KXNG Crooked Opens Up About His Long Career & Latest Album, Good vs. Evil
Veteran Long Beach, California, emcee KXNG Crooked, née Dominick Wickliffe, may have dropped, arguably, this year’s most important Hip-Hop album, the incendiary and unapologetic Good vs. Evil. The artist formerly known as Crooked I’s poignant 14-track, third studio collection also features high profile cameo appearances from the likes of Eminem, Tech N9ne, Just Blaze, Xzibit and RZA…
Parlé Magazine recently caught up with the revered wordsmith in order to discuss this latest tour de force, as well as all things KXNG T’CHALLA; past, present and future…
KXNG Crooked On…
Good vs. Evil: I mean, you know, I just think that sometimes the line gets blurred between good and evil. Like sometimes you think you’re doing something for the right reason, but it’s not. And the story, like I said, takes place in an alternate reality, and the main character, who is me, is fighting against corrupt government system and he’s in a conflict so long that he doesn’t even know if he’s still fighting a good fight or he’s just as bad as the people he’s fighting against. So it’s really up to the listener to kinda see what’s good and what’s evil, but it definitely starts out…he starts out on the right foot. It’s just a terrible situation that he’s trying to get out of and lead his people out of. And then at the same time, we all like to put things simple and black and white, but everything ain’t always black and white, there’s grey areas you know.
It Differing/Comparing To Other Solo Projects: I think this particular album, it being a concept and all, that just separates it from the other works. And then, I was able to tap into my more creative side. I grew up reading comic books and watching Anime and things of that nature, so I was able to tap into all of that and use that side of me for once throughout the process of recording the album. But other than that, I think the times made it different, too, ’cause watching people like Mike Brown and all the way from the Trayvon Martin to the Eric Garner, Tamir Rice… seeing all those tragedies, I was real angry so I decided to use my anger to create art and I think that made it different, too. Just the whole timing of what’s going on in the world.
President Elect Donald Trump: Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty unbelievable that somebody who can say the type of things that Donald Trump says can become one of the most powerful men in the country, in the world I mean, sitting in one of the most powerful seats in the world. That’s kind of alarming because it’s like I couldn’t even imagine a president saying things about banning all Muslims, the hatred that goes on at all of his rallies, you know Jews, and, you know, building a wall and the things he’s said about minorities… his past. Just his past alone, there’s nothing there that says that this is a man of character, and now half of the country feels comfortable with him being in the office, being in the White House! It’s incredible to me. I can’t even believe it because it’s like I know we weren’t as far as some people thought we were as a country… a lot times people were like, “Okay, we got a black president, racism is gone.” Nah, we weren’t there… but to see a dude go in there like Donald J Trump who employs people who are known white nationalists, like the CEO of his campaign at breitbart.com, it’s like this dude has said crazy things, crazy racist things, and he has a position of power within this Trump organization. It’s just shocking, man, the way the whole thing went down. It’s just crazy… and I hope he doesn’t put too many actions behind the words that he was spewing on the campaign trail, ’cause we’d be in a dark place if he does.
KXNG Crooked Getting His Just Due: Yeah, I don’t know, man… I think when I look at my career, I definitely don’t complain because I mean I’ve had some ups and downs but I’ve had a lot of artists come to me and tell me, “Hey, man, I would’ve stopped rapping a long time ago” or “I would’ve stopped producing beats a long time ago if I wasn’t inspired by you. You inspire me. You kept going. I seen your ups and downs, so I keep going,” so that alone makes me never complain about my journey and just feel blessed about it. You know as far as longevity goes, I just think it’s sticking to the craft, man. At the end of the day, we can call it what we want to but this is rap music. If you know how to rap, you should be alright. And, that’s the thing I try to tell the younger generation. They think that they don’t have to pay attention to the OGs who came before them, or they don’t have to respect the GOATs, and I tell ’em, “Don’t get caught up in the hype. You might have a couple of hits out right now, but that can turn, that can change very quickly, and the only way you’re gonna have true longevity is to really respect your craft all the way around and respect the culture. Yeah, you might get money for two years in a row and all that, but wouldn’t you rather get money for twenty years if it’s all about money?” So the longevity to me is it’s in respecting the culture and respecting the craft. Like I always say, “I’d rather fry in hell than be wack!” .
Lyrical Inspiration: Sometimes it’s self motivation, sometimes it’s just current events, sometimes there’s a beat that says, “Okay, you know what this is speaking to me right now, I gotta get busy.” It’s just a lot of different things. My process is I usually hook up beats with producers, and then I drive around listening to ’em in my car and I hit the studio and just lay ’em in the booth. I have a studio that’s a hour away from my house and people are always like, “Why would you want to live a hour away from your studio?” Because when I’m listening to the beat, when I leave my driveway, by the time I get to the studio I got a couple of songs in my head… and I’m being more productive, and I don’t know if it’s just the traffic coming at me fast, high speed things flying at me while I’m driving sixty, seventy miles an hour on the freeway… maybe that’s helping my thoughts to race, I don’t know what it is. But, that’s just where I’m in a zone, and I think of some of my best rhymes I think.
Career Evolution: Ah, man, just trying to grow, you know, self evaluation, man, working on myself and saying, “What can I do better?” In life, too, not just musically…but what can I do better; health-wise, relationship-wise, family and friends, and things like that. Like just growing, man. Same with the music. It’s like, “How can I approach this differently?” I’ve been doing this for a long time, so what can I do now that’s different. Just constantly challenging myself to push boundaries, and I think that right there that’s what keeps me going. I’m really in competition with myself, so I’m looking at things that I’ve done in the past, that gained a lot of attention people really felt, and saying, “Okay, lemme top that.” And just being in love with the moment when I’m creating, man. I just think when I was younger it’s a lot going on, especially on Death Row… so that’s a whole nother story. But, yeah, just understanding that it’s a blessing to be able to create music… understanding that Hip-Hop is of the utmost importance… not just the music, but the culture and going into that lab, man, trying to create something that’s gonna last forever.
Being On Death Row Records: What did I learn? I learned a lot over there. I learned a lot. I learned a lot about the business, because Suge would let me sit in some meetings or when he went to go and meet other important executives in the game, you know, he would allow me to be in the room… Kevin Liles or Russell Simmons or Lyor Cohen… and be able to just sit there and soak up the game on the business side. I think that was big for me because a lot of artists they just want to create, and I’m not mad at that, but I think they turn a blind eye to the business, and they trust too many other people to keep the business in order and they end up getting screwed sometimes. So I was appreciative that I turned my business acumen up dealing with Suge, that was one thing. Another thing that I took away from there was work ethic. When you come into a studio and you’re working with the same engineers and producers that 2Pac worked with, it just ups your work ethic. You hear these stories about how 2Pac came in and recorded a song in this room and then while that song is being mixed go into the next studio room and record another song, and how he just used his time efficiently when he was working. So that kinda being at Death Row and working with the same people and the same engineers, it did boost my work ethic up. I take it very seriously when I’m on the clock in there. I try to be as productive as possible, and it shows when I’m in sessions with other people. When they say like, “Wow, man, I just went down the street and came back from the store and you got a full song done.” Yeah, man, we really, really take this very seriously. I took that away from being on Death Row, too.
Slaughterhouse: I just think it’s scheduling, man… but, you know, you gotta get on the same page. It’s kinda tough to get four guys, doing four different things and moving in four different directions, all on the same page. You gotta get on the same page, and then you gotta commit. You gotta commit from four to six months maybe of your year, at least four, ’cause you’re gonna have to promote it, you’re gonna have to tour, so I just think it’s all about that. I just think it’s the commitment and the scheduling. I’m not trying to throw nobody under the bus, but I’m always ready.
Rumors Of Slaughterhouse Discord: Well, you know, I mean I see it, you know. I mean, it’s dope that we’ve built a brand that I could probably post a picture of a can of Coca-Cola on my Instagram and somebody will say, “Well, where’s Slaughterhouse album at?” That we have built a brand like that, even that’s been gone for a couple of years and it’s still like, “Yo, where’s Glass House?” That’s dope to me. I just think that we just gotta get on the same page, and once we get on the same page I think it’ll be pretty unstoppable.
Defining Career Moment: Ah, man, yeah a couple, man… Hip Hop Weekly I felt like I was trailblazing a new way to market yourself online by doing the freestyle series. I mean, it’s been a couple… I mean, I would say this… it was pretty crazy being at the video shoot for “Forever” with Em and Drake – Hype Williams was shooting the video – and we had to sign some agreements while we were all together… so the front office of Shady had some agreements for us to look over during the breaks while they were shooting the video and one of the top executives at Shady said, “So how does it feel?” And I’m like, “Well, how does what feel?” “Being signed to Shady Records, knowing that you just came from Death Row?” And it kind of stopped and it was like, “Yo, that is pretty crazy.” ‘Cause at the end of the day, it’s called Shady/Aftermath so Death Row Records, they got a big history there, so, yeah, man that was a highlight because it showed me that if you stay true to your craft there’s nowhere you can’t end up, there’s no limit, there’s no glass ceiling… because often we need those kind of stories. You hear the other ones all the time, the people that will just sell their souls to be successful, the people who step on the next man to go up the ladder… it’s always good to have that story where somebody’s just grinding, working hard, staying true to who they are, staying true to the craft and getting places.
BET’s One Shot: Yeah, man, that was a great thing for me because I’m big on energy, I’m big on the law of attraction, I’m big on trying to be alive with your purpose, I’m big on those things and I had an idea to create a TV show and I wrote down my idea and I hung it on the wall in my bedroom and I framed it and I said, “Well, one day I’m gonna make this a reality,” and about a year and a half later my idea was on TV. So it’s really, really cool. I got people like Sway in my corner, that’s family. I went to him, I went to King Tech (from The) World Famous Wake Up Show said, “Hey, I got this idea. Are you guys willing to rock’n’roll with me if I can make it happen?” They said,”Yeah.” I said, “Okay, cool.” Moved on. I knocked on a lot of doors until BET saw the trailer that we put together and a couple of pilot episodes, and they wanted to take it on, man. And going into that world where we’re trying to create platforms for upcoming artists, it blows you away how happy that some of these people were because we brought the industry to them. Everybody don’t have New York, everybody don’t have Hollywood and Capitol Records and Def Jam and all that stuff. Some people they don’t know how to get on, they don’t know where the connect is, they don’t have any plug, so we brought the plugs to them, to their city. And them lines were wrapped around the building to where people that were just chasing their dreams and how happy they were to just have different people judging their flows and their raps and their songs and their talent, it was just a great thing, man. It was just all around a win-win. I’m definitely trying to bring it back for season two.
West Coast Hip-Hop: Yeah, man, I was just talking in the barbershop about that in Long Beach. We really out here. We need more representation, we need more executive representation. I think that’s real key. We need more West Coast Hip-Hop executives who are making a big splash ’cause those guys can open doors for the talent. We need more radio personalities, man. Like it’s hard for me ’cause I travel—it’s hard for me to travel around the world and listen to these radio stations that sound so good and great and then when I come home it’s just plastic and dry. It’s like one or two shows that I can really rock with on the FM dial, and when they’re going off they’re playing another city’s whole playlist for the rest of the day. And it’s like I want to hear West Coast music. I’m from the West, man, I’m outside in my backyard in gym shorts and house shoes and a t-shirt. This is our lifestyle. I want to hear about it. The soundtrack to what I’m living, and it’s not there. So the radio needs to improve. We need more publications willing to shine the spotlight on West Coast acts. We need more sites with West Coast writers because a lot of times you got a guy—and it’s not no disrespect it’s just the truth—who grew up in New York his whole life, critiquing West Coast music; critiquing certain artists and I think if you love Hip Hop you could probably critique it across the board, but at the same time sometimes if you’re not from a place you don’t understand why E-40 is saying what he’s saying. So definitely need more representation across the board, West Coast representation. I mean, it’s a must, man, we need that badly.
Next 5 to 10 Years: You know what, man? I just want to be happy, that’s it. Happy and loving what I’m doing still, whatever that is. Five years from now, who knows, I might be sitting behind a desk just pushing all Horseshoe GANG albums, all C.O.B. albums, that could be cool, too. I just want to be happy and I wanna make an impact. I’m in love with the arts, so if I’m journeying into film-making and more TV shows and comic books, whatever I’m doing, I just want to enjoy it. I just want to live life, man, and make my contribution to Hip-Hop until it’s over.
What’s Next for KXNG Crooked: Push the album, push the album, drop some more videos. This is independent, so I don’t have to—I’m not on no time schedule, you know, I can kinda grind it out for longer than a major will allow you to keep grinding before they want you to focus on something else. So I can grind this out. Probably House Gang, that might be the next thing. Other than that, I am working on a documentary, so I would like to talk to you guys again. We in the baby stages now, but it’s a music documentary. So working on that… a few other developing TV shows right now, and just rapping, man. Landing on different people’s projects, and just keeping them bars out there, man. That’s it, man, trying to preserve lyricism, that’s it.
Future Touring: Yeah, I am thinking about that. I wanna see what happens, but I’m thinking probably go out in 20-17. You might even get an EP out of me, who knows, and visuals and visuals…and then maybe get on the road, you know…quiet as kept, Slaughterhouse might just reconnect, so, you know, gotta keep my schedule open for the Slaughter boys.
KXNG Crooked Last Words: Yeah, man, firstly just thank you, bruh, I appreciate your time. Secondly, everybody follow me on Twitter, on IG, Snap and all that, and everybody just be blessed; grab that Good vs. Evil.Stay Connected with KXNG Crooked On Social Media:
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