Rumor had it that Andre Nickatina would be Andre Nickatina‘s final album, that he would hang up the towel after dropping his 15th record — his self-titled LP that hit shelves this morning. But according to the San Francisco rapper himself, you shouldn’t believe everything you hear. He wouldn’t tell us exactly if he plans to put out more material in the future, but he did dismiss the question of retirement. He refuted the question altogether. Retirement is not predictable like the weather!
In the mid-90s Nickatina gained national attention with hits such as “Killa Whale”. Dodging in and out of the spotlight turned on by local cats E-40 and Too $hort, he dropped I Hate You with a Passion in April of 1995, kick-starting a career that’s spanned two decades.
With that much experience in the game, Nickatina demands RESPECT. When he does retire — because he will someday — he leaves fans with a full catalog of dope material: over 225 joints to ride to, 15 albums to roll with, plus dozens of features.
RESPECT. caught up with Nickatina to coincide with the release of his self-titled album.
RESPECT. Congratulations on the new album. I’ve heard rumors it might be your last. Is that true?
Andre Nickatina: Let me hear where you heard the rumors from first, then I’ll tell you if it’s true or not.
I don’t know if I want to leak those sources.
I’m not answering that question if you can’t tell me.
Nima [Nickatina’s PR agent] suggested that it might be.
Ah, I don’t know what Nima talkin’ about.
So you might put out new music after all?
You know, I’m getting up there when it comes to the numbers, but I wouldn’t necessarily say this is my last.
Why drop this self-titled album now? Why is it important for you?
It isn’t important. I don’t think a self-titled album makes you sell more albums. It ain’t about that.
What’s it about?
It ain’t really about nothing. Just raps.
What kind of topics do you touch on?
Ain’t really no topics. Just getting in there with a bunch of raps. Just rapping over the beat. It ain’t necessarily about topics or general aspect or how I was trying to go. Nothing like that.
Okay, well what stage are you at in your music? When I normally ask those questions artists are like, this topic, this topic and this topic, but you seem to have a different perspective. Why is that?
That’s just the way it is. I’m not trying to be different or anything like that. I know a lot of people have topics but shit, I don’t. I don’t look at it like that. I just go in and rap. I don’t really touch on any subjects, or I got to tell you about my life, or tell you about this. I keep it all in perspective. The message is just trying to keep the situation cool, try to be cool.
You often talk about religion in your rhymes. Are you a spiritual guy?
When you hear me say it, what did you think about?
Yeah, what religious aspect do I touch on when I say it?
Religion through rap in a sense. You channel your situation in rap through a religious-
My religion is money. My religion is rap. My religion is whatever goes with rap. So even if it’s in bad terms, I’m still with it. It’s just that type of metaphorical religion of trying to get this paper.
That’s cool. I hear that metaphor going as far back as Bullets, Blunts, N Ah Big Bank Roll. When did you start to roll with that metaphor?
That’s what goes on. I’m not trying to work it in there. That’s what goes on in the core of what I’m trying to do. If I’m working hard trying to get it that’s going to come across in there. I don’t necessarily work it in there.
Has the way you make money in the game changed over the years?
It’s changed a lot. You a writer or a journalist?
Let’s just say, the writing, giving it to Rolling Stone, it’s worth $5000, but before you get it to Rolling Stone everybody gets to read it on Youtube. When you get it to Rolling Stone now it’s only worth $500. That changes your mind state of what the fuck you’re doing. Take the Rolling Stone example. You’re going to be mad as muthafucka if people read your writing before it gets there. But if you’re a real writer you’ll be up in the game and stick to the rules of what you’re doing, and do what you got to do to avoid that aspect.
Do you try to shelter your work?
You can only do so much. For instance, me giving it to Nima and Nima letting you hear it. You know, me personally, I would have been like, nah, don’t let him hear it. But if it has a point to it, to what we’re talking about now, you need to hear to get this interview to go right, I want you to hear it, I want you to hear it so you can have a better sense of the interview, what you’re going to ask. Somebody who’s not supposed to hear it, then fuck no, I don’t want you to hear it. In the aspect of business, I want a business person to hear it right now.
As an artist, how much of this do you need to be consciously aware of, or can you pass off the responsibility to somebody else?
It depends on what kind of label you’re dealing with. If you’re dealing with a major label, of course you’re not the one sending your discs over to the manufacturer. It goes through so many hands, it could be the engineer, the producer that you deal with, so many aspects of how it could get out there. I guess you got to trust. You got to put more trust now in the people touching your music who can hear your music. There’s just so many ways for it to get out. It’s like an octopus with many tentacles.
Are you comfortable with the way the industry is now?
Am I comfortable? I have to be muthafucka. I ain’t going nowhere. I got to put a pillow down somewhere and sit. No matter what goes wrong with it I’ve got to figure it out. No problem.
Over the 20 years you’ve made music in the Bay, or it’s probably longer. Well, how many years would you say it’s been, in total?
Okay, what’s a common thread in the Bay Area hip-hop scene over those years?
Just the consistency of people getting their music out for the masses to hear it, I guess. You get a person like E-40, he puts an album out and people in 50 states know about it. He does a new album with Too $hort, that makes it even better. Too $hort comes with Blow the Whistle. That’s blows up everywhere. People like Keak da Sneak, everyone in the underground too. You got The Jacka who stays underground. Yukmouth, he’s still running around doing his thing.
These are all guys who started out with you when you were younger.
Yeah, that’s what it is. People just staying relevant.
Are there any young guys you’re into?
Um, I don’t really know the young cats. I wish them the best of luck in what they’re doing. I don’t really know a lot of young rap cats. I don’t really know a lot of old rap cats! For real. But they out there doing their thing. More power to them.
You mentioned being in traffic earlier. What are you driving? Are you a car guy?
I’m in the passenger seat right now.
What do you drive?
I’m not fucking telling you so you can tell the world muthafucka.
Isn’t that the point of the interview?
No, we talk about music, not my personal life. I don’t look at the car I’m driving to tell if the music’s dope.
Okay. Can we go back to 2004 and Bullets, Blunts, N Ah Big Bank Roll. Can you expound on some specific lyrics?
Let me hear what you’ve got to say.
One is, “watching fights of Muhammad Ali dodging death with every step.” That’s from “Blood N My Hair”.
I would think back then it was just a Muhammad Ali reference, watching the fights. Every step he took would be a blow of death, so that’s what that was. It doesn’t sound like a situation I would be in. It’s just a lyric of Muhammad Ali at the time.
The other one is “my philosophy is the boss of me,” also from “Blood N My Hair.”
The way you get down is the boss of you. How you wake up and put your left foot in front of right is the boss of you. The philosophy of your life is you. A lot of people can get caught up in a persona of who they really are, getting out there spending more money than they’re actually worth.
What do think your contribution to the culture in the Bay Area has been?
I don’t know. Someone else has to answer that question.
What’s your friend in the car say? You said you’re in the passenger seat.
They would never answer that question. To that person I’m just a regular person. They probably think, “he ain’t shit, this nigga ain’t shit.” [laughs]
What do you hope your contribution is?
Just being known as a rap cat, who woke up, ate and slept rap. I’m don’t want to compare myself to anyone. If we were at the basketball court, I would want to be somebody who gets picked to play. That’s it. If I was on the court I would just want to be picked to play. I don’t care if I get picked first or fifth, it’s alright with me.
Talking to you, you come across as down-to-Earth, or concerned about giving the impression that you’re down-to-Earth? Have you always been like that, say when you were younger?
I wasn’t practicing to be me. I was just being me. I’m just being me now. I’m not trying to be down-to-Earth. I think we’re just talking as civilized men. These are civilized questions so I’m trying to give civilized answers.
Maybe I’m used to talking to younger, trending rappers. Could be different.
I can feel you, man. Even when I was younger I don’t think I would have tried to come off as the best, or trying to be the best, or like, “I’m going to give you an album that’s going to change the game,” shit like that. It’s just conversation, just conversation.
Going way back, why’d you switch from Dre Dog to Andre Nickatina?
It just made more sense for business. When it comes to the rhyme game, there were small phases of the Ski’s and emcee’s boom boom boom and the dog names. It was a business decision to go back and say hey, Andre is Andre, go with me.
It’s more timeless.
It’s a better business term.
What is Nickatina?
It’s always been there.
When I go on iTunes and look at the I Hate You with a Passion cover, it’s of a whale, which wasn’t the original cover. Who made that whale cover? It’s very interesting.
A person I had working for me at the time made it. There was a different cover at first, but the song “Killa Whale” got so popular I changed the cover. It was better for that.
Why change it though?
The first cover was owned by another record company. The album cover got turned over to me after a couple of years, so I changed it to that.
What about the new album, with the red and the silhouette on the cover?
It just looked like a good silhouette. That’s it.
Is that you now, or an old picture?
It’s an old picture, but it’s still me now.
[laughs] I’m a fan of album covers, that’s why I asked.
I can dig that.
Do you have any favorites?
Music to Driveby by Compton’s Most Wanted, MC Eiht, Sign o the Times by Prince. I like that Al Green I’m Still in Love with You album where he’s in all white but has black socks on. [laughs] The whole album’s white, his outfit’s white, but he’s got black socks on. [laughs]
Anything to add about your new album?
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