An Interview with Cam'ron

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Many ex-high school athletes will dust off the yearbooks from time to time and revel in the nostalgia of the "glory days." If basketball was a major part of your formative years, you might feel inclined to think about your hardwood (or blacktop) memories every once in a while too. It's nice to know that it's no different for hip-hop moguls (cue the gossip magazines: "Stars—They're just like us!"). Except, for Cam'ron, "glory days" is more of an ongoing thing. His life consists of making hit records, owning a liquor brand, directing and starring in movies and, generally just untucking the lyrical hotness in some capacity or another. While getting ready to drop his latest album, Crime Pays (May 5th), Cam took some time to touch base with The Mag about his Harlem upbrining, his love of hoops, and hip-hop.

THE MAG: For our readers who may only know about your rap career, can you speak on your experience growing up?

Cam'Ron: Well I grew up in New York City: Harlem, New York. I played ball for probably two of the biggest amateur basketball organizations in the city. One being the Gauchos, the other being the Riverside Hawks. I went to Manhattan Center High School. I never graduated, but I came out of high school Top 25 in the country in the class of 1994. I ended up going to a junior college called Navarro Junior College in Texas, which is in between Dallas and Waco. I tore my hamstring when I was there, and I redshirted my first year. And when I came back home, I ended up getting back into the music business. I didn't get a chance to get back into sports because music started taking off for me. That's kinda how my basketball career went.

As a top recruit, were any major colleges looking at you?
Yeah, definitely. I had University of Miami and Georgetown looking. There was also some interest from Wyoming and USC. But, you know, I was being a knucklehead, being a kid. My senior year of high school, we went the whole season 24-0, and lost in the first round of the playoffs. When we lost, I was so devastated I didn't go back to school. I was just, like, pissed off about it, so I ended up getting my GED and the University of Miami put me on to the junior college in Texas, and I was supposed to transfer when I finished up at Navarro.

We heard you played with Ma$e on your high school team, what was that like?
Yeah, he played for Riverside and Gauchos too. We ended up seeing a lot of each other in high school. You know, he was a point guard and I was a 2-guard, so it was a lot of fun.

Were there any current pros from New York who were playing when you were coming up?
Yeah, I've known Stephon Marbury his whole life. And Skip boy, y'all know him as Rafer Alston on Orlando now. Yeah Steph and Skip, we played against them 2-3 times a week. Or sometimes we were on the same team. People kinda went back and forth on Gauchos and Riverside. One year you may have been on Riverside, one year on Gauchos. One year you may be playin with Steph, one year you may be playin against him. Same thing with Rafer. Tim Thomas was in Jersey, too. I think he went to St. Anthony's in Jersey. Brevin Knight, too.

Any part of you still wonder what might have happened had you got your grades right and stuck it out in junior college?
Yeah, I always think about that. Anything can always happen, you know what I'm saying? I'm kinda happy just doing what I'm doing though, because it's never guaranteed. Haha. And it ain't like I'm 6'7'', I'm 6-foot with shoes on. So I still root for the undersized guys now, the Nate Robinsons. I loved Muggsy Bogues when he was in the league.

Is basketball still a part of your life?
Well, I haven't played in the last 2-3 months, cause it got chilly out. But when it's hot, I play like every other day. We always go to the games at the Rucker. Rucker's hot, but not like it used to be. There's a tournament called the Metro on 145th and Lennox, that's kind of like the new Rucker right now. There's a bunch of tournaments in New York now that are taking the light off the Rucker. Everybody that's not from here knows the name Rucker, but Metro is one of the best people might not know about. I'm a big fan, so I make sure I stay in the loop and try and see who the young talent is coming out of New York City.

What current NBA player's style most emulates how you played? Does anyone run a 2 like how you used to?
Maybe a 1998-1999 Allen Iverson. When he was a little younger. I would have to compare myself to AI/Bruce Bowen, because I was definitely defensive-oriented.

How would you say growing up playing ball has translated into what you do now?
It's discipline. You can be naturally gifted, but you still gotta work out. Especially the older you get. You know, you gotta jog, you gotta do your suicides, you gotta practice your jump-shots, your free-throws, you gotta do drills. It's the same thing in life, basically. You can't be going through life expecting everything. You gotta have discipline.

And you still reference sports quite a bit in your lyrics. How'd you end up sampling the Monday Night Football music on "Let Me Know?"
You know, to be honest, I get beats delivered to me. If I like em, I run with it. I heard that beat, thought it was hot, and ran with it. When I got that beat, I did it really fast, before somebody else did it.

What's the new album (Crime Pays) sounding like?
The new album is crazy. It's really street. It's like an old, S.D.E. Cam'ron album.

So kind of a throwback album after laying low for a bit. We hope you didn't hang up the blue mink.
Haha. I can't hang up the mink, baby. You know, even if the blue one's hung up, a red one done came off the shelf. I definitely ain't hanging the minks up. Don't worry, they around.

Any thoughts on March Madness?
North Carolina looks too strong. Especially if Ty Lawson comes back healthy then I think we'll be looking at UNC as the champs this year.

What about the NBA? What are you thinking for the playoffs?
My team was the Phoenix Suns, but since last year when they got rid of D'Antoni, the whole thing kinda went down the drain. I'm not sayin I don't love Shaq, I do love Shaq, but they got rid of Shawn Marion, they had a run-and-gun offense. They was only one game away from the championship before Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash and Amare got off the bench. My whole thing is, why take that apart if you was one game away from the championship? That was my team, but I'm kinda running with Orlando right now.

Some hometown love for Skip?
I mean, I got a place down there in Florida. And I like the Magic not just cause of Rafe, but because Dwight Howard is a monster, man. I remember hearing an interview years ago, when Steve Francis was playing there. I remember him saying that this boy is gonna be a monster, that everybody needed to keep there eye on this kid.

So what's on-deck for you these days?
Real quick, my schedule is crazy. After the album, I got a movie coming out in October. Then I'm putting out another album this December.

There goes that discipline you were talking about.
Haha. You got to do it. I was out for a bit, so I figured I might as well smother em now.