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Written by: Robbie Ettelson
The longest serving member of the Mobb Deep crew not named Havoc or Prodigy is Big Noyd, who was along for the ride through all of the highs and lows that the music industry had to throw at them, as well as surviving his fair share of challenging experiences as a soloist. Currently living in North Carolina, Rapper Noyd is currently working on his fourth official solo album with his old QB buddy Ron Artest aka Metta World Peace, and he took some time out to speak in detail about his long career in the rap game.
Robbie: How did it all start for you?
Big Noyd: We all were friends first, before rap. I used to be up in Queensbridge, then I moved to Brooklyn to stay with my aunts for a couple of years. Before I left, we used to listen to rap but we wasn’t really doing it. When I came back to visit on the weekend, Scarface Twin [Gambino] was like, “Yo, Havoc and Prodigy are in the studio. They signed with 4th & Broadway and they working on a rap album.” I was like, “Get the fuck outta here! Wow…cool.” I went there just to hang out in the studio and they were working on “Stomp ‘Em Out” and I was rhyming in there, I liked the beat. I was just doing what I liked to do, my own little rhyme, and then they heard it and they were like, “Yo, repeat that rhyme again! That’s perfect for this song we working on.” I was like, “Well if anything I’ll write a new verse.” Cos this verse was on something I was working on just for myself at the time – no record companies or anything like that – I had to be about fourteen years old. They were like, “Can you write another one? It won’t take that much time?” I write faster now, but back then it took me about an hour. I laid down the sixteen bars and it was perfect – history begin.
So you had been in Brooklyn during the Poetical Prophets / Unsigned Hype era?
Correct. At that same time, Nas was working on “Back To The Grill Again” with MC Serch. I knew them guys since I was kids, like five, six years old. Those couple of years I lived in Brooklyn is when they started getting serious about the music. We used to listen to MC Shan, check MC Shan clothes out, see what chain he was wearing; we’d listen to Red Alert on the weekend, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl.
But you’d started writing rhymes yourself as well?
Yeah, just to give it to people at the school and music class. After we did our music session for school you’d have a little fifteen minutes left to showcase your talent, whether you was a guitar player, piano player, write lyrics, whatever. I used to just say my rhymes to kids I used to hang out with and things like that.
How did you get the name Noyd?
That came from another mutual friend from Queensbridge. You know how they roast celebrities? In the hood, we call it ranking. One of the guys was trying to roast me and he called me the Noyd from Dominos pizza and everyone started laughing. The name just stuck, and when guys used to see me – “Ay, Noyd!” – just making fun of me, and then it actually stuck and became my nickname before rap.
What happened after the Juvenile Hell album?
I would came back to Queensbridge a little bit more often, cos I was fifteen going on sixteen and able to travel alone without supervision. I would call from Brooklyn to ask what day they were going to the studio and i would just show up. Every time they worked on a project, even if I wasn’t on the song, I’d always just write. If I was in the studio with them I’d just write, write, write. This went on for years, and when they started working on The Infamous album I was always ready and prepared. I would write to the same beat they were writing [to] or the same concept they were on and it came to a point where they’d say, “Oh, what you got over there?” And I’d say a rhyme and some of the stuff fit, some of it didn’t. The songs that I’m on, it just fit. I’m writing to the songs not knowing if I’m going to be on the song or not, it was just for me. Every Mobb Deep album except Blood Money, I was on.
Were you considering becoming a full-time rapper at that stage?
I still wasn’t looking to be an MC or a rapper, I was just following Havoc and P’s lead, being more supportive to them. We didn’t have a lot of money at the time, so when we had studio sessions everybody would chip-in to buy the 40 ounces, buy the weed, buy the cigars and make a session out of it. Even when I did the “Give Up The Goods” single, the record label wanted to make sure I was in the video and I didn’t even take it serious. If you really look detailed, there’s somebody else playing my role! I was there for the beginning but it was so boring for me, I really wasn’t interested. It was taking so long, I wasn’t used to it, I wound up leaving. I did my part and the director was like, “We need you to stay around for the end.” I didn’t really know about video making and that it would take so many hours, so I showed my support and did what I had to do for the video and I left. They were so angry at me, I’ll never forget. They had to put in a Noyd stunt double! The record company had this idea, “We want Noyd to come down the steps with the girls” and I was already gone. The director was like, “What?!” [laughs] They got a guy that was slim like me at the time, same type of skin complexion and he put on the same clothes that I had for the video shoot and filled in the rest! It’s so crazy, I look back now and I would never leave a video shoot. Not only am I an artist but I’m a fan first of rap and I understand the business, I would never waste somebody’s time or waste money like that again, but back then I didn’t want to be an MC.
So everyone who would hang at the studio just started to write stuff over time?
Right. Instead of just sitting around nothing, everybody would just pick up a pen and pad and do it because they like it. It happened for Twin Gambino, for Ty Nitty, for Godfather – it would fit. This rhyme was just OK from Nitty so he wouldn’t be on the song but the rhyme that Godfather wrote would be amazing so they’d leave that on the album. Before you know it we’ve got 40, 50 songs and Mobb Deep would just pick the best twelve or fifteen songs and use it for an album.
With the popularity of the second Mobb album, is that make you take rapping more seriously?
It kind of forced me, because now it being Mobb Deep’s second single and they doing all these shows, people kind of expected me to be there, that was a big song for them. So then I had to perform that song, and when I did I never knew it would get such a reaction – people would be reciting my verse while I was on stage. Just my luck, there was a big show for college in Virginia and an A&R from Tommy Boy was in the crowd. It was Mobb Deep and Onyx and Faith and Total. When I did that verse, I came out and the crowd went nuts! I’d been performing the song for a while, but this was the biggest response that I’d got and it made me hype, so I go crazy cos the crowd is going crazy and take off my bandanna – people know we’ve been wearing bandannas before Tupac – and I threw it in the crowd and you see all these girls jumping for it like it’s a bouquet of flowers at a wedding!
At the end of the show this lady comes up to me and introduces herself, “I’m from Tommy Boy Records and we would love to set a meeting for you Monday morning.” My friend just jumped in, he’s a little older than us and used to travel with us, “I’m his manager, just give me your name and your number and we’ll be there!” I’m like, “Whatever.” I’m just looking for the girls that grabbed the bandanna, “Where they at?” [laughs] My friend actually stayed on top of it and that Monday morning he came to my house and said, “Let’s go!” I’m like, “Nah, I’m not going to that, man. What are we going to say when we get there?” “I don’t know, let’s go find out!” We went there and they offered me a deal. We took the deal back to Havoc and Prodigy and they said, “We’re just learning ourselves, but this is definitely an official record contract.” I wasn’t even looking for it, but before you know it I had a deal with Tommy Boy, just from one verse. So I made my friend my manager, he was loyal and took the initiative.
Did you ever find the girls who had grabbed your bandanna at that show?
Hell yeah! They were waiting right outside. When I didn’t even have to talk anymore and I could just throw bandannas and we would find the lucky girl and meet her in the dressing room? That’s when I knew rap was for me. [laughs]
How was the process of recording your own stuff?
Nothing changed, it was still the same vibe. The best thing that I had was Havoc and Prodigy, because I didn’t have to worry about going and making a Noyd album alone. Instead of Loud paying for the studio budget, it was Tommy Boy paying for the budget. We would go the studio and make three songs a day, so it didn’t have to look like, “OK, this song’s for Mobb Deep, this song’s for Big Noyd.” We would just go and record music,and the best of the best we would we keep. We might change where I go first and Prodigy go last, or Prodigy be on the hook and Havoc go last, where we can form it to be a Noyd song or Mobb Deep song but it was still underneath one roof.
So what happened during the recording of Episodes of a Hustla?
It was short lived because me still keeping one foot in the hood and not having the state of mind of “here’s an opportunity to change my life,” I still wasn’t taking it seriously. I was getting paid for it now, but I was still just being Noyd – the projects, having fun as a young kid and doing things that adults do that I wasn’t supposed to be doing. I had gotten into some drama, just a little bit of beef – we had argued and then we’d fought and then it came to where I had shot somebody and I went to jail in the middle of Episodes of a Hustla. That’s why it’s only an EP instead of an LP. I had some songs that were completed, I had some songs that were just a verse or two verses on it and no hook. I was in the middle of making it and I got arrested for attempted murder, and then I had to take all the money I had just signed for Tommy Boy to use as a lawyer to fight my court case. Thanks god I beat the case, but when I came home the deal was already finished and Tommy Boy didn’t want to lose anymore money than they still had. They just took all the things they could and with the help of Havoc they put it together with an A&R. They puzzled it together from the material I had left them.
Were you happy with how it came together without your final input?
I was really happy because it still was all me. They would actually go through Havoc so he would be there to oversee it, and Stretch Armstrong helped out when Havoc wasn’t there.
But not being able to promote the project must have hurt it?
Back then you used to do a lot of college tours to promote a new project, that was a big step. They felt like if college say it’s good then it’s good, so I wasn’t able to do a college tour, but my songs were still getting played on Hot 97. I was in prison listening on my headphones and they go, “We’ve got a new exclusive – Big Noyd!” They used to have “Battle of the Beats” on Angie Martinez, and my song was against Fat Joe’s song. I lost, but it still felt great to have my music out in the world while I was locked up. I only stayed in prison for seven months, and when I came home my contract was over but I was grateful for what they’d done by keeping me relevant while I was locked-up. It was time to move on and I just continued to work on Mobb Deep projects. The next round was Hell On Earth, I was on a song with Nas so even though it wasn’t a single it was still big for me, because Nas was big and Mobb Deep was big, so it made me look big. We was travelling a lot, doing shows, making good money, it was still good.
Then Alchemist came aboard. Infamous Mobb got a record deal and he helped produce that album, so me and Alchemist got tight and he introduced me to Bob Perry from Landspeed Records and he offered me a deal for a solo album. That’s when we stepped it up as a business, we knew how to conduct ourselves and save money and not let the record company just charge you for anything. After all this time, that’s when I said I want to make a Noyd solo album, this is my bread and butter. So me and Alchemist became partners and produced the Only The Strong album and it was good. We saved a lot of money and made a lot of money. But Noyd being Noyd – the project’s going well, we’re just about to shoot the first video for “Shoot ‘Em Up (Bang Bang)” and what Noyd go do? I found out that they were pressing up t-shirts with the date on the album, and I never gave them a date. We were close to completion but I wanted to compare it with Mobb Deep’s next project so we could tour together, and these guys moved ahead without my say so and made t-shirts with the title of my album and a date. Instead of going in there as a businessman and working things out, I go punch the guy in the face. Once I did that, he didn’t want to do a video, he wouldn’t pay for the studio sessions anymore.
He held a grudge?
Right. He had a grudge that I punched him in the face, which is only right because businessmen don’t do that, but coming from the hood – you disrespect somebody, that’s what happens! You get punched in the face! They’d already paid me so I had to give them the music, but all the extra perks that come with it – video budgets, tour budgets – he held a grudge and he didn’t want to move forward, so I just put it in the stores and whatever it did, it did. People respected the quality of the music but as far as record sales? It didn’t do too good. For an independent artist it was still good, I made good money, but there was no push for the mainstream. I could have gone gold on an independent scale – I’d be a millionaire by now – but he held back and I fucked that up. I blame myself, I could have handled that a lot better.
So you consider that your first proper album?
Right. And that was my decision to make a Noyd album – before it just kinda happened. This time I was like, “Let’s do this!” What kind of sound I’m looking for, what kind of producers I’m looking for, what kind of features I want to have on it, what kind of ideas I’m trying to push.
How did the Murda Muzik movie come about?
The Murda Muzik album was the first time ever that Mobb Deep went platinum after a few of months, and that was it – everything was a go. We had ideas out the wahzoo! “Let’s open our own studio, let’s make a movie…” Prodigy was like, “When I thought about the idea for this movie, it came to me just from the way you act in real life. You’re official to the key.” The movie was pretty good, we got good reviews from the hood, I got a lotta love for that, but at that point I still didn’t have a record deal because I’d punched someone in the face. People didn’t want to do business with me no more, but I was still relevant from being on the Mobb Deep album and being in the movie. Then me and Bob Perry patched up, but his record company was going through problems because they were selling that 50 Cent album [Guess Who’s Back] – which was legal – but then Jimmy Iovine and them had a meeting with them and said, “Stop selling the 50 Cent album and we’ll give you X amount of dollars, cos now 50 Cent is gonna be signed to Eminem.” This guy is such a crooked dude he goes and accepts the deal from Jimmy Iovine but then he stills sells the 50 Cent album! So they wound up suing them and shut down Landspeed.
So me and the guy make our amends, and he says, “I just got offered a job up at KOCH. I’m gonna bring you in as one of my artists, I’m gonna get Cormega and we’re gonna do a compilation album and then a solo Noyd album and a solo Cormega album, so he can start his label off at KOCH again to make up for the stuff that he lost at Landspeed.” That was going good until KOCH had an identity crisis – they didn’t know if they really wanted to be involved with rap – they used to do a lot of Pokemon stuff, wrestling stuff. They wanted the business of rap, but they didn’t want to deal with it, so it was gonna be a headache. They wasn’t ready for it. They had the money and the means and the connections to do it, but they were just playing with it. They didn’t really take it seriously and that kinda hurt it.
This was the Illustrious album? What about the other CD’s in between that and Only The Strong?
After a while I said, “OK, enough’s enough. I can’t rely on Havoc and Prodigy that much, they’ve got their own business to deal – we’re grown men now. I’m doing all this work for these record companies and then somehow I keep getting the short end of the stick!” So I got up with some guys that I grew-up with and we started Monopolee Records. So I wound-up putting out Stick-Up Kid and a couple of mixtapes. A lot of stuff that I put out was mixtapes but people consider it as albums because it was coming out on our own label. It was a big difference. Sometimes you’ll do 40 songs, you’ll keep the best twelve for an album. The rest? You don’t want to throw ‘em away, so you put out a mixtape, start building some hype. Only the DJ’s really did mixtapes – you would all original songs but then you would have a DJ hosting it. I didn’t have time to do all that, I would just put out music to get some firecrackers popping off before the big bomb drops.
So which of your CD’s do you consider official Big Noyd albums?
Only The Strong, On The Grind and Illustrious is the only three solo albums I’ve had. Everything else is street albums or mixtapes or whatever you call it.
Why weren’t you on Blood Money?
Mobb Deep had fired Chris Lighty – god bless the dead – he was their manager and they fired him. I didn’t think it was a good idea, but they had brought in a new guy who had just come home from jail. I guess when you sit in prison for that many years all you can do is think, so I respect that he came home and had aspirations, but I knew he wasn’t ready for a Mobb Deep. Mobb Deep was a household name. He convinced them to fire Chris Lighty, who was a great manager, and I didn’t agree with that so I told Havoc and Prodigy, “No love lost, but I’m gonna step away from this one, because I just don’t trust the guy.” This is the album before Blood Money when they got signed to Jive. That didn’t work out, but lucky enough they got signed to 50 Cent. I was on the Jive album, but not the way I would usually be where I’m on ten fucking songs and they just pick the best. I just went in for one particular song, did a verse and that was it.
So I wasn’t around them for the transition to the 50 Cent deal, and I’m not fake like that, I wasn’t going to just jump back in. I knew I had to earn my way back in, even though it was never no love lost, just out of respect as grown men and as MC’s I had to show and prove again. A lot of people thought signing to G-Unit was a bad idea – I thought it was a great idea! This is an artist who knows our music and our struggle, so he’s not gonna ask you to put out fake music just because. It was a great deal, I don’t think the sales reflected it because the fans didn’t like Mobb Deep being under 50 Cent. They felt like Mobb Deep paid they dues too much to have 50 Cent as they boss. They just couldn’t accept that.
You’ve always stuck by the crew through thick and thin it seems.
That’s for sure. Even before rap, as kids we used to get in a lot of beef. Queensbridge is a big place, man. It’s one project, but it’s like a borough! As kids we were always going around fighting other guys, battling other guys in rap and chasing girls. Surviving, doing little kid hustles like going up the grocery store and packing bags. Even if me Havoc and Prodigy were not working together musically? I’d still be at his house at Thanksgiving or New Years. His moms, I call her aunty, not just miss such-and-such, cos my mom and his mom know each other. It goes way beyond music for me.
If you could make a new “Symphony,” who would join you?
It would be me, Biggie, Prodigy and I gotta go with Kool G Rap.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Shout out to my whole hood, and shout out to New York, man. I love Nas, but I tell him to his face – Biggie is my favorite artist, hand’s down. This is comparing to the people I grew-up listening to – Kool G Rap, Rakim – no disrespect to them guys, I love ’em to death, but Biggie has something I wish my fucking rhymes woulda came out like. That metaphor shit that I always look for when I write rhymes. That storytelling way of doing it? Biggie is the best.
Big thanks to DJ Skizz for making this interview happen.
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