In this time where hip hop is all about the bling-bling and violence, one man has managed to stay true to himself and the streets. That man is none other than AZ. The hip hop world first took notice of AZ when he appeared on Nas’s ‘Life’s A Bitch’. From then on, he has appeared on The Firm album (alongside Nas, Foxy Brown and Nature) and has also released 4 albums in the past ten years.
AZ took some time out to speak with MVRemix about his new album ‘A.W.O.L.’ coming out September 6 2005. AZ also expresses his thoughts on Nas and Cormega calling a truce recently, discusses his classic verse on ‘Life’s A Bitch’, and explains how he would like to be remembered after retiring from the rap game.
MVRemix: How’s it going? How you feeling right now?
AZ: I’m feeling excellent man. New York State Of Mind.
MVRemix: I want to congratulate you on your new album. Your last album, ‘Aziatic’ came out in 2002, so it must be good having an album out now.
AZ: Nah, you right, absolutely.
MVRemix: There’s no denying that you’ve got one of the illest flows and lyrics in the game, but yet seem to be one of the most slept on MC’s. How would you describe the kind of music AZ puts out, to someone who has never heard your music before?
AZ: Mine is the CNN of the streets man. I speak criminology, but to help better the minority. [laughs]
MVRemix: Your upcoming album is called ‘A.W.O.L.’. Why did you name it ‘A.W.O.L.’?
AZ: In the hood, when you say somebody went A.W.O.L., it means someone went ballistic. And on this album, that’s how I went. I went in with no pre-meditated thoughts, and just did what I did on these tracks. And at the end of the day, once the album was done, A-W-O-L spelt A.W.O.L., and the acronym could be ‘Az Will Out Last’. And it just seems like I’m still here, I had a lot that came and went.
MVRemix: A.W.O.L. features the single ‘The Come Up’ which was produced by the legendary DJ Premier. What was it like working with Premo? How did you guys hook up? And how was it working with him in the studio?
AZ: I mean he’s a professional man, I figured if I wanted to go to the chain and be considered one of the top contenders and lyricist, anybody that ever did that, had to go through that Premo chamber. So I figure, to make my cipher complete, in this music business, I wanted to have a solo song with him. So it came out how it supposed to came out, he made the music right there from scratch, I made the lyrics from scratch, I let him do him, he let me do me, and it was just done.
MVRemix: There is also a video for 'The Come Up’, which was shot in black and white; what was it like shooting for that video?
AZ: I mean that was serious; I went back to the hood where I grew up at. The fact that it was black and white, and everybody in there, there was no extras, all that were people from my neighbourhood that I grew up in, and it was just a good feeling, letting them know I’m still here, the love is still here, and vice versa, they let me know the love is still here cause there was a lot of support, everybody came out, it was just the truth.
MVRemix: You also got a song called ‘New York’ featuring Raekwon and Ghostface from Wu-Tang. What was it like working with them? I mean we got 3 of New York’s finest right there on one track.
AZ: Yeah, I wanted to bring that New York vibe back. Everybody is crying east coast this, east coast that, babababa, so I wanted to bring that vibe back man. I know, at the same time, they striving for the same goal. So it was good to work with two lyricists that take it seriously like I take it.
MVRemix: It’s been ten years since your first LP ‘Do Or Die’ dropped in 95. Would you say you are still as hungry today recording ‘A.W.O.L.’ as you were ten years ago recording ‘Do Or Die’?
AZ: I’m at my best! With this ‘A.W.O.L.’ right now, it feels ten times better than ‘Do Or Die’. I’m more wiser, I know what it takes. So I think this album right here is crazy; it’s one of the best ones right here.
MVRemix: Now I heard about your restaurant Mama Soul in Brooklyn. How’s it doing right now?
AZ: Right now its on the slow grind cause I’m not there monitoring it, but once I finish running around with this album, doing everything I’m doing, it’ll be up and running real serious soon.
MVRemix: ‘Life’s a bitch’ featured you and one of the greatest lyricists of all time, Nas. Your verse on ‘Life’s a bitch’ is legendary and a classic, there’s no denying that. Would you have imagined that your verse would end up being many people’s favorite off Nas’s Illmatic album? Like the impact it would have had?
AZ: Nah, not at all. And at that time, Nas was critically acclaimed, and I just felt like I was helping him wrap that album up and the response I got from it was serious. That was a blessing, and I appreciate everybody that feels that verse. Because, I wrote it, when a friend of mine’s passed away, so it meant a lot to me.
MVRemix: I’m going to quote one of your lines off ‘Life’s A Bitch’: ‘I'm destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it’. 11 years later, has Anthony Cruz lived the dream?
AZ: Yes sir! I lived it; I’m still accomplishing and seeking the goals that I want to seek. I’ve separated myself from a lot of unnecessary things that was in my cipher, and of course, I’m still striving for perfection.
MVRemix: I was wondering if you have any thoughts on Nas and Cormega calling a truce recently.
AZ: Right, I mean they need to do that. It’s all music at the end of the day. Hopefully we can get back and do a Firm album, if possible.
MVRemix: Is there any chance that you will be making a duet album with Nas in the future? I think the AZ and Nas fans have been waiting for that ever since ‘Life’s A Bitch’.
AZ: My door is always open. I guess Nas going through a lot of chambers within himself, but my door is always open. So, whenever he’s ready, I’m ready.
MVRemix: You recently recorded a freestyle over the 50 Cent –‘Outta Control’ beat. Now a lot of people have speculated that some of the lines were towards 50 Cent. What is your take on that?
AZ: Oh no, not at all, nah it was just a freestyle, nah.
MVRemix: How has the rap game changed over the past ten years? And, as a ten year vet, would you say it has changed for the better or worse?
AZ: It changed for the better. We all got a voice, and it’s a voice all over the world. So like I said, east coast birthed it, the west ran with it, the mid-west did what it had to do with it, the south got it on lock now. And it’s a good thing because we all from the same cloth at the end of the day. A lot of brothers are not fortunate enough to leave their hood or projects, so they stooped, so it’s a good thing for them to watch videos and hear different music and hear the different lifestyles that’s going on elsewhere. So it’s a good thing man, it’s opened up a lot of doors, a lot of endorsements, a lot of sneakers, a lot of clothes. And as long as hip hop keeps growing, more things can be open up. So I appreciate it.
MVRemix: Where do you think your career will go from here after the release of ‘A.W.O.L.’?
AZ: After this, we looking at the Quiet Money records to release a few more acts. Looking to go into the movie business, looking to make my name a house hold name. So we working on that now.
MVRemix: Are there any particular artists or producers that you would like to work with in the future?
AZ: Not necessarily, I worked with a lot. But if opportunity presents itself, I will work for Pharell or Kanye West, I love their music.
MVRemix: What kind of music or artist are you feeling right now at the moment?
AZ: A little bit of everybody, I like Game, Fat Joe, Common Sense, TI, Jeezy.
MVRemix: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have of you?
AZ: That I’m not a mainstream artist. I am mainstream, just the fact that I don’t have that big machine behind me to cross me over to different cultures. I’m bigger than underground but I love the underground.
MVRemix: How would you like to be remembered after you retire from the rap game?
AZ: As one of the greatest lyricist that ever existed.
MVRemix: Your upcoming album is going to be your fifth one. What can people who buy your album expect from ‘A.W.O.L.’?
AZ: Oh man…AZ in his rawest form. Lyrically, the tip power, music complementing poetry, and just me at my rawest form.
MVRemix: Do you have any last words to your fans?
AZ: ‘A.W.O.L.’, September 6, if they want to tap in, I got a website: az.ivnet.tv.