This is the part where cymbals crash as a voice in the distance chants Killa Cam. Killa! You know who it is, the voice of Harlem, the realest since Kumbaya – Cam’ron Giles. We sat down with the Dipset vet for the cover story of Mass Appeal Issue 54. Check out the footage from the cover shoot in the video player up top (including a ping pong match between Cam and Dame Dash), read an excerpt of the interview below, and make sure to pick up a copy of Issue 54 (out now!) for the full story.
Words Ted Simmons Interview by Sacha Jenkins SHR Photos Matthew Salacuse Illustrations Todd James
If all it took was wearing a previously untouched color in gaudy excess, then more rappers would be the cultural icon that Cam’ron is today. But other rappers don’t have their face on a pair of socks, they’re not flipping $450 football jerseys, and though this is speculative, few would be able to follow up an extended hiatus with a fashion and music comeback like Cam’ron’s right now.
And you know why that is? Because it’s deeper than rap. And pink fur. And punchlines. And clichés. Cam has a style and personality that transcends era. It’s why he and girlfriend JuJu made waves with a series of Vine videos last June. Dude is a gregarious rapper, a rare breed; a business minded Harlemite who’s got more going on under the surface and behind the curtain than most have, period.
So here we are in 2014, 10 years since Purple Haze and Diplomatic Immunity 2. Five years since Cam’ron’s last studio album, and the Dipset general is lining up his crosshairs. Can Cam get capes to pop like he did pink? Yeezus is still rapping about that polo…He’s reunited with Dame Dash and promised multiple projects; both music and film. We visited Cam’s New Jersey home to figure out if Killa season is really returning, and what exactly that might mean. He’s been cooking on a low simmer for a while now and a quick temperature check points to a hot summer.
Mass Appeal: It’s been a minute and it seems like you’re about to flood the game and people are really excited about this. What’s been going on?
Cam’ron: Just setting everything up. Music has changed and it’s always fun, but I like to make money while I’m making music, so I just had to figure out a new strategy. Things are changing and if you don’t change with the times you gon get stuck in the past. I’ve been working on this thing called “The First of the Month.” I’m putting out an EP every month with a 30-minute episode so you’re not waiting a year or more for the next album.
So every month, there’s gonna be a half hour long what?
It’s kinda like a show version of Killa Season. Instead of spending money on one movie, every month you have something new to look forward to.
So what is your work schedule like, you’re putting out all this music every month…
That’s just one thing that’s next. Me and Dame have been working. I got back with Dame and it’s a pleasure, that’s my big brother. We just put out the Diplomat clothing line which has been great. We got a project called Federal Reserve with A-Trak that he put together. I didn’t know who A-Trak was and he’s like, “Trust me Cam, you need to do this.” He’s working with Smoke DZA and I’m helping him out with that, we’re going to do a project eventually. We got a fur line coming. We got a lot of stuff going on.
Fashion’s always been a big part of your steez and right now you have this whole cape thing going on. What’s the fascination there and how has it transitioned into a business?
I didn’t do it to prove a point or for anybody to start wearing it. Same with the pink thing, I just did it cause I didn’t want to go to the club and look like nobody and I knew nobody was going to question me about it, if they did, they didn’t do it to my face. Same thing with the capes; if the girls like it, I think it’s cool. I didn’t put capes on so everybody can be wearin’ capes, I’m wearin’ capes so I don’t have to be lookin’ like everybody. But if it turns into a business, we’ll see what happens.
So if everyone starts wearing capes then you just won’t fuck with it?
I stopped wearing pink when everyone started wearing pink. If I’m benefiting, then yeah. After that, The only thing that became a possibility -— but we didn’t follow through on — is they were thinking about doing a Cam’ron pink with Crayola.
And what happened with that?
We couldn’t get the business done. Sometimes it happens. But it’s no hard feelings. I was honored.
Speaking about business, there’s this whole reality show phenomenon that’s happening, a lot of your people are caught up in it. What are you thoughts on that whole thing?
You’ve got a thousand channels, so when you got friends or people that you know on the show, you always tune in and then we’ll talk about it. The ratings speak for themselves. You’ve got shows like Duck Dynasty getting 11 million views per episode. Then they’re selling a shit load of duck calls. If you’ve got your tools in place, besides the reality show, it’s like a big commercial.
So is it something you would consider?
It’s something that I’ve been offered from everybody. But if the money isn’t what I want then I’m not going to do it. They’ll offer you, in the beginning, $15,000 an episode or some people could go up to $100,000 and in your fourth or fifth season be getting a million or two million per season. But, and I’m not comparing myself to anybody whatsoever, Viacom is getting all this money from all these people. Like they offered Kim and Kanye 40 million for a reality show, so you’re gonna offer me a hundred thousand? Nah, that math ain’t even close.
Do you see the demand from fans, wanting to see more of you?
Absolutely. With me and JuJu, the only place you can see us is on my [Instagram] page. So if you want to see what really goes on besides Instagram, you got to pay for me to lift the curtain up. If not, it’s not really worth it, y’all can keep guessing. But in reality, what I would rather do is start my own company and do my own show and get other shows to be under my company.
Dame Dash, Cam’s longtime friend and manager briefly interjects: It all changes if you got options. If you got no other way to make money, you gonna get what you’re given. If you got options, you ain’t gotta take that shit. Cam got way too many to be just sellin’ out for cheap.)
You guys did that V Magazine thing for Valentine’s day, what’s been the reaction to that?
It was dope. Dame hooked that up. You know me, I’m in the hood or I’m on Instagram. And the reaction on Instagram was good, but most of the people in the hood don’t even know what it is.
Well that’s what’s interesting about you. You are in the hood but there’s a different crowd, more hipster, that seems to love your shit.
First of all, I’m appreciative of any fan. I think them kids like me because I haven’t diluted myself. I never had to compromise who I had to be to be somebody else. That’s why my style is like a 1642 wine. You know how the waiter be like, “Oh we have something bottled up good.” I’m still so fly nigga and get fresh. You know how some niggas get old and you be like, “Damn what happened to him, he got a mini van and groceries.” [Laughs]
How much do you think that some of the time off helped with that?
I don’t plan none of this. I don’t even know if it’s gonna help out or not. I listen to what’s going on out there, I be like, “I can come back whenever I want because it ain’t like I’m gonna sound old or it ain’t like I can’t compete and don’t know how to do good music.” So I don’t really strategize time off, sometimes I just be like, “Oh fall back, this shit looks wack and I don’t know if my style could fit in with this cornball stuff.” But people get tired of it. Music always changes and it comes full circle.
How close are you watching the game?
We got fur meetings and shit, man. You gonna run into music. There’s so many options now digitally, you don’t have to hear anybody. You go to Pandora and go to somebody’s station. Or you go to XM Radio. A lot of times there are so many options to hear what you want to hear, I don’t really keep up to date with everything.
What do you think of this new generation of cats coming out of Harlem?
I think it’s dope. Anybody that comes out of Harlem, it’s a good thing because the environment we grew up in is pretty tough and to make it out is great. There’s always a bunch of talent in Harlem. There’s been talent in Harlem, before I was born, way before any of us was born.
What is it specifically about Harlem that creates this mystique in terms of the style?
I don’t know. I grew up there so it’s kind of just natural to me. I wouldn’t just say Harlem, but New Yorkers, we think we the shit. And sometimes we get a lot of hate for that. We grew up in Harlem thinking ain’t no better other place in the world where you would want to be from. Like I’m from Harlem, real proud of that shit. And that always been our attitude. So it wasn’t necessarily outdoing another borough or another state or another coast or another country, it was more in-house competition when we was growing up.
How would you describe Dipset now?
We all cool. The thing about Dipset, it ain’t just music, it’s a lifestyle. Do what we want, when we want, that’s what diplomats do, so that’s why we named it Diplomats. We all in a good space, we mad cool. Juelz was over the other day for his birthday, I spoke to Jim yesterday. It’s just that we all busy, and for us to do music, we have to chill and be in the same room cause it would be fake if we didn’t. I could send this person a song if we wanted it to be like microwave rap, then cool. We’d rather have our shit sit in the oven and get cooked for the two, three hours the way it should be. But everybody’s in a good space.
To read the full story, cop the next issue of Mass Appeal, out now.