Slaughterhouse Chad Griffith

Slaughterhouse’s Joell Ortiz was taught that being lyrical was the only way to succeed as a rapper. But after a career full of false starts (most notably a dead-end deal with Dr. Dre), the New York rhymer saw artists focused on style making more of an impact than those with lyrical supremacy.

Teaming up with Crooked I, Royce Da 5’9” and Joe Budden in 2008 to form the lyric-driven supergroup Slaughterhouse proved to be a turning point in his -- and the rest of his crew’s -- career. Slaughterhouse, who recently signed to Eminem’s Shady Records and released an eponymous, high-powered EP February 8, have among the biggest buzzes in rap.

Don’t think that the winners and the most successful people are dudes that are bowing down and compromising their art

Joell Ortiz: No Longer a Free Agent

The newfound attention is a welcome change for Ortiz. “I realized that me being lyrical means a lot more now because it gives the kids a choice of what to follow and what to become a fan of,” he says. “It also reminds people that the true lyricists are at the forefront. Don’t think that the winners and the most successful people are dudes that are bowing down and compromising their art to make certain sounding records. Eminem, super lyrical. Jay-Z, super lyrical. Kanye West, lyrical. Lil Wayne. They’re all in the front. Don’t get it twisted. Lyricism is still alive and well and much needed. I’m just happy to remind the kids about that.”

Though each member had fallen on hard times as a solo artist (Crooked I was long stranded on Death Row Records, Royce beefed with D12 and Eminem, and Budden could not rebound from the commercial single “Pump It Up”), Slaughterhouse is now being rewarded as a group. Their newfound alliance with Shady shows that remaining true to their craft provided the ultimate payoff: the recognition and acclaim that had evaded them all as solo artists.

Crooked I on Staying Focused

The key to finally breaking through was to remain focused on their skills. “Each of us always kept our craft precise, kept our consistency,” Crooked I says. “We just elevated it to another level. The bars were always there, and so was the hunger and the passion, the work ethic. These dudes are real workers. We put in a lot of work, a lot of hours and we take what we do real serious. So I think that as long as you always keep that formula, you will always be able to be successful. We don’t take a day off, man, and I think that’s what gave us the staying power to still be here, to be relevant and to be moving on to the next level.”

Though Slaughterhouse is among the hottest groups in rap, they are still driven by the struggles they’ve endured. On the EP’s “Move On (Remix),” for instance, each rapper documents some of the strife they’ve overcome. It proved to be therapeutic.

“When I hooked up with these guys, not to sound funny, but it’s like going to AA,” Ortiz says. “You’re sitting next to people who have become clean again but know what it’s like to be drunk. It’s a vote of confidence. I feel like the stars aligned for all of us at the same time and it may have not been meant for things to happen a few years back. It might not have been that special. That was a blessing in disguise that we had our ups and downs and our label problems because it’s just going to make joy feel better.”

For more from Soren Baker follow him on Twitter: @SorenBaker

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