In life (and in the hip-hop industry especially), there’s an unwritten code: as you approach the veteran years of your career, you’re expected to lose a step in your game.
Twista did not get that memo.
In fact, with 18 years of experience in the business so far, the Chicago hip-hop legend doesn’t see a career decline anytime soon. Nope, on the contrary. He says that some of his best work is yet to come.
Think about that for a moment.
This is coming from the guy who’s had two of his past six studio albums go platinum and crack the top ten list on the U.S. Billboard top 200, collaborations with some of the music industry’s finest talent including Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Mariah Carey, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, T.I, and Akon, and not to mention, this is also the former Guinness World Record holder for the fastest rapper in the world.
But despite all of his accomplishments, the 35-year-old is still confident that there’s room to improve, and has thus named his seventh studio album Category F5, the term for the most severe and dangerous Tornado level known to mankind on the Fujita scale.
“When all is said and done,” Twista tells andPOP, “I want everyone to see Twista as a timeless artist.
“I really want people to see that ‘this n***a came into the game a while back and was blowing away people with his lyrics from the beginning all the way until the end, and still at 35, he’s still competing with some of the hottest n***as in the game now.”
With stakes so high and something planned to be so colossal, the rapper thought it was necessary to be more involved in the production of this record.
“There were a lot of things hands-on this time,” recalls Twista. “I used to have some people do some stuff for me, but this time I really dove into the mixing and listening to the first cuts.
“But this hands-on thing really challenged me, so it was like I was sitting somewhere in the basement going crazy like mad scientist, hard at work, trying to get the album the way I wanted it to sound.”
But hard work isn’t foreign to Twista. Born and bred on Chicago’s West Side, Twista- real name Carl Mitchell -is quite familiar with the feeling of grinding through the ranks, networking, and continuing to push forward. In fact, it’s safe to say that Twista is one of the best networking artists in the entire industry.
Case in show, at the time he released his third album Adrenaline Rush in 1997, Twista’s services as a rapid-tongued lyrical speed-demon were constantly desired by the majority of the biz. Kind of like the way someone requests a special hot sauce to give their food that extra spike, Twista was indeed that secret sauce, and the industry couldn’t get enough of him.
Timbaland, Ludacris, P. Diddy, Kanye West. The list goes on and on.
“Everyone knows I’m happy to help them out anytime,” explains Twista. “I put my heart and soul into everything, and the tracks that they ask me to jump on. So it feels good to know they have my back and can return the favor.”
And the original favor returned was well worth it. His 2004 album Kamikaze attracted, upon many, the likes of longtime Chi-town friend Kanye West and actor/singer Jamie Foxx, who all together created the album’s Grammy nominated star pupil Slow Jamz. The album’s popularity was so hot that it not only reached platinum status, but also earned the No. 1 spot on the U.S. Billboard top 200.
Ever since Kamikaze, however, Twista has yet to generate as much success.
The following two projects, The Day After (2005), and Adrenaline 2007 (2007) did do fairly well- the first going platinum and the second going gold – but somehow their growth was stunted.
It’s one of Twista’s main hopes that F5 will break that trend, and help reclaim his spotlight.
“When people hear this album,” says Twista, “I just want them to see me, and how I’m still a part of what’s going on.”
Helping him hopefully meet that goal are the A-listing cast that he attracted once again- no surprise there. Throwing out big names such as Kanye, Akon, Busta Rhymes, R. Kelly, and longtime friend on the production side, The Legendary Traxster, the cast can only be assessed as simply more fire power for this already machine gun rapper.
“I’m still so phased by it now,” says Twista. “It’s a great group to have in the studio, such top artists all working together to achieve excellence- nothing better than that.”
Dig deeper, and you’ll find that his allegiances with some of the guys go further than just past one-time gigs. Take him and Trax for example. Like peanut butter and jelly, they both go all the way back to when Twista first began spitting out beats on records. Or R. Kelly, who was a guest at Twista’s original release party in 1991. Or even Kanye, who Twista recalls spending tons of time with, at his house, while they were younger.
“Man, I was chilling with him when he was still getting into trouble with his mother,” Twista says laughing. “But overall, I guess I’m just lucky to have a great relationship with everybody.”
F5 also gives Twista a chance to put his career on a path towards “longevity”- a dream and word that he cannot repeat enough throughout the interview. Almost like a four syllable mantra.
“Hip-hop artists’ careers end way too quickly,” says Twista. “It’s sad, and it would be great if they can last as long as the way R&B artists do. Just like James Brown.”
Then he pauses.
“You know what, I wanna be like the Jason Voorhees of rap,” he adds, chuckling, referring to the machete-wielding hockey-masked fictional character in Friday the 13th who just never dies.
And for someone who has seen it all over the years- from the CD to the MP3 era -Twista points out the evolution of his playground, and the current “impure” state of the industry.
“Right now,” he explains, “everyone’s trying to make money off of it. It’s more impure than it has been in a long time.”
“But I think that everything has the potential to do a 360. Like there’s a lot of negatives that have come from the whole technology aspect in the music industry, but there’s also a lot of positives. You’ll hear a lot of raw talent from the internet.”
Adds the rapper, “I guess it’s that I like being a true artist, so I like when a person can really play an instrument, or is really talented to put together a release, or someone who can really rap their ass off. I would like to hear more of that. I’m not against the fans view, because that’s what they love. But I wanna even it out a little bit.”