From The Vault: Saigon

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Photo courtesy of Kerosene Media

One of my all-time favorite interviews was with East Coast emcee, Saigon. We spoke about everything from serious issues facing the black community to regular old beats and rhymes. It didn’t feel like an interview to me – I felt like I was talking to one of my friends.

At the start of 2011 Saigon was preparing to release his highly anticipated debut album, The Greatest Story Never Told. After a long legal battle with Atlantic Records, Saigon was finally let free. He chose Suburban Noize as the home for his first official project.

Overseen and mostly produced by Just Blaze, The Greatest Story Never Told was a conscious street album that lived up to the hype.

TRHH: I heard that you said you wanted to reintroduce yourself to fans and gain new fans in 2011 so for those that don’t know, who is Saigon?

Saigon: Saigon is a black man in America who is trying to use music as a vessel to talk to the next generation. I’m a man who has had his ups and down in life and is trying to take my personal experiences to teach the next generation that you’re responsible for everything that you do. I’m just trying to put good music and good messages out there for these children. As a black man I have a responsibility to the next generation and if Hip-Hop is going to give me a stage I feel like it’s up to me to put out some stuff that’s beneficial to their growth and development—it’s pretty simple.

TRHH: On the track Greatest Story Never Told you said, “The crime rhyme is still black on black/And we need a leader like me to get us back on track.” Why do you feel a responsibility to spit certain types of rhymes for the youth?

Saigon: These companies market this music to our babies. They intentionally do that. They’ll tell you if an artist is over 25-years old he’s too old and won’t be in tune to the youth. All of the music that they market is adult content. It’s a lot of drugs and sipping champagne. I love everybody at BET but it’s funny when you watch 106 & Park and the whole audience is children but the number one song is Pop Champagne [laughs]. That’s the furthest thing from their reality. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but where is the balance? It’s easy to avoid your responsibility. That’s what a lot of rappers do. They feel they don’t have a sense of responsibility to put out the right message ‘cause ain’t nobody there checkin’ them. Nobody is saying, “Hey homie, you can’t put that out because it’s detrimental to our community.”

Everything right now is strip club music. Hip-Hop is born out of struggle—it’s black music. We forget that it’s black music and now corporate America sells everything from cookies with it. They know how big it is and we just use it for bad. We use it for advertising for clothing brands, liquor companies, and car companies. These guys go to make millions and gazillions of dollars off of it and none of it is channeled back to our community where Hip-Hop was born. We don’t even teach our children the importance of education. Nobody emphasizes education, getting a job, being responsible and taking care of your kids. It’s sad to see. When is the party over? Life ain’t a big party. If you look at Hip-Hop you would think that life was one big party.

TRHH: I interviewed Scoop Jackson of ESPN for and I asked him why he thought conscious rap has died. He said it was because during the late 80’s and early 90’s people like Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, and Al Sharpton played a bigger role in the community than they do now…

Saigon: Absolutely.

TRHH: So, you agree?

Saigon: I agree with that one hundred million percent. Where are the voices? We don’t have the voices no more. We don’t have the black leaders to say, “Hey, we can’t pump these kinds of messages to our kids.” We have to let our kids know that there is more to life than being an entertainer. You got a better chance of winning the lottery twice than being the next Jay-Z. These kids don’t believe that. These young women in the black community feel like that since black women are curvaceous, they see these videos and say, I don’t need to go to school because I can go to the strip club and they’re going to throw money at me because I got a big booty. Worse case scenario, I can go dance at this club, even though all of my morals and integrity is shot. I can go to the strip club with a single dollar bill and feel all over these women. And it’s sad because we celebrate it like its good. Nobody is denouncing it. Like you said, we don’t have that leadership no more. Everybody is scared. Where is the courage that we had at one point? I don’t know if people are scared of being blackballed or what but come on, man. Somebody has to step up.

TRHH: Well, I know you’re stepping up because you do a lot of work in the community. Tell me about the charity work that you do.

Saigon: We have Abandoned Nation and In Arms Reach where we deal with these kids and put them on the right path. Unfortunately, rappers have become our new leaders and some images that are portrayed in Hip-Hop are negative. They don’t get intricate enough to teach you the consequences of some of these actions. If you go out there and try to hustle and get your hands on some kilos like you heard in a rap song you’re going to get some felonies on your record. If you go out there and gang bang you’re probably going to end up in jail or dead. That’s the reality of the situation and they don’t emphasis that in the music. They never show the imagery of the mother crying over the casket. They don’t show the funerals. They used to do that in Hip-Hop but they don’t anymore. Like Scoop Jackson said, it’s because the leadership in our community is non-existent. You only see Al Sharpton when somebody gets shot by the police.

TRHH: [Laughs].

Saigon: That’s when he pops and then he got something to say. When you’re an activist you gotta be active every day.

TRHH: You did a song with Rhymefest last year and he’s currently running for Alderman here in Chicago. What’s your opinion of Rhymefest running for Alderman?

Saigon: Ah man, you don’t know how much respect I gave to that brother. I always respected him, but my level of respect just went up twenty times for what’s he doing. He has the courage to stand up. A lot of people laugh at him like it’s a joke but it’s not a joke to him. Rhymefest was a schoolteacher before so he understands the impact that the music and the culture has on these kids. He knows that the little bit of fans that he has, he can touch them in a great way. He’s not talking about it, he’s being about it. He’s doing it and I tip my hat to the brother.

TRHH: The Greatest Story Never Told is one of those albums that people have been waiting on for years. How much of the album is new stuff and how much of it is stuff from the original recording?

Saigon: 95% of it is from the original album. We took away one song and replaced it with another song. It’s the same album I made at Atlantic pretty much. I feel like the dynamic of it incredible still. I’ve been listening to this album for four and a half years [laughs], and I still love it. I still listen to it and go, “Yeah, finally somebody is saying something,” even though it’s mine. I still enjoy it as a fan of Hip-Hop. Just Blaze provided all of the music so you know the beats are on point. I just hope I hit my demographic. I hope I reach the people that I’m targeting. I would hate for this album to come out and be ignored by the people I’m trying to talk to.

TRHH: You mentioned Just Blaze and he produced the majority of the album, what’s it like working with Just?

Saigon: He’s been with me through this whole run. It’s amazing to be in the same room with somebody who is so incredibly talented. It’s been ups and downs because when I first met Just I was a real knucklehead. I didn’t want to listen and I had to learn to listen and follow his lead. At first I was a know-it-all but he’s the one that sold all the records, not me. When I did start to listen things got a lot easier. It’s been a great experience and I wouldn’t trade the experience for nothing. I learned a lot from the brother. He’s an honest person, he loves Hip-Hop, and he saw my vision.

He understood that it was going to be a long journey and a hard sell because it’s easy to spread negativity. Negativity spreads fast. I can spread bad news way faster than I could spread good news. It is what it is. He understood that it would be a slow burn. We didn’t think it would be this slow but the timing is immaculate. 2011, it’s time for us to wake up and start seeing things for what they are and not for what they claim to be. Especially grown ass men—we need to deal with reality a little bit more.

TRHH: Speaking of reality, the song Bring Me Down is real hard. How did that song come together?

Saigon: Thank you. I found this producer named DJ Corbett. He was a fan. You get a million kids who say they make beats and it’s overwhelming. It’s so many of them you can’t go through all of them. One day I was sitting at home and this kid was bothering me on one of these social networks about his beats. Something told me to take a listen to his music, I did and he had a sound that sounded like my sound but with a mainstream appeal. The first thing I do when I meet new producers is bring them to Just to get his opinion. Just actually really liked the kid a lot. He said he had something so I worked with him. He came up with the song Bring Me Down and he had an idea that fit my situation. We went in and made the record and it sounded great because it fit everything that I was going through at the time. Certain people were counting me out saying I waited too long and missed my opportunity, but as long as I have breath in my lungs and God on my side I’m still going to be in the fight.

TRHH: Joe Budden got down on the remix for that song. What was it like working with Joe after y’all had beef for so long?

Saigon: Joey killed it. He did his thing on it, we have a dope, dope remix. It was good because we actually realized that had we not been beefing we probably would have been civil—or have mutual things in common should I say. I respect him because he came to my studio by himself. It was like walking in a lion’s den. He didn’t know if the current would be warm or cold. He came with no group of goons, he came by himself. I walked up to him when I saw him and gave him a pound and hug. This was a dude that talked about me like a dog [laughs]. It felt good and it felt like we need to do more of that as ambassadors and as men to show that just because you’re at odds with a person, to do it doesn’t mean you can’t rise above it.

TRHH: I interviewed Sheek Louch and N.O.R.E. and I asked them about East Coast emcees coming together these days. They said it was because everybody is trying to get money. What’s your take on East Coast emcees coming together and squashing beef?

Saigon: It is what it is. I think they’re doing it for that reason. I think they’re doing it because they realize that the beef ain’t selling no more and it’s played out. It works when you do it right, I think Nicki Minaj just did it so skillfully and great the way she baited [Lil’] Kim to sell a record [laughs]. It worked.

TRHH: That’s your perspective? You think she baited Lil’ Kim?

Saigon: Did she? You didn’t notice that?

TRHH: You know what, man, I’ll be honest, I don’t listen to either of them, so I can’t really sit here and say…

Saigon: I don’t seek it but everywhere you turn, there it is. I can’t run from it. I realize her strategy was wonderful because she didn’t start picking on Kim ‘till it was almost album time.

TRHH: That’s true!

Saigon: She threw that record at her and Kim bit the bait. Kim is still talking about her Black Friday mixtape and Nicki is past the beef already [laughs]. She’s on to the next move.

TRHH: How did you manage to get Jay-Z to spit on the song Come on Baby?

Saigon: It was my track and I really loved it. Jay-Z really loved it as well. He was doing Kingdom Come or American Gangster and he took the beat from me. That’s my big brother. You know when your big brother takes your sandwich and shit. He did a big brother move on me. He started to record to it. I guess he figured out later that he wasn’t going to use it so he asked me if I still wanted to use it. I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “I’m not gon’ use it. I laid a verse on it. You can keep the verse.” He had banged me for a few beats. That was an honor and a gift because Jay-Z is Jay-Z. He’s Jigga. The only way he’s going to be aligned with you is if he likes you and if he deals with you to let you even use his brand to say you’ve got Jay-Z on your album, he gotta rock with you to an extent.

TRHH: That’s a hell of a co-sign.

Saigon: Yeah, that’s big.

TRHH: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your disagreements with Atlantic Records?

Saigon: That it ain’t no love in this business. It’s all business and that word “family” really don’t mean nothing. That’s how they throw you off, calling you family. I come from a place where if you call somebody “family” that means you got love for them. You call somebody your family and they’re not blood related to you that’s the closest term of endearment you could call somebody. It’s deeper than saying you’re my friend. It’s a big word and they use that word time and time again. I just realized to read your contract. I signed the paper. At the end of the day I signed the paper. I didn’t give myself no outs in the contract, I didn’t give myself a pay or play.

There were certain things in my contract that I should have put in the contract. “If you don’t do this in a certain amount of time I’m free to go.” A contract is just an agreement. If I would have known what I know now there would have been so much stuff I’d put in the contract so they wouldn’t have been able to hold me and shelf me. One thing I learned is before you put your name on anything understand what you’re signing. Understand what you’re giving up for those few dollars they’re giving you. I learned that and I learned patience. I learned that sometimes things don’t happen when you want them to happen.

TRHH: What made you decide to take your debut album to Suburban Noize Records?

Saigon: I picked Suburban Noize because I liked the owner. I went and met with the owner of the label. I let him know my vision. He let me know that he allows the artist to be the artist and he’s going to help me get my vision across. He gave me a good marketing budget for an indie, which is very hard to find in this climate. Everybody is scared. They wanna make a lot of money but they don’t wanna spend none. They agreed to spend a certain amount of money that I thought was enough for me to get my name back to where it needs to be.

I like what they did with their other artists. I’m really their first quote unquote “urban artist” that they have over there. Everything else is mashed with rock and Hip-Hop kind of. They do very well with their artists and they understand touring. They do their own tours. It was a good fit for where I was at in my career. They wasn’t trying to lock me into no 4 or 5 album deal or no crazy long stuff. It was pretty much if we do this album and it don’t go like everybody wants it to go, I can go. No holding me up. It was a win-win situation for me.

TRHH: Are you hitting the road?

Saigon: Yeah I go on tour in March right after the album drops. I got a month and a half tour. I’m doing a lot of press. People are still showing interest. I started my own company — working with new artists called Caremon. I’m getting older. I’m not trying to be a rapper forever. I learned a lot. I’ve been like in industry school so I think if I found some new artists and I could find some finances I could go break some of these young artists that really believe in their art. There’s still some young artists that really care about the music and aren’t just trying to make a quick buck. I never wanted to be a musician for the quick buck. I’m a simple, simple person. I don’t need a ten-car garage at my house. I’m happy with a decent modest little crib and a nice little car. I’m good with that. I’m not a person that looks at what other people have and think I need to have that to be happy because I’ve met enough rich people who are miserable. I realized happiness doesn’t have a price tag.

TRHH: Why should fans go out and cop that Greatest Story Never Told?

Saigon: They should cop it because it’s something that they can learn from. You can play it for your sister, your little brother, your grandmother, or the most gangsta guy you know and they’re all going to feel the same way about it. It’s honest. It comes from an honest place. A lot of hard work went into making it. Me and Just Blaze went into the studio and really put a lot of effort into it. We have a message and there’s something that we want to offer the world forever. This piece of art right here, I feel like it’s something everybody should have in their music collection. Whether they buy it or download it, I feel like they should have it.

Purchase Saigon’s Discography

The Greatest Story Never Told

The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses

G.S.N.T. 3: The Troubled Times of Brian Carenard

777: The Resurrection

Pain, Peace, & Prosperity

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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