The Greatest Story Never Told
Six years in the making, the bar is beyond high for The Greatest Story Never Told. Technically, it's Saigon's first full-length studio album. That sounds ridiculous, given Saigiddy's decade-plus of mixtape and street album experience and his status as a crossover multimedia star courtesy of a stint on Entourage, but it's true. Amazingly, Greatest Story manages to live up to the hype. The Yardfather has dropped an album that's conscious without being preachy, intelligent without sounding like a third-year sociology paper and message-driven, but still full of hard-hitting beats. The overarching message of Greatest Story is simple: Saigon wants people to live better. He wants people to respect themselves and not let the rich and powerful take advantage of them. Whether he's calling out crooked religious leaders on "Preacher," railing against police abuses on "The Invitation" or encouraging listeners to stay righteous in the face of poverty on "Believe It," Saigon comes across as a street veteran who's had enough and is ready for a change. Production-wise, the beats are overseen by Just Blaze, with guest spots from Kanye West and Buckwild. There's not a bad track on the album, but the hard beats and soul samples on "The Invitation" and the guitar-driven "Bring Me Down Pt. 2" are standouts. On Greatest Story, Saigon has done the near-impossible, putting out an album that was worth waiting six years for.
Parts of this album were recorded six years ago. What took so long to get it released?
The label: Atlantic Records. Point blank. They didn't like the direction I was going in. They felt like it was better for them as a company, financially, to just sit on it.
How did you wind up getting the masters back?
Perseverance. Just being patient. That's what took so long. And I guess them realizing that I was irrelevant, or at least they thought I was. They thought that nobody cared about the project. I guess they see differently now. I knew people still cared. And I still owe them. They didn't give me the masters; I had to work it out with them, contractually.
You're still in the process of trying to buy yourself out of the contract?
Yeah, exactly. They don't play. They're paper gangsters. That's how the game goes. You're always in the red; you're always owing. That's how they try to control you. But, you know, much love to Atlantic Records. They gave me an opportunity. I used to be bitter about it, but they gave me an opportunity to make this album. I'm not mad.
After all that, what advice would you give young artists in dealing with labels?
I would advise that they try to build up their brand enough to where they have some negotiating power, because if you go looking for them and they do a deal with you, it's going to be all in their favour. But when they come to you ― they search you out, you've got a buzz and you've got your thing going ― you have a little bit of negotiating power. Second: read your contract. Make your lawyer understand what all that means, all the terms. The contract is 80 pages, but all you're going to look at is "How much am I getting paid?" That's the only page you care aboutz; the advance section. But that's exactly what it is: an advance. It's a loan. Before you see a dime, they're going to recoup every single solitary penny they spent on you. I don't care if they buy you lunch. They've got the receipt. You bought that lunch. You bought your burger and [the label rep's] burger.
This is a really smart, conscious political album. Do you think this is going to be above some people's heads?
I know I am, and the funny thing is, imagine if it would have come out five years ago? We're going in the wrong direction. I just have to try and shift the hip-hop generation. It's not that it's above people's heads, it's that the music is getting too watered down. It's like, we make hip-hop for children. The concepts are for adults, but the music is for children. You get to the hook and the bridge and a three-year-old can sing it. They be like, "Yo, you got a hit record when a three-year-old can sing it." No, you got a jingle.
Was that part of the problem with Atlantic? Not enough jingles?
Yeah, yeah! One exec told me, "Saigon, I know you're an artist who cares about your art and that's cool, but we need our three singles. You can bust your artistic nut on the rest of the album, but we need three singles." I just read a Lupe Fiasco interview and he must've talked to the same exec, because he said the same exact thing. That must be her speech.
(Fort Knocks/Suburban Noize)
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