9th Wonder, J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, Don Cannon. You know these names, three giants in the production game. You know the artists they’ve worked with; Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Mac Miller, Nas….the list goes on. But if I mentioned the name Laws within that group of artists, would you know who he was? Would you know that Rook from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League sought him out to tell him he loved his music, then signed him and helped produce an entire mixtape for him? You might not. You may not have downloaded his Don Cannon & Mick Boogie-hosted 4:57 mixtape, or his follow up, the critically acclaimed Yesterday’s Future, on which Laws collaborated with the aforementioned J.U.S.T.I.C.E League to rework some of Paul McCartney’s solo tunes to produce one of the most creative projects of 2011. It scored a 4 out of 5 with XXL, and broke the barriers of what a hip-hop mixtape is supposed to sound like.
As Laws gears up to release his next project, I spoke with the Brazilian-born emcee over the phone from his home in Florida.
Interview done by Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm)
RESPECT: You were born in Brazil. How did you end up in the U.S.?
Laws: So basically, my adoptive mother was married to a gentleman who had colon cancer at a young age. So he received a lot of chemotherapy, and they told him he couldn’t have kids anymore. So naturally, like any woman, she wanted more kids, so she contacted her uncle who worked in an orphanage in Brazil. So just kind of like talking to him, she would say “If you ever have any kids available…” on some BS, not even like half serious she asked him. And then the one day he was like “Yeah, I have a kid.” Brazil was really fucked up at this time. So to kind of put the mood of the climate, she was going into a very tumultuous country, to a place she’d never been to with a language she never spoke. And it took her like four or five months to get me back (to the U.S.). She adopted me at birth basically, I never met my birth parents. That’s how it came to be, and they took me back to New York and I spent my first 15 years of life in Long Island.
R: Then you moved out to Florida?
L: Yeah, we moved out to Florida because New York was way too expensive. My parents were like a working class Bronx couple that moved out to Long Island to give their family a life away from the inner city, but it was just way too expensive. So we did what a lot of New Yorkers did and relocated to a Florida suburb.
R: When did you get interestd in hip-hop?
L: As far as music, I got to give that to my parents. My parents were avid record collectors, jazz and soul, and my brother was like eight years older than me, and we were some bad little kids. When I was like, let me say, eight or nine, he was out commiting vandalism and doing bad kid shit and sneaking me home Wu Tang records and shit. I got really into hip-hop because of my brother at a very young age.
R: At what point did you think hip-hop music was something you could really be successful at?
L: I still have my doubts man, honestly. I know they say you are supposed to believe yourself 110 percent, but I think I’ve taken the most makeshift path possible. Like myself and J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, we’ve been through so much shit together that there’s still a chance that this could all crumble. I mean there is always a chance. I think an important part of success is realizing you are never to far from failing. You have to realize that there is no net and you could plummet really quick. I’m living on the line still, I’m living dollar to dollar so, it’s no joke.
R: In your song “Knocking at the Door” on Yesterday’s Future, you talk about a less than ideal situation you had early in your career at Rawkus. What happened there?
L: Well, right before I met J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, this was like 2007, early 2008 is what “Knocking at the Door” is talking about. I was a couple years out of failing college, not knowing what I wanted to do, working at a dead end job at a hospital. Just doing what every fucking kid does, trying to figure it out. I just hit that point where I got completely frustrated with everything about rap. I was young enough to be smart and recognize like, dude you want to have kids and a family, you got a girl, you want to take care of business and rap ain’t doing it. I signed on to this little digital, one EP imprint through Rawkus. And it was basically a way for them to build up a social networking through this…I think it was called Ning or some gay shit. And they took 50 artists who basically had semi-established fan bases. I already had a couple thousand fans in Tampa, I was part of the battling scene in central Florida, and they basically used that to build up the social networking and I was in that. I was a kid with a dream man, so when I heard Rawkus I was all pixie sticks and stars and shit. Like, “Oh my god!” Like I had no idea the shit was bunk. It was just another slap in the face. Right after that I got into a real bad accident, I fucked my head up and it was just all going down hill man. Then I got a little glimmer of hope, and I know if he hears this he’s going to be like “Man that sounds so gay,” but that was Rook from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. He hit me up like, “Yo, I fuck with your music.”
R: That had to be pretty cool. How did Rook get in contact with you?
L: Well actually, this is crazy. The first conversation with him was through Instant Messenger. That’s how old school it was. My shit was NextSkills and his shit was RookBeats. We both were on this message board called Tampahiphop.com and there was this kid who…I don’t want to hate on him because he wound up producing something very pivotal for me, but me and him got into this little argument because I didn’t give him his just due and I only mention this part of our story. But this part of our story is meeting him at a battle and the loser was going to stop rapping forever. I was dead serious, I had already been through my accident and I fucking slayed him six ways from Sunday. I ruined his shit, and Rook liked how harsh I was and how bitter and angry I was. And he hit me up like “Yo son, you killed that shit.” That’s how we just started a friendship, just enjoying music together.
R: You call the 4:57 mixtape your first “real” album. What was it like making it and working with some big name producers like 9th Wonder and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League?
L: You know, 4:57, that whole time was scary as hell for me and the reason I say that is, I made that CD literally when I had signed my record deal with Asylum. I had already signed with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League in the summer and I had already been to their house and kicked it with them and been on summer field trips with them. We were already cool. But then we brought Asylum in to bring some paper into the situation and that’s when it got a little more, “oh my god this is real now.” Like this is Warner Bros. I’m sitting in a studio with white guys with a lot of money and they are listening to my music and bobbing their heads off beat and shit like that. I’m like, alright this is happening. And then I got my then manager Orlando McGee who is a great dude and helped me do a lot of things in the year 2010. It was just a year of change for me. I think 4:57, that CD was literally like my buoy in the ocean, you feel me? I hadn’t even been out of the state yet. I did so much shit that year. The fact that I had those dope ass songs to perform like “Hold You Down” and “Vintage Futuristic” and “Shining.” The fact that I had those? Because people would look at me when I walked into a room and I’d forget like, you aren’t in Tampa anymore dude, you’re getting the Eminem factor, you’re the weirdo that no one knows. But when that beat hits, everyone’s face just smushes and shit. So 4:57 was like my lighthouse basically. It still saves me every time I perform.
R: How did Yesterday’s Future come to fruition, because I truly think that’s one of the most creative hip-hop projects I’ve ever heard. Were you big into Paul McCartney?
L: Thank you brother, I appreciate that. Where it came from…as far as my love of old school music, I got to trace back to my parents. My dad was more the Latin persuasion of music, so my mom was more of the teeny bopper in the 60s. She listened to like, The Beatles and The Monkeys and all that shit. The Paul McCartney solo stuff, it’s kind of odd how I found it. When I was making 4:57 I was going through a period of…J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League has been very cool man, they’re very, very open with what they let me do and experiment with. I make a lot of, I hate saying this because it’s illegal as fuck but I don’t care, I make collections of peoples’ music. Basically I’ll take a person, throw their name on Wikipedia and download everything they ever did and delete all their garbage shit and make a sick ass Ipod playlist. I put that shit on shuffle and it’s just amazing music front to back. I was doing that with a lot of artists, I have a David Bowie one and a Beatles one and I was like, man, let me listen to the Beatles solo work. I tried Paul first because his catalog seemed the heftiest and I was just blown away. It was like The Beatles but with more black soul influence I guess you could say? More rhythm and blues. So then I took it to my boy Feb 9 who’s part of my crew, one of my producers, and he’s a gospel trained piano player, he’s amazing. He’s really cool, I’ll give him an old song and be like, play this but put this flavor on it, and he’ll know exactly what I mean. That’s how McCartney started. I think we did “Dear Boy” first, that was our first song. We did maybe eight or nine of them and then sent it to J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and they were like “Yo, we got to make a whole project of this.” Then it became going into TreeSound studios and recording everything for half-inch tapes. About three months before it came out I rewrote almost the whole entire thing because I didn’t like the rhymes. I had been working so much with (9th Wonder) and all these other artists that my style had developed and I wanted this Yesterday’s Future to reflect it. So I rewrote the “Bellamy” songs and “Homeland.” I’m a real revision guy, I think something can never go through too many drafts. It was basically just a long ass, arduous, what should have been a slam dunk but became a layup because we had legal troubles right at the end.
R: Did you have to clear all of those samples?
L: Well it was promotional so we didn’t have to clear anything but according to his publishing company, we were using his image. LRG was sponsoring it, so the night it came down all the links had to come down, all the links got shut down. Thankfully we had the support of all these little independent blogs and sites that put it up anyway. In hindsight the release wasn’t as big as it should have been but it still got a 4 out of 5 in XXL. To have a project get that high as my first rated one I was like, you know what man, even thought it was a little, like, pin drop, it was still kind of important.
R: Do you think McCartney has heard the project? Have you had a chance to speak with him?
L: It was really weird man The engineer that worked with us, his name is Edward Nixon, he lives in the UK, he’s J.U.S.T.I.C.E League’s engineer, he’s got about one or two degrees of separation from Paul McCartney. What we like to think is that he heard it because about a month after it came out there was a press conference where Paul McCartney is talking about how he loves these people redoing his music. And I’m like, no one is redoing Paul McCartney’s fucking music except me! It was a whole article about it, like all these artists are redoing my stuff. I’m like, no one is redoing your shit dude. So I don’t know, I like to think he did. It was really weird the way it happened and, J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, we’re all talking about it and everyone was real excited. We were like, obviously he is talking about us because there’s been no McCartney remix of that magnitude. Ever. I don’t think. I’m going to say I don’t even think there’s been a Beatles remix. Because even the DangerMouse thing wasn’t even close to what we did. All I can say is I hope it gets its recognition. If and when I do get famous persay, I hope people look back and say “Oh wow, look at this Yesterday’s Future” and it will get a nice little revamping.
R: Your next project is called Nightshift. How do you top Yesterday’s Future?
L: I’ve been through a lot in the last two years as far as internal team restructing and personal things I’ve been through and family things and relationship things and financial things. I think Nightshift is basically me stripping off all the nice guy layers and just attacking everything. It’s aggressive and extrememly graphic but without being profane. Like I find a way to curse without cursing. I’m going to be a problem with the radio, I don’t know what they’re going to do. The FCC is going to want to have me shot, bro. It’s a lot darker and it’s the best flows I’ve ever written. I feel like Turbo Laws right now dog, I just feel really good about it. I think this is what I needed to legitimately put myself in the list with anybody else who is being mentioned in any list right now. I think it’s completely undeniable now. It’s way beyond 4:57 and Yesterday’s Future on a rap level. It’s going to be sick man.
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