There’s not much to say about a legend like 8Ball that hasn’t been said before. As one of half of the duo 8Ball & MJG, Premro Smith is one of the pioneers of not only Memphis Hip Hop, but Southern Hip Hop as a whole. With multiple classics under his belt, 8Ball is still going strong and preparing to release his new solo album Life’s Quest on July 17th. I recently had the chance to speak with the M-Town legend to discuss a variety of topics including his upcoming LP, the Premro mixtape, why Suave House Records doesn’t get the same respect as other labels, how working at a burger joint jump started his career, he & G’s time on Bad Boy and the chances of Big K.R.I.T. producing the next 8Ball & MJG LP. Check out my in-depth conversation with 8Ball below.
Justin: Hey man, how you doing?
8Ball: What it do?
Justin: It’s a real honor to speak with you.
8Ball: Aw man, I appreciate it. Thank you for taking the time.
Justin: I wanted to get right into your recent project, which is Premro… of course using your real name. Why did you decide to make that a free release because it was definitely an album quality project?
8Ball: Well, I haven’t had anything out of my own in the marketplace for so long for one. You know what I’m saying, I got that feedback a lot from a lot fans saying I could have made that a real album or whatever, but I just wanted to release some quality man. And really, those were like 15 songs out of 25 or 30 that I had just been working on. Like I was really just doing stuff here and there, and decided to do a mixtape. That’s kind of what came out, you know what I mean. I just kind of put some songs together that I already had that were in my archives, you feel me?
Justin: Yeah. One of my favorites on there was “The Man Under The Bridge.” I thought that was actually one of your best songs to date. Can you talk about that one a little bit?
8Ball: That’s definitely my favorite song on that mixtape, “The Man Under The Bridge.” I just… Drumma Boy gave me the beat and was like, “I know you gonna do something great with it.” And I don’t know… that’s just what came out. It’s something that… I had been tired when I wrote the song and it was a little story about my mama’s house in Memphis. This dude up there, I’ve been knowing him for a few years or whatever. But he’s just that same dude that be in front of the store asking for dollar or “Buy me a beer big man.” Every time you go to the store, he’s always in the front of the store. And I was just thinking, “How did he get here? What was his journey to this day?” And that’s where that song came from.
Justin: Now you’ve got a new album, Life’s Quest, coming out in July so can you tell us about that album and how it differs from the mixtape?
8Ball: I think Life’s Quest is a lot more serious than Premro. That’s like the big difference, you know? Me and Angie Stone did the title track “Life’s Quest.” The rest of the album… like out of the twelve songs that are on there, I got two club songs. And that’s the present single “Good Girl, Bad Girl,” and I got another one called “Go That-A-Way” which is gonna be real big in the club I think once the world gets hold of that. But the rest of it man, it’s really just… in Memphis we call that laid back music pimpin. You know, it’s twelve songs of pimpin. The music is a lot of laid back horns, strings, stuff like that. And a lot of melodic hooks, you know, where I’m just talking about my life and the lives of people around me.
Justin: So it’s kind of getting back to your roots, that classic 8Ball & MJG sound, is what it sounds like.
8Ball: Yeah, I think so. This album is definitely a 2012 extension of my Lost album.
Justin: Oh okay. You bring up that Lost album, and that to me is one of the best double LPs that we have ever seen in Hip Hop. You had released that right in the midst of you and MJG’s great run, so can you talk a little about what was your decision in doing a solo album then?
8Ball: Man, it was something that was really just always on my heart. You know me and MJG always did separate things as far as music, and I wanted to do a solo album. It was just on my heart man, it needed to be done.
Justin: I hear you. Now I was recently watching a documentary about Gangsta Pat, and he was telling a story about he met you when you were a cook and brought you over to the studio. Can you talk about that story and how it came about?
8Ball: Yeah. I was like 17 or 18 and I was working at this little hamburger restaurant… it wasn’t even a restaurant; it was an all-drive thru. It was fast food, all we served was burgers and fries and drinks. That was it. Gangsta Pat and Pretty Tony, who was a Memphis rapper at the time, used to come to the restaurant like every night. We’d stay open late on weekends and shit, and him and Pretty Tony used to pull up in the driveway to get a bunch of combos and shit you know what mean. I don’t know what sparked the conversation, but I know he ended up telling me to bring a bunch of free burgers to the studio and they’d listen to me rap or whatever. I know that’s where it ended up. I came to the studio one night with a sack full of hamburgers and I rapped for them in the booth. And shit, we were making music from that day forth.
Justin: So your skills with the burgers is what got your career started I guess? [Laughs]
8Ball: Well, yeah. I mean the burgers were a segue cause I think I might’ve been working the cash register or something when Pat and them would come. [Laughs] But the burgers were definitely a major segue into where I am today you feel me. [Laughs]
Justin: To stay on that for a minute, in this documentary Pat talked about when he left OTS Records and said he left you and MJG there because he felt you could do more without him. Looking back, do you agree with that or do you feel like he left y’all to fend for yourselves?
8Ball: Honestly, I can’t agree with that because it really wasn’t about… I don’t think me and Pat’s relationship was really that great at that time, you know what I mean, to where we would have left with him. You know, we were closer to the guys that owned the record label, On The Strength Records. Reggie Boyland, I think we were closer to him than Pat you know.
Justin: Alright. Now around this time, when did you first get in contact with Tony Draper and link up with Suave House?
8Ball: Man, it was some time in ’92. It was like the summer of ’92 and we had some mutual friends. He had a record label and our mutual friends started telling him about this group in Memphis called 8Ball & MJG, telling him he should fuck with ‘em or whatever. He came to Memphis, we connected, and we ended up leaving On The Strength Records to join Suave and going to Texas like later that year. You know, cause the contracts or whatever we had with On The Strength, I think we were underage when we signed them and so our parents signed with us.
8Ball: Yeah. That might’ve been the loophole or whatever, but we left and went to Texas and went to Suave.
Justin: When you look back at the history of Suave House, obviously you and MJG were kind of the face of the label, but there was a great roster of artists like Tela and South Circle too. So, do you think that era of Suave House Records is kind of underrated in the Hip Hop community?
8Ball: Definitely. We, as in Suave House Records, with what we brought to the game, we should’ve got a little bit more respect and a little more acknowledgment for the hand we had in a lot of stuff that was going on at the time. You know, cause we changed the face of a lot of their music at the time. But, I think the reason why Suave does not get the accolades of a Def Jam or a Cash Money or a Rap-A-Lot is because these labels are still flourishing now. While Suave is still present, it’s not what it used to be. So I think that’s the big difference. In the Hip Hop community, you have to do more than just survive. You have shine and survive at the same time to get the props that other people like a Def Jam is getting.
Justin: I feel you on that. You had an amazing run there from Comin’ Out Hard to Space Age 4 Eva and we’ve seen very few artists in Hip Hop be able to deliver that type of quality on consecutive releases. What do you attribute that consistency to?
8Ball: I think the label let artists be artists and the business people handle the business. And those are the labels that have the greatest amount of success because that allows you to do what we’ve done. We were able to make the music we wanted to make, and Tony Draper just packaged it and put it out. I think that’s what I would attribute to whatever you would call what we had in those days. But that’s what I would attribute to is we did our thing and he did his thing. He let us be artists, you know?
Justin: Right. Now ultimately you left being independent and signed with Bad Boy. I remember reading an old interview, I believe it was while y’all were still on Bad Boy Records, and it said that y’all never really felt like you were part of the label. Can you talk about that sentiment at the time?
8Ball: Well, a lot happened back then during that little period of 8Ball & MJG’s journey through whatever. A lot of shit happened, a lot of shit was going on and I just think we… like both parties were not all the way comfortable with each other, you feel me? There was a lot of stuff that Bad Boy had done that we didn’t agree with a lot of times and a lot of stuff that we did that they didn’t agree with. I don’t think the fit was what we thought it was gonna be [for] both parties. You know, I think that was just the biggest issue. Bad Boy is like prime rib and 8Ball & MJG is a hamburger, you feel me? They both beef but it just ain’t the same. It didn’t build as it should have.
Justin: So would you say that you regret signing with them or do you still think it was the right move and an important move for you and MJG to do at the time?
8Ball: I do not regret signing with them and I think it was a powerful chapter in the Ball & G story. You know that first record, Living Legends, man that shit did awesome. That single “You Don’t Want Drama” was a big single off that album. But I think we was trying to find our way again with the music on the second album and that’s kind of where we got lost at. But, I never regret that time of my life because it was a definitely a great time in my life. There’s probably billions of artists – rappers, singers, whatever – that would sell their soul to have been in that position, you know what I mean? To have team like Bad Boy behind you and to have a person like Diddy be behind you, people would kill for that position. So I don’t regret it all, you feel me?
Justin: Yeah I do. Now when you think of 8Ball & MJG, you think of two guys who have been through it all in this game. What do you think has helped y’all be able to have this longevity from the early 90’s to still being relevant today?
8Ball: Man, I don’t know. People that are into 8Ball & MJG see something man that probably we don’t even see. I just do me and I know MJG do him to the fullest, one hundred, you know what I’m talking about? I don’t know, I couldn’t say what people get from us or why we’ve been able to capture people’s attention this long, but it’s a blessing man. I don’t know a formula or anything. [Laughs] We just always do what we love first and try to keep it right there. I’ll be the first to say we haven’t made the best business decisions over the years, but as far as our music, I think we’ve just done that flavor that we started with. We just always have that. You can hear it in everything that we do up until this day and I believe that’s what people get from it. That could be one of the things for why we’re now.
Justin: Now you and MJG were just featured on “Money On The Floor” from Big K.R.I.T’s latest album and he’s gonna be on your album Life’s Quest. I know K.R.I.T. has talked about the fact that he’d love, if the stars align, to produce an entire 8Ball & MJG album. So, is that something you’d like to do and do you think it could possibly happen in the near future?
8Ball: Definitely man. We actually… “Money On The Floor” spawned like five or six other songs. Like the song that’s on my album, “We Buy Gold,” came from all of that. We went in the studio a couple a days in Atlanta at Tree Sound and banged out about five or six one day. So I think that’s that possible. That kid has got a definite old soul, you feel me?
Justin: That’s great. One last thing I wanted to ask was what your label situation at the moment is: are you staying indie or are you looking at any major opportunities?
8Ball: Yeah man, I’m staying indie. I really don’t see myself on a major label cause I’m not that product that they wanna sell. [Laughs] So I’m just gonna do what I wanna do and stay where I want to be and I’ll roll this slow money ‘til there’s no money, you feel me?
Justin: Definitely. Well, it’s been an honor speaking with you. Do you have any last words for our readers or anything else you want to share?
8Ball: Hit me up on Twitter @DAREAL_8ball and www.8ballandmjg.com. You can download the new mixtape, Premro, right there and all the mixtapes coming in the future. My little sister Tekaboo, you can get her stuff on there as well. There will be a Premro 2 coming right after this album, Life’s Quest, drops. I know I’m early on that, but it’s on the way. And Life’s Quest, it’s some of my best work to date and I think my true hardcore fans are gonna enjoy this so pick that up.
Justin: Alright man thanks again, really appreciate your time.
8Ball: Thank you. I appreciate you.