Track-By-Track: AZ Breaks Down 'Do Or Die 2'
By Stereo Williams
A lot has happened since AZ dropped off his long awaited sequel to his 1995 debut album Doe Or Die. 9th Wonder sent the tweet heard round the Hip-Hop world that may have netted the fans another incredible project, first week sales inspired the legendary MC to “get his boots back on,” and who knows, we might just get a Firm reunion (prayers up).
In the third and final part of Rock The Bells’ exclusive chat with AZ, the Brooklyn born wordsmith kept the jewels, gems and treasures coming as he revealed how he linked up with Idris Elba (he also wants to do another record with Idris spitting bars), opened up about embracing therapy and clarified why after so many years, the time was right to bless the project with the Doe Or Die 2 moniker.
RTB: So before we start, you could have named any one of your projects ‘DOD2.’ Why this and why now?
AZ: It was just time for it honestly. In ’95 I put an album out Doe Or Die, and when I signed that contract, when you signed the contracts back then it was for nine albums and I was like ‘shit, I gotta get past the first album. I was a little stuck.’ I was a little nervous there, right? Once you get in the game and you acclimate yourself to making albums and learning the business, I got to the point where I was on all kinds of majors, I never got dropped from an album, I did independent, I went fully independent there were a lot of sonics where the East Coast had it locked, and the West Coast and the Midwest, and it went from CDs to digital to streaming, I went through so many worlds that I feel like, I put out eight albums and this is my ninth album. I always kept that in my mind. I completed that contract in my mind. This is a mental thing. As kids those seeds get planted. [At the beginning] I was like, ‘can I do nine albums?’ Some people were signed for 15 albums. Each contract was different for particular artists.
When I got to this album I was like ‘the time is now.’ I’ve been wanting to put it out since like 2013-2104 cause I just felt like I completed what I set out to do in the business. When Covid hit I was like, ‘it’s now or never that I get this out. I’ve been telling the fans it was coming. The time is now.’ Bow, here we go. ’21.
RTB: How many songs were there that didn’t make the cut?
AZ: Here’s the funny thing, “Red Magic,” “We Movin,” “Back To Myself,” There were a couple of records I put out through the course of this that were supposed to be on Doe Or Die 2: “Save The Peoples” with Prodigy and Raekwon; they were supposed to be Doe Or Die 2 but I just wasn’t ready and as I said, I just had to keep feeding the people to let them know I still exist and by the time 2020 came and we were locked in the crib I recorded 16 or 17 songs. Four are not on the album. I had to save it and make it right. It was like a feel to me. I had to feel it, I didn’t want to throw anything on there forcefully on the album.
RTB: Let’s get into some track breakdowns:
Conversation With God (Intro) feat. Idris Elba
AZ: The album was done, and to me it sounded like a movie, [me] being a critic of [my] own creation, I was like ‘this sounds like a movie. I need the intro to be heavy, and speaking to the homies, they were like, ‘you should get Idris. He loves music,’ and I met him at Rock The Bells [festival], I was on tour with Nas and [Idris] was at one of the shows and he let me know that he loved “Life’s A Bitch,” and so forth and so on. One of the homies knew him, so he reached out and when I spoke to him, he was more less like, ‘I really don’t do intros to albums.’ I was like, ‘alright, cool. I had to ask,’ but then he said, ‘let me hear the music.’ So I sent him a few of the tracks and he was like, ‘Yo, let’s do it.’ I was like, ‘wow, thank you man. That was a blessing.’ He said, ‘nah, I love the music. Let’s get it done.’ Idris definitely got bars. I heard him on something with Nicki Minaj. I think he got bars We gotta do something. He wanted to really spit on the album too, but I was like, ‘the album’s done. I really want you on it, but the album’s done and once the chemistry and synergy [of the album] is there, it’s like, I could put you on it but [my vision for the album was already there], but I’m sure we’re gonna do something in the near future.
Just For You
AZ: That’s Bink! You know Bink! Does all of JAY-Z and Beyonce’s music and Rick Ross and more. His music is so melodic, and it’s so AZ, cause I’m more melodic. He played that beat for me. I think it was the first track [that he played for me]. I was like, ‘that’s it.’ It reminds me of ‘Gimme Yours’ off the first Doe Or Die, it reminds me of that with the tempo. That beat alone just put me in the zone. The bars that came out, the music brought those out. It wasn’t something I had to strain to think about, it was just speaking my life.
The Wheel feat. Jaheim
AZ: Here’s the story behind it. I dropped a song top of the year called ‘Different’ and I was promoting it, and I got on one of the DJ calls and KG was on there and he was like, ‘yo, we gotta work,’ and I’m like ‘yo, I gotta wrap the album up,’ and he was like, ‘I got something for you.’ The way I [work with these producers] it’s always the first song I hear. He sent me about 10 tracks. I heard that first one and was like, ‘I don’t wanna hear no more cause it’s gonna [throw me off]. That’s it. So I’m like, ‘what am I gonna do with it?’ I listened to it for like three hours straight like, ‘wow, it’s speaking to me in so many languages. What could really top this shit off?’ And I know Jaheim, his camp. I was like, ‘they hadn’t heard Ja’ in a while. They’re tryna knock the brotha. I don’t know him personally but I know he’s a great singer. We need him. They were like, ‘it might be a little hard.’ I was like, ‘I don’t care how hard it is. Let me ask him. Let’s get to it, and we did it and I met the brotha. Actually he’s a good brotha. Regardless of what you hear, he’s real grounded and I respect him. He did the songs without any qualms and that’s how a lot of these songs came about was with no hassle. That’s the best way to do these things, where there’s no interruption or negativity and it’s not force fed. You can hear throughout the album that [the collaborations were genuinely done].
Keep It Real
AZ: That’s Baby Paul from Da Beatminerz and that was just that old school Hip-Hop Spoonie Gee zone, and I just had to speak about my upbringing and my life, and my code of ethics and what real means to me. Not what you do or what you been through but how you handle situations. It wasn’t braggadocios, it was, to me, this is how a real person handles situations.
Never Enough feat. Rick Ross
AZ: That was serious. Ross is one of the few artists I know that really carried the torch of how we really spoke that life, like you could smell it, and you could see it. I always wanted to do something with him, and I wanted to put the project out, so I reached out to him directly and he was like, ‘let’s get it done. Nothing to talk about.’ I sent him the record and he sent it right back the next day, maybe the same day. That was real to me. We did a few more songs too. He had to send his like, ‘here go mine,’ I had to send it back, but I’m looking forward to making that the next single and trying to do the video now.
AZ: That’s poetry in motion. When the home team hear it, they’re just like, ‘that’s just AZ.’ I was speaking to a psychiatrist and I was speaking my life into existence: Where I’m at, what state of mind I’m in and the trials and tribulations, and that’s one of my classics right there, to me. My signature stamp.
RTB: You mentioned your psychiatrist. A lot of people have been finding the value of therapy but Hip-Hop hasn’t all the way leaned into it. Can you talk about how therapy has impacted you?
AZ: I think therapy is a great release. I think as you mature and get older, sometimes you wanna speak to people that are not judgmental so they can take it all in and basically it’s a lot of weight off your shoulders, just venting at its purest form. I think that comes with growth for people to really take that in. A lot of us are damaged in ways just from society itself and this upbringing without fathers around and fighting and getting in trouble. It’s good to just sit back and [realize] that was my childhood. How can I make my adulthood better?
Ritual feat. Conway the Machine and Lil Wayne
AZ: That was crazy. That was one of the last songs. I needed something and Alchemist sent me some music that was so crazy but that one right there. Sometimes you just hear something that just hits you in the gut. For me that was one of them. The funny thing is, that’s the track I wanted Nas on. I was trying to make it happen and then I ran into Conway at a Nets game. We were up in the box, we’re watching the game, I’m like, ‘we gotta make something happen.’ He was like, ‘let’s get it done. This is what we do. This is on the bucket list for me.’ I sent it to him, he sent it right back. I was like ‘wow.’ Then, I was thinking I need somebody else on the album, just to balance the album out. I always [like to have my projects have] a balance. I reached out to Wayne like, ‘yo I wanna do a record. I’m not sure I can get the beat from wherever I’m gonna get it from. I kinda got a record with Conway.’ He said, ‘just give it to me. Give it here.’ I said, ‘just wait. I can get a record just with you and me.’ He said, ‘no, send the shit.’ I was like, ‘alright,’ sent it and he just went crazy.
Blow that S#%t feat. Dave East
AZ: [Dave East] is from that Nas umbrella which is my umbrella and he hustles, he works, he’s not biased or judgmental. If it’s good work and he wanna deal with you it’s just an automatic thing. There was no delay for nobody. It was an automatic thing for him when he heard it. I had the record already with two verses on it but when he heard it, I took a verse off and just let him catch wreck. That’s one of my favorites too.
AZ: Yes, that one right there. I had to do smoothing for the ladies, and once again Bink! Did that track and it was incredible. It gave me enough room to speak my mind and get my storytelling into play. I wanted to tell a lot of stories on this album but I didn’t get a chance to, but in this particular song I was able to come up with a nice story that’s still heartfelt.
Check Me Out
AZ: We ain’t gonna talk about that one. That’s Pete. Y’all know what’s gonna happen when Pete get busy, from the original Doe or Die. It was something that had to happen. Pete Rock is Hip-Hop and that’s what you got on that. AZ and Pete, the Rather Unique Unique, “Gimme Yours,” “Check Me Out,” Self explanatory.
Time To Answer
AZ: That’s Heat Makers. That’s another self-explanatory. That brought the best out of me too. I really got a little angry on that one at the beginning because, people think like, ‘just put an album out. What are you waiting for?’ But you wanna create something that’ll [stand] the test of time. I coulda been put any album out, just put a bunch of songs together call it an album, but I really wanted to put something out that could be heard the way Doe Or Die is and the other records that you could listen to 20 years from now and still be like, ‘wow.’ It’ll still strike a chord somewhere.
Found My Niche
AZ: I had to leave that mark to let people know that this is where it all came from, insert my life itself, I fell in love with poetry, but look at what I went through to really find it. It just shows, through trials and tribulations come the triumph. I really tried to dictate it from me being a little kid, summertime, raised up by older Gs and going through lessons in life, seeing how crack destroyed the community and how you could get caught up in the energy that would make you other than yourself and make you an ugly person where your own flesh and blood would know you became something else, and part of an energy that wasn’t real, and being brought back and spared, just from life itself and from the pitfalls that life designed for those of color. [You can] triumph over that and [realize], ‘wow, I’m here to be the voice for the voiceless and I never thought music was it. For some it’s being a politician, whatever it may be to give your contributions to the community. For me, Hip-Hop saved my life and hopefully through it, I could save your life with the right words that can make you think different and move different no matter who you are
What’s Good feat. T-Pain
AZ: T-Pain is another chapter in this forever growing culture of Hip-Hop. He came, he made a mark and I guess like Scarface said, ‘point your fingers at the bad guy. This the last time you’ll see a bad guy like this.’ He had a lot of fingers pointed at him but he found his own lane, cause that’s what music is about, finding your own creativity and expressing it the way you wanna express it. As long as you have a fan base that accepts you, you’re good. He’s a great singer without the autotune but nobody was doing the autotune. Rockwilder gave me the beat like two years ago and I sent it to [T-Pain] cause I wanted to work with him. I didn’t know what he was gonna sing but when he sent that back it was so relevant to what was going on in life not just in Hip-Hop. We say we wanna get out the hood but then we end up right back in. Are we living or we dying? What are we doing? We hear about the wars that have been going on amongst each other but why? So I just added my narrative to it. That record touched me cause it means so much more than just the music. If you wanna bop your head, I got those records or if you want rhyme schemes I got that, but this one was like, ‘come on. What are we doing?’ And it sums up theDoe Or Die. We’re getting the money, but what are we getting it for?