Words & Interview By Jake Paine
MC Ren is quiet, but he says a lot. The founding member of N.W.A. has enjoyed a constant career in music for almost 30 years. However, the deeply private Compton native has never flooded the masses with halfhearted music or run for the spotlight to regurgitate his story in forming one of music’s most revolutionary groups.
Instead, Ren, who still calls Southern California home, sticks to his core. He’s worked periodically with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and when making music, DJ Yella. Additionally, Ren maintained an O.G. status in traditional Gangsta Rap, running with guys like RBX, DJ Crazy Toones, Kam, and Yukmouth. With his rich voice and penchant for cuss words, one could easily argue that Lorenzo Patterson is the least changed of “the Black Beatles,” who preferred Turkish gold chains and Loc’s, instead of mop-tops and going barefoot.
Making time to speak with CrazyHood.com, Ren reflects on the world at large. He promises his fifth solo album, made with some of his contemporaries. The Villain stresses the importance of saying what They don’t want you to say, in keeping Hip-Hop fresh and groundbreaking. He looks ahead to an N.W.A. biopic and along the way, recalls some smile-evoking gems about Dre and the immortalized Eazy-E. Staying off the grid at times has kept MC Ren on track, and a true lyricist who kicked down boundaries still has his combat boots on.
Crazy Hood: You’re currently said to be working on an album called Rebel Muzik. I wanted you to speak on that, because when we last spoke, you had just released Renincarnated. That was 11 years after your previous. This time, you’ve waited almost five years. So the first question might be, why now?
MC Ren: First of all, Bob Marley had a song and an album called Rebel Music; I got that whole idea from that. It’s like…I’m just trying to take my time. I don’t want to talk too much on it like a lot of fools start doin’, and runnin’ they mouth. I got some beats from E-A-Ski, and I been writin’ to ‘em. I’m trying to take my time, dog. Everything gotta be right. Nowadays? People be doin’ all this shit, whatever-whatever. Fools do a million mixtapes, rushin’, and a lot of it’s garbage. So I’m just trying to take my time. I’m not trying to [brag about] my shit like it’s all that, but you know what I mean? I’m just gonna let it speak for itself, bruh.
Crazy Hood: I know from over the years of speaking with you, that you’re the type of person who reads the newspaper and watches current events constantly. Anybody who simply knows you from your music can probably pick up on that as well. What current happenings in the world have particularly compelled you?
MC Ren: Right now, like everything. The [fallout of the] banking system and all that shit…I’ve been peepin’ everything. It’s [all] fucked up. Basically. [Laughs] Look at what’s going on in the Ukraine, man. All over the world, it’s just messed up. People take advantage of poor people. Corrupt government.
Crazy Hood: Along with that, your solo music especially, over the years, has always been extremely well received overseas. You talk Rebel Muzik, do you think injustices abroad have something to do with that resonance?
MC Ren: I think it was because the majority of the people across the world are suffering in some kind of way. Whether it is from a corrupt government or [because] people are poor, one way or another, people are suffering. That’s why there’s that 99% versus 1%, and all of that. A small percentage of people are running everybody around the world. Anytime you’ve got rich and poor, there’s going to be conflict. Anytime you’ve got somebody speaking out about the situation to the poor, it’s automatically going to attract the masses. The masses are poor. They can relate to that shit. Anytime you talk peace, it’s mixed reviews. But when you’ve got that other shit [that people can relate to]—what mothafuckas is really goin’ through, it’s on another level, to me.
Crazy Hood: That knows no boundaries as far as place. The same struggle.
MC Ren: And you know what else? Back in the days, in Hip-Hop…and mothafuckas still do it, talkin’ about money. Money. Money. Money. Money. Most people don’t relate to that shit. You’ve got money? Most people don’t have shit. They don’t care. Mothafuckas are going through real shit around the world. I be lookin’ at how mothafuckas be makin’ stupid-ass records while around the world there’s all kind of shit, protests, [and other events]. These [artists] don’t even watch the news. When you get a chance to speak, it’s cool to do party-ass records sometimes, but sometimes you’ve got to talk the truth. And who cares who gets mad? They’ll get mad at you anyway. You could do a fuckin’ G-Rated record, trying to be nice, and mothafuckas will hate on you. So if they’re gonna hate on you anyway, may as well do something with some substance, talkin’ about some shit.
Crazy Hood: That speaks perfectly to my next question. While I know you found success and charting singles anyway, that’s very similar to the decision you made with your solo career. People talk a lot about Eazy-E’s ear for talent at Ruthless Records, but not nearly enough at his allowing artists to be creative…
MC Ren: Back then, I was young and learning. I was trying to do songs about the shit that I was learning but put it in perspective of the [listeners]. As far as Eazy, man…he would never, ever say, “You can’t do this, you can’t say that.” It was like having a green light with every record to just say what I wanted to say. I could have just said, with a beat on, “fuck” and “bitch” over and over and over on the record. He would have been, “Aight. Put it out.” That was the kind of freedom I had. I was just trying to find my niche—my own lil’ lane, and do my own thing. I wanted my shit to sound different from everybody. That’s how all that came about.
Crazy Hood: Last year, I interviewed CPO Boss Hogg. He was telling me about what a tremendous mentor you were to him. You signed him, through your production company, to Capitol Records in 1990. That’s not something that often gets talked about, but you had a label of sorts before your band mates and a lot of other artists did. I know it didn’t last, but how do you reflect on that, and making CPO’s To Hell And Black?
MC Ren: First off, I was young as hell. Super young, it was fun, and when I first got that deal, [CPO Boss Hogg] stayed like—you know how a lot people say “around the corner”? He was right around the corner. I knew him all my life. The crazy part about that is, growing up, he’d never rhyme. We’d all rhyme. It was his brother that we used to rap with. His brother was hella tight; we used to call him Suga Dre. That fool was tight. What happened was, I just got my deal. I ran across CPO one day. He told me he was rappin’, and I was like, “for real?” I said, “let me check you out.” I took him over to lil’ homie’s house and he started bustin’. I said, “let me sign you,” and I signed him. [Laughs] That’s it.
Crazy Hood: It worked too. The album sold well.
MC Ren: It sold well. We was both young. That was his first record, that was my first time signing anybody. At the same time, I was trying to juggle that with the whole N.W.A. thing. It worked out cool, ‘cause he got his name out there and he been [doing it] ever sense.
Crazy Hood: After Big Hutch left Ruthless and obviously Dre was gone, you messed with different producers. You had Bobcat from the LL Cool J camp, Ant Banks from the Too Short and Dangerous Crew camp, and now even E-A-Ski, who heads know from Spice-1 and of course CMT. You never seemed stuck on the idea of using just local producers…
MC Ren: For me, it’s always about hearing something that I like, and then asking, “who did that?” So we’ll work. That’s how that is. It ain’t really [complicated]. If they’ve got something tight, I’ll get at ‘em.
Crazy Hood: Since we last spoke, we’ve seen the rise of Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., Ab-Soul, Thurz. These are guys who seem to be who they say they are, as far as the streets are concerned. They come from crazy places, yet make it gangsta to be intelligent. You were an artist who really brought that to the foreground, with some others, in your day. How does it feel to watch it play out now?
MC Ren: Kendrick—Kendrick is tight as hell. He ain’t trying to be this and that, he’s just tight. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Crazy Hood: Your son, Waxxie, is pursuing his career. How’s that coming?
MC Ren: He’s workin’—he’s always workin’. He not trying to be like me, and that’s what I like about him. He’s got his own lane, his own look, and his own sound. He’s got a lil’ TV show he about to go work on. That’s all. I’m happy for him.
Crazy Hood: “100 Miles & Runnin’.” I knew the song before I ever saw The Warriors. Years later, the film brought the format and concept home for me. Who’s idea was that? How’d that come to be?
MC Ren: When you listen to a lot of them [N.W.A] records, all the fill-ins and spots like that, that was Dre. He taught us a lot of that stuff. When we did the record, he laid the beat, we do the rhymes, and he’d come back and put all that stuff in there. That was all Dre. It was after we laid the vocals. Matter of fact, whoever that was that did the talking [female voice] part, I wasn’t even there. That was after we left. We’d go to the studio every weekday from twelve til’ whenever. We’d do all of our vocals. We’d leave, and him and Yella would stay and do stuff.
The Warriors was a bomb flick. Everybody felt The Warriors. It was tight, and it fit the video.
Crazy Hood: For years, Kiss My Black Azz was hard as hell to find, as was a lot of the Ruthless material. It was going for crazy money on eBay. Now, with sites like Spotify, Beats, Pandora, and MySpace…people who don’t have it can access it. Some artists criticize those services for the low royalties. Years later, how’s that feel to you, the digital revolution?
MC Ren: Hey, that’s a good thing! Now you can find it. Now, [the music] is here to stay. It’ll be here as long as the Earth is here…put it that way. My great, great, great, great [grandchildren] can listen to it. Maybe someone will interview them.
Crazy Hood: Last month, CNN did that major documentary on The Beatles and the British Invasion of the ‘60s. They were talking about how The Beatles and Rolling Stones never made music together, but ran in the same circles. To some extent, I see that with N.W.A. and Public Enemy. You toured together, but never made music together in the ‘80s and ‘90s. That said, what did it mean to you to work on Rebirth Of A Nation?
MC Ren: Man, it would have been better if Chuck was in the room with me; I did the vocals when he wasn’t there. Still, that’s an honor for me, ‘cause Chuck D is one of my favorite MCs. I know Chuck, and we toured with Public Enemy—so many shows. To finally do that record…wow. I look on the Internet sometimes, and to have me doing that song with Chuck, it’s an honor. He’s one of the tightest, ever.
Crazy Hood: With the upcoming N.W.A. biopic, it’s hard to fit a whole story into two hours. Every member has their own story too. With the film, what’s one thing about MC Ren that you hope comes across in the final version?
MC Ren: Man, I can’t even answer that ‘cause I don’t know if you could capture that in no film. I don’t even know. We have to see. I’m sure the movie gone’ be good, but it’s gonna be hard for them to get the whole story in with like an hour and a half. I’m sure it’s gonna be good, though.
Cube knows what he’s doing with movies, though. That might have to be a double feature. [Chuckles] We’ll wait and see.
Crazy Hood: The film will be a great opportunity to celebrate the music and the individuals who made the music…
MC Ren: Quote on me this though: I think with F. Gary Gray doing the movie, and with everybody that’s involved, this movie’s got the potential to be one of the biggest movies that ever come out. Trust, for real. This could be a big one, in terms of music biopics. I think it will be. I hope you’ll be able to be at the premier whenever it comes out.
Crazy Hood: Looking at your whole career, whether we heard it or not, do you have a proudest verse?
MC Ren: Man, that’s a good one…I would have to say, the proudest for me, would have to be, “Ruthless Villain.” Because that was the one that put me on. If it wasn’t for that one, I wouldn’t have even got in the group like that. That put me on. It was just my luck. I wrote it for E. He couldn’t say it, ‘cause it was too fast. He said, “Ren, you know I can’t say that.” He got frustrated. I wrote it, I said it, and I did. That’s how I got [my name]. Ruthless villain. It stuck. Good lookin’, E.
Special acknowledgements to Chad Kiser.
Jake Paine has been a music industry professional since 2002. In addition to five years as HipHopDX.com’s Editor-in-Chief, Paine spent five years as AllHipHop’s Features Editor. He has written for Forbes, XXL, The Source, Mass Appeal, among others. He currently resides in his hometown of Pittsburgh.