I lied ….but not intentionally. I said that the next feature wouldn’t be a throwback but my new interview isn’t ready yet. So to make up for it, I thought I’d reach into my rich vault and drop an interview with a Rock N Roll Hall of Famer. In 2008, I had the honor of chatting it up with MC Ren of N.W.A. and he opened up about his time with the group and more. Ren was real cool about answering questions in regards to the beef with Ice Cube, and later Eazy-E vs. Dr. Dre. This one was originally published on AllHipHop.com. Give it a read! There’s some great stuff in it. The next feature will be a new interview – promise – and it’s a good one!
Interview by Tim Sanchez
TS: When were you first christened with the name MC Ren?
MC Ren: That was like in 1984. I started rhyming in 83’ and back then I was calling myself Master Ren, like Grandmaster Flash and Grandmaster Melle Mel. That was like when I was first starting off but the next year I became MC Ren. I dropped the Master because it didn’t sound right. That’s how that all came about.
TS: How good were your skills back in those early days?
MC Ren: I was good. I was the best in my neighborhood. I could tear your a** up freestyling off the top of the head. It was just me and this other cat in my neighborhood – and a few others that were trying to rhyme back then. I was the best to me.
TS: Did you have the rapid style that you are known for, back then?
MC Ren: I didn’t have that yet. That didn’t come until later down the line. At that time I was mimicking Run-DMC. It wasn’t until High School that I tried to really get it going and change it up. Then when I got with the group [N.W.A.] I developed my own little style.
TS: How did you go about getting in the group in the first place?
MC Ren: I was going to do a solo thing first. Eazy had the “Boyz N Tha Hood” song but it was only local at the time. I knew him and he stayed like right around the corner from me. I was just amazed that someone from around my way put a record out. I went and hollered at him, he heard me rhyme and signed me to a solo deal with his label. This was before he blew up. Then it got to a point where I was writing for him and he was like, “You might as well just come on in to the group.” I just said, “Ok,” and that’s how it all came about.
TS: I bet you had no idea what you were getting yourself in to when you first signed up to be a part of N.W.A.
MC Ren: Naw man, really I just wanted to be known locally. I had no idea that sh*t was going to do what it did. It was a shock but once we started doing it everything just happened so fast. There really was no time to stop and reflect. It was all building up like – do the record, the record comes out, do the video, get banned, the F.B.I. letter – all of that bullsh*t added up and you really didn’t have the time to think about it. It went so fast! Now looking back on all of that, it’s crazy to me. It’s like, “Who would have thought?”
TS: Cube didn’t have a contract when he left to go solo. Did you not have one at the time too?
MC Ren: Nobody had a contract at that time. Nobody in the group really signed anything. It was easy for Cube to leave because of that reason. He was smart and boned out. I could have held out too but we just looked at sh*t differently – and it turned out how it did.
TS: Do you think that you could have left and had the same solo impact that Ice Cube did?
MC Ren: I don’t know. He’s had so much success – he’s really doing it. I don’t know what kind of success I would have had. I don’t know how big my records would have been – but I would have still done me no matter what.
TS: Did you really have a personal beef with Ice Cube? Or was it manufactured for marketing purposes?
MC Ren: It was real but it was no big a** beef or anything – like people think that it was. We were mad at him and he was mad at us but it was just verbal. No violence occurred. Whatever was said, it was just on records. After that all of us just cooled down. We are all always going to be connected – we are damn near like brothers for life even if we don’t see each other or whatever. Back then, it was just verbal beef. We were mad because he left the group and he was mad back at us. I see a lot of specials and documentaries that talk about it. They say that we dissed him on 100 Miles and Runnin’ – but there wasn’t any kind of big diss on it. We were young and people were telling us that he was saying this about us and then people were telling him the same about us. We were young and sh*t happened. We can’t go back and change it but we are older now and we are men now – we know that sh*t was just petty. We are all cool.
TS: Did you have any type of communication with Ice Cube during this whole verbal beef?
MC Ren: No but when he first left the group we were still talking. He would call me because we were supposed to do a song on his Amerikkka’s Most Wanted album. We were supposed to do a song but sh*t got so bad that it didn’t happen.
TS: Do you think that Ruthless Records would have actually let you appear on his album?
MC Ren: [Pauses] I don’t know man. Now that I look back at it, I doubt it. It was before we started going back and forth with all of that little bullsh*t but looking back now from a record companies perspective, I don’t think Ruthless would have let that happen.
TS: At this point were you now officially under contract?
MC Ren: Yes, when he left everybody signed. They rushed to make that happen. The company didn’t want that sh*t to happen again.
TS: Did you have any of Ice Cube’s same concerns about money?
MC Ren: Yes we all did but when Cube left, we thought that we could still negotiate this sh*t and get what we want. It wasn’t like the rest of us were just going to walk away.
TS: Dr. Dre also left over money issues. Did you ever want to follow him out the door?
MC Ren: When he first left, I went with him and he took me somewhere – to some record company to hear someone talk about their plans for us. It just didn’t seem right to me, so I was cool on it. I was like, “I’m straight where I am at.” I didn’t want to leave one situation that I thought wasn’t cool and go in to a similar situation. At that point I was just tired of motherf**kers trying to tug and pull on me.
TS: So you had reservations about the whole Death Row Records thing?
MC Ren: When he told me about it, it wasn’t like, “Leave with him and come make Death Row.” He was just like leave. Death Row wasn’t really formed then. It wasn’t about me not wanting to go to Death Row because it wasn’t even formed yet – it was just me not wanting to go through all of the bullsh*t again.
TS: Having no Dr. Dre beats at Ruthless must have made you concerned about the quality of music you were going to make in the future.
MC Ren: Well, I knew that when Dre left there wasn’t going to be an N.W.A. anymore. Right after he left, I did my Kiss My Black Azz EP and started doing all of my solo sh*t. I knew that N.W.A. wasn’t going to be anymore when we left and me and Eazy E used to get in to it a lot. I would tell him, “Man. The music isn’t going to be the same with Dre doing it.” Eazy wanted to bring in a lot of newer producers and I told him that sh*t wasn’t going to be the same. It was bad enough that Cube was gone and now Dre was gone. Nothing was going to be the same – just a Ren and Eazy record.
TS: So Eazy was still pushing the idea of keeping N.W.A. alive?
MC Ren: He wanted to. But I could tell deep down when me and him used to talk about certain things that he knew it wasn’t going to be the same. He knew that.
TS: Did Eazy ever try to pressure you to diss Dr. Dre when they started beefing?
MC Ren: Yes, Eazy used to want me to do that. At the time I would tell him, “Both of y’all are cool with me.” It was like having two brothers in the house fighting with each other and the other wanting to stay neutral because he didn’t want to get involved. I told E that I don’t want to get on one of his records and talk about Dre, the same way I wouldn’t want to get on a Dre record and talk about him. When I told him that, he said, “Yeah. You are right.” For him to say that I was right was something else. Today’s rap stars would be like, “You aren’t riding for me?” Eazy respected me and was like, “Ok. This is between me and him then.” He came to the realization that I didn’t have anything to do with this. But they worked their sh*t out. Dre went over there and made peace with him at the hospital and before Eazy passed he was telling me how he wanted to get N.W.A. back together to do something.
TS: Do you think you guys could have convinced Cube? Or would it have just been you, Eazy, Dre and Yella?
MC Ren: I think Cube would have done it. I think he would have done it if everybody was involved.
TS: Before Eazy died were you and Ice Cube on good terms again?
MC Ren: Yeah. I saw Cube at that time – I can’t recall where – but I hollered at him for a quick second.
TS: What was that conversation like?
MC Ren: I don’t even remember to tell you the truth. But the situation wasn’t ever like, “Let’s squash this sh*t.” After we got older, it was just squashed without us even talking about it. Just like when I was on the Up In Smoke Tour with Cube – we were rollin’ on the bus together state to state and we never even talked about all of that old stuff. We probably joked about it once but that was it.
TS: That’s pretty cool especially since rappers tend to hold grudges after embarrassing stuff is said about them on records.
MC Ren: All of the fools that used to battle on records back in the day – are all cool with each other today. It’s only a problem when motherf**kers start threatening each other with guns and talk about their family and what they will do to their kids and all of that stupid stuff. Motherf**kers get killed talking all of that type of sh*t.
TS: You released your solo works but they never lived up to the success that Ice Cube and Dr. Dre had with their solo works. Are you disappointed by that?
MC Ren: As long as the people that love me bought them, that’s all that I care about. There are motherf**kers out there today that will still play those albums. As long as they are playing them, that’s cool with me.
TS: I was so happy to see you, Cube and Dre come together for a song or two but I really wanted to see a full-scale reunion. Why couldn’t you guys pull it off?
MC Ren: I don’t know. That is a really good question. I couldn’t even tell you. We were supposed to do something when we went on tour in 2000 or 2001. We were supposed to record out on the road but it was so hectic and motherf**kers get tired so it never just materialized.
TS: There weren’t any disagreements that prevented anything?
MC Ren: Naw, it wasn’t like that. Everybody was cool, but it just never happened.
TS: So after that failed to happen, what happened to you? Fans haven’t heard much from you in a long while.
MC Ren: After that, I was on a few people’s albums doing a 16 here or a 16 there. Then I just laid back. I just fell back and started living my family life.
TS: You lost your interest in rap?
MC Ren: Yeah man. I’ve been doing this since 1983. All of the record company bullsh*t – I was just tired of it. After you do something for so long, you just want a break. That’s what I did. I broke and took a break. I didn’t want to do sh*t with music. I’m cool with the family and all of that. It was chill. I did some reading, chilled with the family – just regular sh*t. Recently I just got that bug again and started writing.
TS: You didn’t participate in VH1’s Rock Doc of N.W.A. Why is that?
MC Ren: They called me at the last minute to drive way the f**k out there to do it and I was like, “Sh*t! You can’t call me at the last minute to do it.” So I didn’t do it.
TS: How are you today with Dr. Dre? You have plans to be on Detox?
MC Ren: Not right now. I haven’t talked to him in a long a** time. I’m sure that sh*t is going to be tight but people ask me if I am going to be on it and I tell them no.
TS: Do you ever see yourself doing anything again with your former band-mates?
MC Ren: [pauses] I don’t know man. It’s whatever. Right now I just don’t know. If something comes up, I’m sure that they will get at me.
TS: When did the writing bug bite you again?
MC Ren: A few months ago. I just wanted to get back in it for my fans that love me and love the sh*t that I do. What I do is for them so I’m putting this album together called RenIncarnated. I’m going to put it out on the Internet for them.
TS: You aren’t going to release this through a label?
MC Ren: No. F**k them! F**k those labels. The only way I’ll deal with a label is if they break me hella off and I have the space to do what I do. But all of that politicking and a** kissing? Naw, I ain’t f**king with them or that.
TS: You must really have some really bad past experiences with the record companies.
MC Ren: I have so many of them. I could write a book about all of my experiences.
TS: Have you ever thought about starting your own company so you won’t have to deal with them anymore?
MC Ren: I could do that but with the Internet I don’t need a label to do any of that stuff. With the Internet it’s so easy to just put that sh*t out. F**k labels – that’s why everybody is doing their stuff on the Internet – it’s big! Why f**k with these bullsh*t labels when you can do it yourself and cut all of them out? Those labels just want to take and take and take. F**k that!
TS: It’s often said today to rappers who have been around since the 80’s or 90’s that they don’t have their skills anymore. How do you feel about that in regards to yourself?
MC Ren: I feel like this man, anybody that comes out and I don’t give a f**k who it is. You come out and put out slammin’ ass albums like Public Enemy did with It Takes A Nations of Millions – which was their best album ever but after that one the albums are cool but you can’t top that sh*t. It’s like The Beatles. They came out big in the 60’s but their solo work in the 70’s could never match it. It was big but it wasn’t on the Beatle-mania type of sh*t. People can’t expect that you are just going to stay like that your whole career. Michael Jordan can probably still get out there and ball but he isn’t going to be dunkin’ on motherf**kers anymore. He did all of that. It is what it is – people are going to love you or they are not. But I’ve still got my skills – I know I’ve still got my skills. My skills are harder than most of these n**gas in the game! A lot of people don’t really have skills – only a few. I still can put some sh*t together.
TS: Do you keep up with today’s rap music?
MC Ren: Yeah, I check it out. And you know Cube still has skills! He might not be the young Cube but he’s the older Cube and he’s still got skills. There’s a lot in today’s game that can’t f**k with him even now!
TS: When is the RenIncarnated album coming out?
MC Ren: Next year. It’s going to be the sh*t. I’ve got two songs on my Myspace – go check them out. There are two cuts leaked until the album comes out. I’m just focused on this sh*t right now.
TS: Is it all Ren? Or will there be guests?
MC Ren: All me. I’m doing the music too – me and my homeboy Apocalypse. It’s mainly me doing the music though.
TS: When did MC Ren become a producer?
MC Ren: Man, I’ve been doing beats for a long time – people don’t know! Back when I put CPO the Boss Hogg’s album that was produced by me. I did all of that music. I’ve been doing beats since back then but I wasn’t trying to be out there shopping beats. I just focused on writing. But yeah – I’ve been doing that sh*t man. When we first started N.W.A. I got some equipment and I would ask Dr. Dre about this and that and he showed me how to work the SP-1200, 808, and all of that sh*t we used to have back in the day. I’ve been doing it off and on. I’m back in to heavy right now just putting my album together.
TS: What’s next for you after the RenIncarnated album? Do you have any other plans?
MC Ren: Musically I will probably do some other stuff but right now I am just focused on that album. I also have a new radio show on 92.5 Burbank – the MC Ren Radio Show [www.925thewhy.com]. It’s going to be a tight show every Wednesday night at 7 PM Pacific Time. I’m going to play classic Old School Hip-Hop – the kind of music that I grew up to. I’ll play some new stuff but I won’t play a lot of sh*t that you hear on mainstream FM radio. If I play some new sh*t it will be some underground stuff that you aren’t hearing or just some tight sh*t. It won’t be anything like what you hear on mainstream radio. You will be hearing a lot of classics from Run-DMC, our N.W.A. stuff, MC Shan and so on.
TS: Since you bring up the classics. Who is MC Ren’s all time favorite?
MC Ren: All time? That’s hard. But my tops are Run-DMC, Melle Mel, Ice-T, Chuck D, KRS-One and Ice Cube.
TS: Which influenced you the most growing up?
MC Ren: When I was young I used to listen to Run-DMC a lot. I used to like DMC’s voice. Growing up I thought that his voice was hard as hell – he had the hardest motherf**king voice ever.
TS: What do you miss about Hip-Hop that you don’t think you see much of today?
MC Ren: Originality. Growing up rappers had their own look, their own style, and you couldn’t bite anybody. If you did then you were wack and got dissed. Nowadays, everybody looks the same and sounds the same. Biting is allowed now. I miss originality. Back in our day, you had us and our sound. Then you had Slick Rick with the patch and gold chains. You also had Big Daddy Kane and Public Enemy – everybody was different, even Hammer. Everybody is the same now and they talk about the same things.