Introduced to an unsuspecting Hip-Hop Nation in 1992 via his smash Pete Rock-produced single “Let It All Hang Out” on Atlantic Records, New York’s A.D.O.R. appeared to have the rap world at his feet as he made his presence felt amidst stiff competition that year from the likes of Das EFX, House Of Pain and Redman.
With successful appearances on “Yo! MTV Raps” and “In Living Color” adding to the momentum of his debut single (which cracked the Billboard Top Ten), anticipation steadily built for what A.D.O.R. would deliver next, with his Pete Rock-affiliation and connection to DJ Eddie F’s Untouchables camp leading heads to believe an impressive debut album was imminent.
Unfortunately, bad business, industry politics and strained relationships would all contribute to A.D.O.R.’s album “The Concrete” being significantly delayed and ultimately shelved, with the NY emcee not releasing a follow-up to “Let It All Hang Out” until 1994′s K-Def-produced single “One For The Trouble”.
In the years since his major label deal with Atlantic dissolved in the mid-90s, A.D.O.R. has gone on to build a strong fanbase as an independent artist, releasing five album projects and a number of singles on his Tru Reign imprint which have always stayed faithful to his original soulful boom-bap blueprint.
In this two-part interview, the veteran lyricist discusses his introduction to Hip-Hop, rolling with a young Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, working with the Chocolate Boy Wonder and dealing with the unpredictable nature of the music industry.
You were born and raised in New York City, right?
“Yep, I was born in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Then when I was about six or seven-years-old we moved to Mount Vernon.”
Was it a big change for you moving from the city to the suburbs or did it not really register at that age?
“When I was in Manhattan I was already out in the streets seeing what was happening because there was always something going on and Mount Vernon was kinda like that to. Mount Vernon is the first suburb right outside of the Bronx. I mean, you can actually walk from Mount Vernon to the North East Bronx. So the South Side of Mount Vernon being right next to the Bronx meant that it was really in tune with what was happening in the streets.”
So when were you first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“My father was a musician. Back in the 70s he was a very talented singer in a crazy New York City rock band. They were moving around in the same circles as Kiss and cats like that. It was real. He used to take me down to the studio sometimes and I remember being in the studio with him at five or six-years-old until maybe three in the morning with them just rockin’ out. I would be hearing crazy sounds and ill s**t, mad s**t would be going on. So I was introduced to music really from when I was a baby. Then when I got a little older, my father left us. Now, it’s hard for a young woman on her own to keep control of a young boy, so I was running around in the streets of Mount Vernon and also New York City because it was still so easy to get to. So I was just all up in it back in the 80s. I started hearing about the Zulu Nation from going to school with cats, we used to pop and break-dance. I could pop crazy back then. We used to go to New York to watch the Floor Masters and the Rock Steady Crew. We were on some crazy New York s**t.”
When did you actually first start rhyming?
“Well, before I got into rhyming I became a deejay. It was crazy because my step-father was a musician as well and he played the bass. He was a talented cat. He had these big-ass speakers, like these giant five-foot cabinet Sunn speakers. They were bass speakers for the studio or when you were playing a concert or something. They had like two thirty-four inch bass woofers with the mid-ranges and the tweeters, y’knowwhatI’msayin’? Then one year they brought me mad deejay equipment for Christmas. My mother knew my passion for the music and she had saved up to get me this equipment. I had the Gemini mixer with a pair of Technics turntables, and then my step-father hooked it all up to those speakers in my room! Now, we were in an apartment building, we weren’t in a house. So I was in an apartment in Mount Vernon on the fourth floor. There was another building about twenty feet across from us and then behind us was this huge parking lot with a post office over there and everything. So we were about seventy feet in the air and I used to pump that s**t, dude. I used to pump that s**t, for real! People on the street would be looking around, like ‘What the f**k is going on?!’ I used to look out from our terrace and see people who were crazy far away just looking (laughs). I’m not even exaggerating. It was crazy, bro (laughs).”
What records were you playing?
“Man, I was playing s**t like “Salsa Smurf” from Special Request, Fearless Four “Rockin’ It”, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force “Planet Rock”. I ain’t even gonna front, I was even playing Madonna when her first s**t came out, “Everybody” (laughs). I mean, I’m not saying that I loved Madonna or anything like that, but when she rocked that “Everybody” joint, that s**t was fat, yo. That was when she was still trying to come up on some street s**t and she had some passion in that s**t. “Buffalo Gals” was another one I used to rock and “Jam On It” from Newcleus. So what happened was, I started listening to the instrumentals of those records and would be playing with words just freestyling over them. I realised I had something special and was kinda slick with my s**t, so I kept on doing it.”
Were you running with a crew back then?
“I mean, all my friends were involved in the music and the break-dancing, going to see Rock Steady and the New York City Breakers with cats giving us love. We were kinda dope when it came to the dancing. We’d battle cats at the dances at our school and s**t like that. We were just kids running around with mad energy, smoking, whylin’ out, messing with the honeys, just being on some real New York s**t. I remember when “Beat Street” came out and everything. But I mean, I had friends who were all into the dancing and the music with the partying and the deejay-ing and all of that, but I was the only one out of my group of friends who really tried to do something on the musical side. I think all of my passion and drive for music that I got from my father really started to encompass me and I started to pursue things. I’d make instrumentals using a tape-recorder and just spit my vocals over that s**t and people would hear what I was doing and be like, ‘Yo, that’s kinda crazy.’”
So when did it get serious for you in terms of actually trying to break into the music industry?
“I got a meeting with Def Jam before I was really connected with anyone in Mount Vernon. One of my boys Scott was running with Hank Shocklee and them from the Bomb Squad. I met Scott just running around on some New York party s**t. So we befriended each other and he ended up starting to do some work at Def Jam. This would have been around the time that 3rd Bass were just coming out, so you’re looking at the late-80s. I’d started going to New York City to work out of some studios in Manhattan to make a demo. So I had a demo package I’d put together which had a couple of good records in it. Scott took that up to Def Jam and then Lyor Cohen actually called my house one day.”
That must have been a surprise…
“Yeah, this is real, man. Lyor called my house and told me that he wanted to meet with me. So I went down to Def Jam. It was one of those things where at the time I wasn’t really thinking about what a big deal that was, but then later you sit back and reflect on it. It’s like Derek Jeter when he said how he’s going on this journey and it is what it is, but one day later he’ll reflect on everything that’s happened in his life and be like, ‘Wow! That was kinda special.’ So anyway, I met with Lyor, I played him a couple of my records and nothing ever came of it. I mean, Lyor obviously felt something from the music he’d already heard from me for him to call to arrange the meeting, but I didn’t end-up getting signed to Def Jam. Maybe they thought that because they had 3rd Bass already that they didn’t need another non-Black artist. I mean, it was tough back then as a non-Black artist to make some real Hip-Hop that was appreciated for what it was.”
Were you battling other emcees at this time?
“I mean, I could always hold my own when it came to freestyling and spit some clever s**t. But I wasn’t running around like a battle-rap cat wanting to eat muthaf**kers heads wearing a back-pack and all that (laughs). That really wasn’t my thing. I was more about just wanting to make some ill music.”
Was it a big deal in Mount Vernon in the mid-80s when Uptown Records started blowing-up with Heavy D & The Boyz?
“Hell yeah! I mean, I went to school with some of those cats from when we were little kids and knew them either directly or indirectly. I mean, some of my boys who I was cool with were running with Heavy D and Puffy. Mount Vernon is a small city. Hev was the first cat to really blow from Mount Vernon and he was like the star of the city. We used to see him running around with his jeep and everything when he’d just got signed and “The Overweight Lover’s In The House” had just come out. It was a great time for Mount Vernon. Now, all through that time I was still working on my music and I had a fat demo. From being around my boy Will, he knew Puff, so I used to run into Puff all the time. So I gave Puff my demo. S**t, when Puff first started working at Uptown, I used to go to the office and he’d let me in through the back and we’d just talk and chill. I had this demo I’d made called “I Wonder Why” and Puff loved that record. That was the track that made Puff think that I might have something.”
You mentioned your friend Will – was that the same guy who appeared on “Yo! MTV Raps” with you back in 1992?
“Yeah, exactly (laughs). Will was my friend from childhood. Now, when I made the demos, I put a package together and started shopping that s**t. That was how you did it back then. You put something together and if you knew cats who were involved in music then you gave them something to listen to. There wasn’t no internet or any of this crazy stuff like there is now. But Puff believed in me and actually started really working my s**t and shopping my demo around. But then soon after that he started getting involved with Mary J. Blige and Biggie and all that s**t right, so I didn’t know if he was really looking out for me. I knew he believed in me, but I didn’t really know how hard Puff was pushing my material, plus I was being impatient at the time as well.”
So would this have been around 1990 when Puffy was first making his mark at Uptown?
“Exactly. This was when Puff was at Uptown making artists like Jodeci and first really putting it together. Funny story, I remember when Puff really got to me one day. He was real cool with me and he always believed in me as an artist and I’ll always appreciate him for that. But I was in his office one day and I was still making demos because people were saying they wanted to hear some more s**t. So I’m making more songs and I’d made this particular track which I took to his office so he could hear it. Puff let’s me in the office and we’re in the back chillin’ and he’s got K-Ci, JoJo, Dalvin and Devante in the office with him. So I play him the new record I’d just done and Puff was like, ‘I don’t really like it that much.’ I thought the record was hot! So after it had finished Puffy turned to Dalvin and was like, ‘Would you buy this?’ and Dalvin was like, ‘Nah, I really wouldn’t buy that.’ That made me so mad, bro. That made me so mad and I think that’s what changed my relationship with Puff a little bit. I mean, that was his way, but it kinda affected me at the time. So I was just like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ But this was all around the time when Puff still had demo packages of mine and had sent some s**t out to Tommy Boy and Columbia. Then all of a sudden my man Buttnaked Tim Dawg, Tim Patterson, he was running around in the music industry with all of them as well. Now, Heavy D & The Boyz had already blown-up and at the time DJ Eddie F had signed Pete Rock & CL Smooth to his Untouchables Entertainment and had gotten them a deal with Elektra.”
Did you already know Pete or CL prior to this?
“Pete and I knew each other just from running around in music. Plus, I knew Pete’s little brother Grap Luva from when we’d be break-dancing back in the day. I battled Grap Luva and we used to pop together. He was nice. So me and Pete knew each other, but we weren’t all directly connected musically. They had their little world with Hev and Al B. Sure! and Pete Rock & CL Smooth and I had my own little A.D.O.R. world. I mean, we had mutual friends and we’d be at parties coming up and they definitely knew me, but I wasn’t all up in there with them as far as the music was concerned. I was really trying to do my own thing. So I wasn’t involved in music because I was from Mount Vernon and was running around with Pete Rock, Heavy D, Eddie F and Puffy. I was a musician anyway and was already doing my own thing. But I mean, we were all at high-school together. We were all at high-school at the same time, me, Hev, Puff, Pete Rock, Al B. Sure!. I mean, one of my best friends Akbar, he was a cousin of Al. B Sure!. But there were like four thousand kids in Mount Vernon High School (laughs).”
So how did you actually get signed to Untouchables Entertainment?
“So what happened was Tim Patterson brought my demo package to Eddie F and he liked it. Now, Tim Dawg had started doing A&R for Eddie’s Untouchables Entertainment. So Eddie was signing all these groups to his production company, producing their material with people like Nevelle Hodge, Dave Hall and Pete Rock, and then Eddie would take the music to the labels and get the deals.”
Considering your connection to Puffy, was there ever any talk of you signing to Uptown?
“It was always possible and was something that maybe could have happened. But at the time, Puff had Jodeci, Heavy D, he started messing with Biggie. So I don’t know if he thought I was going to be a right move for him at that time. I mean, they were on some Uptown new-jack swing s**t…”
So they would have been looking for the next Father MC…
“Exactly. They were on that R&B Hip-Hop s**t and I was more on that organic New York Hip-Hop s**t. I mean, I think there was definitely times when Puff mentioned to Andre Harrell like, ‘What’s up with this white boy?’ and Andre was probably like, ‘Ahhh, I don’t know.’ That s**t was real, man. I mean, even to this day there aren’t that many non-Black artists who have made a real mark on Hip-Hop culture. I mean, I was like the first non-Black solo artist that made real organic New York soul Hip-Hop s**t. I mean, 3rd Bass were doing that ill god-body New York Def Jam s**t, but me, I was on some soulful, jazzy s**t. But as a non-Black artist in Hip-Hop we had to deal with a lot of s**t back then.”
Was there anything in particular that made you decide to sign with Eddie F and Untouchables Entertainment?
“Well, Eddie F was the first person to show me something concrete. He had paperwork. Puffy hadn’t done anything like that at that point. I didn’t really know what was going on with Puff. We were communicating a little bit, but not to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, Puff’s definitely going to get me a record deal.’ So Eddie offered me paperwork and I signed the s**t. That weekend I was at a party, Puff runs up to me at the party and is like, ‘Yo! You signed with Eddie?!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah…’ and Puff’s saying ‘I’m out here working your s**t! I had s**t going!’ I mean, maybe he did have some stuff about to happen with some labels. I don’t know. But we weren’t really communicating like that. All I knew is that, at the time, I wanted to move forward with my music and that’s why I signed with Eddie F and Untouchables.”
You mentioned Biggie earlier – did you ever meet Big whilst you were still in contact with Puffy?
“Hell yeah! Me and Big had a great connection. I remember I did a show with him one time in New York City with Stretch Armstrong, Outkast, Craig Mack, Smif-N-Wessun and Keith Murray. I was in the studio with Big as well when he was working on his early material and Tim Dawg was still at Uptown. That’s Tim you can hear on “Party & Bulls**t”. But yeah, we smoked herb together in the studio. This was when as A.D.O.R. I was more famous than Big and he was showing me love (laughs). He was cool though, man. Back in those early days you could tell that he was just trying to make something out of his life and that he was definitely blessed with talent.”
So after you signed with Eddie F was it a case of him then putting you straight into the studio to start working on tracks to shop to a label?
“Exactly. But one thing that happened in-between that I almost forgot is that in the midst of all that, while I was making demos and working with other producers, another producer from Mount Vernon who was my boy from school had starting making some noise in the music industry. His name was Tony Dofat. So, me and Tone started working together and before the Untouchables situation I actually signed a production agreement with Tony Dofat to make three records where I wouldn’t have to pay for them. It was a case of us making a demo and then if anything ever happened on the strength of the music we made then he would be part of the project. That was actually the first real contract I ever signed. Tony was working out of this studio in the Bronx with this cat called Greg Rogers and he was one of his producers. So I did that deal with Tony and then did the deal with Eddie F.”
Lookout for Part Two of this interview coming soon.
A.D.O.R. performing his debut single “Let It All Hang Out” on “In Living Color” in 1992.