In the final part of my interview with Prime Minister Pete Nice, the Hip-Hop legend talks about recording his 1993 solo album “Dust To Dust”, the death of KMD’s DJ Subroc and the legacy of 3rd Bass - make sure you check Part One, Part Two and Part Three before reading further.
When you started working on your 1993 solo album “Dust To Dust” with Daddy Rich were you concerned about how it was going to be received by fans considering you were coming out of a successful group?
“I mean, I’d always done more of the production on the 3rd Bass records. Serch didn’t really do too much on the production end. So me and Rich were already working really well together both with other producers and on the things that we would do on our own. So we liked the challenge of musically doing s**t on our own. Plus, I’d been working a lot at the time with The Beatnuts with Kurious, so it kinda fell in together. I mean, some of the beats that they had that ended-up on the songs we collaborated on were just nuts. Rich and I were always very proud of “Dust To Dust”. Some people just look at commercial sales but we had a lot of critical acclaim with that project. I mean, listen, if that album had had Serch on it as well and was a 3rd Bass album, it probably could have done better. Obviously, we would have had some different songs on there, but “Dust To Dust” was probably going in the direction of what another 3rd Bass album would have been.”
Personally, I thought Serch’s 1992 ”Return Of The Product” project was a solid album, but it did have a slightly different musical vibe to it in comparison to 3rd Bass, mainly due to the work he was doing with production duo Wolf & Epic…
“I mean, Serch had more of a kind-of R&B influence on his album. Now, when we were in the studio, we would both have different ideas of what we wanted, and at some point if me and Rich weren’t there to tone Serch down then the music would go to a certain point. So it was almost like, his solo album was the album you would have had if me and Rich hadn’t been there to pull him back on certain things (laughs). But, you could also say that Serch would hold us back on certain ideas we had as well, which is why 3rd Bass worked so well together when we were in the studio.”
Do you feel that any label politics played a part in how well “Dust To Dust” performed?
“I mean, this was all around the time when Russell was looking to the West Coast and signing Warren G and Montell Jordan. Plus, the other thing that was figured into the mix was the fact that I was working with Kurious Jorge at that point and Russell really wanted Jorge. I wanted a good deal for Jorge and at the same time Donnie Ienner at Sony offered me my label deal for Hoppoh with Bobbito. We really couldn’t turn that down. So there was animosity between myself and Lyor because had had beef with Donnie Ienner as Def Jam was going through a break-up with Sony at the time. I guess you could say that “Dust To Dust” kinda got caught up in the middle of all that. I know I used to speak with people and they’d tell me that Def Jam weren’t working my solo record on purpose. I mean, when they saw that Serch only got to a certain level with his first release as a soloist with a lot of push, that might have influenced things. I mean, Rich and I had some success, but we had no push. That was a really strange time. There were all the problems with KMD at Elektra when Ice-T had the whole “Cop Killer” censorship situation which totally f**ked-up KMD with the album artwork for “Black Bastards”. Then Elektra ended-up dropping the group. We had the tragedy with Subroc and it was just a crazy time. It had even got to a point where KMD had beef with Serch when we had beef together. We did a song for KRS-One on the H.E.A.L. album and Serch said a couple of lines on the track that KMD didn’t like. It was just weird, man. So I ended-up managing KMD when originally they were Serch’s group. I mean, he discovered them. I didn’t know them beforehand. So it was all pretty strange.”
“Dust To Dust” came out following the release of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and the East Coast / West Coast split was starting to happen with gangsta rap really beginning to dominate the industry. What was your opinion at the time on the direction Hip-Hop was moving in?
“I always thought there was room for both East Coast and West Coast groups. I mean, when we came out as 3rd Bass there was a lot of West Coast music out there with the whole N.W.A. thing. When we went out on the road we would see all these pockets of local artists who were big regionally, but there was always room for music from people outside of each region. I guess that West Coast sound did kinda take over, but I still think a lot of East Coast groups at that time still had great followings. Then of course Biggie Smalls came out and did what he did. 2Pac was someone who was interesting to me. When we were with him, we were touring with Digital Underground and he was basically just doing crowd warm-ups and being a roadie. I remember buying 2Pac Whoppers in Burger King and he would get his hair cut by Daddy Rich in my hotel room at the Holiday Inn or something (laughs). That’s the 2Pac that I remember. He was a very intelligent, thoughtful kid at the time. It just seemed that when he was in “Juice”, which Daddy Rich was in as well, he just turned into this more gangsta persona which really wasn’t him. We did a show soon after that out in San Francisco and we saw him there thugged-out with the gold chains. We went up to him and it was almost like he was playin’ us like, ‘I’m too big for this now’ (laughs).”
The Beatnuts produced a number of tracks on “Dust To Dust” – what drew you to their sound?
“I had seen them around and knew them, but when Jorge formally hooked-up with them and said he wanted the Beatnuts to do a lot of tracks on his album, that was when I’d be in the studio with them working on the Kurious stuff. So then it was a natural progression and they’d play me certain things they’d been working on and I’d hear certain tracks and just totally fell in love with their sound. To me, they were taking a certain style to a different level than even someone like a Prince Paul, with it being a little darker and a little heavier. They were definitely very creative with the way they would manipulate sounds. All they really had to do was play me a couple of tapes with tracks they’d done and I was sold right there. I mean, I was already sold on them with the stuff they’d done for Jorge.”
The track they gave you for “Verbal Massage” off “Dust To Dust” still stands as some of the best Beatnuts production ever…
“That beat was ridiculous. Something else that was interesting about recording the album was that, after doing a couple of albums and seeing how much money gets wasted by using a big studio like a Chung King, we actually did “Dust To Dust” in our engineer Adam Gazzola’s house. So we saved a lot of money actually recording it there and then we’d mix it in the bigger studios. That was an interesting process, because it was right at the time when you were able to do more on computers.”
The album had some crazy skits on it. Was that your mother on the answerphone interlude getting upset about her “intelligent son” being at a Public Enemy concert?
“I’m trying to think who’s mother that was (laughs). That wasn’t my mother. It just shows you how long it’s been since I fully listened to the album (laughs). Right at that point, it was around the time that the Jerky Boys were coming out, so that interlude was definitely influenced by that. That was one of my favourite interludes as well. But it definitely wasn’t my mother. It was one of my friend’s mothers. Now you’ve got me thinking and I definitely have to play that back and try to figure out who it was (laughs). The “Pass The Pickle” skit was funny because that was MC Disagree & The Re-Animator. Their stories are funny because those dudes basically hung out with us when we were still trying to make it as 3rd Bass and obviously they had the tie-ins with the Beastie Boys and everything. But at a certain point, John, who was the Re-Animator and lived on the Lower East Side, when we did the first album we had that part where we said you can call up our man Re-Animator and put his number out there. We did all that s**t totally unplanned, just gave out his number and didn’t even tell him. At any point, he would be at home and he would have girls calling him up from Sweden or whatever. But he loved it because he would actually talk to all these people (laughs). That’s actually how he met a guy who would become a good friend to mostly all of us, this kid Beckham. He started to come to a lot of our shows. He called-up John, John got him in touch with us, then next thing you know this kid’s doing the shows with us (laughs). It was nuts.”
So it was the ultimate fan hotline…
“I mean, you think you’re doing something just as a goof, and then John was just getting calls all day long. I remember, he had some calls from people trying to buy Serch’s underwear (laughs). It got to the point where I used to give him stuff to send out to people (laughs). I mean, I had a fan show up who’d tracked me down just recently who collects all kinds of 3rd Bass memorabilia. I have to laugh because I’ve been collecting baseball memorabilia since I was a kid and my interest is in fraud in that particular industry, so I’ve been known to track down old-time baseball guys in the same way that this guy tracked me down. So I definitely had to hit him off with some items.”
I guess your passion for baseball helps you put it into context when you meet old 3rd Bass fans who’re still so enthusiastic about the group, because you are to us what an old baseball player would be to you…
“Exactly (laughs). So I definitely don’t look at people like they’re nuts when they do approach me like that. I definitely appreciate it.”
Unless they’re asking for underwear…
“That’s when it kinda goes wrong (laughs)…”
What was the deal with the Drednotz who were also featured on “Dust To Dust” and went on to release the brilliant “Causin’ A Menace” single in 94 on Elektra?
“The Drednotz were Rich’s group and Benz was the main emcee. Rich had gotten them a deal and that was totally his thing. But we put Benz on “Dust To Dust” on the “3 Blind Mice” track with Kurious. But Drednotz were another great group at that time who kind of got lost in the mix. Artifacts were another great group who were affiliated with us on the management side through Bobbito, and they still have a great following today. But I guess at that time, that was the point where things started to get saturated, even on the underground.”
Taking it back a little, how did you first actually meet Kurious?
“When I was at Columbia, my room-mate and the guy who ended-up being our 3rd Bass road-manager, SAKE, he was a graffiti artist and was also on my basketball team. We lived on 100th & Columbus and Jorge’s building was over on the otherside of the park on, like, 97th. So I knew Jorge through the neighbourhood and also through Bobbito because he lived in Jorge’s building. So when Jorge came-up, he would just be hanging-out at clubs rhyming. First, we got Bobbito a job at Def Jam starting at the bottom. I remember he showed he had potential over there in terms of knowing what the kids were listening to in the streets. I remember he was up on Special Ed before anyone else was (laughs). So then they had him promoting records over at Def Jam, then one thing led to another and he took it further with his own talents. Then Bobbito got Jorge a little gig working at Def Jam and so then he was around everybody and it went from there.”
How much of an impact did Subroc’s tragic passing in 1993 have on you?
“I think the point when Subroc passed away was a real turning point. I mean, I had KMD with Serch, we were their managers, they came in as basically like this innocent group of devout Muslim artists who were very young. Then they got a little older, started to get their own identities, then next thing you know they’re drinking forties and poppin’ acid all over the place. I had Subroc come to my office several times with a machete in his coat and I’d be like, ‘You’ve gotta calm down, man.’ I remember he came to the office one time, I hit him off with an advance for one of their records or whatever, and I figured I had to drive him to the Long Island Railroad so that I knew I’m getting him on the train and he’s not going to get into any trouble. So I’m driving him to the station and he’s asking me how much dynamite it would take to blow up the railroad station in his town in Long Beach?! He was definitely experimenting with drugs and s**t and it was very hard to keep tabs and keep control on the artists that I was dealing with. Then when Subroc actually died it was just such a shock, even though in some ways you could see it coming, y’know. It was just very disconcerting all around.”
Zev Love X’s re-emergence some years later as MF Doom has to be one of the greatest artist comebacks in the history of Hip-Hop…
“I’ve gotta give it to Doom, because he went underground for awhile and was just totally out of it. Then he re-emerged doing the poetry slams and everything and just totally re-invented himself with the whole MF Doom persona. I don’t know if you already know this, but Lord Scotch designed that whole mask. Then you had MF Grimm who was also involved with Doom’s re-emergence early on, but then they had beef. But there were just so many talented people involved with what we did when you look at the outreach of the wider crew, with the whole KMD crew, Kurious and all of his people, the whole 3rd Bass army (laughs). I mean, when you look at Serch as well and the whole Nas thing, there was definitely a lot of influence all the way around. It’s interesting to look back so many years after the fact and see where everything fitted together.”
So did you make a conscious decision to step away from the music business after the release of “Dust To Dust” or did it happen gradually?
“It got to a point where personally I got really disillusioned over just the whole music business in general. Subroc died. What happened with KMD. What happened with our project. That was the time when I started doing a lot of things outside of music, then one thing led to another and it was like, ‘Okay, well this is where things are going.’ I think, also personally for me, Kurious’s first album was dope but was a very slept-on album. We had a certain push at Columbia on it, but also at the same time Nas was coming out and he obviously overtook Kurious in terms of being a label priority. But Jorge had enough success and sales, which I think was about 150,000 copies, to do a second album. Columbia were all-set for that to happen. Then Jorge just kinda disappeard for awhile and didn’t want to be involved. That was just such a crazy time. I mean, I had Jorge not wanting to get into the studio, and then I had Cage who we were trying to put a project together for. Me and Bobbito were basically getting him beats from everyone under the sun, like DJ Premier, and Cage was just like, ‘I don’t like these beats.’ Then when we finally did get him to do something, his lyrics are talking about how he wants to take out a Sony exec with a sawed-off shotgun (laughs). I mean, Cage was like Eminem way before there even was an Eminem, but it just wasn’t timely. If there had never been an Eminem and Cage had come later, he probably could have had a lot more success commercially. When I put him on the “Rich Bring ‘Em Back” record off “Dust To Dust”, he was nice, man.”
The Kurious debut project definitely ranks as one of the greatest albums of the 90s. I remember when Columbia first started pushing both Kurious and Nas thinking how ironic it was that they were doing split-page ads in The Source featuring them both given the 3rd Bass connection each artist had…
“That was bizarre to me. I mean, it made sense on one side because a label only has so much money to promote new artists and there were some similarities between Kurious and Nas, but at the same time they were also very different. But the thing with Jorge was, Columbia were behind him, and obviously my label Hoppoh would have been operational for a lot longer if he’d decided to do that second album. But he kinda went off into the mountains to meditate (laughs)…”
Did Kurious ever give you a reason why he didn’t do that second album at the time?
“I think it was just a mental thing where he wanted to get away from everything for awhile. I mean, we would get him all sorts of beats but one thing just led to another. Then, of course, I had the artist Count Bass D who was really talented and his album was incredible. I thought Count Bass D could have hit and blow-up more than anything, but it just didn’t happen.”
So how long was it before you actually first spoke to Serch after the 3rd Bass break-up?
“I think it was around 96 / 97 when we first spoke after the group split. The graffiti artist and designer Cey Adams had a company called The Drawing Board with Steve Carr and they would do all the in-house artwork for Def Jam. Then Steve started doing videos for people like Heavy D and he’s a big Hollywood director now and did the “Daddy Day Care” movie and things like that. So they played a joke to put me and Serch together on the phone without either of us knowing about it. So that was the first time we’d spoken in years. Out of that reconnection there was talk of a reunion album and we got in the studio and cut a couple of records which I think Serch has since put out online. Then we did Woodstock in 1999 and also Tommy Hilfiger’s brother’s birthday party. So we were actually doing some stuff together, but we just never officially took the full-step to do a whole album. Part of that was down to me being involved in so many other things and not being able to devote the time to it. It’s funny, because both Serch and Rich have spoken to me recently about there being a lot of interest for us to do certain shows and I’m like, ‘Listen, let’s see what happens and maybe I’ll come out of the mothballs.’
Do you still ever write any rhymes at all?
“Because I’m writing my book and I’m writing all the time, I sometimes do think about writing rhymes, but I can honestly say I haven’t written too many rhymes lately (laughs). You do have thoughts that come into your head at times that give you flashbacks, but I haven’t had the motivation to actually write anything. But I guess you’d consider it more poetry at this time rather than just rhymes (laughs). I mean, I can definitely see there’s a lot of nostalgia out there for music of the time we were out as 3rd Bass, but I always lose respect for artists who are way past their prime and then try to put a new album out. I actually respect it more when older artists go out on tour and actually focus on the older material that the fans want to see them performing. But I was in the city the other night and was just flipping the stations and I guess there’s a little buzz on that new Edo.G album and I got into it just listening to a couple of songs. I thought it was pretty good.”
Are there any particular golden-era Hip-Hop albums that you still reach for today when you want to listen to some music?
“Personally, I’d have to say the ones I was involved in like the Kurious album and the KMD stuff, which is kinda self-serving for me to say that but I do actually still listen to them. But then I’ll listen to to the Jungle Brothers first album which will always be a classic to me, all the Public Enemy stuff, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest. Even going back to old Just-Ice stuff. The first Brand Nubian album is one of my favourites of all-time and Grand Puba was always a favourite emcee of mine. The Eric B. & Rakim albums. There’s just so much music from that period in Hip-Hop which has stood the test of time. I know people say you sound like an old-timer when you’re there saying that s**t was doper back when we were doing it, but I really think it was (laughs). There’s something missing in the music today and it’s just not as organic and creative as it used to. I’m sure there are artists like that out there, but everything’s just so fragmented now that it must be so hard for anyone like that to breakthrough on a commercial level and get that kind of recognition.”
Finally, looking back, what would you consider to be the legacy of 3rd Bass?
“I would hope on one level that me, Serch and Rich came up as group that looked beyond race, really had no hang-ups about that and put it out there to both Black and white kids that, ‘Hey, you can be a white kid and be into Hip-Hop.’ I would hope that would be the most enduring legacy that we have. Beyond that, if people still like the music and it holds-up years after and people can listen to it and reminisce on it as being part of the golden-age of Hip-Hop, if people put us in the same realms as our own favourite groups of the time, then that’s like the ultimate compliment. We put out quality music and never sold out to any other influences that were out there at the time. A lot of kids today can’t even begin to comprehend what things were like for me and Serch when we came out, let alone just battling people or doing shows, but actually putting out the records, promoting the records and having hits. I look back on it all now and it’s amazing that things even happened.”
It’s always a great experience to speak with artists I grew-up listening to, but in this particular instance I’d like to give huge props to Pete Nice for being so generous with his time to ensure this interview got completed (three hours on the phone in total!) and for being so detailed and honest with his memories, thoughts and opinions.
Word To The Third!
Visit Pete’s site HaulsOfShame.Com to catch up on his activity in the world of baseball.
1990 3rd Bass Appearance On “The Arsenio Hall Show” Performing “The Gas Face”.