On like him

Pub date February 27, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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I’m typing this with one hand, because I’m patting myself on the back with the other. According to Eddi Projex himself, I’m the first writer to ever interview him, back in 2003 when he was a member of Hittaz on tha Payroll, who’d just released their retail debut, Ghetto Storm (Hitta). It was the tail end of the Bay’s turn-of-the-century commercial drought, yet the group — including Polo, Curcinado, and Fletchberg Slim — sold almost 4,000 copies. On April 6, 2005, I wrote a Guardian piece on Projex when he had a BET video hit with "Drank-A-Lot," featuring his former mentor Numskull and Money B.

Now here we are again, and while I claim no credit for Projex’s success, I can’t help feeling gratified. I knew he just needed a shot and he got one: his Bedrock-produced single, "On like Me," was one of the hottest Bay records of 2007, despite the increasing difficulty of getting local music on the radio. Showcasing the skillful hook-writing evident on Ghetto and "Drank," "On like Me" confirms Projex’s status as one of the top three post–Mistah FAB Oakland rappers, along with Beeda Weeda and J-Stalin.

"I’ve always jumped on the hook," says Projex. "That’s the most important part of the song. You could be the rawest verse-writing nigga ever, but if you ain’t got the catchy hook, the raps don’t mean shit."

At that time, hyphy was heavy, he recalls: "I almost bit. I took the beat to the studio, got to talking about shakin’ dreds, and D-Kash [who signed Eddi to Hi-Speed Records] says, ‘Eddi, that ain’t you.’ So I went to my car, put the CD in, and blasted it. And I just started rappin’: ‘Candy on the paint / Chrome on the feet / Is anybody out there on like me?’ I took that bit for the hook, put everything together. Called that nigga the next morning — check this out! He was, like, ‘Yeah!

"FAB was, like, let me hear that," Projex continues. "Then he called me, like, ‘Eddi, this the one!’ He played it that Friday on Yellow Bus Radio."

"The response was crazy," Mistah FAB confirms. "Rick Lee from KMEL gave it a chance, then Mind Motion. It just took off."

Unfortunately, Projex wasn’t prepared to consolidate his success. "Album was nowhere near done," he concedes. "I just had a song on the radio. It jumped off, and I wasn’t ready for it." It wasn’t until the end of the year that Projex dropped his album, Now or Never (Hi-Speed/Payroll), which includes the "On like Me" remix with FAB and Too $hort as well as new singles, "Wiggleman," produced by Bedrock, and "Breezy," produced by the Mekanix and highlighting Keak da Sneak.

While Now brims over with grimy street raps, it also shows Projex’s deeper side, reflected in such tracks as the love song "I’m Feeling You," the politically minded "That’s Right," and the homage to family life, "Grown Man."

"My grandma love that song," Projex says of "Grown Man." "I’m not afraid to say I got a wife and kids. I’m still a player though. But I try to make music that everybody listens to. I’m a well-rounded dude." Though the tracks are way more gangsta, those numbers make Now arguably the most lyrically substantial street record since FAB’s Baydestrian (Faeva Afta/SMC, 2007).

What makes Projex’s positive songs so powerful, moreover, is his undeniable street cred. The 26-year-old rapper, born Eddie Scott, hails from East Oakland’s Stonehurst district, a.k.a. Stone City.

"That’s the last turf in East Oakland besides Sobrante, on the border of San Leandro," he explains. "Basically the 100s. That’s the first place I seen rocks selling, sold a rock, whatever. When Stone City was created, there wasn’t no rolling 100s. Then everybody came together to rep the 100s."

Wanting to set him on the right path, Projex’s mother sent him to Berkeley High School to pursue a promising football career, which was cut short by a shattered ankle. In his sophomore year, he dropped out to sell crack in Stone City and hooked up with Hittaz on tha Payroll, who became Numskull’s crew when the Luniz broke up.

By the time he was 18, Projex was traveling across the country with Numskull, from Los Angeles to New York City, rubbing shoulders with elite rappers like Xzibit, Jayo Felony, and Wu-Tang Clan. Though he and Numskull have since parted ways, Projex remains grateful for the experience, which separates him from the majority of his peers, many of whom have yet to venture East.

"I’ve seen the light, so I want that back," Projex says. "But this time I’m going to be in that light. I still got my Hitta roots, but I’m trying to make music for the masses. I’m trying to go putf8um and make millions."