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Lil’ Flip tries to reclaim groove with new album

While Houston gained national hype as the new capital of Southern rap, and stars like Mike Jones flooded the airwaves, Lil’ Flip virtually disappeared from the scene. Now he’s emerged with the two-CD, 36-track album “I Need Mine,” which is out Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s just after 3 p.m. when Lil’ Flip breezes into an upscale hotel room in a trendy neighborhood, oversized designer sunglasses obscuring his eyes.

The platinum-selling rapper is wearing a do-rag over his longish cornrows, and slippers. Admitting he just woke up, he speaks in an unfamiliar and gravely tone.

“It’s been a long week,” he said. “I’ve done shows five nights in a row and been to three high schools and two colleges this week, so I’m a little hoarse.”

But he won’t stop working. He can’t. He’s missed too much already.

Just a few years ago, Flip was one of the first rappers from Houston to make a national splash. Before Paul Wall was hawking — and rapping about — his grills and Slim Thug was the boss, Flip had already scored two platinum albums that showcased his molasses-slow rap flow and melodic tone.

But as the city gained national hype as the new capital of Southern rap, and stars like Mike Jones flooded the airwaves, Flip (real name: Wesley Weston) virtually disappeared from the scene due to a battle with his former label.

Now he’s emerged from the shadows with the two-CD, 36-track album “I Need Mine,” which is out Tuesday, almost three years to the day of his last release.

The album, which he says doesn’t “cater to one type of person,” features guest appearances by Rick Ross, Academy Award-winners Three 6 Mafia and R&B crooner Lyfe Jennings. Two years overdue, it was scheduled to be released several times by Sony, but creative differences led to delays; Flip said he eventually bought himself out of his contract and was allowed to take his album with him.

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“He’s a perfectionist,” said longtime friend and assistant Carlos Goodspeed. “Everything has to be his way, and if it’s not it’s a problem. Anything he’s involved in, anything he’s doing has to be perfect.”

Though he landed on Warner Bros./Asylum records, the album had to be delayed again when one half of the two-disc set was leaked on the Internet. So Flip basically started from scratch, leaving only a fraction of the original on the new release.

“I think it was kind of like a gift and a curse because when I went back in the studio to do the new music, I told myself the new music is not going to sound like anything that was already out there,” he said. “So I had live musicians come in and play — live guitar, live drums, choirs. I just wanted to show them that I could think outside the box.”

Flip, who got a major deal after selling more than 100,000 copies of his 2000 release “The Leprechaun,” got his first platinum plaque for 2002’s “Undaground Legend.” He followed that success with 2004’s “U Gotta Feel Me,” which also reached platinum status with hits like “Game Over” and “Sunshine.”

Flip hasn’t been slacking off since his last release. He’s made 29 mixtapes in that span, hosts a satellite radio show, sells a pineapple-flavored liquor called Lucky Nites, shot an autobiographical movie, and is in negotiations to do a reality show called “Lil’ Flip’s American Rapper.”

Still, Flip’s profile dropped dramatically on the national level. He says he’s not jealous of the fame rappers like Wall and Jones, who both had platinum debuts, have achieved while he was out of the spotlight.

“Each one of the rappers that got deals all did music with me,” he said. “I appeared on all their albums, and they went on tours with me and opened up for me. I’m happy for them. I feel like the load was taken off me. I don’t have to do it all now.”

Now 26, Flip has been in the business more than a decade after getting an early boost from the late DJ Screw. These days, he seems less concerned with the smaller issues that seem to weigh heavy on other rappers’ minds.

He’s over a well-publicized feud with Atlanta rapper T.I.: “I’m past that right now, and I kind of hate I got involved with that.” And though he doesn’t call himself a role model, he does have an evolved opinion to share.

“The old Lil’ Flip would tell people to go buy jewelry, go buy big cars,” he said. “The new Lil’ Flip tells you, ‘It’s cool to buy jewelry and cars, but don’t buy jewelry and cars before you get you a place to live.’ ”

At 16, Flip was a sort of rap prodigy. His ability to flow — sometimes for hours — with no written lyrics impressed DJ Screw, the storied underground innovator of Houston’s slow-downed hypnotic style of rap, and moved him to anoint the precocious teenager “The Freestyle King.”

It’s an honor in which Flip still takes great pride.

“Most rappers, they really don’t know how to freestyle,” he said. “I think a true MC should be able to freestyle. A true MC should be able to write. You can’t be one or the other. You’ve got to be able to do it all.”

As for the album, Flip wants to be clear that it’s not filled with the party anthems that have sometimes stereotyped the Dirty South’s rap scene. He is influenced by the diversity of the late Tupac Shakur’s music and said his favorite track on his new offering is “Single Mother.”

“I feel like Tupac was able to make you feel different moods,” he said. “My music is like a feeling. ... Most people cater just to one; I try to make you feel different moods.”