Walking into the new Conshohocken offices of Ruffhouse Records one summer day, the first sight as you come through the glass door of the second floor suite is a snoring Beanie Sigel sitting straight up, knocked out on the leather couch in the visitor waiting area. He looks fresh, sporting a striped golf shirt, black jeans and sneakers. He looks as though he’s ready for action, despite the slumber.
A quick glance around reveals no one else in the area. The walls are littered with hundreds of plaques representing gold and platinum records from the glory days of the original Ruffhouse Records—the 1990s, before Ruffhouse was sold by owner Chris Schwartz to Sony Music for a hefty sum. The Fugees are on the wall, as well as solo LPs from Lauryn Hill and Wyclef. Atlanta-based preteen rap group Kriss Kross is also up there, along with L.A.’s Cypress Hill, Cali’s weed-smoking, non-gangbanging Latino rappers who earned respect during the height of gangsta rap era. The plaques are so numerous, you can’t even tell the color of the walls’ paint.
Don Cheegro, a young producer who claims to be Sigel’s manager, appears and wakes him up. Ruffhouse is a record label with a long track record, but a sleeping artist in the lobby is still not a good look.
“You gotta excuse me,” Sigel offers. “I’ve been up since six o’clock this morning.” He had appeared on Fox 29’s Good Day Philadelphia before making the trip out to the Conshohocken offices to finalize some details for his performance at SOB’s in New York City the following day. He still had to make an appearance on Power 99 later on, so it made sense for him to sneak some rest in before going on the air.
The N.Y.C. show and the appearances on Fox and Power 99 were to promote his brand new album, This Time, the first release on the new Ruffhouse Records. “Ruffhouse and Chris Schwartz sought me out,” Sigel explains. “At the time, I didn’t have a deal, and I played him some music. He was real interested in my music and my movement. He was real adamant about signing me. He believed in my music and what I wanted to put out with State Property. He helped bring my brain back as far as the clothing line—everything.”
Well, the label has a job on their hands now since the 38-year-old Sigel, whose real name is Dwight Grant, was sentenced to two years in jail for tax-related issues. “Not tax evasion,” he says. “It’s failure to file taxes. Very different.” Either way, This Time dropped on Tuesday, and since he’s due to report to jail in two weeks, he needs to promote it as much as possible before D-Day gets here. There were even time limitations as the album was being created, but Sigel claims he was able to work around it. “There was a time crunch for sure,” he confesses. “There are some things that kind of got pushed through quickly. If I had my way, I would still be recording. I’d be trying to do that classic album.”
Sigel’s experience and built-in audience should help his label as they start up their engine again. He has sold more than 2 million records with his five previous albums, and This Time , his sixth, should pick up nicely where the others left off. Originally signed to Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Recordings, his 2000 debut album, The Truth, featured the single “Anything” and reached as high as No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart. The next year, he followed it up with The Reason. Carried by the “Beanie (Mack Bitch)” single, it won Album of the Year at the BET Awards in 2001.
In 2005, he released The B. Coming shortly before having to serve a year in prison for a 2004 weapons and drug possession charge. The record sold 131,000 copies in its first week, but during his time in jail, Roc-A-Fella co-founders Jay-Z and Damon Dash split up, and while Jay—newly christened as CEO and president of Def Jam—maintained Roc-A-Fella after the pair sold it to Def Jam, Dash formed Dame Dash Music Group. He announced that Sigel was coming with him to DDMG, but Sigel’s group, State Property, stayed with Roc-A-Fella. Once out of jail, Sigel backed Dash and even dissed Jay-Z on a song he recorded with 50 Cent.
Today—seven years later—it doesn’t seem as though their beef has ever been squashed, and Sigel makes it seem as though no one’s even tried.
“I haven’t talked to Jay,” he says. “You see relationships get mended, like him and Nas, but I believe that the him-and-Nas situation was just political.”
Despite his take on their relationship, rumors have been flying around that he and Jay-Z were planning an on-stage reunion during this weekend’s two-day Made In America Labor Day concert on the Parkway. As far as Sigel sounding like he has no desire to repair the rift with Jay-Z, one person close to Sigel claims that “one day he feels one way about it, and the next day he feels another.”
Now with This Time, he’s a little older, less gangsta and a lot more mature. As a family man, he opts for a softer sound musically, and his lyrics lean toward observations about life and its tribulations, as opposed to screeds on the drug game and violent, shoot-‘em-up tales. “Every record is different,” he says. “You can say this album is going in a different direction, but no two albums I’ve made are the same.”
Buried at No. 9 on the album is a cut called “The Reunion” that teams Sigel up with his original State Property crew: Freeway, Young Chris, Omillio Sparks and Peedi Crakk. Prior to signing with Ruffhouse, Sigel’s plan was to have State Property put something out. That’s still in the works, he says, but Schwartz convinced him to release his own project. “That just initiated it,” Sigel says of the song. “It was the jumpstart for a State Property album. We all wanted to do it, so, it wasn’t hard to get everybody down to do this. In the future, we will definitely do another State Property project.”
And that future, well after This Time —and his time—is at least two years away.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Hours after PW went to press, Beanie Sigel and a friend were arrested after a traffic stop and booked on weapon and drug charges. State troopers found prescription bottles, marijuana, codeine syrup and nearly $5,000 in cash on them, along with a gun in the car's console.
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014