While a smash hit record can grab a rapper some quick cash, in this Internet generation the hardest thing to achieve in the rap game is longevity. Longevity doesn’t come from some ironic EDM-infused single climbing its way to a respectable position on Billboard. Longevity comes from genuine people having love for your music over and over again. It’s a rare beast and even a 4G data plan can’t speed it up. It’s what has girls wearing bikinis with Cam’ron’s face on each breast - a photo that was taken back in 2002 no less - in 2014. It’s what has his face on socks, mugs and t-shirts. And it’s why it mean’t everything when A-Trak helped him bring “the feeling back” with ‘Dipshits’ earlier this year.
Like a lot of artists that achieve cult status, Dipset never really had a lot of commercial success other than a few tracks like Come Home With Me’s ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Hey Ma’. In hindsight, the Harlemite sees this as a blessing in disguise, “Our stuff was really organic,” he tells BRICK sat in a central London bar. “For instance you got other crews and other teams, and they’re just put there. And I’m not saying it doesn’t work. For instance, and this isn’t talking about anybody, but you got Maybach Music with Rick Ross from Miami, Meek Mill from Philly and Wale from DC, or Young Money where you got Nicki Minaj from New York, Lil Wayne from New Orleans and Drake from Toronto. With us we all grew up together, you seen as broke, you seen us reach middle class, you seen us get successful. It’s the last organic group.”
While Cam’s music was unpredictable when it came to the charts, Come Home With Me and Killa Season both hit the number 2 spot on Billboard whereas Purple Haze only managed 20, it was the mix show and club DJs that would spin the latest tracks from Cam, Juelz Santana, Jim Jones, Hell Rell, Freekey Zekey and co. It felt like week in, week out there were new Dipset to listen to. Like their competitors G-Unit at the time, they’d put their own spin on all of the most popular radio hits and quite often we became more familiar with hearing a Cam or Santana verse on an instrumental than the original artists.
“Though we had great records in the club, and underground are successful. As far as top 40 hits, we only really had two or three of those, and I think that kind of helped us, because pop fans aren’t loyal,” Cam reflects. “So if you come out in the beginning, sell four or five million and a lot of it is to the pop audience and you don’t continue to do that, you never build your fan base. I think that’s why we are still successful today.”
Being unafraid to be different is another quality that make Cam a strong leader and an inspirational character. He jokes with us during our conversation that the only kind of following he can manage is on his favourite social media platform, Instagram - which he penned an ode to on last year’s Ghetto Heaven Vol.1 mixtape. “I love Instagram because it’s fun. Basically you can be a comedian on there, you can be tough, you can be whatever you want on Instagram, it’s for you to decide. It’s almost like if you got an Instagram account and you put up a picture of him everyday, then you’re him,” he says ushering at his mountainous security guard, who as it happens is scrolling through his Instagram feed. “Nobody knows unless they meet him. With me I just use it as a source of entertainment, and to advertise stuff that needs to be advertised.”
He returns to the point. We just asked him about his penchant for being different. “I got that from Dame Dash. Basically I never tried to do what anybody else did, and that wasn’t purposely, it’s just me being myself.” For Cam, an advantage of the fast moving social media generation we currently find ourselves in, is that he can begin to comprehend the kind of influence he is having. “You do a lot of stuff - back when I started - and you’re not sure if people like it or not, until you get to a show or something and you got a whole bunch of people going crazy,” he remembers. “But now you go on Instagram, you got people with Cam’ron dresses, Cam’ron candles, Cam’ron watches and Cam’ron coffee cups. I want to eat with them also, but it just feels good to be appreciated and just know that me being different is still relevant.”
Other than the Nike Elite socks, and his new Dipset 1997 brand, the majority of the merchandise that is found scrolling through an Instagram feed is unofficial. And while a number of companies have reached out to Cam to work on making their products official, he appreciates the homage. “All of this stuff is just people doing it on their own. But I appreciate it. I’ll reach out to them like, ‘Hey, we need to talk business.’ I didn’t give them the green light to do it, but at the same time I’m not mad at them either.”
The majority of the merchandise is focussed around the same image. A now iconic paparazzi shot taken at New York Fashion Week in 2002. “That was just me going to fashion week one weekend, that was probably my first time ever going to fashion week in New York City,” he recalls. “And I know it’s a big deal so I had to do something to stand out. That was what I did to stand out.” He pauses before admitting, “I didn’t know it would still be relevant 8 or 9 years later!”
The image hails back to the height of his career when he was releasing his most financially successful album Come Home With Me. The record is one that never seems to age with time although it was it’s predecessor, 2004’s Purple Haze, that despite being nowhere near as successful with pop audiences, secured Cam’ron’s cult status. “The people like Purple Haze a lot,” Cam responds assuredly when asked about the fan favourite from his back catalogue. “If you did a tally up of what people’s favourite Cam’ron album you’d get Purple Haze. But the most successful album I’ve done was Come Home With Me, as far as sales is concerned.”
But does Cam agree with the people’s choice? “When I go to the gym sometimes I’ll listen to the old stuff,” he admits. “AlthoughI’m so concentrated on a lot of new stuff that I don’t really get the chance to listen to a lot of old stuff. But I love Come Home With Me, I love Purple Haze. It would probably be out of those two.”
With the cult of Cam’ron at it’s highest point since the Dipsey heydays, it feels like a musical comeback is imminent. And although last year’s Ghetto Heaven Vol.1 mixtape didn’t fair so well, it feels like he’s back to his old self with more recent releases. He has his First Of The Month EP’s underway which seem to improve as the months go on, and his Federal Reserve EP with DJ A-Trak is imminent. “Everything changes,” surmises Cam. “But as far as music I always got a good format. I don’t think that the way I rhyme will get old, or if it does I know how to stay up to date. I’m very versatile, I’ll do a song with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, God bless the dead, or Mariah Carey, or whoever. It doesn’t matter, I can work with anybody. It’s about staying current, just seeing what’s going on. I always rapped about stuff that’s going on in my environment, or the world, or experiences that I’m going through, and I don’t think that will ever get old.”
Originally published in BRICK Edition One.