Understand this, Ron Artest didn’t have to do this. He’s taking a risk on a lot of levels—putting the album out on his own Tru Warier label (with WEA distribution), and adding lyrical fuel to the fires that always seem to blaze around him. He’s been called crazy and worse, directed towards therapy and medication. But no one knows Ron better than Ron, and it’s hard to question the decision-making of a kid who went from the nation’s biggest projects to the NBA All-Star game. “I’m just being myself,” he says. “I’m not beggin’ anybody to help me sell a million records.”
The more you talk to him, the more you understand this. The more you realize that everything fits, that everything he does makes sense on some level. On his level. In his world. It honestly doesn’t matter so much how good or bad the album, as much as it does that he got a chance to had a chance to record it at all. “Yeah you know, Ron got love from the streets, so he’s gonna do well enough to keep it going,” says former Pacer teammate Stephen Jackson. “I bought a copy just to support him. I’m happy for him, he doin’ what he want to do. Me and him actually did a song, but it didn’t make it on the album.” Could Jackson be picking up the mic full time too? “No, no, no, no, no,” Jackson says. “It’s like a hobby. Like jogging.”
Not to Ron. Though he’s a better NBA rapper then Kobe, he’s not as good as Shaq, even with album cameos from Juvenile, Diddy, Mike Jones and DJ Kay Slay. And he’s not nearly on the same level as those who’ve gone before him, doesn’t drop jewels like Nas or ’Mega, or absolute club-wrecking bangers like Mobb Deep. All in all, he might want to stick to his day job (which, he is great at). But at the same time he seems awfully committed to this rap thing. Which is just Ron being Ron.
Funny thing about Ron Artest, he grew up listening to Michael Jackson, guys like that. There wasn’t hip hop in the Artest house. He didn’t catch on to that world until he was out runnin’ the streets, ballin’. Only then did he realize what was out there on the block, on his block. He was 15 when Nas’ all-time classic debut, Illmatic, dropped. By then he already knew the name. “The first time I found out about Nas I was on 12th Street and I kept hearing his name,” he says. “And I’d never even seen Nas in the hood. He was always on his block, probably upstairs writing rhymes, but they was like, ‘This guy Nas, Nas, he’s big, he’s about to get a deal or whatever,’ ‘He’s signed,’ and I was like, ‘Wow.’ I didn’t think nothin’ of it, then you really hear about him, and they say he’s one of the best lyricists to ever live. That’s amazing, you know? I grew up right around the corner from this guy, in the same hood. That’s amazing.”
“My love is real / Some earn it, some are unworthy / Some, walk in the presence of men with thoughts to hurt me / And wonder why I throw shade and stay to myself / ’Cause I’m me, plus I’m not betraying myself / I’m free from the burden of extending my hand / To my man’s that don’t deserve it / I only trust fam”
— Cormega, “Love In, Love Out”
You can’t blame Ron Artest for feeling a little unloved. Ever since that day in Detroit he’s been NBA public enemy number one, and this summer, as he worked on recording and promoting and touring (opening for Young Jeezy and Fat Joe, among others), he mostly went at it alone. “I look up to, like, Nelly,” he says. “Because Nelly, I like how he made it. He didn’t have nobody pushing him besides his label, his label’s a powerhouse—Universal’s a powerhouse. And of course they did it the right way. But you know how 50 had Eminem, Eminem had Dre? I never recall Nelly having anybody like that on his side. And he still made it. And I look up to guys like that, because right now I don’t feel like I have anybody on my side.” He’s definitely sorted things out a lot in a year, though. At the start of last season, coming off his damn-near year long suspension, he announced he wanted to take some time off from basketball because he was exhausted. Exhausted! Predictably, that didn’t go over well. And Ron, who wants to be large on both sides, had to figure out how to get some balance.
“I wanna just try to pace myself, you know?” he says. “I’m sayin now, if I could be a coach, and at the same time have a label, I would love that. You know? It’s just like I’m tryin’ to do something different. I still wanna be in music when I finish my career, but when I finish my career I also wanna be a coach. Maybe I’m guessin’ that the music won’t ever let me be a head coach, because it’d be too much for a head coach, because you gotta put [in] so much time. But maybe just like a defensive coach. I’m always gonna hopefully do both, but you know I love basketball—basketball, that’s my number one.”
So this summer was mostly about balance. Finishing the record (“Busta Rhymes gave me some huge advice, he just told me to have patience and to make sure when your album come out, make sure you like it”), touring (they loved him in Detroit, by the way), and getting ready for the season. As we wrap this up in mid-October, he’s ready for everything, whatever comes. “It’s like I’m in a marathon,” he says. “I’m not in it for the sprint. I’m not in it for a quick dollar, you know? I’m in it for the long haul.”