The iconic rapper sat down with Marlow Stern to discuss ‘Drop the Mic,’ who killed Biggie and Tupac, and whether we’ll ever get to hear ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.’
“He’s in there,” the publicist says, motioning toward a black Cadillac Escalade with tinted windows parked outside.
Several minutes of lobby loitering pass before the car door swings open and Method Man emerges—all 6-foot-3 of him—sporting a black tracksuit, ear-to-ear grin, and pungent aroma.
“Method Man gets along with everybody,” RZA once told me. It’s a claim backed by history, as Meth was one of the only rappers to hop on tracks by Tupac and Biggie at the height of their hip-hop rivalry; and it’s a claim I can now co-sign, having witnessed firsthand the love, as the affable wordsmith warmly embraces every greeting fan on our way to the conference room where we’ll be conducting our interview.
The 47-year-old MC’s inherent likability is a big reason why he’s managed to achieve success in a variety of mediums. In addition to his rap career, including solo albums, collaborations with Redman, and a key role in the greatest hip-hop group ever, the Wu-Tang Clan, Staten Island’s finest has appeared in a number of memorable films and TV shows. Belly. Oz. How High. Garden State. The Wire. Trainwreck.
He’s currently starring in the HBO series The Deuce, filming a sequel to Shaftwith Samuel L. Jackson, and hosting the TBS music-competition series Drop the Mic, which returns for its second season on April 15. The latter sees Meth and co-host Hailey Baldwin preside over a series of mock rap battles between celebrities, with the premiere featuring Shaquille O’Neal vs. Ken Jeong and Jerry Springer vs. Ricki Lake.
The Daily Beast sat down with the one and only Method Man at our offices for an in-depth conversation on his life, career, and the state of the Wu.
Let’s talk about Drop the Mic Season 2. What were some of your favorite moments from the first season? Halle Berry, in my opinion, was the standout.
Me as well. I’d say Halle Berry and Randall Park. He reinvigorated the reason why I was even there. You never know, and that surprise element—that was so unexpected, the fact that he wrote the majority of his rhymes and they were good. Another thing that stood out in Season 1 was the Danielle Fishel vs. Jonathan Lipnicki battle. It was like watching our little sis and little bro, as adults, battle each other. It was crazy.
Did you ever engage in any rap battles yourself?
Our battles weren’t like battle-battles. You say a rhyme, another dude say a rhyme. The closest we ever had to rap battles was this dude named Dusty, who was getting money around our way—a drug dealer. He knew there was a lot of rappers around, so his way of giving back to the community was he would rent out this place called Park Villa in Stapleton and have these rap contests, and Cappa would win ‘em all the time.
So you think Cappa would beat anyone in Wu in a rap battle?
Probably. Pro-ba-bly. It’s a different skill set. That’s why he did so well on Wild ‘N Out, on the Wu-Tang episode. Cap is…he’s an anomaly, an enigma, all of that. Cap on a great day is the most beautiful, interesting man in the world; on a bad day, you don’t know what you’re gonna get from Cappa, but he’s still talented. I’ll just leave it at that.
But with Roc the Mic, we just took something that was already being done, flipped it on its head, and made it a network show. We’re not trying to make fun of battle rap or make a mockery of battle rap—we pay homage to these guys. If anything, a few of the battle rappers come in as writers and coaches on the show, so that validates some of the work we’re doing. But by no means are we trying to replace battle rap. This why some people get in their feelings about it, saying, What are they tryin’ to do? We’re not tryin’ to make a mockery. There’s no way we can replace it because none of these people are Jay-Z that come on the show, so stop with the BS. This is just a nice little retreat.
I’m a New Yorker and a hip-hop head. How do you feel about the current state of New York hip-hop?
I feel like we lost our identity but it was good for the unification of hip-hop as a whole. Atlanta is the new New York.
How do you think it became the new New York?
Down South is way bigger than just New York, and we were basing everything off just New York. I remember Andre 3000 at the Source Awards, they got booed and he said, “All I know is that the South got something to say.” I think that was like a calling to all artists down South to say, “You know what? We don’t need those muthafuckas up there. They’re arrogant as fuck, and there’s more of us down here.” All of them knew each other and were connected because they were already doing shows on that circuit, so if you get that many numbers—and fans along with it—the majority of the numbers is gonna sway that way. The South did their thang and they cannot be blamed for the state of hip-hop right now—no one can be blamed for that, these are just cycles that the music has to go through.
Rappers, especially in New York, also seem to get unfairly targeted by the police. They pull over tour buses all the time claiming that they smelled something.
I’ll take it further than that: When you’re pulling over tour buses—because that’s what they do—they go, well, we’re gonna see what else we can find. They have this thing, I forgot what it’s called but it’s between Alabama and something else, this alley, and I don’t know if it’s entrapment or what, but we were victims of it ourselves. I wasn’t on the bus and Redman wasn’t on the bus, but they definitely pulled that bus over for a lame-ass reason, and the bus driver, being uninformed, let the cops on the bus, so people woke up at 4 a.m. with cops in their faces.
But when you talk about New York hip-hop, it lost its identity when the South rose up—because we weren’t competin’ anymore, we were tryin’ to fit in. That was unheard of. Next thing you know, the lines were blurred and East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, South all sounded the same. Before you could tell when a song was West Coast because it had the G-Funk thing, and South had the screw. You can’t hear a New York record and go “that’s a New York record” anymore. Nowadays, when you hear a New York record they go, “Oh, that’s nineties.” But the plus side of it is the color barrier broke down, and nobody notices the white rapper anymore, or the female that portrays a dude. Now, as far as a male doing it, that line hasn’t been crossed yet. Like Young M.A., for instance: there’s always been Young M.A.’s in it, but they weren’t as out as Young M.A. is. But the other way around? I’m not sure if that’ll work, or how it’ll work, but you have dudes walkin’ the line, you know what I mean? And it’s scary for a lot of people that, one, do not understand, and two, don’t think that’s hip-hop.
Walkin’ the line between…
…Dressin’ like a female and dressin’ like a male.
Like Young Thug?
Yeah, certain people like that. But Thug…it’s cool when one person is doing it, and you say, “OK, that’s his thing,” but then when it becomes a trend…They’re basically doing what rock ‘n’ rollers did with the fingernail-painting, the long hair, jumpin’ in the crowd—they want to be rock stars now. Be that, but don’t call it hip-hop. I think it’s different, but it has its place. Would I rather sit there and listen to Rakim at a concert? Probably. I would love to listen to Rakim all day on my radio. But nowadays, if I’m at a concert, I’m gonna see Kendrick, I’m gonna see Rae Sremmurd, I’m gonna see these artists that turn up the way I would be doing if I was makin’ that kind of music.
Cardi B is making a lot of noise right now, speaking of New York hip-hop.
Cardi is an inspiration. I’m rootin’ for Cardi B. It’s funny, because every time I see a female MC come out, I find myself rootin’ for ‘em all the time. I just want to see ‘em win.
I do feel like a lot of the female emcees from the ‘90s—the Roxanne Shante’s, Lady of Rage’s and Monie Love’s of the world—weren’t treated fairly.
They didn’t get their just due. And female artists are very expensive, first of all. You got hair and makeup, wardrobe—very expensive. So you have to sell a lot and bring a lot to the table for people to want to spend that much money on you. I salute Cardi B and am rootin’ for her, as I would any other of our female brethren in the game. I want to see her do well, plus she’s from New York so she’s reppin’ for us.
She’s no fake either. She’s Blood.
Well she’s from the Bronx, and in the Bronx, if you go to Soundview? SuWoo!All day.
Wu-Tang was never affiliated with the Bloods, were they? The Feds seemed to think so.
Nah, Wu-Tang was never in any gang. We didn’t have gangs. We grew up in the era where it wasn’t Blood or Crip—we had cliques, you know? You had Paris Crew, BCC, Decepticons—them niggas crazy. In fact Rock [of Heltah Skeltah], my brother nutter, he was a Decep. A few niggas in the game were Decepticons. But we were never into the color thing, because our vision didn’t stretch that far. We didn’t know anything about the gang culture until N.W.A. When those niggas came around, I was like oh shit. I was the biggest fan of theirs.
When I spoke with RZA, he told me “Method Man gets along with everybody.” And while I’m sure that’s not always the case, you were the one rapper able to bridge the East Coast/West Coast divide in the ‘90s as the only one who worked with both Pac and Biggie.
Wu-Tang was embraced on the West Coast, but yeah, I did. That’s true. Right place, right time. I think I’m approachable. I don’t think I have that kind of face where it’s like, I’m gonna fuck you up if you approach me the wrong way, but then again I have that face where I’m like, I’m gonna fuck you up if you approach me the wrong way. [Laughs] But Biggie approached me after the New Music Seminar. Pac, on the other hand, came home from jail and it’s just like in the movie: he was goin’ from room-to-room jumpin’ on joints, and some of the tracks were already done with people rhymin’ on ‘em. And Daz [Dillinger] was like, yo, I got the joint with Method Man and Redman. Next thing you know, Pac was spittin’ on it and I was like oh shit. At this point in time, there were people that knew what time it was, as far as the whole Death Row/Bad Boy thing—it wasn’t East Coast vs. West Coast until the magazines said it was.
My biggest thing was, Big was my friend and I hadn’t even met Pac yet for my record, and they were playing that shit on New York radio. How would youfeel if you’re friends with somebody and they did a song with someone else where all of a sudden your so-called enemy is on the record and you knew nothin’ about it? How would you feel when you ran into that person? I remember the first time I ran into Big after that, I was like, “Yo, you know that Pac song, son actually came home from jail, that was a Dogg Pound record,” and he said, “Nah, I ain’t trippin’ off that shit.” He was really cool about that shit, with Pac and all that. That’s how I knew that if the knuckleheads hadn’t got in the way, he would have sat down with Big and they probably would’ve been friends after that shit.
Who are the “knuckleheads” who got in the way?
The in-betweeners. Joe Budden can diss me, but in the eyes of the five niggas I’m with, he dissed all of us. But Joe only knows me, he don’t know these five other muthafuckas, they’re just floatin’ in the crowd, but what if they feel some kind of way one day? I don’t even know why I brought Joe up, we’re cool as fuck right now. But someone says some shit, writes some check their ass can’t cash in, and I’ll shake ya hand, but I’ll feel one way and my people will feel another. So I’ll walk away and three other muthafuckas will come in the room and fuck you up—and let you know where it came from. Can’t control that shit. And those are the knuckleheads that got in the way with the whole Big/Pac thing because there are more stupid muthafuckas than smart muthafuckas, and when they heard the East/West thing they jumped on itfast.
There are all these Biggie/Tupac shows and movies coming out—and even a Steve McQueen documentary on Tupac. But do you have your own theories on who killed them?
Oh, we know who did it. They told already. Everybody told on each other already. Orlando. It’s not like I’m snitchin’, right? Everyone knows he did that shit, the one they said was the shooter all along and who looked like Pac. His uncle told on him, Keffe D [Duane Keith Davis]. He basically said, “Yeah, he shot him.” And Suge’s baby mama [Theresa Swan] basically told on the dude [Wardell “Poochie” Fouse] that killed Biggie. And they’re both dead. They’re not here to defend themselves, but that’s what the word on the street is. It grinds my gears though to hear these new cats start attackin’ people that aren’t here to defend themselves. The whole Tupac thing, I don’t care how y’all young niggas feel about Tupac and shit…
Who’s dumb enough to shit on Tupac? Oh, that Lil Xan kid…
Yeah. And people were tryin’ to say, “So what if he’s not rockin’ with Tupac? He has a right to say that,” and it’s like, no, he don’t got a right to say that. The only reason he has a right to say that is because Pac did that shit first. Pac walked so they could run. These fuckin’ idiots. That’s like me tryin’ to shit on N.W.A. It’s because of N.W.A that I don’t got a sense of my fuckin’ curse words on my records and I can say “fuck the police” and get away with that shit if I wanted to. We held our OGs in high regard.
I wanted to talk to you about hip-hop OGs, because you’re pretty much there. But your generation is really the first where the OGs are still A-list.
But there’s a reason for it, and it’s like I said before: KRS-One and all those dudes walked so we could run. For real. They knocked down so many barriers without knowin’ they were even doin’ it. They were softening up the blow. If all those guys had just gave up, we wouldn’t be here now.
I think it also had to do with radio’s anti-hip-hop bias. You had classic rock stations dedicated to the older generations of performers that granted them longevity, but you never had any rap stations that played the classics.
That’s a great point. That is a great point. Wow. I remember when hip-hop was only played on the weekends in New York. I remember that. And then somebody said, fuck that, let’s play these kids all week. It’s always somebody who takes that step—takes that chance—and says, let’s ride out with these kids and see what they about. That’s my biggest issue with the newer cats: you don’t even gotta pay homage to me, but don’t shit on somebody’s legacy—especially if you’re uninformed of the role they played in the business. There’s a reason why we hold Tupac in high regard: Pac spoke in a way that a lot of us couldn’t speak. We weren’t eloquent enough or educated enough to say the words that he was sayin’ but we felt them when he said it because that was the way we felt, we just couldn’t put it in words. So there’s nothin’ you can take away from that man—or Biggie. I don’t give a fuck who spit a hot 16. At the end of the day, what kind of person are you? That’s what really counts.
I’m a longtime fan of the Wu. The first album I heard was Wu-Tang Forever, since I was 12 when it came out. “A Better Tomorrow” was my favorite track off it. So I gotta ask, what the fuck is going on with Once Upon a Time in Shaolin? The Feds have it?
I believe the Feds confiscated it.
It’s become a fucking sideshow.
It has. It has. And that’s what made me hate it even more. I thought it was a dope idea at first, but I figured that we were going to be giving the music away. I thought people were going to be able to go into a museum and listen to it, and I thought, “Oh, that’s a dope fuckin’ idea,” and then all this other shit started happening, so then I was like, “You know what? If it was me, I would just say fuck it and give it away for free.” But then all the time and effort that went into it, that [producer] Cilvaringz put in, that doesn’t help him since he’s got a family to feed also, so I distanced myself from it. I wanted to know little to nothing about it.
I’m sure you know about how it got sold to Martin Shkreli, this comically evil ass.
But you know, I think he was playing a character. I mean, that was his character, but with Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, he was definitely trollin’.
Were there attempts made by the Wu to rescue the album from him?
Yeah, some people were tryin’ to buy it from him, but he was asking for too much. I guess when it goes back on the open market we’ll see what happens.
It really is crazy to think about, though: Wu-Tang made the most valuable album in history and it’s locked away in a room somewhere guarded by the Feds.
Yeah. And Harvey Weinstein is free. It’s a strange world. What the fuck. But I haven’t heard anything on the album—only the songs I did, and I didn’t hear anybody else on ‘em because they only sent me instrumentals. I definitely know I’m on three joints. But honestly, just give the shit away free. It’s like with Black Panther—I’m glad I seen it early, because I would have been very disappointed with all the hype. So I tell people, “You know, it’s not as good as all the hype, but it’s a great movie, and I like what it stood for.” I knew what the comics stood for when it came out. Stan Lee was way ahead of his time with that. They had a few mishaps with Luke Cage and the whole blaxploitation thing, but with Black Panther they got it right.
You know, I remember copping Tical 2000 as a kid and there’s that brief Trump interlude on it where he’s saying to go buy the album. It sounds like someone put a gun to his head.
That was Russell’s [Simmons] friend. I don’t know Donald Trump—never met the man—but I was on my second album, I wanted all these cameos, and every cameo I asked for, I got. I had Chris Rock, Janet Jackson, a few cameos here and there, and at the end of the day, that was a surprise because I hadn’t asked for that one. He did it on the strength of Russell asking him.
Do you regret that it’s on there?
I don’t care. It was a different time, a different place. What he’s doing in the White House concerns all of us; at the same time, people voted for the muthafucka. What are you gonna do about it? He’s in there now, so cope with it.
Hip-hop’s always had an interesting relationship with Donald Trump. He’s mentioned in a lot of raps, and was cast as a paragon of wealth.
Yeah, he is. We fell for it too. We fell for it too.
Tupac didn’t. There’s a great MTV interview from 1992 where he calls out Trump’s greed.
Wow. Wowwww. Pac was way ahead of his time. Pac could tell you in a heartbeat whether anyone was a snake or a salesman or not.
U-God’s memoir recently came out, and it doesn’t put RZA in the greatest light.
You know, those are U-God’s truths—that don’t mean that they’re true. Perception is crazy. He even wrote a lot of stuff about me, and he mentioned something about my mother-in-law that I know for a fact ain’t true; something about his son that I know for a fact isn’t true. It’s always been a tumultuous relationship. Think Vince McMahon and all the stuff he’s put up with over the years with all his wrestlers—he’s always the focal point of the blame. It’s the same with RZA. I’m not sayin’ it isn’t warranted, because some of it is warranted. We were all young and learning on the job.
Like putting his brother [Mitchell “Divine” Diggs] in charge of Wu management.
That, and we kind of fed into the fact that they threw him into the leadership role, and he took on the leadership role and he did a good job with it, for what it’s worth. But you can’t learn that stuff on the job, and some things are going to fall by the wayside, and some people are going to be unhappy. Heavy is the crown. So he’s the focal point of a few people, and some of it is warranted, some of it is not, but U-God has a lot of other things he has to answer for outside of the RZA comments because he mentioned people around our way who had nothing to do with Wu-Tang Clan at all, though they were probably part of his life, and some of these guys have open cases and his truth isn’t their truth. We’re talking about gun violence, murder, drugs, all kinds of shit, and you can’t do that to people. People remember things differently, and somewhere in between lies the truth. From my perspective, he got a lot of shit wrong. He got a lot of shit wrong, and you can’t do that. He might as well be like that guy on Oprah’s show [James Frey], where he fabricated a lot of shit. A Million Little Pieces of Shit.
So what’s the state of the Wu right now?
Are you kiddin’ me? He’ll be on tour with us later. Won’t be no sweat off nobody’s brow.
But U-God stuff aside, what is the state of the Wu as a unit?
I was hoping everybody would grow. By the time we got to this age, I wanted to see everybody in a suit and tie, working in some shape, form or fashion in the industry at an executive level. That was the plan, at least. I can only speak for myself when it comes to the crew. I know I’m solid, and if there’s a Wu-Tang project I’m already in without being asked, but when it comes to touring, whole different ballgame.
Is it because of the pay splits?
That’s some of it. They wanted to do a tier system, which I thought kind of draws a line in the sand if you ask me and alienates a lot of people. And in the same sense, you can look at it as you have some individuals who make a certain amount as an individual, but when they’re with the group they’re makin’ three, four times the amount that they would make. Then you have some individuals who make a certain amount when they’re by themselves, but when they’re with the crew they make less—sometimes half of what they usually get.
You’re clearly talking about yourself.[Laughs] No, I mean…but you know. Then it becomes a problem where, if that person who’s used to making a certain amount is getting half of what he gets and he wants his whole thing now, something else has to suffer. So when those individuals making three to four times what they actually get have a problem with losing maybe a quarter of that, that’s when it’s like, “Oh, so it doesn’t work both ways?” If you’re makin’ three to four times the amount and someone isn’t getting their just due, boom, I’d have no problem giving it. But the reality of the situation is, “Nah, I’m just as important,” which is true, they are; and in the same sense, those same promoters you went to I can go to and get that amount without going on the road with you guys.
You’ve been involved in a lot of iconic shit. In addition to Wu-Tang, your solo records, and the Biggie and Pac albums, you’ve been in a ton of great movies and TV shows. The first time I saw you onscreen was in Cop Land. You threw Peter Berg off the roof, and he’s now a big-time Hollywood director.
Yeahhh. And that’s what started it for me. And I missed one call from the guy, and now he’ll never hire me. I love you, Peter! I’m sorry I didn’t answer the phone that time. He cursed my ass out in a voicemail. Always return those calls, because you never know. I was a dickhead, I should have fuckin’ called him back, but I didn’t. He just wanted to chat, and I had no idea what kind of moves he was makin’ but it didn’t matter at that point. I should have been a fuckin’ gentleman and called the guy back. Sorry, Peter. Lesson learned.
Belly’s become something of a cult classic too.
I think a lot of that has to do with the performances—mainly X. X carried that movie.
Still one of the cooler opening sequences ever. Hype killed that.
Yeah. But then it got amateurish when they got to DMX’s crib right after they did the robbery. Trained actors would’ve known how to transition from that to that, because when they got to the house they’re takin’ off their coats and relaxin’, and you don’t even see the fuckin’ money. I don’t know what Nas was doin’ and X was actin’ like what they just did never happened. They were on a whole ‘nother day but these niggas just robbed the club and killed the fuckin’ lady! Then, if that was X’s house, what happened when I tried to kill his chick? Was it a different house? You know what I’m sayin’? So there were little things here and there but I’m not knockin’ Belly. Hype [Williams] had to fight for every bit of that shit. They were tryin’ to shut him down left and right, and he fought really hard for it. We did some real pirate-y shit on that one. And for what he had, he did a good job. And X carried that movie. But when that lady came around with that baby oil though? I was like, “Yo, back up. I want no part of that.” X went for that, Nas went for that. You see how greasy they were lookin’ and shit? That lady went crazy. I don’t know what look Hype was lookin’ for.
You know, I always thought you and Redman could host a variety show.
Me and Doc could definitely do a variety show but it would turn me off after a while because there’s something about being in people’s faces all the time. I like being gone…and then I pop up again better than ever. TLC used to do that. I remember, after their first album with the boy clothes and shit, it had been a few years and they still hadn’t had new music out, and then they came with the “Waterfalls” and they were lookin’ right. They had a whole team behind them. I never had that. I look at Cardi B now with the stylist, hair and all that—I never had that. Wu-Tang just started gettin’ shit like that and still ain’t on that level. But Ludacris, X, they used to take care of those dudes where everything was laid out—outfits, wardrobes, you name it. We never, ever had that shit. It kind of pisses me the fuck off. I wish I would have had that same care, man.