by Ben Pinette
‘Hanz On’ is a Staten Island hip hop artist and founder of the label H.O.M.E. (Hanz On Music Entertainment). His final album BARCA is dropping this Friday, so I spoke to him about his past, current and future endeavors in anticipation of the release. Being a veteran of the game and longtime Wu-Tang Clan affiliate, I found that Hanz had a lot to say.
What is your first memory of hip hop?
My first memory of hip hop was the feeling it gave me when the DJs around my way used to play in the back of buildings during block parties. It gave me a feeling that was different than the music playing before rap music was relevant. UTFO, Roxanne Shante, Eric B & Rakim; the atmosphere it created around me as a shorty was tremendous.
When you look back to those early days of rapping in Park Hill, what memories stick out to you the most?
The hip hop cyphers that the big homies used to have in the parks and staircases really stand out to me.
No group was as powerful as the Wu-Tang Clan was back in the 90s. Do you think being from Staten Island was a major reason for this? Does being untouched from the other boroughs affect the music, or mentality, of Staten MCs?
I’d say so. Being from Staten Island was a major reason for the group’s powerful presence because the whole island got behind them. We all know and understand that it’s all about strength in numbers. When the Wu came out, there was a certain wave of brothership that swept through the island. That presence was seen by the world.
Let’s talk about prison briefly. During your bid, what inspired you to start thinking of becoming a full-fledged MC? What was your thought process like during this time? You did a lot of reading you said?
I think it was seeing how the big homies flourished; seeing them on TV, hearing them on the radio, the checks I got from Rae. I mean, when I went up top it went from them sending me a little cash here and there to me receiving a check from a business account with Rae’s name on it. So my thought process was geared towards getting out, which required me having to stay out of trouble. I spent a lot of time reading and educating myself.
You’re now home free, looking to get your career going. What were those first weeks out of prison like? Were you in talks with Rae, Meth and the Wu right when you were released? Or did it take some time?
Rae was on tour when I was released. It only took a couple of days for him to reach out. I met up with the tour in Denver, CO.
What was that first tour with the Wu like?
It was an experience. Overall it was new to me, so it took some time before I knew how to act. Lets just say, I had fun.
Raekwon’s Ice Water imprint was just starting to turn into something when you were released. Did it feel like it was perfect timing when you decided to join the label? How did those early conversations with you and Chef go?
It was more of a natural occurrence that took on a life of its own. When I went in I was really close with Rae, so naturally when I came out we were still close and he had the Ice Water movement poppin’.
You made a name for yourself during your time with Ice Water. You dropped your debut ‘Out of Chef’s Kitchen’ and featured on some other projects on the label. How did it feel to finally have some solo material out?
Man, it felt great. I felt like I had a story behind me and now I finally had an avenue to get it out there.
After a few years at Ice Water, you left to start your own label ‘H.O.M.E.’ Did seeing Rae do his own thing at Ice Water inspire you to do the same? You said in an interview earlier this year that Rae basically gave you “the fishing pole” and Method Man “taught you how to fish.”
Absolutely, but at the same time I was raised to eventually be independent. I mean, I think that’s a trait that all men have in their DNA. You live, you learn, you grow, and then you leave the house. You go out and you make your own way. I got the utensils I needed from working with Rae. Meth helped me understand those utensils and gave me a different perspective on things.
On H.O.M.E. you dropped the ‘Hannibal the Great’ album and a tape with DJ Kay Slay. This led to you eventually touring with Meth and the creation of ‘The Meth Lab’ album. What were those conversations with Meth like before ‘The Meth Lab?’ What was it like to see a Method Man album released under your own name? What motivated you two to set this up in the first place?
It was a process. I’m proud of where I’m at today because that process was a hard and complicated one. It wasn’t easy, but nothing worth having is ever going to be easy. Today, it just feels good to be a part of history. It feels good to be able to hand the big homie a check.
You also recorded a lot of that album in your newly formed “Meth Lab” studio in Staten. How did you and Anthony Paniccioli link up to agree on that space? What were those first studio sessions like?
Ant and Heather, the owners of Trackstar Studio, saw how hard we were working and were open to the merger as soon as the suggestion was made. We recorded all of our music there anyway. It’s where we’re comfortable. I mean, Meth used to show up in slippers so he was comfortable, that was the most important. They were able to provide the vehicle to make the material, and we were able to provide the intellectual property and music to run through there. It was a no-brainer.
What’s it like now to have both your own studio AND label? Must feel good to not have to deal with major label manipulation and their greedy politics.
Well, sadly the manipulation and politics still goes on, even when you are on the ground floor. That being said, to have both at my disposal with good people around me, I feel like I have to utilize those blessings and make an impact on the industry.
Challenges in being independent? Favorite aspects of it?
The challenges of independence are all financial. You have to be selective on how you make your investments. You have to be careful on who you make those investments with. My favorite part of it is seeing my plans come to life, seeing something that I created operating on a professional scale.
I wanna talk about your relationship with Method Man. Why do you think you two work so well together? What’s it like being so close with one of the greatest MCs of all time? What have you learned from him?
Meth is my homie and to work with him is definitely an honor. As far as what I’ve learned from him, it’s too much to even put in this interview. I literally try to absorb everything I can because he is, hands down, one of the best that ever did it.
Your new album is titled ‘BARCA.’ What inspired the title?
The first project was entitled Hannibal the Great. Barca was the general’s last name, so it made sense to me.
You’ve said this is your final record. Why? Time to focus strictly on the business side of H.O.M.E.?
The executive part of the business is very attractive to me at this stage in my life. I’ve learned a lot in the last five years. I feel like I can recycle that knowledge and build my own company. In the process, I can offer a vehicle to these young guys to bring their music to market. A lot of these young guys aren’t monetizing on their artistic work.
What other projects can fans expect down the line on H.O.M.E.? ‘Meth Lab 2?’ ‘Crystal Meth?’ Other albums from Wu members? New artists? You also mentioned earlier in the year you want to expand into pop music and maybe movies?
There’s a lot going on with H.O.M.E. after Meth Lab 2. We got Meth’s nephews, Cardi and Freak, in the studio. We got U-God’s son, iNTeLL, in the mix. We also plan to sign two other hip hop acts soon. In addition to that, we plan to sign a pop act and an R&B act. We want to make it a more rounded music label and not limit ourselves to just hip hop.
New York is buzzing. Young MCs like Dave East, Joey Bada$$ and A$AP Rocky are huge currently. As an OG, what are your thoughts on the state of New York right now? What about the entire game? Where do you find your place in this ever-growing hip hop world?
I respect and salute all of those guys. We actually got a song with the homie Dave East on a collaboration record we did with Joe Young and Dame Grease. I’m just trying to eat and trying to be a foundation for my family. At the same time, I’m definitely trying to create my own print on rap music.
Looking back to the Park Hill cyphers to now, how does it feel to have gone from a Staten Island kid running to the store getting White Owls for members of the Wu, to now having them release music on YOUR label? Inspiring?
It’s a good feeling. I mean, I would be lying if I said otherwise. It’s an honor that people of that stature would come out and support me.
Wrapping up here, what are the long-term goals for H.O.M.E.?
Just to become a well rounded entertainment company and be able to feed my people.
Any closing thoughts or things you want to say to the readers?
I want to salute everyone supporting us, and if you didn’t get a chance to check us out yet, come fuck with us.
For more info on Hanz On, please visit the official H.O.M.E. Facebook page. Don’t forget to cop BARCA this Friday, March 17th either! And never, ever forgot the most important thing: WU-TANG IS FOR THE CHILDREN!
all images courtesy of Hanz On, H.O.M.E. & Right Angle PR