“Life’s a bitch and then you die, that’s why we get high, cuz you never know when you’re gonna go”
With those words delivered on the classic Nas debut LP Illmatic, AZ was immortalized within the history books of hip-hop music. As the only guest to appear on that seminal record, Brooklyn native AZ began a career that has spanned over a decade, bringing in high amounts of acclaim and respect amongst his lyrical peers. From his slept-on 1995 debut Doe Or Die to 2002′s critically appraised Aziatic, AZ has consistently blessed listeners with his crisp flow punctuated by street narratives and charismatic verses. Despite the steady praise he has warranted, though, his name is rarely mentioned alongside those of MCs with as much, or even less, microphone experience, and many outside of hip-hop’s faithful box still aren’t aware of his achievements.
Final Call, his fifth album, is set to hit the streets hard in September, and promises to provide fans with new insights from AZ’s ‘New York state of mind’. The once-member of super-group The Firm has called upon guests CL Smooth, Tony Sunshine, Rell, and even the late Aaliyah to bring the heat, and with beat-makers such as Buckwild and Baby Paul on board, Final Call appears to be a sure-fire winner. Whether or not this new album will help AZ reach the star status which has strayed away from him thus far is in time’s hands, but one thing is for sure: those in the know are definitely anticipating Final Call and will help it to make as much noise as possible. If this album fails to take his career to new heights, though, AZ has his business mind focused, prepping his Quiet Money Records with hungry, Brooklyn-bred talent, and single-handedly planning the long-awaited, often fantasized about, Nas and AZ collaboration album.
HHS: First off, let’s talk about the new album, Final Call, that’s coming out this September. What can listeners expect from this record?
AZ: People can expect AZ to the tenth power. I’m back, and I’m bigger and better, as usual. This album is like a combination of Doe Or Die, Pieces Of A Man, 9 Lives, and Aziatic.
HHS: Why did you name it Final Call?
AZ: Final Call is like saying that this the last time I’m telling y’all to recognize who I am and what I’m bringing to the table. It’s my final call.
HHS: So what happens if people don’t recognize after this album?
AZ: Well, then I’m going to fall back. I got a whole crew. I got Quiet Money Records right now, with three or four artists that are ready to do what they gotta do. I’m gonna play CEO.
HHS: Break down this Quiet Money family for everybody who isn’t aware.
AZ: Well, I got my man Young God. He was on the 9 Lives album, and he’s on this new album actually. I got my man Animal; he’s been on the last two albums. On Aziatic, he was on that “Hustler” joint. Then you got my man Trav. I got a whole crew in Brooklyn waiting.
HHS: How did the track “Magic Hour” with CL Smooth come about?
AZ: Well, you know, me, Pete Rock, and CL go way back. Back to the early Nas days, and my first days, when we worked on the Doe Or Die album. CL is cool with me, and he stopped through the studio, to pay respects or whatever. He heard the track, and was like, “Wow, this is hot!” I asked him to see what he could do with it, so he hopped on it right there and it came out crazy. That’s why it’s called “Magic Hour”, cuz we just did it there right on the spot.
HHS: This album also has vocals from Aaliyah on it. How did you get those vocals?
AZ: Those vocals there, they are off her first album. I don’t want people thinking they are exclusive vocals. It was chopped up, and the record is a beautiful record. Her vocals were so soulful to me. They made me express what I wouldn’t express on any other track.
HHS: You’ve always given new producers a lot of shine on your albums, rather than recruit big name people. What do you think the advantage is in working with fresh talent?
AZ: Because the big names guys aren’t necessarily gonna come through. The guys that’s trying to come up are gonna go hard and remember who brought them to the table.
HHS: You actually did some production yourself on this album. Is this the first time that you have produced any tracks?
AZ: Yeah, I did like three tracks on the album. It was the first time, and with me being an artist, I know what I want to rap on. I learned how to do it by being around people and having people assist me.
HHS: You touched on this briefly already, but do you think that you have been given the recognition that you deserve after ten years in the game?
AZ: Not necessarily. I know I’m respected in the game, and respected by those that know me, but its time to reach everybody, you know, reach the world. The ghettos and the hoods love me and show the respect, but its time for me to step it up, man. I’m gonna do it, somehow and some way. Either if it’s through the record label, or through the archives that I have.
HHS: The last album, Aziatic, received a lot of critical acclaim when it dropped. Do you feel that Final Call is an improvement from that album?
AZ: Yeah, no doubt, Final Call, to me, is my best album, because it has everything. I brought the streets to it, and I kept it with a soulful vibe. The lyrics stepped up and the music stepped up. It’s constant elevation.
HHS: What’s up with the song you have out now with Tony Sunshine, “Talkin’ Gangsta”?
AZ: We just put that out, with me just rambling. It has this Calypso, Spanish feel to it, but still the street aura is involved. Tony Sunshine definitely blessed that, but that’s not gonna be the first single. We just got that out there circulating. The first single is “You Know”, with Rell. We are shooting that video real soon, and we’ll start smashing the radios with it.
HHS: How are your relationships with your former Firm associates, like Nas, Cormega, and Foxy Brown?
AZ: Everybody is cool. They are all doing them. Foxy Brown is no longer with Def Jam, and she is trying to sign elsewhere. Nas, you know, is doing the Ill Will thing. He’s trying to drop this new double CD. Hopefully I’m on that album, cuz we did a song for that double CD. If the song didn’t make it, though, I’m trying to reach out to him and let him know that we should get this album done. A Nas and AZ album together. I’m trying to work that out, reach out to everybody and let them know. So many people have been asking for it, and I don’t want them to think that I’m the cause of it not happening. Everytime I do an interview, I tell the person to make it clear that I’m trying to let Nas and whoever know that we need to get that poppin’ off.
HHS: How was it working with Cormega on his new Legal Hustle album?
AZ: Mega is peoples. He’s been grinding, you know trying to stay on top of his job. I definitely appreciate and respect that. So it was all love.
HHS: In what ways do you think this rap game is different now in 2004 then it was when you dropped Doe Or Die back in 1995?
AZ: In 1995, the era was over here in the East Coast. We had it locked for a minute, and then the West Coast ran with it. Now, the Midwest and the South are getting it crunk, so it’s their time to run with it. They’re eating right now, and they have this game locked. In a minute, though, I’m sure it will come back to the East Coast.
HHS: In 1995, you were one of the new MCs creating heavy buzz. What do you think of this large crop of new rappers creating buzz through all of these mixtapes out now?
AZ: The new cats are aight. They do what they do. I haven’t really heard anybody that caught my ear or had me go crazy, like back then when everybody was coming through.
HHS: Looking back on your career so far, is there anything that you would have done differently?
AZ: No, not necessarily. I like being in the spot that I’m in. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
HHS: So when all is said and done, in like ten years from now, what do you want a rap fan to think of when someone mentions the name AZ?
AZ: That A-1 is the livest. He’s underrated, but one of the livest. That’s in every story, from basketball to baseball. There is always somebody that is underrated but definitely the one that opened the doors for a lot of people, cuz like I said and told a lot of people, “Sugar Hill” went platinum way before a lot of guys went platinum.
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