It’s been three years since New Jersey rapper Albee Al has talked to any major press. So Al, who calls himself “the King of New Jersey,” is all smiles during our Zoom conversation. He’s in the middle of his press run and — after nearly facing life in prison — he’s just happy to be seen.
“I’m trying to smile more but I hope they don’t see my teeth,” Al told Okayplayer. “You know, I’m a wolf.”
Born and raised in Jersey City, Al, real name Albert Robinson, is the son of a rapper. His father, also named Albee Al, was part of Sweet, Slick and Sly, a hip-hop group that would perform with rap legends like Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie. But his father died of cancer when he was four years old. And as a child, growing up in Marion Gardens housing projects, Al was surround by the streets, outside and in his home.
“They gotta understand who I am. Where I come from and my background,” Al said. “It’s not just the men in my family. My uncles, everybody, and the judges know the Robinson family. My grandmother was a gangsta. She shot my father’s best friend. I come from gangsters.”
Throughout the 2010s, Albee Al gained regional fame, known for his very specific rhymes and hyperactive rap style. Over the decade, he would release hood favorites like Super Saiyan and Koba. However, every time he would pick up momentum, trouble would come. In 2019, five years after beating a 2010 murder, Al got charged with attempted murder charges. He accepted a plea last month and went back to the studio. With all that time to reflect, the result is Free the Real, a project that Al describes as “all emotion.”
A couple of days before the project dropped, Al spoke about love from his hometown, his new album and lessons he’s learned over the years.
As told to Kia Turner
On New Jersey’s place in the rap scene
When I was gone, I would listen to music on the radio, and I’m like, “Where’s Jersey at?” So when I came home, they knew that Jersey was back. I know, no one was really taking off from Jersey so I guess when I came home, it felt like “Finally, here’s hope!” They know I’m coming with that shit so they know I got us.
It was always love in Jersey. Even when I thought it wasn’t. I used to have that mindset of thinking people don’t care or people be hating. But, nah, Jersey always arguing for me. Other states say, “who y’all got?” and Jersey would always say “We got Albee Al.” That’s why I go so hard. It feels good being the person my State trust.
On trying to prove he’s a changed man to the public
I really want them to understand that I’m focused on business. I’m focused on music. I know they’re afraid of the street shit because I’m a street nigga and I come from that and showed and proved so many times how I can get with my temper. But I’m just trying to show them that it’s in the past. It’s all about the grind, taking care of my family, and putting my people in position. When they act scared, that’s doing nothing but stopping my bag and taking food out my family’s mouth.
I feel like I’m a misfit but at the same time, I got my own lane. It’s literally no one talking about what I talk about. Everyone talks about street shit and what they’re going through. It’s the way I explain it. I’m what they’re missing. I’m a misfit picking up where I left off. I’m more detailed, more graphic. My shit have you grabbing your arm, feeling those chills. I really went through shit.
On his new tape, Free the Real
This tape is an offspring of Koba. I got the Koba attitude. The Koba attitude is like, “If you ain’t fucking with me, I ain’t fucking with you.” This tape is all emotion. It’s harder than Koba. But that will always be a classic because of how I painted the picture. I got Mozzy from Bay Area on the tape, I’m putting the “Thottie” remix together now.
“I’m From Marion” is probably my favorite record off the tape. That song is my life, it explains who I am. It explains my mindset of where I’m at today. It’s the way I’m thinking and it’s going to help people understand why I move the way I move. Like I finally get it. I’m moving like a superstar and not a street nigga. Of course, I’m that but I’m way more than that.
“My Faculty” is actually a song I did before I went to jail. That’s the only song on there that I did before I went to jail. It’s a lot of emotion in that one. I wrote most of this project while I was locked up and I would always hear people say, “I want the old Poe” and I’m like “What the fuck is the old Poe? I’m Poe!” I had a bunkee and he was like my biggest fan. He knew all my old shit. He used to be rapping it and say, “You need to come like this.” So that’s when I knew. I had to find that old Poe that people wanted. Poe was hungry. Talking my shit. Talking about what I ain’t have and how I had to get the shit I have. I had to go and get that that Poe.
The lessons he’s learned over the years
I’ve learned so many lessons along the way. They say the game is to be sold not told. You gotta pay with experience. You gotta go through shit to know that. My lesson with that is I gotta stop handling all my problems with violence. I have anger issues so when I get angry, I just go. I worked on that my whole time in jail. Don’t put yourself in those positions.
Some people just ain’t got it. Some people go their whole lives looking for it and still can’t find it. I got it. I always had it. This shit ain’t nothing knew, it didn’t grow overnight. I had it when I was a kid and I knew it. Everyone around me knew it. I just always lost focus when I was about to blow. Always went to jail or did some crazy shit. I always get my wings clipped when I’m about to take off. In jail, I knew I couldn’t fly. But I knew I’d get my wings back.
Kia Turner is a journalist and music historian from Newark, New Jersey. Managing her album-based series Deconstructing or talking about Pussy Rap, you can find the Hoodaville princess at @ChasingKia on all platforms.
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