In The Lab with Papoose

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Words by Eric Diep
Images by Lauren Gesswein

DJ Premier’s new producer home is in the deep depths of Kaufman Astoria Studios, a historic lot in Queens, New York, where they filmed classics like Goodfellas and Carlito’s Way. Inside the basement of one of the stage buildings, it’s decorated with movie posters worthy of display: Men in Black 3 and The Accidental Husband are just a few wall ornaments that complement movie paraphernalia in the hallways. Navigating through requires careful directions from security on the grounds, but once you reach Preemo’s studio it’s everything you would imagine. The space is adorned with plaques from iconic projects by Gang Starr, Big L and The Notorious B.I.G. Other plaques from Death Row Records and Roc-A-Fella Records are also on display to show the longevity of his career that’s still very active to this day.

While Brooklyn vets like Jay Z, Fabolous and Talib Kweli get a lot of respect for their contributions to the culture, there’s a fighting spirit within Papoose that many don’t give him credit for. The 37-year-old MC gets more press for what he says publicly about younger MCs (Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar) and rap at large than his music, but that’s because what he says isn’t too far from the truth. Shamele Mackie has been a student of the game ever since he picked up a mic and impressed everyone with his wordplay on “Alphabetical Slaughter.” As his career progressed through the years, he cared less about what people think and focused more on delivering music to supporters who’ve been there since his start. You Can’t Stop Destiny, his follow-up to The Nacirema Dream, sums up his whole mantra: No matter who brings you down, you can’t stop what’s aligned in the stars. For him, it’s being the top MC of the world.


Pap shows up to Premier’s studio wearing an Honorable Records T-shirt, a matching hat and some black and yellow Dunks. He’s pretty hungry, politely asking everyone if he can grub on a takeout meal of crab legs and garlic bread that he got from a spot he likes nearby. Most rappers before a photoshoot like to deck themselves out with a lot of jewelry. Pap, on the other hand, comes in plain clothes, letting a gold chain and diamond bezel watch give him the swagger level he desires. Face-to-face, he’s humble, talkative and overall just happy to be at his favorite creative space—the studio.

After his late dinner, Pap is ready to work on a song he’s laid down featuring his wife Remy Ma. Before he gets in the booth, we break down the concept behind You Can’t Stop Destiny, how Kool G Rap influenced him to rap, writing, choosing beats, why his competitors fear him and his lyrical ability, and much more. This is Papoose, live and direct in the lab.

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Influences

“Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Biggie, 2Pac, Nas, more of artists of that caliber. KRS-One—the list goes on. I learned a lot from G Rap, a great friend of mine. Like a big brother to me. He actually put me on one of his earlier albums; he actually contributed to giving me my start. He was the first one that put me on a real album, so shout out to Kool G Rap. I just learned from him to stay true to your craft regardless. You know, the industry changes as time goes on, but as an artist, some people sell out just to change what’s going on and G Rap never did that. He always stayed G Rap. Regardless of [what] era you heard him in, you still heard that real content. That was something that I learned from him. Never be afraid to be yourself as an artist.”

“I met Big Daddy Kane [before]. One of my mentors had a really good relationship with him. So we shared that with each other and spoke about him. He was one of my idols. Hip-hop itself made me want to rap, but Big Daddy Kane made me want to be good at it. His content was just so potent. As a child, to me, hearing him amazed me and I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. When I heard the Long Live The Kane album—I actually stole it from somebody. For real. My parents used to have card games and one of their people who came over had a Big Daddy Kane cassette tape and I was sitting there as a kid. That came out in ’88 or some shit like that? And I’m sitting there and I’m listening like, ‘Holy shit, this guy is amazing.’ He went to the bathroom and I just kind of [took it] and went to bed. He’s like, ‘Have you seen my tape?’ I was like, ‘No.’ That tape changed my life.”

On Staying True to the Craft

“Hip-hop has come a long way and you have to appreciate that it’s a worldwide thing now. It’s something that has started in the streets of New York and its impact has influenced the world. Sponsorships. Grammys. Just everything as a whole. I feel like that’s growth, but I feel like just to be successful sometimes they get away from the actual talent. I feel like it requires talent. It requires studying your craft and perfecting it. I don’t feel like that really happens a lot.”

“Nowadays, it’s swag. ‘Yo, give me some swag’ or materialism. And that’s cool. I’m into materialism myself. I like to dress fly. I’ve always been a fly individual. I don’t have a problem with that; I just don’t feel like those things should be at the forefront. I feel like the foundation of it is based on talent.”

“If you are in love with a certain sport or something that you love in life and you enjoy doing it, it may be something you don’t do for money or financial gain. It’s something that you do because you love it. It depends on what you come in this for. If you come into hip-hop and you want to make some money and that’s it, then I can understand why you might sound horrible to a person who respects the craft like me. I take it a little more serious than the average person would. I feel like since it became so commercialized, we have a lot of people who come into because it’s the glitz and glamour. When they see that, they want to be a part of it. That’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just understand and know that, it is a group of people who take it serious. It’s really an art form.”

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Studio Essentials

“When I go to the studio, I need some water. It used to be weed. I used to need weed when I recorded. I slowed down on that as I got older. That was back in my youth. I don’t really abuse things like I used to. Nowadays, some water, some good food. And I’m ready to go. I go in the booth and I turn off the lights. I just go in.”

“I wouldn’t mind if got some champagne and we had something to drink. That’s cool. It’s not something that I need. It might be a want, but it’s not something that I need. For me, peace and quiet brings a lot out of me because I can really function and focus if I get a little silence. That’s why I go into the booth and close the door. Anybody who gets in the studio with me they’ll tell you that I always turn off the lights. I need it like that because I need to focus.”

“If some of my homies come, it’s cool. If my wife is there, I love that. It’s not mandatory for me. As long as I got the music and I got my peace of mind, I’m good when it comes to creating. If people is there, I want to block them out anyway cause I’m so focused on what I’m doing that I’m just in another world.”

On His Writing Process

“I definitely wrote when I was young. It was definitely a pleasure for me to have a blank piece of paper and a pen. As I got older, I started to do freestyles more frequently. When you do it so frequently, you didn’t have a pen and paper with you all the time. I came to a point where if I had a pen and a paper right in front of me, I would probably write about a pen and a paper. I would create my ideas throughout the course of my day and it would reflect different experiences and different things that was going on and it came out better. So I don’t sit down with a pen and a paper. I haven’t done that in years. The only rap I sat down and wrote was ‘Alphabetical Slaughter.’”

“Sometimes I have different ideas in my head already. When I hear the beat, I just put my ideas into the rhythm of the beat that I already had in my head. And then if I’m creating right there, that’s cool. I feel like my best lyrics come when they are premeditated as opposed to writing in the studio. I could do that and I’ve done that, but I rather have it prepared ahead of time.”

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From Writing Rhymes to Straight Freestyling

“When I first started, I was writing it because it’s something you think: ‘Ok, when you write a rhyme, you gonna need a pen, you gonna need a paper.’ That’s cool if you just doing it one hour out of the day or two hours. But when you are really dedicated to what you doing and it’s something that you want to perfect, and you want all your words to line up properly, you find yourself doing it more frequently. So when you are doing it more frequently, you’re not walking around with a pen and a paper all the time. I was in a point of my life where I was always creating, as I started to do that I got so used to it that I didn’t even need the pen and the pad no more.”

“The only purpose the pen and the paper serve is memory, to memorize it. I would create it, then I would write it down so I don’t forget it. But I got so ill with it that I wasn’t forgetting it no more. I don’t need to write it down because I would create it and I didn’t need to write it for memory. I just stored it in my head and that’s how I function. As you get older, you get more responsibilities. You get other things that you gotta worry about. You don’t really do that shit anymore, so I started recording into my phone. Throughout the course of my career, I never wrote.”

On Choosing Beats

“I choose my beats straight up off of ear. I don’t go with a producer because he’s hot at that time. And everybody wants you. That don’t mean shit to me. If I hear a beat, and it inspires me…sometimes a beat can write a rap for you. If it’s a great beat, it’s not hard to write to it at all. When a beat is wack, that’s when you are sitting for hours, trying to write to it. When a dope beat come on, it just comes instantly. Concept. Idea. Everything. Energy. Just the vibe and how it sounds.”

“I don’t give a fuck if it’s a popular producer. ‘Oh he’s hot right now, he’s dope!’ You haven’t even heard his work yet. If we go into the studio and he’s playing wack shit, then he’s playing wack shit. That’s just how I am. I judge everybody by what they present, not they name or they reputation.”

“I want to try different things and I’d like to show these guys that what they are doing is nothing. I don’t mind hopping on beats that might sound similar to quote unquote what’s going on today. And showing them that what they doing is easy. Wise man play a part of fool, but a fool can’t play a part of a wise man. I like to see some of them do what I do. I was definitely in a space where I wanted to try new things on this album on certain records.”

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On the Title, You Can’t Stop Destiny

“I’m gonna be honest with you, the industry is a real political place. The music business is very, very political and certain things you do you may piss certain people off or if they are in positions of power. They might have other people they owe favors too. They want to show favoritism too so you might be denied out of an opportunity. You might be qualified for the opportunity better than the next person.”

“What I’m trying to say is there are a lot of people in this game that don’t want to see other people succeed. That used to bother me, but as I got older, I learned whatever is destined to happen, whatever you are destined to achieve, nobody can stop that. Nobody can block your blessings. They can hate on you, they can try to cause obstacles. They can be in a position of power and might not want to let you shine. But they can’t stop destiny. That’s the space I am in now. Regardless of what, y’all aren’t gonna be able to stop me.”

“My ultimate destiny was to always reach the population of the world and let them hear my message, my ideas, my concepts. And the more people I can touch with my message and I can touch with my word, when I’m gone they can say that ‘Papoose was here.’ They can take from the concepts and the ideas and messages and apply it to they life. And pass it down. I just always wanted to reach the population of the world and let them know my world. Hopefully, I can change they lives and influence them like how I was by the greats. The Big Daddy Kanes. The Malcolm Xs. You know what I’m saying? Dr. King. Marcus Garvey. Like how those people influenced me, I always wanted to influence the world with my state of mind and my point of view.”

On the Single, “The Bank”

“A lot of people always tell me that you should rap with a live band. You should really do that. When Ron Browz gave me that track, actually, my wife’s DJ [Bed Tyme], when he heard the record and he finished it. ‘Yo, Pap, when you do this video, you gotta have a band behind it.’ I was sitting there like, ‘Yeah, he’s fucking right.’ So honestly, shout out to DJ Bed Tyme he actually gave the idea to do the video like that. The collection of what he said and always people telling me, ‘I know you love your hip-hop beats, but I would love to hear some of your lyrics behind a live band.’ So I just wanted to give the visual of it and I plan to produce some things with an actual live band moving forward.”

On the Differences Between Making a Mixtape and an Album

“It’s definitely different. You preserve the records with a better approach. You approach it different. You space it out better. Your timing. You take it into consideration as opposed to a mixtape. ‘You know what? Fuck that. I’m just gonna do what I’m gonna do.’ When I came in this, I just had a mentality. ‘Yo, man. It doesn’t matter if I put this music on a mixtape or if I put this music on an album.’ This music is music. That’s just the vehicle of how it’s gonna travel across the planet. It wasn’t a difference to me that’s why I put so much potent shit on my mixtapes because I took it serious. And if you really do your homework, some of your favorite artists their freestyle shit before their first album was their album. If you really follow those artists and you copped their album, you heard them same raps they was spitting on the radio. Seriously. It’s really not a difference. But I respect that they have a lot of people thinking it’s a big difference. The production might be different because you take your time out to really mix and master records, so that makes it sound bigger and more quality. From an artist standpoint, it’s the same shit.”

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On Why He’s the Most Feared MC By His Competitors

“The conversation we was having about just the craft, the art form and the potency of the music and commercialism. How can I explain it? If you really take a deep look under the magnifying glass, it’s a small portion of MCs who really have the talent. It’s a very small portion of rappers who can actually rap. All of the other guys who are not that great, they fear for those guys to be in a position of power because they won’t have jobs ‘cause these guys are pretending to be who we really are as true artists. Who really can do this? But the commercialism allows hip-hop to be oversaturated with rappers who can’t rap. They actually horrible and they cracking the bank. So, just to summarize it to you, that’s why they afraid of me because they know my capabilities, they know my talent. We just live in a world a society where, you know, sometimes the best guy might not be on top.”

“I’m just the most feared MC because they know they can’t fuck with me. There’s certain obstacles that are thrown my way in a sneaky way cause they know who to play with and who not to play with. It’s done in a sneaky way. That’s just that. That’s why I’m the most feared MC because they know deep down inside they all watch my moves. They listen to my shit. They copy. They steal. I got a list of lines they stole from me. And the fans hit me with it. ‘Yo, you see this? This is straight-up theft.’ I’m not tooting my own horn, but facts is facts.”

On The State of New York Hip-Hop

“Just to be honest with you, for me to be in the driver’s seat and have a project coming out and saying New York rap is wack. What am I saying about myself? When people make statements like that, they should look in the mirror. You are in a space where you can do something about it. With my project coming out July 17, New York rap is in a great space because I’m doing something about it. I don’t know. We gotta love ourselves more and we gotta support our own. When you go to other cities—I don’t want to keep saying it—but they support they own. They support they own and you feel like you in that city. When I’m in these cities, I feel like I’m in Atlanta. When I’m New York sometimes and I hear the radio, sometimes I feel like I’m in Atlanta. That has to change, but people don’t like it when I say this shit, but I don’t care. That has to stop because we got talent here. We just can’t be afraid to put it to the forefront. Outside of that, New York rap is in a great space.”

What’s Next

“I’m just happy for Remy Ma. She’s finally home. She’s making some great records and her mind is another level. She’s got another real big record coming soon with some big features on it. We just working.”

“I had so many responsibilities with her being behind that wall that I couldn’t really give the fans all of me. I was really just giving them a partial version of Papoose. Now that she’s home and she’s back moving around and I know that she’s safe and I don’t gotta worry about her, it just cleared up a big space in my brain. I can just function and I’m more focused on the music now. I’m blessed as far as that concerned. I’m just happy.”

Stream You Can’t Stop Destiny in full now.

Previously:

In The Lab with Large Professor
In The Lab with Yelawolf
In The Lab with Mick Jenkins
In The Lab with Boi-1da
In The Lab with Meyhem Lauren and Buckwild
In The Lab with Vince Staples
In The Lab: Blu on the Making of Good To Be Home
In The Lab with Sean C & LV
In The Lab with Harry Fraud
In The Lab with RATKING
In The Lab with The Alchemist and Evidence (Step Brothers)
In The Lab with Thelonious Martin
In The Lab with Troy Ave
In The Lab with Marco Polo
In The Lab with Black Milk
In The Lab with Oddisee
In The Lab with Pete Rock
In The Lab with Party Supplies
In The Lab with Mac Miller
In The Lab with Roc Marciano


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