New Orleans native and Gold-selling artist Fiend has been making his presence known on the rap scene since the early ’90s. But national acclaim came with him joining the once-dominant label, No Limit Records, dropping verses on hits such as “Make ‘Em Say Uhh,” and playing roles in films like I Got the Hook Up.
Now a member of Curren$y’s Jet Life Recordings, International Jones still seems as hungry as he was when he sported a diamond-encrusted tank and camouflage threads. However, he’s diversified his style a bit throughout the years. Not simply sticking to the raw, street-oriented style that brought him success in the ’90s on into the new millennium, nowadays it’s not a shocker to hear Fiend spit a lot smoother and refined on tracks. Nevertheless, he still manages to create music that can be enjoyed by both those hustling on the street corners and those hustling inside of corporate offices.
Fiend recently dropped his latest project, Keep Ya Cool. A follow-up to his spring mixtape, Lil’Ghetto Boy, Keep Ya Cool displays Fiend embracing the same formula that he utilized on projects like Tennis Shoes & Tuxedos, Cool Is In Session, and Life Behind Limo Glass. But he doesn’t take on too much of a laid-back persona that he forgets to shed light on those suffering in impoverished communities, controversial occurrences like the Trayvon Martin verdict, and repercussions of the street life.
Fiend took time out to talk about Keep Ya Cool, his love for live instrumentation, his upcoming album, how he wants to be remembered, and his Sleepy Bear Tees clothing line.
You dropped Lil Ghetto Boy this past spring. How would you personally say this new mixtape differs from that project?
Lil Ghetto Boy is a little bit more street-orientated. There’s harder tracks. Keep Ya Cool is something to hold on to. Lil Ghetto Boy talked upon different subject matters. It ranged from good times to bad times all together. Keep Ya Cool is more like an extension of Cool Is In Session or just Smokin’ [Champagne]. This right here is a little bit more [of] refined culture rhymes.
What were you seeking to convey when you titled the mixtape Keep Ya Cool?
Everything in life, you gotta keep ya cool. You might be that close to the money [or] that close to great opportunities. Life is about reactions. It’s about how you react to things. And the best way I could sum it up was to [say] ‘keep ya cool.’ From any scale of anything happening to you, whether it’s having it out with somebody, road rage, to keeping your mouth shut and trying to get with a girl and not talking yourself out of some cookie.
Shout out to my guy K-Town who did the cover. The cover is artsy. It’s like your expression of what you think is cool. And this cover is basically about not only just being baked, but just being adventurous with your creativity. Keep ya cool. You’ve got this chick being blown by this fan; ice cubes melting; you see Sleepy Bear back there with the ganja plants. It’s an expression of just art within itself. [The cover] expressed the meat and potatoes of the tracks. It’s not even just about getting baked, it’s about allowing yourself to take trip. A lot of people smoke and be their own bosses. A lot of people smoke and think of different ideas that they maybe wouldn’t have thought of, if they wasn’t smoking, so I just wanted to let you know that it’s nothing wrong with being artsy. It’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the creative person within you. So, the cover came with that, with being artsy and having fun as well. I think the cover represents myself.
Instead of flooding the mixtape with features from your Jet Life Recordings brethren, you have a lot of up-and-coming artists on there. What made you decide to go that route?
Hard work. My guys were on tour, and I stayed back to work and take care of some business. The people that are on the project are people that I always had good relationships with, and they’re people who I felt like deserved an opportunity to be heard. You’re my friend regardless, so it’s time the world sees that.
I’m dropping another project next month, and this is just an addition. I have Nesby Phips, A’lexxus, Big Sant, Le$ from out there in Houston. I just wanted to make music. I know a lot of responsibility comes with it, but my whole creative process sometimes is not to be so obvious and predictable, and to just make great music and present it to the world. It’s always good to give back. Somebody gave me an opportunity, and that’s just my way of giving back; shining my light on some up-and-coming artists that deserve an opportunity.
The poem is actually a poem entitled “Footprints” that I’ve always known. My parents always had it in the house. Just life, this street life, it’s so bitter. It’s so raw. I have a lot of buddies that’s been through a lot of things, whether they’re working at McDonald’s or working high-end corporate jobs for some Fortune 500 companies, and I feel like those words are words that people don’t hear too often. You don’t hear that too often—to know that it’s gonna be alright. A lot of times, you’re gonna feel alone, and those messages are not out there as much as they used to be.
I like to party. I like to chill, and do just about everything that everybody else likes to do. I just feel like, they got guys that are in the belly of the beast—in prison. They got guys who are in prison in their own mental state on the street, and I just feel like some people need to hear that. I know people are going through something, and I can’t just talk about partying all the time and act like this person didn’t have to deal with losing a cousin the other day in Memphis to gang violence. I can’t act like my lil’ homie might have been pushing X, Y, Z on the street but now he’s dealing with a drug sentence and don’t know when he’s gonna come home. I’m more of a helper than a taker, and I feel that I was compelled to the moment to do it right after I had put [my incarcerated friend’s] drop on the end of the song. I almost had to take it off, because I know it was kind of sending mixed signals with the project, or the majority of it, but I couldn’t do it.
Will fans see Fiend experimenting with poetry looking forward?
Aw yeah. I did spoken word in Chicago. I did spoken word on the intro of Street Life, a project I put out in 1999 on No Limit Records. I’m gonna do something soon.
Does International Jones have his hand in some other projects as well?
I’m about to release this radio station called FEFM.radio just [for people] to jam to stuff that I chill to. I know [it’s] people [that] like the music that I like. It’s music for our kind. It’s going to be online as well as an app. I’m just ironing out the kinks of it right now. We’re going to be taking submissions from writers all over the world. I love that music, man. I love that music. I was put here on earth to make music. I just feel like that’s the best way I can express myself. I can’t help but continue to express myself through more soul music. I tend to make a lot of street-orientated music at the same time, but it’s polished street music.
If you could hear Marlon Brando rap, maybe these would be those bars. If you could hear the Dos Esquis man from the beer commercials rhyme, it would probably be these bars. A man that has seen it all but at the same time still a fellow brother in the street. I don’t have to be judged by how much money I have. People are more drawn to me by the wisdom I’ve obtained over the years. I’m finding a way to express myself through this music and I’m just diggin’ it, man.
You brought your band back on Keep Ya Cool with songs like “A Toast,” “Maria Sharapova,” and a couple others.
I love the Menahan Street Band. My goal is to make an album with these cats, and the name of the project is, I Came With A Live Band. I already see the artwork. I see it in my mind and everything. That’s my goal.
Before my dad passed, he got me to perform with a band by the name of Galactic in a legendary club in New Orleans. And I had never really performed with a live band, and I feel like that was a sign for me, from him, to do that. So connecting with the The Menahan Street Band, I be overwhelmed. I can’t help but rhyme to their music. Since “Cross the Atlantic” to “Maria Sharapova” to “Marlon Brando” to “A Toast,” I can’t help it. It’s like I go somewhere else. I blackout or something. I think that’s just me. That’s really where I want to go next. I just wanna have a good time and create better memories. Everybody are traumatized with something in they life, man. Music has been my outlet to express myself during my father’s passing, to accept the great times that we had and to move forward.
When people remember me, I want them to digest and say, ‘bruh, homie really fucked with us. He didn’t even know each one of us, but he fucked wit us to share not only his life but his talent [and] his wisdom with us. Whether it was getting money, getting girls, being safe, or doing something stupid, he was right there in the passenger seat in the CD player, in the iPod, in the MP3 auxiliary [with us].’
I still perform all of my old stuff [too]. All the No Limit hits and stuff, I still do those for people out there who wanna book me strictly for that sound. Don’t think just because I’m doing this right here that I wouldn’t dare do “There’s One In Every Family,” “Street Life,” the soldier records I did with No Limit. “Mr. Whomp Whomp/Talk It Like I Bring It,” and stuff like that. I just don’t want to be in a box. I want to be able to do everything—express how I feel and share it with the world.
On the song, “Eyes be Red,” you touch on your appreciation for marijuana, but can you elaborate on what inspired the record? It’s deeper than the average weed song?
[Fiend sings], ‘My eyes be red, my body numb, keep rollin’ up, I’m not done.’ Let’s go there. If we gonna go there, let’s go there. I can’t help it, if we gonna talk about the experience all together. ‘Meltin’ like butter on pancakes.’ Let’s go there. ‘Baked like cornbread goin’ wit the pot of beans.’ It’s just a dope vibe. The track was so dope. First Class Music produced it, and that’s just where it took me. I want to reinvent the wheel. You hear cats talk about they be high all day, but I want to reinvent the wheel. Like, when you hear it from me, you gonna know, ‘oh, Jones done touched it.’ It’s something special about it. It’s ain’t just, ‘I’m over here loaded. I’m doing this.’ I’m smoking certain strands to gives me certain inspiration, or I’m recording without nothing at all but I’m on my greatest high, because of where [the song] took me to, where it brought me to. Where it allowed me to teleport to. Like, if you got in the car wit your uncle and you threw that on, he’d be like, ‘what you jammin’ to? Huh, bruh?’ I’m building a bridge between 13 year olds and cats that are 35 years old.
On the song “Habanero,” you have the line, “cold as them giving Zimmerman his burner back.” How do you feel about the Trayvon Martin situation and the George Zimmerman verdict?
I feel like it’s obvious, in your face, your value is worth as much as what you seen, if you are this race. And you should come to terms with that, and you need to do something about it within your households. You giving this dude his old pistol back like it was nothing. Like he killed a deer, and no disrespect to the Martin family, but that’s just what happened. I don’t know all the facts but from where I’m at, it’s a reality. I see it all the time. [A] black man gets gunned down and if it was a Caucasian man [and] it was going on within his jurisdiction, he’s commended for something. I’m not saying all Caucasian people are bad. I’m not saying that all African-Americans are good, I’m just saying that we’re supposed to be equal. If we’re equal under God, what make us not equal [on earth]?
[Important note: Although George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin, he has yet to receive the Kel-Tec 9mm pistol he used in the incident. However, there’s been no legal prevention of Zimmerman purchasing a new firearm.]
I got a few surprises. I kind of just chilled and let everybody get them, because a lot of people were mimicking Sleepy Bear. They got a lot of bear imitations out there, so I just wanted to fall back and acknowledge that I’m not in a rush to be the greatest. I’m not in a rush to be the best. You are what you are. So I’ma take my time and when I drop this here, you gonna know what it is. It’s fresh and it’s for us. It’s an alternative. I’m hear to fill the void of all this whack shit. That’s why I just had to put it out there. I didn’t put no pictures out there of the pieces or nothing, because they just be mimicking. And it’s flattering, but at the same time, it’s depreciative in my eyes. I’m making a contribution to hip-hop, and I deserve my lane. If I’m not biting or stealing from you, you shouldn’t be stealing from me.
What’s next for Fiend?
I got T.G.I.F. dropping next month. Thank God It’s Fiend. An example of that was the intro to Keep Ya Cool. That’s like where we bout to go. It’s a street album. It’s gonna be like what you heard on Da Headbussaz, Street Life, [and] There’s One In Every Family. It’s just gonna be done in how I’m gonna package it. How I’ma whip it up. It’s serious. I got the first single off the album, “On My Job” featuring Juvenile out right now. People can purchase that on iTunes. And I gotta gang of features and surprises [on the album]. I ain’t gonna blow the surprise, but it’s gonna be real special. I’m putting it up on iTunes and fienddigtal.com.
I gotta few movies in the works—I’m narrating and doing a little directing. I’m just adding to the culture. I want it to go another 25-40 years, ya know? I’m securing my business. That’s what most people in hip-hop lack, whether they got beaten or they just beat their self out of opportunity. I’m securing my business, and building this brand to be here forever. I want to be able to offer jobs. I want to be able to do something for a brother or sister coming out of college, no matter what race they are. It’s just great things coming.