Exclusive: Joell Ortiz Gives Back to Brooklyn Youth

Joell Ortiz is back on the grind. The boricua rapper—who’s been hailed a throwback to hip-hop’s better days but remained in limbo since parting ways with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath record label—has announced plans to independently release Free Agent, his first album since 2007’s The Brick: Bodega Chronicles, on October 14.

[Cuban rapero Pitbull just released a controversial single from his mixtape of the same name—go here to read more about it.]

Now, the MC reveals exclusively to Latina.com that along with the album, he will also launch a program called 2 @ a Time, in which Ortiz will use proceeds from Free Agent to donate computers to children who live in the housing projects of his homebase, Brooklyn. Click below to hear "Memories," the first single from his upcoming album, then read about what it means to Joell Ortiz to be giving back, his own childhood memories and why his album will show his peers in the game that "it’s okay to rap" again.

LISTEN: Joell Ortiz - "Memories"

Why are you launching 2 @ a Time?

Real talk, I just want to give back to the community that’s been supporting me. I’m gonna give the kids computers so they could wise up and see that there’s a bigger picture than the 15-20 block radius that I grew up in. There’s a bigger life than just hanging out, smoking and drinking and having unprotected sex.

What does it feel like to give back to kids?

I’ma be honest with you, it feels better than when I get something. When I gave away computers to a community center last year, I took pictures with the kids and they were genuinely happy. They were all like, ‘I got next on the computer!’ ‘No, I want to play with it,” you know…and these are kids that don’t get a chance to smile too much because they got parents on drugs or single moms at home, stuff like that. So it just felt really good.

Why the focus on Brooklyn?

My whole neighborhood is changing—they’re pushin’ people out…raising rents, slapping buildings up in between other buildings, making it look all sloppy and crazy. My project people, we got about 5 or 10 years left before we’re totally gone. So I’m like, ‘Yo, let me make it the best 5 or 10 years I could possibly make it and try to fight for us to stay.'

You talk about your old neighborhood a lot on your new single, “Memories.” What does that song mean to you?

I’m just wilin’ out on that song, man [laughs]. The things I used to do as a kid. In the projects I always had my little playground with swings, monkey bars, seesaws and stuff like that. I always take it back to my roots whenever I get a chance.

What’s the status of your upcoming album, Free Agent?

I’m still recording it. I work all the way up until the whistle. If it drops on the 14th, the last record will go in on the 13th. But I got some of the best free agents in the world on it. I got Fat Joe, I got Joe Budden, I got Papoose, I got my dude Bun B. LL is hollerin.’ This is gonna be a great album. The Brick Part Two, in full effect.

Why have you decided to release it independently?

I just got tired of the whole messy industry shit. Plus, I think that me and my team do the job of a major label. We’re out there promoting just as hard, marketing just as hard, getting shows and everything just as well as a major label does. I don’t want to sit around and wait for the politics and the release dates and all that stuff. I got a nice fanbase, and I’ll target them; I’m gonna go ahead and hustle myself, like I was hustlin’ before music, and make it happen. That’s it.

What do you want people to take away from the album once it’s out?

Let everybody know that it’s okay to rap. It’s alright for you to just be really, really nice over beats like I used to be, or the way I thought when I was 12 years old, when I first approached a cipher to rhyme. You’d sit there and say, ‘How do I become the best dude that’s about to rhyme in the cipher?’ And you’d just rap as best as you could. When the beat comes on, just know that there’s already a few guys out there trying to target club and radio. So it’s alright to just rap, because at the end of the day…man, we gotta bring it back to where DJ’s are fans of the records and they play what they want to play.

--Monica Herrera