Q&A: Jadakiss

Using weed, liquor and champagne, the chart-topper tries to channel Biggie's essence in the studio

Jadakiss in 2004 Credit: Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic

Why did they let the Terminator win the election? Why do rappers lie so much of the time? Why did George Bush knock down the Twin Towers? These are but a few of the questions posed by Jadakiss on his single ''Why,'' from his second album, Kiss of Death. ''I ain't a politician or anything,'' he says. ''But when 9/11 happened, we thought that he had something to do with it. I can't put the puzzle together, but those are my thoughts.'' Jada is currently working on another puzzle: how to maintain the street cred he's earned by performing on a slew of mix tapes and as a member of hip-hop trio the Lox while still appealing to the masses. On the day that Kiss of Death debuts at Number One, we sip Hennessy and cranberry (to accompany his well-well-done steak) at a soul-food joint on Manhattan's Upper West Side. ''Before I really celebrate with the champagne, though,'' he says, ''I'm going to see Fahrenheit 9/11.''

Do you remember the first song you rapped along to?
I was probably nine or ten. I had one of those tape players with a strap on it and the orange button — the old-school recorder — and I'd record songs by Roxanne Shanté, Run-D.M.C. and Biz, Markie. I'd try and learn the words. I've been rhyming since I was a young fella. I used to win talent shows by break dancing and rapping.

What drew you to the record store for the first time?
My mom had wild records, like Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson and the Whispers. But the first record I bought was ''Rapper's Delight.'' It had a sky-blue cover with a rainbow. My aunt gave me money to get it, and I played it over and over on the record player. And I think I had an Alvin and the Chipmunks album [laughs]. Those were my only two records ever!

Who nicknamed you Jadakiss?
An old G in my hood. He just called me that one day, I don't even know why. I said, ''Yo, I gotta test that name out!'' I threw it in a rhyme, it worked, so I just kept it.

What concerts have had the biggest impact on you?
My mom and pop took me to the Apollo Theater on my thirteenth birthday to see Heavy D and Keith Sweat. It was late at night, up on 125th Street, and it was crazy! Then I went to a benefit concert at Memorial Field [in Yonkers] with the Boys and Run-D.M.C. I was in awe.

What three mix tapes should every hip-hop fan own?
Doo-Wop: 95 Live had everybody on it — Busta and MOP — free-styling over different beats. DJ Ron G: Mix 12 had some knockin' old-school beats, Jamaican mixes and reggae joint. The whole tape is just a good time. And my mix tape DJ Green Lantern + Big Mike: The Champ Is Here came out last year. People wanted that to be my real album. They love that goddamned mix tape. I almost wish I'd never put it out, but it got the buzz going.

Your T-shirt has a photo of James Brown with Ray Charles. Did you ever meet those cats?
I met Ray in an airport once. He was reading Braille, and I was just admiring him doing that. But I asked the people he was with, ''Can I meet him?'' They said, ''Cool,'' and I took a lot of pictures with him. I damn near snapped a whole roll!

How do you like to roll when you're out clubbing?
I just drink champagne, Hypno, Courvoisier. I might do white liquor sometimes, like Grey Goose.

And you smoke a shitload of weed?
Definitely. That's my medicine.

Do your studio sessions get wild?
My sessions are spiritual. I got incense burning to get the negative energy out. I really try to swipe Biggie's whole essence in the studio. Biggie used to be the bartender. Sometimes he had Malibu, pineapple, cranberry, sometimes he had hard liquor, sometimes champagne, and sometimes he'd switch it to 40s and pretzels. So for this record, I had weed, some liquor, champagne. Sometimes I just had water.

How about artistic inspiration?
In our studio we got pictures of Bob Marley, De Niro, Pacino — y'know, the regular gangsters.

Last year Puffy told me that you belong beside Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z and Tupac in hip-hop's hall of fame.
Me? He did? That's a great pleasure to know he said that — he's a very smart man. But I have a lot more work to do. All them guys sold multiplatinum albums. I like that he put me in that bracket after only one album. But I want to sell some units to round the story out.

What do you play when you're getting busy?
Depends. It could be hardcore rap, or it could be Sade or R. Kelly. But I focus on what I focus on. I usually don't even care what's playing.

Have you ever flat-out lied on your records?
Numerous times. Everybody does, For the most part, we're telling someone else's story.

What's the biggest lie you ever told?
Probably about killing somebody. Everybody who ever said that on a record is pretty much lying. I never killed nobody, but I'm not saying I won't. But I go back to my old block with no problem. I don't care if I get nominated for fifty-eight Grammys, the day I can't go back to where I came from, I quit.