Call Bishop Lamont hip-hop’s Conan O’Brien. Like the lanky late-night talk show host, the Carson-raised rapper ostensibly received the keys to the kingdom when he achieved the dream of every local MC: signing to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath, “The Tonight Show” of record labels. But things didn’t go according to plan. Despite dropping several highly regarded mix tapes and scoring a hit radio single with the Dr. Dre-produced “Grow Up,” Lamont was left to languish on the sidelines. To add insult to injury, the label sent a cease-and-desist letter to Power 106, barring the station from playing the tune -- a bizarre move that seems opposed to conventional music industry logic. (Aftermath did not respond to requests for comment.)
Of course, common sense has paid few house calls lately to the laboratory that Andre Young built. Since Busta Rhymes’ “The Big Bang” in 2006, Aftermath has released just three records, a pair from 50 Cent and another from fellow longtime meal ticket Eminem. The Interscope subsidiary handed Rhymes, Chef Raekwon, Rakim and Joell Ortiz their walking papers. As for Dr. Dre's “Detox,” the long-awaited “Unicorn of Rap,” both Raekwon’s laughably tardy “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” beat it into stores. At this point, cynics cluck that it ought to be called “Botox,” considering we’ll all need cosmetic work by the time it sees the light of day.
Yet through it all, Lamont remained the loyal soldier -- clearly frustrated with the foot-dragging but unwilling to criticize his mentor (other label executives were a different story) and laboring diligently on Dre’s “Detox” and his own debut, “The Reformation.” Over the last year, rumors swirled that Lamont had been dropped from the label, with the rapper born Phillip Martin vehemently denying the accounts. But last month, he revealed that he had parted ways with Aftermath, telling Shade 45’s “The All Out Show” " that it was like “ 'Shawshank Redemption'… I still love them over there, but thank God… I was going out to the prison yard, shaking gravel out my pants…trying to crawl through the sewer."
Lamont declined to comment further on the disarray at his old home, but spoke to Pop & Hiss about the 700 masters he left with, his forthcoming releases, hanging out with Ram Dass and his future plans for his own imprint, Diocese Records.
You were able to secure your masters per the terms of the severance agreement with Aftermath. What exactly is contained on those recordings?
We’re about to finally bless the world with a lot of music. It got to the point where it wasn’t fair to the fans or to myself to have to keep on waiting. I understand that labels have obligations, but it was difficult to have fans coming up to you and asking when I was going to get a release date. There’s a lot of crazy records I got to take with me. There’s a J Dilla record that I got with the blessing of DJ House Shoes. Tracks from DJ Khalil, Lord Finesse, 9th Wonder, Mr. Porter, Focus, basically a who’s who of underground hip-hop.
And tracks from Dr. Dre?
Yes, there are tracks from the good doctor in there.
What’s the status of your relationship with Dre?
It’s as good as it’s ever been. In the course of the time it took to get out of the Aftermath contract, I never wanted it to cause our friendship to suffer. He's like my big brother. I understand that business is business, and I’m hoping to continue working with him in the future.
What’s the plan for your next release?
I’m going to put out “The Shawshank Redemption,” a mix tape with Bink and DJ Drama that will talk about what I've been going through.
You’d been working on a follow-up to “Caltroit,” the sequel to the original collaboration with Black Milk. What’s the status on that?
There was so much going on over the past year that it had to take a back seat. But we did a record called “Fat Gold Dookie Rope” that’s probably going to be one of the first singles off the new project that we release.
At one point you were planning to release a tape called “No Country For Old Men,” in which you were going to take shots at West Coast veterans for not supporting younger artists. What happened with that project?
Snoop actually reached out to me, which was really dope. I’ve known him since I was a teenager and his brother and I are friends. A lot of people thought it was a ploy for attention, but it was about older artists supporting the younger artists. Those guys are heroes to us and it’s important to carry on the tradition. But we had a heart to heart and he explained that he’s willing to support all of us, which you can see now.
It’s important to keep the West from falling into the standard boxes you think of when you think of West Coast artists. There’s a lot of talented people out here who don’t get the shine they deserve: Pac Div, U-N-I, Med and Rocc C and Oh No from Oxnard, and a bunch more I’m forgetting at the moment. I’m liking the direction we’re going in, but there needs to be more unity and I’m in a great position where I can lead by example and move at my own pace.
You’re not the only West Coast artist who has had difficulty getting a major label to release your record. At the moment, Glasses Malone, Nipsey Hussle and Jay Rock have all been able to land singles on Power 106 and still don’t have a release date in sight. Neither do Pac Div. What do you make of that?
It's ridiculous. Nipsey's been doing his thing, Jay Rock had a hit song with Lil Wayne and will.i.am. and no one can get a release date. People sometimes get it twisted that I hate the skinny jeans kids, but that's not true at all. I love that The New Boyz are speaking for kids their own age in a way that hyphy never had the chance to do. But none of the labels are giving the West Coast artists a chance right now, they're busy trying to figure out a new design for the business -- all of a sudden the machine they created is working against them. That's one of the reasons why I'm working toward getting Diocese Records off the ground.
I'm trying to build a label for everything from rap to R&B to jazz to alternative rock to country. We're trying to do everything in-house, with videos done by DJ Skee and Matt Alonzo, and radio and Internet promotion done right. Artists would come to me when I was at Aftermath and I told them that their best bet was to avoid signing with a major. They thought I was hating, but the labels want to give you 360 degree deals and take all of your publishing and your merchandise and publishing. If an artist can sell 40,000 copies on their own, they're rich. If they sell 40,000 on a major, they get dropped.
What's the status of your own album, "The Reformation?"
It's almost finished. There's so many records, but I've had the blessing to be able to sit with Ram Dass lately in Maui, and the books he's given me and the things I've learned have been so dope. I'm almost overwhelmed. It's hard to know where to begin. I've been sitting down with so many amazing people lately and learning and evolving so much, that's it's just crazy. There's nothing better than being able to have my freedom.