San Quinn is a certified Bay Area rap veteran. Since dropping his debut, Don't Cross Me, back in 1993, he's gone on to amass a 15-album discography, with his latest project, Can't Take The Ghetto Out A Ni**a, released in July. With that album's new single, "Big Bank," still buzzing, we caught up with San Quinn and asked him to give us the inside story on five of his own long-playing projects from years past.
Don't Cross Me (1993)
"I'm trying to hide my age now, but I was 14 years old when I wrote my first album; I think it dropped when I was 15, in March of '93. It was only me and Kriss Kross as the little kids out there rapping back then. It was a tape-only release; I didn't even put out no CDs on that one. When it came out, everybody embraced me in San Francisco. I mean, it was pretty surprising for a kid to be rapping at that age, so I was like a childhood star, like a little Gary Coleman!
"Dee Jam [who produced a lot of the album] was one of the original starters of Rag Top Productions, which Rappin' 4-Tay eventually put out even further. Dee Jam is the one that discovered me and took me to the studio and believed in me. He lived around the corner from my house; I lived on Grove Street and he was from Fulton Street. We recorded it at a studio in Richmond."
Live N Direct (1995)
"That's when I ended up signing with JT The Bigga Figga, in 1995. I recorded that whole album in the Fillmore district on McAllister Street. Don't Cross Me was good, but for this one I was 17 years old and had more to say. Also, it was well mixed down, because JT invested some good money into it.
"JT was magnificent to work with in the studio. He pushed me and also promoted me from being a heavy gangsta rapper to being more truthful, conscious, still street but not to the point where you get to the stage where you're caught out of character for lying about being a big killer. This album was my move to more truthful music, and I have JT to thank for that."
Explosive Mode (1998)
"This was a project with Messy Marv, who I introduced to the game. He was originally from Pittsburgh. I got off Priority Records and JT and some dudes from the neighborhood wanted me to do a solo album with the best beats from Tone Capone and DJ Daryl and all the people from the East Bay. But there was this young and up-and-coming dude from Pittsburgh and I allowed him to stay at my house and put the record out to pay his rent. That was Marv. My mother allowed him to stay there; we made some good music. We were messing with girls together, drinking, smoking, vibing. I was 18 and he was 19.
"Tone Capone, who contributed to the project, is one of the greatest producers in the history of rap music. You know he made "I Got 5 On It," but he also made "Mary Jane" for Scarface. Both of those beats got remade by like Puffy and East Coast people; they came and snatched his thing, his drum patterns, and flipped his shit. I also got to work with him on 2004's I Give You My Word, which was a great street success."
The Rock: Pressure Makes Diamonds (2006)
"For me, this was when I finally got the recognition that people said was coming to me because I had the hit single "Hell Yeah!" KMEL has always supported me, and Big Von is a good friend of mine and a big supporter, but he also really helped me, putting me on certain songs with Lil Jon and Cam'ron. I had noticed E-A-Ski kept making hit records with the group Frontline, so I decided to reach out to him for a beat. I gave him some incentive and told him that I also wanted him to be [on] a record. And the song ended up becoming a big California hit, all over, not just in the Bay.
"I was skeptical at first about whether "Hell Yeah!" would be a hit. I know that it sounded good, but I must have listened to "Hell Yeah!" about 60 times deciding whether it sounded like a hit, whether to push it. Then I went to see Big Von and took it to him. It was around the same time as Mac Dre and the hyphy movement really blew up, so it was like the stars had lined up with the moon. E-40 was working with Lil Jon, and I happened to be right behind that."