Before Ortiz found what he calls home, he took meetings with A&R’s who cited everything from his weight to a missing twinkle in his eyes, for reasons they couldn’t sign him. “My eyes got poverty,” Ortiz says plainly. “The only thing that twinkle is tears for lost friends.” So he soldiered on, gaining fans through his shows at SOB’s, his online journal and leaks of his popular 125 Grams series of 125 bar freestyles.
Eventually, the tape landed in the hands of a real decisionmaker, Dr. Dre. Ortiz immediately knew he was serious. “I sent eight songs,” he recalls. “He flew me to LA the next day. He signed me the day after that. I was back on a plane the day after that.” Joell Ortiz has that that type of effect on people: he can really rhyme.
Ortiz has taken the long route to success. He’s spent the last decade in the lab with noted A&R Mike Heron and even recorded with Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap. This progression is obvious on The Brick, his lead-up album on Koch Records that drops on TK.
Ortiz describes it as “a peek in on the bodega to see what happens on the project corner. “ He speaks from experience. A star basketball player and model student who scored close to 1400 on his SAT’s, Ortiz made an uncomfortable choice at 17. With both academic and basketball scholarships on the table, Ortiz elected to stay in Cooper. “My moms was getting high and I didn’t want to hear something happened to her,” he recalls, “she was my best friend.”
But later, Ortiz says, “I got into the streets and ended up hustling to survive.” Soon both drugs and money were missing. “I fought her everyday,” he admits. But he also kept a watchful eye on her. “She just went cold turkey,” he says of her decision to quit using drugs. “I was very proud of my moms.”
Ortiz recounts that situation on the initial salvo of his popular 125 grams songs, eight songs that feature 125 bars of straight rhyming, which form the core of The Brick.
But Ortiz also focused on making complete records. “On this Koch album you are going to hear a lot of records that sound mad and painful,” he says. “On caught up I show you how 95 percent of the people who talk about hustling don’t show you the fact that as fast as you can be up you can be down.”
And now that he’s up, he’s focused on proving that hip-hop still lives in New York. “Everybody doesn’t do bubblegum rapping,” he says. “If I hip-hop is dead. I want to come across as the Spanish nigga, who shows that hip-hop is nice.
Joell Ortiz is gonna be a superstar. He has the same swagger that early Eminem and 50 Cent had right before they made history. Even though he is on the brink of stardom, Joell is very humble. There was no manager or label rep. Joell called me himself. How real is that! We had an in depth convo about hip-hop and politics. Here’s what he had to say……
Give the world a little of ya background. How did you link with Dr. Dre?
J. ORTIZ : My management KMD got my music out to Dre’s assistant. She called back and was like Dre likes it.. he wants to fly ya’ll out. So I go into the studio to meet Dre and he said, “Man, I’m pretty much sold….just wanted to meet you in person to make sure you aint a knucklehead….Welcome to Aftermath!”
Wow….that’s amazing. Knowing that Eminem, Snoop, and 50 precede you, the pressure of being an Aftermath artist must really huge. Is there pressure? How do u handle that?
J. ORTIZ : Yea it’s pressure but, ya know what? This is what I signed up for… I’m embracing it. There’s been a lot more difficult things I’ve had to do coming from where I’m from. So this is easier, and they tellin me I might be able to make alot a money doin this! You better believe ima make it happen! (laughs)
Where r u originally from? And what made you wanna do an MC?
J. ORTIZ : Brooklyn, basically coming out my building in ’91 seeing the ciphers, and you’d look and see the girls looking at them like they was gods (laughs). I went upstairs and came back with a weak-ass verse (laughs) but, they let me in the ciphers. So from there I was like, next week I’ma make sure I’m better until eventually it was like, “Oh shit, here come Joelle”.
What do you think about hip-hop content today? And how is your music going to compete with what’s going on?
J. ORTIZ : The answer to that is so simple. It really comes down to the djs. People vibe to what djs play. Its simple mathematics. That’s how ima compete. My “club” record is not gonna be about bottles and models…etc.. My club record is gonna spun for the simple fact that the dj put my record in his bag to play because he’s a fan. We don’t have records that make you rewind the verses like “Did you hear that”… (laughs). That’s what I came for.. to bring that back.. I mean, kids in the barber shops don’t even argue about who’s the best even more! Now they like, “He did 100,000 this week….(laugh)
Now, as I understand you have two deals right? One on Koch and on Aftermath. Any conflicts there? Is this a one album deal on Koch?
J. ORTIZ : Not at all. Dre ok’d the album on Koch, so everything’s a go.
You made a lot of news on the internet prior to signing this deal. Is that the new way to be heard– the internet?
J. ORTIZ : The internet gave me an ill “one-on-one” with my audience, feel me? I was posting up journals. I took em with me through the entire grind..like know me first.. know what ya listening to and that’s what the internet allowed me to do. No other outlet can do that.
You’re also a Latino and have been compared lyrically to Pun. Do you get frustrated with the comparisons?
J. ORTIZ : Nah man. How can I be frustrated with being compared to a legend? I think it’s mostly the energy he brought to the music that people find similar.. our voice tone, yea. But mostly it’s the energy.
I also understand that you haven’t been actually flooding the mixtape circuit like alot of new school MC’s automatically do. Is that a conscious thing?
J. ORTIZ : Nah, I did that on purpose.. cuz u don’t wanna become a pest like dropping 9 mixtapes … (laughs). We worked the mixtape like it was a damn album!
What will people come to know Joell Ortiz for?
J. ORTIZ : I paint pictures. I’ma fan with a deal. I wanna excite people with my music. I wanna be excited again… feel me?
Well, you have us all excited and anticipating ya debut. Thanx for ya time and much success on ya career.