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CAM’RON IS STILL HARLEM’S DIPLOMAT

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Photos by Brayden Olson

I met Cam’ron on a quiet, residential street in Harlem. He pulled up in a Bentley coupe riding shotgun, with his manager British behind the wheel and his fiancée Juju in the backseat. Together, we made a short walk to the intersection of 128th and Lenox. Within minutes Cam’ron had drawn a crowd of fans and well-wishers. A little boy came up to us and said “Do you know Marcus?” to which Cam’ron replied, “Yeah.” The little boy smiled and proudly said, “That’s my cousin.”

That’s the type of effect Cam’ron has in Harlem, but more importantly New York, where he’s thedefinitive rapper of the early 2000s—outshining both Jay Z and Nas on a street level. Realizing that it would be impossible to have an interview with Cam’ron on the streets of Harlem, we entered a building owned by one of his childhood friends to have a talk about his legacy, wearing pink, and whether or not Jay Z made him a millionaire. Here’s what Harlem’s golden boy had to say.

VICE: I passed Rucker Park on the way here. You used to play basketball there right?
Cam’ron: Yeah, basketball is one of my passions. At one point I was in the top 25 for my age level.

Is that why you were hesitant to take the music route?
It’s not that I was necessarily hesitant about going the music route, it’s just that I didn’t take it seriously since basketball was a priority to me at the time.

So, what happened with that?
I suffered an injury at a junior college in Texas where I was being scouted, so I came back to New York.

Is that when music thing finally popped off for you?
When I got back, Ma$e was already signed to Bad Boy. I followed his lead and never went back to school. He introduced me to Big [The Notorious B.I.G.] and that’s when I got my first record deal.

You had a different flow on your first record, Confessions of Fire. It was a lot more aggressive and a lot more straight forward. How’d you transition into the “punchline flow” that we all know and love today.
Just time. Things change. You have to realize that I’m blessed to be around long enough for something like that to evolve. My rhyme style when I was just coming out happened to work for that time period. But you have to reinvent yourself. If I was doing the same thing to this day, I would be pretty boring by now. I make a conscious effort to reinvent myself every couple of years.

I remember the first time I’d heard anything like that was on your song “Wet Wipes,” when you said “Lemme Hit / Sammy Sosa.” Nowadays, it seems like a lot of rappers have taken that style, especially all of Cash Money’s roster.
At the end of the day, it’s like this: If you are a basketball player who’s 12 years old looking up to players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, when it’s your time to shine, you will emulate them a little bit. I wouldn’t say that rappers are biting me off. I just think they added their own spin on it. It’s not like they owe me royalties or anything.

Are you used to people capitalizing off of your image? I’ve seen socks and T-shirts with your images emblazoned on them, and even zines that are based on you. Hell, I feel like Steve Jobs owes you money—he stole the glasses and turtleneck look that you rocked on the cover of the Horse and Carriage single.
The only official collaborations as far as clothing is concerned is the shirt I did for Alife and the socks. I have seen other things, like a T-shirt with a pink Range Rover on it that I didn’t co-sign. By the end of the year, once I settle the various deals I have with people, everybody will know what’s being put out by me and what’s being bootlegged.

I have to be honest with you, the streets are starving for a shoe. Your kicks would fly off the shelves. Maybe Timberland can put out their classic 6″ butters in a Pink Panther flavor?
I should look into that.

I think the fact that you are so marketable is that you’re one of the few rappers to bridge the gap from being just a rapper to being a pop culture icon. Let’s put it this way: my mother knows who you are. You even became a meme. How’d that come to be?
It’s probably because I talked to Bill O’ Reilly and asked him if he was mad. It was nothing really. He was trying to come at me and I thought it was hilarious, so I made a joke out of it. It’s a lot of things. But the simple fact is that I’m living my lifestyle and people are capitalizing on it financially or intellectually. I don’t plan any of this, I just wake up in the morning being me.

What about the Anderson Cooper thing? 
It was around the time of the “Stop Snitchin'” movement. Everybody was mad that I went on 60 Minutes and pretty much agreed with that rationale. But, you can’t buy 60 Minutes-level publicity, you know what I mean? If you got an album or a movie coming out, you can’t get on 60 Minutes. I took my opportunity to be on there to say something I felt strongly about.

What you said wasn’t that crazy. You’re selling albums to kids with street sensibilities and that’s just the mind set.
People are shocked that I went on in the first place, but you have to understand that no one’s going to be on 60 Minutes unless it’s something miserably sad or something bad going on. So I don’t regret what I said at all.

When did you become interested in acting and producing?
Dame came through for me again on that one. He put me in my first movie, Paid in Full. Growing up I watched other movies like Master P’s I’m Bout it and Dame and Jay’s Streets Is Watching and I just followed their blueprint. Then I executive produced, starred, and wrote Killa Season.

I have to ask—what was up with Jay Z name dropping you on Drake’s “Pound Cake“? Jay came at that feature like he was the Queen of England and he knighted you with a million dollars. Did he really make you millions of dollars?
There’s two sides to every coin, and I addressed it on my latest mixtape. He might not have meant it the way he meant it but it came across that way. For instance, if you name a guy like Lyor [Cohen]—this is the guy who gave him his deal, so yeah he probably made him money in the long run, but it’s not like Lyor didn’t already have a million dollars before he signed Jay.

Tell me about some of your lesser-known business ventures, like the Oh Boy fragrance and your porn company Dipsex.
Those were companies we had that we sold. Once you get a company up to a certain status, and somebody’s willing to buy it, it makes sense for you to sell it. The Dipsex thing—that was my partner Big Joe’s thing. I just co-signed it. You get to a certain point when you’re not flipping keys, but you’re flipping businesses. Funny story: BET isn’t owned by anybody black but it’s the “black” entertainment channel—it is what it is.

Do you still talk to the rest of Dipset? There seems to be a new beef every now and again. 
We’re all good. We’re all on speaking terms. Everyone wants a Dipset album, but we don’t want to cheat the people. We can go to the studio and make an album in a couple days, but it wouldn’t be genuine. We wouldn’t want to cheat people like that.

You can make an album in a couple days? 
I got 2,000 songs that have never been released. I got a studio at my house. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can record a song. There’s no time restraint on me in that respect. I can record whatever I want. I probably record 15 songs a week—not because I have to, but just because it comes so natural. It’s second nature to me. By the time I walk back to my Bentley I’ll think about eight or nine new rhymes.

One of my favorite rappers is Max B. When did you meet him and how’d you get affiliated with him?
Max B is from my building. We grew up in the same building. I lived on the fifth floor and he lived on the third floor and he signed with Jim [Jones]. Max B was so funny, I could never really take him seriously as a rapper cause this dude just makes me laugh all the time, but come to find out he’s a really talented rapper. When he got on with Jim, they just did their thing. His name is Charlie Rambo, that’s his nickname in the hood.

Prolificacy has almost become a rite of passage among Harlem-bred rappers. Max B is releasing tapes from jail and you allegedly have 2,000 unreleased songs.
Me and Max, we write about where we’re from. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also about being clever and having punch lines and coordinating your rhymes and words and what have you, but a lot of times I could stand out here in this neighborhood and within two days I’ll have enough material for an album. The reason we’re on the roof is because if we did this on the street, this interview wouldn’t be finished untill midnight. And don’t get me wrong, it’s all love. If I stood outside the whole day, I’d see a hundred people I grew up with, and that’s a hundred stories to write about.

Follow Cam’ron on Instagram and keep your eyes peeled for his latest project First of the Month—a series of webisodes and mixtapes that will be released simultaneously every month starting early next year.

@ronnyholmser

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