Hanz On (formerly Hannibal the Great) is part of the extended Wu-Tang Clan family, and as such, the Staten Island rapper recruited Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Theodore Unit member Shawn Wigs on his new cannabis anthem "Smoke Like We Do." The track, which touts the uplifting benefits of the plant, appears on the rapper's new album Barca, released on his own Hanz On Music, which previously released Method Man's The Meth Lab. Hanz On (his birth certificate reads Anthony Messado) is the type of street hustler who claims multiple gunshot wounds and jail stints—and he famously punched another rapper at the 2009 Rock the Bells festival—yet he's all about encouraging people to improve their lives in whatever ways they can. PRØHBTD spoke with Hanz On to learn more.
Let me start with the most basic question: Why the name change from Hannibal to Hanz On?
I just shortened up the name. Instead of calling me Hannibal, everyone started calling me Hanz for short. It was just a thing. One of my friends said the name was too long, so he just paraphrased it.
Barca is Spanish for "boat." Is that the meaning you intended?
No. Barca was the last name of General Hannibal the Great, which was the title of my first album. I'm a fan of the guy, and it made sense to call the new album Barca.
What did you like best about the Carthaginian general?
He took something that was impossible and did it. You know what I'm saying? To bring elephants over the Alps is impossible, or it may seem impossible because he basically did it. Through his perseverance and his drive, he made that happen.
"Smoke Like We Do" is a great cannabis anthem. Based on the title, how do you smoke?
I smoke gold. My favorites depend on what type of day it is. I like sativas when I get up. I like indicas at night when I'm trying to go to sleep because it relaxes me. It also gives me a different train of thought. If I smoke different weed, I feel that I think different, I write different. You see a different side of me with different strains.
Do you remember what strain you were smoking when you wrote this song?
That's a whole lot of strains being smoked. We were actually all in the studio when that song was done, and there was a whole lot of smoke getting blown that night.
How do you characterize the treatment of cannabis in New York? It obviously changes from decade to decade, such as the major crackdown under [former Mayor] Giuliani.
Well, it never stopped me from smoking. I've actually been to jail a couple of times being caught with marijuana. Me coming up in my household, it was always there. In my life, I've never heard of anybody OD-ing or going on a binge. It's always been a comfortable thing for me. You can still get locked up in New York even though it's been decriminalized. A lot of these cops riding around here don't know the law at all, so they'll still lock you up if they catch you with it.
What was the most time you spent in jail for cannabis?
A couple of days, not much. They lock you up, put you in the pens for a couple of days and then they give you a fine or something like that. I never did no jail time as far as a stretch off from it.
When you had the track, did you always intend for it to be a cannabis anthem?
Oh yeah. I thought I wanted to make something that was fun, and everybody was in high spirits that night. Of course, I had How High in mind, but I did want something different than what Meth did some years back. Our album was the reach for anthems, the marijuana anthem.
50 Cent got a lot of attention for being shot seven times. Your count is up to 13, correct?
What does it feel to be shot?
It hurts. Recovering [hurts] more so than being shot, honestly. The recovery process was a lot more painful.
Growing up in New York City, what is your strongest early memory of hip-hop and its influence on you?
I used to live right down the hall from a weed spot. There was always a lot of traffic coming by my door, and the staircase by my door was the hangout spot. Being young and taking out the garbage, I would always see the bigger homies in there rhyming and going back and forth in a semi-battle type of thing, but I'm going to call it a competition rather than a battle. That always stuck with me. It went from wondering what they were doing to peeking in one day and getting kicked out because they were smoking and drinking. They basically gave me inspiration to do it myself. I can do that. You know what I mean?
Does smoking help you write lyrics?
Sometimes when I'm stuck and have writer's block, smoking will help me break that wall. Yeah. I would say it influences how I write.
A few years back, you famously punched Joe Budden in the face for disrespecting Wu-Tang. Was there any blowback?
No, there was no blowback. That was just something that happened. Personally, I have no problem with Joe Budden, and I actually like the brother's music. At the time, I was just coming out to play for my team, and that's it. Anybody would have done the same thing. If anybody knows Meth or one of these guys personally, you could have dropped [Joe] off anywhere close to where we at and anybody would have [punched] him.
"Smoke Like We Do" is my favorite track on the album. What is yours?
"Hate My Hood" resonates with me. It's a song that I did by myself. I feel so strongly about it because the state of rap right now seems to glorify the ghettos and projects that we come from. It's like an experience that people enjoy as far as rap music right now. My whole thing is that my ghetto didn't really love me back. I took 13 shots in my ghetto. I've been sent to jail for my ghetto. I lost my mom in my ghetto. I lost several friends in my ghetto. That song basically pinpoints that there's nothing glamorous about the ghetto. It pushed me to try to get out as opposed to glorify it.
What would you say to somebody who's trying to get out?
You have to take a bad situation and let it motivate you. [The opportunity] is definitely not going to fall out of the sky. I drive through the hood now and see people I was friends with still in the same spot. It's sad to a certain extent because the conditions in these hoods are nothing to be proud of. It's like a squatter starting to become complacent with the fact that you have a free place to live. I would tell them to try to make a bad situation good and just get out, but it's hard. I can't even tell you it's easy. It took a long time for me to figure it out. It took a lot of good people being around me to help me out of that. Fortunately, I was blessed, and I'm grateful for it.
Another track you did with Meth that I love is "Straight Gutta." How did that song come together?
That was actually the birth of the whole Meth [relationship]. We were touring off the [DJ] Kay Slay mixtape. Meth was bringing me out to do "Black Suit" from the mixtape, and Meth suggested that we all do a song together. We was on a roll with Redman at the time, and that's how "Straight Gutta" was brought back to [rapper-producer] Streetlife, who brought the beats to the table. We actually wrote that on the road with the intentions of performing it together.
Anything else that you would want to make sure we got into the interview?
Just that [the Method Man's] The Meth Lab 2 is coming this summer and [his solo project] Crystal Meth is on the horizon. We got several act signed to [Hanz On Music]. Some tentative, some solid, but we got a lot coming this year. I just want everybody to stay tuned. We're going to be releasing a lot of good music.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.