Talk to me about your frame of mind around the time "Live at the BBQ” came out.
Back then, I wanted to be heard. It didn't matter what label I was on. There was talk about Wild Pitch, but Large Professor was like, "Don't do it.” We were young, we were on the block so it was just get a few dollars and get up out the hood. Get the block popping and break out. I was getting ready to sign with this label through Atlantic through Reef. I was already in the studio on my own. I was in this studio in Brooklyn called Stuy in the Sky. I would pay them dudes and I would go in there and record. That's how I met Large Professor. He was just some guy who wanted to do work. Back then, everybody wanted to work, now everybody wants money to just come around and…He came around and gave me some beats and said he was working with some big names like Kool G. Rap. He was in [another] studio right near my projects so I would go into that studio and start working during other niggas recording times—big niggas that would never show up to the studio.

Cough—Rakim—cough.
[Laughs] Yeah. And I just started recording my demos, you know. Eventually, I went down there to do a song. I went down there with Reef and he went to see MC Serch and Serch asked me to be on ["Back to the Grill”]. He was like, "Chubb Rock is going to be on it.” I was like, "Oh shit, I'm going to be on a song with Chubb Rock? I made it.” I knew if people could hear me, I would be good. So it didn't matter what label I would be on.

After those two verses—"Live at the BBQ” and "Back to the Grill”—did you know you had to be great on your debut?
I knew that if I was going to rep, I was going to rep. I'm coming from Queensbridge Projects. I'm coming out repping the projects period. I'm coming out with the project buildings behind me on all my album covers. I had to represent. That story right there was never told.

It seems like you are obsessed with the ugliness that comes along with growing up in the projects.

When I hear hood niggas, I know who's hood. Plies is hood. Jeezy is hood. When I hear those niggas, I say, "Either them niggas was close to some real niggas or they were right there.” And that's the shit I like because I relate to that. I'm explaining to you who I am and where I'm from—this part of town needs a spokesperson. The New York Times can't write about Queensbridge the way I'm going to write about it. That was my challenge to the world. I'm going to tell you what's really going on because I am this. This is what I am. That was my take on the first record. When I write, it's a natural thing for me. It's something I got to get out of me so I can step out and look at it. It helps me when I get that out. There were people who were witnesses to a lot of the things I would talk about. I would get phone calls like, "The way you said that story, I think about that all the time. It's crazy you put that in your rap because that was one moment in my life that I will never forget that we all shared together.” When I talk about things that happened in my neighborhood, around me, where I'm from, I'm letting out memories and experiences and throwing some imagination on top of it here and there and just trying to give it to you crystal.

On the first album you said, "Dropped out of Cooley High, gassed up by a cokehead cutie pie.” Is that why you dropped out?
Back in the days, the drug of choice for the badder chicks was cocaine before they knew what it would do to them. They was too old for me – that was a drug I could never fuck with. I was awed by these beautiful women [who] would be able to be on this sophisticated drug and be around these cats who were older than me. I dropped out of school and I was trying to get that. And a lot of people I was around were other dropouts who were doing good for themselves and looking good no matter whether their vices were cocaine or partying or Gucci boots. Back in the '80s that's the shit I grew up wanting to be a part of. I always wanted to be dressed up in slacks, Bally shoes and silk shirts at 12 years old. Mom's had me spoiled. My brother had three finger rings. We was out there trying to get it. Then we got older and tried to get it. My first year of high school, I had to make major decisions. But I didn't drop out because of a chick.

I ran into Prodigy last week and asked him, "What should I ask Nas?” He said, "Ask him, ‘What happened backstage at the Central Park show in 2004.'”
Man, that was some classic Mobb Deep shit. They was rumbling.

He thinks you set him up. [Author's Note: There was a fight backstage between Mobb Deep and people who Prodigy believes were members of Nas' entourage.]
I did hear that. Nah, I would never do that to him. I spoke out against it, but I was really happy to see 50 embrace them. I thought that was G because that's something that doesn't happen from the higher ups. All these big companies, they don't care about us. They don't care about the talented ones that aren't given a fair shot and I thought it was a good move on 50's part to give them a deal. Those guys made real music, man. Those guys have a strong movement that people can't ignore, period. We had our differences, which was really just hyped up bullshit. I wish everything for Prodigy. They caught a lot of bad breaks. I just wish the best for him. I wish he didn't have to do this time. And I would love to see them come back again. I would be the first person in the record store buying a Mobb album. I want to see them give it to us however many more times.

Because your artists have never sold records and because you don't own a Roc-A-Wear or a Sean John, people have said that you are a bad businessman…
I don't know how to break it down for people. All that glitters is not gold. Everybody don't always show their gold. The ones who are doing tons of business, may they be successful and let them flaunt it and stunt with it and do all of that stuff. That's great for them. All I did was put niggas into this paper. I've had cats come to me like, "I got a $100 million brand and I want to do dah-dah-dah-dah,” and I'm just seeing followers. Everybody wants to do clothes and sneakers, that's fine. A lot of people want me to do it as well. I don't have any room for it. There's been offers. I'll take a check here and there, see if it works, cool. [Long pause] You don't get to be Nas being a bad businessman, dog. I see people showing that they got money. It looks like they got money. I don't know if they got money. I know what Nas got. Nas is good. I don't know what guys are doing. I wish everybody the best. I don't really have time in my life. I don't want it. I don't want it, man.