Mind on his Money
Chamillionaire defends his throne as the Mixtape Messiah.
By Austin Powell,
10:00AM, Wed. Mar. 17, 2010
Chamillionaire has forced the issue of his long-delayed third LP Venom (Universal) with his free, four-part Mixtape Messiah 7 and latest union address, Major Pain. Tonight the Houston rapper reunites with Paul Wall at La Zona Rosa, 1am.
Austin Chronicle: Can you take me back to the recording of Get Ya Mind Correct?
Chamillionaire: Oh man. It was more like a brother recording with a brother. We had some arguments over what we should and what would be good. We always had to find a middle ground for everything. Halfway through the album, everything just started happening – boom. I don’t even remember at what point we did “In Love Wit My Money,” but I remember Paul didn’t want it to be the single. He thought the beat sounded like a West Coast track. We did a little vote and outvoted Paul. We were a little nervous about the whole thing. At the time a lot of the Texas artists were doing everything Chopped & Skrewed, and that album was a bit more global-sounding, but the fans embraced it really big. It was just crazy.
AC: It seemed to be the album where you really found your singing voice?
C: Definitely. Before that it was just practice. You can do that on a mixtape. If it doesn’t work out, you can just say you were joking – you know what I mean? I kind of always thought that I had a good ear for melodies. I think in terms of melody. I can just be walking and I’ll hear a melody. I wanted to really test it on that album. Sometimes I would get super excited with melodies, and I had to catch myself. I was putting too many hooks on there, and we had to find a good balance. Melody just does that to me. I love melody more than any other part of music.
AC: What brought you guys back together?
C: Timing is everything for me especially. I’m just looking at the history of Houston rap. We’ve lost a lot of people – Pimp C, [Big] Hawk, DJ Skrew – the whole culture of Texas has changed. I used to always see this pride, like ‘F You I’m from Texas: the home of Slim Thug, Paul Wall, and Swisha House. Over the years, I’ve kind of seen it changed. I thought it was time to ignite some excitement in those people that were feeling it. And this is the best way to touch everybody before we drop these records. We can ensure success.
AC: Back in 2006, you told the Chronicle, “In a way, I'm trying to detach myself from being identified as strictly a Houston rapper.” Do you feel like you’ve achieved that at this point?
C: Yes and no. Some people might look at me as some sort of outsider, not necessarily the people in Texas or those that grew up with that music, but a lot of people don’t know as much about my Texas songs. If you asked someone about Paul Wall, they’ll say “Still Tippin’,” a Texas song. I don’t want people to think I’m not proud to represent Texas. At the time, I felt like I had to do something different. When they came and stamped that Texas thing so hard right before me, I felt I could be a follower or I could create my own lane, and that’s what I did.
AC: Is there a new collaboration in the works?
C: He’s on my album, and I’m on his too. There will be more that we do together, but I still say no to an album. I always remind people, they want that old album from Hot Boys or that old Master P album or that old Jay Z, but times change and you just move with the times. I’m not going to lie to people and tell them I can recreate that feeling for them that I did when I was 17 years old. I’m grown now. I used to say stuff like my rims are bigger than your seventh grade brother. People would get so excited about that, but now stuff like that is just not as appealing to me. I can’t even make you believe that I believe it. When I was young, I would just say whatever, all kinds of super-exaggerated lines, and a lot of my audience grew up. If I say that same line, ‘I get more green than the Grinch with a broccoli suit,’ it would get a laugh before but now it looks like a grown man trying to fit in with the young crowd. I just try to adjust and move with the times.
AC: So does your money still stretch like an athlete at a track meet?
C: Yeah, like that kind of stuff. When I go back and listen to a lot of those lyrics, I understand the wittiness, but I think over the years I’ve done so many punchlines about how much money that once you finally get it you kind of don’t care. I used to really look at rims when they would ride by. Now anybody could come by with rims, and I could care less. It’s hard to convince you that my passion is about those rims when it’s not really. I’d be fakin’ it. I still talk that money talk. How are you going to be Chamillionaire and not talk about money? But I just try to find a balance.
AC: You’ve mentioned the timing being right. What’s the deal with Venom?
C: Universal is in the business of making money. I think their ideals originally on how they’re going to make money comprises what I feel an artist should do. They’re only looking at the charts and at iTunes. It’s just a struggle of keeping the music authentic. At the end of the day, all you have is your legacy. All you got is the image, the picture that you painted for people. I don’t want to tell somebody else’s story. I want to tell mine. I think we’re getting to a place where they’re starting to understand or they’re at least agreeing to disagree. The fact that I’m moving without them right now putting together this whole tour is getting them excited.
I have certain things I want. I believe you don’t just drop an album. They might say that we have no budget or money so we can’t afford to send you to every city or do videos or promo tours. To have success, you have to do all that stuff. You have to find a way to do it. It’s as simple as that. You can’t drop an album without touching every city. You’re going to spend all this time in the studio, waste this whole budget, and you’re going to owe this label. Why would you spend half a million dollars that go out and give it one person? That’s not a winning business strategy. We’re making ground now.
AC: So is it going to be released soon?
C: The suits are on board, but the game has changed. Say for instance, albums used to come out with 15-18 songs, now they want you to do ten. That was a big argument. That just seems so short. I went through my whole rap collection, and there’s only one CD that has 10 songs out of thousands, and that was Nas’ Illmatic. That was over a decade ago.
I don’t want to be the one to experiment with that. I experimented by dropping on the same day as Kanye and 50 Cent. That was not my idea. I didn’t want to do it. I experimented by putting out a CD that was completely clean. I had planned to not curse, and I still don’t to this day, but I didn’t want the whole CD to be clean. That was Universal’s idea. You get to the point where you’re tired of experimenting with your ideas. If it doesn’t go right, people are going to blame me. I need to just trust my gut. My gut has always worked for me my entire career.
If you really think about it, the only time I’ve ever really lost was my last album. From Paul Wall to the mixtapes, everything has been successful. My first album won a Grammy. I trusted my guy the whole way. There’s a lot of things I could have done like reality shows, but my gut told me it was not the right move. All money isn’t good money. Some people will just take every dollar and just fall for it. I used to have a song, “I’m in Love with My Money,” but I realized I’m not really in love with my money, and I never really was.
AC: Why do you think of Ultimate Victory as a failure?
C: When you accomplish so much people expect you to accomplish even more then next time. If you don’t, then that’s pretty much a failure. If you have a record as big as “Ridin’,” people expect you to be bigger than Michael Jackson. I love that with a lot of my favorite records, I couldn’t tell you the sales on them, like Scarface or some of the UGK albums. Who knows what they sell? But these labels aren’t going to do business with you if you don’t have the numbers. You have to talk that business with them. You have to debate with them: what’s going to be the digital single, the song that’s going to be in the clubs, the song that’s going to be on the radio. That really hurts the creativity. I’m not going to sit here and point fingers. If I could go back, I probably wouldn’t change anything. Everything happens for a reason. Everything is a learning experience. I know what to do now. I know how to handle contracts now because in the past I got screwed, but it all happens for a reason. It makes you stronger really.
AC: Do you feel like you get the credit you deserve for the current mixtape phenomenon?
C: Naw man. I’ve had a long career of doing these things. I learned the game from Watts and Skrew and them, saw what they were doing and branched off and did my own thing. I’ve done it for a decade now. If you’re going to ask me who in this world has had the most mixtape success, the only person that could even be in the ballpark with me in my opinion is 50 Cent. That’s it. Who else? There’s a lot of mixtapes out there, but I’m saying who physically does it themselves: the product, the pressing, putting it together, the distribution, everything. I know for awhile G Unit had the bootleggers everywhere, distributing like crazy, but then I would go to Cleveland and see their CDs all in the store and I would talk the store owner and he would say the somebody physically from G-Unit sent them those CDs. In at Atlanta it was the same thing. I couldn’t tell you how many they sold, but they were doing serious numbers. Other than them, I don’t know who else does it. There are bootleggers out there that sold 40,000 copies of Mixtape Messiah. That’s crazy. The South knows, but a lot of people in New York and on the East Coast still don’t know.
AC: No small amount of work goes into an album or a mixtape. What separates the two for you?
C: An album is official. You have to make a lot of people happy. Nobody tells me what to do with a mixtape. I can say whatever I want. If I want to have a skit where I’m talking for two minutes, I can do that. If I want to do a comedy skit, I don’t have to worry about publishing royalties. I don’t have to worry about a song being three minutes to fit on radio. That’s why for multiple artists, people will say their mixtapes are better than their albums. They’re free from all the pressures that albums come with. There must be thousands of dope songs on artist’s drives all across the United States. Like Lil Wayne’s drive, I wonder what’s on there? What didn’t come out?
AC: At this point, do you need a label?
C: After all that I’ve learned and all the resources I’ve developed after these years of being on a major, I think I’d be alright. The people that wouldn’t be alright are the people that just don’t have that independent hustle and spirit, the people that don’t know the stuff from A-Z. I might miss a couple letters, but everything from the contract to the administration, I pretty much know the whole process. I know how much money you have to spend at radio, how much you have to spend to get the video on TV - cause you do have to spend. That’s what crazy. A lot of people don’t realize the money being exchanged behind this industry. It’s not like every vote counts. It’s this big smokescreen that people see. It’s kind of like being a politician. You realize all the stuff that really goes on behind the scenes. It really tarnishes it. You can fake it if you have enough money.
It depends on how you define success. For the most part, I’m just trying to ride this thing out and make sure the brand stays hot. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing. You have to keep your brand popular. You have to brand your company to where people want to buy it. People want to respect it.