Brooklyn native and one of the biggest Latino battle rappers, Cortez has put in work with almost 50 battles over the last few years. Working with everyone from King of the Dot to Smack/URL and more, Cortez has headlined many battles and taken on almost all of the biggest battlers in the world.
After building his reputation in battle rap, Cortez is now focused on his record-making career and taking everything to the next level. Traveling the world, promoting, building his brand and performing, Cortez was in Denver, Colorado this past weekend and we caught up with him to talk about his new project and his history in the game.
You’re obviously traveling promoting your music and still battling. What brings you to Colorado this weekend?
I got a lot of connections out here. I’m working on some records and came out here this weekend for the Lowrider magazine convention. We’re just working, branding, shaking hands, kissing babies and everything we gotta do. I love it out here and we get high, what else we got to do?
Basically we’re starting a more promo run for this project coming out. We just got so many records and we’re getting so much love out here, so now it’s time to expand. We’ve been reaching out to all my contacts and just starting to put together a real promo tour for this project. Getting in a different light, using different resources and out in Colorado, I had to come out here because we get so much love. It’s just building up the culture and have some fun at the same time. The city loves me so I gotta come out here.
Tell us about this project you’re working on.
I think we’re going with King Cortez. We might change it up depending on the feel. It’s like Kanye changing from Lasers to whatever. I don’t know what I want to do with it yet, but this is really easily the best project I ever put together. I just put out a few videos in the last month and the feedback has been crazy. At the same time when it comes down to it I love rapping. I get the bookings, I get the calls but music is a huge love for me as well. Crossing over might be difficult sometimes but if I can find my lane, it will work. I’m treating myself like a brand new artist. I’m not sitting on a pedestal like, ‘I got all these battles’ and all this. I’m starting like a brand new artist.
The battle rap scene is bigger than it’s ever been. How difficult is it to try to cross over to making quality records?
Battle rap right now has captured the missing link to Hip Hop. Remember when you used to run and go get mixtapes, get that Fab freestyle, get that Jadakiss freestyle? We got the bars. Battle rap has kind of taken over that void and giving you that lyricism you’re not hearing on records anymore. There’s no mixtape market. It’s all online, everything’s viral. Nowadays you hear a song, you hear it for a couple days and you’re onto the next song. We’re getting so much information. Battle rap is so big, we’re rubbing shoulders with all of these people. Huge MCs! I can get on the phone and text message Method Man and he’s responding like, ‘Yo cuz.’ That gives us the confidence now to realize we belong on these stages. A lot of people don’t realize when you battle rap, you can’t hiccup, you can’t cough, you can’t choke, you can’t breathe wrong, you can’t sneeze, you don’t have a beat, you don’t have a hype man. You’re talking, at least at my level, I’m selling out 1500 to 2000 people, and I have to control that room. And then the next time I come on stage I got to have completely new, different material. As an artist I can go up there and spit the same song on a 30 city tour. So it’s kind of conditioned us to understand how precise and how great we have to be as writers. And I think that’s often conditioned me to do everything. I’m writing raps, I’m in the studio, I’m battling, I’m doing interviews like it’s just become a part of me, the extension of me.
How do you see battle rap progressing? Will there more of the artists crossing over?
Labels sign rappers all the time and they’re tax write-offs. You just don’t hear about them. So you look at it like, who do you have that flopped? Serius Jones? Jin? Certain people had albums and had opportunities and flopped. No knock on them but alright, that’s two out of how many? You know what I’m saying?
Murda Mook was supposed to be the next guy, Ruff Ryders and so forth.
One thing I’ll say about it is, I didn’t think his music was great at the time, but then again he was 16 years old. What was he really going to rap about? Yeah he was in the streets but let’s be for real anybody that’s an MC knows you really start putting good real records together at 23 or 24, when you start going through life changes. You have a kid, you got problems with your girl, you owe the plug some money, or something like that. It creates that and I just feel like he got thrown in the spotlight too fast. Wasn’t no one there to help him. I just seen him at a Ruff Ryders event last week and he’s in a comfortable space. I don’t worry about that, I’ll learn from those mistakes. I’m just trying to make sure I’m prepared and that’s why I really take my time with this project. This project I recorded over two to three years and recorded over 80 to 90 tracks, and I’m only going to give you the best 10. Then from there I’ll just start flooding mixtapes. I shot seven or eight videos. I’m holding everything for me to be able to compete on the social media level. So it will be like ‘you like the song’? Two weeks later there will be a video, ’cause I got it done already. You have to, because when Rick Ross and Meek Mill and Drake are dropping videos every week, you can’t compete.
Battle rappers are extremely talented lyricists. Why do you think that lyricism doesn’t always translate to great records?
That’s a question I had to ask myself. I’m a lyricist, but I’m still somewhat young. I get the trap, I get the weirder flows in Atlanta. I go out to Atlanta and I get it. Hip Hop is at a stage where it’s evolving, but there’s still a huge market for the lyrics. For the rapper’s rappers. You have to balance it and I feel like where we go from here is each individual in his lane. I have to figure it out. People now want to buy into you before they buy into the records. So people are like I’ll f*** with him before I f*** with this song. How many times you hear a song you like, then you don’t know who the artist is and then you find out who the artist is, and be like, ‘Alright, that’s cool.’ Then there’s someone maybe you’re not even a fan of but you’re like, ‘I remember when I heard this song and it touched me, I relate to that record.’You might never hear another record for that person ever again, but you’ll remember it. That’s what music does. You have to connect with the people at this point. At least for Cortez, I’m connected with the people on a whole different level. Addressing things that are currently going on, for example Brooklyn is not really Brooklyn anymore, it’s gentrified.
As a Latino coming out of Brooklyn, how hard was it to break into Hip Hop and what was the struggle like?
It was a lot harder. Even when I go to the battles, I’ll be on the corner going to the barbershop and dudes would be like, “Look at this little Puerto Rican dude.” It conditioned me same way the music conditioned me not to be afraid. And any minority—Spanish, Black, anybody—we’ve all reached a point where it’s like, ‘I don’t care anymore, it’s going down.’ It could be rapping, it could be a job, it could be anything. And it conditions you to not be afraid anymore. I spoke my mind and I was so confident that you had to f*** with me. Nobody’s going to come to Brooklyn and say that they don’t f*** with Cortez. That’s kind of how I’ve been able to stay relevant throughout the years you know and being Spanish, I want to unite this the right way. There’s so much more within the Latin Community with Hip Hop now: you got people like Snow Tha Product, King Lil G, myself, Chris Rivers, Kap G in Atlanta and the High Rollaz in Dallas and it’s just like, I see it. And it’s just a matter of us coming together and taking it to the next level. But it has to be a conscious effort and it has to be talent. Me being from the ‘hood, I grew up around around Black people, Spanish people, we all call each n*gga or bro. It’s just a camaraderie. I can relate to ‘we went half on that sandwich and a quarter water’ or ‘we just finished basketball I got $2, you got $2, we hungry—let’s get this gyro’ and those things no color can divide.
How did Latinos like Fat Joe and Big Pun influence your style?
Rest in peace Pun. I never met him but as far as rhyme structure goes, I learned a lot just from the two albums he put out. I also learned charisma. I learned jokes. He tapped into the Spanish sense of humor, you know what I mean? About Mom cooking, etc and things people were scared to talk about because everyone is always just trying to be hard. Big Pun just came in with a swag on everybody and the same thing with Big. I’m from Brooklyn so Big was a huge influence and these guys were heavy set, not the most marketable but they made you have to f*** with them. That’s something that I learned from early on. It’s crazy because I discovered and old interview with Fat Joe from like six years ago and I had just battled Ice, and I never knew about this, but the guy was like, ‘yo I’m a huge Cortez fan have you ever heard of him?’ And Joe was like, ‘I f*** with Cortez, that’s one of the Spanish kids coming up.’ So I met him one time in the club and I was in my little VIP section, he was with N.O.R.E. and he brushed by me, stopped me and said, ‘keep doing what you’re doing’ and that’s all I needed. Just letting me know he respects it. I’m not looking for a handout, he’s got to feed his family. Remy Ma just came home, they got a hot record right now on the radio, so it’s like salute to them because that continues to open doors for us. But at the same time I want to make my imprint and what I learned from them is how to make it and do it on my own.
Does that push you?
Yeah, because I’m counted out. Counted out every time. Every time I go out I feel like I’m the most slept-on battle rapper. I have a quote now: ‘The most underrated, underhanded, I oversaw but being overlooked creates a pen that’s overall.’ And I’ve been running with that lately and a lot of people are like yo, that’s deep.
My time is coming. Patience is a virtue. Wine gets better with time and that’s how I look at it. I look back on my old stuff, when I started getting notoriety and I feel like it was okay. I didn’t feel like it was perfect and I’m still not there. It’s got me here, I got to get to this level and it helps me not be cocky.
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Grizzly Beatz is an American Hip Hop Producer from Los Angeles, CA. He has produced for Curren$y, Dizzy Wright, Hopsin, Gatorade, Chief Kamachi, Nike, Activision and more.