It’s hard not to be nostalgic about the N.W.A. era of hip-hop. In those days, MCs were powerful and their words thunderous proclamations blasting out of the speakers in the inner-cities and also for the first time in the suburbs.
Remembered for the three words that scared a nation, N.W.A. brought gangsta rap to the masses and forever changed the course and culture of hip-hop. N.W.A. member MC Ren, an outspoken lyricist, is an icon of that illustrious and unforgettable era.
After shocking the world with the group in the 90s, and making his own mark with a platinum-selling solo career, MC Ren’s presence quietly faded away in an industry where buffoonery got rewarded and lyrical sincerity was discouraged. It’s now been 11 long years since Ren released his last album, Ruthless for Life.
Perhaps now though, hip-hop has never more been in need of the “Ruthless” one. With unbearable Auto-Tune remixes, petty braggadocio and flamboyant androgyny dominating the scene, MC Ren’s jagged wordplay and dependable demeanor is a missing piece for a puzzle that hardly makes sense any more.
The good news is the wait is over, and the missing piece found. MC Ren is set to drop his long anticipated comeback album, Renincarnated, on October 31st. A release certain to frighten the children.
BallerStatus recently caught up with MC Ren to chat about the return album, his religion, family, and the current state of hip-hop and the recording industry. Quite a bit has changed since 1998. MC Ren has not.
BallerStatus.com: You excited to be back?
MC Ren: Yeah man, I feel good. I can’t wait for the album to drop, so everybody can hear that sh**. So I’m pumped up right now. I ain’t been pumped in a while, but it’s on now.
BallerStatus.com: Word is that this is a true solo album with no guest appearances?
MC Ren: Right. Right. Now-a-days everybody’s records be so wack, they be having like 50 million people on the sh**. I just want to do me. Just all me.
BallerStatus.com: That’s what you know best. How long has this comeback album been in the works? What incited you to get back in the studio and record after all these years?
MC Ren: I’d say roughly about eight or nine months. Something like that, between eight or nine months. Man. it was just seeing little things on TV. It’s been getting me pumped up. Some of the homies been hollering at me. Then going on the internet and seeing all them real MC Ren fans speculating and wondering if I’d come back and do an album after so many years. They were still waiting for me. I ain’t done an album in 11 years. So it was like, “Let’s do this sh**, and do it for the Ren fans out there.” A lot of motherf***ers out there, when it come out, they going to hate on it, but this sh** ain’t for them. This is for all the Ren fans. So everybody, that got all my old sh**, they can expect Reincarnated to be hard like the old sh**.
BallerStatus.com: Releasing an album after 11 years, from your perspective how has the game changed?
MC Ren: Man, the game has changed all the way around. Everything done changed, from the way records are promoted to the sound of the music. Back in the day record companies used to be real involved with this and that. But with the internet, a lot of these record companies getting to be obsolete. Everybody pushing they sh** online now, dropping they albums digital, so all that changed … plus the sound. From when I last put an album out, to now, the sound just got … how should I say it … watered down. There’s a lot more bullsh** in the industry now. A lot of motherf***ers, young kids, like that bullsh**. They like to bullsh** on their albums cause they young or wasn’t around to know what that real sh** sounded like. So my album is definitely an alternative to the bullsh** out there.
BallerStatus.com: The beats on Reincarnated are billed to be very reminiscent of old school MC Ren. That certainly will be an alternative to current mainstream hip-hop, if that’s the case?
MC Ren: Nah. All the beats now are like house music, or standard R&B. I don’t know what to call that sh**, this Lady Gaga type sh**. Motherf***ers rhyming over Lady Gaga beats. To me that’s just crazy. So no, Ren’s not bringing that. I ain’t doing none of that Auto-Tune. None of that sh**. The whole sound right now is just f***in’ up. A lot of folks will think I’m hating, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t say motherf***ers shouldn’t like that sound. It’s a personal choice, I choose not to. And if I don’t like it, I’m certainly not going to be doing it that way. It’s all just too f***in’ … commercial.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve earned a right to voice that opinion. With Renincarnated set to release in the fourth quarter of 2009, from your respected vantage point, how has this year been for hip-hop? Are there particular breakout artists or new tracks that you like? Are there ones you’re especially disappointed by? How will Renincarnated stand up as it comes out near the end of the year?
MC Ren: Man I think Renincarnated going to stand … like I said it’s for all the Ren fans, young and old. They’re going to go out and cop it. No doubt about that. As far as 2009? I don’t really listen to the new sh**. I listen to the classics. Like last night I was listening to Public Enemy. The new sh** I can’t really get into. There are cats out there doing they’re thing, but I’m not trying to compete with the contemporary motherf***ers. I do what I do for the Ren fans. That’s why I came back. They will be the judge of the new album. Not how it stands against what’s popular on the radio today. That’s the only way my sh** probably wouldn’t compare. I’m an underground motherf***in’. I’ve got a following. That’s where the album will stand up.
BallerStatus.com: After a decade where promoters, corporate radio and labels controlled what got heard and what was considered good, do you think this new internet marketplace will level the playing field and push true talent to the forefront? And can the freedom of the internet put emphasis back on artists creating music as an art rather than taking the easy route for money?
MC Ren: Man you got to be good, because there are so many motherf***ers putting out songs now days. To build up a following you’ve got to grind online, but you got to be good. The internet can’t force sh** down your throat like a label or radio can. The way it’s starting to get, anyone can rise to the top if they’ve got the talent. The industry can’t prevent you from building your own following. So you have to step your game up.
BallerStatus.com: Is the theme behind Renincarnated purely about your musical reemergence? Or is there something more personal about it too?
MC Ren: This album Renincarnated is me coming back. After 11 years away, I’m back on the scene letting my face be seen. It’s the same Ren as before, just in another body. I feel like I got tighter too over the years through maturity. Everybody will have to wait and see, and check it out on the 31st of October. Go get it. Put it in, and listen to it from beginning to end.
BallerStatus.com: What was the song writing process for Renincarnated?
MC Ren: Man I get the tracks from my homies, from Chill, from Apocalypse, and I just shoot with them motherf***ers. I didn’t try to rush it, so it’s a similar writing style. I might sit down with a track and write two lines for the night. If them two lines is hot? That’s it. Then tomorrow put the beat back on, vibe to it, and might write four lines. I take my time cause there ain’t no reason to rush. Make it count.
BallerStatus.com: Were there some individuals who were pushing or inspiring you to come back? Or had a big help in you getting it together and recorded?
MC Ren: Obviously I thank my homie Chill. My homie Apocalypse. Sh** … me. I was my biggest motivation. Without me it couldn’t happen. I looked at myself in the mirror and knew I was ready to get off my ass and make it happen.
BallerStatus.com: How did you first get involved with DJ Chill?
MC Ren: I’ve been knowing Chill since like ’87. Met Chill in Compton and that was before Compton’s Most Wanted blew up. Me and him had a cool relationship ever since. He did some work with me on Ruthless for Life. We just click and I feel real comfortable working with him.
BallerStatus.com: What’s been going on with you besides the music? In what stage of life does this comeback album find you? What’s it like doing an album now, with kids at home and life so much different?
MC Ren: Chilling and taking care of my family the best a man can. Kicking back, and that’s about it. Back in the day, in the early NWA days, I’d didn’t have the kids. Now I’ve got kids in school, so this MC is also busy being a daddy. If they got a parent’s back to school night, I’m there. That’s been my priorities, making sure they get the best education and doing my album. One of my family is in middle school and he went to school the other day with a NWA shirt on, my picture on there. That’s feels good to know that the kids still think we’re cool.
BallerStatus.com: Speaking of that, what kinds of opportunities do your kids have now because of your success that you didn’t have coming up in the 1980s?
MC Ren: Man, I always tell my kids they got it way better than I did. They got cable and all this technology. When I was coming up, we only had one TV with thirteen channels. My kids have access to everything. And they’re so spoiled they don’t even realize how good they got it in this world.
BallerStatus.com: Going back a little bit what was the turning point, or that moment in life you can point to, that led to your conversion to Islam?
MC Ren: Being around and keeping aware of things and what they meant. One day I got a book — it had to be in like ’92 — called Message to the Black Man in America by Elijah Muhammad. I got it and read it and to me it was basically like a rap. I took that book everywhere I went. I had never liked to read, ever before that book. So when I got that book, I couldn’t put it down, read through it like 23 times. That book changed it for me.
BallerStatus.com: These are strange times in America for Muslims. Their country is fighting two wars in the Middle East. Their president is being falsely portrayed as a Muslim by right-wing lunatics, as if that were a bad thing. What are your thoughts on this sad state of affairs?
MC Ren: There shouldn’t be anything wrong with being a Muslim, in any country. It ain’t true, but they do say this is a free country. Religion should have nothing to do with it. There are Christian terrorists too. There are fanatics out there who are Christians. For people to say, “Oh he a Muslim,” that lets you know right there they have a problem with Islam. Some people in this country want to be at war with Islam, they don’t want Muslims to come here, and they didn’t want Obama to be president because they think he’s a Muslim. So the line’s been drawn. Obama’s not a Muslim, but their point has been made that they don’t want Muslims to have any power. So you have to be a Christian to become president. That’s not freedom of religion, that’s not what America is about. They say that Islam is forced on people in other countries, well they don’t have room to talk. We’re all worshiping the same God anyway when you really look at it.
BallerStatus.com: N.W.A.’s first couple albums came out it in a different culture than the one we live in now. What kind of impact on society do you feel N.W.A. had? And what did it lead to?
MC Ren: N.W.A. had a big impact. But more importantly I think the sh** we did sparked others to do even more. N.W.A. broke some barriers and made it easier for others when you look at Biggie or Pac, and all that sh**. Without N.W.A., a lot of them could never have come out and talked about that sh**. I’m not talking about the motherf***ers who were talking about some whack ass sh**. I’m talking about Snoop and all those who had something to say, yet still made they sh** tight. Without us wouldn’t be none of that. By us coming out saying “F***k tha Police,” that let others know they could say sh** on records too. Groups today don’t have impacts like we did back then.
BallerStatus.com: Those three words from N.W.A., for better or worse, sparked a mentality in the inner-city during the early 1990s. Turning the microphone into the most powerful weapon a young minority can use in this country, and a lot of rappers waste it.
MC Ren: Exactly! It’s like your speaking to a whole lot of motherf***ers from a podium, you might as well say something they can take and remember.
BallerStatus.com: You about have to go online to hear old school hip-hop. The radio seems to have forgotten it. There are plenty of radio stations that play classic rock or alternative music from the past couple decades. But you have to find a small public or college radio station, or go online to hear classic hip-hop.
MC Ren: You can’t depend on radio stations to play the past. A lot of these motherf***ers radio stations are going to be obsolete. They play twenty minutes worth of commercials and then come on with somebody rapping with Lady Gaga. The radio is dying like the newspaper. Next will be CDs, they’ll be the new cassette tapes. Everything will go through the internet. Go ahead and check out one of the singles from Renincarnated on iTunes, it’s already on there. And be sure to get the album on October 31st.
For more information about his upcoming album, or to stay connected with MC, visit him on MySpace at MySpace.com/MCRenOfficialMyspace.