"You from the fuckin' projects….You can kill a live person but you can't kill a chicken?" says Royce Da 5'9" before letting out a rowdy laugh. The rapper is sitting behind a conference table at Interscope Records' Manhattan office, ragging on his Slaughterhouse bandmate Joell Ortiz as they weigh up the idea whether any of the group could hack it working in an actual slaughterhouse. The bloody preparation of live animals is on their minds after the quartet, which also includes Crooked I and Joe Budden, decided to shoot a video for "Throw It Away" at an operational slaughterhouse in a run-down industrial section of Jamaica, Queens. That was two days ago; now this afternoon three-quarters of the squad (Budden skipped out during lunch) are looking back on the olfactory ordeal they endured at Jamaica Poultry in uproarious fashion. The fact that Slaughterhouse has an Eminem-endorsed album on the horizon might have something to do with the high spirits.
Cut under the tutelage of a very hands-on Slim Shady, the August 28th-released Welcome To: Our House is the album the four M.Cs are betting will finally see them move from being positioned as underground-renowned rap figures to artists recognized in a wider realm. Each member has already cultivated a respected level of grass-roots solo support — and they've all endured not-always-fruitful stints on other record labels — but now they're looking for Em's stamp of approval and the Shady Records logo to act as Slaughterhouse's tipping point. Hoisting a rap artist up into the mainstream like this hasn't always been the easiest of maneuvers, not least when you're talking about four 30-something artists who aren't likely to become an overnight hit competing against the likes of the Young Money army and Odd Future's Tumblr tots; but as Royce, Joell and Crooked lark around in an Interscope boardroom it's a challenge they exude a totally relaxed confidence about.
How was the video shoot at the slaughterhouse the other day?
Crooked I: That shit made me think about the things I eat!
Joell Ortiz: That thing stinked, and I say that as someone who could not love this city more!
Crooked I: The things we eat, man.
Joell Ortiz: It was crazy 'cause it was some kid butcher who had slippers on, like it was fresh blood on the floor…
Royce Da 5'9": He was too used to it.
Joell Ortiz: He was too much like telling us to come on in, like the scientist in Independence Day, it was nothing to him.
Who had the most gruesome scene in the video?
Royce Da 5'9": We all shared that. I'm not telling you about it. It was just disgusting.
If times got hard, which one of the group could handle working in a real life slaughterhouse?
Joell Ortiz: Ha ha, I know I'm out!
Royce Da 5'9": What would the job entail? What's the job description?
Joell Ortiz: Literally destroying live lambs, like brutally destroying lambs.
Royce Da 5'9": I could do it — as long as I could get some free chicken at the end of the day.
Joell Ortiz: You really think you can do it, do you think? You could really kill a live animal? [Mimics swinging a butcher's knife] There you go you stupid lamb!
Royce Da 5'9": You from the fuckin' projects….You can kill a live person but you can't kill a chicken?
Joell Ortiz: That's different though! There's killing a human, but I can't kill an animal 'cause they make noises.
Royce Da 5'9": So do people.
Joell Ortiz: [Puts on agitated voice] "This is bullshit!" Yo, one time in the hood, niggas got shot and was like, "This is bullshit!"
Royce Da 5'9": "I got shot, this is goddamn bullshit!"
Joell Ortiz: "This is some bullshit! This shit should not be happening, this is some bullshit!" [Pauses] So Royce will take the slaughterhouse gig, he said.
You leaked the song "Goodbye" from the album the other day. Why do you think people have reacted so positively towards it?
Crooked I: I think 'cause it's personal. It's a great song and we dealt with some very personal and real life things people can relate to...
Royce Da 5'9": Ha ha ha.
Joell Ortiz: What you laughing at? Are you still thinking about, "This is bullshit?"
Royce Da 5'9": Ah, man, y'all should have never shown me that video with the fly.
What video is that?
Joell Ortiz: We want to put you on to it: It's called Ghetto News Reporter. Just put that in YouTube, it's hilarious.
Royce Da 5'9": A fuckin' bug flies into his mouth while he's reporting. He's talking all proper at first, then all of a sudden it happens and he's like, "There's a fly in my mouth in this country ass town!"
Joell Ortiz: Dog, I wanna meet that guy. If he interviewed us, that would be classic, dog. But, yeah, we released "Goodbye."
Crooked I: It's fuckin' great. I think people like to hear personal stuff; they want to hear about you and the introspective side about you and hear things they can relate to in their everyday life. I think anyone can relate to the three different scenarios we're rapping about in the song.
Does it take longer to write something so personal?
Crooked I: Those sort of songs come so easy to me because it's just real life, it's not about creating something fictional or from the imagination. Someone actually tweeted me this morning saying his father died of cancer and he said it was touching to hear that song.
[Royce's cellphone rings. He answers it.]
Royce Da 5'9": Hi, Mike. We're in an interview but if you'd like to talk we can stop. Crooked, I'm sorry, did I interrupt you?
Crooked I: I was talking about "Goodbye."
Royce Da 5'9": Well, Mike interrupted me. One hand washes the other. Are you offended yet?
Joell Ortiz: My man that's interviewing us is offended and, yo, my feelings are hurt too. I really do not want him offended.
Is that [Slaughterhouse co-manager] Mike Heron
Royce Da 5'9": Yeah. He said he apologizes. [Talking to Mike] Do you have any questions?
Mike Heron: [On speakerphone] You'd like me to ask the guys a question for the interview?
Joell Ortiz: J-Lo. Can I pick her?
Crooked I? Does it have to be a mother? Like do they need kids? Or can I just pick a hot older woman like Stacey Dash?
Royce Da 5'9": They need to have kids.
Crooked I: What's the cut-off point, with age?
Joell Ortiz: I'd say over 30, and definitely with kids.
Royce Da 5'9": Halle Berry.
Mike Heron: That's the sort of insight I want to know about! [Mike Heron hangs up.]
So how does Welcome To: Our House differ from 2009's debut?
Crooked I: It's a higher level. When you have Eminem literally sitting there in the corner for everything you do, you raise your game. I don't even just mean him talking or giving advice — which he did throughout the album — but just having him there watching, it's like, okay, now we're on another level and we need to step up.
Royce Da 5'9": I mean, the last album we recorded in six days, just because of the circumstances. The label basically told us we had six days to get together to do the project. So there's always going to be an improvement when you have more in the way of support and resources.
How hands-on was Eminem with the making of the album?
Crooked I: It was from the rooter to the tooter. He was doing it all, telling us where to take song concepts and how to tackle certain songs.
Can you all remember the very first time you heard Eminem rhyme, and what you thought about it?
Crooked I: I remember it was on Power 106 on the Sway & Tech Wake Up Show. I was listening at home and I heard this kid come on and it was like, wow. Just the way he was rapping, you could hear that talent and intensity. I went up to the show later and asked them about it. They were like, "Yeah, he's this white kid from Detroit!"
Royce Da 5'9": I remember very clearly and it was very early on. I was in a club called 1212 in Detroit; I was there with my wife and it was an open mic night. This kid got up and I was like, all right, and then what I heard was just these syllables that were so precise. He was with the high voice and it reminded me of AZ.
Joell Ortiz: Mine was the Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito [Garcia] show. I was listening — this was when you were at home looking to tape everything, like you were hoping not to miss parts of the show that people would talk about — and the song they played was "My Name Is." I had a relationship with Stretch at the time and asked him who it was.
What will make this album a success in your eyes? Sales, shows, critical reaction?
Royce Da 5'9": I can tell you that success won't be related to record sales. I don't care if it sells five copies, 'cause that's not how I measure this one. It's like when we first formed Slaughterhouse in 2008, we did our first show at S.O.B's in Manhattan. Then S.O.B.'s became B.B. Kings, and now it's the Best Buy Theater. That's how I measure my life, through constant progression and that's what this album is.
Joell Ortiz: I agree. It won't be about record sales. Whether you go platinum doesn't affect whether kids come to your show. It's not about that.
Crooked I: This one's about the whole package and having creative control down to like the artwork. It's like when you first heard Nas, no one cared how many albums he sold — no one even knew. So for this album, everything is raised, even with the way the packaging is put together.
The artwork for Welcome To: Our House is based around a run-down mansion. What would a Slaughterhouse mansion be like inside?
Royce Da 5'9": Well, it would be a building where inside everyone has a separate room, and inside each room is the person's personality. So there would be a Joell Ortiz room which is about him. That's what people are going to see when they get the album — it will open out and they will see that insight into each member.
Crooked I: We want it to be like when you had the excitement about a new album and you'd take it home and study it and read the little notes and look at the photos.
Joell Ortiz: Like, we're so hip-hop! That's what we are. We can't change that.