Interview: Hell Rell
Fri, 08 Aug 2008 14:27:11
When Hell Rell first broke through as a member of Harlem's Diplomats crew a few years back, the camp had the rap game on lock with their swag-heavy style and bottomless mixtape output. Never a franchise player, Ruga Rell solidified his position on the team as a lyrical enforcer through his gully street rhymes.
Now with the Dipset movement seemingly stalled under the weight of internal beef, Rell is back on the scene solo with his new album Black Mask Black Gloves (The Ruga Edition). Just a year after releasing his debut, For The Hell Of It, Black Mask Black Gloves sees the MC staking out the same gutter territory he's always occupied, much to the delight of the streets. We recently sat down to chop up game with the New York vet, where he talked about ownership, being a voice for the unheard hustlers and the problems that tore his clique apart.
You’re looking dapper on the album cover. Where do you get your suits made?
You know that was a Brooks Brothers suit. I had to in my closet and get executive on them. But at the end of the day, the concept behind Black Mask, Black Gloves was my approach to the corporate world. That’s pretty much how every young black male in America feels if he’s unemployed. You grab a black mask and your gloves and run up on something because the economy is fucked up.
It doesn’t matter whether you put on a suit and tie or a hoodie and some Timbs, you’ve got to eat at the end of the day.
Exactly! What do we do with the dudes who’ve been in the trap five or 10 years, and they want out? They don’t want to do that shit no more, and they’re too old to go back to school. We just throw them away. That's my fan base. These are the dudes that are stressed out and going through a lot of shit. Somehow, someway my music is an outlet. I tried to deliver that music to keep people from doing what they don’t have to do.
You get a lot of bubblegum on the radio and TV, so it’s good to have dudes like you who can speak for the grown men.
I do, but at the end of the day it’s a character. Ruga Rell is a realistic dude. I am Ruga Rell; I can’t sugar coat that. That’s who I am, but I’m not Ruga Rell 24/7. I don’t want the world to get that misconstrued. I don’t walk around with my pants halfway off my ass talking to people like shit. I’m not perpetrating a fraud, but I can’t be Ruga Rell everyday or else I’ll end up in jail. There’s a time to be Ruga. I can be Ruga in the booth. I can be Ruga at my shows. But Ruga also has a two-year-old daughter. I’ve got examples to set.
You’ve been in the game grind for a long time now. You’re not some kid fresh off the block. From you’re perspective, how was the game changed from the time you first hit the scene until now?
We’re living in a digital world, but I feel like ringtones have fucked hip hop up. From 2005 on, this has been the ringtone age. If you were hot, and you had a jingle, you were getting signed. It made it hard for artists like me who didn’t come up with a jinglewho didn’t want to succumb to that formulato get their just due. So if I don’t have a record like Soulja Boy’s or “Walk It Out,” I’m not the shit? Are you crazy? That’s a fad. I guess record companies are going to start building voice boxes and putting them in the booth, so if you want to sound like T-Pain it’s available. I don’t understand that shit.
Hip hop is more than a fad; it’s a culture. You’ve never turned your back on the culture or on the streets. I don’t hear you talking all that Maybach stuff on your records. Do you feel a commitment to speak for all those fans in the hood who aren’t living large like that?
Pretty much. I’m the spokesperson for the people who don’t have that type of stuff. I come to the people as the people. Most of that shit is just a lie. Hip hop is not designed for you to be an owner. There are few people who can show you titles and deeds. It’s a fast paced lifestyle, and a lot of people are not into buying property and owning things. That’s why when the money stops flowing in, your assets disappear fast. You’re renting a fly condo, and you’ve got the Maybach, but you don’t own it. When fast money slows up, how do you maintain that high profile lifestyle? That’s why when a rapper gets success fast, it looks like he’s balling. I don’t project that. I’ve got a couple dollars, but I’m not living like that. I own a piece of property. A lot of rappers do that frontin’ for the people, and that fucks up the youth.
That’s real talk. Fans can appreciate that. I’m sure everybody’s been hitting you over the head with this lately, but we have to talk beef for a minute. You and Red Cafe—I don’t really understand where that started, or if it’s over. What do you want to say about it?
End of the day, he’s not an enemy of mine. He’s never stopped one dollar from coming my way. I kind of felt like I was being a bully. People were saying how I was picking on Red Cafe. Basically, I don’t wear fake jewelry. If you’re going to rep New York City, rep us right. We don’t do that. New York is known for trend setting. Not to be hatin’, but that chain that he has—if it’s real—is damn near worth a million dollars. Pharrell has the same chain. Does he have Pharrell money? Come on now. That’s all that was about. I ain’t trippin’ over it. But he did say suck his dick, and when I see him, I’m going to approach him about that. If he clears it up, it is what it is. If he doesn’t, I might put my hands on him.
On the other side, people are wondering about the Dips. Nobody knows the real. Has the whole Cam and Jim episode hurt your hustle at all?
It has, because at the end of the day it makes it hard for me to politic a deal. Labels are like, “Hell Rell we want to sign you. We want to do a deal, but is Cam involved?” Cam is hit or miss. He goes into his own little world sometimes. It’s like, come on, you can’t forget about the people on the outside world. I’m not the type of dude who can get curbed. Curbed means you don’t pick up my phone calls; you ain’t fucking with me. You can’t do that to me. I’ve been on deck. Even during the 50 Cent and Jim Jones shit—when him and Juelz came out onstage with Fifty—I was chillin. I kept my name out of the press and everything. I think Cam got into some, “everybody’s out to get me” type shit.
I know there are a lot of egos involved, but there’s a lot of talent involved too. The fans want to see the movement moving again.
Of course, but unfortunately I don’t see it happing. I would love to see it, but I can’t sit around waiting on it, or else I’d be starving.