Interview: Max Minelli

12/23/2019

Max Minelli is a rapper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He’s best known for some twenty years’ worth of solo albums, mixtapes, and singles (including “Louisiana Sky," an all-timer), as well as for his work with C-Loc’s Concentration Camp collective. Earlier this year, he announced his retirement from rapping.

I’ve read that you’re starting to get more into the business side of things in rap - how are you translating your experience from the environment you came up in to how quickly things are changing nowadays?

They gotta go through and bump they head and see for theyself, like “damn, I shoulda did this when I did this" or “the way I did that, I shoulda did this." I came from before the digital era and then lasted through the digital era, you see what I’m sayin’? I was able to take the game I learned when I first came up and then apply some of them principles when everything shifted, but still adjust to the shift.

The shit just changes week to week, you know what I’m sayin’? This week, this dude’ll be the hottest, and six weeks from now somebody just pop up out the blue that you never even heard of. With the social media and all that, it’s just so quick - you press a button and the world have access to whatever you puttin’ out. It wasn’t like that back then, we had to physically move around and go touch people. You had to count on that, and the word-of-mouth to do the rest of the job for you. It wasn’t no rappers around us that we was tryin’ to be better then, we was tryin’ to be better than Nas, the people that was the biggest in the world. That’s how we used to sharpen our skills up against them. It’s not like now, where there’s a million hot rappers in your city and you just try to be hotter than the hottest.

I know you got on around ten or eleven - how would you even go about putting yourself out there at that age?

Well you know when I started with C-Loc and Young Bleed we was doin’ little talent shows and stuff like that whenever we could. I got with Bleed first, and then he brought us to Loc. So when that whole thing formed, Loc had his label and was up and runnin’. He introduced us as his camp, and that was my way of being able to get heard at that age. I was basically just piggybacking off of they co-sign; they co-signed me and put me on they projects, let me open up at shows and all that kind of shit.

Where were those talent shows going on?

Back in the day, the radio station used to throw something called the citywide talent show every year. That was a real big one, and then a lot of the high schools, the popular high schools like McKinley, Istrouma. McKinley used to have something called May Night: right before school let out for the summer, they would have a big talent show. Everybody in the city wanted to go to May Night. Istrouma High, they had a talent show that was real big. Capitol had one that was real big. So it was just like those couple little things where you knew everybody in the city wanted to be, so if you could get in front of that crowd you could do your thing. People was gonna see you, they was gonna talk about you.

Was rapping a pretty common hobby for kids your age?

It was nonexistent. They used to laugh at us [laughs]. They used to laugh at us, like that shit was - only people that rapped was from New York or California. People in Louisiana ain’t rap until bounce started happenin’. You had a couple rappers from down here - in Baton Rouge we had Nero, Young Bleed was one of the first from here. A.K Ray, Silky Slim and the Botton Posse was doin’ they thing, you know. But for the most part, it was some shit that was unheard of. And like I said, I’m speaking to all them guys, they was the generation before me.

I came back from California - I moved to California when I was a kid and lived out there for three years. That’s where I actually started rapping, and then when I moved back to Louisiana it was like bam, my chance is over with because I just left from where the opportunities was. Ain’t no opportunities in Louisiana. Thank god people like Loc had the vision. Loc was doin’ his thing - a lot of people attribute it to Master P, and Master P was the first one who jumped it off on a major level - but in Baton Rouge you had C-Loc, Nero, and then in New Orleans you had Big Boy Records and Cash Money Records all doing the local, regional, independent record label shit. And then Master P came from outta nowhere one day.

How’d you like California?

I loved it! When I first went out there, I was real young, bro. I was like… third grade? I stayed there from third grade to fourth grade, wrote my first rap when I was ten years old. I decided one day, “man, I’ma write me a rap." I just knew; no one had to show me that this is how long a verse should be, this is where you should stop it. I knew how to format a song already, I just knew how to do it. My mom worked with a guy that had a little studio in his house, back then it was a reel-to-reel. He knew that I was interested in doing it, and so my mom would bring me to this house and I made a couple demos with him. So when I came back to Louisiana, I had them two songs on a tape. But yeah man, I love California to this day. LA is one of my favorite places, bro, it’s just something like a good feeling in the air out there. I’m used to being in Louisiana: it’s hot as shit, it’s fuckin’ humid all the time, it just feels like nothing but stress in the air.

What that also a formative period in terms of who would influence your rapping?

Nah, definitely - Ice Cube AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted is the reason why I rap. Listening to that album is what made me write my first rap. Before I left Louisiana I used to listen to a lot of LL Cool J, Eric B. & Rakim, and the Beastie Boys. Them was the three that I can remember from that early. But when I went to California was when I got introduced to N.W.A. and all that, and that shit fucked me up, just like it did everybody. We never heard no shit like that before. But it wasn’t until Ice Cube went solo and came out with his own shit, because he was always my favorite from the group. A whole album from him, it was like man! That’s really what made me want to do this shit.

People always say N.W.A. made rap into something you could do outside New York.

I’ll tell you what I think it is, give you my opinion. In New York, people ride trains and walk and shit, so they listen to music on headphones a lot. You know, music in headphones sounds a certain way, but when you in a car like we are down here, we all ride around and shit so we want our music to sound the best in the car. We got systems, we got speakers, we got all this shit, and I think the West Coast producers made the music more for that. We gravitated more towards listening to their music because it sounded better in the car to us, you know what I’m sayin’? And then the shit they was talkin’ about was more relatable of course, but I think it was a combination of all them things.

Was it hard to fit back in with your friends and classmates when you got back from California?

When I moved back, that’s when I moved to Baton Rouge. My family is from Baton Rouge, but my mom had moved to New Orleans when she was young. My pops eventually left New Orleans because he just wasn’t doin’ shit, he was fucked up. So he just decided one day to leave and try and change his life - which he did - so when he went out to California and got established for a year or so, I went out to visit for Christmas and just didn’t wanna come back. So I ended up staying for those three years, and then eventually my mom was like man, we live in a Crip neighborhood. I got a sister that’s four years older than me that was really getting in trouble and she saw me really going down the same path. She wanted to take her children out of that environment, so we moved back to Louisiana. We didn’t go back to New Orleans, we moved to Baton Rouge because that’s where my mom’s family and her whole support system was at. So as far as getting re-acclimated to the area down here, that wasn’t no problem to me because I was with my cousins and people that I knew. I feel like you could take me and put me anywhere and I’ma be able to make it work.

How long passed between you coming back and starting to record tapes and work with people?

First, I met Bleed. I met Bleed through some of my family that went to high school with him. One day, we was watchin’ Kris Kross and I was like “man, I can rap better than them dudes." My cousins - they all older than me - they bugging me, you know, let me see if you can rap better. So I just started spittin’ shit for ‘em, and they like “damn!" The only person they knew that actually fucked with rappin’ too was Bleed. We used to call him Tank; that’s what everybody called him back then. So they was like “man, we gonna hook you up with our partner Tank." He had access to studios and all that shit.

You gotta remember bro, I was still a kid, so my mom wasn’t finna just let me go to the fuckin’ studio and all that shit. You talkin’ about a kid that’s ten, eleven years old. It was mainly a lot of over-the-phone, I would talk to him on the phone all the time, write raps and call him when I got home to rap my raps. I didn’t actually start gettin’ to move around like that until I got to high school, so I would say a good three years. Once I started movin’ around a little bit, I was able to pull up on Bleed or whatever. Him and Loc grew up together, so they was always doin’ they thing runnin’ together. The first thing that I actually was on that came out commercially was in 1995. From like ‘91, ‘92 when I came back to Louisiana to ‘95.

Did you feel like everybody from Concentration Camp had a specific role in the group?

Man, it was me and J Von - we was the youngsters. And we used to be a group back then, a two-man group. Bleed was the sensei, he was more like the spiritual leader and Loc was more the street leader. Happy was our producer, he was the sound. Me, Von, and Bleed was more on the lyrical shit. We used to wanna be the best rappers. Loc wasn’t really a rapper like that, he was more of a Master P mentality kind of person. How can I sell these raps, how can I market you? That was the basic construction of how our camp was. New peoples would come around, leave, but overall that was the main foundation.

Was there was a strategy or advantage to working in a group, or were you just the five guys in town who rapped?

I guess we never really thought about it, honestly. The way it happened was the way it happened, and it was just love. We loved rapping with each other and loved doing what we was doin’. One way or the other, I was gonna make this shit happen. Whether I was by myself or whether I with whoever. But the way it turned out was cool to me, I never really thought about it like that.

What was the recording studio setup like?

Man we had a studio in Loc house. Let me back up a little bit. Before the Loc contact was made between us, me, Happy, and Von had a four-track. It was like a little machine that you put a cassette tape in… I don’t know how old you are bro, that’s why I’m saying this. You put a little cassette tape in a machine and you could record four tracks on it. So we had the beat on one, I would rap on one, Von would rap on one, then we would do a hook on another one. We had a cheap-ass mix from RadioShack, we would hang it over the ceiling fan so we could stand up and rap like how we saw people do in studios. It was real primitive, it was real basic. Then once we got with Loc, we had a couple studios that we would go to and rent time. Then eventually, Loc was like “man, I’ma just buy a studio instead of just spending all this money." That way we could live in the studio 24/7, make records whenever we want and don’t gotta wait. He bought us a mixing board, eight-tracks, a good mic. It was a big upgrade from what we initially was doin’. That’s when we really started kicking shit into high gear.

Were y’all going out and playing shows as a group?

Yeah, Loc had two albums first. His very first album, Bleed was already introduced then, he was on the best songs on the album. Bein’ Bleed, of course he just stood out on everything. And then his second album, that’s when Loc introduced me and Von. We had a song on there, and then Bleed had more songs on there. So whenever Loc would do shows, he would bring us to open up for him. It was always a collaborative effort, and then the next thing that camp out was the Concentration Camp compilation. That was even more of an introduction, and then it started snowballin’ from there.

Did that catch on in New Orleans at all, or was it moreso the other parts of the state?

New Orleans always kinda been… back then it was harder for us to break in. Now, for the past fifteen years strong, Baton Rouge music runs Louisiana, period. But back then, New Orleans had their own flavor. Don’t get me wrong, we’d do a couple shows here and there, but it wasn’t until the Master P affiliation that we really started runnin’ in New Orleans. We was big everywhere else though: all over Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama; Florida, all down the Gulf Coast. East Texas - you could draw a little circle around us. But New Orleans? They always had their own little thing, then bounce music was so big out there that it was a whole other mess to solve.

How did you see that shift away from New Orleans as the center of things start to happen?

I fuckin’ love it bro, I fuckin’ love it. Back when I was a kid, when you were outta town and said you’re from Louisiana, people instantly would say “oh, you from New Orleans." And like I say, I’m actually from New Orleans, but I grew up in Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge made me a man, so Baton Rouge is in my heart. Baton Rouge was always like the little brother of New Orleans, always second. So for us to come up, and me bein’ a big part of that along with all the other artists making Baton Rouge have the biggest sound in our state, it made me feel good. It started happening around 2002, 2003 when Boosie was hot, Loc was hot, Da Jiggalators came out. It was more artists that was breaking, and then that sound’s what people started making. Once damn near every song that comes on in the club is one of us, that shit takes over.

Boosie came about because we had a good friend named Frog from our neighborhood. He had just came home from jail, but he knew Boosie because of his cousin, who was from across the tracks where Boosie grandmother lived at. He used to come tell Loc all the time, like “yo, they got this little kid round there across the tracks, you gotta come check him out." So one day Loc jumped in the car with him and they pulled up on Boosie. He rapped for Loc and he instantly saw the magic in him. The very first album Boosie was on that came out, that shit took over. We went through a little transition period after Bleed album and the Concentration Camp II, we lost the deal with Priority and everybody just fell out and went they own ways. Me and Loc just broke it down, back to the basics. That was when Boosie came along, and it was on ever sense.

I’d always thought that you and Boosie were a little more similar in style than any other duo from around the Camp.

Well you gotta think, Boosie was a raw talent when he came to us. I kind of took the role of what Bleed was to me, kind of guiding him. He needed a little more structurin’, so me and Loc would basically do the songs and then Boosie would fill in the blanks. All he had to do was come in and just make sure he didn’t fuck it up, you know what I’m sayin’? So he fit in there, but he shined through. For his first album, Youngest of da Camp, Loc went back to jail and that album was only three or four songs done, so I had to help him finish that whole album. That’s why you probably think that about me and him. Our whole camp always been like “man, cut the beat on," and we would just write. And whoever finished writing first, they would lay the idea down and we’d jump on it.

With your recent retirement, I was wondering how you felt about the value of ending things conclusively, or on your own terms.

Man, my thing is that life is all about transitions. Literally since I was ten years old, I been chasin’ a rap dream. I never had a nine-to-five job, I always did my own thing. I feel like I have the skill and mentality to be able to survive in anything that I choose to become a part of. I made forty this year, so that means that for thirty years I was doin’ my thing. I just wanna back out from that, focus my time and energy into other things. You could wake me up out my sleep in three years and I could still make some raw music, that shit’ll never leave. I just done that so long, I want new challenges. I want to develop new dreams, then chase them dreams. I ain’t gon’ ever say that I ain’t gon’ ever make another song, but my retirement is me saying that I’m trying to do some other shit.

In music, I feel like I never got the right opportunity. I made work what I was given at any given time, I was never a victim of my circumstances, but I do feel like I wasn’t given the opportunity that some of these other people got. With that being said, moving forward I just want to take my mentality that’s been keeping me survivin’ for this long and apply it to something else. Music is just some shit that… you in a room, you just a person, you know what I’m sayin’? And then out the clear blue sky you create something that’s of value. How many people could say that they do that? If I could apply that same mentality to something that’s more tangible, shit that other people could see the vision too… it’s not so hard to sell somebody on some shit like “hey man, let’s do some real estate" or “hey man, let’s open a Starbucks." People who don’t have visions can get onboard with shit like that, but when it comes to music, or anything like film-making, writing, whatever, it has to be a person with a vision that you can match up with to make that move forward.