KXNG Crooked, Hip-Hop Historian: Death Row Beginnings, Slaughterhouse Trials, & Eminem's Legacy

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KXNG Crooked

From Suge Knight to Eminem, Slaughterhouse to Joe Budden, KXNG Crooked is here to realign the narrative.

KXNG Crooked, previously known as Crooked I, understands the importance of longevity. With a career spanning over two decades, Crook has experienced the game from all manner of perspectives. Rubbing shoulders with Dr. Dre. Signing with Suge Knight. Linking up with Royce Da 5'9", Joe Budden, and Joell Ortiz to make up Slaughterhouse. Crafting an album with Eminem. The bucket list grows shorter with every accomplishment. 

I first discovered Crooked I's music when I was in high school, through his single "Game For Sale" (also titled "N***z Got Game"). Now, having had the chance to connect over the phone nearly twenty years later, it puts things into perspective. Crook is an OG, in every sense of the word. The man understands the importance of hip-hop culture. It's evident in his cadence. The way he's able to celebrate the past, citing memorable lyrics off the top of the dome. Keeping the tradition alive. There's a tangible sense of history about him.

Yet somehow, Crook has continuously managed to find himself at the center of current events. Fans watched as the once storied Slaughterhouse seemed to implode amidst inner turmoil and dueling narratives. Eminem's name was dragged through the mud, as Joe Budden waged war against his former label boss. KXNG Crooked watched it unfold, anchoring the discourse with a grounded perspective, even when things got heated; you can hear the passion in his voice when he mentions Slaughterhouse's untimely end. There's unfinished business there, and he knows it too.

For Crooked, history is as integral as the now. I kept that in mind when preparing this interview. The fact that he has experienced two separate record deals with both Suge Knight and Eminem is a wealth of material for anyone that values hip-hop mythology. For that reason, it seemed only appropriate to start at the beginning. 

Because, for those who can appreciate what KXNG Crooked has brought to the game, history is of the utmost importance.

HNHH: What’s up, man? This is Mitch from HotNewHipHop. How’s your day going so far?

Crooked: Everything is good. Can’t complain.

You got the cigar going?

Aw yeah. I just lit up two seconds ago, before you called me.

Good timing. So first and foremost, it’s an honor to speak to you. I’ve been a fan for a while now. I first discovered your music when I was in high school around 2002, through “Game For Sale." That was the craziest track, man. 

I really appreciate it.

So slept on.

Yeah that’s a long time ago.

For sure! I think I’d like to go back to the beginning a bit. I read that you used to actually be in talks with Dre back in the day for an Aftermath deal. Is that accurate?

Yeah. It was really the infant stages. We didn’t really get into paperwork. I had a deal at Virgin and it was my first deal I ever had. They got rid of their entire urban department so everybody had to go, so I got an advance and I made an album and they just let everybody go. So, when we got on the radio down here in LA, me and my homeboy, and my homeboy Big C-Style is one of the founders of the Dogg Pound. The original founders of the group, the movement, the Dogg Pound.

So, me and him got on the radio and we were talking. The guy hosting the show had asked, "What are you going to do next? You just got on, the label kicked you off, everybody urban got kicked off the label except Janet Jackson." He was like, what are you gonna do? I’m like I don’t know. My homeboy was like "hey man, we thinking about going to Death Row." And when he said that, somebody called him right when we left the station and was like "hey man, Dre heard you on the radio and he wants to talk to you." So we went down to talk to Dre and I played him “Game for Sale” and it went crazy. He was like "This is crazy. Don’t go to Death Row, talk to me."

What might’ve been.

What might’ve been, man! I ended up getting on King T’s project. He was doing a project with Dre. When they were filming the video for “Bitch Please,” they invited me down there. The Xzibit, Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg song, they invited me down there. So I was kind of hanging around and talking to Dre and he was like "Yo, just have some patience. I want to work with you. You ready to be a star?"

And it was a lot of us just talking and he was really caught up. Eminem was going crazy. The Chronic 2001. The Up in Smoke Tour. He had a lot on his plate and Death Row came knocking on my door so I just went that direction.

Crooked I - "N****z Got Game" 

On that note. I wanted to ask about the Death Row days. A lot of your younger fans might not be aware about your history with the label. What were your experiences working with Suge? What was it like maneuvering through Death Row's second era, if you will?

Tons of experiences. When I first signed to Death Row, I had to go meet Suge. He was still incarcerated. He was in Mule Creek Prison. Mule Creek is in the outskirts of Sacramento California. We had to fly up to Sacramento, jump in the car. He had this Tahoe parked there.  Now me and you both know how expensive it is to have a car parked at the airport. Well, he had his Tahoe truck parked there for six years. Everybody who came to the town jumped in the Tahoe and drove up to where he was at.

I basically worked out the terms of a deal with him on a penitentiary visit. He had contact visits at this point in his incarceration, so we could all sit at a table and talk, and then you walk a lap. They had this small area where you could walk outside under the gun towers and barbed wire fences. He was like "let’s go walk a lap." Kind of get away from everybody else and we could talk business.

We talked about everything. He told me what he had to offer and I told him what I had to offer. Fast forward, I’m recording albums on Death Row. I’m talking to him on the phone, letting him hear stuff over the phone, I just did this, I just did that. Then he gets out of jail, two years after I was already signed there, he finally gets out. Now we just side by side. Going everywhere. We in the studio together. Traveling out of town together. Hitting New York, Miami, Hawaii together. I’m just basically right there under the wing learning the game from his perspective. The experiences are numerous.

So I guess you look back on the Death Row days pretty fondly overall?

This my thing, dude. This man tried. He tried to give me a boost in my career. It was just that by the time he got out the pen, he was blackballed, in my opinion. Nobody really wanted to work with him again. When he left it was basically him and Puff in hip-hop. When he came back, you had Jay, Master P, Birdman, you had many hip-hop moguls. The environment was changed. When he got out, a lot of people didn’t want to work with him. It was very hard for him to release big projects. He would put the money into them, but you need distribution and other things to have a successful project.

So, I’m not mad. When I left, me and him had a little disagreement but we handled it like men. I wasn’t going to the press to talk negative about him and start pretending he didn’t try to help my career. It was just like, it’s not working, I gotta go. He took me to court, at first. I won in court. He wasn’t happy about that. Then we sat down afterward and talked it all the way out, and we stayed in communication. Not like everyday talking to each other but like, "Wassup, You good? You signed with Eminem? That’s cool bro. I like him." That was it.

I think people want to know this stuff. They’re more into the historical elements of Hip Hop. So, thanks for sharing those insights. I really appreciate that.

No doubt bro.

Slaughterhouse - "Hammer Dance"

Before this era of social media really took off, I know you came up cultivating your fan base through platforms like MySpace and Dynasty TV. Pretty ahead of its time. Having lived through that era, how do you feel that online marketing has changed?

It’s changed dramatically man. I mean, the direct-to-consumer approach is very big now, as well as the do-it-yourself era. I just never liked to be behind the curb, I want to be ahead of the curb. My thing is creating what I love to do and connecting with people. How do I do those two things to the best of my ability? Social media gives me the vehicle to talk directly to the people. To talk to the people who love what I do and my art. It’s beautiful, so once Myspace took off, I was like "Oh yeah, I’m with this. What kind of raps y'all want to hear? What y'all want to hear on this Hip Hop Weekly Freestyle? Oh we want to hear you rap on Kanye’s "Can’t Tell Me Nothing beat." Aight, you got it. 

I was basically doing drive-thru rap music, like made to order, and the whole thing comes from wanting to constantly engage with the people who support what I do. I don’t like that barrier between artist and the supporter. I want to knock that barrier down. It’s the same today. I do “Crooks Corner” on my Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. It’s all a platform to engage, to talk. I even give my phone number out. I have another phone. I give that phone number out especially when I’m on the road. I talk to people all day, they call me. I give it out on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, whatever.

It’s all about engaging. So, that’s where we are, we’re in a visual business so you gotta have your visuals right. You gotta understand that every piece of content is important, not just a rap video. It’s important to just have a live IG video or an interview piece out there. All visual content is important. Engagement is important. Try to stay ahead of the curb on technology. 

Definitely. I wanted to talk a little bit about Slaughterhouse. As a fan of the group - and I'm sure you've heard this numerous times at this point, but there seems to be a bit of unfinished business with this "lost album." It’s kind of come back into the spotlight lately. Em’s mentioned it in his Sway interview, and of course, Joe Budden’s mentioned it at length on his various platforms. Seeing as we’ve witnessed a situation where Lil Wayne’s came from a years-long delay and dropped Tha Carter V against all odds, do you think there’s a chance that one day we might see this project? It's getting pretty legendary at this point. 

Yeah man. I actually asked Em last time I was in Detroit, on the day he dropped "KillShot." I went to the studio and I said "hey man, what you gon do with Glass House?" Everyone in the room got quiet and I just busted out laughing. He was like "yeah man, what are we gonna do with that? He was like "I gotta think about that." I think if Em and Paul, if they want to put Glass House out, I wouldn’t be opposed to helping them promote that.

We put the work in. I went all the way to New York for a month. Me and Royce rented out a space and we basically lived in New York for a month and a half creating that album. Away from our home, away from our families. I wouldn’t be mad if it came out. We put the work in. I think there’s enough songs to make a pretty decent Slaughterhouse album. I think the fans will like a lot of it. Everybody understands what it is. They know this is not music from 2018. They know exactly what it is. I think it’ll be cool. If Shady don’t put it out, Joe Budden might leak it!

Well I mean, I don’t feel that would be the worst thing in the world, but that’s my own purely selfish opinion.

I don’t know if Media Joe would leak it. Media Joe got a lot more to lose. He knows it might be a lawsuit or something. Back in the day, I think he would have. Now, I don’t think he moving like that. I think it would be cool to just drop it. Give it to the fans! That’s my only thing, man! If we would have put the supporters of Slaughterhouse first, we would’ve figured out a way to give them Glass House. No egos in the room could have stopped it. No obstacles. It was recorded, it was damn near finished. We still had a version of the album we could’ve gave to people. That’s our fault. We did not put the supporters of our music first. We put egos first, we put frustration first. We put everything else first, besides the people who support us and made us who we are. 

I’m gonna choose to stay optimistic.

It might come out. 

Maybe along with Detox and Relapse 2!

You never know man. Carter V!

Lo and behold, it's here. So, I gotta ask. Joe has been teasing this Pull Up episode with you and him. Having watched the clips he made available, it looked like a pretty interesting one. Pretty raw stuff. Do you have any thoughts on that episode? He seemed like he wanted to release the full one but he was hesitant, so I’m just wondering.

I don’t think the full one will ever see the light of day, because it’s not really a good look, you know? We sat down for a couple hours, bro. There’s a lot that was said. It got a little personal at times. I don’t think he’s going to ever release it. Even if he does, what can be gained? I don’t really see anything that would be gained from releasing it but it was interesting to see him put those clips up, because I made my debut on his Instagram. I been putting out projects all over the place and I didn’t see any friendly posts of your Slaughter Brother or none of the projects but I made my debut on the Pull Up episode. It was like a roll out to the Em diss podcast. I got used, you feel me. Point blank.

I think people will be able to see that for what it is, and won't resort to choosing sides. Obviously, creatives want to make art but there is always a business element. But as someone watching from afar, it does kind of reveal a bit of insight into the creative process and how it can intersect with the business side. How those two can collide sometimes. Did you ever feel there was an element of creative control being stifled during the Slaughterhouse sessions? 

Nah man. Here’s the thing. I’m glad we’re talking about this because we need to shift the narrative. Everybody is focusing on Welcome to Our House. We went into the lab. We put together an album with Eminem for the first time. We trusted his judgement on certain stuff and he trusted our judgment on certain stuff. We all took votes - do you like this song? Three thumbs up, that song wins. Two thumbs up, okay let’s go back into the drawing board with that. There was a voting process. There was a lot of trust. The result was, a lot of our core supporters didn’t really like the album. We sat back down and we said okay let’s make a new one.

So, here’s my problem. If Welcome To Our House was such a disaster, which is the narrative, and Eminem totally "ruined it" with too much of his production - I think he added one beat or two, the rest was No ID, Justice League, all kind of people - if Eminem ruined Welcome To Our House, if that was the problem, why go in and make a new album?

We got passed all of that! As a group, a management, as a label. We thought we were passed all of that when we decided to go and make Glass House. We went to New York. Eminem was not in one session in Glass House. We had all the creative control we wanted to. We didn’t have to trust Em’s judgment on this. It was strictly Slaughterhouse, and the producers. But we don’t hear that narrative. We hear: oh, Em messed up Slaughterhouse. He gave us a chance to go in there and do whatever we wanted to, provided the budget, and opened it up. We made an entire album and then things fell apart.

At some point, the narrative will shift.

Yeah. I just want people to be fair with Marshall Mathers. He put in a lot of hours, finances, used his platform to speak greatly of us. I want people to be fair. I know its a trend out there to hate Eminem. A lot of rap media people want to talk bad about him. But when we talking about Slaughterhouse and what I witnessed personally, he deserves his credit in that regard.

Royce Da 5'9", KXNG Crooked, Eminem & Yelawolf - "Psychopath Killer"

I’ve definitely witnessed that trend too. It's sad considering a rapper like Em, he's had an impact on a lot of people. Plus, he's received legend status, so to see a lot of people endlessly bashing him...You know the narrative will change the minute he’s gone from the game. People are going to start singing a different tune.

Exactly. I just have to put that out there because Joe has a lot of fans. People think I’m coming at him. I’m not coming at Joe. I’m just revealing the truth from my perspective. I’m not going to allow a story involving me to go out one way if it didn’t go down that way. I know Joe got a lot of fans and they want to come to my Twitter and they want to debate the person who was there. We gonna get that all the way straight.

Everybody agreed to those songs on Welcome To Our House. Certain songs that I didn’t agree on, I got outvoted on. Certain songs Joe didn’t agree on, he got outvoted on. That was the process. Don’t talk to me in lyrics. People say, you should have watch the cypher, he was talking about things to show he was unhappy. Yo, my brother, you talk to me face to face. Don’t write a verse and expect me to listen closely and say "hey something’s going on." Talk to me face to face like a man because we can get past this. 

That sitdown needs to happen. It would lead to a lot of good for everybody. On another note, I've been following you on Twitter and you engage with a lot of people about classic hip-hop moments, classic albums, getting people talking about the culture. Do you feel like these days, people have come to look down on “lyrical” rap? Or do you feel the demand is still there?

I think MGK and Em kind of helped, because it made people pay attention to bars, and listening to what the rapper is saying. Not just the beat and the hook. And then Kamikaze of course. Him coming at his critics made people sit up and listen to what he was saying actually. You got people out here saying that these lyrical rappers aren’t saying anything, they’re just rhyming words. Listen, just because you don’t understand what the fuck I’m saying does not mean that I’m not saying anything.

So, they’re saying "there’s no content there." There’s plenty of content there. But when you notice people that are saying it are people who can’t do it themselves. When a rapper comes out and says, "those lyrical rappity-rap raps," I ain’t with that, just because you can’t achieve that level of mastery with your flow. That’s all that is. So, even with Lord Jamar, and I respect Brad Nubian, that’s Hip Hop, but his take on lyrical rap and content rap, I totally disagree with. I believe it’s dangerous to have this "content vs lyrical" discussion in Hip Hop because you’re teaching the future generation that lyrical rap has no content and it absolutely does. And I can name millions of songs where people were riding multi-syllable rhymes, different cadences and patterns, and still have content. I can name the songs, we all know them.

It's dangerous to say that lyrical rap doesn’t matter, because now you’re lining up with the culture vultures who are out to sign dumbed down artists every single day and you’re telling the kids the same thing. "Don’t do this. Come with the dumbed down raps." That is why I disagree with Lord Jamar on record. We can’t tell the future generation that. If there’s a kid eigt years old somewhere in Ohio and he wants to be a rapper, he needs to know that lyrics, matter. That style, cadence, metaphors, punchlines and rhymes matter. At the end of the day that’s what’s going to give him the longevity. Everyone who understands that is still doing shows now. KRS One is still doing shows. I went to a Rakim show in California, he was performing songs thirty years old, and the house was packed. That’s longevity. You’re not going to get longevity mumble rapping. I’m sorry.

I wonder how some of the current artists can secure longevity, given that trends are always changing. 

They have to show growth. When that trend is over, they have to have been so much into the craft that they can flip a new style now. One thing that I’ll agree with, with Drake. Drake once said, “Five years from now will sound nothing like the Drake you’re hearing now.” So, they gotta grow, and there’s room to grow if you want to, but the mentality is "fuck that, I ain’t gotta listen to that. I’m better than them old heads that’s talking that."

Okay, but them old heads been around the corner a few times. You need to listen. I think the OGs in the game need to change their approach when they talk to the younger generation. They talk down to them. And they talk at them instead of talking to them. Nobody is gonna respect that. So it’s both sides. 

Would you say there are any particular artists or projects that you’re feeling currently, in terms of 2018 releases? Young artists that might have some of that longevity you're looking for.

YBN Cordae. The guy Reason, that just signed to TDE, he’s dope. And we got the usual suspects. Cole and Kendrick, they gonna always be around. Those are the next to be mentioned in the GOAT list with Pac and Biggie and Jay and Em. My little brothers, The Horseshoe Gang. We got this group called Family Bvsiness, and them dudes are hard with the craft and do their research and go back and listen to old rap music. Just part of the real culture. It’s some guys out there, and that’s why I stay engaging with the people. The people put me on to some stuff sometimes. "Like yo, check this dude out." There’s a football player, his name is Toby, he used to be a NFL football player and he’s making music, and he has some great music. There’s a lot of stuff out there.

Yeah. Definitely. I’ll throw JID in the mix.

Yep, JID!

Given your knowledge for the craft and culture, have you ever considered branching out into rap-media? I could easily see you following in the footsteps of the late Combat Jack.

Damn, that’s a high compliment. I love Combat. Rest in peace. Yeah man, it's part of the evolution. I do want to talk to people about hip-hop in any way that I can. If that takes me into a classroom, years from now, I’m willing to go there. The future generation, they need to know. I just want them to feel how I felt when I fell in love with hip-hop. It wasn't a music genre. It was a movement, a culture, a way of life.

Once you have that feeling, you will protect it. We just need protectors of the culture. If we gonna have people bloodsucking the culture, we need to have protectors there too. I do see myself doing something in the future like that. I hope people will gravitate towards it, and we can just build a nice community where you can go. That’s why I call it Crook's Corner. It’s just a place. Anywhere in America, anywhere in the world where you can go and express hip-hop and your love for the culture.

Awesome! I respect that. Before we go, what’s next for Kxng Crooked? 

Family Bvsiness. We got a brand new EP dropping, its called Grand Opening. This is the full circle journey of Family Bvsiness. I taught my little brothers how to rap when they were kids. They grew up and they learned all types of tactics and techniques on their own and now they’re top level emcees. We made our first project together as a family. It drops October 12th. There are some songs on there that are incredible. I specifically want people to look out for a song called “Dear Music” and another one called “GOAT." Those two are crazy-crazy, but the whole thing is a nice work of art.

I’m pushing that, and I’m pushing Crook's Corner and we have a web series going. Anybody out there reading, please subscribe to Crook's Corner on YouTube because we’re going to have episodes up there. Holla at me on Twitter, Instagram. We gonna keep this hip-hop conversation elevated. 

For sure. Thanks for your time. I really appreciate your insight and perspective on the culture. It’s been a pleasure.

I appreciate you too, man. Alright. My pleasure.

About The Author
<b>Feature Editor</b> <!--BR--> Mitch Findlay is a writer and hip-hop journalist based in Montreal. Resident old head by default. Enjoys writing Original Content about music, albums, lyrics, and rap history. His favorite memories include interviewing J.I.D and EarthGang at the "Revenge Of The Dreamers 3" studio sessions in Atlanta and receiving a phone call from Dr. Dre. In his spare time he makes horror movies.