
On November 3rd, their debut release, Gangsta M.C., was released through Crooked I's imprint Treacherous Records. Even though his EP, Mr. Pigface Weapon Waist, leaked three weeks before the scheduled November 10th release, the Long Beach native isn't upset. He contends, "When it leaks, it hurts your sales, but it also means that people really want to hear it. I'm not one of them dudes that's interested in numbers. My whole life I've hustled and been a business man and done everything I can do outside of music. I don't rely on CD sales to keep me afloat. There are some people who can't afford to buy my sh**. I [have] been in that position before. I grew up on welfare and food stamps; sometimes we was homeless. If you gotta bootleg it, bootleg it; just bump my sh**!"
BallerStatus.com caught up with Crooked I at the Tulsa, OK leg of Tech N9ne's recent K.O.D. tour. As one quarter of the hip-hop gestapo, which is Slaughterhouse, Crooked I, is its lyrical guillotine. This leader of the New West assassinates the wax each time he spits a spontaneous sixteen or a meticulously crafted rhyme. Whether he's sharpening his decapitating wit on unprepared rappers, or if he's using his stockade of similes and metaphors to share his cache of stories, Crooked I is hip-hop in its truest sense. In this unrelenting interview, the New West Don opens up about the New West's leadership, the responsibilities of MCs, and about running Treacherous Records.
BallerStatus.com: What qualities do you possess that have prepared you to become the leader of the New West?
Crooked I: When it comes to the New West, I love everybody. I don't think there's anybody that's put in more work than I did under the New West. There's nobody who's grinded as hard as I have. There's nobody who can even claim to do, and if they claim to do it, I'll call them out. The truth is the truth. I'll call an ace and ace and a spade ... I love all of them. I love Glasses [Malone], I love Jay Rock, I love Nipsey Hussle -- all of them dudes. I love them. There ain't nothing to it. I put in too much work not to be the leader of the New West. One of my leadership qualities is the fact that I started an organization C.O.B. when I was younger.
The whole purpose of C.O.B. was I wanted to see people together, Crip or Blood, Circle of Bosses. It's a circle, not just one boss. We have to roundtable with each other, we make decisions together. That's one reason why I think that the leadership position was put on me. A lot of New West dudes will tell you, "That's him. He's the leader of that!" I made up New West. I did a song called "New West Anthem." That was the first time anyone heard the phrase "New West." I got love for everybody [that's] trying to push it ... I believe that the world needs to see the New West. It's not like it used to be. It's a lot of talent out there. When it comes to leadership within the New West, if someone says that he's the leader of the New West, it's going to be hard for them to say that. If they say it they're going to have to prove it.
BallerStatus.com: Has anyone challenged you yet?
Crooked I: No, there's nobody who's challenging me on that level, because I've put the work in. If they do challenge me on that level, I'll make it real hard for them on the West. So, it's like, do you really want to go there? The whole thing is I think that they respect me and I respect them. I respect them 100%. When it comes to the New West, if they challenge me like that, it's going to be a big problem. I don't want that problem and I think they don't want that problem. They know they was inspired by me and I know who I was inspired by. So let's just keep it 100, you know what I'm saying? (starts to laugh)
BallerStatus.com: Within your personal experiences, what have been the most disappointing and most rewarding aspects of being an MC?
Crooked I: One of the most disappointing things to me, is just this business, period. When we were little, we have a dream [and] we want to do this industry stuff. [But] when you get inside the business, it turns your dream upside down. You start understanding about the politics, about the B.S. That was one of the most disappointing things ever. It was like, "Yo, foreal? I can't be good and do my business without all these politics with radio, TV, and all that?"
The best thing is always being able to talk to the people who appreciate it. I don't like to call them fans, because a fan, to me, it sounds like "I think I'm above you." Like if I say, "You're my fan." I don't like to call them fans, but the people who support what you do -- that's the best thing. To shake somebody's hand and say, "How are you doing?" And they say, "You're my favorite rapper." That's the best thing.
BallerStatus.com: What are the unwritten, but understood responsibilities of an MC?
Crooked I: Some MCs, they don't understand, that their words influence a lot of people. You have to watch what you say. Now, everybody's human, you're not anybody's parent who listens to the music, but you still gotta watch what you say. Sometimes, it's like some rappers encourage too much violence, especially when it comes to gang banging. A lot of rappers, they haven't been out of their city until rap took them out of their city, a tour took them out of their city...
Me, I dropped out of school at a young age, and I started hustling. I started going to city to city, just anywhere I could go to get money. I started to watch and to absorb sh** like a sponge. I could see the influence that rappers have over an entire city. So, maybe it ain't that cool to encourage these people out here to kill each other. That's one thing rappers need to learn about. A lot of rappers really need to understand they're responsible for a lot of things when it comes to words. Words are powerful.
BallerStatus.com: In your opinion, is there such a thing as commercially successful hip-hop that still possesses a soul?
Crooked I: I think there is. When I listen to Jay-Z, he's a grown man, he's mature. There's certain things he says in his lyrics that are socially conscious. But, the music industry puts a million dollar push behind ignorance. They will put a million dollar push behind ignorance, and think it's like, "Okay, cool." [Eventually] some people out there -- the new generation -- will start to feel like, "Okay that's what rap is, [and] that's what hip-hop is." When somebody comes along to try and break that cycle, if they don't have that million dollar push, then it's not going to happen. There's some people out there that I feel like are doing what they gotta do. You got Common, Talib Kweli [and] every now and then Kanye says something that means something. There are some people out there that are saying what they need to say. I just don't think that this corporate industry pushes these people how they should.
BallerStatus.com: What's your view on ghostwriting and ghost writers? Is it an undervalued lane or it an overused safety measure?
Crooked I: I believe that ghostwriting is cool. In hip-hop, they don't really like ghostwriting that much. Every rapper wants to write his own lyrics. But, Marvin Gaye didn't write all of his hits. Michael Jackson didn't write all of his hits. Sometimes you gotta be able to put your ego and the backseat and say, "This guy's incredible, let me allow him to write me a hit." When it comes to rappers, a lot of rappers don't like ghostwriting. If you're trying to be an upcoming rapper, and you're trying to write for people, you got a tough job ahead of yourself. Rappers would rather make some wack, bullsh**, for a lack of a better term, than to allow someone to write them some good sh**. But, that's how it is in hip-hop. I don't know. I feel like ghostwriters are needed in this game.
BallerStatus.com: When I first heard the title of your EP, Mr. Pigface Weapon Waist, I automatically thought of the law boys.
Crooked I: (laughs)
BallerStatus.com: I'm thinking, "Okay, what's this about?" How did you decided on that title for your EP?
Crooked I: When we do Slaughterhouse shows, I used to come on stage with a pig mask. So, a lot of the fans started calling me "Pig Face" ... Then the "Weapon Waist" came from a song that I did ... "The Warriors". That's on Royce Da 5'9's Street Hop. They call me "Weapon Waist." Everybody in Slaughterhouse, they say, when I'm drunk, they say I become Weapon Waist. My temper is this short.
BallerStatus.com: Now, what kind of material is going to be on it?
Crooked I: Okay, can I keep it real with you?
Crooked I: When I first made the EP, it was for the summer. I made that EP a long time ago. I wanted to make some summertime music for Cali. When you're in Cali and it's summer, people like to drop their tops and people like to ride around. That's what I did it for. What ended up happening was one of the songs had a sample on it ... the particular group, which I don't wish to name right now, because I have more samples from this group. They didn't want to clear that particular sample. So, it took a long time, like back and forth back and forth. Pretty soon, the summer was over by that time.
Now, the concepts on there were very rebellious, because, like I said, when I get too many drinks in me, that's Weapon Waist, right there. He got a short temper, so the concept was like very rebellious. Like Jay-Z did "Death of Autotune" -- It's like they want to see the death of West coast sh**. I could feel it, you know what I mean? I can feel it. I've been all around the world. I've been in this industry for a long time. A lot of people want to see the death of West Coast sh**. So, the whole thing was, we're not buying it. This is what we're doing, so accept it! That's where it came from. I don't know. (laughs)
BallerStatus.com: As Senior VP of Treacherous Records, how do you handle the obligations of being a record exec with the responsibilities of being an MC? Do they ever clash?
Crooked I: Yeah, they clash. Just balancing that out, it's hard. With Treacherous, my partner Tico Khrimian, we've been spending a lot of money trying to be an independent, breakout label. It's a challenge trying to balance being a Vice President. Sometimes you spend money and nothing happens. It's a gamble; it's a risk. So, I really try to market the artists over there. We have a cat over there by the name of One-2. He's putting out some new stuff (Mixtape Vol. 4: The Leak); we got Jayo Felony. It's not easy. You can actually spend $10 million in this industry and not go nowhere. You can actually do that.
I was talking to a guy today. He wanted to invest in my company. He was like, "I got all this money." Somebody who is looking to get over on people would have been like, "Cool, gimme dat!" But, I told him some real sh**. This sh** is a gamble. You can put all that money into this and lose it. I told him I don't want your investment, because you're not ready. He was looking at it like, "If I put this much money in then I get that much money." No, there's a chance that you can lose all your money, you know what I mean? I'm not no kind of dude that [schemes people]. He was ready to give me $250,000, then all of a sudden he's in the broke house-- I've seen it happen. I've seem dudes lose way more money. I told him, "Dawg, go into real estate. Don't even think that this is something that you're going to pop off on, because this sh** it brutal. It will take everything you got, without a doubt."
BallerStatus.com: What does hip-hop mean to you?
Crooked I: Hip-hop means the world to me, because if it wasn't for hip-hop, I don't know what I would be doing. Everybody's like, "Hip-hop saved my life and all that." Me, personally, I'm being honest with it. My mother's from Tulsa, Oklahoma, right here. When we was in Cali, we used to come out here for summers. I used to live with my grandmother in the summer. I'd be out here the whole summertime. We were poor. We didn't have nothing. We had to do the free food, we had to do the WIC, we had to get the food stamps. We was on the Northside going to Safeway, back when they had the McLain Shopping center. We'd go to Buy-For-Less and get that BestYet. This was, it was an experience to me.
I used to hang the posters on the wall -- LL Cool J, Run DMC, all of that. I was only eight years old when I started rapping. So, it was like, "This is what's going to get me out of this lifestyle. This is what's going to help me buy my mother a house, this is what's going to help me save my little brothers from getting killed in some gang bang war, or going to the penitentiary for a million years." You know what I mean?
BallerStatus.com: Why did you choose hip-hop as opposed to a different route?
Crooked I: I think I chose hip-hop, because my mother was a singer. She did a lot of work with the GAP Band. My father didn't raise me, he left when I was five, but I remember he was a poet. I remember he got some of his poetry into this little anonymous poetry book. He used to write poetry and my mother is a singer, so that's what got me into hip-hop like that. I used to do talent shows when I was little and rap everybody else's songs. (laughs)
BallerStatus.com: On behalf of BallerStatus.com, we wish you continued success and happiness. Is there anything else you'd like to elaborate on?
Crooked I: I would like for everybody out there to go get Horseshoe G.A.N.G.'s CD, Gangsta M.C. It's out, go grab that. Go grab, Street Hop, by my dude Royce Da 5'9. Get my dude Joey, Joe Budden's Escape Route and get my Mr. Pigface Weapon Waist EP. Just support real hip-hop. If someone is out there pouring their heart and soul into the microphone then support them!