AZ On ‘Doe Or Die II,’ Working With Idris Elba, And Being All In For A Reunion With The Firm

In an age where the attention span of rap fans is fleeting, it’s easy for artists to get lost in the wash. When you’re out of sight and out of mind in an attention-seeking world, it becomes even more challenging to capture the ears, minds, and hearts of fans and consumers. However, there are always exceptions to the rule, especially in the case of veteran rapper Anthony “AZ” Cruz. For upwards of a decade, the Brooklyn-bred artist has managed to sustain the buzz and mystique surrounding the long-awaited sequel to his acclaimed 1995 solo debut Doe or Die.

After dropping the Legendary and G.O.D. (Gold Oil And Diamonds) mixtapes in 2009, Doe or Die II‘s announcement was met with a resounding amount of fanfare and anticipation, with longtime fans of the East New York repper. Fans were eager to see him revisit a body of work and rhyme frame that many have deemed a bonafide classic. Initially tagged for release in 2010, the album would be subject to a succession of setbacks over the subsequent decade, yet, “SOSA” (AZ’s rapping alias) repeatedly promised its release, renewing fans’ hope with the occasional single or compilation project.

Now, 25 years after Doe or Die hit shelves, AZ has finally unveiled its sequel. With Doe or Die II, Sosa delivers suave streetwise musings from the vantage point of a major player who’s seen and done it all and has lived to tell the story. Consisting of twelve songs and one bonus track, Doe or Die II includes guest appearances from Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Jaheim, Conway the Machine, Dave East, T-Pain, and Idris Elba—all of whom jumped at the opportunity to help AZ bookend his career.

“Once again, everybody that’s on this joint, they’re official,” said AZ about the album’s star-studded list of contributors. “Ain’t too much talking. I respect them all ’cause it wasn’t a lot of talking. They get right to the business.” Over a decade in the making, Doe or Die II is an album that lives up to the hype while doubling as a swan song from one of the most respected emcees of his era.

AZ spoke with us about bringing his career full-circle with his latest L.P., the possibility of a new album from The Firm (with supergroup members Foxy Brown, Cormega, and Nas), and expanding his brand with new opportunities in film, fashion, and more.

VIBE: Your new album, Doe or Die II, dropped Sept. 10th. How has it been seeing the buzz and anticipation surrounding its release?

AZ: I mean, it’s kinda overwhelming because it’s been a minute, like 2012 since I announced that I was putting out Doe or Die II and people was excited then. So for it to be this many years later and it’s still the same love and the same vibe, it’s kinda overwhelming, but it’s a good response and people are really checking.

Doe or Die II is the sequel to your debut album, which many fans and critics consider a classic. Describe the impact the original had on your career and why you chose to revisit that theme for a sequel?

Well, Doe or Die, from the era we was in, that was the mid-’90s and sh*t, and that’s when the golden era was popping. You had Big, Nas, Mobb, everybody was coming from New York, doing their one-two and I think I jumped on that classical soul type of joint with “Sugar Hill,” man. First, it was “Life’s A Bi**h” that galvanized the people towards my name, but then “Sugar Hill” came out and, you know, I went platinum so it was a good time. You know, I’m young, we’re in the city, and we’re bringing our dreams to life and sh*t, so that was real. The reason why Doe or Die II, is I just wanted to do it full circle, right? So regardless of what, careerwise and my legacy wise, I started from one point and I ended up at one point. It’s a 360 to me, you know, what I’m saying? ‘Cause back then, we were signing contracts. And when we was signing contracts, it was for eight albums, nine albums, and sh*t. You’re like, “Damn you can’t even get the first one out,” right? We was young back then, but now I’m independent and me putting out this album, it’s like I completed the cipher of what I started. I’m finishing up.

The first time Doe or Die II was mentioned was over a decade ago but never materialized until now. What factors played in the lengthy delay, and how were you able to get over those hurdles to deliver it to the public?

I wanted to put it out, but you know, you’re just looking for that energy. The sonics was changing. You got the Midwest doing their thing and then it was just all kinds of zones. And at the tail-end, the other artists, they had their little ways of doing things. So in the midst of all that, I was just always putting out a record or two every year just to put it out ’cause I felt like the album wasn’t ready. It wasn’t cooking right, so I was like, “Let me just sit back.”

I still was doing shows, I still was doing other things and sh*t so it was cool. I was on a song here and there, but then when the pandemic hit, it was like, “Yo, man, it’s either now or never,” you know what I mean? Like Doe or Die, now or never. I said, “Let me put this sh*t together and get it done for real,” and that’s where we’re at with it.

Did seeing any other veterans like Nas, Jay-Z, and other greats from your era come out with projects that shook up the game in recent years inspire you in any way?

Not really because I know how they’re built, I know how I’m built. To see them still doing it is a blessing, ya dig, but I just be sitting in the cut, waiting for me to hit my target and sh*t. It’s always good to hear your A-Alikes get busy, so I’m like, “Okay, their sword is still sharp, I know my sword was sharp” so I’m like, “Aight, let me just sit back.” Wait so the lane can open up enough and just jump right in. So that’s where I was at with it.

Courtesy of Quiet Money Records

How much material was recorded for Doe or Die II since you initially announced plans to release and how much of it is still left in the vaults?

If I had put out no records when I first said I was gonna put out the Doe or Die album, it would’ve been like 25 records. ‘Cause right now, it’s 13 on this album. I put out around seven or eight. I still probably got a couple in the chamber, like three or four in the chamber. So yeah, I would’ve had like 25 records on this album if I would’ve waited.

Well, I really started really locking all the way in like 2017. I probably had like two or three records I probably already had and then by 2020, I did a good majority of it, like a good six. And then this year 2021, I did the rest, so everything is damn near fresh. It’s probably like three of them I had cooking and sh*t already, but everything else is fresh. Fresh up, fresh baked.

With the hiatus between albums, did you feel any pressure to deliver while creating this album?

Nah, business as usual. We from the Brook, we don’t really get no pressure, the only pressure was on myself to get to the bag, but other than that, ain’t no pressure. I just wanted to make it right ’cause these sh*ts last for eternity, you know what I’m saying? I just wanted to make it right.

The introductory track on Doe or Die II features an appearance from actor Idris Elba. How did he become involved in the project and what’s your connection to him?

Well, I was setting the album up. I was like, “Yo, this sh*t sound like a movie, we need someone to dialogue it on the intro side. One of my peoples was on tour somewhere or doing something and they ran into him out there, Idris and sh*t. I know I connected with him back when I was on tour with the Rock The Bells tour with Nas. We dialogued a little bit so I reached out to him like, “Yo, what’s good man, I need an intro.” He said he don’t really do intros, but he was like, “Let me hear the album ’cause I do f**k with you.’ So I let him hear snippets of the joint and he was like, “Alright, let’s get it done,” and he hopped on so that was a blessing.

You recently released Doe or Die II‘s lead single, “The Wheel” featuring Jaheim. How did the two of you connect, and how did that song come together?

I put out a record at the end of 2020 called “Different,” and I was doing one of my interviews and sh*t with the D.J.s and Kay Gee from Naughty By Nature was on the line, too. I guess he dropped something with his artists. And I was like, “Yo man, we gotta work,” and he was like, “No doubt, we gotta get busy” and after that, we connected. He gave me some beats and sh*t and I know Jaheim was from his camp and I was like, “I’m trying to go left, I’m trying to do the unexpected, man. Where Ja at? I need him on a joint.” ‘Cause Ja, he’d been sitting dormant for a minute, too. And he was like, “Let’s make it happen.” He got the beat, I chose the beat, he hopped on the hook and the rest is history.

Rick Ross pops up on “Never Enough,” which captures the lavish ambiance you are both known for. What’s your history with Ross and the backstory to that song?

Nah, I f**k with Ross, he carry the torch, he spit that sh*t, you know? So I just reached out to him and hit him like, “Yo, man, what’s up. I kinda need to make this album epic, man, I need some spitters on this sh*t,” so he was like, “Let’s get it done.” Ain’t too much talking with Ross, if he f**k with you, he f**k with you. Ain’t too much talking or dialogue, he’s getting right to it.

“Ritual” finds you, Wayne, and Conway The Machine sparring on a track and accounts for three separate eras in hip-hop. What about those two artists made you tap in with them for this particular track?

Conway, he’s hot right now, he’s definitely a spitter. Me and him were dialoguing, I said, “We gotta do something.” He was like, “Let’s get to it.” So he got on it and when we got on it, I was like, “Damn, who else really completes the cipher, too?” And I was like Wayne, he’s a f**king problem, you know what I’m saying? I had an Alchemist beat. You know how Alchemist give it up and I was telling Wayne we could do our own thing, or I still got the joint with Conway. He was like, “Give me that ’cause they gotta put some respect on my name, give me that.” You know what I mean? The game gotta respect his pen-game, so he hopped on it. That’s one of my favorite records too, man, that joint right there. “The Ritual” is one of my favorite joints.

You had a cameo in Dave East’s “Child of the Ghetto” video earlier this year and locked in your first collaboration with “Blow That Sh*t,” one of the standout cuts on Doe or Die II. Explain your relationship with East and how that track came to be.

East is connected with my boy [Nas], so it’s definitely love. East, he’s doing his one-two and if you’re from the East Coast, you can’t duck him ’cause he’s everywhere. So when I went to do the video, I told him I need to hop on something, I need that energy. He was like, “What’s up,” so we got in the lab and we did our one-two, you know what I mean. Knocked it right out.

After scoring tracks on the original version of Doe or Die, Pete Rock and Buckwild contributed tracks to its sequel over twenty-five years later. How important was it to have them be a part of Doe or Die II, and how did their involvement manifest?

I mean, they always stuck around. It’s certain cats from the genesis that stick around all the way to the end and sh*t. And you really try to stay close to home with a lot of sh*t, so I figured their presence on the joint really helped really solidify the whole 360 movement. Buck really played a part throughout my whole career sh*t and Pete, that’s like family so I needed that. So it was an add-on that made it official.

What are three songs on Doe or Die you’re eager for fans to hear and why?

The “Never Enough” with Ross. “The Ritual” with Conway and Wayne and “Blow That Sh*t” with Dave East because all three is just official sh*t, man. And it gives you that energy, it gives you that vibe. All three take you to different zones, and it’s just good energy man and everybody’s spitting how they’re supposed to spit, spitting that real sh*t. So those three right there. But to keep it 100, I love the whole album, to be technical. ‘Cause the whole album got different vibes. Every song’s got its own energy to it.

What was your mission while creating this album?

For one, I did it for those that really f**k with me and I did it for me just to complete the cipher, just to know that I can start something and I’ma end it. That feels good and self-reassuring. Like, yo, I started this sh*t in ‘95 and I’m ending this sh*t in ’21. I completed the cipher. Then just let the fans know like, “Yo, the hard-hitters are still around,” you know what I mean? A lot of brothers from that era ain’t around, they ain’t doing it, but it’s still motherf**kers around still holding the torch and carrying the torch.

Last year, The Firm reunited on Nas’ King’s Disease album for the first time in over twenty years. What was that experience like?

Oh, yeah, that’s always a blessing, man. When you f**k with the day ones, you know that. That’s in any aspect. When you f**k with day ones, it’s a good vibe and we got it in. And we went a whole another route and still got that love. We was talking about the broads on that and just dialoguing with the women and we still made a mark with that. So that just shows we’re timeless and we go anywhere with it.

Do you see you and the members working together again, whether individually or as a whole?

Yeah, yeah, I f**k with everybody. Everybody be so busy, man. Everybody really be in their own zone doing sh*t. But yeah, I’d love to f**k with the team, like the teams the team ’cause everybody stands on their own and when they get together, we form like Voltron. But I’m here, man. Whenever the time presents [itself], I’m here. I’m on deck.

You kept mentioning a full circle thing with Doe or Die II. This isn’t the last album is it?

Not necessarily. Nah, it ain’t the last album, but I completed my cipher, for sure. I feel good no matter how it goes. I completed my cipher, so even if I do roll something else out, I’m good. I just feel good, like I said, to myself.

Do you think that fans could expect another project from you sooner than later? Are you back and active, what’s good?

You know what, I don’t know. I might keep that on a hush because we’re still playing chess, you heard. So if I do a jump out on ’em, I want it to be a sneak attack on ’em, you know what I’m saying? (laughs). But I’m here, though.

What’s next for AZ moving forward?

I got my SOSA Wine coming out this year, I’m looking forward to that. The sparkling rosé, the merlot. It’s a beautiful thing, I’ve got that coming out. I’ve got a documentary. I just finished, I’m getting ready to drop that. Another sneaker coming out ’cause I put that Ewing sneaker out last year and this year. They sold out, so I got my own sneaker coming out called Diamond Edition. I’m just trying to do it all, man. I’m trying to shoot a little movie and all. I’m trying to do all type of sh*t right now.

How did the Ewing sneaker deal come about?

They reached out to me. We f**ked with Ewing back in the days. I don’t know how old you are, but I’m definitely a historian with the kicks and all that. They reached out and I’m like, “Yeah, f**k it.” You can design your own sh*t and all that, so I designed my colors, designed my sneaker and we threw it out and it sold out in two weeks. Then we re-upped a couple of months later and that sold out in two weeks. That’s why I’m coming with my own sh*t called Diamond Edition. That’s coming out and I’ma drop that, hopefully, in like three months, by Christmas time or some sh*t like that.

What’s the documentary about?

The documentary is just basically from me starting out in Brooklyn and where I’m at, up-to-date., like where I’m at with it and what I’m doing. So it went from how I got on, what I’ve been through when I was getting on, all of the up and downs in the game, the labels I was f**king with. I’ve never been dropped from my label, but I’ve been on mad different labels. I own all my publishing, I own the majority of my masters, you dig what I’m saying? And now, I’m independent and the zones that I was in with each album all the way up to this thing, talking about this album right here. It’s official.