wenty-three and with a flow scratched out of sandpaper rawness, Chaz G.A.G.E. Scott is Aftermaths newest and youngest signee. And while his sometimes-nickname — Shottie — implies the kind of double-barreled sawed-off that left Cuba Gooding Jr. screaming Ricky! in an alley, G.A.G.E.s rap handle has little to do with guns. Born, raised and left to fend for himself in Northwest Philly, the name G.A.G.E. has come to say a lot about the life of the man behind it. Its become a measuring stick that has seen the hungry rapper through extreme peaks and valleys, moments that shift from saying goodbye to three of the most important people hes known — his mother, father and grandmother — to joining arguably the most successful and influential Hip-Hop record label in the world.
Between sessions for his debut, My Life, G.A.G.E. spoke of his turbulent come-up, from growing up on Germantown Avenue, and watching family members die, to holding his own in the studio with Dr. Dre and DMX.
AllHipHop.com.com: Tell me about the name G.A.G.E. What does it stand for?
G.A.G.E.: Im from Philly, a neighborhood called Germantown. G.A.G.E. stands for Germantown Avenue Gotta Eat. Thats the avenue where I did what I had to; thats where my father was killed. A lot of s**t went down on that avenue.
AllHipHop.com.com: When was your father killed?
G.A.G.E.: Its been about five years now.
AllHipHop.com: Tell me about your experiences growing up in Philly.
G.A.G.E.: Growing up in Germantown, it was actually fun. My pops was the neighborhood weed man, so I was spoiled. All the kids played [together]. Getting a little older, you start seeing the hardships of the neighborhood: the addicts, the violence. But you dont really see that as a child, you just out there having fun.
AllHipHop.com: How did you get into Hip-Hop? What were some things you were hearing as you were growing up?
G.A.G.E.: My sister Azerene, she was rappin; shes a little older than me. My mom had passed when I was about nine years old. After she died, all I had was my sister. I looked up to her; she was rappin, doin her thing. I wanted to be like big sis. So I started writing, but it was just poetry and screenplays for school. One day, I put one of those poems to a beat.
AllHipHop.com: What kind of things were you writing about?
G.A.G.E.: Probably the girl with the big butt in class [laughs]. [With] screenplays, I was writing horror stories. I like horror movies.
AllHipHop.com: Whats your favorite horror movie?
G.A.G.E.: A Nightmare on Elm Street.
AllHipHop.com: The first one, or the next seven or eight in the series?
G.A.G.E.: Every one. Im a Freddy fan til I die [laughs].
AllHipHop.com: So you were writing a lot of horror stories?
G.A.G.E.: Yeah, and I was actually into art, too; drawing. My father was in art school, but he had to drop out. So I was always around art and music.
AllHipHop.com: You said your mom died when you were younger.
G.A.G.E.: She died in front of my face. She ODed on promethyzene [syrup] and Xanax pills. I was about nine years old. My mom was remarried and she was living in Maryland. I was out there for the summer, spending time with her. A few family members came into town, so they got a hotel room, and I guess the partyin got outta control. When I woke up, it was just me and my mom in the room. I watched her take her last breath.
AllHipHop.com: Are you living in Philly now?
G.A.G.E.: Im in Atlanta right now, working. I go back and forth, because my sister moved out here about ten years ago. I was living with my father and my grandmother. Right after my father was killed, it was just me and my grandmother. Then she got a call and found out she had cancer. I was just 17 years old, on my own. I couldnt do it — I starved for weeks, I didnt have no heat, I had to sleep in clothes, I didnt have food for long periods of time. My sister came back to Philly and said, You gotta get outta this hell. She took me down to Atlanta and I never really moved back since.
AllHipHop.com: Getting back to Philly, theres a real diverse history of Hip-Hop there, people like Schoolly D, Steady B, Will Smith, The Roots, Beans, Eve, Freeway. Where do you fit into that picture?
G.A.G.E.: Im just trying to tell my story, my life. I have an uncle on death row up there in Pennsylvania; they caught him on Americas Most Wanted. The Birdsongs, thats my mothers last name. Theyre known up there. If you go into the old Philadelphia Inquirer newspapers, my familys [name] had a lot in there, drug history, yknow, selling drugs up there. I have one uncle on death row and two uncles have life [sentences].
I just want to tell my whole story. I dont think nobody has really made it and put Philadelphia [on the map] like how New York is or how the West Coast is. Eve made it big; Will Smith made it big, but Will kinda ventured off into the movies. But you dont really hear too much about Philly. Oh, Beans, Beans, Beans; yeah, but aint nobody really sold millions and millions of copies. I look up to Beans a lot in Philly, actually, as a rapper.
AllHipHop.com: Being on Aftermath, do you think youll be too closely associated with the other artists on the label and not be able to represent Philly?
G.A.G.E.: Oh no. Dre loves Philly rappers, for one thing. Kurupt, Eve, Bilal, Floetry; he really likes the whole Philly thing.
AllHipHop.com: Tell me about the Aftermath deal and how that came about.
G.A.G.E.: My manager, Y.O., is a good friend of Mel-Man, who was a producer on Chronic 2001 and a couple Eminem albums. So they kept in touch, and Mel-Man said he had the connect with Dre. So we were going out there messin with Mel-Man, tryin to get in. But I wasnt really ready for the game — this was about three years ago. I was ready, but I wasnt Aftermath-ready. I coulda came out on another label, but Aftermath is a big thing. So we just kept workin; went to L.A., met with Mel-Man; but we never got to Dre. But bein with Mel-Man, we started linking back up with an associate of Dres from Compton named Jay Bible. We kept in touch with him, and when Mel-Man and Dre went their separate ways, we were still sending packages to Jay. We sent him about 250 songs. He was a little nervous, because you only got one shot with Dre. Its not no work some more and come back with a better product; you got one chance to blow. We were about to stop sending him songs. We was like, We sent you all this, and [Jay] would tell us, Oh, Dre said change this, change this. But we knew [the songs] never got to him. Finally we sent him a six-song package and he took it to Dre.
A lot of labels was tryin to holla at me, but when Aftermath heard [the songs], they called the next day and said, Your flight leaves at this time and your hotel is in Beverly Hills. They laid out the red carpet. And when I met Dre he was like, We dont really need to talk. Im feelin your stuff; you feelin the Aftermath stuff. Let the lawyers ping-pong back and forth until we both happy with the situation.
AllHipHop.com: Dres picked some of the most successful rappers — some of the greatest rappers — ever. When Dr. Dre says, I want this guy, and hes talking to you, whats going through your mind?
G.A.G.E.: I didnt really get excited at first. Its like youre watching the T.V. and you got a lottery ticket in your hand and they read off your numbers. You dont really believe it at first. The night before we met with Dre, we met with Mike Lynn [former A&R at Aftermath], and hes like, Dres feelin your music, [but] he wants to know if you got star quality; if you ready for the game; if you got the look. Hes like, Dres gonna stare you down; hes gonna be hard on you. So the whole night before, Im just preparing: writin songs, goin over my verses, thinkin what I could rap for him. When I met him, he aint say nothin but, Yo, Im feelin your s**t, lets make it happen.
AllHipHop.com: Whats it like for you, being the youngest and newest, on a label thats affiliated with some of the biggest names in Hip-Hop?
G.A.G.E.: Its a lot of pressure, but Ive been under a lot worse. Ive had birthdays where I was pickin out caskets [for my grandmother], where it was just me and the funeral director.
AllHipHop.com: Dres got a reputation for being a real perfectionist. From what Ive heard, hell just flat-out tell you, I dont like that, or You gotta do that again.
G.A.G.E.: Oh yeah. I hear that all the time. Busta Rhymes called me. He was like, [Dres] gonna turn down a lot of your songs, hes gonna say a lot of it aint it. Its gonna be a lot of songs that everybody around you think is excellent. But trust me, itll work out for the better.
AllHipHop.com: Was Dre hard on you when you did your session with him?
G.A.G.E.: Nah, hes harder on you when you bring him the music. It isnt really what you say on the beat, its the beat [itself]. Dre is a beat perfectionist. Thats what people dont understand. He wants the beat to be right. Im gonna let a little secret out, though: Dre has a CD shredder next to his desk. So its not just, I dont like the song; your s**ts goin in the shredder.
AllHipHop.com: You got Andre 3000 and DMX on the Crack, Murder & Missed Meals mixtape. How did you pin those guys down?
G.A.G.E.: DMX is my managers cousin. I got that drop before I had my deal. I met with X one day cause my manager was like, X wants to hear you rap. And when X came down, he was like, Dont mess up, dont be nervous, like really tryin to diss me or whatever. So I went at him, and he came back with a verse. We went back and forth for about 15 minutes, just rappin. After that, he was like, F**k it. You ridin with me today. He took me to the mall, got me some clothes. We rolled out to a couple parties, went back to the hotel and went to sleep. The next morning, my manager flipped out the tape recorder and said, We need that drop, cousin.
With Andre 3000, we went into the studio, and he was working in the room next to mine. My room had a better sound. He needed some girls from my room to sing a part on his song, and he needed our room for a half-hour just so he could do this one part. So we agreed to let him hold our studio room for a half-hour if he blessed us with a drop.
We didnt get a lot of people to do drops. I got Twista on there doing a drop. I have D.O.C. on there —
AllHipHop.com: How did you get him on there? Hes been M.I.A. for awhile.
G.A.G.E.: Who, the doc [D.O.C.]? Thats my man. He still hangs with Dre on a daily basis. When Im in L.A., Dres got so much on his plate that he dont have time to just work with me. So I go to my own studio sessions that Aftermath books. I was in there one day working by myself, cause, yknow, I dont really know anybody in L.A. And D.O.C. actually came over and was like, I just wanted to come check on you. So thats when me and him got tight.
AllHipHop.com: You mentioned Busta calling you, too. Have the artists on the label welcomed you?
G.AG.E.: Oh yeah. I havent met 50 or Eminem yet. But Game welcomed me in; thats my big homie. Busta lent a helping hand. Dre is the kindest, though. Hes from another planet or something. You never see him with no jewelry on, no flashy rims; nothing. And he got more money than the people with all that stuff.
AllHipHop.com: I want to talk about the new album. Tell me about some of the experiences youre drawing from when you write songs.
G.A.G.E.: Its called My Life. [Its about] the death of my mother, the death of my father, the incarceration of my uncles — my life; me bein on the block, gettin shot at, shootin, doin whatever I had to do to survive. Im talkin about the hunger I went through, havin nothin and building it into an empire.
AllHipHop.com: The Game came out last year with The Documentary; 50 came out the year before with his story; Eminem tells his story. How are you going to differentiate what youre doing from these other releases on your label, not to mention other rappers telling their stories?
G.A.G.E.: Im not saying the artists on my label, but a lot of artists fabricate their life. You can tell when someone is genuine and actually went through an experience. No one has lived my life, so I gotta be different. No one can tell my life like I can.