He never wanted a passport, and he never wanted to leave America. As a young kid on the streets of Cleveland, rapper Jamaal Caine thought home was as good as it could get. That same kid is now about to board a plane for another trip to Europe and the lifestyle he never imagined as a kid is now cemented as his reality. Caine came up under the tutelage of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, one of the greatest rap groups of all time. Wish Bone had the chance to hear him first, and it wasn't long before he brought the 16-year-old to the attention of the other members of Bone. Krayzie Bone talked about signing him to his Thugline Records label, but sometimes the music industry doesn't offer non- stop flights. The label's output proved too erratic; all the while, Caine waited patiently for his opportunity to rock.
The whole time he was waiting, Caine prepped himself for what was ahead. While other young artists would have rested on the laurels of the impressive co-sign of the Bone legacy, Caine was "training," as puts it, and battling other Cleveland MCs. Instead of making songs with other people he knew from his Bone days, he sought out The Titans, a collective of Cleveland lyricists that were more Native Tongues than Mo Thugs. All of it was an effort to solidify his brand outside of the shadow of his mentors. And it's finally working. A collaboration with Caine, Krayzie's new single, "When the Music Stops" portends to be one of the spring and summer's biggest anthems. And it suggests Krayzie might just turn out to the rap mogul he always aspired to be.
I feel like when you get into this game, you get in it to be the best," Caine says. "Everybody was putting me in this Tupac box where they only thought I would make ‹struggle' music. After people heard my mixtape, they thought I was just like a ‹hot bar' rapper, like a Fabolous type of cat. People would put me in a box and I was just like, "There's nothin' that nobody in this rap game can do that I can't do!"
When the Bone crew originally started Mo' Thugs Records, Krayzie admits that it was more about signing friends and homeboys from the block than it was about signing the truly talented and sustaining a business.
"When we first started Mo Thugs, we just put on a whole bunch of people we knew," he says. "Some of these cats had just started rappin' when we started, and maybe they should've just been doing it as a hobby."
As the label started to fail and Krayzie started Thugline Records, his mentality changed and he started to look for more dynamic talent. Krayzie was clearly looking for something different. Anybody who signs a group of rapping pirates (which Krayzie did in the form of the quirky "Kneight Riduz") is clearly trying to find a new niche market. But what happened to the label is a recurring theme in hip-hop as the artists failed to develop their own careers.
"An artist has to have that drive to get up and not wait for somebody else to do something," says Krayzie. "You gotta keep your feet to the ground and your ear to the street."
Krayzie went back to the drawing board a third time about two years ago when he revamped Thugline into a new concept. Keeping the TL initials in place, he simply adjusted the meaning slightly and organized his musical direction under the label's current name: The Life. The move served two purposes. The first was to "clean up the roster."
"I realized that you can't develop six or seven artists at a time and give each one your undivided attention," he says. "We were trying to build a whole dynasty too quick. Now, you realize you have to take it slow, two or three artists at a time and take your time in putting them out there."
The man who admits his group tried to start a label too soon after finding success now sounds like a veteran music executive, helping his new roster avoid his same mistakes. But changing the label's name from Thugline to The Life served an all import second purpose: giving his artists, and himself for that matter, an opportunity to shed the stereotypes that come with that "Thug" pre-fix.
"When you call a label "Thugline" you're putting yourself in a box — not only me, myself but also the artists I'm trying to sign," says Krayzie. "You're not giving them a chance to establish themselves as artists."
Caine waited patiently for Krayzie and now the two are on a collision course for success with a brand new single, "When The Music Stops," which Cleveland's own Grammy Award winning producer Yung Yonny produced. Krayzie could've kept the up-tempo, poppy banger to himself.
"The beat by Yonny is amazing," Krayzie says. "Everything he does is amazing. But when I heard it, I thought it's time to give it that Cleveland shine. This is that perfect connection."
The song itself is an outright left-turn from anything you've ever heard from a Bone member — it's more W. 6th than E. 99th. Caine is a much more straight-forward lyricist than rapid fire technician. Krayzie sounds like himself, but more like the Krayzie that could be featured on Mariah Carey or Jermaine Dupri records than "Ridin' Dirty" or "Notorious Thugs." And it works. You hear the artistry for which Krayzie has been searching. And you hear the fire that got Caine his chance to break through.
The song itself is destined to be a spring and summer anthem. It already made an appearance on DJ EV's BIFC 3. It's getting picked up on stations all over the country, and in Cleveland, even pop station 96.5 FM picked it up for rotation.
"I took it to them and at first they said 'we don't play that gangsta rap format,'" says Caine. "Then it was, 'we aren't looking for any local adds right now.' The day after I got it to my people over there, they called back apologizing and said it was a hit record and they had it all wrong."
Caine is soaking it all in now and trying to heed Krayzie's advice and become a business man. "I've seen Krayzie looking at deals where he could make all kinds of money and he'd be eatin' good, but there wouldn't be nothin' left for the rest of us," he says. "But he's looking for a situation where we can all have success and all have money going forward. Looking at him I just learn so much about how to be in this for the long term."
Krayzie now feels like the rookie is ready for a start.
"We gotta keep going full throttle and dropping records," he says. "These days the record labels have gotten very, very lazy. You have to have that following and that little buzz before they'll even consider working with you. We live in times where the consumers have very short attention spans and you have to be able to keep it movin' and keep it fresh or they get bored with you."
Lately, that business model has been the topic of conversation between the two more and more frequently. So the pilot and co-pilot have headed to Europe to globe-trot and plant that Cleveland flag on foreign soil. Taking time to reflect, Caine now appreciates those long flight delays his career experienced.
"When I was 16, my mentality was straight street," he says. "Now it's like, I've been around the world, these other cities. I've been in situations with labels; I've been around rich people. It's like now I've got so much more to talk about with that ink pen."