Brooklyn native Joell Ortiz touted as the best unsigned rapper alive has so far gone a notable distance in backing the title.
Always a studious and articulate student growing up, it wasnt difficult for Joell to begin delivering some impressive flows by age 13. However, his biography explains As Joell reached high school, his life changed dramatically as a serious family problem led him away from his promising future as a scholar/athlete and part-time rapper and instead thrust him into the streets.
The setback was Joells mothers addiction to cocaine. During this time Joells need to make ends meet ironically had him selling the same substance that was bringing pain into his life.
It wouldnt be long, however, before the fire inside this wordsmith bubbled and reached the surface. His raw talent would throw some chance meetings in his path that would ultimately lead him to be recognized in the Unsigned Hype column of the March 2004 The Source Magazine as well as to be selected as Charimans Choice for XXL Magazine.
During the same time Joell also went on to win the 2004 EA Sports Battle which earned his song Mean Business a spot on the NBA Live 2005 soundtrack as well as winning him an advertised signing to Jermaine Dupris So So Def label an offer which was voided by Dupri (only for him to soon sign BET Freestyle Friday emcee, Sonny). This eventually lead to a short-lived beef between the two culminating in a Jermaine Dupri diss by Joell Ortiz and Allhiphop.com banning Joell from their site allegedly because of their close ties with Dupri.
Joell Ortiz has been featured on mixtapes from renowned DJs, Cipha Sounds, Kay Slay, Tim Westwood and many others. He has also rocked the mic and done hooks for hip hop greats KRS-ONE and Kool G Rap.
Joell Ortiz - 125 Grams (Part 1)
Joell Ortiz: Whats good homie? Thanks for the love...I just hooked up with Violator through James Cruz. They are going to be dealing with a lot of the industry guys. Besides that same struggle. Writing songs doing freestyles for mixtapes and hiphopgame.com doing interviews and just generally staying active.
TheStateofHipHop: Ok well our focus is on emcee improvement so lets go into that a bit. What artists did you listen to growing up? Who do you listen to now?
Joell Ortiz: I grew up listening to everything. Literally everything. I was a big Redman fan, Canibus, Big Pun, KRS, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Biggie, LL, Jay Z, Mobb Deep, Nas Im a fan of the art. I love great records that are on the radio and I love straight spittin as well. Im 24 but Ive always hung around dudes that were close to 10yrs older than me (still do) Back in the days the great emcees made singles, had great shows, won battles, had all the girls and dressed fly. That¹s what Im about. I love the total package emcees. There aren¹t a lot of em out right now.
TheStateofHipHop: At what point did you know you were an above average rapper?
Joell Ortiz: I knew I was nice very early I used to rap with a crew of dudes from my projects and they would all use my rhymes to go battle other crews. That was the first glimpse that I had a gift! The hard part has been trying to convince people outside my projects (COOPER PROJECTS baby).
TheStateofHipHop: Youve been on mixtapes from Kay Slay to Stretch Armstrong, Tony Touch and Tim Westwood in the UK. Whats the first mixtape you got on and how did that come about?
Joell Ortiz: My first tape was a Stretch Armstrong/Whoo Kid tape. I don¹t remember the name but Stretch put me on there. Stretch was one of the first people showing me love not only as a dj but just showing me the ropes I was only 17 and he was real patient and cool. People don¹t give that dude enough credit for breaking artist. Stretch played shit that he thought was hot. Signed or Not! That is rare. The only person doing that today is my man Kay Slay. He gave me love when NO ONE else would. Kay Slay is Hip Hop all day and a stand up dude.
TheStateofHipHop: Masta Ace tends to come up with some very specific concepts for songs, other rappers like 2pac came up with masterpieces essentially from freestyles. How do you usually come up with ideas for your songs?
Joell Ortiz: I do a little of both. Depending on the beat and the mood Im in that day.
TheStateofHipHop: Youve said that ever since you were young youve had the ability to write really well. What were you into when you were younger (reading, writing, poetry, public speaking ) that allowed you to manifest these skills?
Joell Ortiz: Mostly reading and writing. I was a pretty good student (I skipped the 8th grade) I spent a lot of time reading and writing rhymes as a kid. Then like most kids I started fucking up in High School but the writing stuck. I thank God something good did stick.
TheStateofHipHop: Back to your career for a second. Whats your current status? Are you still in search of a deal, distribution, etc?
Joell Ortiz: Like I said earlier, Im managed by Violator and I am working on building my fan base. I don¹t do meetings. I don¹t chase A&R guys. I write songs, get on mixtapes, get on hiphopgame.com, do interviews. Those are the things I focus on. A record deal don¹t mean shit without the craft and the fans.
TheStateofHipHop: Honestly, how important, would you say, is having connections to getting put on to magazines, radio, record labels, etc?
Joell Ortiz: Its important but I know a lot of emcees that got on radio and had write ups in magazines but weren¹t ready for it. You gotta have a lot of shit together before you start getting exposure. For instance, If you got a brother at XXL and they get you a write up that¹s cool but do you have a record for radio? Do you have a mixtape together? Do you have a mixtape dj that will bless you for sure? I really believe in blitzing. You never heard of me until this year for a reason. I AM READY NOW! I been preparing for this for 6 years! Battles, songs, singles, mixtapes, getting cosigns from Legends, calling on djs, going to clubs and handing out flyers and mixtapes, making t-shirts and cups and giving them out at fairs. All that shit helped me get into XXL and get the little spins I got on Hot 97. Sometimes I feel like, I should get on cause of pure skill but its not like that and I gotta deal with the way it is. Im willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. So to answer your question connections help but grinding is key.
TheStateofHipHop: Who are some artists (dead or alive) that you would love to work with?
Joell Ortiz: Pun Biggie and Jay
TheStateofHipHop: We advocate patience, time and personal experience to new emcees. Youve been rhyming for over a decade. Were there any milestones when you thought, Damn, Im on a whole new level now or was it just steady improvement?
Joell Ortiz: I stay writing so its hard to say when that happened. But I¹ll tell you, when I track the shit I write and niggas around me are going crazy I know I did something special.
TheStateofHipHop: What qualities do you think will help you, an undoubtedly talented emcee, break out of the underground and into the speakers of the masses?
Joell Ortiz: Thanks for the compliment, brother...I think the only thing that is gonna make people believe in Joell Ortiz is WORK, WORK, WORK and more WORK not fancy parties with hip industry guys, not dick riding the flavor of the month rap clique, not knowing the big dj¹s cousin¹s co defendant. Just good ol¹fashion WORK.
TheStateofHipHop: We have visitors from around the world any additional advice you have for young emcees?
Joell Ortiz: Stay focused, Commit, Be Coach-able, Grow some real thick skin and have fun.
TheStateofHipHop: Anything you want to say to all the Joell Ortiz fans reading this interview?
Joell Ortiz: Id like to let the Joell Ortiz fans know that I sincerely appreciate all the support they have been showing me lately. I use my legal name for a reason, Im not a typical rapper. I don¹t hide nothing about myself from my people, I am part of you, I am one of you. Im your voice, Never better than you.. We gonna take this to the top.
TheStateofHipHop: Thanks a lot for helping to guide our visitors with your insights. God bless and we wish you plenty of success in what were sure will be a bright future.
Joell Ortiz: Thanks for the site. You are providing a great service to emcees.