Hip-Hop, Rap Interviews : Big Shug
Part of the Gangstarr Foundation, Big Shug has appeared alongside Guru and Premier for over a decade as a guest on Gangstarr's albums as well as on Guru's Jazzmatazz projects. Few can forget Big Shug, Guru & Freddy Foxxx tearing up the track on the infectious 1998 underground anthem The Militia. After patiently waiting in the ranks Shug is finally dropping his long awaited debut album Who's Hard? With Premier behind the boards on nine of the album's twenty tracks, Who's Hard? offers gratification for die-hard Hip-Hop and die-hard Gangstarr fans alike. Guest appearances by Guru and Freddy Foxxx as well as additional production by the Alchemist insure Who's Hard's heavyweight status. Coming to you directly from the Gangstarr Foundation. And it don't stop.
RIOTSOUND.COM: The title of your new album is Who's Hard? What meaning is there behind the title and what is it meant to signify about the record?
BIG SHUG: Who's Hard? is asking that question. So many people in today's climate of Hip-Hop artists say they're hard or gangsta or whatever. But my album is basically the background for my life and things that I've been through or seen or done. So it's asking that question. You could listen to the album and if you think I'm hard so be it. And ask yourself the same question ‘cause a lot of cats ain't hard, I've lived a hard life. So [the album] is asking a question but it's also a theme for my life, like a soundtrack.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You worked a lot with Premier on this record, how do the two of you work together; for example with Premier and Guru, I read that a lot of times they think of a song title first and then try to make music based on the title?
BIG SHUG: Me and him, we've been around each other for so long – I've always got songs, I'm always writing and he kind of knows my flavor and my feeling. So he'll come with a track and I'll tell him what song I might wanna do or he'll come up with something and I'll just come up with the title, and I got some lyrics that go with it, so be it, if not I'll just write it right there. So it's always a pretty quick process with him.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Guru actually inspired you to rap after you were incarcerated for some time; can you talk about your childhood and what led to your incarceration as well as how Guru persuaded you to pick up the mic?
BIG SHUG: Well Guru really didn't persuade me, he inspired me to rap. I was the one rapping first, so I actually taught him how to rap, straight up. I came up from the streets man, I was hustling, my mother left at a young age, my father was drinking so I had to fend for myself. I got caught up, entered the drug world and was doing various crimes which landed me in jail. When I was in there is when Guru started making his various moves towards the top. So if anything it inspired me to get my shit right, ‘cause [me and Guru] we where Gangstarr originally but then we separated and when I got locked up he went to New York so that's how that part of the equation came in. So if anything he inspired me to get serious about rapping because I've always rapped my entire life.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You were on one of the most memorable Gangstarr cuts to date The Militia; how did that whole collaboration come about with you, Guru and Freddie Foxxx all on that beat?
BIG SHUG: Premier was like, we gonna do a joint for the [Moment Of Truth] album and it was gonna be me, Freddy and Guru. They wanted it to be called The Militia. I just came up with a rhyme in my head and that same day that we recorded it Premier was making the beat that morning and I had spent the night at his house. So we left his house together and went to the studio. I did [my verse] in about two takes and we were done with that. So that's how that came together. Then, of course, [Premier] got with Guru and Freddy at later date [to complete the song].
RIOTSOUND.COM: When the fans go pick up Who's Hard? what should they be expect?
BIG SHUG: When they go to get this album they should expect some hard, real Hip-Hop tracks, the boom bap. It's that good feeling that people love or its that head knocking shit or you got a few joints on there like Shuggy Diamonds which is sexy. Then I got some singing on there ‘cause I sing also. When you get this album man, it's like a trip down some real Hip-Hop, some hard shit, some smooth shit; it's just trying to touch a little bit of everybody but really it's for people who are looking for good music, some good Hip-Hop and ain't scared.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Aside from Premier, who did nine tracks, who else did production on Who's Hard?
BIG SHUG: I also got production from Alchemist, who did two tracks. I have a group that's called Team Shug which consists of Crux, who did the track Life On Wax, Bless One, he did the tracks No Mother, No Father and NFL and also Saki, who did the track Too Hot. I also have Moss outta Canada, he did We Gansta and Militant Soldiers. Also Bravo for Sid Roams who did Take It Back. I produced Trees myself and also another interlude with my man called Smoking Dutches With My Lady.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You're doing a show tonight in New York with Smif ‘N' Wessun and Premier, do you have any preparation that you go through when you perform live, what usually goes into a live performance?
BIG SHUG: It all changes depending on the show but I'm always going out and trying to let people remember about the tragedies and other things going on in the world, so I always try to get a moment of silence and incorporate a little acappella singing or something that's conducive to what's happening. I listen to my music a lot and to the point where it's etched in my brain so I'm just ready to go, it's all natural, there not really a whole lot of preparation. It's just like, what songs are we gonna do - ok let's go. And you kind of just have fun as you go along.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Having traveled around the world, what countries outside the US would you say have the most love for Hip-Hop?
BIG SHUG: Europe overall is great but its always great over there. Japan is really crazy about it, Australia is crazy about it. The love has been everywhere, I've been around all over and it's just been that way everywhere.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You got the album Who's Hard? in stores now, what else should the fans be looking out for as far as Big Shug goes?
BIG SHUG: I am going overseas and I'ma be going on tour. I am also going to be touring in the States. So if anything they should be looking forward to me coming through their towns to give them that live show and that real music on a close up basis. I am also going to be doing a radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio with Premier, that will start in November. Also a few other things, you never know what might pop up. I got some things I'm doing for ESPN in the sports world with the NFL song and whatever else. There's quite a bit of things happening so people could expect to see me and hear me a lot.