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Joell Ortiz video/EPK


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This summer, while New Yorkers were debating the identity of the city's next big rapper, Joell Ortiz was excluded from the discussion.  He was in the lab making records. Unlike many of the city's other contenders, who've flooded the music biz with mixtapes, Ortiz limited his hustle to just one, Who The Fuck Is Joell Ortiz?

“You can't get nowhere with industry buzz,” Ortiz reasons.  “You don't get hot from those kids, you get hot from the interns who might still live at the projects.”

Nevertheless, Ortiz took meetings with A&R's who cited everything from his weight to a missing twinkle in his eyes, for reasons they couldn't sign him.  “My eyes got poverty,” Ortiz says plainly.  “The only thing that twinkle is tears for lost friends.”  So he soldiered on, gaining fans through his shows at SOB's, his online journal on and leaks of his popular 125 Grams series of 125 bar freestyles.  


Eventually, the tape landed in the hands of a real decisionmaker, Dr. Dre. Ortiz immediately knew he was serious.  “I sent eight songs,” he recalls.  “He flew me to LA the next day. He signed me the day after that.  I was back on a plane the day after that.” Joell Ortiz has that that type of effect on people: he can really rhyme. 

Ortiz has taken the long route to success.  He's spent the last decade in the lab with noted A&R Mike Heron and even recorded with Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap.  This progression is obvious on The Brick, his lead-up album on Koch Records that drops on TK.

Ortiz describes it as “a peek in on the bodega to see what happens on the project corner. “ He speaks from experience.  A star basketball player and model student who scored close to 1400 on his SAT's, Ortiz made an uncomfortable choice at 17.  With both academic and basketball scholarships on the table, Ortiz elected to stay in Cooper.“My moms was getting high and I didn't want to hear something  happened to her,”  he recalls,  “she was my best friend.”

But later, Ortiz says, “I got into the streets and ended up hustling to survive.”  Soon both drugs and money were missing.   “I fought her everyday,” he admits.  But he also kept a watchful eye on her.  “She just went cold turkey,” he says of her decision to quit using drugs. “I was very proud of my moms.” 

Ortiz recounts that situation on the initial salvo of his popular 125 grams songs, eight songs that feature 125 bars of straight rhyming, which form the core of The Brick.

But Ortiz also focused on making complete records.  “On this Koch album you are going to hear a lot of records that sound mad and painful,” he says.  “On caught up I show you how 95 percent of the people who talk about hustling don't show you the fact that as fast as you can be up you can be down.” 

And now that he's up, he's focused on proving that hip-hop still lives in

New York. “Everybody doesn't do bubblegum rapping,” he says. “If I hip-hop is dead. I want to come across as the Spanish  nigga, who shows that hip-hop is nice.
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