Editor’s Note: We’ve updated this interview with the video to “Save Them.”
AZ, the Brooklyn rhyme veteran born Anthony Cruz, makes even unintentional moves feel calculated. His newest single “Save Them,” a prelude to the long-awaited sequel to his 1995 debut “Doe or Die,” flies like a subliminal frisbee that only his diehard fans would catch. When asked if this title marks the return of his S.O.S.A (Save Our Streets AZ) alias he laughs audibly.
“That’s funny. Nah,” he says as if he just realized the connection himself. “I’m not a savior to that extent but I’m gonna give you a little bit of that S.O.S.A, some AZ, that Anthony Cruz, some grown man shit. You gonna get it all. But that’s a good set off because now I have their attention. Now we can move forward.”
Funny enough, in his moves forward AZ has taken it back. The new track features tried and true collaborators Raekwon, Prodigy with Buckwild on the beat. After performing with Das EFX at New York’s B.B King’s Blue Club to celebrate the anniversary of their debut “Dead Serious,” AZ spoke with Nodfactor about reuniting with his peers, who exactly he is trying to save and how his mic devotion still brings out his deepest emotions.
NF: How was the show at BB Kings?
AZ: It was a good thing to be back home and just represent [in] a neutral spot for everybody to just come through. A lot of artists and diehard fans came through. Representing with Das EFX, they paved the way. So it was a good vibe.
NF: That was last Thursday night. Did you perform “Save Them” that night?
AZ: I didn’t because I knew they would be unfamiliar with it but I had my DJ Doo Wop play it, brought it back a few times and he said “Out tomorrow, new joint.”
NF: What was the response like?
AZ: It was unfamiliar to them but It takes a little while for a record to grow legs. I remember when “Sugar Hill” first came out it was the same type of vibe. I had a party in Central Park or somewhere and they played it. When people heard it some people automatically vibed to it but others were like it’s new. But after a month it was on fire. They hear the lyrics and feel the beat. They know what it is.
NF: “Save Them” is definitely not “Sugar Hill.” This is a more serious AZ with the Honorable Minister Farrakhan talking about cutting the heads off of betrayers to Black people on the intro.
AZ: Right. It’s about the sellouts. This is our culture and it took us decades to build this culture right here and it’s being taken advantage of and being used as a fast food situation for people to make a quick dollar. I’ve been on the low for a few, but everywhere I go it feels like I just put a record out because the love is still there and they say “You gotta save us from this,” and I say “From what?” They say there is no substance and the babies still listen to music. You gotta save us. I been getting that for a year or two. Then I was like damn, I gotta save the people. But at the same time I’m like I gotta save those doing it [to us] from themselves. Because hey have no clue. It’s like the blind leading the blind. I can’t be mad at the little homies doing what they do. They just chasin’ a bag. That’s all they ever knew. But at the same time what y’all doing is defeating a purpose to an extent. Let’s cut the shit out and in order to rebuild we have to destroy so I’m trying to destroy and rebuild.
NF: Well you’re definitely in build mode because this song is kind of a reunion. You, Rae and Prodigy also had a track called “Untouchables” from Kay Slay’s “The Streetsweeper Vol. 02” album.
AZ: Yo I forgot about that shit. Slay had to remind me. That had to be 8 or 9 years ago…
AZ: Wow, that far back? Aw shit. I did Slay’s show the day before I did BB King’s and he reminded me. I listened to the way it went, it was Prodigy, Raekwon then me. Now on this is me, Rae then Prodigy. It was counterclockwise. So we brought it back on them.
NF: So what was it like recording with two fellow generals from 1990s New York?
AZ: They was the greatest candidates to get. You knew they were gonna come with they sword. That’s what was needed to make the cipher complete. It was like “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” type of situation. I’m the warning before the storm and Rae lettin ‘em know immediately and Prodigy gonna speak what he speak. He got not filter. He gonna get it in.
AZ: Yessir, all day. He’s one of the homies. I can’t wait to jump back in and drop the full length project on them.
NF: And on the beat side you got Buckwild, who produced “Ho Happy Jackie” on “Doe Or Die.” This beat was very different from that though.
AZ: When I heard this particular song it gave me a different vibe. It was automatic. That’s the beauty of music. It touches the soul and dictates where to go with the verbal if you’re a poet, artist or lyricist. That beat definitely brought something out of me as soon as I heard it.
NF: Is that where you’re headed with this project? Is this song an indication of the zone you’re in?
AZ: I’m universal so I’m gonna touch all parts of the mind, body and soul. That’s me. So I’m gonna give you food for thought, I’m gonna motivate. I’m speaking on everything with this album. I’m never one dimensional with the music.
NF: On the cut you start out saying “This is real rhymin, a monumental n*gga, iconic/ East Coast fly shit, pay homage.” How do you think the New York streets have changed since ’97 compared to now?
AZ: Sound travels and fluctuates. There’s things to be heard all around the world. The baton was being passed around from the East to the West, Dirty South. We all enjoyed fruits of the harvest and we all experienced a drought. And what goes around comes around. Everyone had a chance to speak their mind and has their code of communication and New York tended to just go with the flow. In the last decade or so brothers have moved here and migrated, we kinda adapt. Those that had the power kinda left New York open. So now it’s just a matter of getting it back in tune. West Coast got they sound, South got they sound, Midwest got they sound and New York should have their sound. It shouldn’t be no sound is outdated. This is the sound and whatever you wanna lock into, you lock into. And I think New York is getting they feet back. Because so many artists that the seeds had been planted from back then are starting to sprout. They are showing their love to the Nas, Jay Z, Biggie, Mobb Deep. Those seeds were planted back then and now through the seasonal changes these seeds are blooming right now. So I think instrumental wise the sound is gonna come back and this is that sound.
AZ is putting the finishing touches on “Doe or Die 2” coming soon.