One of the most respected emcees in the history of Hip-Hop is Chicago’s Twista. The father of one of the most unique styles ever in rap, Twista’s rapid fire flow has entertained fans for over two decades.
From the streets to the stage, Chicago’s west side rhymeslinger was courted by both Jay-Z and Kanye West to sign to their respective record labels. The artist formerly known as Tung Twista took his lumps in the game and learned many lessons that led him to the creation of his own record label, Get Money Gang Entertainment.
This week Twista released a 7-track EP on GMG Entertainment titled, “Back to the Basics” Back to the Basics is Twista’s first official release since 2010 and serves as an appetizer before the release of his next full-length album, The Dark Horse.
The Real Hip-Hop had the honor of speaking to Twista about his new EP, Back to the Basics, his recent collaboration with pop star Lady Gaga, and his new full-length album hitting stores in 2014.
TRHH: Why’d you title the new EP “Back to the Basics”?
Twista: It really pertains to me more than the industry. Sometimes I’ll lose sense of self trying to try so many things. I’m so creative that I’ll try different things that’s out the box and when I feel like I’m going too far out the box I bring it back in. Right at that time when I was bringing it back in I said I wanted to title my new EP “Back to the Basics” ‘cause that’s what Im’ma get to as far as the Twista sound and doing what I do that I know people like.
TRHH: You dropped the video for the Intro and I thought it was slowed down a little bit for you. Would you say that’s accurate?
Twista: Yeah, well I really do whatever the beat calls for. If I’m picking double-time beats then it’s all going to sound that way. If you listen to the style of beat that was, it’s just a Hip-Hop beat. It reminds me of an emcee-ish Hip-Hop type of beat so I really just rapped on it the way the beat asked me to rap to it. Some people know the earlier Twista stuff and if you knew me from coming up that flow wouldn’t sound so unfamiliar. It’s like, “Man, Twista sound like he did when he was coming up before he got on!” That’s what type of style that is.
TRHH: We know you have a long history of working with The Legendary Traxter, but who are some of the other producers that you worked with on Back to the Basics?
Twista: On the EP it’s mostly Traxter and my guy DJ Tight Mike. It was about me picking some songs that I felt was a good warm-up for people to get reacquainted with Twista before I dropped the album. It just happened to be that the 6-7 songs I picked were tracks from Traxter and DJ Tight Mike. I also got stuff I’m working on for the album with Young Chop and various other producers.
TRHH: Recently you did the song ‘Jewels and Drugs’ with Lady Gaga. That’s sort of an odd pairing. How’d that collaboration come about?
Twista: It was really Lady Gaga being a fan of Hip-Hop. She recently mentioned that she liked other artists from Chicago as well. It shocked me that she was actually that familiar with Hip-Hop, certain artists, and the way they sound. When I talked to her she wanted a certain original sound, not from a today artist, but someone who has been in the game for a while. When she was breaking it down to me it was me and Too $hort and I was really geeked that she was that into my music and familiar with it.
TRHH: You’ve been around a long time and had a lot of ups and downs in your career, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in the music business?
Twista: Save money [laughs]. Definitely save your money. It’s a lot of different things. Business wise, the deals that you’re getting into make sure you got the right attorney’s. Know what you’re getting into. One of the biggest things I tell artists is to make sure you’re educating yourself about the business as much as you’re trying to put records out and do everything else. I definitely feel like a lot of artists today don’t know exactly what’s going on behind closed doors as far as the business side of it. If you want to maximize it I would say know the business you’re getting into. Everybody is using computers and at one point I was letting everybody know that it was the new thing and we should start using them and everybody is into them now. Also, stay true to yourself as an artist. A lot of times people hear all of these records that other guys are putting out and they try their best to imitate what they think is hot and it doesn’t work for them. Stay doing what you do, and stay being the best at what you know you do.
TRHH: There was a time when emcees from the Chi were moving to New York, L.A., or Atlanta to further their careers. Why did you choose to stay in Chicago?
Twista: Well with me it was just being close to my people. Some of us are in positions where we can just jump up and go, but I didn’t wanna leave my moms, my brother, and sisters and things like that. I was deeply rooted in Chicago. I would move around sometimes but never really make that major move. I think it was more necessary back then because we didn’t have access to the internet, but now I think one of the reasons that Chicago is so hot is that we don’t have to leave the city anymore. We can do it in the comfort of our own rooms. I just never really left because I’m grounded. Some people are more grounded in the city than others. Me being from the ghetto, the west side of Chicago, it’s something I was never looking into. I just love being in the city, sometimes to a fault.
TRHH: You’ve collaborated with a lot of the young kids coming up out of Chicago. What’s your opinion of the new wave of rappers coming from the Chi?
Twista: First off I would say the type of artist and person you are will have an effect on your opinion. So if you’re into this game for the hustle aspect or if you’re into it ‘cause you love rap, that to me will have an effect on your opinion. For me being a person who loves Hip-Hop and music every time someone new is coming out and getting notoriety and people are paying attention, it’s usually always something in what they’re doing that I like. The thing I like about the new artists that I like is they got a lot of swag. I feel like the game now is more about your swag than your lyricism. I’m a lyricist and that’s what I represent. The shorty’s now know how to swag it out without getting so intricate with their rhymes and everything and still be able to do what they do.
One of the biggest things I like about the artists today is they know how to put their music out and they know how they want to be seen. A lot of artists didn’t do that at first, especially in Chicago. I can remember a point where there wasn’t too many artists in Chicago that sounded half good. So now it’s like all these artists are coming out and doing their thing. I feel like a lot of them are dope as hell. I feel like some of them… I wouldn’t say garbage. A lot of people say, “Oh, that’s wack,” but I feel like there’s different types of music for different reasons. I feel like some people make music for the listeners who want to hear lyrics. Some people make music for the club goers and party goers. I feel like everything isn’t meant to be all lyrical. I respect what the shorty’s do a lot and I like it.
TRHH: What’s your writing process like? Do you ever write off the top of your head or do you always write to the beat?
Twista: Both of ‘em. As I acquired another writing style they all just became my technique. Sometimes I sit down and listen to the beat and I’m actually writing the verses out. Sometimes I’ll sit down listen to the beat and hold the lyrics in my head. I might say a third of the verse at one time, like 4 bars at a time, hold the lyrics in my head and spit ‘em out. Sometimes I sit down with no beat, and to me that’s where you can make the best styles from, not saying that you can’t listen to a beat and make a style but when you’re in your head and not listening to music and write a verse, that to me brings the best styles out of you. I actually do all three. I write to the beat, I write sometimes without a beat, and sometimes I just think and don’t use any pen or paper.
TRHH: Over 20 years ago when you got into this did you foresee being where you are now with Get Money Gang and being one of the most respected emcees in Hip-Hop?
Twista: Nah, nah. You definitely can’t see that far. To me it was about getting in the industry and actually getting some music out there so other rappers can say, “Damn, he’s dope!” or “Chicago got some rappers, too!” That was my intent when I first got in the game just to be recognized as being dope. Never had any idea that all of that stuff that happened would take place.
TRHH: You’re known for spitting street rhymes but you’re also a Muslim. What’s the role that Islam plays in your life?
Twista: I’m not fully practicing every day all day but I’m Muslim by nature. Islam has served as one of the steppingstones to my understanding of life, religion, and why we exist. Islam game me discipline and order. It made me understand religion better and how to live righteous better. Not to knock any other religion, but I think Islam is one of the most correct forms of religion that’s out there. One of the reasons is because the Qur’an was never changed. It’s still in its original language. I feel like Islam is one of the oldest and most correct religions, if you want to follow religion.
TRHH: What do you have on deck for 2014?
Twista: The album is the EP expanded. I think it’s just me making new songs and being passionate in the studio and making good product. I don’t feel the need to transform or change so to speak, because you have this music that’s coming out over the past few years that has everybody’s ear expecting a certain sound. I feel like the reemergence of me as I already am will be something a little new to the listeners because they haven’t heard me in a while. Really just expect Adrenaline Rush and Kamikaze in a 2014 version. One thing that I’ll say I’m bringing different with this album and kind of like what I’m doing on the EP is you hear rappers rapping about so many things like the streets, this or that. Some of them might get deep and speak on religion or something from Egypt. You really don’t hear rappers rapping about the science of creation – the science of existence. That’s one thing you’ll probably hear on the album. My album will be something cool for the Hip-Hop nerd. If you’re into the human design, the body, atoms, molecules, DNA, quantum physics, parallel universes, and all that type of stuff you gonna hear me going into a lot of that on the album.
TRHH: I just wanted to say as a native Chicagoan I’ve always appreciated the way that you and Common both held it down for the city for so long. Wherever y’all go y’all represent the crib. I just wanted to personally say thank you for representing Chicago wherever you are. I appreciate it and I’m proud.
Twista: Thank you, man. That means a lot to me. That’s why I do it is to hear this type of stuff. I appreciate that a lot — for real.
Purchase: Twista – Back to the Basics