Bedford-Stuyvesant could secede from Brooklyn and still boast an unfuckwittable roster of emcees. There’s Big. There’s Jay. Mos and Fab. Can’t forget Kane. All slick wordsmiths borne of a time prior to ATL being rap’s capital (yep, it is). And all lyrically capable of switching their flow to accompany any beat they run across and, along the way, demolishing any opponent.
Jermaine “Maino” Coleman is an exception. One of the few New York emcees to break through for a minute, he doesn’t “over-rap” as he puts it. His allure is the rawness of his perspective, not witty metaphors. And unlike his neighborhood predecessors, his swag is thoroughly thug, not kingpin certified.
An embodiment of the real, the long scar across the right side of his face tells the story itself of his background and in turn, his journey. From the box to the cushy Manhattan offices of Atlantic records, the road to being a major label rapper has been winding. Building on the strength of his ’08 anthem “Hi Hater,” the next step is cementing his place among the legendary BK brethren.
As he preps for the release of his debut If Tomorrow Comes, the Crew’s D. Chanda cut it up with Maino to dig a little deeper into his story.
TSS: So what’ve you been asked the most today?
Maino: Where am I at—because I was late.
TSS: So why were you late?
TSS: You drove here (to the Atlantic offices)?
Maino: I always drive here.
TSS: What do you drive?
Maino: Escalade—some new shit.
TSS: You were the one that showed me those Rick Ross pics. Why’s that kinda thing such a big deal?
Maino: ‘Cause if it’s true, that’s some fucked up shit. Like “Damn, you were trying to be a real nigga!”
TSS: So for someone like yourself who prides yourself on being real, is that a slap in the face?
Maino: Yeah, but I’m not saying a C.O. nigga can’t rap. Everyone can do whatever they want to do because at the end of the day, niggas have to feed their families however that is. At the same time, you can’t have been a C.O. nigga claiming to be this kingpin. My pain over the matter is that I just represent real shit. I just don’t like phony shit. Now, I’m not saying it’s true or it’s not true. I don’t really know because the picture looks real but he said it’s not so who am I to say it is. Me and the nigga cool—I like the nigga personally. But to answer the question: that’s some fucked up shit. Real talk.
TSS: (Points to his face) How did you get that scar?
Maino: I woke up one morning and it was there. It’s a mark of God. I’m the Chosen One—the Golden Child.
Maino: Nah, let me stop (Laughs). I got cut in Comstock when I was in jail. This kid I had cut a couple years earlier in one jail caught me in another jail and cut me. This is some getback right here.
TSS: How many times have you been locked up?
Maino: I been locked up plenty of times. I only did one bid, though.
TSS: What did you learn when you were locked up?
Maino: I learned that anything worth having is worth working for. Nothing’s easy—you gotta grind for everything. Also, patience. You gotta learn to be patient.
TSS: You picked up rapping in jail, right?
Maino: Yeah, out of boredom. I was getting in a lot of trouble in jail. I had a 5 to 15—ended up doing way more than that. I was in the box, getting in trouble and shit like that. The box is solitary confinement—special housing unit, locked in twenty-three hours a day every day, showers three times a week and everywhere you go, every time you come out your cell, you’re handcuffed to your back. No physical contact with anybody. And I spent a lot of time like that. It was under them circumstances that I started rapping.
TSS: How was it growing up in Bed-Stuy?
Maino: It was the hood—same old thing. Pussies and terrorists—two kinds of people in the world. I wanted to be a terrorist.
TSS: Still a terrorist?
Maino: I’m always gonna be the terrorist because there’s only two kinds of people in the world. Can’t be a pussy. Terrorists are real thorough people who stand for something, that live by certain codes and morals, and that have principles. I’m one of them ‘cause if you don’t, then you just a pussyhole nigga just floating around the earth. You gotta stand for something, gotta be about something, gotta have some type of principles, gotta have some type of morals about yourself. I just conduct myself in that manner so I’m a terrorist.
TSS: Iight, let’s talk about the album. What’s the story behind the title?
Maino: If Tomorrow Comes. It was originally…you read a lot?
Maino: You know Sidney Sheldon?
Maino: Well he wrote this book—he wrote a lot of books—called “If Tomorrow Comes.” The book was about this lady that was framed and everything was stripped away from her. She got thrown in jail and she got up one morning and promised herself that if tomorrow comes—only if tomorrow comes—she was gonna get everybody back and do all these things she promised herself she would do. I applied it to me because I was in prison and I felt like “Man, tomorrow’s not promised but if it does come, let me make it better—let me make it brighter—than today. I’ma go hard if tomorrow comes. I’m gonna get it only if tomorrow comes because if it doesn’t come, then I ain’t gonna be able to do it.” It’s having hope.
TSS: I listened to about nine of the tracks so far. “Kill You” struck me the most because you say shit like “I wish my babymomma would’ve been hit by a Mack truck.”
Maino: Something along those lines. You got kids?
Maino: Well, that song might cause some problems for me. I don’t literally mean that I wanna kill my baby’s mother. When I was on my road in trying to become a rapper, my baby’s mother and me had a lot of problems and we went through a lot of issues—a lot of them caused by me. And there was times when I said, “Uggghhhh, I wish I could just fucking kill her.” Not literally—I never tried that. I never planned on killing her, but that’s the thought out of anger that you say that. And one of those times I made a record about it. I was so mad she ain’t let me see my son or some shit like that. (Starts rapping lyrics) And it came out good. Did you like it?
TSS: It was a dope track. How’s the rest shaping up?
Maino: It’s a story—a movie. It’s the story of how it was for me to make the transition from being a nigga in the street just coming home from prison into being a rapper. I had a lot of things stacked up against me. Imagine, I’m on parole, brand-new baby, babymomma in the house beefin’, I’m still dabblin’ in the streets to try to keep money coming in. Got a couple of issues in the street with a couple of niggas that when we see each other, we gon’ give it up—broad day, nighttime, whatever. And all that and I’m trying to be a rapper. Now, I wasn’t signed yet—I was just trying. I was going in the studio two or three in the morning and coming out at 7—the incentive and drive was there. I didn’t know if it was gonna be rewarded or not, though. So that’s what the story is about.
TSS: Around when was that?
Maino: This was 2003 ‘til now. During that whole process, I was getting on mixtapes. But then before I got signed (to Atlantic), I was signed to Universal. Before I got signed, I had my P.O. stressin’ me about my curfew and getting a job and I was like, “I don’t need no fuckin’ job, I’m rappin’.” So it was different trials and tribulations for me to go through of just being a man and trying to get here. You know what I been through to get here, just to sit in this fucking shit right now and have a record playing right now?
TSS: How old are you?
Maino: 29. I’m young. Old soul.
TSS: Still got dirt in the streets?
Maino: If I did, would I tell you?
Maino: I’ve been a criminal all my life. Rap just came to me when I was in jail. I was more comfortable being who I was as opposed to what I am today. But the answer’s no.
TSS: So you feel like you’ve left that completely behind now?
Maino: Yes, but I haven’t left the people alone. It’s impossible for me to be a rapper at this level and still be hands-on in the street the way I used to be. This job right here is too time-consuming. Ask me if I’m tied to the hood? Yeah, I’m tied to the hood—I’m very much tied to the hood. It’s where I come from, so the people that others shy away from, those are my friends, those are my family. I’m very comfortable in the projects because that element is what gave birth to me. So I can’t get on and turn my back and look at them like they crazy. I can’t go home bigger than them. I want them to go with me.
I want them to see that there’s life outside of a 10-block radius in the hood, which so many people don’t understand and don’t really see because they’re so hopeless. I’ve been hopeless. I was in jail. I wasn’t gonna come home and be anything. I was in jail learning nothing, man. I was in jail passing the time—I would read my books, try to educate myself as much as possible but deep down in my heart I knew that I was gon’ go home and get right back in the street full steam ahead.
It’s that mentality; it’s sad. There’s no way to even diagnose this mentality. But I’m blessed—I woke up one morning and said, after I started rapping as a hobby, “Maybe I can do it seriously and use it as a hustle. If it don’t work then shit, I got the streets to fall back on.”
I believe that I am an example—I believe that I am an inspiration to so many people. When you ride through any hood, you’ll see young dudes out there. They’ll be on the corners and you’ll know that they’re doing something wrong. You ain’t even gotta know ‘em. You’ll just ride by and say, “They’re out there selling drugs, got their guns around them, and they’re goons.” I was that. I. Was. That. So I don’t shun them. I’m living in a different space so I’m meeting different people. This bitch told me one day, “Them niggas need to get off the fucking corner.” I’m like, “You don’t understand the hell that they’re in or why they’re there. When you look at them, you lookin’ at me. I was that.” When you look at them and you say to yourself, “Oh, they just need to go to school or they need to do something with themselves,” it ain’t that easy. I was that—I was the dude calling home from jail, needing some money, needing some help. I was that. You don’t understand what they’re going through because no one understood what I was going through, what made me do what I did, what made me rebel, and I felt hopeless and like I was never gon’ be anything and just die in the street—in and out of jail for the rest of my life.
You don’t know this life, this mentality that we live everyday, this innateness. It’s natural for us to put a gun on our waist and then put drugs in our pocket. It’s natural for us to do shit like that. It’s natural for us to get locked up and come back home and do everything all over again and do wrong all over again. Because it’s a lifestyle. Selling drugs ain’t wrong to us. Only people that really lived this could understand what I’m talking about. Only people that really felt this can understand when you wake up every morning in the street. That is your life. Ain’t no cars, ain’t no fucking video shoot, there’s no plane ticket, there’s no shows—it’s that hood.
TSS: What’s your biggest beef with the game right now?
Maino: I ain’t got no real beef—I’m doing what I wanna do. I’m living a dream right now. I could be somewhere else doing something foul…
TSS: But you’re here…
Maino: But I’m here…getting interviewed. Shit, how much beef can I possibly have?
If Tomorrow Comes will be in stores 9.23.08. For updates & info, check out www.mainohustlehard.com.