The burger that Termanology is eating is huge and juicy. He eats it with gusto and relish, occasionally dipping, bird-like, into the massive bowl of fries underneath it. When you’re on tour, you’ve got to catch food when you can, and Termanology is taking full advantage of hotel catering. We’re not sure if this North London hotel has ever had rappers staying in it before, but they’ve certainly done their best to cater to rapper-sized tastes.
“I drunk a whole bottle of vodka last night. I do that every night,” Term says, seemingly apropros of nothing.
“You’re liver’s going to be hurting soon!” cracks Jo, the show’s promoter, sitting opposite him.
“I know,” says Term slightly wistfully. “I gotta stop, for real. I’m starting to feel the effects lately. But you see, I’m good. A lot of people would be throwing up their guts right now. I drink so much it’s like, whatever. I think I’m going to put myself in rehabilitation for real. I think it’s about that time. Maybe around January. I fiend for it. Alcoholism runs very deep in family; it’s destroyed half of my family. I didn’t realise that. My mother kept telling me that – like, serious, serious. Now that I’m starting to see, I’m like, I’m kind of destroying myself.”
And with that, he finishes the burger and says no more on the subject, seemingly drawing a line under it. It’s a rather odd interlude, given that 30 seconds before, he was enthusiastically discussing Big Pun and DJ Premier. But then, everything he does – whether eating a burger, partying hard or waxing lyrical about his hip-hop heroes – is done with a kind of fevered intensity and almost aggressive attack, as if he’s secretly worried that he won’t get to do it again.
The Massachusetts-born MC introduced himself to the world four years ago on “Watch How It Go Down,” a fiery beat produced by his hero DJ Premier. After chasing the producer around for three years begging for a beat – and, in his own words, getting shoved off continually – Premo finally relented and told Term he can have a beat, mostly thanks to pressure from Term’s close collaborator Statik Selectah.
“Premo sent Big Shug to my crib [near Boston], I ran outside with the money in a brown paper bag – there it is. This was December 28, 2005. Me, three or four friends of mine, my mother and my girlfriend. We bought two big bottles of Bacardi and we stayed up playing that beat all night! Over and over! See, as a kid, I had three life goals. Do a song with Dr. Dre, do a song with Premier and make $1 million. I just checked one off the list! It was so intimidating to sit down and write to that beat; it took me thirty days! There was a lot of pressure. I didn’t want to make the wrong record, because this was my shot.”
He seemed to have aimed correctly – the song was huge, and kicked off with the ballsy line, “I see myself as the holy resurrection of Pun.” Ever since he made that song, Term has been trying to follow in the footsteps of his idol, not just as a Latino rapper but as a rapper that (he hopes) will one day be recognized among the greats. Of course, if he eats too many of those burgers or knocks back one too many vodka shots, he’ll definitely follow his hero – right into cardiac arrest, which Pun died of in 2000.
“People always seem to forget about him,” says Term, who has a tattoo of Pun on his left shoulder. “People talk about Biggie and Pac, and most of the time he is slept on. Also at the time that I wrote that line, I felt like there was nobody Latin in hip-hop. There are a lot of dope artists who are Latin – Fat Joe, The Beatnuts – but what I was trying to say was, I’m the new cat, I’m gonna rip it, destroy these microphones. From what I saw, there weren’t too many cats who were better than me. I’m just trying to keep his name, and it was a good thing that I said it, because a lot of people felt the same way, and looked at me like that. But it was also bad, because a lot of people were like, oh, you think you’re the next Pun? I’m definitely happy I said it though, because from then until now I feel like I definitely proved myself as a lyricist, and I just wanted people to look at me like that.”
Of course, that was then and this is now. And while Term has certainly made some steps towards greatness, pulling out innumerable mixtapes and a solid debut album (Politics As Usual, released in 2008) he is still sometimes viewed as nothing more than an upstart Latin rapper. But Term seems to have come to, well, terms with the fact that he sticks out. He says that since hip-hop is black music, any Latino guy doing it is going to stick out.
He does not, however, dwell on it too much. “It doesn’t really affect the music that gets made,” he says. “There aren’t that many of them, Latin rappers. There are a lots of MCs that are Latin, but there aren’t a lot of MCs that promote their own Latin style. Fabolous is half Dominican, but you don’t know because he doesn’t really talk about it. AZ [who he was on tour with at the time of the interview] is half Dominican. Lloyd Banks, Jim Jones, both half Puerto Rican. They grew up American, so they’re not that deep into their Latin heritage. I grew up American also, but I grew up in [Lawrence, Massachusetts], a Hispanic community. It’s almost like living in Puerto Rico. I take the pride little bit deeper than most people do, because I’m still living like that. The emergence of Joell Ortiz and myself has been fantastic for Latin hip-hop fans.”
Although Term has yet to return to working with Premo, he and the legendary producer do share one other interesting characteristic. They are both out-of-towners who have come to personify the New York street sound. Play a game of word association, knocking around terminology like Brooklyn, subway, cyphers, boom-bap, and Fat Beats, and pretty soon Termanology and DJ Premier (born in Lawrence and Houston respectively) will pop up.
When asked about this, Term says that it is his distinct New York influences that have led him to this state of affairs. “Premier had a big hand in making what is now considered the New York sound. Gangstarr came on the scene in 1992, and hip-hop drastically changed from the late 80s to the early 90s. They were putting soul samples in it, and it was a lot more simple when it used to be just Run-DMC. From there, moving to Eric B. and Rakim, the words and beats got more complex. So when people think of New York, they think of Premier. Me? I came along a lot later. I was heavily influenced by the sound of New York, so obviously my music is going to sound like that. A lot of people in New York started trying to sound like the South or trying to sound commercial and kind of gave up on the original sound, but me and Statik didn’t. We still use that original sound, and that’s where we get a lot of the comparisons from. We didn’t give up on it – 2010, we still make that music.”
That he does – even if he does it with a producer who is slightly less storied than Premo. But there is no denying that even if Statik Selectah hasn’t quite moved up to legendary status yet, he and Term have a special chemistry. They are on the verge of releasing an album together, entitled 1982, and although the producer wasn’t featured on Politics As Usual, Term is intensely enthusiastic about how much they love working together. Apparently, Statik is a crazy, drunk, psychopathic genius who enjoys brawling if things don’t go right in the studio.
“One of the best DJs in the world,” Term declares. “But some of his beats fucking suck – and I’ll tell him, this one sucks man, get outta here with that, delete that fucking beat. And some of them are the most amazing beats I’ve ever heard. But he also one of my best friends. I’ll punch him in the face, he’ll punch me in the face, I’ll throw up on his floor, if someone starts with him, I’ll fight for him. It’s love man. We’re family. [Vodka] definitely affects us punching each other. I don’t like to fight my friend, but we’re brothers, we fight like brothers. We drink a lot, we drink heavy man, we smoke heavy…we make some great music.”
Okayplayer hasn’t been invited to one of those studio sessions – yet – and photographic evidence of fisticuffs is in short supply. There’s no question, however, that the music they make together is very, very good indeed – witness the album’s first single, entitled “Goin’ Back,” which pairs Term and Statik with Xzibit and Cassidy over an insane beat. And besides doing extensive touring (AZ, sitting at the opposite side of the hotel lobby, laughs when asked about Term’s touring antics: “He’s crazy man, always partying.”) he’s on his studio grind in a big way, putting out not only the Statik material but a superb cut with his boy Checkmark, entitled “Duffle Bag Brothers.”
Rehab or not, the intensity is there – and it’s only getting stronger.
For more from Termanology, check out 1982 (Term & Statik Selektah) “Goin’ Back” feat. Xzibit & Cassidy