West Coast legend Kurupt on his favorite rappers, collaborating with DJ Quik and Terrace Martin
Rakim said it best: “It ain’t where you’re from, but where you’re at.” Accordingly, the late Guru may have been Boston-bred, but he’ll eternally embody the spirit of Brooklyn. Despite spending his formative years bouncing around the permafrost Philadelphia streets, Kurupt will always be revered as one of the West Coast’s finest, a status famously confirmed on “Till I Collapse,” when Eminem canonized him on his all-time top 10.
Given his first break by Dr. Dre nearly 20 years ago, the rapper also known as Young Gotti first flexed his preternatural rhyme skill on “The Chronic” and “Doggystyle,” blending bayonet-sharp East Coast lyricism with slow-rolling California cool. Forming Tha Dogg Pound with Daz, the pair dropped the minor classic “Dogg Food,” featuring the searing single “New York, New York,” which fueled the-then white-hot East-West feud.
Embarking on a solo career with 1998’s “Kuruption!,” the rapper, born Ricardo Brown, forged a lane as the ultimate rapper’s rapper: technically precise, volcanically intense and unusually versatile, capable of dropping party records such as “Girls All Pause,” adjacent to scorched earth diatribes like “Callin’ Out Names.” After spending much of the last decade creatively wandering the Sinai, he returned to form on last year’s “BlaQKout," a collaboration with DJ Quik.
His first solo album in nine years, the long-gestating “Streetlights,” finds him working with longtime Snoop Dogg collaborator Terrace Martin, and sustaining his late career resurgence. While the lyrics rarely veer outside of surly battle-rap boasts, Kurupt’s chemistry with Martin is immediate, with the two fulfilling their basic goal: creating laid-back West Coast ride music for the hydraulics and hydro set.
You haven’t released a solo album in nine years. What made you decide that the time was right now, and what made you turn to Terrace Martin to do the lion’s share of production?
Terrace and I have been working together for quite some time, and I felt he deserved the opportunity to produce an entire album. He brought the best out of me musically. I’ve always liked to work with one producer for my albums, from Dre to Daz to Soopafly to Quik. I got this idea for the record one night when I was leaving the club and I saw the streetlights go out one by one as I was driving home. I felt like it was a metaphor for life passing me by, so I went to Terrace and said that we had to make an album together to make sure that that didn’t happen.
During most of the last decade, it seemed that a lot of veteran '90s rappers had trouble finding their own lane or even consistently releasing music. But over the last two years, it seems like yourself and a lot of your peers have returned to form. What happened and why the sudden resurgence?
I think everybody was going through something, I know I was. In a sense, it’s just life and you get upset, and you respond. Everybody seemed like they were going through a hiatus where they were trying to figure it all out. I was trying to figure out who I was in real life. No one likes to hear a real life story unless they can see it, or digitalize it, or be a part of it musically. Sometimes you go through a hiatus and you shut down and do what you do. I’d experienced a separation from myself, Ricardo Brown and Kurupt, the artist.
What did you take away from that hiatus?
I learned that I had to raise my kids. I had to make music for grown folks. It’s made for the kids too but it’s made for the adults primarily. I don’t make music for 14-year-olds anymore. I’ve learned a lot from the experiences I’ve had in this ball game. I’m damn near 20 years deep. In the end, I learned that you have to be patient. It’s not always about the music, it’s not always personal, I had to learn how to separate the two.
Your collaboration with Quik connected with a lot of people. What did you take away from working with him?
I learned that patience is a virtue, that it’s OK to take your time and allow artists to do what they want to do. Artists do their best work when they’re in a comfortable spot. With the Quik project, we knew that we wanted to go some other place, without samples and B.S. We knew that it would turn out big.
Your name continually pops up on greatest rappers lists. If you were going to compile your own best rapper’s list, who would be on it.
Rakim and Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool, Ice Cube. Those were my favorites when I was coming up.
-- Jeff WeissPhoto by Devin Dehaven