Just under a decade ago, Papoose was going to save New York City hip-hop. Or at least that’s how rap folklore likes to parse it, with Bed-Stuy’s mixtape phenomenon Pap and upstate NY rapper Saigon being the hometown figures who were going to stop the Southern ascent and bring back virtuous street-corner-wrought lyrical skills. Except despite signing a megabucks $1.5 million deal with Jive, Papoose’s debut studio album, The Nacirema Dream, was perpetually shelved and held back until he eventually parted ways with his label. Now he’s finally in a position to release the record to the world — so we checked in with Pap to find out what happened with the delay and why, despite the album’s troubled gestation period, he’s confident to claim it a classic.
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How do you feel now that The Nacirema Dream is finally getting a release?
I’m very excited, man. I’m ecstatic, that’s the word!
Was there a point where you thought that this day would never come?
No, I never thought that. I mean, there was a point where I thought it might be a long wait, but I’m invincible.
So how much of the album you’re releasing has its roots in the music you recorded for Jive?
There’s 20 tracks on the album and two are skits. The concepts have their roots way back, so the concept of the album remains the same and a small portion of the record goes back to then, but everything else is updated and it’s been remixed and remastered and changed around.
Why wouldn’t Jive release the album?
Um, it was a lot of politics. A lot of music business politics got in the way of talent and dedication. Show business really is 95% business and 5% is about the show. The business part and the politics of the game kinda got in the way. A lot of people were hitting me with ideas about doing this and that and got in the way. I can’t really blame them — I blame myself for letting it happen.
How did you feel while this was going on?
I was upset, frustrated, annoyed.
Did you ever consider leaking The Nacirema Dream?
Nah, I never let it leak and I’m glad I didn’t. There’s certain songs that I kept in the vault ’cause I knew I’d have an opportunity to let the world hear them. There’s a couple of records on the album that may have escaped, but I never would put the entire record out there.
When you say people were hitting you with ideas, do you mean they were trying to get you to go in a more commercial direction?
Did you contemplate going in that direction?
No. I wouldn’t. All major labels do that. I think that when you sign to a record label and you’re a certain type of artist, you’re supposed to be creative and talk about different topics and be creative and speak from your heart. So you have to listen to yourself as an artist. I wasn’t going to change — I had that right to be an artist.
Did you get to keep all of your advance?
Oh, I kept all of the money they gave me!
What did you do with it?
I invested it.
I invested into real estate.
How did that work out?
It worked out well. I’m okay. The money’s doing well.
Going back to the album, is it true Kanye West originally provided some production for it?
Yeah, I have music from Kanye West. That was back then and I decided not to use it.
Who else didn’t make the cut?
There’s a couple. [Pauses] I had a bunch of beats from a lot of industry dudes but I didn’t even use them on the album. Honestly, on a creative level, it wasn’t working. That’s part of the reason why it didn’t come out back then.
So how do you think people are going to receive the album now?
I think it’s going to be surprising for some people that the album is a classic. I know you got a small handful of people that doubt me, or maybe it’s a lot, who knows? I have my fans but I also have my haters. I think the haters are gonna be surprised. It’s a life changing experience. I’ve been working on it my entire life. If anybody follows me, you can go back ten years and I was promoting this album. It’s a lifetime body of work. I took my time with it and I think people from all different corners of the planet all share the same sort of American dream, so I think anybody that has that American dream will view this as a successful album. It talks about all different things from life to family to things that really matter.
Which one song on the album would you want people to check out first?
I think people are gonna like the entire album, but I want people to listen out for the record I got featuring Erykah Badu, “Cure.” That’s a special record. That’s actually the only song I’m not gonna speak about ’cause I want people to hear it and have that special experience. I have another record called “Pimpin’ Won’t Die.” I’m not sure if you’re familiar with hip-hop. I don’t know if you’ll understand. How long you been listening to hip-hop?
Quite a while.
Oh, great, so you’re familiar with 2Pac, right?
I have a record called “Pimpin’ Won’t Die.” 2Pac had a record called “Brenda’s Got A Baby.” Are you familiar with that?
Okay, so it’s a continuation of that record. Brenda has her baby and the concept is basically giving you what happened after she left the baby in a trashcan and the child grew up. I basically do a continuation of that record. The child actually grows up to be a prostitute. The message in the record is that if somebody’s out there prostituting then don’t judge that person without knowing their background. That’s the first verse. Then the third verse is a continuation of Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story.” I spoke about the man who was only 17 in a mad man’s dream, so he actually grows up to become a pimp. It’s a continuation of those records and the message is not to always judge somebody on what you see in front of you if you don’t know the history.
When did you decide to write continuations of those songs?
I decided to write them a while ago, maybe a couple of years ago. I was just sitting back and thought that it would be a great idea for a record as you only get to know about a certain part of their life. So I came up with the concept to fill them out and to make them an example.
What do you think Slick Rick would feel about the song?
I think he’ll like it. I think he’ll appreciate what I did. I learned from artists like that so I think he’d appreciate the way I was writing the song.
You also have a song with Mobb Deep on the album, “Aim Shoot.”
Yeah, I got some classic Mobb Deep on there. One love to Mobb Deep. That was recorded in 2012. It’s real hip-hop, man, it’s vintage Mobb Deep man. If you a Mobb Deep fan you’re gonna love it. If you’re not a Mobb Deep fan, you will be after this record. Havoc and Prodigy, when they come together, it’s just some true hip-hop, man.
Can you remember the first time you heard Mobb Deep?
The first time was years ago, man, years and years ago. I think it was probably “Hit It From The Back,” the earliest. Y’all probably ain’t even heard that. It’s one of my favorites. They got a lot of stuff. I could listen to Mobb Deep all day.
You’ve also included a sequel to “Alphabetical Slaughter.”
Yeah, it’s part two — the first is me rhyming from A-Z but this time it’s from Z-A. It’s a whole different record. It took a couple of months to write.
Which letter was the trickiest to write?
Ha ha, they’re all tricky ’cause you got to not only use that letter but it has to make sense! So I can’t say one was less tricky than the others, but maybe Z or X.