By TJ Love
Ostensibly, science and magic are diametrically opposed. Prior to the Enlightenment and the advance of the scientific method, however, when chemistry was alchemy, the line between the two were curiously blurred. In certain instances, chemistry creates magic, most particularly in Hip-Hop.
Few things approach the feeling you get when you see certain rappers and producers collaborating. DJ Premier and Freddie Foxx, Black Milk and Elzhi, No I.D. and Common, Erick Sermon and Keith Murray, etc. The collaboration salient to today’s conversation is that of J-Zone and Al-Shid. An underground legend, J-Zone has gotten his props, from this very website and numerous other outlets. But Al-Shid’s contributions to those projects have made him a legend in his own right. He’s what Reggie Jackson would call “the straw that stirs the drink”, and when Planet Ill had the opportunity to chop it up with the upper echelon lyricist it was a no-brainer to talk to the man about his craft.
Planet Ill: First off, I just wanna say that I’m a huge, huge fan. Your music has been a part of my life since probably the early 2000s and to finally be able to talk to you is really awesome. I’m really excited and I’m trying not to be nervous, so bear with me aight?
Al-Shid: Definitely man, we cool. I feel like I already know you, we been talking for years already. We’re good to go.
Planet Ill: My first question is where are you from, how did you grow up, and how did you get into Hip Hop?
Al-Shid: I was born in Roosevelt, Long Island. That’s a part of New York that’s a hidden gem in Hip Hop. There’s a lot of emcees that come out of Long Island, Roosevelt in particular. So just me growing up in Roosevelt, I was influenced by a lot of different music, a lot of different stuff, and the people that were out there.
You know Public Enemy was out there. You had Leaders of the New School in that area, and walking to school they would be out there. They would be playing their music, Terminator X used to be in my hood. He had the white Bronco and he would just be all through hoods in the area…we kinda had no choice, we grew up in that. Getting all that experience at a young age, it was inspiring for us. If you didn’t want to rap you wanted to know who they were. Just know everything about the music and the culture, so at a young age I wanted to know everything about it. And that’s what it was.
Planet Ill: At what age did you actually start trying to rap?
Al-Shid: I’d say about twelve or thirteen. Yeah, um…it was me and a homie. I never wrote my first rhyme by myself; me and a friend of mine wrote our rhyme together. It just started like that. We did the back and forth, we kinda just wrote it in a manner that either one of us could kick it. That’s how we did it. From there, I just got hooked man. You know you see the reaction from other people and that just made you wanna do it more. Nowadays it’s about how much money you can get out of it, but before that there was that adrenaline you got from the people responding like “Oh, you like that?” So aight, cool, you go back and you just write a little more.
Planet Ill: What were your musical aspirations before Old Maid Billionaires and how did Old Maid Billionaires come about?
Al-Shid: Umm, musical aspirations before Old Maid? I just wanted to be nice. I wanted to be known for being that dude that was just nice at what he did. That was my sole intention; you’re gonna remember me in a sea of people when it came to lyricism. That was my thing. And then I got with Jay, and that’s exactly how I met with J-Zone.
We were in college and I was just the dude in the ciphers and stuff like that and in any cipher you would know I would be that go-to guy. I would always make sure I left an impression in there. And I made an impression to Jay. I was in a group, that didn’t work out, and maybe a couple months later Jay came to me and started giving me beats and was like, “Yo I’m working on this project.” and he just kept hitting me with beats, and it went off from there. It was natural, everything just fit. It worked and we just kept going with it.
Planet Ill: That’s what’s up. Well to many, myself included, that’s a classic album. It takes a lot of us back to a time when it was the soundtrack to our lives. Was it fun making that album and all the stuff you had done before with Jay?
Al-Shid: Yeah man it was great. We had a bunch of stuff that probably didn’t come out making those records, but it was just fun. We were at a time in our lives when we were figuring out our grown man, you know? How we wanted to be musically, career wise, how to be entrepreneurs. We just did what we felt we wanted to do. There was no rhyme or reason to things.
Jay, I always called him mad scientist because I would come over there and he would be doing things that he felt was right and I would be doing things I thought was right. Hug would be doing things that he thought was right, and it just gelled. You can’t recreate those type of moments. They would just feel right man and you can tell in the music. I think that’s what people like about it, it just feels authentic because it was to us.
Planet Ill: J-Zone has worked with lots of big name emcees, but in my mind you’re one of the best, if not the best he’s ever worked with as far as rhyming goes. Your pen game is elite, and myself and I’m sure the masses would like to know what your writing process is like in coming up with some of the crazy bars that you do.
Al-Shid: Um, I appreciate that, first of all. That’s an honor, he’s worked with a lot of people, great people, a lot of legends and stuff. So to put me up there in the mentions is definitely an honor man. As far as my writing process? I sit back…I guess I go through a lot of stuff in my life, on a day to day period, and I document that type of stuff. I observe things and once it enters I try to come up with a way of talking about stuff that somebody hasn’t done yet.
Nothing is new under the sun as far as topics, as far as metaphors and stuff like that. I always have to think about how can I say it in another way that’ll make it sound iller. I start with those type of things and then I’ve tried to, as the years go on, to switch up the topics and use things that I’ve first hand been about and observed through my surroundings and the people I’ve been around. I know a lot of people like the metaphors and I’m an asshole(laughs), I like wit and sarcasm. I’m not even gonna lie if you know me on a day to day basis you might call me an asshole at least one time out of the day.(laughs)
Planet Ill: You had a pretty large following after your collaborations with J-Zone. Why you didn’t capitalize by putting out more solo material ? Or did you?
Al-Shid: Good question. I tried. I should’ve. A lot of it I’m not gonna point fingers and say this or that stopped me from doing things. But we just got a little jaded as far as the music industry. Like, they didn’t want to push certain things that we would present. Jay would present projects with me on it, I would present projects with me on it, and no one wanted to back it, even if the people wanted it.
So this is before the time where you could just go directly to the people, ya know? You didn’t have Facebook, you didn’t have Instagram, Twitter, or none of that. The most we had was a message board, ya know? So if you wanted to get to the people, a lot of things had to go through a third party. And a third party, if you weren’t in those circles, if you weren’t buddy buddy…I don’t rub elbows with niggas, I’ma keep it a hundred. I’m the type of person I gotta know you, I gotta like you as a person. Like, the dynamic has to be there for us to build on anything. And maybe that’s just a gift and and a curse because it keeps everything around me authentic but then you don’t get certain places because you’re not cool with certain people. And that’s where a lot of people are, they play that game, like ‘I’m not really cool with ’em but I’ma pump fake cool with ’em so I can get into these doors and then it’s whatever with the relationships. And you see that within the music.
Planet Ill: Is it politics?
Al-Shid: Yeah, it’s mostly politics. I’m the type of person I’m not politically correct.(laughs) I’m not, and I never will be. So there’s that part of it. As time goes on and the technology changes you can make a play to be able to sustain your own fanbase and put out your stuff like that. But for the most part if I wasn’t going out and kissing somebody’s ass I wasn’t going to be able to put out certain type of things. And that’s never gonna be me.
Planet Ill: Who would you like to collaborate with the most that you haven’t gotten a chance to yet?
Al-Shid: I don’t know. There’s a lot of new music that’s out and even older music that I’m a fan of. I don’t know about a wish list of people I wanna collaborate with that I haven’t yet, because I really haven’t collaborated with too many people outside of Zone. But if I meet somebody and we kick it and I respect them musically and we build on that shit I’m always open to that. I like lyricism. So if there’s a great lyricist that’s good people, I’m always with that.
Planet Ill: Since we’re on the topic of lyricism, who’s your top five emcees?
Al-Shid: Ayyyy, my top five emcees? Damn. That’s a good one, man. We talking dead or alive?
Planet Ill: Dead or alive, that’s fine. You can pick more than five if you want.
Al-Shid: I never really thought about that type of situation. But as far as lyricism, I guess I’ma East Coast dude so I’ma say a lot of East Coast type of Hip Hop. Nas is a great lyricist. Rakim has always been a great lyricist to me, he just says things in a manner that you get it and it’s vivid, it’s just right there, and it’s commanding. I always appreciate when he steps to the mic. I grew up in the era, I’m an early 90’s dude. Back in the day I liked early Cube. I was always a fan of early Cube. That shit was just rugged, his pen was sharp. This is hard man because there’s a lot of people. Even Redman, I’m a big fan of Redman….
Planet Ill: I can kinda see that.
Al-Shid: I guess with these people they influenced me to be who I am. The Nases, the Cubes, Ra, Redman…because the way he goes? Redman goes off. I gotta give number five to a spitter, lemme think…
Planet Ill: Isn’t De La Soul from Long Island?
Al-Shid: Yeah, yeah they are from Long Island, they’re from Amityville.
Planet Ill: You mess with Plug 1? Because Plug 1 is one of my favorites.
Al-Shid: Yeah I would say Plug 1 too, but damn, before that I would say Black Thought before Plug 1. Black Thought goes off so I would give him the number five spot. He consistently goes off man. He’s an unsung hero in Hip-Hop and nobody really gives him his credit.
Planet Ill: Who’s your top 5 producers?
Al-Shid: I’ma go to my go-to guy, number one is Zone of course. All day. I’ve been in his lab so many times watching him cut up shit and I’m like ‘yo, how did he do that?’ He’ll be cutting up these obscure ass records and he’ll show me like, “Yo, I got it from this part.” And it doesn’t even make sense but it makes sense to him. Two, Primo, because I’m a fan of that 90’s era Hip-Hop and all that Gangstarr foundation shit. THAT is New York to me. He built a moment in Hip-Hop that’s still kinda like something people stick to. So definitely Primo, ummm, I’m a fan of Moe Bee. Easy Moe Bee, I don’t think people talk about him too much. As far as the other two? Umm…
Planet Ill: Isn’t Erick Sermon from Long Island?
Al-Shid: Oh shit! I’m slipping. I was just watching some Erick Sermon shit recently. I’ll have Erick Sermon right there as well because I’m a big fan of EPMD. I don’t know why I didn’t include them somehow in my top 5 emcees. I’ma stay Long Island and give the Bomb Squad a spot. They were very influential in Cube’s success. They were very intricate in their music and they created a moment in my life as well.
Planet Ill: You had a song come out recently called “Fire in My Heart” and I was wondering if you could tell me the impetus behind that.
Al-Shid: “Fire in My Heart” came about because it’s just been crazy in the news. Racial profiling and the murders of Black men all across the country. And it was something that resonated with me when I saw that. I feel like at any moment I could have been any one of those people that they talked about because I’ve been in those situations. And God bless the fact that God walked with me out of those situations.
I think that’s a basic Black man story if you live in urban areas. People don’t talk about it, they only talk about the end result with those men getting killed. But they don’t talk about the harassment that goes on on a day to day basis. And I talk to my friends and they can relate to that all day, like how many times guns have been put in your face. You’re walking the street and cops hopping out on you and just harassing you for no reason. And if you don’t comply…that comply thing is bullshit to me. Because these are people that comply and are still dying.
When I saw that man get murdered in front of his girlfriend I thought that could have been me at any given moment and what are they going to say to my family members? It’s just something I felt like I had to share. I just couldn’t take it when I saw that part, it’s disrespectful at this point. Before it was covert racism, but now it’s just blatant disrespect for human life.
Planet Ill: You have a moving business and I was wondering if you see any connections between being a small business owner and the grind as an independent artist.
Al-Shid: Umm, yeah. I’ve owned a moving company for the last ten years. We do good. We’ve got a good amount of employees, vehicles, and all that other stuff. That gave me more of an entrepreneurial spirit, but I never wanted to do things just for money, because I’m not a slimeball. If I’m gonna do music, I’m gonna do music dictated by how I feel about it, not about what I can get out of it. Cuz I mean, shit, if I need money I just go get money I’ve always been that type of person. Anybody that knows will tell you that I’ve never been a down and out broke type of dude. I can always turn a dollar into something. That’s why I’ve never been like these other rappers hard pressed to do shit, that’s not the caliber of person I am. I’m a man’s man, I get up and do the shit I need to do.
The rap game is not really all it’s cracked up to be and it’s definitely changed since I’ve been around. I feel like there’s rappers now that rap is not their only thing. They do music but then they have other ventures, ya know? And I think a lot of times, people feel conflicted about doing things outside of rap for a stream of income. I mean, there’s fat niggas with a goddamn Wing Stop, that’s a revenue stream. Other people do clothing, liquor, accessories, whatever the case may be to bring in some income. I think rap has always been about that. I think it’s just the general way in which entrepreneurship is perceived outside of Hip-Hop is different.
Planet Ill: Is it pretty common for the rappers that we listen to, especially if they’re indie, to have day jobs and businesses and whatnot?
Al-Shid: I believe it’s more common than not. Rappers before they actually become “successful” or while they’re in the process,they’re working somewhere else to fund the studio time, travel expenses, wardrobe, accessories, the people around them to make that happen and put their music out. I don’t think when they come out they’re already successful artists.
That’s the perception but they don’t like to talk about it, ya know? I think that’s an unspoken thing in Hip-Hop, about where your money is coming from. And a lot of it is not coming from rap. We just all wanted to make it look like that because that looks cool to the public like, “Oh, he’s getting rap money.” I think more than not, there’s artists that have day jobs or they have some kind of entrepreneurship and it’s not always street money. But people think that the only way to make it look cool to the public is to be like, “Yo I was getting money before rap so I’m in the street.”Like, no, you could be getting money before or during rap with your own business. When the rap slows up and people aren’t calling you for shows, or you’re not in your groove with your pen, or when you’re not hot right now, until you get hot again what you gon’ do? That’s definitely a good question, and a lot of people do have a working life outside of rap in order to rap.
Planet Ill: My favorite song by you is “Heavy Metal”, that’s one of my favorite songs ever, and I was wondering if you could tell me the impetus behind you just snapping out on that the way you did.
Al-Shid: (laughs) Yeah, I appreciate that. With “Heavy Metal” before we put it out I think I wrote that verse maybe a year before that. At that point it was a lot of frustration, and it was like people frontin’ on you. So I was like, “Ehhh, I’ma let this off.” Zone was really the only one rocking with me at the time, so that’s why I said “Zone been making beats before he was able to speak,” and I just got into my tangents with metaphors. And a lot that shit was just ‘I really don’t give a fuck about none of y’all.’ Like as long as the people I’m working with are good, I’m good. As long as the respect is reciprocal we’re gonna be fine.
Zone came to me with that beat and I was like god damn. Then I spit that verse for him, and the one thing I admire about Zone is he knows Hip-Hop, front to back. He’ll know your rhymes, in fact he knows a lot of my rhymes that I even forget. When he came with that beat he was like, “Yo kick that shit.” And I kicked it and it blended well so I was obligated to give it to him. I appreciate the fact that you brought up “Heavy Metal” because that was a point where it was us against everybody.
Planet Ill: What’s your favorite song that you’ve ever done?
Al-Shid: My favorite song that I ever did? I’ma go with the first one “Still Holdin it Down” because of the way it came together. He had just finished that track when I walked into his apartment. The way it came about it was so ill, like how we just bumped into each other, we kicked the shit, and then the energy behind it was crazy. We laid it down and we played it for everybody and everybody was going nuts. I wrote that when I was like seventeen, man, so I was like eighteen years old kicking that shit. That right there was a feeling that I can’t recreate, I can’t describe it because it’s something where you have to be in that moment to understand. It was probably the same thing for him because of the magic that went into it and the response that it got. I listen to it today and think that’s a seventeen year old kid that wrote that shit that’s what’s up.
Planet Ill: Do you have any projects coming in the future?
Al-Shid: I’m working on stuff right now, definitely working on some stuff with Zone. Even though Zone claims he’s retired I’m trying to pull him out of retirement. We’ll see what happens with that. I’m working on a string of releases, I call them Once Upon a Rhyme. It’s all thoughts and ideas set to music and it’ll probably be more of a visual project. I just linked up with Has-Lo through Zone. Has-Lo has a couple joints he’s been sending me and we’ve been going back and forth so we’ll probably put something out 2017.
Planet Ill: Ohhhhhh, OK. Is it gonna be an EP or LP….?
Al-Shid: We don’t know man, he’s another one, he’s an underdog. He’s got joints and we’ve been chopping it up back and forth. As of right now,I don’t know. But we’re definitely working on something. We’ll see how it goes. I have a lot of recorded music just through the years that I never put out that people don’t know about that I’m gonna put out. I’m gonna put all that out with visuals behind it.
I’m not sure if you know but my Pops passed recently so I’ve just been dealing with family stuff and doing the right thing by my family and my Pops. But you gotta balance it so I’m thinking to myself ‘You know what, I just gotta get back on it’, and start putting out content. It’s really about looking out for the whole team; me, Zone, and stuff with Has-Lo. And definitely in regards to the people that still check for me I appreciate that, it’s a blessing man.
Planet Ill: My condolences about your Pops, I lost my father recently too, right around my birthday. So now for the rest of my life right around my birthday I’m gonna be thinking about him. I can definitely empathize with you.
Al-Shid: No one ever expects any of that stuff. You don’t wake up thinking I might lose somebody today and then you gotta live with it. I definitely understand. What I’m realizing is that part of being a man is just dealing with those type of things. You gotta be able to do it for your family, do it for yourself, and still be able to get up and do your day to day. I learned a lot of that from Zone. You know he lost his grandmother recently as well. And I see the way he handled that and I tell him that I have nothing but the utmost respect for him for that situation. Because she was like the cornerstone for not only his music, but his life, ya know? The first person I met when I went to his crib it was his grandma. She would do the skits with him and be on the album covers, it was crazy.
Grandma was cool, man, she was mad cool. So I know she was very influential in his whole life, not just music, but outside of music too. I always tell him that he showed me an aspect that I wasn’t even looking at, and I respect him for that because just prior I had lost my father. As you know, man, dealing with death it just strikes you. There’s not a day that goes by that you don’t think about the person.
Planet Ill: If there’s one thing I can say as a long time fan, if you have shit in the vault please put it out.
Al-Shid: Nah, I will. And the crazy part is I got a lot of music that I’ve never really put out. People always ask me what’s up with me, and I have stuff I’ve worked on. I guess I’ll start putting ’em out. I’ll put ’em out. You can’t keep ’em to yourself, you can’t hold on to ’em. I respect you a lot man, because of our rapport over the years, you always checked in. And just for you to say that, I’ll start putting ’em out this year.
Planet Ill: Thank you, myself and all my friends thank you. I’ma keep bugging you too.
Al-Shid: Defintely, definitely. I’ma put ’em out just because you said that. You gotta put ’em out because it’s bigger than your personal issues. It’s bigger than your person. it’s a culture. So out of respect for the music, and Hip Hop, I’ll release the stuff that I got and start working on more.
You can listen to and/or cop The Best of Al Shid(The Old Maid Years) from his bandcamp