Online Exclusive: Method Man at the crossroads

a&eletters@sfbg.com
When a bumped phone interview with hip-hop legend and putf8um artist Method Man mushroomed into a proposed
backstage post-show encounter, I naturally jumped at the chance.

Being a devotee of the ultimately more funk-based grooves of Bay Area hip-hop, I tend not to pay
attention to the doings of NYC, and I can’t claim to have ever followed the Wu-Tang Clan in general or Meth
in particular, though I have always admired both from afar. Yet one needn’t follow the Big Apple’s scene in
great detail to appreciate its impact, and with Meth’s successful film and TV career, most recently as a recurring character in this season of HBO’s cop drama The Wire, one needn’t even listen to hip-hop anymore
to appreciate his.

This situation is exactly what’s troubling Method Man. His very success in the cultural mainstream, he
feels, has been held against him by the hip hop-industry, a curious situation considering
mainstream success is the perceived goal and direct subject matter of most raps these days. Unlike the
recent fashion among rappers like Andre3000 to pooh-pooh their interest in music in favor of their
“acting career,” Meth wants to be known primarily as an MC. But Hollywood success has proved to be a
slippery slope, paved by Ice-T and Ice Cube — each in his turn the most terrifying, authentic street rapper
imaginable — to the end of your hit-making potential in hip-hop.

Couple this perception with Meth’s vocal challenges of the effect of corporate media consolidation, and it’s
not difficult to imagine why Def Jam released his fourth solo album, 4:21: The Day After, without a peep
at the end of August, as if the label had written him off despite his track record of one gold and two
putf8um plaques.

Still, no one who’s heard the angry, defiantly shitkicking 4:21 (executive produced by the RZA, Erick
Sermon, and Meth himself) or saw the show Meth put on that evening (leaping from the stage to the bar and
running across it by way of introduction, later executing a backwards handspring from the stage into the crowd by way of ending) could possibly doubt his vitality as an MC. He put on a long, exhausting show,
heavy with new material, that utterly rocked the packed house.

Shortly after the show ended, I was brought backstage by Meth’s road manager, 7, to a tiny corridor of a
dressing room crammed with various hangers on. A man in a warm-up suit with a towel over his head was
sitting alone on a short flight of steps in the center of the room.

“That’s him,” 7 said, before disappearing to take care of other business.

It was like being sent to introduce yourself to a boxer who’d just finished a successful but punishing
brawl. The face that looked up at my inquiry was that of a man who’d retreated somewhere far away into
himself, requiring a momentary effort to swim to the surface. Quite suddenly I found myself face to face
with Method Man, whose presence immediately turned all heads in the room our way as he invited me to sit down
for a brief discussion of his new album and his dissatisfaction with his treatment by the music
industry.

SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN: I read the statement on your Web site [www.method-man.com] in which you
discuss your problems with the industry. Could you describe the problems you’ve been having?

METHOD MAN: My big problem with the industry is the way they treat hip-hop artists as opposed to artists
in other genres. Hip-hop music, they treat it like it’s fast food. You get about two weeks of promotion
before your album. Then you get the week of your album, then you get the week after, then they just
leave you to the dogs.

Whereas back in the day, you had artists in development, a month ahead of time before you even
started your campaign, to make sure that you got off on the right foot.

Nowadays it’s like there’s nobody in your corner anymore. Everybody’s trying to go into their own
little club, for lack of a better word. Everybody has their own little cliques now. Ain’t no money being
generated so the labels are taking on a lot of artists because of this at once that they don’t even have
enough staff members to take care of every artist, as an individual. Their attention is elsewhere, or only
with certain people.

SFBG: Your new single [“Say,” featuring Lauryn Hill] suggests you’ve had problems with the way critics have
received your recent work and even with the radio playing your records. How can someone of your status
be having trouble getting spins?

MM: You know what it is, man? A lot of people have come around acting like I’m the worst thing that ever
happened to hip-hop, as good as I am.

Hating is hating. I’ve been hated on, but just by the industry, not in the streets. They never liked my crew
[the Wu-Tang Clan] anyway. They think we ain’t together anymore and they try to pick at each and
every individual. Some motherfuckers they pick up. Other people they just shit on. I guess I’m just the
shittee right now, you know what I mean?

SFBG: Do you think it has to do with the age bias in hip-hop? The idea an MC is supposed to be 18 or 20?

MM: You know what I think it is? As our contracts go on, we have stipulations where, if we sell a certain
amount of albums, [the labels] have to raise our stock. A lot of times dudes just want to get out their
contracts so they can go independent and make more money by themselves. There’s a lot of factors that
play into it.

SFBG: Are you not getting enough label support?

MM: A label only does so much anyway. It’s your team inside your team that makes sure that you got a video.
Or that you got that single out there, or that your tour dates are put together correctly. The labels,
they basically just do product placement. They make sure that all your stuff is in the proper place where
it’s supposed to be at. They’re gonna make sure your posters are up. They’re going to make sure that
they’re giving out samples of other artists that are coming out also. [But i]t’s really up to us [the
artists] to make sure our music is going where it’s supposed to.

Right now there’s so many artists people can pick and choose from, don’t nobody like shit no more.

SFBG: Do you think you’re getting squeezed out of radio play as a result of corporate media
conslidation?

MM: Absolutely; this shit ain’t nothing new. It isn’t just happening to me. It’s been going on since dudes
have been doing this hip-hop music. They bleed you dry and then they push you the fuck out.

That’s why I always stress to the fans to take your power back. I always hear people talking about things
like, “Damn, what happened to these dudes? What happened to these guys? I always liked their shit.”
But the fans, not just the industry, tend to turn their backs on dudes. They get fed so much bullshit,
they be like, “Fuck it; I’m not dealing with that shit. I’m going to listen to this.”

SFBG: So what about your acting career? Do you feel like you’ve been overexposed as an actor or that
you’ve been spread too thin and are readjusting your focus?

MM: Fuck Hollywood, B.

SFBG: But I heard you say on the radio today you wanted to play a crackhead and get an Oscar….

MM: I do want to play a crackhead in a movie. I’m going to be a crackhead who dies of an overdose at the
end of the movie, and people cry, and I’m going to get me an Oscar. But fuck Hollywood; tell ‘em to come see
me. Tell ‘em to come to my door.

SFBG: Obviously, from what you said during the show and the lyrics on 4:21: The Day After you haven’t
renounced smoking marijuana, so could you discuss the concept behind “4:21”? Is it about the difficulties
of living the hard-partying lifestyle of the rap artist?

MM: It was just symbolic of a moment of clarity for me. I made a symbol for myself of a moment of
clarity. You know I’ve always been an avid 4:20 person. I like to get out there and smoke with the
best of them. But I picked “4:21” as like, the day after. I got tired of people running up on me and
being like, “You was funny in that movie,” because I was an MC first and foremost. It used to be like, “Yo,
that fuckin’ verse you did on that song, that was hot.” Now it’s like, “My kids love you; they love that
movie, How High.”

It gets to the point when even when I’m having a serious moment, or a serious conversation, people
laugh at the shit like it’s funny. But they laugh cause they thinking of the movie; they thinking of
some sitcom shit.

SFBG: Besides yourself and RZA, Erick Sermon executive produced the album. Can you talka bout your
connection with him?

MM: I’ve been fuckin’ with E ever since I’ve been fuckin’ with Redman. E knows what I like, you know
what I’m saying? The same way he knows what Redman likes. And RZA, that’s a given right there. I’ve been
down with RZA’s shit A1 since day one.

SFBG: 4:21 also features a collaboration with Ol’ Dirty Bastard. When did you guys record this track?

MM: “Dirty Meth” — that’s a posthumous joint with O.D.B. It was after he was gone already. I tell everyone
that so they know.

SFBG: But he seems to permeate the new album.

MM: He does. Good word, too. He permeates it.