Emcee and producer Fong-Sai-U is trying to bring the griminess back to Hip-Hop. Raised in Washington D.C. and now residing in California, Fong-Sai-U came up in the game under true Hip-Hop heavyweights. Sai-U was mentored by Black Thought of the legendary Roots crew and the late Guru of Gangstarr. The golden era east coast sound is embedded in Sai-U’s DNA.
Hoping to give fans a much-needed dose of raw rap, Fong-Sai-U is preparing for the release of his second album titled, ‘Ballads of a Massacre’. The album is produced entirely by Fong-Sai-U and features appearances by Dice Raw, Scarface, and Guru. Ballads of a Massacre is slated to be released in the spring of 2015.
Fong-Sai-U spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about how he views his production, his relationships with Hip-Hop greats Black Thought and Guru, and his upcoming album, Ballads of a Massacre.
TRHH: Why’d you title the new album Ballads of a Massacre?
Fong-Sai-U: Everybody wanna be happy. All the rap music now is happy. Back in the days it wasn’t competition but it was more raw. Everybody had different styles and it was raw, but the music was like “snap your neck” music. I wanted to make an album where all the songs ain’t going to be battle rap but they’re going to be hard as hell. I felt like Ballads of a Massacre was a good title because lyrically I’m trying to slaughter it. I’m trying to take off heads and use my sword as much as I can. I’m not going at certain emcees, I’m just showing the raw side of things. You can’t really say my music is underground and you can’t say it’s mainstream, I’m just riding the fence.
TRHH: Did you produce the entire album?
Fong-Sai-U: Everything. Every single thing. I don’t really use outside producers much. I get people to send me beats and I listen to it and if it don’t stand up to my beats then I won’t use it. Most of the time they don’t. I’m not saying I’m the greatest producer but I want somebody to send me something better. If I can make it why would I take it from you?
TRHH: What beat-making equipment do you use?
Fong-Sai-U: I was on the MPC 2000XL for a long time and then I started using the Renaissance. I ain’t gonna lie it turned me out. I was one of those people that didn’t like software. I still don’t like software because I like to be able to pound my pads. I like hands-on stuff. I don’t really look at the computer. Most of the time I look at the screen on the Renaissance unless I want to send it to somebody or something.
TRHH: How is this album different from A Soldier’s Story?
Fong-Sai-U: A Soldier’s Story was rushed. It was a quick album and was really rushed. It’s me basically talking about life stuff, Hip-Hop, and the ghetto. It was topic-based but thrown together quick, that’s why it only had like 6-7 songs. I got a deal and they were rushing me to throw something out quick. They rushed me, I threw it out, and it didn’t really resonate. That’s why this album I wanted it to be 12-13 songs and bangers all the way through. A Soldier’s Story was 2011, it’s 2014 and throughout that period I’ve been producing this album.
When I make a beat I can’t rush to the studio and rap on it. I make so many beats I have to choose what beat is right for myself. I don’t have a crew or a team saying, “Yeah, put that on the album!” I have to be my crew and team. If I do a song and I don’t want to hear it more than one time I won’t use it. But if I do a song and I listen to it more than one time then I use it, because that’s how I want this album to be on every song. It ain’t no fast forwarding. You go to 1 then you got to 12 and that’s it. I didn’t want it to be all short. A Soldier’s story was cool but this is going to be one that people can feel and talk about.
TRHH: What inspired the single ‘Bad Guy’?
Fong-Sai-U: Oh man, truth! I heard that Jay-Z hook and I just had to go in on it. I just get tired of songs where everybody is drug dealing and everybody is ballin’. Everybody does something that really they’re not. I was ripping the song but at the same time I was trying to get a point across. Just ‘cause you take a Jay sample that don’t mean you gotta rap about cars and money. Every time you hear somebody use a Jay sample they’re rapping about the club or cars. It’s never on no Hip-Hop. If you think about it you can’t really find a Jay sample that somebody samples and rapped about Hip-Hop music. I ain’t never heard it, that’s why I used it. A lot of these cats is BS. I done did it all. Every song don’t have to be about the street or who you killin’. That’s just the times we’re in, but I refuse to lay down my mic and go to that level.
TRHH: You used to go by the name Divine, right?
Fong-Sai-U: Divine, that’s’ my attribute. I’m a five-percenter. I still go by Dvine. Fong-Sai-U is my emcee name. You gotta understand my background. I’ve been there with RZA and Mef in ’93, The Roots in ’92, and Guru from 2000 to when he passed. My travels in this music game has really been sick. I seen a lot of things. If I wanted to follow the leader then I probably would have been on, but I’m my own leader with my own team. I don’t believe in following people – I don’t care how cool we are. Most of the time when you’re signed to a rapper you ain’t gonna see the light of day and most of the time when he goes down you’re going to go down too.
Guru was the first person that put me out. I was with him on some crazy adventures. As a producer he took a chance on me and put me on Baldhead Slick when nobody else would take a chance on me. I met him on the Okayplayer tour. I really give him the credit. I was out there, but I wasn’t “out there”. I wasn’t on records.
TRHH: The new album has a verse from Guru on the song ‘What’s Real’. How long have you had that verse?
Fong-Sai-U: Man, we did it in 2001 or 2002 but nobody heard it my G. I held on to it. I didn’t know he was going to pass either. Guru went through a dark place before he died and he was secluded from a lot of people. It was just him and that wack nigga Solar. Nobody knew what was going on. This was for years until he passed. I held on to that verse for a minute, but when we did it, it was crazy because Ice-T was in there, Treach was in there — everybody was in there! That was the time when Guru was still drinking so it was a party in the studio. We did it in one take. I freestyled my part. I’m a battle emcee so I freestyle a lot. I’m not one of these dudes that says, “I go in the studio and do a whole album freestyle!” If I do it I ain’t gonna tell you and you ain’t gonna know. That’s the whole art of freestyling. I give much kudos to that dude because he taught me a lot – even though at that time he was wildin’.
TRHH: What did you learn from Guru?
Fong-Sai-U: Stuff like be patient. I was always trying to get on. The thing between me and him was I never asked him to put me on. That’s what I tell brothers, don’t meet an artist and be like, “I got a CD and bla bla bla,” don’t do that, man. It makes the turn away from you. If you’re going to be cool just kick it. If y’all become friends that’s that. If he’s going to put you on he’s going to put you on, on his own. Patience is a virtue in this game. That’s what I learned from him. Back then I was young so I was trying to get on anything at any time. It wasn’t happening so I was getting frustrated. He also taught me at his age to live your life ‘cause Guru was acting like he was 20. He was living his life. He was a kid at heart and he never let his age get to him. Those two things I took with me to this day.
On Reasonable Doubt Jay was getting up in his 30s – he wasn’t 21, he wasn’t 18. A lot of people think that this is an overnight game. Stuff happens on YouTube with these little dudes getting on but if you want classic material it ain’t no overnight game. You can’t wake up in the morning and have a classic album. Everybody screams “classic” but it be doo-doo. It don’t work that way. Everybody screams about Dre’s Detox and are mad at how long it’s taking but you gotta understand he takes his time. If you want classic material it takes years. Look at Prince. Patience is a key.
TRHH: Earlier you mentioned Solar, what do you make of the relationship that Guru had with him? It doesn’t make sense to anybody.
Fong-Sai-U: I met Solar one time man and I remember Guru told me, “He’s crazy, God.” It destroyed me when it all went down because somehow this nigga had a mind control thing on him, man. I know it wasn’t a secret because Guru wasn’t gay — it wasn’t none of that BS. To this day nobody knows. A lot of people don’t know that Guru wasn’t talking to anybody. He secluded himself. I think Solar went to Guru when he was in seclusion mode. He used the trust factor — he was the one to trust, he was the one to befriend, and fuck everybody else. He rolled with that and that’s how it all came about.
He stayed away from everybody and started producing a whole bunch of wack albums with Solar. Him and Premier didn’t talk for years before that. He secluded himself and Solar found a weakness. When you seclude yourself sometimes you’re going to need somebody, and that was that somebody. It was just a bad somebody. Everything that went down was terrible after he died. Dude produced a letter that Guru room didn’t even write. I bet you don’t hear about Solar now. You don’t hear peep.
TRHH: Was Solar responsible for help him to stop drinking?
Fong-Sai-U: No, man! No, that’s a lie. Guru stopped drinking before Solar. Guru was sober before Solar. He started working out before Solar. Solar just tried to take credit for something that he didn’t do. He was full of lies man. Ice-T and everybody wanted to beat him up. Ice new Guru from the beginning. Solar just came out of the blue with a whole bunch of lies. He wasn’t responsible for anything in that man’s life but devastation. That’s it. He destroyed that man. He made that man put out all these wack albums. Guru could have gotten back with Premier and banged out. Solar had that nigga talking bad about everybody. He put it in his head that Premier tried to get over and get money from him. Guru believed it. That’s how it all ended. If they could do a documentary on it, which they won’t, it would be a good one.
TRHH: You came up in the game under Black Thought of The Roots. What’s the best piece of advice he ever gave you about the music business?
Fong-Sai-U: When I met Black Thought I tried to battle him with a girl named Timber Red. This was like 1992. I was 15 or something. He took to it and liked my “umph”. From there every Roots show I would be at. From then on I was on the mic at every Roots show. I don’t care where they were. I would catch the bus and do whatever I had to do to get there. He took me on tour. That’s always going to be my older brother. Sometimes I get pissed at him and go off on him and he’ll laugh. I get emotional and all of that but that’s always going to be my big brother — to the death. Because he fought for me as far as going on tour when nobody else would. Me and ?uestlove wasn’t that cool but he vouched for me. He vouched for me a lot. So I wouldn’t say The Roots I’d say Black Thought. That’s somebody I would ride for.
He said, “When you go on stage you’ve only got five minutes. In those five minutes what are you going to say to make the crowd scream?” I’ve stayed with that the rest of my life. It’s true, when you go on stage you have five minutes to say something to make that crowd go off. If you can’t make them go off it’s a done deal, period. They don’t know who you are or where you’re coming from. All I had was five minutes every time I got on stage. I did a song with Jaguar and then I would do The Lesson. If you don’t have anything to say in five minutes to make the crowd go crazy then it’s done. That’s the key. He’s on the Tonight Show now so the last time I talked to him was a couple of months ago. We talk off and on but he’s mad busy trying to act and stuff like that. Sometimes I talk to him for advice and sometimes I shout out to make sure he’s cool. People grow up. Back then we were young and wildin’ out. Somewhere you have to come to a pause. Everybody is grown up and doing their thing. That’s like my brother. Me and Dice Raw knew each other from the same page. The same time I was around was when they were trying to put Dice Raw on. That’s why I have a song with Dice on my album.
TRHH: Who is ‘Ballads of Massacre’ for?
Fong-Sai-U: That’s a good question. It’s for everybody, man. I’ve got a joint with Res that I haven’t dropped yet. That’s my next single. I’ve got a joint you’d think Drumma Boy produced it. It’s for everybody. Some of the backpackers really don’t feel my stuff that much. I’m not talking real underground stuff that you can’t understand. I’m talking about stuff that anybody could listen to and understand it. It’s really for everybody.