A few years ago, Cam'ron seemed poised to become one of hip-hop's most successful artists.
By 2006, he had released five studio albums, including "Come Home With Me," which sold 1.2 million copies, and "Purple Haze," which sold 560,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
But after a falling-out within his Dipset crew -- whose other members are rappers Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, Freekey Zekey -- a public dispute with 50 Cent and his mother's multiple strokes, Cam'ron vanished from public view. Aside from a 2007 YouTube video, which showed him standing next to a kiddie pool with palm trees, warning that it would be a hot summer, he stayed away from the music scene.
It still isn't clear whether Cam'ron was laying low in the Midwest, as some speculated, or whether he spent the entire time with his mother at a rehab center in Florida. But regardless of where he spent the last few years, Cam'ron says his self-imposed exile is over. He's preparing the May 12 arrival of his sixth studio album, "Crime Pays," which will be released on Asylum Records.
To roll out the project, Cam'ron has gone digital, leaking half a dozen tracks and homemade videos through YouTube, MySpace and his blog, myjiggie.com, in the past two months.
"The idea was to put out a video every week to warm people up to the album. I didn't care about putting out singles -- I just wanted people to know the album was coming," says the rapper, born Cameron Giles. "That's what I love about the Internet -- instead of having to wait on radio to play your song or TV to play your video, I can use the Internet as a tool to get my music out earlier."
The strategy hasn't hurt his ability to get radio play. One of the leaked tracks, the double-entendre-heavy "Cookies and Apple Juice," was recently added to the playlist at rhythmic WQHT (Hot 97) New York. Nor has his do-it-yourself ethic prevented him from breaking through at MTV and BET; both channels recently aired "I Get It in Ohio."
On other fronts, Cam'ron, who made his acting debut in the 2002 Roc-a-fella film "Paid in Full" and later starred in 2006's "Killa Season," which he wrote, is working on a new movie called "The Bakery," which is slated for a straight-to-DVD release in July.
"It's about a party taking place in Harlem, but at the same time there are a bunch of other things going on before, during and after that all tie together," he says. He has already released some clips to YouTube and the urban Web site Missinfo.tv. He also is hoping to start filming the sequel to "Killa Season," which he plans to make available in October.
Cam'ron is also working on a compilation album with his new crew, U.N. (which includes Lady Byrd and Vado), that is set for a late-August release. There is also talk of an as-yet-untitled album being released in December and a potential film soundtrack that will be released that month as well. "I don't want to clog out everything, so I might wait till I drop my own album and see," Cam'ron says.
He recently turned down offers to record a Dipset reunion album, "Diplomacy Immunity 3," after Jones made a peace offering on Hot 97's Funk Master Flex radio show. But Cam'ron hints that it might happen in 2010.
"My year is booked up. I don't have time for that," he says. "I wish them the best of luck. Maybe next year we can sit down and talk, but no time soon. Right now, I'm focused on 'Crime Pays' and the rest of my 2009 plan."