July 27, 2012

I met Max Minelli in a strip mall parking lot on a broiling Baton Rouge May afternoon. The  Boosie trial had just ended and the city was slowly settling back into its usual hair trigger lull. We spoke for about an hour, pausing every ten minutes when a different patron passed by, stopped, and strolled over to the Baton Rouge legend sitting on a makeshift table talking to some random white guy.

Minelli brought his daughter, who was still young enough to amuse herself with hide and go seek without an opponent. Periodically, she’d disappear behind a pillar or around the corner. Not ten seconds elapsed without Minelli hollering for her to return to plain view. He is an acutely aware human, attuned to the shady handshakes of the streets, the promotional cons of the rap world, and the genus of his own pain.

Minelli was born in New Orleans, raised in Southern California and moved to Erwinville, LA when he was 11. You can hear the warring strains simmering in his music, which occasionally sounds country, occasionally Cali-baked, and unquestionably Louisianian. His teen years were mostly spent in South BR as a founding member of C-Loc’s Concentration Camp. Once Young Bleed bounced and C-Loc was sentenced to a three-year bid, it was Minelli who shouldered the burden of keeping the label afloat, helping Boosie complete his debut, Youngest of Da Camp.

During the last decade, Minelli earned a rep as the thinking man’s Baton Rouge rapper, the connoisseurs representative. His music never strays far from street life, but it’s not gangsta. If Boosie has the unmatched fury and the club jams, Max is the meditative riding-around gettin’ it contrast.

Since the Camp split in their separate directions, he’s been grinding independently (save for a one album deal with Koch), releasing underground gems that only reached the fringes of the Internet. He even made a pair of tapes rhyming over classic East and West Coast beats. He may be the only Baton Rouge rapper ever to rhyme over It Was Written and Atmosphere and somehow make it seem natural.

His new tape, Lunch Money, deserves the Devin the Dude reception circa 2007, when the Internet realized that they had been sleeping on the abyssal catalog of a major Southern rapper.  There are several polyester electronic club tracks, but it’s mostly tough as leather, another very solid effort from a guy who is somehow still almost a half decade younger than 2Chainz. You can find a link to the tape at the bottom of the post, alongside a Best of Max Minelli compilation that I’ve put together. Thanks to Max Bell for helping me assemble the tracks, Courtney Hustle for arranging the interview, and Casey Evans of Free Agents for putting me up on the deep cuts. — Jeff Weiss

JW: You started rapping when you were barely a teenager.  Do you remember your first official appearance on record?

MM:  That was Loc’s third album, I think. And me and the dude, J-Von were in a group called LayLo. We were on Concentration Camp Records, C-Loc’s label. It was until the second Camp compilation when we really became a group. Priority Records distributed us, but all they really did was use the No Limit stamp, you know what I’m saying? Which of course did wonders for it, made everybody listen to it. But then once people started listening to the Camp, they realized that this ain’t like the other No Limit shit, this shit is different.

JW: It was Young Bleed’s My Balls & My Word that started the No Limit/Priority/Camp affiliation right?

MM: Yeah, that set us apart from everybody.

JW: Obviously there is a little bit of crossover with New Orleans, but Baton Rouge is its very own unique thing, despite being  only 70 miles away. Why do you think it’s so different?

MM:  The whole culture is different, really. Back in the day, before we really had a music scene, we used to fuck with New Orleans music too. And then like around the time when we started getting on with this shit, it kind of started shifting because now in Baton Rouge people had they own shit. And you know, we talk about Baton Rouge shit. It’s kind of like the same thing with the East Coast and then when California rappers came out, you know what I’m saying? They was talking about a totally different thing.

JW: Sort of like when N.W.A. came in versus like the early electro stuff that was just party music and then it just sort of…

MM: So you know, they rapping about shit that we love, that we can relate to. Same thing with that. We rapping about Baton Rouge shit, so people in Baton Rouge kind of gravitated toward the shit.

JW: So when did that kind of start, like 94’ 95’?

MM: Like around 95’. We had a dude named MC Nero. He was kind of like the first one. His rap was more party rap, but he had a couple songs that people was fucking with. Then we came out a little bit after him and that’s when, you know, we was like on the real hip-hop type shit and created a sound. And then after that, more people started coming, obviously. I would say the real Baton Rouge sound didn’t really take off until like maybe 2000. And that’s when we was with Boosie. I would say from 97’ to now. I would say 97’ when Bleed’s My Balls & My Word came out. That was kind of the beginning of what you see now.

JW: So what were you listening to when you were coming up?

MM: Man, I listened to like Nas. The album that made me want to be a rapper was Amerikkka’s Most Wanted.   Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. that was the first the first 2Pac album that I really got on. And just people who was at the top—Nas, Cube, Dre and Snoop, that whole movement, and then, you know, Biggie. Just the regular. But we used to listen to a lot of underground shit, like really the Bay underground shit like E-40 and C-BO.

JW: So how was it like, just through CD stores? Was the radio playing that stuff out here? Was 94.1 around?

MM: They was, but they wasn’t fucking with our shit. At first it was 1460, it was an AM station. They was the one who used to play the local shit. But that was when you could bring in a CD and they would just play it. But now you can’t do that shit.

JW: Was Baton Rouge pretty heavily influenced by Bounce?

MM: They had a few rappers before, but then when bounce came out that shit just created a whole lane. And it really took over. We were like, ‘Man, what the fuck is this?’ It was just so different.

JW: You got into the Camp through Young Bleed first, right?

MM: I was on Young Bleed’s first album. I was a kid. I was like 14 at that time. He was always like a real mysterious kind of guy. He would come in the studio and rap, then not come in the studio for like two weeks. Then come for a couple of days and work on some shit. We was in the studio all day, every day. At that time, when we first started this shit, we loved that shit so much it was like it wasn’t no job for us. It was just, we doing this shit cause we love making songs, we love rapping. With Priority, we had a deadline to turn it out. The day before that deadline, Loc came and got me and Happy Perez and put us in the studio. And he might have had a hook and a verse on there and needed another verse. Three verses and no hook…I’m on like 8 songs on that album. “better than the last time, that was my song.

JW: How old were you at this time, like 16?

MM: I was 15, maybe 16 at the most.

JW: So Loc was already with Bleed around the My Balls & My Word time?

MM: Yeah, Loc was the one who…Bleed and Loc grew up together. Bleed was rapping, so when Loc started rapping the only person he could go fuck with was Bleed. When he was doing his first shit, Bleed helped him write and do a few songs. So then when the shit came out, everybody was fucking with it tough.

JW: Do you remember how you met Bleed in the first place?

MM: Two of my cousins went to high school with him. And then when they found out that I was rapping…they introduced me to him. This was like, I was in middle school. I was like in 6th grade.

JW: So did you grow up on the Southside?

MM: I didn’t when I was young, but when I started hanging with them, I was 14, 15. So then, from 14 into early adulthood, I did and I grew up with them. And I took on they ways and they baggage. Back then, it was real niggas street code. It ain’t like how it is now.

JW: How is it now?

MM: It’s just no-holds-barred. They don’t stick to no code or ethics. Youngsters just around here running wild. They don’t respect nothing.

JW: Do you think that was after the hurricane?

MM: Around that time it kind of started switching. Say for instance, you and me got a problem, but that shit is just between me and you. Unless somebody cross the line and you bring other people into it. Now, it’s just like, ‘you fuck with me, whatever. I’ll come through and spray up everything. Spray your house up.’ It’s just no-holds-barred. If you see a dude in a car with his wife and his kids or something, back then you pass them. Now, you don’t give a fuck. It’s whatever. You just there at the wrong time, you there at the wrong time. They don’t have no mind, no sense.

JW: When you think back on all the stuff that Boosie got caught up in, is that connected to like the new shift?

MM: Yeah. Because he had dudes hanging around him that was them type of dudes. He the one that these people out here want, so if you just kind of connected in something, they just going to try throw you in the shit.

JW: What about like the police, were the police always like this? Or has it gotten worse?

MM: It got worse because like it just depend on you who you is. Like if you got any notoriety or like how we started coming up, and especially him, he was just shining on them, and he would get into it with them. He would just start feuding with them—now you got a target on your back. The judge and the DA live and spent all they life in this neighborhood and you a 25-year-old, young black kid from the ghetto and live in the same neighborhood as them. It’s just that kind of shit.

JW: How old were you when you put out your first solo record? What was that, like 2000?

MM: 2001

JW: That was right after the [Boosie’s first album] Youngest of the Camp?

MM: The next thing after Youngest of the Camp was my first solo record.

JW: How did you first meet Boosie?

MM: Through Loc. We had a partner named Frog, from the hood, and I don’t know how he heard Boosie, but he was the one who brought Boosie to Loc. He hit him like, ‘man, I got this little young dude, he’s sick I’m going to bring him to you.’ So he brought Boosie to Loc, Loc fell in love with him and they went and did a couple songs and then you know Loc told me about him: ‘Man you got to come check out this little nigga Boosie, man.’

And so I went over there to the studio and that’s the first time I met him. He was quiet, sitting, not saying nothing. Like he was real shy and shit. That’s the first time I met him. He was a monster and I think his voice and the shit he was talking about like that’s what drew people into him. Like, ‘man you hear this little kid talking about this gangster shit.’ And it was like shit you…genuine shit. There’s a difference between a dude just getting on talking about shit that sounds fabricated, but he was talking about shit that sounded real and genuine and you knew that shit was real. So that’s the shit that I think drew people to him.

JW: Do you think that made you have to step your game up like to him, in the camp and everything? Or were you just doing your own thing from the get-go?

MM: I think everything is always like a competition, if you on a song, like a friendly competition. If I get on a song with anybody I’m trying to kill them, straight up. I don’t feel like I was in the same category with them because they was on some real gangster type shit. I ain’t never been like a gangster type rapper. And then my influences was…I’m trying to rap like, not trying to rap like, but I was influenced by dudes from New York, dudes from LA.

JW: How did you hear it? Were they playing it on the radio or…?

MM: Well, you know, we used to watch Yo MTV Raps! and the radio and you know Rap City. And that’s how we used to hear about that shit. Then I started buying CD’s and tapes at first and and we just jamming that shit, you know what I’m saying?

JW: So when did Loc get locked up?

MM: That was 2000. That was like right when we got the shit back rolling. Cause we had fell off. That’s why it’s two different camps. It’s the one with Bleed and it’s the one with Boosie, you know what I’m saying—two different eras.

JW: So in 2000 it kind of ended or before that?

MM: Really kind of before that, like late 98, early 99, it kind of fell apart. Bleed and Loc wasn’t seeing eye to eye, they had disagreements on a lot of shit. You know, that’s when that shit fell apart. That’s when we did the camp two around that same time and it wasn’t received well around here, or really anywhere, I think. So that’s when it kind of fell off. We was in limbo, we didn’t know what we was doing or what we was going to do. And it was kind of like…

JW: Did Loc have national distribution with Priority at that point?

MM: Yeah, he did. So that was like the last thing we put out. He lost the deal. So it was kind of like a limbo. Between that time, me and the dude J-Von, we put out an album called the Lay-Lo. We put that out 99 on independent, on our own. So then me and Loc got back together. It was a time when nobody was really fucking with each other.

JW: This is like right when Boosie was coming in?

MM: Yeah, this was that same time. Then Loc got back together and he was like, ‘man look, this is what we got to work with. Let’s just give this shit a shot and see what happen. And that’s when we started working on Camp 3. That’s the first thing that Boosie was on. We found Boosie, so me him and Boosie were in the studio and took the little resources we had and made that shit happen. And when it came out, it was out of here. It was out of here—it fucked me up. I remember they used to have a talent show at school out here called Capital, it was like right over there, not too far from here, and we rolled by because there used to be a lot of traffic and bitches used to hang out and people used to hang out. So we rolled by there that day, me and two of my partners, and like I’m just listening, and every-fucking-body is playing that shit. Everybody. It just fucked me up. And that’s when I knew, like man this shit out of here. This shit is out of here.

JW: This was like 01 at this point?

MM: Naw, this was like 2000. And so not too long after that, that’s when the incident happened and Loc got locked up. So me and Boosie was stuck out here again. And this was before his album came out. He had like a half a album done, so I had to take him to Houston to record. We really was trying to gradually get away from here because of the trouble and because of all that shit, you know, that could’ve happened. So I took him to Houston after Loc got locked up, finished his album, helped him finished his album. I got it mixed and mastered and pressed up and all of that shit.

And after that, that’s when it kind of…Turk and Mel came to him, and he kind of went that way. Then I was just out here by myself, period. So that’s when I started working on my shit. Me and My Hustle, that’s what came out in 2001. That was still like under Loc, but when that shit came out and Loc realized he was going to be in there a little longer than expected, that’s when he told me ‘man, you can do whatever you got to do, do your thang.’ That’s where I’m at, up until now.

JW: So how long was he in?

MM: He did three years.

JW: He came out like 03, 04?

MM: I think was 03.

JW: Has all your stuff been independent since?

MM: Yeah, except for a brief deal that I had with Koch/E1 in 06. I signed with them. I had a song ‘5 Man Freak’ with Paul Wall, you know that song? And man I had got the bitch up to like 300 spins, you know. So I sent them some music, cause my partner was like, ‘man I fuck with dude at E1, just sent him some shit.’ And like, I waited like two weeks out, like man fuck them, for what? Cause I had been to a few labels already and shit didn’t pan out. So I kind of had the attitude like, this shit just going to be the same thing.

One day I just said fuck it. I sent the shit off, and the very next day when they got the shit, they called me like, ‘man we want to fly you up here.’ And this was the time when they was like, they had some of the biggest artists on the radio. They had Jim Jones shit, they had that dude DJ Unk, Khaled was doing his shit. So it made sense to me because it’s still independent, you know, you still do your thing creatively. And they, you know, they got the looks now. They had the biggest songs on the radio. For me, it was a no-brainer.

But anyway, when I signed with them, of course, the shit that motherfuckers tell you they going to do and then shit that they actually do is two different thangs. So they let my song die with Paul Wall. So then it was back to the drawing board. So I made more records. I had one song, ‘I’m So On,’ that bitch was smoking out here. We had like a summer jam, and like we would watch how the song do. You know, I’m doing the song, and these motherfuckers going crazy. They ain’t get behind that. Then I had a song called ‘Fresh to Death,’ and they didn’t get behind that. So I was like, ‘what the fuck?’

JW: Do you think it’s harder for a Baton Rouge artist to break out nationally because it’s a relatively small market?

MM: Yeah, I think labels tend to say, ‘aw, this shit sound local’ or ‘this shit limited, it can only go this far.’ So a lot of the artists around here are stuck in this one thing. Unless you…obviously have a “Wipe Me Down,” but that was one of them special records, so you know, it couldn’t help but go. And they had the resources too. But I think other people made special records that could’ve went, from out here. Like a few of them. But we didn’t have the resources.

JW: They had Asylum.

MM: Right, they had the resources. They had the budgets to do it and push it to that point. So that’s like a frustrating thing to me.

JW: How did you decide to do those East Coast and West Coast tapes? [California Dreams & Backpack Dreams]

MM: I was friends with this girl from New York and I was like one of the rappers that she was like, ‘this dude on something, he from down here.’ She was doing like promotions for a store out here. She was just like a coming-up wannabe publicist and shit like that. So she sought me out and me and her was just talking and she was like, ‘man you should do this, you should do that,’ just bouncing ideas. And she told me like, ‘man you should do a mixtape with nothing but New York beats, like old New York beats.’ And I was like, ‘yeah, you right.’

So she just started sending me beats, sending me beats. And I’m the kind of person where I like to…when I do shit I like to have an overall concept behind the shit, know what I’m saying? So I came up with this concept like Backpack Dreams and I wanted it to be a three part thing—the dreams series. So I did Backpack Dreams shit and then I knew the next one I was going to do was California Dreams, it just took me a long time to start doing it. And once I started doing it, like I just ran through the shit, know what I’m saying?

And I was in a movie called Video Girl with Megan Good, so the whole concept of that was you know, me going to LA for the movie premier and you know, kind of like a story that weaves through what I’m doing while I’m out there. Like the part where I start going to the Bay and then I start rapping over those beats. Just shit like that. I mean, I think, to me, I’m not an arrogant person, but I feel like that shit is like genius. Like if Lil Wayne would’ve done that shit or Kanye West, they would be…people would think that shit is the most great thing ever.

My main thing is just trying get this shit heard farther than…you know get it put to a bigger audience. Because ultimately I feel like I would do better in another place than Baton Rouge.  You find a certain few people who fuck with that here. But that shit really for the internet and people other places that get it. When I do shit for out here, that I’m targeting to out here, it sound totally different than that kind of shit.

JW: Did you ever think about moving?

MM: Like I’m really thinking about moving to Atlanta. Houston is really like my second home. I’m always out there. But then out there the city is limited. Atlanta, that’s where everybody at. I went to Atlanta about two weeks ago and stayed out there for a couple of days. We was in the studio, and that girl Iggy Azaela was in the studio all the days we was in there. T.I. was coming through. Just different people man.

JW: So I mean, how many official albums have you put out? Because it’s hard—there’s a lot of shit on the internet.

MM: Me & My Hustle, Max Payne, I’m All I Got, That Boy, Get Served, Pain Medicine, The Remedy, and Heart of a King. Eight official albums. I put some more shit out that was in the store, but I don’t really call it albums.

JW:  I was Googling Max Minelli interviews and there’s not many in print. There’s online video ones, but I didn’t see…I feel like the artists from Baton Rouge never really get the attention they deserve. I mean, even Boosie really much nationally compared to how big he actually was.

MM: I always used to wonder why he wasn’t bigger though. You could take a person like Plies, for instance. They was out around the same time doing they thang and I just always felt like Plies got a bigger look than Boosie and I just used to wonder why. Because you can’t tell me Plies is hotter than Boosie. Boosie foundation is way more, just like sicker than Plies. You know, Plies…I didn’t really hear about Plies until he was on TV. Boosie, man, everybody been jamming for years before he even touched the TV. I always wondered that shit too. I don’t know why that was.

JW: It’s got to be partially promotion.

MM: I don’t know where the breakdown was happening. It had something to do with promotion, the label, maybe him. He might not have really been out there fucking with the people, the executives, kiss they ass make them feel like this, DJ’s…you just gotta.

JW: How did your stuff get heard in Baton Rouge, was it just like through the DJs?

MM: Yeah, DJs. And I had built a foundation from fucking with Loc for so many years. So it was people who I had my own foundation. When I dropped shit, it just come out and just word of mouth, people fucking with it.

JW: You’re one of the few rappers from BR who escaped major feuds or jail time. Why do you think that was?

MM: I always been about my business man. You know, rapping ever since I was 15, 14 15. I been eating off rapping. Everything I got I got off rapping. I didn’t have no periods where I might sell dope on the side or do this on the side or just involve myself in any kind of thing that I could get in serious trouble about, you know. Like you say, it’s a few things here and there that you might get off into, but overall I just try to keep up with the times. I’m the only rapper right now from back then to now. I’m talking about even before Boosie.

JW: What do you think the secret to the longevity? How fickle are the Louisiana rap fans?

MM: They’re pretty loyal. Every so often a new artist will come out and just get hot. A lot of it is songs too.

JW: Just one song?

MM: Yeah in the clubs. But a lot of the artists, like out of artists that people listen to—me, Boosie, Webbie—like the main ones. We go and do shows we got a whole catalogue because people fuck with our music period. Most of the dudes they just had songs, a song or two songs that’s in the club that’s just hot. And that’s what their whole shit is based off. I feel like your career is limited in that because once that song is done, if you don’t come with another one then, you know…

JW: So what’s up with you for the future, what are you trying to do next?

MM: I’m just trying to get a look man, a major look. I mean I’m fucking with a few label people and shit. I’m just trying to put this new shit out, get a little buzz off it and get some people excited. Just go to New York, take a few meetings and try to turn it into something. Just keep grinding, doing shows, putting out new material, and just keep it moving man.

Any little creative thing I feel like I can do to draw people in, like the backpack dreams shit, just little shit like that. Try to separate yourself from the pack. I always tell people…come across new rappers all the time ‘man I’m this.’ And when I listen to they music they talking about the same shit as everybody else, the beats sound the same as everybody else, just everything sound the same. And I try to tell them: ‘Look at this shit like a five lane interstate, like a five lane freeway. All these lanes moving, but everybody jammed up in these two lanes. I be like man look, get in one of these lands, do something different, do your own thang.’ The thing about it is, once somebody come out and do something different, then everybody want to do that.

ZIP: Max Minelli — Best of Max Minelli (compiled by Passion of the Weiss)
ZIP: Max Minelli – Lunch Money (Left-Click)

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