The black chevy Suburban is outfitted like a limo: television, VCR, deep leather seats, opaque black windows, driver. Inside, Method Man bounces up and down while his new album, Tical 2000: Judgement Day, keeps the floorboards bouncing back. The truck whirls through Union Square in Manhattan, and Meth points at the massive Virgin Megastore. “That’s where I want my album-release party. That’d be live. Where FAO Schwarz at?” he barks at the driver. “Fifth Avenue? I don’t want to go there. Go to Record Explosion — Thirty-fourth Street.” The Suburban heads uptown. It stops at a red light a few minutes later, in front of a van advertising two jointly owned local hip-hop and R&B stations, Hot 97 and Kiss FM. Meth leans half of his lanky six-foot frame out of the window. “Hot 97 suck!” he yells. “You guys stink! 98.7 Kiss my ass!” The light changes and the staffers in the van look extremely grateful. Meth brays with laughter as the truck rolls away.
Method Man is about as easy to pin down as a blob of mercury. In the space of an hour, the twenty-eight-year-old Staten Island rapper morphs from articulate to obtuse and from playful to withdrawn faster than ex-lovers brawl on Jerry Springer. One minute he is menacing, as he growls about a recent arrest in Memphis for obstructing traffic. The next, he is tenderly bragging about the eleven-month-old daughter he calls Pinky Fat Fat. He is full of bravado, strutting down the street rapping his own lines: “All them honeys ’round your way love me! ‘Wherefore art thou, Method-ical?'” Yet he’s given to self-doubt, too, insisting that his skills are inferior to those of his Wu-Tang Clan cohorts.
His new album is an exposition of the same order: diverse, moody and fluid. It showcases more of Meth’s vocal and rhythmic abilities than his platinum-selling debut, Tical. It’s been four years since that album, and it shows: Judgement Day has more songs, more guests and darker, danker backing tracks. Of course there’s a strong Wu presence, with some production duties handled by RZA, Inspectah Deck and Mathematics. Other Wu-Tangers, like Cappadonna, Masta Killa and Raekwon, make appearances, as do Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez, Redman, Mobb Deep and D’Angelo — along with Chris Rock, Janet Jackson and noted hip-hophead Donald Trump.
The album’s highlight, however, is the title track — Meth’s brainchild and the only cut he produced. “Judgement Day” details Method Man’s idea of Armageddon over an amalgam of bass music and techno. Like all of his lyrics, it’s gritty, not pretty — but even at its darkest, there are Star Trek and G.I. Joe references to lighten up the proceedings. The music, more than anything, sets the song apart. “That was the only time I fucked with the keyboards or anything,” he says. “That shit right there is gonna start fights. The mosh pit’s gonna be crazy.” In a stupefying whirlwind of circular logic, Meth explains the album’s significance. “There’s a lot working on this album. It’s my second L.P, right — that’s T2: Tical, Tical. It’s called T 2000. Two thousand is two words; each starts with T. Method Man is two words that start with M. Year 2000 is the millennium. What does millennium start and end with? M! Two M’s. M is also the Roman numeral for 1,000, two of them is 2,000. My second LP, 2,000. Ya know? I’m just perfect with this LP right now.”
The ride has pulled up across the street from Record Explosion. Meth hops out and ambles through traffic with a jerky, stiff-legged gait. When he gets to the door, a slender, well-dressed woman looks him up and down like he’s a new fur coat. “Hi, Meth,” she says. He grins and goes inside. “They got dirty DVDs? Damn,” Meth says, surveying some of the merchandise. “I gotta come back for those.” He lingers in the martial-arts section, eyeballs some Al Pacino flicks and leaves with his haul: Austin 3:16 — Uncensored, a few Japanese animation titles and karate movies, and a PlayStation game called Tenchu. Meth orders the truck back downtown. A Backstreet Boys poster on a wall sets him off. “They got a thousand of them groups overseas, man,” he says. “That shit be comin’ out of MTV over there all day.” He points at A.J. McLean, whose sunglasses are halfway down his nose. “Look at him — weak eyes. You can tell all you need to know about a nigga by looking him right in the eyes.”
It’s creeping toward dinner time. A restaurant advertising vegetarian specialties catches Meth’s eye. “I don’t eat swine of any kind,” he declares. “McDonald’s — swine. Burger King — swine. Bread has swine in it, cheese has swine in it — it’s in the enzymes. Religion has nothin’ to do with it; it’s just about my health,” Meth says with a serious stare. “Vegetarians, they’ll eat a whole meal of vegetables, then go and chew a piece of gum with swine in it.” Swine? In gum? “Yeah, it’s in the gum-based sorbitol-swine.” Soon enough we arrive at a photo shoot that Meth is doing for a fanzine. He asks his publicist to order him dinner: “Meat pizza, extra cheese.”
It is almost two weeks later, and Meth is fresh from a spur-of-the-moment trip to Atlantic City. Or maybe not so fresh. “Tired,” he murmurs, looking out of a pair of Fendi glasses. “Tried to get some off my girl last night, but that didn’t work out.” The AC jaunt came on the heels of a trip to Memphis for MTV’s Sports and Music Festival, during which Meth was arrested in front of his hotel for obstructing traffic and also charged with resisting arrest. “They locked me up for being black, young and paid in full,” Meth says. “Nobody read me my rights. I got Maced, though. That guy was a fuckin’ Nazi. He can eat a dick — skinhead.” Meth was signing autographs, a crowd formed, the police intervened, and a few kids started fighting with the cops. “I had a drink in my hand, so I thought they’d get me for that. I went inside the hotel and passed my drink off,” he says. Meth stepped back out to talk to the cops. “This fuckin’ asshole Maced me. In his report, he claimed that I was coming at him with this little promotional flashlight I was holding. If that was the case, why didn’t he take it? When I got to the station, I was still holding the goddamned flashlight! It was bullshit.”
Meth is looking out the window of the Suburban at a passing girl. “She’s too goddamn skinny, though,” he says. “In the wintertime, broads be lookin’ crazy skinny. What the fuck is that all about?” In speech and on record, his voice is deep, resonant and surprisingly smooth. “Everything from my ears to my throat — even my tongue and bottom row of teeth — vibrate when I talk,” Meth says. There is also a curious draft-in-the-attic quality to it — the result of poor dental health. “Too many years without benefits,” he says.
A piece of trash in the gutter catches his eye: “I hate New York. It’s dirty all over.” Meth grew up in a few places: Staten Island; Hempstead, Long Island; and, for a short while, Indiana, where his mother’s family resides. He was raised by his mother and has an older and a younger sister. His father was not in the picture. “He was a fucked-up nigga,” he spits. “Sometimes he’d live with us. We didn’t need his black ass. I seen him do too much foul shit when I was a little kid that he didn’t think I knew about. He used to take care of other motherfuckers’ kids, couldn’t even take care of his own. He didn’t teach me shit. He can’t tell me shit.” Meth is vague about the past, focused on the present. “Reality smacked me in the face early. That’s why I don’t like to talk about my childhood. There was love there and shit, but it was the shit I saw that my parents didn’t know I was watching and seeing so clear. My moms and pops, as I got older, it was like they were children, too.” He talks about having dealt drugs a little in high school “because I was starving. Fifteen, sixteen years old, hunger pains is real. How I’m gonna eat? We’re forced into these situations.” He’s adamant about one more thing: “I don’t ever want anybody to feel sorry for me because of the way I came up. There are people who have it a hell of a lot worse than me.”
Meth attended three different high schools before dropping out in the eleventh grade. The first one, Staten Island’s New Dorp, was predominantly white and, according to Meth, short on education but long on lessons. “Nobody there cared if I came to school. I had homeroom with Raekwon, but in most of my classes, I was the only black kid. All the kids in my district applied to other schools to avoid New Dorp. It was a dead end for a black kid. Even the sports teams — you’d make it on and just sit on the bench.” He was a good student but cared much more for his own studies. “He was always drawing comics,” says his little sister, Missy. “He’d come home, go to his room and do his homework right away so he could spend the rest of his time drawing new characters.” According to Missy, Meth is all he was and more: “He’s so outgoing now. He has exactly what he wants, so he can do everything he couldn’t do before — basically, he can be a big kid.”
Meth agrees: “I always say that — I’m just a big kid.” The truck is heading to an Army-Navy store on Canal Street, but first it’s time for a sandwich. Meth rolls into a deli and orders pastrami with provolone on a cin-namon-raisin bagel. “Everything better with a cinnamon-raisin,” he explains, grabbing two bags of salt-and-vinegar chips. He rings the bell on the counter. The two sandwich techs turn around. “I didn’t do it,” Meth says.
Outside, the rapper waits to cross the street, mumbling about being overcharged for the bagel. Suddenly, a white van aimed right at him pulls up at alarming speed, its passengers holding their fists out the window and shouting. It doesn’t look good. “Yo! Yo! Meth! When’s the album dropping, man?” Whew. “November 17th,” he says, unruffled and tapping fists. “Yeah, yeah, Meth!” they shout as the van rolls away.
The trip to find a new camouflage jacket proves unfruitful. It’s time for the shoe store before Meth heads home to the wife and kids. “She’s my girl, but we’re not married,” he explains. “She don’t need a ring to be my wife.” They share a small house of their own in New York; before that, they lived with her parents. “I’ve got everything I need in my house,” Meth says. “It’s not a mansion — I’m a simple man. I play with my kids, play video games, read comics. But I need to sell some records, man; the basement floods when it rains.” Running the family seems to be a clear-cut affair. “The kids’ mama takes care of them, all that shit. But everybody loves daddy, ’cause daddy’s always bearing gifts. He’s Daddy Claus.”
Meth walks along Broadway sipping from a bottle of water. Every once in a while he sprays some out of the sports top, landing it just in front of or just behind other pedestrians. He stops at a Foot Locker. Inside, he suddenly screams. “Ohhh!” Every head in the store snaps around. “These things are fuchsia, kid!” he says, holding up a teeny pair of Timberlands for Fat Fat. “Word!”
The sun is going down, and Meth’s missions are as complete as they can be. He heads back to the truck, stopping for two more fans and a guy waving a business card. “I hope people get with this album,” he says. “I write a lot of what I call fly shit — it’s subliminal, and it can fly right by you. It feels good when I’m appreciated for it. When I’m not, it’s like people telling you your life isn’t good enough.” He waits at the corner as two more people walk half-circles around him and ask him if he is actually the Method Man. Once they are assured he is, they don’t seem to know what to say and simply stare up at him. “People slept on my persona on Wu-Tang Forever,” he sighs as the light changes. “They didn’t understand what I was talking about. When I rhyme with my brothers, I’m overshadowed any fucking way. I’m more like a jazz crooner — I slip in under the groove, and that’s why people don’t consider me a lyricist. I guess I could say the same shit as other niggas. But, damn, man,” he says with a sideways look, “isn’t it good that I don’t?”