Filed under: Features,Interviews,Killa Queens,Not Your Average,Rap Veterans,Speaker Smashers,Steady Bootleggin',Tragedy Special
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Continuing from Part 1, Trag discusses dealing with depression, mentoring MC’s and the origin of his military state of mind.
Robbie: Can you tell me more about the fall-out from your second album?
Tragedy Khadafi: I’ve been rhyming since I was nine and I started writing songs when I was eleven, so I’ve been rhyming all my life – and anything I’ve ever put out, people felt! But now, this second album, nobody’s feeling it like that! And it’s bothering me – I don’t know how to take that, I don’t know how to accept that at the time. So I left Atlanta and I decided that I’m going to go back to the mecca – for me. So I go back to the Bridge, and I’m just hanging around the Bridge, vibin’ with my old people, old friends, goin’ back to the block. In the course of that I started writing more joints, recording, and my views changed in the sense where I felt like, ‘I can still drop science – I can still drop knowledge – but maybe it doesn’t have to sound so preachy. Maybe it doesn’t have to sound so direct’. The game started changing, things started shifting. As far as I’m concerned, I always drop consciousness in my records – even if it’s just one line. I always try to find the balance between the streets, music and consciousness, and I try to infuse it all together.
During that process of me redirecting myself, I met Capone – through a mutual friend called Wonderful, aka Billion-Dollar Don. Capone was going to the studio with Wonderful, and I was going into the studio with a dude I was with named Malik, so me and Capone wound-up meeting. They like, ‘Yo, he’s from Queensbridge too!’ I’m like, ‘Word?’ Now Capone’s a little younger than me, so when he was coming-up, I didn’t really know him like that. We started vibin’ and I told him where I was at in my career. I’m like, ‘Yo, look – I’m tryin’ to build something new’. So he’s like, ‘Yo, I spit!’ And from that day on, we would just clique-up and hang together every day.
Were you calling yourself Khadafi at that stage?
It was prior to the C-N-N movement. At that time, everyone was like ‘Gambino’ or whatever, and I wanted to do something different that was closer to my perception of my world and how I see it – so I took on Khadafi. I was already on that Third World type of movement, so when [C-N-N] formed together, I umbrella’d them within that and we just built from there.
That military mind-set seems to be a recurring theme in your music.
I always had a contrast ‘military’ type of mindset, ‘cos my uncle was a Panther, my mother gave out the Panther newspapers for the Panther Party and my step-father was in the army, so I had both sides of militancy…I had the extremes of both around me as an influence.
So once Papi came home from jail to join you and Capone, did he require a lot of coaching to become the Noreaga we hear on The War Report?
Yeah, definitely. At first it was frustrating, because dudes didn’t know how to construct a sixteen, they didn’t know where to place the hook, so it was more-or-less a molding process for a couple of months. But they caught on fast, I’ll give that to ‘em. NORE was always the real energetic, hype one of the crew, and at that particular time Capone was just a better lyricist than NORE. He was more verbal, he was more articulate. His words were more intricate than NORE, but NORE was real direct and energetic. He had a lot charisma – to say the least he’s animated!
At what stage did you work on the stuff with Imam T.H.U.G.?
Imam had just got out of prison, so I was trying to get him situated help him get a foundation for himself, so in the process of us recording the C-N-N album, me and Imam were recording our own separate joints. We was gonna do an Iron Sheik album – me and Imam was gonna be a group. I heard dudes take the name and run with it, but we introduced that to the game first. That’s why we did ‘Alluminatti’ and ‘True Confessions’.
What can you tell me about the Against All Odds project?
I was coming out of the whole movement I created around C-N-N and around 25 Ta Life, so the title was befitting ‘cos it was like people would question, ‘Yo, can he still do it without the other two? Is he still nice? Is he still verbally ill? Can he hold his own?’ ‘Cos they were so used to hearing me with my fruit that it was like the public wanted to know: ‘Could he do it without his disciples?’ With Against All Odds I wanted to make a statement and say, ‘Listen – I stand alone, I can stand on my own two. I can do it without them’. It was a real personal album, because at that time I found out that my mother was dying from HIV and AIDS – which she died shortly after – you had songs on there like the title track where I talk about my drug addiction, my struggle through prison and my fight to stay alive and be who I am today and the all the obstacles I had to overcome to be the man I am right now.
You also brought Killa Sha back into the fold on that album.
I don’t take anything from myself as a MC, yet at the same time I feel like one of my greatest strengths is that I know how to develop talent. I have an impeccable ear for others, and I know how to look into an artist and bring out the best of him. I know for a fact that certain artists I’ve done tracks with – they haven’t sounded as good as they’ve sounded in years until they got on a track with me! That’s not just something I’m self-appointing myself with – I’ve heard it over the years from people that are close to the particular artists that I speak of. I always seem to bring-out the rawness in an artist. But I say all that to say I wanted to help develop Killa Sha, and I feel that over the course of time, Sha developed a lot more just working with me. If you listen to the Killa Kids music and you listen to Sha once me and Sha formed together? You can see a major difference in him. You can see a major difference in his delivery, his lyrics in terms of his content, and you can even see a major difference in his confidence level when he spit when he was with me.
It was a great loss for the music when he passed away…
It wasn’t just a great loss for you, for me, for Phantom, for those who were real close to him and knew him and actually dealt with him – to know Sha? You had to love Sha if you knew him! I think it’s a great loss to the world. I know it’s a great loss to his family – his daughter Princess, his grandmother Nana – it’s even a great loss to hip-hop, man, ‘cos Sha was hip-hop. Sha lived and breathed it, for real. It wasn’t like he was doing it to try to get a check or to try to get fame, Sha really lived it all day! Like if Sha wasn’t writing rhymes, or making beats, or going to do some radio shit or doing his mixtapes? He would just listen to shit! He would just sit in the crib, burn it down and listen to his records, man. Just go in the zone. Sha lived hip-hop, and it’s a great loss for the world that Killa Sha is gone in that sense. I just did a track called ‘Narcotic Lines’, and in that track I say, ‘Killa Sha still on my shoulder/the game ain’t over’. It’s funny, because I was molding him, but now in his passing, he’s with me and he’s helping to mold me in the sense where I’m never gonna not gonna give a track that energy, ‘cos Sha always brought that energy to a track.
What’s the story behind your son having an accident that you described on ‘Crying On The Inside’?
That was based on facts. My son Malachi had fell out the window in Queensbridge – while I was watching him. It was three stories! That’s pretty high, especially for a two-year old. It was a real traumatic experience – it was on the news and everything. He coulda died, and all he had was a hairline fracture on his head. I went into an extreme depression after that happened, because even though he was alright physically, in my mind I felt like I let my son down and nearly killed my son. I’m a very protective person over my family and loved-ones and friends.
What got you through that period?
It happened in early 2000’s, but I’ve just come out of that during my incarceration. I didn’t even realize how much I was under that depression until I was incarcerated and I sat with myself and got time to really look into myself and look into why I did some of the things I did, and why I was doing some of the things I was doing. I just got to a point where I was like, ‘I’ve gotta shake this off, I’ve gotta come out of this’. Come out of that mind state I was in. I felt like I had a black cloud over me, man. I had to shake that outta my aura. Even though with recently being incarcerated for three years, I still have the confidence I had when I first started. That confidence is unwavering. I don’t feel the least bit out-of-sync with myself – I just feel like I’m unstoppable.
Iron Sheiks – ‘True Confessions’
Tragedy – ‘Buck, Buck’ [unreleased]
Tragedy Khadafi – ‘Crying On The Inside’
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