Nas’s flow plus Jay-Z’s swagger minus their marketing dollars equals AZ. That humble equation summarizes the career of one of Brooklyn’s unsung lyrical heroes. Ever since he turned heads on “Life’s A Bitch” as the sole guest MC on Nas’s classic Illmatic, AZ “the Vizualiza” has earned a loyal following of fans hungry for his effortless wordplay. His own hits like “Sugarhill” and “Phone Tap” (as part of supergroup The Firm) are staples in any iPod playlist.
In 2008 he released his ninth solo CD Undeniable on Koch Records and a mixtape with DJ Absolut called N4L, also distributed by Koch. The Urban Daily took a moment to reflect on AZ’s 14 plus year career and if that group album with Nas will ever happen.
TUD: On the CD cover of N4L there is an image of you being lynched. What is the significance of that?
AZ: That’s basically portraying the lynching of the brothas here in North America, from the Mike Vick to the Sean Bell. So I’m just symbolizing that. And the lynching of hip hop itself at the end of the day.
TUD: We’ve had the NWA’s Niggaz4life, we’ve had ODB’s Nigga Please, we’ve had Jay-Z’s “Nigga What, Nigga Who”. Why do you think people had such a problem with Nas adding an “er” to it?
AZ: [laughs] I think from the powers that be, that name was so harsh and it was given to us at a time when we weren’t even considered human, we were considered animals. And so many activists try to do so much to get [that word] erased from history. And it seems like we making progress. Now here in the millennium, we got a little freedom and we got the right to do a lot of things. And now, for a young black brother to bring that back…it brings back fear to the older people that’s here, that’s into politics and all of that.
TUD: On “Knowledge Freedom,” you said you’re a “verbal rhyme colonic.” Is the industry full of shit?
AZ: [laughs] And you know that!. Because now it’s more of a hustle, you dig? Because it’s not even about the talent, and the artistic aspect of the game, it’s about how can we make some money, and to what extent can we make some money, and we’re talking from the artist’s perspective, from the label’s perspective, from the producer’s perspective…Nobody’s dealing with the art form itself, and trying to get a message across or just trying to show lyrical skills and so forth.
TUD: I ask because it came out that Akon never went to jail, but his whole persona is that he’s a convict, Konvict Music. And you find out now that Rick Ross was a correctional officer and this dude’s supposed to be the biggest drug dealer in Miami.
AZ: What we’re saying is that this is the entertainment business, so we gotta understand that these people are here to entertain us, they’re not here to really put their life on the line. They did their justice so we not asking them to come to the table with their whole life story. Long as they art form is authentic and they’re great at what they do, talent wise, I think that’s enough. But the fact that this game is filled with so many street cats right now, like I said, it is a hustle, your word is your bond. So now when they speak, it just fucks everything up.When they talking like they was built a certain way and they really not. Just fuck the minds of the people up, and it is what it is.
TUD: You came out in the era when the cocaine lyrics in rap were prevalent. But what’s the difference between what you, Raekwon and Jay-Z did and what Young Jeezy does now?
AZ: Because we came out in that era, when it was certified, real, and we brought that criminology aspect to the table when it was drug dealers still doing what they was doing around that era. ‘94, ‘95, ’96, a lot of brothers were really just coming home from doing that 10-15 when they got locked up in ’82. And a lot of brothers were still in the struggle for real, and drugs were hard to come by, and they didn’t have the cameras, the eye in the sky, all of that. And all these snitches wasn’t in existence. So nowadays, all of these things exist, so it’s hard to talk that drug movement when you know that the cartel ain’t moving like that. And we know that the police, the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration], they got TV shows now! You gotta to be kidding me! You not getting no money like that. It’s a lie right now. Back then, you’d know you was affiliated because them people was still in existence.
TUD: You had a cameo appearance in Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents” video playing Monopoly with real money. How did you come to be at that table with Biggie and Jigga?
AZ: Well, I’m from Brooklyn for one, I’m a certified dude for two, and I knew Jay before he got in the game. At that time, I had “Sugar Hill” out, so I was at the top of my game, and Jay told me to come through. ‘Cause I knew Jay way before. Actually, me and Jay went to high school [Eli Whitney High School] together. And then that high school closed, I guess that’s when he went to school with Biggie [George Westinghouse Information Technology High School]. And from there, he was coming in the game, B.I.G. was already who he was so it was just a Brooklyn thing. And we sat at that table. At that particular time we [had] a Cristal drinking contest at the table, you know, and everybody get drunk. We [drank] the Cristal nonstop, I gave up first. I didn’t know B.I.G was a drinker. B.I.G. was a drinker. He went hard body. I mean, everybody had their own money, and the ladies was there, it just felt good at that time, there was no hate at that time. That word “hate” ain’t really exist, everybody was just like, ‘whatever’.
TUD: Did y’all keep playing after the camera stopped rolling?
AZ: You know what? I was so drunk around that time, I think they kept playing. After the shoot, I was like, ‘Listen, I’m outta here.’
TUD: One of my favorite songs of yours is D’Angelo’s, “Lady” remix produced by DJ Premier. Talk about how you got to be on that record.
AZ: Well, D’Angelo was signed to Motown around that time [Note: D’Angelo was signed to EMI but managed by Kadar Massenburg] and I was cool with Kadar Massenburg and my manager was cool with him, and like I said, I was hot at that time. When you’re hot, everything’s a go. So he was like, ‘Do a record together and do this remix, see how it come out.’ And I did it and just working with Premo…Like I said, Premo and Pete Rock, once you work with them, you certified. ‘Cause they only deal with the best. It was a good experience also for me. And we was breaking that R&B world around that time…remixes and so on. So I think I’m one of the pioneers of the remixes myself.
TUD: Nice. Right, right. ‘Cause one of the other remixes I like was for that Monifah song “I Miss You.”
AZ: Yeah, yeah. Like I said, that was the start of remix heaven. And I was at the top of that. I introduced that to the game, as well as P Diddy and all of that. I was ahead of my time, I think, with a lot of things.
TUD: Do you feel like you’re still getting the respect you should at this time? ‘Cause you’re putting out good music but it doesn’t seem to catch on as much as all the other mainstream stuff. Does that ever frustrate you?
AZ: Right, right. Nah, not at all. I understand that it’s the music business. I mean, my respect is at an all time high. But when it’s a business, there’s a lot of things that come into play. And a lot of people pay to play, you dig? So if you can’t pay to play sometimes, you won’t be in there with the big boys. But I mean, as far as respect wise, I’m good, because I respect myself all around as far as music and personal in the business. So I get that respect, I’m loved and all of that. But hey, I’ma keep it coming.
TUD: How do you feel about the reaction to Undeniable?
AZ: Those that got it, loved it. From my core fans. So far, so good. I put it out for my hardcore fans, they appreciate it. And like I said, on the independent level, I think I’m doing swell.
TUD: I read that you were rying to get the collabo album with Nas together. What’s the likelihood of that?
AZ: I mean, he’s a busy man, he’s on top of the world, so that’s up in the air as far as now. But I’m sure it’ll happen sooner or later, just because what goes around comes around. So I’m sure it’ll happen sooner than later.