Big Shug: The Counterpunch

Big Shug is that dude who held doors for everybody until there was no room left to get in. At least, that’s how it would seem. Luckily, when you’re as big as Shug, you can shove your way in whenever you want. That’s exactly what the Gang Starr Foundation father out of Boston is doing. […]

Big Shug is that dude who held doors for everybody until there was no room left to get in. At least, that’s how it would seem. Luckily, when you’re as big as Shug, you can shove your way in whenever you want. That’s exactly what the Gang Starr Foundation father out of Boston is doing. His debut album, Who’s Hard? is in stores right now. The title answers its own question.

Shug tells a ten-year story involving many labels and lots of executive excuses. He reflects on the stereo-typing that “bully-sized rappers” receive for skills. You’ll also gain insight to the Gang Starr hiatus. If that wasn’t enough… learn how this neighborhood coach gives back to his community on the field – and his analytical weigh-in on this year’s NFL layout. Who’s Hard? and Big Shug! If I was a boxer, Who’s Hard? just might be my entrance music to the ring…

Big Shug: It’s something I’ve been really working on for seven, eight years – as far as mentally, and getting things together. This is my first album. A lot of the things that were put out, those weren’t mine. A lot of songs over the years kept me alive for the people though. We look at the Gang Starr Foundation. The Jeru’s, Group Home’s, M.O.P.’s been out. Why so long for you?

Big Shug: The first thing is politics. I had a deal with EMI in ’94. They really didn’t know what to do with it at the time. We did have a video for “Treat You Better.” We had a few Playboy chicks in there. It was a real sexy-type video before they was allowing that thing to be on the air. I got a lil’ award from Playboy Channel at the time. That, and “Put ‘Em on the Glass” with Sir-Mix-A-Lot. That was the first thing. They closed out the Rap division, plus they was spending a lot of corny money on Vanilla Ice’s second album – which we know how that went, and the second project of Arrested Development – which we know where that went. I can’t front, I loved Arrested Development…

Big Shug: I liked them then, I did. I also was behind closed doors. I also used to know how Speech’s head would swell up. D’Angelo was also on the label too. I’m sitting there like, “Dag.” I got a deal with Payday. They gave me the money, I got to work. Then they closed out their Rap division. “Damn, again.” I had a meeting with Kevin Liles at Def Jam, he really liked the music I had. Then he slid out the backdoor. That was the s**t that kept on happening. Financially, it was keeping money in my pocket. But as an artist, I always wanted to come out. Had a situation with Universal, Koch – for whatever reason – [nothing]. These labels wronged you – in a way. That gave you an opponent. In most of you songs, you have an opponent. Is that the enemy… the industry?

Big Shug: It’s a combination of things. I know a lot of stories of lyin’ record execs. I feel like a pit-bull who snapped his leash. I feel like a pure dude. I lived the life. I’ve always been real. It’s not even hard to spit this. I’m an ex-football player too, I spent my time locked too. I’m to the gut with this. People know you as a tough guy. Do you find that your reputation and physicality gets your skills overlooked?

Big Shug: I believe that this album is the birth. I think that people’ll be surprised to see me expand and show what my true talent was. It’s different from doing songs like “The Militia” were you just catchin’ those hard joints here and there. This album enabled me to open up and showcase my talent. I’m 6’3”, 287-290 [pounds]. People would be scared as hell [of me]. It was kinda messed up. I am who I am. I ain’t tryin’ to intimidate nobody. I got fans who’ll be like, “Yo, that’s Big Shug! Ask him!” “No you ask him!” When they see you’re cool, it’s good. Part of that branching out that I responded to was this song called, “No Mother No Father.” On the bonus DVD, we see you with your children. Having been orphaned, what’s the most valuable jewel you try to show in being a dad?

Big Shug: As far as my mother takin’ off, and my father just drinkin’, those are mistakes I never wanna make. But I’ve made mistakes. I have two older children – my son “Lunchbox,” and his sister. They live with their mother. You want to protect, but you want to teach them the pitfalls. I wanna help children too, whatever children they is. That’s why I coach football and basketball. My nephew who I coached is just in the most recent Sports Illustrated, he’s on the Reebok High School team. I stay involved with the kids. Mentioning sports, you have this boxing song, “Counter Punch.” That being said, I want you to compare yourself as an MC to a boxer – who is it?

Big Shug: I would compare myself to two boxers. I would say like a George Foreman and a Muhammad Ali. Reason being, they’re both powerful with the punches. I’m also very quick. I learned that from my father as a younger man. He was smaller – 5’7”, 165 [pounds]. In order to box him, you had to be quick. Of course, I was bigger than him at a younger age. I would be a combination of speed and power. Rhythm is an essential part of boxing; timing. Do you see a coorelation between the ring and the booth? Look at battle-rapping…

Big Shug: Somewhat. Because you gotta hit when you can. You gotta jab to keep ‘em off you, keep ‘em awake. You gonna have a knockout punch to knock ‘em out. Again, you have another song, “The 3 Shugs” where you take a verse over three Premier beats and dedicate it to rappin’, thuggin’, and pimpin’. How have those three elements of yourself helped you in Hip-Hop, respectively?

Big Shug: I been in the streets rappin’ for many years. I been a stick-up person. I been pimpin’. Therefore, what happens is, now – I got eight million stories in my head. I could go ahead and make another album [today], just as strong with those. The pimp, the hustler, all the things I did – it helped me to be on my toes about this game. I also continue to survive without an album deal, without doing anything but this music. It’s been helpful in that way. My knowledge has kept me livin’ in the struggles of this thing. I can take care of my children, live in a decent place, and continue to chase that carrot. [laughs] Gang Starr has always showed respect for the crowd by giving it back. As a former pimp, is it wise for entertainers to pimp the audience – captivate them to give you their money with each album?

Big Shug: In a way. With me, for some reason, fans always liked me. Even when I wasn’t rapping, and I was just in the videos, fans always point me out. Once you get ‘em, you almost are pimpin’ fans. You’re giving them something, and they gotta pay for it. That’s really what it is. It makes the fans wanna stand up with ya, and the ladies want ya more. On the hook to “On the Record” you allude to the fact you’ve always rhymed first on other people’s records, featuring you. Most MC’s prefer going last. Why first?

Big Shug: Me, it’s always been, I’m ready go. Let me spit this, and I’ll set the tone. I work quickly. If you gave me a track now and you need it in 20 minutes, it’s a wrap. I just wanna get out there and get it going. A lot of times on tours, I’ll go out, then I’ll go out into the crowd after. I get the vibe with the rest of the show. I been in mosh-pits. I went on tour with Rage Against the Machine, saw how they got it poppin’. It broke my heart of hearts to read that Guru and Premier are on they own thing for a minute. That’s why your project is extra meaningful as well. Do you believe that “Counter Punch” be the final time Guru connects over a Premo beat?

Big Shug: Not really. The thing is, me and Guru, we go back before there was a Gang Starr. We the original Gang Starr. Therefore, I cultivate all that s**t. He just needed some time to do some things he wanted to do. Me and Preem got to get this thing done. It was time for this. Him and Premier got a few things they need to straighten out. I do believe there’s a time where we’ll be doing this again. I asked Willie Dee this, so I’m only asking Hip-Hop tough guys. When was the last time somebody got the best of you in a fight?

Big Shug: With me, the s**t never happened. Many years ago, somebody mighta stoned me or something. We’re talking many years. I’ve never seen a bad side. I’ve even been jumped before years back by more than one person, and I still held my own. I got stitches, but only ‘cause I got hit with a pole. Four or five of them can tell ya that story. It was really funny too, because one of the guys that was in that group, we ended being cell-mates. We got cool for six months. Then one day we were talkin’, and that story came up, we found out it was each other – at this point, we became friends. The respect thing went through there. As far as getting the best of me, that s**t’ll never happen. Last question. You coach ball, you know the operation. That said, who is taking the Super Bowl this year?

Big Shug: This year, I really feel the Patriots, man. I feel they got one more in there. We’re always watching our history. I’m a sports fan. The Patriots, they just make these power moves. This year, they lose Bruschi, they have Wolford the nose, steppin’ up. But they also picked up Chad Brown, who’s still a top linebacker. Then they get somebody Tim Dwight – dudes with something to prove. Brady’s still young. It’s just so many parts that they have. Look at Peyton, he broke all those records and whateva, but the Patriots broke him up. The team is not much different. That team is still the team to beat. Even with Philly got there, Philly [couldn’t] get over the Patriots. I got a song called “NFL,” I didn’t even write it, I just freestyled it, ‘cause I know that much about football. When I hear that song, I hear a backdrop to a highlight football reel.