Saigon is an unadulterated dose of reality. The type of eye opening wake up call that changes your perspective on life forever. That’s why his steady climb into the top ranks of the hip-hop world is hallmarked by such an impressive list of notable accomplishments. In an age when thugs are cooked up in marketing meetings, beef is something even a vegan can swallow, and the Streets all but have a zip code, a rapper claiming street credibility seems a dime a dozen in the music industry. But after just one listen to Saigon’s lyrical talent, intelligence and insight, it's obvious that this phenomenal new MC is about as real as it gets. Not because of where he has come from or how he came to get where he is today, but because of the way he has chosen to express himself.
And since 2002, when Saigon speaks, people listen. The popularity of the up-and-coming rapper exploded as he took over the Streets and the Internet with a collection of classic mixtapes many fans consider mini albums. Candidly outspoken and excitingly controversial, Saigon quickly became the talk of the town and a media favorite, heavily cosigned by a pack of A-List DJ's and producers including Kay Slay, Whoo Kid, Enuff, Just Blaze, Mark Ronson, Alchemist, Buckwild and many others. All while turning down major deals in favor of grinding independently… Until now!
“I had enough money to be comfortable, but I didn't have enough clout to get my music out there - the way it should be,” Saigon says justifying his move to a major label. “I was on magazine covers. I was all over the Internet. I had a worldwide fan base. There was nothing left to do on the underground side of things. Plus, when Just Blaze [the album's executive producer] calls, you don't ignore that.”
After dominating the underground scene, Saigon took it to the next level. “The Greatest Story Never Told,” his forthcoming Atlantic Records debut album, is both an introduction to the potently powerful MC, and a reaffirmation of the impact that his music has already had and has the potential to make.
Born in Brownsville Brooklyn, Brian Carenard aka Saigon was raised by variety of family members spread throughout Rockland County, New York (which he affectionately refers to a Mooseknuckle), as well as New Jersey and Virginia. These years were marred by instability and it wasn’t long before young Brian took to the streets, picking up guns and hustling to survive. Although extremely smart, without a real home, parental supervision or discipline, he quickly began getting in trouble.
In 1992, at the tender age of twelve, little Saigon was hauled into court on vandalism charges. But sadly, this initial brush with the law didn't stop his downward spiral. He continued to run the streets and before long Saigon graduated from juvie and entered directly into the youth division services of an adult prison, charged with attempted murder but convicted on First Degree Assault. At 16, the kid who had never enjoyed a real home now had one in the state penitentiary. While locked-up, Saigon, who adopted the alias from a book on the Vietnam War, went through a transformation. He slowly realized that if he continued to fight and wil’ out, he’d never escape from behind the cold prison walls. So he came up with a plan. He began to rhyme.
“I knew that I had to make the best of my time. I met guys my own age, who were in for life, guys who had already served years for violent crimes. And time after time they told me that I had to break the cycle. It sounds crazy, but in some way being incarcerated helped give me focus and probably saved my life. Thank God I went to jail. I took a bad situation and turned it around.”
Saigon began to cultivate a following within the prison system, dubbed “Tha Yardfather” (like the Godfather of the prison yard) for the way he held down the various jails he passed through. He lived up to his reputation as the “Yard Father” with a brand of rap that was gritty but intelligent, as he spoke of life inside, racism and the pressure's that his people faced. He also expressed his adversity to rappers who glorified and exploited the life of crime he and his people were actually incarcerated for.
“You can't be in jail and glorify being a gangster,” Saigon explains. “In jail, you have the reality. You'd look stupid if you run around with your face all screwed up, acting like a tough guy. If you're so tough then why are you locked in when the CO says so? Having that experience is why I always make it my business to tell people the realities of the thug life. The truth is that life has two endings - dead or in jail. You might have a studio thug who can do it, but no real thug gets to kick his feet up on the beach. I feel, as artists, we're irresponsible if we don't tell people the whole truth. If you're gonna promote violence, you can be locked up for a long time for one mistake… I know.”
In 2000, after spending nearly his entire adolescent life in the belly of the beast, Saigon was released. Out on parole he went straight to work on his mission to make it the rap game. Beyond a renewed sense of vision, Abandoned Nation also emerged with Saigon from “the pen.” AB had developed in prison when Saigon hooked up with, among others, “old timer,” Omnipotent - organizing a group of prisoners who came to depend upon one another - forged by the bonds of abandonment. Whether abandoned by their families, friends, or the system as a whole, Abandoned Nation shared one dream. And that dream was a part of Saigon not left behind the prison bars.
In addition to working on his music and developing the label side of AB, Saigon created the Abandoned Nation Foundation, a non-profit organization that works with “abandoned” children, to give them a better sense of family structure that is often lost when their parents are incarcerated. As his career advances, Saigon remains fully involved with fundraising efforts, organizing community events and talking to the kids he helps sponsor. Today, with Saigon's vision, AB is more than a foundation – it’s a movement.
Extremely focused, Saigon networked the scene and eventually hooked up with celebrity DJ Mark Ronson. Both up-and-coming at the time, though seemingly polar opposites, the two cliqued. Ronson had a small studio and was so impressed with Saigon's raw and untapped talent, he offered to help him record and introduced him to another rising producer named Alchemist. On this exciting time, Saigon reflects: “All those dudes did it out of love, for my music…and because I was real. And I just kept grinding.”
News of Saigon traveled throughout the echelons of the industry and in 2002, with the help of former Source music editor, Gotti, and with the encouragement of multi-platinum selling rapper 50 Cent, Saigon began making mixtapes. His debut was “96-A-0549: The Yard Father Part 1” a 25-track collection hosted by DJ's Kay Slay and Whoo Kid that was deemed an instant classic! Other mixtapes followed, “The Yard Father Part 2: On The Go Back,” “Warning Shots”, “DJ Self’s Saigon vs. 50 Cent,” and “Abandoned Nation Vol.1”, each filled with potent original music. As Saigon’s name began being thrown in the ring with hip-hop veterans like Nas and Jay-Z, it was clear he was ready to explode. Once Saigon’s buzz reached a deafening level, the labels could no longer ignore him.
As Saigon sees it, his forthcoming album really is as it is titled, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” with the potential to give listeners and fans the greatest Saigon they've ever heard. Mindful of his influence and determined to stay true to his “pull-no-punches” mantra, Saigon's music reflects a life that remains under construction and displays a man who speaks to truth because it is all he knows. While others use smoke and mirrors to trick impressionable consumers, it’s Saigon’s brutal honesty that keeps his fans coming back for more.
“I never try and down my past, but I also let you know the harsh reality. I'm gonna do my best to sell records, that's the business I'm in. But at the end of the day, I'm gonna maintain my integrity. I have to tell the truth, especially in Black and Brown communities. It's my duty to open up a few minds.”