AZ joined “Drink Champs” hosts N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN for an extensive conversation on how he was able to mold a revered career in the music industry.

The Brooklyn native always had an appreciation for Hip Hop. By the mid-1990s, he started dabbling in making music on his own. Outside of local chatter, his first introduction to the masses came from being featured on Nas’ Illmatic cut “Life’s a B**ch.” Shortly after, AZ released his debut album Doe or Die, which generated critical and commercial success.

Soon after his debut, the rapper formed a rap group with Foxy Brown, Nature and Nas. They released their sole gold-selling effort in 1997 before AZ went back to making music on a solo tip. He still kept the family close though, even being nominated with Nas for a Grammy in 2003 for their collaboration “The Essence.” From there, AZ remained productive but vowed to do it his way as the climate of rap music changed drastically over time.

He got into all of that and more on his “Drink Champs” episode. In summary, below are nine takeaways from the interview. You can watch the full video here.

1. On meeting Nas and recording “Life’s a B**ch”

Nas and AZ have been associated with one another since before both of their debut albums dropped. AZ explained that he met Nas through a phone call and the two “more or less clicked, ‘cause we was talking that s**t.” Their first studio session together happened a year later. “He was halfway through Illmatic. And I was just there supporting, coming through, showing love. And probably the last song was ‘Life’s a B**ch.’”

Talking about his standout verse on the record, AZ added, “When I did it, the crew was in there, they went crazy. I figured they were just showing love because I’m there or whatever. A week later, he came back and said, ‘Yo, I turned the album in and I kept ‘Life’s a B**ch’ on it. Then from there, every label came at me.”

2. On the formation of The Firm

AZ broke down the origin point of his former rap group, The Firm, which was a potent unit of rhymers led by himself, Nas, Nature and Foxy Brown. “Me and Nas was talking about it. You know, we’re seeing what the Wu [Tang Clan] is doing; The Commission [The Notorious B.I.G. and JAY-Z]. We’re hearing things, so we want to put our s**t together,” he said. AZ then introduced Foxy Brown — whom he had already known through a mutual friend — to Nas and the foundation was officially laid. “Everything was divine and divination at the time,” he assured.

The group released their debut self-titled album in 1997 with production from Dr. Dre, The Glove and Trackmasters. “That was a power move right there, right? Because it was just an idea of trying to make it happen,” the MC recalled. Next, he explained why a sequel was never created: “Somewhere along the line, the lines got blurred. It’s not a talent thing, it becomes a business thing. This person is signed to this management. This person is signed to this record label. These people are in control of certain things. And that’s why there’s no Firm 2.”

3. On rapping with JAY-Z in high school

AZ and JAY-Z went to the same high school and used to spit with one another outside of class. “He was definitely there before me because one of the homies introduced me to ‘em, like, ‘Yo this cat gets busy, word up,’” AZ disclosed. “And then I see JAY here and there when he comes to school, we’d be in the lunchroom f**king around.”

Their midday link-ups weren’t necessarily battles though, according to AZ. But even if it was seen as that, he didn’t stray away from noting how Hov likely had the upper hand. “I’m a New Jack. He was f**king with [Jaz-O] at that point. They was nice. They was speed-rapping, they was traveling,” he said. “He was more in the mix with me, so he’s going to have the better up.”

4. On why he didn’t like “Sugar Hill”

“Sugar Hill,” the lead single of AZ’s debut album Doe or Die, which came out in 1995, cracked the top 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and eventually went gold. The rapper let it be known that he wasn’t particularly fond of the track though. “Worst record in the world,” he said when it was brought up. “I didn’t want to put that record out. They had to twist my arm for that.”

Coming from the streets, he wasn’t thinking about the music industry as a business, AZ explained. However, as songs like The Notorious B.I.G.‘s “Juicy” took off, the talent knew he had to play ball to sustain his career. He got more comfortable laying it down once he got some advice that sharpened his perspective. “What was told to me was, which made it fly, ‘Spit some real s**t on it. It’s R&B, the ladies can dance. You spit the real s**t and the n**gas are gonna like it and you good,’” he said. “It mind f**ked me, but it worked.”

5. On the possibility of a joint album with Nas

Though they have plenty of collaborative work with one another, N.O.R.E. asked AZ if he would ever do a joint album with his close friend Nasir. Well, the ball is apparently in Nas’ court. “I’m right here. I’m a soldier at war at all times,” AZ began. He then showed love to his close affiliate and went a little deeper into why it hasn’t happened yet. “We in the game, everybody got lanes to take… He has visions that he needs to accomplish and that’s what it do. And me, I gotta get my s**t on point.” If they ever make a collaborative album though, AZ noted that he would recruit producers like DJ Premier, Dr. Dre, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, L.E.S. and Kanye West.

6. DJ Doo Wop on sparking a mixtape revolution

Halfway through the conversation, N.O.R.E., DJ EFN and AZ were joined by the legendary DJ Doo Wop who explained how he was able to impact mixtape culture back in the mid-1990s with his project 95 Live. “95 Live is the first mixtape ever that had known rappers on it, like known, popular rappers on it,” Doo Wop said. ”For instance, before 95 [Live], mixtapes was just DJs doing cuts and blends and all that s**t. In ’95, I put out a mixtape that had [KRS-One], AZ, Lost Boyz, Raekwon. So we had all these rappers on it.”

“It was a game changer in the mixtape game. And in Hip Hop period,” DJ EFN chimed in, to which the famed DJ responded, “Right but if I say it, it sounds crazy. But somebody else has to explain it.”

7. On adapting to the current climate of Hip Hop

N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN explained how they’ve been trying to get AZ on the show for a while now. That led to the rapper talking about how he usually strays away from big platforms, but sees how they’re relevant to today’s music climate. “Just like someone can get a lot of notoriety by being out there, I’ve learned from the old school like Rakim and them, they was more laid back and it brought more mystique,” he said. “I can’t just jump out the window.”

Elsewhere, AZ also talked about how everything sounds different these days than it did in his time. “This s**t is switching. The sonics changed,” he said. When the group got on the subject of how everyone has the platform to create their own versatile movements for fans to follow, AZ said, “That’s why I can jump back in. Before, I gotta wait to bust my gun.”

8. On his dream collabs

The MC still has a couple of names on his checklist that he’d like to get in with. With the older generation in mind, AZ said that he would love to work with “more of the idols.” And on the note of joining forces with someone from the newer generation, he responded with two folks who are leading the charge right now as a middle child and leader of today’s wave: “I like J. Cole. Lil Baby. Yeah, that’s it.”

9. On how he got his rap name

AZ’s government name is Anthony Cruz. By looking at the first and last letter of the moniker, N.O.R.E. asked if that’s how he came up with his stage name, to which the guest responded “Nah, that’s not how but it makes sense.”

So, how did the name come about? “One of the young Gods in Brownsville, he was born to The Nation… And he was speaking in that language. And it kinda attracted me, right? Somebody talking with big words. And he was my age, probably a year or so older,” AZ said. “And he was like, ‘You God, right? Ain’t no mystery God. You the original man, Asiatic. Actual AZ, no beginning no end.’ [I was like] Yo that s**t crazy, I’m God. And I just ran with it.”