Of the roster of bling-heavy artists debuted on Roc-A-Fella Records, Beanie Sigel has been one of the hottest. But his rapid rise has been cut short: Last week, Sigel, 30, entered Philadelphia’s federal prison system to begin serving a year-long sentence for drug and firearms possession.
Sigel was first introduced through a guest spot on Jay-Z’s Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life, and his 1999 debut The Truth featured both Jay-Z and Eve. Born Dwight Grant, Beans — as he’s known back home on South Philly’s Sigel Street — single-handedly put the City of Brotherly Love on the gangsta-rap map. Through the mentorship of Jay-Z and Damon Dash, he jump-started his own State Property stable of artists (Young Gunz, Peedi Crakk), movies (State Property) and clothing. And with a heavily anticipated third album, The B. Coming (featuring Pharrell and Buckwild), a starring role in the Dash-directed State Property 2 and television series The Playpen in the works, 2005 was to be the year that made Sigel Roc-A-Fella royalty.
But in April of 2003, Sigel was arrested in the Philadelphia area and found to be in possession of cough medicine and more than twenty pills of Percocet (a combo known as “pancakes and syrup” in Philly street slang) and more than twenty pills of Xanax. Making matters worse, Sigel — who was convicted of dealing crack in 1995 and was still on probation — had fled from the cops, tossing a loaded handgun out of his car window along the way. The rapper received a year sentence on October 8th, and this may only be the beginning: Sigel still faces an assault charge stemming from a January 2003 incident, and is expected to face a retrial for an attempted-murder case that ended in a hung jury last April.
Beanie Sigel, determined to go forward with his numerous projects even from behind bars, talked to Rolling Stone about his “emotional” new album and the uncertain year ahead.
You’ve described life behind bars in some hardcore, visceral ways in songs like “What Your Life Like.” Do you think your jail time will be anything like what you’ve rapped about?
What can I tell you? I don’t know. I will let you know after this year. I don’t know what kind of state of mind I’ll be in.
How has the reality of your sentence changed your life?
It just helped keep me in a zone, recording-wise. I knew I could be gone for a while, so it helped me buckle down. When I was recording my first album, I didn’t have no rules. It was just me recording from the heart. And that’s what I think of most of the music on this album — it just came straight from the heart.
Why did you title the new album The B. Coming?
The music is more mature. It’s me coming into myself, as a man. This album is really more soulful music — it was me, just venting, expressing myself. You know I was going through legal issues, so I’d say this album is more emotional.
Did any songs get added in response to your recent trial?
I’m talking about a lot of life issues, but not literally my legal issues. When you listen to [the album], you can tell I was going through several emotions. Even from the some of the titles: “Can’t Go On This Way,” “Change Is Gonna Come,” “Feel It in the Air,” “Have Mercy,” “Look at Me Now.” From those titles, you can kind of see where the album is going to go.
Now that you’re facing jail time yourself, what do you think of the idea of doing time as a badge of honor in gangsta culture?
No, that ain’t a badge of honor. Not for me. Only fools or people who got caught are in jail. Take that to heart. If you can learn what not to do from me, then I’m good with that. But I wouldn’t believe that because I’m going to jail, now I’m hard — that ain’t what’s up. You know who glorifies stuff like jail? Suckers. People who aren’t confident enough in themselves. People who are scared when they went to jail, they use the time as a badge. They’re saying, “I went to jail before.” What they really mean to say is, “I went to jail and I survived.” There ain’t nothing great about this at all. I’m pissed off I got to do this. I’m so upset.
What was it like waiting for the verdict? During your attempted-murder trial, the jury deliberated for five days.
It probably was the waiting that was the most trying. I’ve always been a patient person, since I was very young — ever since I was taught that only fools rush in. But this was tough.
There are reports that you’re planning to leave Philadelphia behind for Miami when you are released.
Sigel Street is always going to be special. It’s a reminder of where I’m from. Sigel Street and me — that’s not just my story, it’s everybody’s story, for those who came from less fortunate circumstances. So it keeps me grounded like that. But man — you been doing a lot of reading. I can’t go to Miami. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t go. Too late now: If you know, everybody knows.