Exiled Russian lawmaker explains why Putin isn’t afraid of Obama

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Exiled Russian lawmaker explains why Putin isn’t afraid of Obama

VOX – Tuesday, April 21, 2015

On March 20, 2014, when Russia’s State Duma voted on whether to annex the Ukrainian region of Crimea into Russia, 445 of the Duma’s legislators voted yes and one voted no. The “no” was Ilya Ponomarev, a longtime leftist politician and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Within a few months, Ponomarev was exiled from Russia and stripped of his legislative immunity from prosecution. Though he is still officially a Duma member, he now lives in the US and is attempting to organize a more formal opposition to Putin from outside of the country.

We spoke to him in Washington, DC, about the stability of Putin’s rule, the Russian elites who help keep him in power, how things might change, and Putin’s increasingly tense relationship with Europe and the United States. While Ponomarev believes change will come to Russia, he warned that it will take years — and believes it will likely come from a combination of Russian elites turning against Putin and popular unrest, not from the ballot box.

What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.

Let me ask you about Crimea, and your vote in the Duma against its annexation as part of Russia. Did you know you were going to be the only one voting against it?

Yes. I expected this.

So why did you vote against it?

I thought there had to be somebody to show that it wasn’t unanimous. Because if it was unanimous, that would be used later to restore relations with Ukraine [while treating the annexation of Crimea as irrevocable]. But if there was a split, that means you have somebody to talk to [in the Russian government about Crimea’s status]. But of course, I understood that would significantly disrupt my activities in the country.

Did you expect the reaction to be as bad as it was?

I expected they might try a criminal case for sure. I didn’t expect that they would try to isolate me outside of Russia. I would rather expect the reverse — that they would try to contain me within Russia. They decided to go the other way.

Do you regret it?

The vote? Of course not. This was my job to do this. So I consulted with my constituents, and I tried to do right.

After the vote, what was the reaction from your constituents?

The most common reaction, pardon my language, is, “We disagree, but you are a true Siberian man with real balls.” That was the most common phrase I heard.

I understand you’re traveling to Europe soon. What are you working on there?

I’m working with the Russian diaspora, which has been traditionally disorganized and hasn’t had any kind of political agenda. It’s very fragmented. That’s a very dramatic contrast with the Ukrainian diaspora, because the Ukrainians are very well-organized. They were very active in terms of what was going on in 2004 in the Orange Revolution and the recent Maidan events.

The Russian diaspora is not like that. So I want to change it. I want to use it to develop a vision of Russia after Putin.

Within Russia, a big constituency for Putin’s actions in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine has been the neo-imperialist movement and, to some extent, the Russian nationalist movement that sees these areas as rightfully Russian. Are these groups focusing much on the Russian communities in the Baltic states, in Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania?

All Russian speakers. All those who might be seen as wanting to come back. But even the Russian community in Baltic states is divided. Take an example that I know well, Latvia, where we have the largest Russian community. There are people for whom Russian is a native tongue but who agreed to integrate in Latvian society and learn the language. That’s about half of the Russian population there; they are citizens.

They still identify themselves as Russians. They watch Russian TV. The mayor of Riga is Russian, Nils Ušakovs. The party that is supported by these Russians, Harmony, is the number-one political party in Latvia. They get around 30 percent, 35 percent of votes. It’s supported by these ethnic Russians in Latvia, but they are pro-Latvian. They don’t want to join Russia.

But there are ethnic Russians in Latvia who are non-citizens, who say, “We don’t want to learn Latvian language. It’s not our fault that we live here, and they should respect [our rights].” It is a difficult issue of being a non-citizen in your own country, where you have been born. They are very much pro-Russian because they feel oppressed.

That community was supporting a local referendum to acknowledge Russian as a second state language in Latvia. The referendum failed, but a very significant number voted for it. And that basically illustrates the divide.

If Putin’s going to leave office, are you looking toward the Duma elections coming up in 2016 or the presidential election in 2018 as how that would happen?

Most likely not that fast, because it’s impossible to use the existing electoral code and conduct free elections. We will end up with exactly the same system, and I think that without rewriting the constitution, without rewriting the basic political laws, it’s impossible to create a workable system. You would need to have a kind of transitional president, during which these set of laws would be developed.

We have this with the president of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, who was elected by all different political actors during the revolution. [Otunbayeva served as transitional president in 2010 and 2011 after the government was deposed.] She was a popular figure, and she was trusted by everybody to not abuse power and to not run as a candidate during the next election.

Sure, but the mechanism for that was a revolution.

Yes, I would think that only a revolution would change things [in Russia]; I don’t believe any change will come through the elections.

Who would that come from?

I think that would come from a combination of civil unrest in the streets and from elites who are already dissatisfied with what’s going on, who would come to understand that it’s really dead-end for them in this current system.

Right now, though, there are still hopes [among Russian elites] that a new American president will come into office in 2017 and that he or maybe she will end the sanctions.

Do people believe the sanctions will end specifically because Hillary Clinton would end them, or just that once Obama leaves, whoever comes in will change US policy toward Russia?

The analysis in the Kremlin that has been propagated down, including to the [state] media, is the belief that the Americans are extremely rational and pragmatic. [In this view, the problem is only that] Obama is a lame duck and so he would not do anything, and he already has a personal issue with [Putin]. But as soon as he’s out, the pressure would go.

But elites in Russia are unhappy with how things are going?

Of course nobody is happy with how things are going. The sanctions are disturbing [to the elites]. The elites are nervous, and definitely don’t want to live under such circumstances for a long period of time because it’s a kind of personal instability for them. It creates insecurity. They want to settle this down so that these feelings will go. It hurts their business. Even those who are not under sanctions, they might come under them at any time.

Who are these elites? Are there key people who, if they lose faith in Putin, could be important in determining what happens?

It’s a significant part within Russian elites who can open the gates of the Kremlin in a critical situation. They are within business, the establishment, law enforcement. Nobody wants to fight against their own people. They would never make the first move, but they will join the winning side.

That’s why it has to be a combination [of elites and a popular movement to effect change]. People on the streets need to protest. That’s what was happening in Ukraine. You know, Maidan [the 2013 Ukrainian revolution] would not have happened if it was just people on the Kiev streets. It happened only because it was a combination: people at the top, the inability of law enforcement to really fight, and mass popular movement.

What’s stopping that from happening now?

People are not ready. It takes time. You have to mature to that idea.

People, at the end of the day, are pretty rational. So they always weigh risks, especially risks to themselves. And if there is doubt, they’ll always be waiting whether any change is real or not. So they have to start to feel that the change is real. That has to be in the air, the sense that it’s real. That something is going to change.

s there a belief among the elite that Putin, even if they don’t love him, can at least maintain stability and keep all the internal forces in line?

Yes, some people actually afraid that without Putin it would be a turn for worse. That’s a possibility; that is a very valid fear. A lot of these Novorossiya people [who see much of Ukraine as rightfully part of Russia and may have fought in eastern Ukraine] are real fighters or are real 100 percent fascists. That’s really scary for a lot of people.

One of the usual Putin lines of propaganda is that he never says he is good. The message put out to the [Kremlin] media might say, “Yes, we are bad, but those who might come after us are worse.”

He never says, like, United Russia [Putin’s political party] is good. He says, “Yes, it is corrupt. Yes, it is incompetent. But look at the opposition. They are even more corrupt, they are even more incompetent. They are associated with the ’90s, and in the ’90s it was worse than we have now, so you better stick with the lesser evil.”

And the elites find this message compelling?

eah, many people do. We have seen so often in our lives that it can always be worse. People are really afraid.

The opposition is focused too much on negative things. Like, okay, [opposition figure Alexei] Navalny is against the corruption. Okay, we are all against the corruption. It’s pretty self-evident that we should fight corruption.

That’s why Putin is saying Navalny is as corrupt as all the others. That’s his message. People say, “Probably that’s not true, but still I don’t know. He’s against corruption, we like him, but how?”

Is there anyone you think is providing a compelling alternative message in Russia right now?

Right now I don’t see many people do this. There was a prototype, called Club 2015. It was organized by a group of Russian business people in 1995 who were developing this 20-year vision for Russia.

It was never actually implemented inside Russia despite the fact that four members of the club, who swore that they would promote the ideas of the group, all have prominent positions right now. For example, Olga Dergunova, one of the members, is now chief of the government agency that manages state property.

But another member became a key person for reforms in Georgia, under [former Georgian President] Mikheil Saakashvili. It was extremely successful, and helped to defeat corruption and jump-start reforms. And that came from that [Club 2015] vision.

here seems to be a view in Russia that the US and Europe are somewhat divided over their approach to Russia — for example that Europe is only going along with sanctions because Obama has pressured them into it. Is there an effort by Russia to widen this possible division?

In general, [the view is that] this current administration thinks this all should be a European affair. They have their priorities in the Middle East, which I think is a mistake.

Putin recognizes this lack of attention and lack of strategy and is trying to play on the contradictions. Europe is not very capable as a union in terms of foreign policy, and Putin is trying to increase the possibility that this union could fall apart. He is financing right-wing parties, he is financing separatists.

A fear that I hear from people who work with NATO is that Putin is trying to, as you say, heighten contradictions between the US and Europe, and particularly between the US and Germany, over the degree to which NATO should counter Russia’s actions in Europe. And that part of what he’s trying to do, not just in Ukraine but maybe also in the Baltics, is to force a split between Europe and the US that will divide NATO. Do you think that’s right?

That’s obviously his strategy. The weaker part of NATO is not right now contradictions between Europe and US, but contradictions within Europe. Within the neutral countries of Europe, like in Germany.

First, inside Germany there is a greater degree of anti-Americanism, and Putin is playing on this. It’s 19th-century anti-imperialism that has been translated into anti-Americanism. Putin, again, is trying to use this concept of lesser evil, that you should ally with the lesser imperialism to fight the major imperialism. And a lot of people who are ultra-left and ultra-right tend to agree with that position, and that is facilitating this kind of thing.

Also it’s important to see that in Germany, Social Democrats and Socialists [two major political parties] are traditionally affiliated with labor unions. And that’s all about jobs, and jobs are about economic cooperation with Russia. I hear all the time from German Social Democrats, “Our economic interests in Ukraine, they are minuscule, and our economic interests in Russia, they are pretty large. Of course, we understand that Ukraine is right and Russia is wrong, but, speaking pragmatically about the interests of Germans, common Germans, we should still be with Russia.”

That view also seems to be much more popular with German voters, one of saying, “Let’s not get involved in this, because it’s really just a fight between the US and Russia that could be costly to us, and let’s stick with our economic interests.”

Yes, absolutely. And [the Kremlin] plays on this all the time. They are trying to show Germans that you’d be better off forgiving Russia for all wrongdoings, because that would be to your benefit.

The most extreme version of this that I hear in Washington is the fear that Putin could try to split Germany from NATO once and for all by hinting that he might do with the Russian communities in Estonia or Latvia something like what he did in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine. And because Estonia and Latvia are NATO members, this would force Germany to choose whether it was going to side with NATO and come to the Baltics’ defense, or whether it would say, “No, we’ve had enough of this,” and that this would effectively end NATO.

I wouldn’t think Putin would dare to vote for open military measures in the Baltic states. But of course it would be enough for grassroots movements there to rebel, and Russia would play on this, and that would be used as a lever on Europe.

Rather, I think it’s a very high probability of further advances in non-NATO members in eastern Europe. Definitely Putin might decide for another offensive in eastern Ukraine, after Victory Day [an annual Russian holiday marking the end of World War II] on May 9. Or he might try to build this land corridor to Crimea. He might escalate in Moldova [where Russia has a military base in the separatist region of Transnistria].

With Baltic states, as NATO members, he’ll be more cautious. But he’s the type of guy who is always increasing stakes.

 

 

Russians’ approval of President Vladimir Putin hits near all-time high, poll shows

Russia's President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti / Alexey Nikolsky)

 

RT news

Published time: October 15, 2014 18:30

President Putin’s average approval marks from the Russian public have approached the record level of early 2008, independent research has shown.

The poll conducted in late September by the Levada sociology center shows that the average mark given by Russians to their leader is now 7.33 out of 10. This figure has been higher only once before – a mark of 7.49 reached in January 2008 at the very end of Putin’s first two terms as president.

17 percent of all respondents think Putin deserved the top mark – 10 out of 10 – for his work.

In the same poll, 38 percent of Russians said the head of state was worthy of their trust because his current performance was strong and successful.

At the same time, the overwhelming majority of respondents denied that the president’s popularity was turning into a personality cult. Only 19 percent said they had noticed features resembling a cult, compared to 27 percent a year ago.

The poll results are consistent with a recent tendency for record-breaking ratings for President Putin and other top Russian officials. Researchers explain this by ‘mobilization’ and solidarity of society in the face of foreign hostility, and also by events like the accession of the Crimean Republic into the Russian Federation.

In mid-August, 52 percent of Russians told Levada Center that they were ready to vote for Putin if presidential elections were held on the nearest weekend. January 2014, the share of such people was about 29 percent and that means that Vladimir Putin’s presidential rating has doubled in almost seven months.

Another influential sociological think-tank, the Public Opinion Foundation, conducted similar research in early August. It found that 68 percent of all potential voters were ready to support Putin at presidential elections, compared to 58 percent in March and 46 percent in January.

Putin: Nazi virus ‘vaccine’ losing effect in Europe

The coup d’état in Ukraine is a worrying example of growing neo-Nazi tendencies in Eastern Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a Serbian newspaper. He stressed that “open manifestations” of neo-Nazism is also commonplace in Baltic states.

Below is the full text of the interview.

Politika:You are coming to Belgrade to take part in the celebrations commemorating the 70th anniversary of the city’s liberation from occupation by Nazi Germany. Why, in your view, are such commemoration events important today?

Vladimir Putin:First of all, I would like to thank the Serbian leadership for the invitation to visit Serbia and take part in the celebrations commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade from occupation by Nazi Germany.

We are truly grateful to our Serbian friends for the way they treasure the memory of the Soviet soldiers who fought together with the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia against Hitler’s occupation troops. During World War II, over 31,000 Red Army officers and soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing on the territory of former Yugoslavia. About 6,000 Soviet citizens fought against the invaders in the ranks of the National Liberation Army. Their courage brought closer our common victory over Nazism and will always be remembered by our peoples as an example of bravery, unyielding determination and selfless service to one’s homeland.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the upcoming events. Seventy years ago, our nations joined forces to defeat the criminal ideology of hatred for humanity, which threatened the very existence of our civilization. And today it is also important that people in different countries and on different continents remember what terrible consequences may result from the belief in one’s exceptionality, attempts to achieve dubious geopolitical goals, no matter by what means, and disregard for basic norms of law and morality. We must do everything in our power to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Regrettably, in some European countries the Nazi virus “vaccine” created at the Nuremberg Tribunal is losing its effect. This is clearly demonstrated by open manifestations of neo-Nazism that have already become commonplace in Latvia and other Baltic states. The situation in Ukraine, where nationalists and other radical groups provoked an anti-constitutional coup d’état in February, causes particular concern in this respect.

Members of the Ukrainian far-right radical group Right Sector (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko)

Members of the Ukrainian far-right radical group Right Sector (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko)

Today, it is our shared duty to combat the glorification of Nazism. We must firmly oppose the attempts to revise the results of WWII and consistently combat any forms and manifestations of racism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism and chauvinism.

I am sure that the anniversary celebrations in Belgrade, which are to become another manifestation of the sincere friendship between our nations based on the feelings of mutual affinity and respect, on spiritual kinship, on brotherhood in arms in the years of WWII, will also contribute to addressing these challenges. We hope that the preservation of historical memory will continue to help us strengthen peace, stability and welfare of the common European space together.

Politika:How do you see the Russian-Serbian relations today? What has been achieved during the past twenty years and what future trends in the interaction between the two countries do you foresee?

Vladimir Putin: Serbia has always been and still is one of Russia’s key partners in southeast Europe. Our nations are united by centuries-long traditions of friendship and fruitful cooperation. Their development is fostered by common interests in such spheres as politics, the economy, culture and many others.

Today, the Russian-Serbian relations are on the rise. In 2013, President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic and I signed the Interstate Declaration on Strategic Partnership reaffirming our shared intention to promote large-scale collaboration in all key areas.

We have maintained active political contacts to discuss relevant bilateral and international issues in the spirit of confidence and agree on joint practical steps. Our governments cooperate closely within the United Nations, OSCE, the Council of Europe and many other organizations.

We are satisfied with the consistent progress in our economic relations bolstered by the existing free trade regime between our countries. In 2013, our mutual trade grew by 15 percent amounting to $1.97 billion, and, in the first six months of 2014, it increased by another 16.5 percent to $1.2 billion. We expect it to reach $2 billion by the end of this year.

A positive trend continues in the field of investment as well. The total amount of Russian investments in Serbia has exceeded $3 billion. Most of these funds have been invested in the strategically important energy industry. One example of successful cooperation is the energy giant Petroleum Industry of Serbia, which has turned from a loss-making enterprise into a major contributor to the Serbian state budget. The South Stream project will provide Serbia with more than 2 billion euros in new investments and significantly strengthen the country’s energy security.

Serbia’s rail infrastructure is being rebuilt and upgraded with the participation of the Russian Railways and our support in the form of loans.

I am pleased to see Serbian businesses play an active part in the promising Russian market. For example, they supply high-quality agricultural and industrial products.

I would like to note another important area of our bilateral cooperation. In recent years, the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre in Nis has taken part in disaster response operations in the Balkans on several occasions. Last May, Russian rescuers helped to evacuate people during a severe flood. The Russian Emergencies Ministry aircraft made several flights to deliver more than 140 tonnes in humanitarian aid to Serbia.

The growing mutual interest of Russian and Serbian people in our countries’ history and culture is also evidence of deepening humanitarian relations. This autumn, Serbia is hosting Days of Russian Spiritual Culture with great success. The central event is the exhibition titled Russia and Serbia. History of Spiritual Connections, 14th-19th Century. We plan to expand cultural, educational, scientific and youth exchanges, and to promote tourism and sports events.

I am confident that my upcoming visit to Belgrade will give a new boost to the traditionally friendly Russian-Serbian relations, which will continue to grow and strengthen from year to year.

Politika:There is currently a great deal of speculation regarding the possible reduction in the supplies of Russian gas to Europe because of Ukraine’s debt. Should European consumers get ready for a cold winter? What about the future of the South Stream project, which is of great interest to Serbia?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to stress that Russia is meeting its obligations in full with regard to gas supplies to European consumers. We intend to further deepen our cooperation with the EU in the energy sector, where we are natural partners, on a transparent and predictable basis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in Minsk August 26, 2014 (Reuters / Sergey Bondarenko)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in Minsk August 26, 2014 (Reuters / Sergey Bondarenko)

Since the beginning of the 21st century, we have successfully implemented a number of major projects together with our European partners. This includes the Nord Stream, whish is an important factor in minimising transit risks and ensuring uninterrupted gas supplies to Europe. Over the recent months, Gazprom has been actively increasing gas reserves in European underground gas storage facilities. These measures are aimed to prevent transit disruptions and meet the peak demand in winter.

Naturally, we are aware of the risks generated by the Ukrainian crisis. We were forced to interrupt gas supplies to Ukraine last June because the Kiev authorities refused to pay for the gas supplies they had already received. In late summer and early autumn, we held a series of consultations in a three-party format with the participation of Russia, the EU and Ukraine, where we discussed possible mutually acceptable solutions to the problem of the Ukrainian gas debt settlement, resumption of gas supplies to Ukraine, which had been stopped by the Ukrainian side itself, and continuous hydrocarbon transit to Europe. We are ready to continue constructive talks on these issues.

As for the future of Russian gas exports to Europe, the problem of transit across the Ukrainian territory remains. One of the more obvious solutions might be to diversify the delivery routes. In this regard, we hope that the European Commission will finally make a decision in the nearest future about the use of the OPAL gas pipeline at full capacity.

In addition, we need to resolve the deadlock concerning the South Stream. We are convinced that this project will significantly contribute to integrated energy security in Europe. It will benefit everybody, Russia as well as the European consumers, including Serbia.

South Stream gas pipeline (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)

South Stream gas pipeline (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)

Politika:In your opinion, what is the ultimate objective of the sanctions against Russia, imposed by the EU and the United States? How long will they last, in your view, and how much harm can they do to Russia?

Vladimir Putin: This question should be addressed to the EU and the United States, whose reasoning is hard to understand. Any unbiased person knows that it was not Russia who staged the coup d’état in Ukraine, which led to the grave internal political crisis and a split in society. An unconstitutional seizure of power was the starting point for the subsequent events, including the ones in Crimea. The people of Crimea, seeing the complexity and unpredictability of the situation and in order to protect their rights to their native language, culture and history, decided to hold a referendum in full compliance with the UN Charter, as a result of which the peninsula re-joined Russia.

Our partners should be well aware that attempts to put pressure on Russia with unilateral and illegitimate restrictive measures will not bring about a settlement, but rather impede the dialogue. How can we talk about de-escalation in Ukraine while the decisions on new sanctions are introduced almost simultaneously with the agreements on the peace process? If the main goal is to isolate our country, it’s an absurd and illusory goal. It is obviously impossible to achieve it but the economic health of Europe and the world can be seriously undermined.

With regard to the duration of the restriction measures, it also depends on the United States and the European Union. For our part, we will adopt a balanced approach to assessing the risks and impact of the sanctions and respond to them proceeding from our national interests. It is obvious that the decline in mutual confidence is bound to have a negative impact on both the international business climate in general and on the operation of European and American companies in Russia, bearing in mind that such companies will find it difficult to recover from reputational damage. In addition, it will make other countries think carefully whether it is wise to invest their funds in the American banking system and increase their dependence on economic cooperation with the United States.

Politika:What do you think the future holds for Russian-Ukrainian relations? Will the United States and Russia re-establish a strategic partnership after all that has happened, or will they build their relations in a different way?

Vladimir Putin: As for Russia, its relations with Ukraine have always played and will continue to play a very important role. Our nations are inextricably linked by common spiritual, cultural and civilisational roots. We were part of a single state for centuries, and that huge historical experience and millions of intertwined fates cannot be dismissed or forgotten.

Despite the current difficult stage in Russian-Ukrainian relations, we are interested in progressive, equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation with our Ukrainian partners. In practice, this will become possible after sustainable peace and stability are achieved in Ukraine. Therefore, we hope to see an end to the protracted deep political and economic crisis.

Today, there is a real opportunity to end the armed confrontation, which actually amounts to a civil war. The first steps in this direction have already been made. It is vital to start a real intra-Ukrainian dialogue as soon as possible involving representatives from all the regions and political forces. This approach was documented in the Geneva Statement of April 17. Such a nationwide dialogue must focus on Ukraine’s constitutional structure and the future of the country, where all the citizens with no exception will live comfortably and in safety.

As for the Russian-US ties, our aim has always been to build open partnership relations with the United States. In return, however, we have seen various reservations and attempts to interfere in our domestic affairs.

Everything that has happened since the beginning of this year is even more disturbing. Washington actively supported the Maidan protests, and when its Kiev henchmen antagonised a large part of Ukraine through rabid nationalism and plunged the country into a civil war, it blamed Russia for provoking the crisis.

Now President Barack Obama in his speech at the UN General Assembly named the “Russian aggression in Europe” as one of the three major threats facing humanity today alongside with the deadly Ebola virus and the Islamic State. Together with the sanctions against entire sectors of our economy, this approach can be called nothing but hostile.

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

The United States went so far as to declare the suspension of our cooperation in space exploration and nuclear energy. They also suspended the activity of the Russia-US Bilateral Presidential Commission established in 2009, which comprised 21 working groups dedicated, among other things, to combating terrorism and drug trafficking.

At the same time, this is not the first downturn in relations between our countries. We hope that our partners will realise the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability. For our part, we are ready to develop constructive cooperation based on the principles of equality and genuine respect for each other’s interests.

 

German news site Spiegel Online interviews Ukrainian fascist Yarosh

Dmytro Jarosh, leader of the Right Sector

Dmytro Jarosh, leader of the Right Sector

 

By Peter Schwarz
25 April 2014

WSWS

On April 22, Spiegel Online published an interview with Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the Ukrainian fascist paramilitary organisation Right Sector. This interview confirms that the fascists not only played a decisive role in the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych on 22 February, but also play a significant role in the current transitional government headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Yarosh explained that the armed wing of his organisation had not been disbanded, but legalised. “Our battalions are part of the new territorial defence. We have close contact with the intelligence services, and the general staff. We actually have good relations with everyone, apart from the police,” he told Spiegel Online.

Yarosh is closely connected to Andriy Parubiy, who commanded the self-defence forces during the protests on Independence Square (the Maidan). Parubiy was the co-founder of the fascist Ukrainian Social National Party, the predecessor of Svoboda. He is now a leading member of the Fatherland Party of Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, and heads Ukraine’s security and defence council. Yarosh was originally supposed to have been his deputy, but rejected the offer in order to maintain his freedom to manoeuvre against the government.

In the interview, he made clear that Right Sector does not accept the authority of the current government, nor would it accept a future elected government. “Our revolution will only be completed when we have totally renewed the state,” he stated.

His goals are clearly of a fascist character. His choice of words was similar to those of the Nazis, whose terror regime he described as a “government of national revolution.”

Asked by Spiegel Online about his motives, Yarosh answered, “I am a Ukrainian nationalist. My goal is a strong state.” He described liberalism as “a form of totalitarianism.” On the EU, he criticised its alleged “anti-Christian orientation.”

“We oppose the destruction of the traditional family, and are against same-sex marriage.” By contrast he supported the EU’s social and economic policies, calling for tax cuts to support the middle classes and foreign investment.

In his militarist work “Nation and Revolution,” Yarosh expressed himself even more explicitly, as Spiegel Online pointed out. In it, he openly opposes parliamentary democracy and advocated an ethnically-based nationalism. He intends to spread “the nationalist ideology throughout the entire territory of our state,” “de-russify” eastern Ukraine, and ensure that the native people have the leading role in the state.

Yarosh no longer appears in a military uniform. He is a candidate for the upcoming presidential election and now wears a suit and tie. In his interview with Spiegel Online, he sought to downplay his anti-Semitic beliefs, which could prove embarrassing for the Western supporters of the new regime in Kiev.

The interview with Yarosh—and the fact that he was provided a political platform by Spiegel Online—shows the thoroughly reactionary nature of the forces Western powers relied upon to force regime change in Kiev and provoke a confrontation with Russia. In February, the armed provocateurs of Right Sector played a key role in escalating the conflict with security forces, leading to the loss of hundreds of lives and the overthrow of the elected president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Meanwhile, there are reports indicating that western cooperation with Right Sector goes back some time. According to a report in the Polish weekly Nie (“No”), published by 80-year-old journalist Jerzy Urban, the Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski invited 86 members of Right Sector to an intensive, four-week training course at the Police Training Centre Legionowo near Warsaw last September.

The fascists were trained in crowd management, person recognition, combat tactics, command skills, behaviour in crisis situations, protection against gases used by police, erecting barricades, and especially shooting, including the handling of sniper rifles. The training was officially described as “student exchange.”

The visit took place a full two months before the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an Association Agreement with the EU on 21 November—the event that triggered the Maidan protests. If the report in Nie is true, it shows that the events leading up to the regime change in Kiev were a carefully planned provocation.

The Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski has close links to ruling circles of the USA. He is married to the right-wing American journalist Anne Applebaum and was director of the Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, starting in 2002.

On February 21, Sikorski together with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, negotiated the agreement between President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian opposition, which was then sabotaged within the space of a few hours by the Right Sector and other armed groups. If Sikorski maintained close links to the Right Sector then he must have known of or possibly planned the provocation with the fascists.

Motley Crue’s Big, Badass Influence on Today’s Country

Motley Crue (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)

Motley Crue (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)

If there was ever any doubt as to how Eighties hard rock influenced contemporary country music, press play on Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Mötley Crüe. Released today, the album assembles a cadre of modern country artists to interpret some of the Crüe’s biggest songs, along with a smattering of more obscure, deeper cuts from albums like 1997’s Generation Swine and 2008’s Saints of Los Angeles.

Rascal Flatts handle “Kickstart My Heart,” Brantley Gilbert does “Girls, Girls, Girls” and Eli Young Band tackle “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” while Florida Georgia Line cover the Red, White & Crüe compilation’s “If I Die Tomorrow” and Cassadee Pope (with an assist from Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander) takes on Saints‘ The Animal in Me.” The project’s first single, currently at radio, is a duet between Justin Moore and Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil on the epic power ballad “Home Sweet Home.”

“If that song came out now, even how they recorded it back in the day, it’d probably be on country radio,” says Moore, “and one of the more country things on country radio.”

Neil, however, says he initially wasn’t sure if there was a home for his notoriously wild band in country music. When Big Machine Label Group, who is releasing Nashville Outlaws, first approached the high-voiced singer, he hesitated.

“Because I’m a diehard rock & roll guy, who listens to classic rock radio in my car,” Neil tells Rolling Stone Country. “What I remember of country, 30, 40 years ago, isn’t what it is today. Today, it’s rock & roll. It’s more rock than a lot of the rock & roll out there is.”

Nikki Sixx, Mötley Crüe’s bassist and chief songwriter — who along with drummer Tommy Lee and guitarist Mick Mars round out the group — shared Neil’s wariness.

“We started talking about it and, at first, like Vince said, well…I’m not sure,” Sixx recalls. But then he realized the genius of what modern country artists were doing, both on radio and especially onstage: furthering the “party never ends” attitude that the Crüe and their peers depicted on MTV. If Nirvana and the grunge revolution doused that decadent fire, then young country artists raised on Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard rekindled it.

“It’s very smart of the new country music artists to look at that whole thing in rock where it just became a downer. Bands like us weren’t around…there weren’t new versions of us. So those fans started going somewhere else,” says Sixx of the rock-to-country migration. “I remember watching some country awards show, and I was going, ‘Jesus, they have pyro, girls, production, lasers, smoke and shredding guitar players.’ I was like, ‘This looks familiar.'”

The lyrics and rock-based sound also caught Sixx’s ear. “I was really impressed by their songwriting skills, the ability to take that lyric and thread it all the way through and build it,” he says. “And Vince said to me that it was like Seventies rock at its peak. You can almost hear songs like ‘Free Ride’ in it.”

Jaren Johnston of dirty country outfit the Cadillac Three, who turn in a greasy, slide-heavy version of “Live Wire,” sees obvious similarities between the lyrics coming out of Music Row and those that originated from the Sunset Strip in the Eighties.

“They were talking about convertibles and hot legs. I get that. Now, you take the convertible and replace it with a truck,” says Johnston. Himself a hit songwriter, Johnston has had his songs cut by Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. “[Bands like Mötley Crüe] were singing about cocaine and shit too! At least that hasn’t hit country yet. Not since Hank and Waylon back in the day anyway,” he says laughing.

The Cadillac Three are perhaps the Nashville Outlaws act closest in style to the band they’re honoring, a point that isn’t lost on the group’s singer. “I love the mentality of Mötley Crüe because they were badass, they didn’t take no shit from nobody and that’s kind of the way we look at ourselves,” Johnston says.

“Mötley Crüe were the band that would come to town and steal your girlfriend,” says Raul Malo, lead singer of the Latin-flavored country group the Mavericks. “I love that about them honestly.” Malo and the Mavericks provide, if not the high point of the tribute, then certainly the most musically adventurous: a flamenco-like reinvention of “Dr. Feelgood,” that 1989 tale of doomed drug dealer “Rat-Tailed Jimmy.”

“It’s definitely an East L.A. meets Miami kind of [sound]. It’s really what the Mavericks do anyways. We don’t really worry about what genre or where it comes from. We just kind of go with the vibe,” Malo says. “That’s why we chose that song; because I thought we could step out of ourselves and have some fun with it.”

While the album has its share of musical surprises like the Mavericks’ “Dr. Feelgood” or LeAnn Rimes’ sultry “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room,” the 1973 Brownsville Station jam that Mötley Crüe cut for their Theatre of Pain album, the song choices themselves are equally daring. The group’s last studio album, Saints of Los Angeles, was a moderate success, yet even the most devout metalheads likely aren’t cueing up non-singles like “The Animal in Me.”

“You feel the artists were going to pick the hits, and a lot did,” says Sixx, surprised by Cassadee Pope’s selection of “The Animal in Me.” “That was a deep track on Saints of Los Angeles, and it was always one of our favorites.”

“I didn’t really want to do a more well-known song. I wanted to dig a little deeper and I think ‘Animal in Me’ is pretty different from what I do, different from my album,” says Pope, one of the few female artists carving out her spot on male-dominated country radio. “I think the lyrics are pretty risqué. It’s definitely an interesting take on a love song.”

Likewise, Aaron Lewis, the singer of grunge-rock group Staind, who has gained a foothold in country with his traditional-sounding album The Road, looked past the hits. He chose “Afraid,” from Generation Swine, Neil’s reunion album with the band after quitting the group (or being fired, depending on whom you ask) in 1992. In Lewis’ hands, it’s a Haggard barroom weeper.

“That song is more country than any other song on the album. It’s that old school,” says Neil.

“From the only guy who is the actual rock guy on the record,” adds Sixx.

“A lot of times, listening to today’s country radio, I tend to have a hard time finding the country in it,” says Lewis, explaining his unexpected approach to “Afraid.” “If I’m going to make country music, I’m going to make country music.”

Like Johnston, he too sees the similarities between the Crüe’s onstage rock-god production and today’s country stars. “There are artists out there who have borrowed their shows as if they stood side stage and took notes from Nickelback. And Nickelback did the exact same thing, probably looking at bands like Mötley Crüe,” says Lewis. “That time frame of music, and that genre of music, it brought such a larger than life spectacle of a show to the table that really hadn’t been done. Now it’s bounced from rock to pop to country.”

Johnston and Lewis aside, you needn’t have been a bad boy rocker to have been influenced by Mötley, a band for whom drug and alcohol addiction, car crashes and jail time became the norm. Darius Rucker, country’s approachable everydude, counts himself a fan.

“Oh God, of course. They were so big, how could you not have been a Crüe fan?” he asks. Rucker contributes the socially conscious ballad “Time for Change,” from Mötley’s six-times platinum Dr. Feelgood album, to Nashville Outlaws.

“I always thought it was such a cool tune. It wasn’t a power ballad like they used to do, or one of those big metal songs. We thought it could be a song that came out today [in country],” Rucker says. “That’s what I love about popular music. It always borrows from other stuff that came before. You can hear the influences and I think that’s a good thing.”

Ironically, country music is the one genre that didn’t influence Mötley Crüe, who are currently in the midst of their, they promise, final tour. The farewell trek stops in Nashville on October 15th. While traces of country may have crept their way into songs like “Home Sweet Home” and “Don’t Go Away Mad,” the merging of sounds was never a conscious decision for the band.

“It was never for me. I never really sat down and had country music as my mainstay,” says Sixx. “But it was in the background. When I lived in Idaho as a kid with my grandparents, that’s what was on the radio.”

Neil cites the songs of Johnny Cash and Johnny Rivers as his country music memories, although the latter is decidedly more rock & roll.

Perhaps that’s why the guys are adamant about what the Nashville Outlaws project is and is not.

“We think this is for country fans, by great country artists who happen to be rock fans as well,” says Sixx. “Mötley Crüe is not making a country record.”

Laughs Neil: “That’d be bad.”

(Additional reporting by Carson Meyer)

Igor Strelkov’s First Interview After the Breakout from Slavyansk, July 5, 2014

Watch the interview with English subtitles HERE

 

Igor Strelkov: Genuine fascists are advancing against us, fascists in the very same sense that our predecessors understood this word. Monsters. Murderers. Bandits. Marauders. Pure “Polizei”Banderovtsy, just as they once were.

Translated from Russian by Gleb Bazov / edited by @GBabeuf


Q: What happened today? This is the key question that all of us, without exaggeration, want answers to.

Igor Strelkov: Last night, we effected a breakout from within a closing enemy encirclement, which was, in fact, already closed off. We performed a diversion against the positions of the enemy at the “Slavyansk” stele [Note: the Slavyansk city sign]. Our armoured group conducted the assault.

Unfortunately—and I won’t hide it—the larger part of the armoured group was eliminated in the course of the attack. This wasn’t so much connected with—well, regrettably, it was an error on the part of the commander of the armoured group that led to this. He made an incorrect decision while carrying out his assigned task.

Nevertheless, between eighty and ninety percent of the personnel and ninety percent of the armaments were transferred out of the city. The number of dead and wounded isn’t that great, we’ve confirmed it. As well, we were able to evacuate a significant number of the families of our servicemen and other individuals that had helped us, and for whom remaining in the city would have been life threatening.

The breakthrough took the enemy completely by surprise. We adopted the necessary concealment measures. In that regard, we’re awaiting those heroes who are now breaking through on their way to us, who gave us covering fire from the trenches as a diversion and demonstrated our presence on the defence positions.


Q: Igor Ivanovich, that deals with the outcome of what happened, but many are equally concerned about a plan for the future.

Igor Strelkov: We’ll continue our military activities. We’ll try not to make the mistakes we made in the past. These errors, in reality, were not mistakes as much as simply the consequences of a blatant lack of weapons and ammunition.

We hope that we’ll be able to prepare for the next enemy offensive in a more diligent manner and without giving the enemy the opportunity to capture the key strongholds that they were able to take over so easily when we only had a few automatic rifles to our name.


Q: Some have claimed that you’ve apparently abandoned your responsibilities and removed yourself from your role, even that you have fled to Crimea, to Krasniy Perekopsk. Have you resigned or not?

Igor Strelkov: (smiling) Well, if this [around us] were Crimea or Krasniy Perekopsk, then, well… I don’t know… I guess so… But I’m currently in Donetsk.

In addition to my direct duties I plan to create, tomorrow, by my Order as the Minister of Defence, a Central Military Council, which will include all the key field commanders, independent of their direct responsibilities, and where we’ll coordinate all questions relating to the defence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and, possibly, in part, those dealing with the Lugansk People’s Republic—provided they’re within our jurisdiction in the military theatre. And, moreover, until one is appointed, I’ll be performing the functions of Military Commandant of the city, as well as those of Commander of the city garrison.

In other words, we’ll be preparing Donetsk for active defence, to ensure that it isn’t taken over by the enemy. Well, at the very least, as much as we did in Slavyansk, and certainly much more.  In reality, with sufficient troops, Donetsk is much easier and more convenient to defend than the little city of Slavyansk.


Q: A final request. Regardless of how strongly I may sympathize with your circumstances, as a journalist, I have a duty to ask this question: with respect to Slavyansk, what can you say to those people who stayed behind?

Igor Strelkov: (sighing deeply) First of all, I should like to ask them for their forgiveness for failing to retain the city. Our decision to break out of the city, and not to die there, was motivated not only by a desire to save the garrison itself—which is natural for any commander—but also by the fact that we realized that we couldn’t hold it; and that, meanwhile the city would’ve been subjected to ever greater destruction and would’ve suffered even more casualties.

Right now I’m receiving information that, just as was expected, unfortunately, despite the fact that we evacuated the majority of those who helped and volunteered with us, the enemy has engaged in a massacre there. In Slavyansk, in Kramatorsk and in Nikolayevka.

Because today, pursuant to my order, we also withdrew our garrison from Kramatorsk. The battalion that was defending it has been redeployed here, to Donetsk, in order to reinforce our positions. Defending it had become entirely futile after the enemy had taken Artymovsk. It would simply have led to the encirclement of another city.

In any event, of course, the information that they engaged in a massacre there, in the Artyom district to begin with, I am waiting for confirmation of it, but I already have several sources reporting the same information, that the NatsGvardiya [Note: Ukrainian National Guard] exacted revenge for their numerous losses on the people [of Slavyansk]. All the same, our endeavour to avoid victims among the civilian population didn’t save the population from being victimized.

For those who believe that they would be saved from repressions if the Militia left without putting up a fight, this is confirmation that they would not. Genuine fascists are advancing against us, fascists in the very same sense that our predecessors understood this word. Monsters. Murderers. Bandits. Marauders. Pure “Polizei”—Banderovtsy, just as they once were. Despite the fact that eighty years have passed—not eighty, seventy.

They’re genuine Nazis who hide behind the ideas of “United Ukraine” to perpetrate ethnic cleansing. And they’re effecting it. And that’s why we’ll be resisting in Donetsk just as we’ve been resisting them in Slavyansk—only far more successfully.

The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) defense minister and de facto leader, Igor Strelkov, quit his position Thursday amid rumors that he was severely wounded. Ukrainian officials accuse him of being the direct link between pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and the Russian government, although Russia denies any direct connection with the separatist movement. Strelkov is also suspected of being a part of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

His resignation comes six days after the resignation of the DPR’s former prime minister and fellow Russian, Alexander Borodai, who has reportedly stayed in the DPR to act as an adviser to the self-declared government.

“You probably already know that [Strelkov], like myself, has left his post,” Borodai told Life News. The [DPR] already has a new defense minister.”

Borodai went on to say that reports Strelkov was injured recently were “total rubbish.” But Andrei Purgin, the deputy prime minister of the DPR, said he didn’t know for sure, but that it’s “likely true” he was hurt in intense fighting around Luhansk.

Strelkov, who’s real name is Girkin, is Russian-born and takes his nickname from the Russian word for “shooter.” He’s known as a Russian nationalist and fan of Russian military history. He became infamous abroad and well-liked in the DPR for his straight-laced demeanor and pro-Russian enthusiasm. He ran the DPR’s military with a strong hand, reportedly ordering a handful of military-style executions of soldiers who stole from the population or otherwise disregarded orders. His likeness often made it on to recruitment posters and rallying signs in the DPR:

Will Bikini Kill Ever Make The Rock Hall Of Fame?

Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna in 1993.

Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna in 1993.

Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

This past year has seen the return of several female-fronted and female dominated alternative rock bands from the 1990s. Last week the pop punk band released Whoop Dee Doo, its first new album in ten years and its first for rising indie label Burger Records. just finished its first tour with all of its original members since 1997 and have a full-length in the works. spent part of 2013 playing 1993’s classic Last Splash album in its entirety at shows and have more performances and new music coming. independently released a Kickstarted album, Magic Hour. Courtney Love, however, said in an that she won’t be hitting the road with Hole’s mid-’90s lineup.

As more of these reunions are surely on there way, it’s crucial to remember why the proliferation of these groups were so important in the first place. Though all-female or female-fronted acts may not have been the hugest or best-selling groups of the alt revolution, the way they presented themselves and their sounds (as well as the sheer number of them) helped define what made this era of rock so different from the ones that preceeded it. While the treatment of these acts in the ’90s was far from what you’d hope for in a gender-equality utopia, what they did in this decade made important strides. Their influence can be heard and felt today in acts like White Lung, Speedy Ortiz and Perfect Pussy and bands beyond that direct lineage. How they will be remembered is worth considering as alternative rock from the ’90s is about to start getting formally canonized. ‘s into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year seems to be the official start, is probably next, and , and Rage Against the Machine may be coming in the near future. But will Hole ever get in? Will ? Will ?

To discuss how these female-centered acts will be remembered, as well as the ’90s revival in general, Ducker talked to , the creative director of Afar Media, an early fashion blogger at her site White Lightning (whose spirit lives on at ). Spiridakis Olson, who was a teenager for most of the ’90s, remains a devotee the decade’s culture.

What were the core bands for you when you were coming of age in the 1990s?

In my intense formative years — like 1994 to 1996, when was 15, 16, 17 — my favorites were Operation Ivy, , , , the Smashing Pumpkins. , and Hole — all the ones that sound so trite now because “the ’90s” is a fashion description. Those were my obsessions. Then it was Bikini Kill, Tuscadero, that dog., the Muffs, Mary Lou Lord … I can keep going.

Many of these bands are female-fronted and/or majority female. Were you conscious of or particularly drawn to bands that had a distinctive female presence? Or was that just what was out there at the time?

I was drawn to those bands because they were the girls I wanted to be; or they were the girls that looked like and sang about stuff I was interested in and wanted to be a part of, but wasn’t sure how to find it. It makes me feel like I’m 100 years old to talk this way, but I was the “alternative” girl in my suburban high school where the majority of the kids were into or or, like, Top 40. The only few other kids who were into the music I liked were boys, and I hung out with them a lot. You couldn’t friend someone on Facebook or read their blog or whatever. I didn’t know how to find the girls that were “my people.” A lot of these bands made me happy, those were the girls [I was looking for]. They were so smart and pretty and had sick style, and I loved the music.

It’s funny, since “” has become such a trite thing, but those bands and what they were doing as performers and musicians were definitely a big deal. Without them, I wonder if we’d mainly be looking at 1990s alt rock as just sad boys who had a thing for 1970s hard rock.

SO TRUE.

With some of these female-dominated bands coming back recently, have you gone to see any of them play or checked out any of their new music?

I saw the Breeders a few times last year, and I saw the Muffs a few weeks ago. I don’t think I would see any incarnation of Hole that was playing now. I would kill to see the Julie Ruin. I have not really checked out any of the new music! Is that awful of me, or what?

Well, one step back, how were the Breeders and the Muffs?

The first time I saw the Breeders last year was at Webster Hall [in New York]. It was exciting and I got a little emotional. They played Last Splash in its entirety in order. Kinda rad. The second time was at in LA, and we are lucky enough to attend that every year with all access, so we watched from the stage. That blew my 16-year-old mind more than a little.

The Muffs played three weeks ago at the here in Oakland and they were so good. It’s crazy that that voice is still the same. Kim [Shattuck] was still the coolest girl in the room, I have to say. I was heart-eye emoji style over her. Why were so many Kims so cool in the ’90s?

I haven’t seen either in their comebacks, but I’m going to see the Breeders when they play the Hollywood Bowl in September with . The Muffs actually had an in-store at Amoeba here in Los Angeles tonight that I had to miss, but I still remember seeing them when they played the Fillmore in San Francisco in the late 1990s, which when I think about it now, seems like a pretty big deal. The space was about three-quarters full and the Groovie Ghoulies opened. Kim kind of mooned the crowd at the end of their set through two holes that were worn through her vintage babydoll dress.

She is amazing. She looked the same at Burger Boogaloo. How is that possible? Sickest hair, cutest minidress.

So yeah, the new music … I listened to the new Muffs, and it’s pretty good and it sounds like a Muffs record, which is I guess what you’d want. I also dig the fact the . The new Veruca Salt songs that have come out are fair. I didn’t listen to the new Luscious Jackson. It feels bad not getting into the new music, because why shouldn’t they be making new music, but it’s kind of hard for me to get excited about it. On one hand I don’t want them radically reworking their sound to try to be relevant; but on the other hand, you kind of want it to feel like they’ve been evolving over the past 20 years.

Ugh, it’s so true.

I mean, has kept putting out records for the past 20 years, and I think it’s good she’s not the same person that she was when she made Exile in Guyville, but the music that has come from those changes at times have been very… rough.

Of course I was obsessed with her, too. She is one of the few who seems to be repulsed by who she was in the 1990s. I held on until whitechocolatespaceegg, but it was like, ? I could get into a new Muffs record, maybe. Veruca Salt I didn’t like enough then to warrant wanting to get into their 2014 sound.

This round of reunions is weird for me because it’s the first time that bands that I saw or could have seen are coming back. With, like, the , it was great because I had never heard those songs done live before, and they were amazing when they came back the first time in 2004. But if I go see Veruca Salt now, am I trying to re-live something from my past? That makes me feel weird.

Yeah, the ’90s reboot trend is starting to wear thin. I saw Pavement play three nights in Central Park four years ago and I am not ashamed to say I was pretty much high/close to tears the whole time. I felt like a Beatlemaniac. The tickets were sold a year in advance and they were one of the first [of their era] to do the reunion thing. I would have felt similar for the Pixies because I never saw them live either. But it’s getting to be a weirder and weirder thing. Who are the Veruca Saltians? Is this a big thing?! There are seminal ’90s bands and then are … ’90s bands.

Should they go full-on nostalgia and do a package tour? That’s what Everclear, Soul Asylum, Eve 6 and Spacehog are doing this summer on the .

This is where it gets weird because I would sort of totally go to that.

I draw the line there.

So why would you go to the Summerland tour?

I have a really cheeseball love for “Santa Monica” by Everclear, and also “In The Meantime” by Spacehog. Those are epic songs, but I love them the way people like Katy Perry now. So I would go to get drunk and sing, “.” My husband and I have a playlist we call “Grody ’90s” that’s all our favorite radio alternative songs: “,” “”… Eve 6 doesn’t factor in for me though.

Would a Veruca Salt, Liz Phair and Tracy Bonham tour seem crass? Because when they’re packaged together, it just seems like nostalgia, not “overdue appreciation” or “something for the true fans.”

I mostly agree, but I do think there is this other part to it where there are these huge numbers of teenage girls who are tapping into old Liz Phair et al for the first time because “NINETIES” and it’s changing their lives the same way it did mine. So it’s cool for them to be able to see the live shows.

I know you’ve had a long relationship with Tavi Gevinson and are involved with . Do you feel like those women and the young women who read them understand what the 1990s were actually like, especially in terms of how the female-fronted/dominated bands were treated?

I guess, inasmuch as I understand what the 1970s were like. Although there are way more avenues now for women’s stories (or anyone’s stories!) to be told and shared. The women and girls I work with at Rookie are so much more sophisticated and tuned in than I ever was, it’s insane.

Do they have an idealized vision of this era?

I think a little bit, sure. But so do I! And if the majority of what gets shared has this rose-y nostalgic tint, how could it not be idealized?

It’s going to be interesting to see how the larger industry regards these bands and how they fit into the canonization of rock. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seems like it mainly exists just to celebrate people who made money for executives, but I’m curious if any of the bands we’re talking about will ever get in there. eventually made it, but will Hole? Will Bikini Kill? Do they deserve to, or is their importance best reflected elsewhere?

Of all the bands we have been talking about tonight, I think Hole would be inducted. How many women do they choose though? I know I’m being salty, but it’s old men as far as the eye can see. If Heart and Laura Nyro are just getting inducted now, I would say that Hole will make the list in 2026.

hen there’s something like The Punk Singer documentary, which is reaching a bigger audience since it’s streaming on Netflix and . At first I thought it seemed premature to do a documentary about Kathleen Hanna’s life, but I can see why it’s so important to have that out there right now.

It’s so important. I wished it was hours longer. It’s not premature to tell her story, because it’s not even just about her, its about a movement! I want to hear more. I went to Seattle recently and at that there is such a comprehensive, intense retrospective on Nirvana that I was like, Right, right, we get it and we have heard it and they were great, but why does it have to be about Kurt Cobain all the time? Like there’s his green striped tee shirt, preserved archivally. In this nostalgia wave so much is spent on The Legend of Kurt. There was more to the music than that. [The Punk Singer] didn’t seem premature to me at all. I wondered why it hadn’t happened already.

Who are some other female figures or movements from that era that you think more attention should be paid to?

I am sure there are a million documentaries I haven’t seen, but I would gladly watch more about riot grrrl. I wanna see more Babes in Toyland and and Bratmobile. Is there a documentary?

Not yet! Are there any bands that you’d like to see come back?

Maybe no one else. Is that a cop out? I think I reached the tipping point.

That’s fair. I’d like to see Elastica, I never got to the first time around and I think the stuff they were referencing really caught on in a broader way in more recent years. Also, I know it’s early, but I’d really like to see Sleater-Kinney together again, doing new shows and making new music.

I never got into Britpop in any way, it kinda passed me by. Sleater-Kinney would be cool. I would go see Mary Lou Lord in a hot second.

Cormega: ‘I Just Want To Be A Soldier For My Culture’

Cornega

Cornega

 

 

20 years ago, Nas mentioned his friend Cormega on a song called “,” which was composed as a letter to someone in prison: “Night time is more trife than ever / What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y’all together? / If so then hold the fort down, represent to the fullest / Say what’s up to Herb, Ice and Bullet.” Those four bars inked Cormega’s street credibility and forever tied him, for better and worse, to the crown prince of hip-hop. He spoke to Microphone Check cohosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about the career and life he’s made beyond them.

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: What up?

CORMEGA: What’s good, brother?

MUHAMMAD: What’s good, man?

CORMEGA: Just chillin’. Happy to be here.

MUHAMMAD: We’re so happy to have you here. You legendary, man.

CORMEGA: I hate that — I think that word is overrated, especially in the presence of a brother like you.

FRANNIE KELLEY: That’s fair. That’s fair.

MUHAMMAD: I understand why you say that, but you gotta give it up. And for someone to have been doing what you doing for the amount of time, you know, skillfully, artfully, it applies — unless you’ve got another word to share with me.

CORMEGA: Ironically — I’ve been saying this in every interview, when people have been calling me legendary lately — or a legend — I really don’t feel I deserve it. I would rather be called a veteran.

MUHAMMAD: A veteran.

KELLEY: I like that.

CORMEGA: I’d rather be called a veteran, because I don’t think — I think that I’ve endured and I’ve showed consistency and everything, but there’s — I don’t see myself the way I see you guys. Like I don’t see myself in the same vein as a Tribe or as a Eric B. and Rakim or PE. Those guys are legends, so if I consider y’all legends I don’t — I honestly, humbly, don’t think I belong in that sentence.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, OK. I’ll take the humble road, you know, that you trying to give and go down right now but, yo. I’m saying it, because you’ve done a lot for the art form and whether there’s certain accolades given from certain sources or whatever, or not, it doesn’t matter. I think your dedication and the passion you have and your art is a lot. And it’s a lot that people can benefit from, and there’s a lot time placed into it. You can’t be around for a quarter of a century doing something as a professional and not be a master at it or considered to be a legend. So. You say veteran, we’ll ride with that, but I’ll say you’re legendary and we’re happy to have you here, man.

CORMEGA: I appreciate that.

KELLEY: I would say, as a fan, you loom large in my understanding of hip-hop. And I get the deference to Tribe and all them, but in some ways, your name never left people’s minds — partly because it’s a really good name, and partly because your sensibility has stayed intact. Although, we were just talking, this new album does feel like a departure for you in some ways. Do you hear it like that or no?

CORMEGA: I think the new album — I think I try to show growth, and I think my content is different. I think as artists — one of the most important things about artists is the sincerity and, as you would know, the not being afraid to express ourselves. And I didn’t want to be redundant. I don’t want to be — first of all, I don’t live the life that I lived previously. I don’t live in Queensbridge, I don’t hustle, I’m not in the street life, you know. As you see, I’m with my kids right now.

A lot of awakenings have happened in my life and I just wanted my music to reflect that, because at this point in my career, everything that I do now is for legacy — it’s really not about the money. A lot of people do it for the money, but I could get a job and get money, or do other things, but right now it’s about legacy. It’s like, to be mentioned amongst the greats but feel that I deserve there, like I deserve to be mentioned. So that’s what this album is about. I just try to show growth and I just really think it was necessary in this time because our genre — when I say genre, our genre, I’m talking about lyricism and real conscious hip-hop or the skills — that hip-hop seems like it’s under attack or they trying to, like, push it out. I felt like this album was very necessary and I just want to be a soldier for my culture.

 

CORNEGA – INDUSTRY [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

 

KELLEY: Yeah, especially on “,” that track.

CORMEGA: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

KELLEY: So who is attacking?

CORMEGA: I don’t know who it is. I don’t know if it’s the media. I don’t know if it’s — I think greed. I think greed has something to do with it. But sometimes it’s deeper than what we see it as. Sometimes it might be government that’s pulling strings and — because when you look at the landscape of rap and you look at the people that was creative and innovative and saying stuff that could uplift the minorities or the poorer areas, those people have all been silenced — their voices have been silenced. So they have to speak in other ways. So I don’t know what’s that but I do know greed has played a symbolic impact in the demise of our culture.

Because it got to a point where there was new artists that would come to me for advice like, “How do I get on the mixtape? Such and such wants such and such thousand to get on the mixtape. I don’t know how to get on the mixtapes.” And so we had stuff like that, and then you have the certain radio guys, they want to get paid for your songs to get played. And then you got executives in the companies, they don’t look at the creative side of it, they look at the business aspect, which — you can’t knock them because it’s an investment. But it’s not that serious of an investment so when you think about it, it’s like, if you make a creative masterpiece, especially during the ’90s, not — late ’90s is what really killed rap because if you made an incredible album during that time but it didn’t go platinum, it was deemed as a failure.

It got to a point where gold was looked at as underachieving, and that’s when it all went wrong. Because when artists was first doing it, you could go gold, you could sell 350,000 albums and have a successful career back in the day. People were content with making music that everybody could enjoy. It got to a point where people were making embarrassing music, like making fools of themselves, but making so much money that if you even — we from the era when if you was wack, you was wack — we didn’t care if you was rich or what you had. And then it became to the point where wack dudes were starting to get pushed into the limelight, and if you say something about their wackness, then you become — you’re a hater. So the word hater had to become a shield. And then it all went downhill from there. It’s greed. One of the biggest things that hurt our culture was greed.

KELLEY: So you’re saying to go platinum, basically, you have to cross over in some way.

CORMEGA: Definitely.

KELLEY: And so once that becomes the standard, then everybody has to make records for the mainstream.

CORMEGA: Definitely. It depends on what you want to do as an artist, because some artists don’t get it. There’s some artists that are independent that are living way — that are living well beyond their means, that are living well beyond people’s expectations. You got brothers like Tech N9ne and who have more money than a lot of guys that have gone platinum on majors. It comes a time when you just gotta have a — it depends on how much integrity you have as a person, because the industry is a piggyback thing.

Like if they see — 50 Cent’s success is a perfect example. When 50 Cent blew up, all the sudden it became like a — back in the day the mandate was “be good.” If you was nice on the mic, you had a chance. When 50 Cent blew up, labels started pushing artists to work out, like everybody had to get diesel and stuff like that. Or like when Foxy Brown and Kim — their success was crazy for women, because after that all the sistas that was positive in that, you never heard them. I’ve literally heard people at labels say, “Oh, we gotta get her a ass,” talking about other girls or you know, “You gotta do this.” Or, “Look sexy.” It became that, instead of the art. The industry is just incredible.

MUHAMMAD: You’re saying that this album, you’re more focused on legacy. There’s something that’s definitely, apparently, different, but I think there’s a fiber of similarity in terms of like your drive, I think, from your previous albums. It always seemed like there was a sense of teaching, but, you know, not in a preachy way. I think it comes across like, “Yo, this is the life.” You know, “This is what I’m dealing with, and this is how I’m putting it out there.” And it was also, you know, said with a certain amount of integrity for yourself, who you are as a man, having honor and things of that nature. So it feels like this record has that same spirit, but it’s refined from a different type of experience

It’s interesting that you get to a song like “Industry” and the way you present it now, versus maybe some of your other experiences in the music industry and how it came across. First of all, I celebrate you for it, because we need to hear it right now in this climate and what’s going on musically. But often people say that rap game — they use the term the rap game as synonymous with the drug game. And some of your music sort of articulates that. But I think with “Industry,” you touched on something that’s — it’s the life of the artist — I think the way you broke it down, to me, reflects how governments play with other governments, and how our lives are not valued. You know, how people start wars to make money. And you broke that down — not speaking about wars but the industry and the relationship for the artist in terms of the record companies. I think that was pretty bold and dope.

CORMEGA: It definitely was. It definitely was a huge risk.

KELLEY: Yeah, can you talk about that a little bit? You knew it was risky and you — I mean, how much do you care about that?

CORMEGA: There’s a lot of risk on this album. I knew “Industry” was a risk but I knew — when you a artist and you trying to send a message, you don’t want to sound preachy, as he said, because sometimes people don’t want to hear that. They just want to be entertained, or they want to hear what they want to hear. But one of the things that I’m able to — one of the things that benefits me as an artist is what they call street credibility, or whatever. My reputation from the street is authentic, and everybody knows that.

MUHAMMAD: That’s why I say you legend man.

CORMEGA: I don’t even — I don’t even try to glorify it either. So if I’m talking, street dudes will listen — or the younger guys will listen. One of the most important things that I did was take responsibility as a man, and as an artist, because hip-hop in itself — a lot of things indoctrinate. Hip-hop is a thing that indoctrinates. People want to be like it and people want to be like the people that they admire. I’ve met dozens of people that have my lyrics tattooed on them, which blew my mind. If you look on Twitter right now there’s a guy on there talking about, “I’ma send you the picture of a tatt.” Today. Like, that’s how many —

KELLEY: That’s bananas.

CORMEGA: When I started seeing the impact that I had on people — people know that I came from jail. People knew that, so I didn’t have to sing about it or brag about it in songs. And it’s nothing to brag about. Jail is for suckers.

KELLEY: Well, also cause Nas talked about you being in jail on his song.

CORMEGA: Exactly. “One Love” let the world — exactly. So me coming home from jail and making it in the music industry, that was a ray of hope for a lot of convicts. Because when you’re in jail, you’re taught that you’re a convict and you’re reminded of it by the COs and by the system and you’re taught your likelihood of making it is very low and that you’re gonna be nothing. So when people see me come home and get a record deal, that inspired a lot of people.

NAS – ONE LOVE

 

 

I wanted to inspire people in other ways. And I know little dudes that wanted to be like me. So when I started making albums, I was telling people about the pitfalls of the street rather than just glorifying it. Now people respect me for what I’ve done in the independent game and in the industry. So it’s like I’m doing the same thing I did in the streets — I drop jewels, but now I’m trying to navigate you through the industry instead of navigating you through the streets.

The song “Industry” was important to me because I get tired of the exploitation of our music, and especially of the artist. When you look at the rap industry, there’s a lot of stories that don’t have happy endings. And there’s people that do little to nothing that thrive the most. There’s people that literally got in the industry because they was cool with somebody and cause they brown nose the right people — cause they was in the right circle — and they became executives. Whereas, you have a person like Large Professor. Large Professor never had a job as an A&R. That’s a crime.

KELLEY: Yeah.

CORMEGA: Think about it. His album — Breaking Atoms was groundbreaking. His influence on producers is — he introduced the game to Nas. He’s done so much that any label that really cares would have gave him a shot as an A&R.

MUHAMMAD: Right.

CORMEGA: A lot of my heroes don’t get the credit they deserve, and it started bothering me. And I just wanted to speak, and I wanted people to stop selling the illusion — even with the independent game, you could get jerked. You got labels like Koch that’ll tell people, “Oh yeah, you get 60/40.” You don’t get 60/40. You don’t get 60/40; it’s not 60/40. All is not fair, so I wanted to be the one on a song like “Industry” to express the truths to artists. That’s why I say, “Beef DVDs on BET so every artist who’s on it was beefing for free,” you know. If you listen to that song — and I made sure I said no disrespect intended. “I know he got beats,” that’s what I said about QD3. And everything I’ve said makes sense. There’s no animosity or vengeance in my words.

It’s self-evident, so I just want to make self-evident music. I took that risk. And at the end of the day, you know why I was able to take that risk? Because what could happen? I’ve already been blacklisted before. I already said freaking — and left the majors and started — I made a lane for myself. You can’t blacklist me independently, or you can’t blacklist me to the fans. I’m gonna always find a way. So I’m willing to take the risk, you know. That’s just one of the risks that I took on the album.

KELLEY: I liked your mention of shareholders on that song also, cause that kind of gets at what you’re really up against. If a corporation is — the law is that the shareholders have to profit, then how do we change what they value?

CORMEGA: Exactly. One of the biggest misconceptions — one of the big things that really bothered me about the industry, period, is, often in life when we see things aren’t as equal as they should be or fair as they should be, we often try to — we often fight for change or for regulation, etc., etc. It bothers me to this day that record companies make at least, what, $10 off every record? Or maybe eight, if it’s discounted. You make so much money off a record but an artist gets less than — not even a dollar, not even a half of a dollar. If you get a half of a dollar, you got a good deal. The profit margin for the artist as opposed to the company is totally unfair.

Even at the end of the day when you’ve got artists like — a artist goes platinum and he’s happy and they’ll make sure there’s pictures of him with his platinum plaque, but whose glory is that? You got a plaque; that’s it. That plaque isn’t worth any money. Every album that sells a million copies generates $10 million, close to $10 million. There’s a lot of people we know that generated $10 million, and more, that we’ve seen on TV bankrupt or this or that. And they’re not all reckless spending. There’s a lot of inconsistencies in the industry so I just wanted to say freak it and stir up the hornet’s nest.

KELLEY: So why do you — why keep making music? Why stay in this industry, then?

CORMEGA: Because I’m not in the industry, I’m on the outer-stry. I’m in – see, me making music independently the way I do it, I don’t have to deal with — I deal with the indie companies I want or I deal with, I put my stuff out digital. I always find ways to do things my own way.

When I was on, back in the day, my first record deal was with Violator Records — rest in peace Chris Lighty — and that’s where I learnt about the industry. I was on the shelf, you know what I’m saying. So during my time on the shelf, I did something that wasn’t being done at that time. You could do the research. No artist was putting out mixtapes without no album. It wasn’t heard of. You might see a Best of Biggie, but I made my first mixtape like 1997 probably, you know.

By the time we did Survival of the Illest tour, my mixtape was old. And people — when we did Survival of the Illest tour, I was scared to go. I mean, I’ma be honest, I was scared. Like we went to Detroit, Chicago and all those — I was scared to perform because I thought people was gonna boo me because they didn’t know my music. I was like, “Nobody’s gonna know this s—-.” And then when we got there, I was one of the most popular acts that night and I was blown away. People was like, “We got your album,” and I was like, “I don’t got an album.” They were showing me the mixtape! So that, after that, I started making more mixtapes. And then that became a trend. Very few people give me my credit for that, but it’s the truth. So I found that lane: I made mixtapes before it was done.

And same thing, when I got off of Violator, I had a situation. I could have signed with TVT during the time when Lil Jon was there — that label was big. But my whole thing is this: when you dealing with corporations, you’re dealing with schedules, etc., etc. I didn’t feel like getting on a label — I wanted my album to come out soon. So I knew if I signed with them, I would have to be fit in to their schedule, etc., etc., and I was just on the shelf for four years and I didn’t have waiting time. So I put out my album independently and I thrived. I was getting phone calls from Interscope and other people, you know. I just — I didn’t want to go back after that. So I was like freak it, you know. I could sell 50,000 records and be more happy than somebody that’s sold 850,000 records. So I was like this is it.

MUHAMMAD: Do you recommend for artists that are starting out that they go more of an independent route?

CORMEGA: If a artist is starting out, I think indie is good. I think it depends. See, if an artist is starting out — if a label’s gonna make you Eminem, then go for it, you know what I’m saying, because it doesn’t matter. He’s so successful, his success is so gigantic, that he’s his own entity now. So he could quit that and do his own thing now. So if they gonna blow you up, then go to major.

But if you build yourself – like, say you a new artist and then you start making your own mixtapes and you develop your own buzz and you’re big and people are flooding to you, you could be successful without it. Like what’s the guy name? Mac Miller — is that his name, Mac Miller? Majors was trying to holler at him, he’s like, “Freak y’all!” He went indie and he’s still good. So independent is definitely the route. It’s a excellent route. I wouldn’t recommend majors unless they’re gonna substantially pay you or unless they want to do something that’s groundbreaking and give you a fair deal. If they say, “Well, we’re gonna go 50/50 with you,” do it! Or even 60/40. 80/20 even ’cause 40 cents off a album is not cool. It’s nearly impossible to make your money back.

And this is another thing. Any time somebody gives you a loan, it’s recoupable — any loan that you get. Refinance a house, a car, any kind of — a loan from a bank, once you pay off, once that debt has been paid, you get the deed or you get the title. Once you get a record deal, once you repay that, you still don’t get a fair part. There should be amendments.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, you don’t own it.

CORMEGA: You don’t own nothing. You don’t even own your name.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah.

CORMEGA: They could drop you off a label — this is the thing that hurts me, too. I’ve known artists that, label really didn’t care about them, they pushed them to the side or they maybe even had plans of dropping them, and then, unfortunately, maybe something happens and the artist dies. All of a sudden now, that label loves this artist again. Now this artist is making money. He’s generating funds and his family’s barely getting anything cause his cut was so small and then y’all was about to drop him. An artist gives his all and the artist die and they really have nothing to show for it. There’s a lot of artists who die whose families are struggling right now. You would think the label would say, “Alright, let’s give ’em —” you know, “Let’s cut them a check.” But they don’t. So it’s so many inconsistencies in the game that it’s just baffling and that’s why I just wanted to be sincere on this album.

 

I wanted to inspire people in other ways. And I know little dudes that wanted to be like me. So when I started making albums, I was telling people about the pitfalls of the street rather than just glorifying it. Now people respect me for what I’ve done in the independent game and in the industry. So it’s like I’m doing the same thing I did in the streets — I drop jewels, but now I’m trying to navigate you through the industry instead of navigating you through the streets.

The song “Industry” was important to me because I get tired of the exploitation of our music, and especially of the artist. When you look at the rap industry, there’s a lot of stories that don’t have happy endings. And there’s people that do little to nothing that thrive the most. There’s people that literally got in the industry because they was cool with somebody and cause they brown nose the right people — cause they was in the right circle — and they became executives. Whereas, you have a person like Large Professor. Large Professor never had a job as an A&R. That’s a crime.

KELLEY: Yeah.

CORMEGA: Think about it. His album — Breaking Atoms was groundbreaking. His influence on producers is — he introduced the game to Nas. He’s done so much that any label that really cares would have gave him a shot as an A&R.

MUHAMMAD: Right.

CORMEGA: A lot of my heroes don’t get the credit they deserve, and it started bothering me. And I just wanted to speak, and I wanted people to stop selling the illusion — even with the independent game, you could get jerked. You got labels like Koch that’ll tell people, “Oh yeah, you get 60/40.” You don’t get 60/40. You don’t get 60/40; it’s not 60/40. All is not fair, so I wanted to be the one on a song like “Industry” to express the truths to artists. That’s why I say, “Beef DVDs on BET so every artist who’s on it was beefing for free,” you know. If you listen to that song — and I made sure I said no disrespect intended. “I know he got beats,” that’s what I said about QD3. And everything I’ve said makes sense. There’s no animosity or vengeance in my words.

It’s self-evident, so I just want to make self-evident music. I took that risk. And at the end of the day, you know why I was able to take that risk? Because what could happen? I’ve already been blacklisted before. I already said freaking — and left the majors and started — I made a lane for myself. You can’t blacklist me independently, or you can’t blacklist me to the fans. I’m gonna always find a way. So I’m willing to take the risk, you know. That’s just one of the risks that I took on the album.

KELLEY: I liked your mention of shareholders on that song also, cause that kind of gets at what you’re really up against. If a corporation is — the law is that the shareholders have to profit, then how do we change what they value?

CORMEGA: Exactly. One of the biggest misconceptions — one of the big things that really bothered me about the industry, period, is, often in life when we see things aren’t as equal as they should be or fair as they should be, we often try to — we often fight for change or for regulation, etc., etc. It bothers me to this day that record companies make at least, what, $10 off every record? Or maybe eight, if it’s discounted. You make so much money off a record but an artist gets less than — not even a dollar, not even a half of a dollar. If you get a half of a dollar, you got a good deal. The profit margin for the artist as opposed to the company is totally unfair.

Even at the end of the day when you’ve got artists like — a artist goes platinum and he’s happy and they’ll make sure there’s pictures of him with his platinum plaque, but whose glory is that? You got a plaque; that’s it. That plaque isn’t worth any money. Every album that sells a million copies generates $10 million, close to $10 million. There’s a lot of people we know that generated $10 million, and more, that we’ve seen on TV bankrupt or this or that. And they’re not all reckless spending. There’s a lot of inconsistencies in the industry so I just wanted to say freak it and stir up the hornet’s nest.

KELLEY: So why do you — why keep making music? Why stay in this industry, then?

CORMEGA: Because I’m not in the industry, I’m on the outer-stry. I’m in – see, me making music independently the way I do it, I don’t have to deal with — I deal with the indie companies I want or I deal with, I put my stuff out digital. I always find ways to do things my own way.

When I was on, back in the day, my first record deal was with Violator Records — rest in peace Chris Lighty — and that’s where I learnt about the industry. I was on the shelf, you know what I’m saying. So during my time on the shelf, I did something that wasn’t being done at that time. You could do the research. No artist was putting out mixtapes without no album. It wasn’t heard of. You might see a Best of Biggie, but I made my first mixtape like 1997 probably, you know.

By the time we did Survival of the Illest tour, my mixtape was old. And people — when we did Survival of the Illest tour, I was scared to go. I mean, I’ma be honest, I was scared. Like we went to Detroit, Chicago and all those — I was scared to perform because I thought people was gonna boo me because they didn’t know my music. I was like, “Nobody’s gonna know this s—-.” And then when we got there, I was one of the most popular acts that night and I was blown away. People was like, “We got your album,” and I was like, “I don’t got an album.” They were showing me the mixtape! So that, after that, I started making more mixtapes. And then that became a trend. Very few people give me my credit for that, but it’s the truth. So I found that lane: I made mixtapes before it was done.

And same thing, when I got off of Violator, I had a situation. I could have signed with TVT during the time when Lil Jon was there — that label was big. But my whole thing is this: when you dealing with corporations, you’re dealing with schedules, etc., etc. I didn’t feel like getting on a label — I wanted my album to come out soon. So I knew if I signed with them, I would have to be fit in to their schedule, etc., etc., and I was just on the shelf for four years and I didn’t have waiting time. So I put out my album independently and I thrived. I was getting phone calls from Interscope and other people, you know. I just — I didn’t want to go back after that. So I was like freak it, you know. I could sell 50,000 records and be more happy than somebody that’s sold 850,000 records. So I was like this is it.

MUHAMMAD: Do you recommend for artists that are starting out that they go more of an independent route?

CORMEGA: If a artist is starting out, I think indie is good. I think it depends. See, if an artist is starting out — if a label’s gonna make you Eminem, then go for it, you know what I’m saying, because it doesn’t matter. He’s so successful, his success is so gigantic, that he’s his own entity now. So he could quit that and do his own thing now. So if they gonna blow you up, then go to major.

But if you build yourself – like, say you a new artist and then you start making your own mixtapes and you develop your own buzz and you’re big and people are flooding to you, you could be successful without it. Like what’s the guy name? Mac Miller — is that his name, Mac Miller? Majors was trying to holler at him, he’s like, “Freak y’all!” He went indie and he’s still good. So independent is definitely the route. It’s a excellent route. I wouldn’t recommend majors unless they’re gonna substantially pay you or unless they want to do something that’s groundbreaking and give you a fair deal. If they say, “Well, we’re gonna go 50/50 with you,” do it! Or even 60/40. 80/20 even ’cause 40 cents off a album is not cool. It’s nearly impossible to make your money back.

And this is another thing. Any time somebody gives you a loan, it’s recoupable — any loan that you get. Refinance a house, a car, any kind of — a loan from a bank, once you pay off, once that debt has been paid, you get the deed or you get the title. Once you get a record deal, once you repay that, you still don’t get a fair part. There should be amendments.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, you don’t own it.

CORMEGA: You don’t own nothing. You don’t even own your name.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah.

CORMEGA: They could drop you off a label — this is the thing that hurts me, too. I’ve known artists that, label really didn’t care about them, they pushed them to the side or they maybe even had plans of dropping them, and then, unfortunately, maybe something happens and the artist dies. All of a sudden now, that label loves this artist again. Now this artist is making money. He’s generating funds and his family’s barely getting anything cause his cut was so small and then y’all was about to drop him. An artist gives his all and the artist die and they really have nothing to show for it. There’s a lot of artists who die whose families are struggling right now. You would think the label would say, “Alright, let’s give ’em —” you know, “Let’s cut them a check.” But they don’t. So it’s so many inconsistencies in the game that it’s just baffling and that’s why I just wanted to be sincere on this album.