Chamillionaire - Doing It My Way
Interview By: John Burnett
I didn’t really know what to expect from the rapper named Hakeem Seriki aka Chamillionaire. To be honest, I didn’t know much about him, and I hadn’t heard much of his music at this point. What I knew was that some of his music was chopped and screwed, he used to be on Swishahouse and some type of drama encircled his relationship with Paul Wall and his former label. The interview was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. and it was quickly approaching 5:00 p.m. I became restless and anxious. The tension mounted as the room of collegiate reporters waited for the Texas rapper to emerge. Then, I heard something that sounded like a group of fans forming and then I saw an entourage surrounding a figure of medium stature whose mouth carried several thousand dollars in it. The figure was Chamillionaire; he took a seat, we exchanged a friendly dap, and our conversation began.
NOBODYSMILING.COM : A lot of people heard you for the first time on Madden 2006 spittin on “In Ya Eyes” and will think you just came out, which is not true at all. Basically, what I wanted to address was how long have you been in the game and can you briefly discuss your history in the industry?
Chamillionaire: I started off on the mixtape scene in 98. I used to be a member of Swishahouse and at that time, me and Paul Wall was a group. We was doing, um…the freestyles on the chopped and screw mix cds, which were the biggest cds coming out of Houston. You know we just started building a buzz for ourselves doing freestyles in the city and it just start spreading you know. Bootleggers got a hold of it, and mixtapes are the most highly bootlegged things on the streets. So, it started spreading outside of Houston to Dallas to Austin and outside of Texas. Next, me and Paul Wall dropped an album called Get Ya Mind Correct that sold 150,000 albums out of the trunk and it got nominated for independent album of the year by the Source around 2002. Later, me and Paul Wall had differences, so we split up. He stayed with Swishahouse and I went on to get my own label, Chamillitary and signed with Universal. Now I got that album coming out, The Sound of Revenge November 22.
NOBODYSMILING.COM : Who are some of the emcees you draw influences from?
Chamillionaire: I used to like Bun B, Pimp C and Scarface, you know. To me there was like no artist. I used to see fans just screaming and I never had that feeling for no artist before. Now it’s crazy to see fans doing that for me and I feel just like a normal person. But as far as musically, it was more like the people behind the scenes that was making the money. You would see the little kids run by the guy with the suit and to the guy with the chain on that ain’t really making no money and the dude wit the suit who got his own jet who fly from LA to New York in the same day. That’s what I was interested in, the people who were making the real money. You got the Russell Simmons or Master P, you see his story; the people who turned nothing into something. Those are the people I look up to.
NOBODYSMILING.COM : Can you discuss why you picked the name Chamillionaire?
Chamillionaire: When I first started off, it ain’t really have no purpose with it. I was just Chameleon. My name’s going to be Chameleon. Then it was the lizard thing where the lizard changes colors and is different from the rest of the lizards in its family. I feel like that versus all of the other artists. I’m different from them. I got my own style, but as I got more mature I wanted to have purpose behind everything I was saying. So, I added Chamillionaire. I used to rap about diamonds, rims and bling so much and little kids used to come up to me rappin like me and it made me tired of that style. Man, everybody talking about how big your rims is, you know what I’m saying. I just wanted to add meaning to it. The name means an artist that is rich in style. It’s more about the music. If you think about Chamillionaire, he raps fast, he raps slow, he sings the hook, he try to give them the whole package and basically that’s what the name means.
NOBODYSMILING.COM : I know you get this one a lot. Can you discuss your history with Paul Wall and Swishahouse?
Chamillionaire: When I was on Swishahouse, we was paying dues there. We was rapping and it was cool. It was like an internship. You can only do an internship for so long. My internship at Swishahouse lasted so long that I was going home to my family and they was eating cereal for dinner. I mean, I gotta get paid. My lifestyle…Me and Paul Wall grew up together but we grew up completely different. He didn’t have the same type of family I had. His parents were more supportive. I was supporting my family, and I was young doing that. I had to call the shots and make a decision. It was at Swishahouse that I really decided I’d rather not work for someone else. Nobody is going to put a salary cap on me and tell me how much I can make. It was cool we were paying dues, but I’d go to the ceo and ask him “when am I going to get a check for these 18 mixtapes I put out?” and “when am I going to see some money?” and the ceo would say “you’re paying your dues,” and it got to the point when I said I’m tired of paying dues and I branched off. It was a risk, because Swishahouse was the biggest label out at the time. I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew I was going to do something to get some money. With Paul, we grew up together. There was a lot of divide and conquer; people telling him things in his ear and people telling me things in my ear and then you got two guys who were friends all their lives splitting up. But that’s the nature of the game; you know what I’m saying.
NOBODYSMILING.COM : With the chopped and screwed movement blowing up nationwide, can you discuss briefly the history of it and then the meaning of it to you, because a lot of your music is chopped and screwed.
Chamillionaire: Rest in peace DJ Screw, the creator of screw music. I think corporate America came in and started taking the screw thing nationwide. A lot of people don’t know the history about it. It’s like an acquired taste. When I first started rapping on screw cds, I didn’t really like screw. Then I started to listen to it more, and being in Houston you eventually will fall victim to it. Like right now, you hear the Laffy Taffy song so much that you might start Laffy Taffyin and that’s how it was. It was so big in our area that I started to appreciate the art of it. It’s when a DJ would slow down the song and change the tempo and the pitch. People would say, “Why are they slowing down their music?” It goes along with the lifestyle of Texas. In Texas, people just chill. Like in Atlanta, there are a lot of clubs and the music matches the lifestyle. If you go to Miami, the music matches the lifestyle. It’s a lot of partying. In Texas, there’s a lot of chill; people just sit in their Cadillac’s, sit back and just smoke something, and that screwed music goes with it.
NOBODYSMILING.COM : Being from up top, I hear a lot of people from Texas speaking of moving units themselves i.e. Slim Thug Already Platinum and I know you made mention earlier to moving 150,000 units yourself. So, can you discuss the underground scene in Houston or that alternate “do it yourself path” that so many other artists have taken?
Chamillionaire: Um, I say in Texas everyones real big on independence. Just being in the market and watching it grow I feel like no one was giving any handouts. So people were forced to sell the records, because it wasn’t no A&Rs. We was seeing the big rappers on tv, but they [the labels] wasn’t coming out to where we were at. It wasn’t none of that. It was just a lot of land and a fight to the finish to see who could take it over. So everyone went and found the routes to selling their music out the trunk. You know, the biggest neighborhood superstars was like Scarface and you wasn’t seeing them on TRL, and those the guys who run it. So you got a lot of young cats coming up watching them, learning how to sell them records. So what we did was hit all the mom and pop stores, hit every strip club, retail store, every store and we just really pushed our own product out of the trunk. It sounds easier said then done. A lot of the fans out there really support the artist. It used to be about the music. Now, it’s just the fans supporting the artist. The fans that buy Chamillionaire buy it because they feel like they know Chamillionaire. So now they’re buying into the person instead of the songs. It’s kind of like if you in Atlanta, there’s a Young Jeezy. People know his whole movement. Artists have movements; Slim Thug, Swishahouse, all them people had movements. Lil Flip, there’s people who can tell you his first freestyle. A lot of fans buy your cds but they don’t really know you like that. There’s fan out there that can you tell my first and second freestyle, and from that you start building a cult following. I guess that how we move so many units.
NOBODYSMILING.COM : What can we expect from the album as far features, producers what’s your favorite song and why?
Chamillionaire: Features Scarface, Bun B, Killer Mike, Pastor Troy, Lil Wayne, Krayzie Bone, and um, the single with Lil Flip, and my brother Rasat. The producers on there, he’s from Atlanta, Big Boi’s production team. They did that the “Kryptonite” beat. They did most of my album. I also got production Mannie Fresh, Scott Storch, Planned Skills, Happy P, Cool and Dre, and then the album comes with a full length DVD. I put a DVD with it to show people the crowd, the cult following I’m talking about. I got fans that’ll be on there with tee shirts that say Chamillionaire is greatest rapper alive. A lot of it has been building up over the years, so we put a DVD with the cd so the people can see it. As far as the album people can expect me keeping it Southern lyrical, but at the same time keeping it refreshing like a breath of fresh air. It’s not going to sound like any other rapper out of Texas. My favorite song is the one with Scarface. I came up rapping about bling bling and a lot of material stuff and that (the song featuring Scarface) is the inverse of that, and then I got a legend on there. A lot of people was talking saying that I wasn’t going to be able to get Face on the album but I got him and he did it within 24 hours. Then he called me up like “do I like your verse?” I said “what do you mean, do I like your verse (laughter)?”
NOBODYSMILING.COM : What do you have planned for the future?
Chamillionaire: I just want to be successful, that’s it. Not even just in music, but in general. There’s a lot of people eating off this; people I grew up with, people I went to high school with. So even if it’s not rap, just success. If I can be successful doing something, then everybody can eat, everyone can live good. We came up having nothing eating cereal for dinner and rice everyday. That’s why I feel skinny now. We trying to have everyone live good. I feel good having everyone go to Puerto Rico and everyone’s smiling. That’s revenge to me.
NOBODYSMILING.COM : If you wasn’t rapping, what would you be doing?
Chamillionaire: I don’t know. I love music. It would probably be something in music. I’d just be a CEO of a label putting cats on. I’m not going to lie. There are people out there who want it more then me, but I look at the way the south is represented and there’s more out there. The people that dictate what we are don’t even know nothing about music. They never even been in the streets, been in the hood. Those are the people that dictate what we sound like these artists. I see people that’s hungry all day but they never get their chance. I’d probably be doing that.
NOBODYSMILING.COM : What’s something you offer that fans can only get from you?
Chamillionaire: I can’t say the truth, because everyone’s got their truth. With me man, I try to give people a whole story that’s…Put it like this everyone’s got a story. Every rapper that comes out has a story about how they were ex-drug dealers, no disrespect to anyone because some times that’s true. But I feel like a lot of rappers just follow a trend and me, I’m a normal guy that watched his family have nothing and want to make something out of it. I feel like what they’re going to get from me is this story about this young guy who went against the grain and did everything that his gut instincts told him to do and at the end of the day, he ended up being successful. So at the end of the day, they’ll get some motivation from my story, but not the motivation that tells them to go kill somebody. It’s just crazy, because I made it this whole way and I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I never said I kill people and slang drugs and I got all these people in the street that follow me. It’s just crazy to have this following like that and your story is not like no one else’s. So I guess that’s what they’re going to get: truth and motive.
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