KXNG Crooked & Joell Ortiz Deep Dive Into "H.A.R.D," Slaughterhouse History, Eminem & More
Though the legendary quartet has since disbanded, the Slaughterhouse logo has since been emblazoned in the hip-hop history books. Together alongside Detroit’s Royce Da 5’9″ and New Jersey’s Joe Budden, KXNG Crooked and Joell Ortiz — repping Long Beach and Brooklyn respectively — helped elevate a band of lyricists into a full-blown brotherhood. By now the story of their falling out has been well documented, with many lamenting the loss of Glass House, Slaughterhouse’s sophomore Shady drop. Yet rather than dwelling on what’s gone, consider celebrating what has since been achieved.
For KXNG Crooked and Joell Ortiz, who recently linked up for the excellent collaborative body of work H.A.R.D, the spirit of Slaughterhouse has been a driving force. When they speak on what was accomplished together, there’s a sense of nostalgic pride within each man’s cadence. And even more prevalent — a sense of respect for one another. It’s the reason that Crook and Joell were once again driven to connect once more, lining up an extensive studio session fueled by mutual respect, creative trust, and the desire to chase the “super vibes.”
I had a chance to connect with Crook and Joell for a video conversation, which took place on the same afternoon the pair debuted H.A.R.D. to the world. Jovial following their big release, the esteemed lyricists proceeded to reflect on creating the project, their time in Slaughterhouse, the group’s uncertain future, Glass House, working with Eminem, and much more. Check out our entire conversation below.
This interview has been edited for length.
HotNewHipHop: Thanks so much for taking the time though, honestly. It’s strange days right now. First and foremost how are you guys doing?
Joell: I’m cool over here man. Just doing some cleaning around the house, to be honest with you. That’s pretty much the extent of my day. Still an early afternoon for me.
Crook: I was able to do I wanted to do dawg. From now on when I wake up, I got to get a certain amount of meditation in. Just certain things on my list I got to do each morning and I was able to hit each one so I’m feeling real cool right now.
*Crook takes a sip of “Essential” water*
Joell: Ooh that essential!? [laughs] What you know about that Essential though?
Crook: You already know
Joell: That good alkaline in that system! When you said that about meditation Crook, I was like damn I’m jealous, man. That’s something I’ve been putting off and so many of my friends are now into that, and they like ‘dawg, it literally changes my life.’
Crook: Yea, for real.
Joell: Damn, I gotta make that time man.
Crook: Some people I know they like 30 minutes, an hour. If I can get in like 10-15 you know, I’m good with that you feel me? Like I don’t gotta get crazy. But some people need that body, you know what I mean?
Joell: Do you do the guided meditation shit, where somebody kind of talking to you, or are you just on your own now?
Crook: I listen to the God Frequencies man. And the –what do you call it? Solfeggio?
Joell: The different words and different tones and pitches?
Crook: Yeah, I listen to that! Like I just choose one that I feel is a good selection for the mood I’m in, you know what I mean? And then I just let that go and just get outta here man. Astral-project!
So, congrats on the H.A.R.D. EP, guys — or the album, I guess you could say? It feels like an album to me.
Joell: We’ll take whatever. A body of work!
There you go. When you were going through the preliminary talks to start working on this, can you walk me through the process about how it began coming together?
Joell: Honestly man, I had reached out to Crook. Honestly, we’ve been talking about doing something for quite some time, so this is not like a brand new idea, but I just felt like the time was right. I’m glad we got in by the way because things shut down right after we finished recording. But I had reached out to Crook and told him about locking in and seeing if he would be interested in rocking out back in, I believe it was February. And he was like “yeah let’s do it! Do you want me to come to LA? Do you want me to come to New York?”
We figured New York would be best for the scenario and he came out to New York. And yeah, we rocked out in the studio for maybe a week or so and just vibed out on some joints, hung out, caught up as friends. You know, went and grabbed a bite to eat before all the quarantining and everything. We just came up with what we came up with. I’m very proud of this album, body of work, whatever y’all wanna call it. I’m very proud of it.
But yeah, it wasn’t to sit here and tell you that it was a big old drawn-out business plan and things of that nature, I’d be lying. It was more like “Crook, Whats up? You wanna rock out and you ready?” We figured out the time that worked for our schedules, we got in the studio and locked in and here we have it — H.A.R.D.
Maury Phillips/BET/Getty Images
It really felt like you guys were there connecting. It didn’t feel like something that was done over emails and stuff. I felt like it was a very personal project. You had a lot of tracks that were more on the vulnerable side which I appreciate as a fan, getting to know a bit more of the story.
Since you’ve been working together for so long, were there certain types of directions that you both liked? Even back in Slaughterhouse, were there certain songs that you both gravitated towards that helped dictate the direction that you were gonna go with H.A.R.D?
Crook: You know, I’m glad you said that, because that’s a real great observation. Yeah, it absolutely was, you know what I mean? Like, when we did Slaughterhouse joints, anytime you start talking about pain and the struggle and poverty and you know, growing up in the gutter. That’s when me and Joell would kick in.
Joell: That’s a fact.
Crook: We would offer contributions to those concepts and it just felt like “alright, cool,” if we do something together, let’s do something we’re good at, you know what I mean? Let’s talk about something we like to talk about.
*Crook’s dog starts barking.*
Crook: I’m sorry yall. My pool guy is here and my dog hates his guts.
Joell: Dawg. *Holds up pool water tester* I’m literally going to get my shit tested right after this! [Laughs] I aint playing with this weather!
Crook: I feel you, bro! And that’s what I’m saying dawg, he just barking up a storm. I’m just tryna text somebody on the sly like “Yo, put the dog away.” Quarantine interviews, what can I say?
Joell: But Crook, you right though. That pain and that struggle is right in our wheelhouse bro.
Crook: It is, and it just made it seem like so natural. Doing this album, this body of work, this piece of art, whatever you wanna call it. And yeah, I think we just tapped into the frequency of the struggle, the global struggle. You know, we all have things in common and I think we just tapped into that frequency. Hopefully people feel that energy.
Joell: I know me personally, I gravitate towards that. I think I’m like, default that. I don’t know what it is but when I hear something that will evoke emotion in a beat, I instantaneously start rapping in my head like “yo, how would I approach this?” I got so much shit that I gotta get off my chest cause it be on my spirit, you know what I’m saying? And I love those records man. So all of my projects will have that stuff anyway, I just love doing that.
It’s cool too cause it shows you guys have a lot of trust for each other. I can imagine it’s not easy kind of putting yourself out there on tracks. I really think that’s something that people are gonna enjoy.
Joell: Appreciate it Mitch
Thank you. So when you were assembling beats, was there a particular sound you were looking for? Did you have producers you wanted to work with off the top?
Joell: Well everybody on the production side is friends of ours. Like either really good friends, or associates that we call friends. It wasn’t tough to get them evolved because we’ve rocked out in the past so we have a mutual respect for each other as artists. I record in Diamond District, which is the Heatmakerz Studio, so getting production from Rsonist and the Heatmakers is like nothing, like “play something…that shit works, let’s go!”
!llmind, you know, I’ve recorded an album with !llmind in the past. He’s done stuff with Slaughterhouse, so that’s another phone call that’s super easy, he’s a friend of mine. Erick Sermon, I’ve rocked out with him for a long time, so he was there. He was one of the dudes co-signing me super early in my career so we kinda never lost touch. When his beat came across my table…It’s a funny story! Should we tell that story Crook? [Laughs]
Crook: Yeah, the E-Sermon?
Joell: Yeah, the E-Sermon Story.
Crook: Yeah, go ahead.
Joell: So actually, I asked Royce for a batch of beats for us so he sent over a batch of beats, cause Royce is into producing now as well. So he sent over a couple of beats. I didn’t get to go through them all cause the second beat was hitting me. So I’m just like “oh shit, this is fire!” So I told Royce “I picked one” and he’s like “alright cool, just send it to me.” So I sent it to him and I think Crook told me that Royce let him know “that was an E-Sermon beat and I sent it by accident!” [Maniacal laughter]
Crook: Royce sent him Erick Sermon’s beat by accident. A beat that Erick Sermon sent to him to rap on, you know what I’m saying. He thought it was one of his own and sent it in a batch of beats and we ended up picking that one and a few other ones we were playing with too that were Royce’s beats. Yeah, it was just crazy that that was an Erick Sermon beat. And we was like “Oh shit!” [Laughs]
Joell: And you know, we’re those dudes that go with the moment, the feel and the vibe. It was so right, I was like that’s one of those mistakes that’s supposed to happen. I’m not running from this, I’m embracing this, I’m hitting Erick and we’re gonna figure this shit out! So I called Erick — and this is Erick’s voice– and he’s like “God damnit Joell, I sent that shit for Royce and Em!” [Laughs]
I said “E, man! We fucking with that shit, we going crazy!” He said “I know you gonna do what you do but damnit, it wasn’t for you!” But he gave us the blessing and we just rocked out and shit.
Crook: He wanted on that Bad Meets Evil project!
Joell: Hell yea! he had a vision for that shit!
Crook: “‘H.A.R.D is cool. I like H.A.R.D, that’s cool… but Bad Meets Evil 2?”
Joell: See, when I sent him what we did to it he said “I knew it was meant, I knew it was meant the way it went down. I may have had a vision for it but God had another plan for it.” Cause you know, E is very spiritual. He’s like “even the parts you rapped on, you rapped over parts that I thought was the chorus but fuck it, it works.” So that shit was dope. And then Apollo Brown, you know that’s my homie from the D. We’ve been rocking out for the last few years, we’re label mates at Mello Music Group. So it was nothing to reach out to him and I told Crook to reach out to Rook and the Justice League and they sent over some shit so it was easy. The production was easy. It was just friends.
Crook: And I imagine that to be like, when I listen to soul music and I listen to vinyl and I think about the stories of Berry Gordy and Quincy Jones. Watching that Quincy Jones documentary, you know what I’m saying? Seeing how friends get together and make music. I imagine that that’s just the energy that you’re supposed to have when you’re working on a project you know? I mean I love technology, don’t get me wrong, because I can’t be in 13 places at once. You know, If I gotta do 10 projects and verses or features, I can’t be in those studio sessions at once, it’s impossible.
But when you get a chance to come together and you get a chance to rock out with friends, I imagine that those are the super vibes, you know what I’m saying? That’s when the super vibes are created, you know what I mean? So it just felt good to have those names attached to that. We all really work with each other. It’s not like a label exec said “hey, I have this guy, this guy and this guy.” No, it’s actually people that we work with, you know what I mean? And it’s a dope environment.
Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images
Very cool. I really like that Erick Sermon joint a lot. It was probably one of my favorite tracks. Both of you had some great lines on there too. I like the “foe fifth” line for you Joell, and then the “Red and Meth” line for Crook.
Joell: Those are my two favorites too man!
When we write about the songs on HotNewHipHop — I wrote about that track specifically — and those are the lines I mentioned. Very cool stuff.
Crook: Appreciate it.
I mean, I like the bars, you know? I’m kinda like the “old head” on the writing team. I’m like 30, and it’s a younger team I guess but…
Joell: Damn! Crook, did you catch that? He said he’s an old head at 30!
Crook: He’s the young OG at 30 right now.
Joell: Oh shit!
[Laughter all around]
Going back for a second — since you mentioned the super vibes and working with your friends, I wanted to ask about Slaughterhouse and that dynamic. Did working on H.A.R.D. bring back a lot of memories for you? I know there’s probably a lot of nostalgia associated with the group. You guys have been through a lot together, you built a whole legacy. Slaughterhouse is still mentioned to this day.
I think there a lot of fans who hold Slaughterhouse in high regard but for you, it must be much bigger than that. How does someone come to terms with having a run like that? Are you still bringing those positive elements from Slaughterhouse into the music you’re making today?
Joell: You can answer that Crook.
Crook: Us getting together in New York, it did bring back memories. Especially for me because when we were working on Glass House, me and Royce relocated to New York for like a month and a half, something like that. So just, you know, being in the city, it’s a different vibe when you in New York if you and out-of-towner. It moves real fast, you know what I’m saying? Everybody in a hurry to get where they’re going. You hear the sounds of the city. It’s just different. So when you’re headed to the lab, your thoughts are racing on a different energy.
And I remember that feeling of Glass House, when we were recording that Glass House album with Slaughterhouse. Walking up to the Diamond District, going into to the lab, meeting up with my guy Joell, you know what I’m saying? Standing outside puffing on a cigar, thinking of ideas and shit. You know, it just took me back to those days when we were putting a super dent in the game. And it gave me the energy to go back up in that elevator and do something else that was special with my guy, you know what I’m saying?
Crook: It was just a good moment in time and I’m glad that we was able to catch lightning in a bottle in my opinion and put something on the table. A lot of people on first listen [of H.A.R.D] have been hitting me up like ‘Yo! It’s so special. We want the Slaughter but can yall give me another one of these?’ That’s the best message we could receive, you know what I mean? So I feel like we did our job.
Joell: Same here man, I’ve been getting the same calls, the same text messages, the same emails. All positive, all like “damn! It felt good to hear ya brothers rock out like that, this shit is fucking great, what a great piece of work.” It’s all positive shit and I feel really good today with this release. While we were doing that, of course the Slaughterhouse energy and feeling fills up the room cause it’s half of us in there. It’s 50% of that energy in there, you get what I’m saying?
And I was automatically reminded of what a special thing Slaughterhouse is when Crook went in the booth because the records he inspired, I forgot what that felt like, getting that spark from somebody else that you looked at on that level. Like I had something in my head, I might be able to keep this and that but he done took it somewhere else, and I need to do this! And that’s what Slaughter used to do. And Crook can attest to this. You ain’t always on it that day. You ain’t always on it. And to just get it from somebody else sometimes, that shit is the best!
So, you know, I would sit there sometimes when he would go in the booth and say it to myself like “remember that shit Joell? Where somebody would bust your fucking ass and make you be like ‘nuh-uh’ go a little bit harder or go over here with it.’ So that’s the one thing Slaughterhouse always did for me. It pushed me all the time. And it wasn’t even much so bar work, because we’re all respected on a bar level. It was sometimes just energy and sometimes just approach. Like the inspiration came from so many different places. So you know, it reminded me, of course, from when Slaughterhouse happened.
Crook: And look man, we haven’t dropped since 2012, Slaughterhouse, that was 8 years ago.
Crook: And right now, if I post that upside-down pig on my Instagram it’s gon get lit fast, you feel me?
Well, we would post about it for sure!
Crook: And it’s like yo, let’s not rewrite what’s in the history books. Slaughterhouse is one of them. When it comes to rap groups in hip-hop history, Slaughterhouse is one of them ones bro. And I’m so proud to be able to say that right now, you know what I mean? WuTang, N.W.A, Public Enemy, OutKast. All these great groups.
Crook: Right before they slammed the door on great groups we crept in like “Yep! We in here. Y’all can’t shut the door on us.” But to see people still wanna hear Slaughterhouse music after 8 years and seeing everything that’s been going on between Joe and Em, and the hiatus and the great music that Royce has been putting out consistently. Joell put out some of your best music, you know what I mean? With Mona Lisa and Monday.
Crook: People still want Slaughterhouse. That’s the greatest feeling in the world for an artist.
Joell: Shit, it feels good to know that people feel like me! I’ma have a keep-it-100 moment. I still want Slaughterhouse! You can’t not. Not even being a member. Like stepping outside and knowing what it is. That shit is crazy. And I can’t even imagine if there was a group that didn’t involve me and I wasn’t a part of it. Like it’s so fucking special man that I know it will eventually happen again. I’m 1000% sure of that.
John Ricard/Getty Images
I feel that it makes sense. There’s a lot of demand still. Obviously a lot of people are familiar with Glass House. That’s kind of become one of hip-hop’s lost albums, you know? Those projects that almost become an urban legend. And I was wondering, do you think that if the album were to come out today, would it still be something that you would want the people to hear? Or is it far removed now– it’s like older music vs newer music, let’s just put it that way. Would you rather put out something brand new or have an older body of work that you recorded and loved many years ago come out?
Crook: I mean me personally, I would rather do newer music, because I feel like we have all grown creatively, and just in life in general. I think we have more perspective to offer, you know? If you don’t have more perspective, more wisdom in 8 years, then I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing with your life. You know what I’m saying? So I feel like we have all surpassed that moment, you know? Now it is a great piece of work. I wouldn’t be mad at presenting it at some time period. I don’t know, maybe it’s a couple years, a year from now, I don’t know. But if Slaughter was to get back, I feel like we should offer them something brand new, based on the energies and the frequencies that we are moving on right now. That’s just me though.
Joell: I like that. I like that a lot. I’ll say this though, being privileged enough to be able to listen to Glass House…I’m happy that we never were current event rappers. So that subject matter is something that we could re-approach if that makes sense? Like the concepts. Maybe we don’t keep the record but we keep the concepts and approach it how we would now. You know what I mean? So that we still have a little bit of the spark and the energy from Glass House carrying into the new project. That’s how I ideally would see it.
But all of that stuff, like Mike Tyson say: “Everybody got a plan until I punch them in the face.” So all of this shit sound good until the four of us get in there and then the magic really happen. All of it is hearsay until we get in the booth. Until we get in the studio. But yeah, if I had to play a scenario out, it would be a mesh, a bit of a mesh.
Is it an album that you still listen to every once in a while?
I wouldn’t say every once in a while. It’s just something that when I get reminded of the group, or anything that brings it back to me, I double-back and check all of my music, not just Glass House. You know I have my days where I’m like, “this is a day where I wanna hear the first Slaughterhouse album,” “this is a day where it’s On The House.” Like I just have my moments and Glass House has had its moments as well, being that it’s the latest recordings of ours. So yeah, it has its place. It’s not something that I frequent back to, to keep it quite frank. And Crook will probably tell you this, it’s tough to shake the Slaughter shit. Like if I’m doing some solo shit, I can’t be Slaughtered out. I’ll approach my solo shit on some different shit. Be careful, that Slaughterhouse energy is contagious! [Laughs]
I think hearing a new Slaughterhouse album right now, given everything that has happened…And all of you have had great success, whether it’s musically or Crook’s Corner, which is great for hip-hop fans to check out, especially people who are into the history side. And I mean, I feel Royce is really putting out some of his best stuff — I’m a big Royce fan personally and he’s doing great work now. He always has, but I think now a lot of people are starting to really take notice of him, more-so than ever before. And obviously Joe’s got his own media empire going, so it’s just like hearing all of you guys get together with everything that’s happened. You’d have some Joe Budden Spotify bars–
Joell: [Laughs] It would make for a great truth-for-truth.
Crook: *Joe voice impression* “The rap game said they love me, why you lie? Had to go get a million on Spotify?”
[Laughter all around]
Joell: So Mitch, you’d subscribe to some new Slaughter shit?
Absolutely! I’d definitely be into that. Now that everyone’s grown as artists, everyone’s kind of experienced things in their own careers, I think that that growth would translate…