Not many artists are willing to share the spotlight with their assembled crew before (or even after) they properly establish themselves in the market place. That’s not the case for Bed-Stuy Brooklyn product Maino. Though he’s already created a lane of his own—he’ll be quick to tell you, “Never did I say I was the illest on the mic/I only ever said I was the realest nigga right?”—as a platinum-selling artist (“All The Above”), with two championed solo albums under his belt (If Tomorrow Comes… and The Day After Tomorrow), as well as a slew of street-approved mixtapes, Maino still has mountains to climb in his career. He’s aware of that, too. “I still got a lot of things that I want to establish as a solo artist,” he tells XXL on a mid-October afternoon on the eve of a project that clearly hits closer to home than his previous solo releases. “But you know what? This helps me,” he continues, motioning towards the four-man set surrounding him atXXL’s Manhattan offices. Push!, Hustle Hard Mouse (Don’t forget the Hustle Hard), Lucky Don and Twigg Martin all make up Maino’s new collective, who go by the name: The Mafia.
They’re not exactly a crew or a group, as Hustle Hard Mouse will be quick to point out. Instead, The Mafia is a movement, all childhood friends. The team sat down with XXL to discuss their ensemble, what it means to represent their city and their planned industry takeover. Mobbin’….
There’s been many crews to come out of the city, from the Juice Crew to Junior M.A.F.I.A., G-Unit, etc. This here looks much more like a movement than a crew. Maino how does it feel to be a part of this ensemble?
Maino: It’s beautiful, man.A lot of artists from NYC, or where ever they from, everybody scream about these movements that they have, but then you don’t really see them. This clique or that clique, this family and that but you never really see the artist or get introduced to who they are. I think it was important for me and I think it was a duty of mine to actually do it and show you exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t want to just talk about this Black Flag thing [so that they could ask], What’s this Black Flag thing? What’s this Mafia thing? What’s these shirts about? This is what it’s about. It’s about this family, it’s about this, Push!, it’s about this, Hustle Hard Mouse, Lucky Don, Twigg Martin, it’s bigger than me. I wanted to do something outside of me and I’m very proud of it. Outside on what I’ve done for myself—as far as my career, this right here is next level because all these dude’s are doing their own thing. The Mafia is just the family, each one of these dudes got their own thing going on. So it’s our Wu-Tang thang.
I feel like if you’re a fan, you already know who The Mafia is. Maino, you practically shout everyone out on records and each of you here have your own individual followings. Now with this new movement in tow, how new of a territory is this for you?
Hustle Hard Mouse: For us, we always been this. So it’s not really nothing new. You could go back a little while to a couple mixtapes and you’ll hear the same records really with Me, Main, Push!, Lucky Don. It’s just now, he’s big enough where it’s that we could bring it to the world. So, it’s always really been this. It don’t really feel no different.
Now Maino, it’s not an unusual thing for artists to put their team on a little while later in their career, when everything is pretty much solidified and established. Despite dropping two well-received albums, you’re still sort of new in a sense—
Maino: Yeah, I’m still new. I’m still fresh and still got a lot of growing to do. I still got a lot of things that I want to establish as a solo artist but you know what? This helps me. Push! is talking to some kids that may say, “Alright Maino, ughh” but when they hear us all together they’ll be like, Oh I like that Mafia thing. Luck is talking to different people. Twigg Martin is talking to different people. Hustle Hard Mouse is talking to different people so, we’re helping each other.
It’s not just about me because I was able to do songs with T.I., Wayne or somebody like that, it’s about today. People judge you on today, what have you done today and this is what I’m doing right now. We have the mixtape that’s out.The first single is “Waddup Son” and we got an EP deal for The Mafia.
What does being part of the Mafia mean to you all?
Push!: We all doing our own thing individually, but we just clicked up. We been family, Main my big brother. Mouse my big brother. Luck my brother, Twigg.We been through it all. Not on no music shit. So, for us to come together formally and put together a project it’s beautiful because we able to touch places that we all might not touch on our own but, as a collective we able to touch all those markets.
And you all are still fresh in your careers so, after this EP you each could venture off into your own solo gigs.
Push!: Yeah, we all got ‘tapes ready to go. I got Black Roses, Twigg got his ‘tape ready to go, Luck got his, Hustle Hard Mouse. Main coming back with another album, so we all still working. We just working double time trying to get it.
Lucky: The way this game is set up now, this is a good look for Brooklyn, for us and for everybody that’s involved with it. Like Main said before, you got dudes out here that be busting they ass that just never get heard, and how this game is you might have a dude like myself or Push! or Mouse, Twigg or whatever that’s out here grinding and dudes will like you but still won’t fuck with you until they see other people fucking with you. So once they see everybody else fucking with you, ‘cause nobody wants to be the oddball, they step in. [With a] situation like this, it’s gonna open doors for a lot of us. It’s a good look for Brooklyn, ain’t nobody else out here that got a movement that you could see.
Twigg: As far as the whole Mafia movement, the game right now is predominately being run by crews and for Main to actually step back and actually grab all of his dudes—like when you hear the mixtape you’re gonna hear everybody. It’s not like, Okay, these records are mine and I’m putting ya’ll on it. These are our records. Everybody is their own man and their own artist in their respective right. He gave us a chance to actually showcase our abilities to a broader platform because now we’re accessible to his fans which can potentially be our fans and for everybody, vice versa.
It’s open a lot of opportunities for each of you.
Twigg: Yeah. The movement to me, from a personal standpoint, it feels like it’s the realest thing I ever been a part of. It’s people out here mobbin’, really mobbin’. From a perspective from somebody like me, looking up, I look up to a nigga like Main. He done put in his work, years and did what he had to do and he aint never fell back, no matter what no critics said, no matter what anybody did, he never fell back. He always went hard and that’s adaptive to the whole crew.Nobody falling back. Period.
Lucky Don: Ya’ll gone make Main cry, son.
Twigg: You got to get a little sentimental sometimes.
THE MAFIA SPEAKS ON EP, COMPETITION AND BROOKLYN
How was it crafting the ‘tape, did you guys have to re-do certain verses and all, because I’m sure there’s competition between you all every time you hit the studio.
Maino: That’s what pushes everybody to do better. Even me, as an artist you always want to strive to be better. You never want to be an artist to just feel like [you’re] the shit. Then you’ll [end up] getting lazy with your craft. If you gon’ step into this craft, you got to be ready to grow. So, it’s about pushing each other. I got a record half way done, Luck will hear that shit and be like, “Oh I got to go crazy on there.” I told niggas, go in there like you ain’t got no friends. Go in there competitive, because at the end of the day the world is gonna look and we don’t want to give these niggas nothing to [criticize over]. No way. I’ll put my boys up against anybody, whatever, whenever, however. We don’t do battle rapping, I’m just telling you the music is good. I feel good because this is the first time I did a project that wasn’t me and about me. I wasn’t just thinking about me when we was picking beats, hooks and all that. I was thinking about my niggas and it felt good.
How long did it take for this project to come together?
Maino: We been working on this mixtape, now we working on the EP. We been working on this basically all summer.
Is there a prospective release date for this EP?
Maino: No date yet because we gotta finish handling this mixtape, run around and do all this press, and promote the movement’s introduction, then we’ll jump right into the EP. Look forward to another single and more videos. We trying to drop a video every week and just to continuously mob.
Was bringing your whole crew in the game something you had in mind for a while?
Maino: I mean, you always want to bring your homies with you. That’s just an innate feeling that you have in yourself, like, I want my niggas to feel this, I want my niggas to live this—what it feel like to be on tour, being able to rock 60,000 and all these things. So it was like, How can I do this? After I dropped my last album and came up off that cycle, I now had the opportunity to do that. I had the opportunity to say, Yo Luck, yo Push, I feel like we got to do this. It’s going to help all of us, because people like movements and to see that.
I feel like this is more than just a Brooklyn movement—
Hustle Hard Mouse: This ain’t about Brooklyn, this is global. We got niggas down South, we got niggas all over. They just waiting on the word.
Lucky Don: It’s the foundation.
Hustle Hard Mouse: Word. The foundation is us and we just happen to be from Brooklyn. Brooklyn is where we from and that’s cool, but we ain’t gon’ just put this in a box and say it’s a Brooklyn thing. This is going to be global. You could be rep the Mafia and don’t even have to rap, you could be the camera man but you repping the same movement.
This is not a rap crew, this is a movement. We all doing our own thing and rep the Mafia so now we all gonna come together for a compilation. That’s what it is. It’s not a group, it’s a compilation and we just the beginning of the bigger movement that’s going on.
Maino: It’s a family, whether we name it or not, this is still my family and they’re still gonna be my niggas regardless. The thing about other places and when you spread certain things—I got homies all over that rep that Black Flag, that Mafia—as far as music is concerned, we gotta ignite it from somewhere and for us being from Brooklyn it helps that we’re igniting and coming right out of Brooklyn. There’s a lot of new energy coming out from there like the stadium and a movement was needed. Something new was needed. Unity is something that they say we don’t have on this side so, I want to them that we do.
How do you plan to stay relevant in a game that’s now ran by crews?
Maino: Just do us. When you concentrate on you, you don’t got no time to worry about nobody else. So we gon’ do us collectively and do our Wu-Tang thang. —Ralph Bristout (@XXLRalph)