Hip Hop Ruckus sits down with Darren Vegas and Big Hutch, the creative forces behind the highly-anticipated Hood Star release from Crooked I through WIDEawake/Death Row Records. This album has been talked about all throughout the hip-hop community, bringing both controversy and excitement to this worldwide retail release on June 15th.
This album first caused a lot of attention when some of the Hood Star comic book style artwork by Urbanista Graphix was leaked, which was a fresh change and much different look than any other of the Death Row releases before it. From then on, people have been talking all over the net about the track listing, the release date, the constant tweets and the Crooked I and Death Row controversy. The talk about Hood Star hasn’t stopped.
Here for this HHR exclusive interview, we talk to both multi-platinum producers Darren Vegas, the former Death Row producer (and majority producer of Hood Star), and Big Hutch aka Cold187um from Above The Law, who was also VP of Death Row during the time of this Hood Star project.
HHR: How do you think the diehard Crooked I fans should view this Hood Star project?
Darren Vegas: From what I’ve seen on the internet and stuff, a lot of people want to hear it. Some have already parts of it, things that have been snipped out there. Some people are saying that Crooked I isn’t getting paid off it and don’t want to buy it because of that, while others don’t care and want to buy it anyways. I’m not really sure why people wouldn’t want to see this album come together how it was supposed to be put out. I personally want to see it released because when we did this project, a lot of my hard work was put into it. I wanted it to see the light of day back then but now here we are.
HHR: It’s interesting you say that because Big Hutch has said in other interviews that he thinks the album didn’t come out because the marketing division didn’t really have Crooked’s back because he wasn’t gangsta rap. But here you are with a conflicting opinion saying it didn’t work because people were trying to get away from gangsta rap. Talk about that.
Darren Vegas: I don’t think that would have happened [marketing not behind Crooked I] because the album was so hard. We really did two albums. I would have picked the best songs from those two different albums and released it as one. If I was Suge, that’s what I would have done. Crooked I was ahead of his time lyrically, but he still had that street sense to him. He was a hip hop lyricist and he was a hardcore MC. It was really fresh at the time but I guess when you’re that fresh, people don’t know how to market you.
HHR: Ok. Who do you think in particular dropped the ball?
Darren Vegas: Suge Knight dropped the ball. But you know what; Suge had told me way back then that the internet was going to take over the game. He said this to me way before people knew that was going to happen. He told me that and I was like really, you think so? Suge was right and record sales saw a serious drop. Maybe he didn’t want to invest his money into it anymore because he didn’t think he would be able to sell records if people are pirating music like he predicted. At that time, people didn’t know how to use the internet as a marketing tool for music like they do now. But now records aren’t selling like they used to. People are downloading music and you can’t stop that.
HHR: Do you feel fans should view this release as Crooked I’s official debut retail album?
Darren Vegas: it really is. But it’s tough for some people to view this as that because a lot of these songs have leaked and what not. Some people already have these songs. But people have to remember that not everybody is on the internet looking for Crooked I songs. If they market this the right way, it could sell. True Crooked I fans are going to buy it no matter what.
HHR: What do you think of this Hood Star material?
Darren Vegas: You know what, some of this stuff right here [Hood Star] is his rawest shit ever. This is that “Untouchable” shit; it’s a true California record to me. Me, Crooked I and Jim Gittum would get in the studio together and just work. [Big] Hutch did a song or two on that record too. That early Crooked I-Death Row stuff that was the stuff we were doing when his deal had just been worked out and Suge was still in prison. I had went and got us a full fledged studio in Hollywood to record the album. We all produced the material together and we had a lot of fun making the record without anyone telling us what to do. It truly was a raw record.
HHR: Do you have a particular memory that sticks out from a specific recording session with Crooked I?
Darren Vegas: I don’t know because there have been so many, but that is a good question to ask me. There was one session where me and Crooked I were in the studio until after 4AM. We started leaving around 5AM and we see 130-something federal agents radio the studio right after we left. That shit was all over the news the next day. SWAT teams were there too and they were running into the building with machine guns at their side. I’m talking the feds and swat, over 130 cops. I don’t know what they were doing there but they were obviously looking for something.
It was funny because we had sent out an engineer at the studio to go pick up some weed. The dude comes back with the weed and sees all the cops, over 130 agents rushing into the building and he thought they were there because they knew he had a bag of weed on him [laughs]. He was scared shitless but besides that, me, Crooked I and Jim Gittum had many good studio session memories just laughing and cutting records together.
We had lots of drama too though. Sometimes it felt like a county jail up in the studio. Sometimes, you had people from all different hoods in there at the same time. Some would be mean mugging each other, other times everyone would get along well, or sometimes fights would break out, or push up contests and shit.
Dudes would come up to the studio trying to get signed to Death Row. A lot of the time when that happened, Suge would be there. Suge would tell them “you want to be a star and sign to Death Row? I’ll sign you if you can battle rap Crooked I and win. If you don’t win, we’re gonna’ beat your ass” [laughs]. You would see the dudes start sweating and stuttering their words. It was bad. They didn’t usually get bear up after but the fear that Suge put in them, it was enough. It was priceless. And of course, none of them could ever beat Crooked I. I think Crooked would feel bad sometimes and didn’t want to lyrically rip their heads off, because he knew what might possibly happen to them [laughs].
HHR: That’s a great story, Darren. Switching gears here, Big Hutch: how many tracks would you say you’ve recorded with Crooked I?
Big Hutch: Oh my God [laughs]. There are a lot. I want to say over 25-30 we cut at one time. We did three scales of that album musically; somewhere around there. It’s been a minute though man. I don’t know. We did that record twice; we might have gone into a third scale of it [laughs].
HHR: How do you think Crooked I has evolved as an artist? Does he sound better today than when you met him over a decade ago?
Big Hutch: I think what was always good about Crooked I, he loved to do what he’s doing. When you’re like that and have that attitude, you can only better yourself because you continue to do what you’ve been doing. I love the Slaughterhouse stuff and I love all the indie stuff he does. It’s definitely right on point to where he started from. Seeing where he’s at now and hearing him, I’m really proud of that because I really believed in Crooked I as far as what he’s doing. It’s definitely a step above from the young cats coming out. What he understands is formula. He understands about being really in-tune with your craft. He’s definitely got better. He’s a worker like that. If you keep working on your jump shot, it could only get better, right? [laughs].
HHR: Right. Does that basically sum up what you think he’s made of his career since then?
Big Hutch: It’s a rough business but I think he’s doing really well. I want people to respect what he’s doing a little bit more. People try to throw him into a mixtape rapper category or because he’s in a group now. He’s always been good like he is. He’s had a lot of bad breaks but that’s what comes with this business. He’s doing the right thing for his career. He’s gonna’ get some opportunities to do a lot of great things if he just sticks with it and I think he will. I think he’s right on point really. This is a rough business man. You just gotta’ work and he’s willing to do that. That’s what’s gonna’ allow him to get greater and greater. People are really gonna’ respect him in the long haul.
HHR: Like I just asked Darren Vegas, do you have any particular memory that sticks out during a specific recording session for Hood Star?
Big Hutch: There all good. The whole sessions or just working with him?
HHR: I mean a memory from a particular session that stands out to you.
Big Hutch: We did this joint called “House Party” with Ray J.
HHR: “House Party” appears on Hood Star.
Big Hutch: Yeah it does. That was an all night session (laughs). The tripped out part about that was, Crooked I cut his vocals in one take. Ray J came in and did his thing right on the spot basically; he came in and cut it. He likes to stack his tracks to make it sound good. We’re just in there cutting the record not noticing what time it is. We’re in there basically partying (laughs). Sometimes when you make records with people, the magic is just in the vibe. I can say stuff like that or I can say stuff like Crooked comes in, me and Vegas might come in and work on something, Crooked just might go in the booth and give it up, just like that on the spot – and it would be raw. That really encouraged me, to see a young rapper doing that. And just to have that kind of heart in the studio, he would go off like that. Those are my best moments with him. Like I said, the focus that he had was almost perfect, it was close to perfect. It was impeccable at a young age. The memories like that, I never forget when we used to cut tracks. As soon as he came in, he would have something, jump in there and get it in.
HHR: Do either of you have any last words before I let you go?
Big Hutch: Whoever comes across “Hood Star,”I hope they enjoy it. Peace and love. That’s how we do it.
Darren Vegas: I want the people to check out “Hood Star” and I hope you all enjoy it.