Old To The New Q&A – Prime Minister Pete Nice (Part Two)

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In the second part of my interview with 3rd Bass’s Pete Nice, the Prime Minister talks about the origins of his and Serch’s beef with the Beastie Boys, signing with Def Jam and touring the UK – check Part One here.

What were your thoughts when the Beastie Boys first came out on Def Jam?

“When they first came out, my room-mate at Columbia who hooked me up with Lord Scotch, SAKE, he actually went to high-school with Mike D and MCA…”

Is this where MC Disagree & The Re-Animator come into the 3rd Bass story?

“Yeah, well MC Disagree & The Re-Animator were all together with SAKE, who was Mark Pearson and who actually ended-up being our 3rd Bass road manager. So I didn’t know the Beastie Boys personally at that time, but I knew all about them from hearing stories. I mean, MC Disagree, Dan Kealy, he was very close with Ad-Rock when they were growing up in the same neighbourhood and everything. I guess the whole thing was, I don’t know if it was animosity or whatever, but Disagree and SAKE would always go to earlier clubs than even I was going to, like the Northmore and other early Hip-Hop spots in the city. I mean, they were into Hip-Hop and were white b-boys before most people were. They were like a year or two older than I was in school. So they always looked at the Beasties like, ‘Yo, those guys were into punk rock and now all of a sudden they’ve got up on Hip-Hop.’ I don’t think they really had any specific beef with the Beastie Boys, but of course throw into that them hanging out with us, the Beasties coming out first, and then the “Sons Of 3rd Bass” song we did on “The Cactus Album” kind of grew out of that. Plus, at the time me and Serch were trying to come out, their record had dropped so there was now already this perception of what a white Hip-Hop group should be about, so all these other record labels wanted us to kinda be like them and we really weren’t like that. Labels wanted us to have more of a rock edge, which is why that group the White Boys got signed around that time. Most people would listen to our records and say that we just sounded like a regular Black rap group. We took that as a compliment, but we just sounded the way we sounded and we weren’t going to change that to try and get a record deal. What’s funny, actually, is around that time Kid Rock was an emcee as well. I remember when Serch was entered into the New Music Seminar and Kid Rock was there rockin’ almost like an Evil Knievel suit with a flat-top (laughs).”

So it wasn’t really a personal beef that you had with the Beastie Boys, it was more about the indirect impact their success was having on 3rd Bass getting signed?

“It was probably as much about frustration as it was anything else. I mean, we would run into them at different clubs here and there. I remember running into MCA at Hotel Amazon once, and one time I ran into Ad-Rock at a barber-shop. But of course, Sam Sever was cool with them and also Dante Ross was boys with them from way back to. So there were just a lot of common denominators involved in the situation. Also, at the time, the Beastie Boys had left Def Jam, so that added to a lot of it as well. Like I said, I didn’t really know them. In fact, the only time I ever really had any contact with them myself was when our then manager Lyor Cohen got marrried in the Dominican Republic in 1988 and he invited all the artists. I remember Serch was dying to go but he couldn’t get out of work. But it was literally everybody; Run DMC, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, LL, me, EPMD, Davy D, Tashan, Original Concept. It was nuts. I mean, if the planes had gone down there would have been no Def Jam (laughs). I have pictures of Flavor Flav in a yarmulke at the wedding (laughs). But that was really the only time I had any contact with the Beasties and they probably didn’t even know who I was at that time, they’d probably just heard about these couple of other white rappers.”

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Serch knew the Beasties previously though, right?

“Well, the other part of the beef was, Serch knew Mike D and apparently one day Serch ran into Mike or one of the other guys, went back to his place to play some beats or whatever, and apparently Mike D was kinda clownin’ Serch and Serch definitely took offense to it.”

I remember Sam Sever telling me that same story some years back when I did a short interview with him about working on “The Cactus Album”…

“Exactly. So then, obviously I’ve already got the stuff that my boys were telling me about the Beasties and then as I got closer to Serch that happened. So the situation was almost like it was destined to be (laughs). I mean, you look back on it now over the years and there was definitely some stupidity involved. I mean, when MCA passed away I was asked to write a piece for Gawker.Com (note: Requiem For A White Emcee)  and I really had to think whether it was MCA or Ad-Rock that I ran into at that barber-shop that time and it actually turned out to be Ad-Rock. So I told them at Gawker that I didn’t really know MCA and had just met him a couple of times. But there was still that common link of what we did as white emcees, so I just wrote that piece based on that.”

You mentioned earlier the chip-on-the-shoulder that a lot of white emcees carried around back then. Did that ever come into play between you and Serch in terms of each of you wanting to be seen as the better emcee in the group?

“I don’t think there was really any of that between me and Serch back then. I mean, we would compete with each other more for ourselves to make better music as a group rather than going against each other. But I think other people would always bring it up more about who was the better emcee between me and Serch. That was definitely something that I felt was brought up more to some level from fans than maybe you’d hear people having similar conversations about a De La Soul or a Tribe. But that was really on a very small scale and when you have a group containing members with different styles it really just comes down to what people’s preferences are. But that’s what makes your group diverse.”

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So did the Def Jam deal actually happen quite quickly once the label were aware that you and Serch were working together?

“Nah, I mean the whole thing was actually quite difficult for us. When the Beastie Boys came out we had demos going around and all these labels wanted something else that was different to what we were doing. So we actually got turned down by a lot of labels that wanted to sign us to big deals but then backed out. That happened with Arista and some other big labels. Then, we started to get more credibility and buzz around us from performing at different clubs and turning up everywhere. Plus, me and Serch both had promos playing on the radio with Red Alert, which for us back then was pretty much the ultimate. Even if you didn’t actually have a record out back then, you could still have a promo playing on the radio. I had a promo on Red Alert for my radio show and Serch had the promos for his early singles. Those were still playing, so we thought we’d made it anyway (laughs). Even if we hadn’t made a record as 3rd Bass, we were still known around New York. But we had a difficult time getting those records deals. Profile Records were looking at us and then when Dante was at Tommy Boy they made a play for us. At the time we really wanted to be on Def Jam and I think Lyor and Russell finally looked at the whole landscape and realised that the Beasties were gone. At that time, Def Jam were kinda down and it was really Public Enemy who were picking them up. I mean, LL’s “Walking With A Panther” was a dud compared to how his other albums did. So 3rd Bass definitely gave the label new blood, along with EPMD when they moved over as well. The first Slick Rick album was doing well, so along with Public Enemy, I think us and EPMD gave the label a new identity for them to build on. But at the same time, Russell was still always trying to find that one R&B act that he could be successful with which he finally got years later with Montell Jordan (laughs).”

I think Russell’s main problem with that in the late-80s was that the R&B artists he was signing like Chuck Stanley and Alyson Williams were largely making traditional soul albums, which compared to the New Jack Swing sound of the time didn’t necessarily connect with the average teenage Def Jam fan…

“Exactly. I mean, Tashan was incredible and Sam Sever was working on his first album when we were doing our first stuff for Def Jam, but it was almost like that record was too good for the time. But he did have Oran “Juice” Jones who kinda blew up with “The Rain” which was a big single. He was a classic, man. I used to love that guy (laughs). He was just such a character. I remember, we’d used Grover Washington Jr.’s horn licks on our song “Monte Hall” and he was also on Columbia. There was an event that the label did for this new record from Grover Washington and they invited us to it and Oran “Juice” Jones. I remember we all took a picture where I’m sitting in this big chair with the cigar, Grover Washington Jr. is above me and Juice is to the side of me (laughs). But Juice was always the guy to come up with the good one-liners and everything he said at the end of his record “The Rain” was definitely not scripted. He could just come up with stuff like that at any time (laughs). But that record totally blew-up in New York at the time.”

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Given the impact Russell Simmons had already had on Hip-Hop by the time 3rd Bass signed to Def Jam, what were your first impressions of him when you joined the label?

“Obviously we were impressed. I mean, Russell was Run’s brother and had already had so much success. “Krush Groove” had already come out and Russell was really on top of the genre at the time. If there was anyone you were going to roll with back then, you’d be rollin’ with Rush (laughs). You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at the time other than with Russell. I remember, we were talking to different managers at the time and they were telling us to make sure we kept our publishing. So we spoke with Russell to try and keep our publishing and he was like, ‘Listen, I’ve got fifty percent of Run DMC’s publishing, I’ve got fifty percent of LL’s publishing, fifty percent of Public Enemy’s publishing, so why the f**k am I going to give you your publishing?’ But back then the business side was a lot different during that period when we were signed to all the big money that came later on with all the label consolidations.”

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What was the working dynamic like between Russell and Lyor Cohen?

“Russell and Lyor would always play the good-cop / bad-cop routine in any given situation. I mean, they were genius together. As different as they where, with Lyor being the hard-nosed business guy and Russell always being the nice guy, Russell was definitely just as shrewd. I could just write books about episodes with those two all day long (laughs).”

The “Russell Rush” interlude on “The Cactus Album” still makes me laugh with Russell discussing the name of the group and then he starts talking about the Dickhead Six…

“That was totally live. What happened was, when I was still at school at Columbia when I first hooked-up with Serch, Russell would tell us some s**t like, ‘We’re going to put you out on some dates with Run’ or ‘We’re going to put you out on some dates with LL.’ There were always these carrots that he would stick out there. It even got to the point where I had to speak to one of the counsellors at my school to tell them I might have to take the semester off to go on tour with Run DMC (laughs). But then these things would aways fall through. We just got so frustrated, so I said to Serch, ‘Look, we’re getting so much smoke blown up our ass, I’m just going to take a little tape recorder in to the meetings and we’ll tape that s**t.’ So we would go into meetings with Bill Stephney, Russell and Lyor, and I would just have the s**t running (laughs). So I just had all these tapes of our meetings and when we were doing the album I remembered the tape of the meeting where we were coming up with the name of the group. Russell was trying to get a date with Paula Abdul for the American Music Awards at the same time we were coming up with the group name so that’s what’s on the rest of that tape which is just classic (laughs).”

Any classic Lyor memories?

“I remember, one time we were in London with Lyor at a big hotel around Piccadilly Circus. We’d come in at the time for those rave shows they used to have out there where kids would call a phone number to get the location of the party. I remember, there were these Nigerian princes who were funding and organising them and they’d promised to pay Lyor £25,000 for Public Enemy and another £5,000 for 3rd Bass. It was just a whole s**tload of money. I remember Lyor saying to them that he was bringing us over and if the authorities came after them or anything that he was getting his money either way. So what happened this time we went was the show never happened. Lyor flew us over with PE and De La Soul. I remember it vividly, because right when we went on that trip our  “Steppin’ To The A.M.” video was released on Video Music Box in New York. So we weren’t actually in New York when it first hit, but that’s when our record sales really started to jump. But I remember Lyor with one of these Nigerian princes in the restaurant of the hotel we were in just going crazy like (adopts angry Israeli accent), ‘Listen you motherf**king prince, get me my f**king money or you’re going to be living in the f**king bush! The king, your father, is going to send you out to the bush by the time I’m done with you.’ Sure enough, he ended up paying Lyor even though there was no show (laughs).”

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Outside of New York that “Steppin’ To The A.M.” video was largely the first visual introduction to 3rd Bass for a lot of people – where did your whole cigar, cane and suit image come from?

“I mean, it kinda came from the days when I was hangin’ out with Blake (Lord Scotch). He gave me the name Prime Minister when we were hanging-out at the Albee Square Mall. We always used to hang-out at this jewellery store K & I Jewelers which I think Biz Mark mentions in “Albee Square Mall” a couple times. Big Daddy Kane would be at the Albee Square Mall as well. So I think Blake kinda looked at me as being a white Kane kind of character, so that persona was pretty much from before I was even with Serch. Then when first did the “Steppin’ To The A.M.” video with Lionel Martin from Video Music Box, he definitely picked up on that and was like, ‘Yo, I’ve got this huge chair, so you can sit in the chair like it’s a throne with your cane’ and it really just took off from there. I mean, I was smoking cigars anyway. And with the whole cane thing, when people would ask me why I needed the cane I’d tell them, ‘Yo, I got shot in the leg when I was a kid’ and all kinds of different s**t which was fun (laughs). Actually, I remember we did one show in Scotland and sometimes Flavor Flav would tell us to ask him to come out during our set. So at this particular show, he wanted to come out after we’d done “The Gas Face”. So we introduce Flav, people go nuts, and he comes out like, ‘Yo Pete! I was at this store today. Now, you’ve got your cane and that’s fly, but check this s**t out, man.’ He takes out this thing that looks like a cane, hits it on the stage and it turns into a little chair (laughs). He sits on it and is like, ‘Look at this Pete!’ and then goes into his whole ‘Yeaaah boy!’ thing and the crowd just loses it (laughs). But I will say, my favourite moment onstage was probably in England when the Poll Tax was around.  I was like, ‘F**k Margaret Thatcher! I’m the Prime Minister!’ and the whole crowd was going nuts (laughs). That’s probably as political as we got at that time (laughs).”

I think 3rd Bass was political to some extent just by your mere presence in Hip-Hop at the time as two white emcees in a Black-dominated artform…

“The other thing that I think people totally overlooked was that we were really the first integrated group as well because it wasn’t like Daddy Rich was just our show deejay or something, he was actually a member of the group. Hurricane was the Beastie Boys deejay for shows and stuff but he wasn’t actually in the group. But that’s actually a funny story too because our first deejay for 3rd Bass was this kid called DJ White Knight. Serch knew this guy DJ Holiday who was well known in New York but ended-up going to Tennessee. Serch went down to visit him and he met White Knight there who was definitely a nice deejay. Serch comes back from Tennessee and is like, ‘Yo Pete, I’ve got our deejay.’ He didn’t talk to me about it or anything and I’m like, ‘Are you f**kin’ kidding me? You’re going to bring this kid back from Tennessee and he’s all of a sudden our deejay?!’ Now Rich at the time, he was was at school in Farmingdale out on Long Island, so he really wasn’t available. But I was trying to get to him to be our deejay and join the group. So Knight shows-up after leaving Tennessee to live with Serch. I’m just beside myself and we were in the studio at the time and I’m like, ‘What the f**k is going on here?’ Sure enough though, I like Knight, he starts growing on us and I’m totally down with him (laughs). He’s doing cuts in the studio, we did a couple of early performances, he’s in the “Steppin’ To The A.M.” video in the back of the car. He did one of our first photo-shoots with us. It was almost like he was the fifth Beatle or something (laughs). But it turns out, him and Serch had some sort of falling out. Knight was living with Serch and his girl, some s**t happened and next thing I know they kinda split-up and Knight’s heading back to Tennessee (laughs). So Serch brought him in and Serch took him out (laughs). I was as baffled when he left as when he came. So that’s a bit of 3rd Bass trivia for you (laughs). But after that happened, that’s when I told Rich that we wanted him. We had already produced the first album but Rich did those early tours with us and then when we got into the second album Rich was involved with the production.”

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I still have tapes of your appearances on Tim Westwood’s Capital Rap Show from 3rd Bass’s visits to the UK – what do you remember of being on-air with Tim in London?

“I remember Tim had the late-night show on Capital Radio at that time and we used to go up there with this guy from Def Jam in the UK called Trenton. I just remember going up there late-night after we’d been running around all day with Serch going nuts and Tim would end almost every line he said by saying ‘Respect!’ So it just became a running joke between me and Serch where we would imitate Tim Westwood all the time (laughs). Then we’d get back to the States and hear is tapes back home and there was somewhere that used to list his charts in New York and we’d see we’d made it onto his charts and be happy about that. But Tim was was always very receptive to what we were doing and gracious enough to have us on his show so we always got along well with him.”

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Three of this interview here.

3rd Bass – “Steppin’ To The A.M.” (Def Jam / 1989)

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