In this second instalment of my interview with Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, the Brooklyn-bred Hip-Hop legend discusses almost signing to Sugarhill Records, recording the group’s debut 1986 album “On Fire” and rocking the stage at NYC’s infamous Latin Quarter – check Part One here.
So how did you get involved in the Mr. Magic competition that subsequently led to Stetsasonic securing a record deal?
“I’m trying to think how we met Fly Ty because that’s how it came about. We met Tyrone from Cold Chillin’. I don’t remember exactly how we met Fly Ty, that’s something that Delite probably would remember better. But we met Ty somehow and he liked us, so he was kind of managing us for a time, and at the same time he was managing Roxanne Shante and I think he had Biz Markie as well. It was at the time when they were first trying to pull that whole Cold Chillin’ roster together. Ty was telling us that we should enter this rap contest that Mr. Magic was putting on. Now, we’d been entering different contests prior to the Mr. Magic thing. But as Delite so eloquently puts it, we always kept coming in second (laughs). I mean, I remember being beaten by this kid Mike in Brooklyn who was one of the baddest singers I ever heard, which was ill because he ended-up just singing on the train. But I remember Mike beating us one time. I remember losing to Father Taheem out in Queens. I remember all of that. It’s not like we were wack, but we just kept coming in second (laughs). I remember one time we had a tie and we got thirty three dollars and some cents because we had to split the one hundred dollars prize money with Doug E. Fresh and Busy Bee at a competition at the Roxy (laughs). I was mad because Doug came on with Ricky, Slick Rick, and that was the first time Doug had brought Rick out. They actually performed “Treat Her Like A Prositute” that night. I left early because I was so mad (laughs). I remember Delite coming to my house, explaining that we’d tied and giving me this money, but telling me that I shouldn’t have left (laughs).”
So what happened with the Mr. Magic contest?
“So anyway, Fly Ty told us we should enter the contest and we did it. I’m not sure how many times we performed before we got into the finals. It might have been twice or it might have been three times. But we performed in different boroughs of New York and every time we did it went really well and the people loved us. Each time we got boosted up to the next level.”
Who else do you remember being in the competition?
“I know there were other people who ended up making records who performed as part of the contest, but I can’t really remember who. What I do remember though is that we won so unanimously in the final and Coney Island was going bananas. Now the way it was set up, there were three labels involved who would each give a deal to the artists in first, second and third place. I remember Pop Art was the third place label, Tommy Boy was second place and Sugarhill Records was first place. I always tell people that if we’d been smart we’d have gone with Lawrence Goodman and Pop Art as that could have led us to Next Plateau with the link he had with Salt-N-Pepa and all the success they had. But that’s a whole other story, right. I mean, Lawrence told us that day that we should have rocked with him, but we didn’t. Then there was Tommy Boy, but as we’d won first place we weren’t really thinking about Tommy Boy at that time. So we ended up doing the Sugarhill thing and Fly Ty knew Sylvia Robinson and all those guys. So we won the competition and now Sugarhill are going to offer us this contract. We went up to Sugarhill Records in New Jersey and it was just a joke. It was like this crazy, whole pre-staged thing. I mean, the Furious Five were playing frisbee in the parking lot when we arrived, Melle Mel comes out from the back of the house with two girls up under his arms, like ‘What’s up Daddy-O?’ I’ll never forget, Leland Robinson, who was real young at the time, but he was out there with a new Toyota which was the hot car at the time. So he was cleaning the rims of his Toyota and then Joey Robinson Jr. drove in with a Benz.”
So they were really pulling out all the stops to show you there was big money at Sugarhill…
“Exactly. Now Sugarhill had two properties that looked exactly the same, one at the bottom of the hill in New Jersey and one up the hill. So we were at the one down the hill, and then they said they were going to take us to the other property up the hill as Sylvia Robinson wanted to meet us. So we went, and all of us in the group tell this story the same way, but we kinda felt like her Rolls Royce keys were strategically placed on the counter in the house and things like that (laughs). Sylvia kept saying, ‘The kids have been raging about y’all’, but when they gave us the contract it was just horrible…”
Locking you in for ten years with two percent royalties or something?
“It was exactly two percent royalties (laughs). It was four percent wholesale. But we were just like, ‘Yo, this is just…no.’ Not that our Tommy Boy deal ended up being that much better, but I did love the flexibility and the time that we had with Tommy Boy. So we told Fly Ty, we’re not rocking with Sugarhill. He was trying to convince us to go with them and saying how big they were as a label and if we put a record out on Sugarhill then it would blow up. But we were all just like, ‘This is wack!’”
So you decided to take the competition’s second prize of signing with Tommy Boy…
“That’s right. It was actually Tom Silverman at Tommy Boy who taught us what a hook was in a record because we didn’t know (laughs). Our first single “Just Say Stet” was originally a record we’d made that was just called “Stetsasonic” and the hook we ended-up using, ‘If you can’t say it all, Just say Stet…’, was originally just a line from one of my rhymes. Tom heard that line and was like, ‘That’s a hook!’ and we were like, ‘What do you mean?’ So he explained the whole thing about using that line as a hook. Then after the single dropped we started working on the first album, “On Fire”.”
“On Fire” dropped in 1986 but that same year you and Delite appeared on the Incredible Mr. Freeze single “Back To The Scene Of The Crime” on Pow Wow Records. How did that come about?
“Freeze was another guy that I knew through Kevin Porter. It’s funny because at that time we were trying so hard to get on. But Stetsasonic’s road to getting put on was so different to everyone else’s (laughs). Now, Freeze was from East New York, he had a record deal, and he said to us, ‘Yo, I want you guys to rhyme on this.’ But to be honest, we weren’t really in love with the beat on that particular track…”
I always thought perhaps the reason you were featured on that single was due to the fact it was produced by Arthur Baker and the connection he had with Tommy Boy…
“No, no. Like I said, we already knew Freeze and at the time that he got his deal we were killing the park jams. Freeze wished that he was getting what me and Delite were getting in Alabama Park. I mean, once we started doing those Alabama jams, we got nice. Delite became everything I wanted him to become. I mean, D would say to me, ‘Yo, do I sound good?’ and I’d be like, ‘D, you don’t know how good you sound.’ I mean, his voice next to mine and the way we would bounce off of each other….”
When Stetsasonic’s first album came out I was still a huge Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five fan and I would judge any new group I heard against them. I always remember thinking at the time that, to me, Delite was to Stet what Cowboy was to the Furious Five in terms of how his voice had such a big presence on record…
“Absolutely. You nailed it one thousand percent. I loved the way we sounded together and what Delite brought to the group. I mean, we were really doing it out in those parks, so Freeze wanted us on his record because he’d already told us that he loved what we were doing. When we actually recorded “Back To The Scene Of The Crime” we didn’t even had a record deal ourselves. So doing that record was part of us trying to get on and get ourselves a deal.”
At what point did Stet first start referring to themselves as ‘The Hip-Hop Band’?
“We started using that name when DBC first came onboard. We didn’t have Bobby Simmons in the group yet on the drums. But we started using the Hip-Hop Band name when DBC joined us because me and Delite looked around and said, ‘Holy s**t, we’ve got a band now.’ The band to us was always DBC, Wise and Paul, because those guys could play music all day, whether it be on the drum machine, the human beatbox or the turntables. Then you had the three emcees, which was me, Delite and Frukwan. I mean, if you listen to “On Fire”, you hear us talking about being the six-man band. One of the most prominent lines on “On Fire” that related to how we saw ourselves was, ‘If you call us a group, we’ll call you a liar, Stetsasonic is a band my man, We’re on fire!’”
So how did Bobby Simmons originally become involved with the group?
“Okay, this is a long story (laughs). When we did “Go Stetsa I” I had originally programmed the beat on the LinnDrum for that track and it was an old-school James Brown beat, right? But I wanted drum rolls. Now, me and Delite we had a friend called Nawthar Muhammad and he played the drums. So we asked him to come in and do drum rolls and cymbals for the track. I remember we were in Calliope Studios and I was telling him exactly where I wanted him to do a cymbal, do a roll, and he did it. But we had to play a little beat up underneath what he was doing so that he could keep the beat. It was so unplanned, but the drums on “Go Stetsa” are only three tracks. We had a mic on him and then a mic all the way on the other side of the studio in the bathroom that we used for ambience. So if you listen to my verse on “Go Stetsa” we dropped that ambience track out and then we bring it back. So that’s why my line ‘Brooklyn, New York is our hometown…’ sounds so tight because we took that track out. So it was so unplanned, because we’d talked to the engineer and he’d said we didn’t need to put extra mics on the drums if all we were doing was recording a roll.”
Bob Power of A Tribe Called Quest fame engineered that record, right?
“Bob Power was a pain in the ass (laughs). We taught Bob Power how to make all these types of Hip-Hop records. I’m not saying he wasn’t already a good engineer, but he really cut his teeth with Stetsasonic. I mean, this is obviously pre-D’Angelo and all of that. In fact, the reason he got hooked up with all of that was through me and Kedar Massenburg being connected, but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, he was a good engineer but it was very difficult for us to deal with him back then because of what we were trying to do. Especially me and Prince Paul because of the type of guys we are. We are super spontaneous in the studio.”
Plus, with Hip-Hop still being relatively new, it must have been a completely different recording experience to what studio engineers were used to in comparison to working with artists from other genres…
“Right, right. So on and off Bob Power wouldn’t be available and we’d be happy when he wasn’t (laughs). So the reason we hooked up with Bob Colter is because we’d already tried working with all these different engineers and things just hadn’t worked out. I mean, we even tried the tech guy because we thought he might work as he knew so much about all of the equipment. One of the biggest problems we had was that we had this raw sound because we were still trying to mimick the whole two turntables and a mic sound, and the engineers used to always clean it up and we’d be like, ‘That’s not what we want!’ Then we’d go through this whole thing and they’d end up giving the music back to us how we originally wanted it and that was something they could have done two hours before (laughs). So anyway, one day we had Bob Colter in the studio, who we later found out was just as spontaneous as we were. So anyway, he pulls up the “Go Stetsa” track which we were getting ready to work on, but he only pulls up the live drums and the vocals, I guess because of the way the track was labelled. So then he’s getting ready to pull up the drum machine track and I just said, ‘Whoa! Hold up, hold up. Play it like that.’ I was like, ‘Delite, come over here. Do you hear this s**t?’ And that’s how “Go Stetsa” ended-up sounding the way it did with the drums. Which is a very long story to say, that experience then let us know exactly how we sounded on live drums and that we could use those live drums in a way that didn’t sound like some corny R&B record.”
Is that what then gave you the idea of putting Bobby Simmons down with the group?
“So getting back to Bobby, remember I mentioned DJ Scooter Love and the Kickin’ Coffin earlier? Bobby used to carry records for those guys and was already my boy from Brownsville. So Bobby was now the back-up deejay for Red Alert at the Latin Quarter when we started poppin’. He walked up to me one day and said, ‘Yo, D. I know you cut “Go Stetsa” with drums and you know that I’m nice on the drums. We should try it one time…’ and I just said, ‘Let’s do it!’ But it was an ill set-up the way we performed with Bobby in the Latin Quarter for the first time. Now, the best way I can describe it to you is if you look at the video to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Tramp”, you can see how the Latin Quarter worked. The stage they had was up top and then the dance-floor was at the bottom. We had to put Bobby and his drums down on the floor and then we were up top on the stage. But it turned out dope as hell.”
So Bobby was performing with Stet in a live context before he actually started working with the group in the studio?
“Exactly. I mean, the live performances were coming out so dope that by the time we went into the studio to do “In Full Gear”, Bobby was officially in the group.”
Touching on the Latin Quarter for a moment, what memories do you have of that particular spot?
“Overall, I remember that the Latin Quarter represented the underground. I mean, I know that word gets used over and over, but it’s really the only word I’ve got to describe what was happening in New York back then. I mean, at the time, Russell Simmons was really starting to blow with the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, he had Whodini, so the commercial part of being on the radio and getting big money for tours was starting to happen and a lot of that was happening with Russell. Russell was that guy who was doing all of that. But then there were the rest of us, and all the rest of us had to cut our teeth at the Latin Quarter. Now, this is obviously prior to us being managed by Rush a little later down the line. But when it came to the Latin Quarter, you had Stetsasonic, you had Ultramagnetic MC’s, you had Boogie-Down Productions, Lumumba Carson who went on to be Professor X in X-Clan was hanging out there with me as he was managing us for awhile, you had Just-Ice, even Kid-N-Play and a little later on the Audio Two. It was actually through meeting Audio Two at the Latin Quarter that I ended-up producing “Top Billin’” for them because Red Alert used to play “I Like Cherries” all the time. Of course, Red Alert played a huge part in the Latin Quarter, then along with Red came the Violators. So you had all of this real Hip-Hop that was happening in this place and it was kinda the polar opposite at the time of what Russell was doing with the tours and all of that.”
When you think back to that time, are there any particular moments that standout to you that really represent the Latin Quarter experience?
“One particular moment that I always think of when people ask me about the Latin Quarter was Red Alert playing Eric B. & Rakim’s “My Melody” for the first time. Yo, man, that might even be my most magical moment in Hip-Hop. That was the first time that any of us had heard it. I remember it coming on and just thinking, ‘What the hell is happening right now?’ The way the record started with the keyboard and then it goes into those drums was just crazy, but then Rakim’s voice came on and everyone was just like, ‘Yooooooo!’ I mean, none of us who went to the Latin Quarter knew Rakim at this point. Actually, Biz Markie knew Rakim because he used to be out on Long Island. But the rest of us didn’t know Rakim. We didn’t really know anything about him. The only tapes you could find of Rakim back then were Wyandanch High School parties or whatever from all the way out there in Long Island. I mean, it wasn’t like Rakim was coming and rhyming with people at the Latin Quarter or anything like that. So we still didn’t really know who he was. Which is what made it so ill when everyone heard that record for the first time. Eric B. was there that night though. I remember Eric coming in with his whole massive, Supreme Magnetic and all of those dudes. They were standing there with all these gold rings on and all of that whilst “My Melody” is playing (laughs). It was just the illest thing.”
Just to let everyone know that was their boy Rakim booming over the system…
“Man, that record was so hot that Red Alert played it three times in a row that night. I tell people all the time, that on the streets of New York, “My Melody” was killin’ “Eric B. Is President”. I think “Eric B. Is President” was a better radio record, but “My Melody” was the bigger street record.”
Considering the amount of legendary artists who were part of that Latin Quarter scene, how much of a sense of community was there amongst you all?
“I think it was the tightest Hip-Hop community I’ve ever seen. I mean, the only thing I’ve ever felt that could rival that was when Stetsasonic and Public Enemy shared a tour bus together, but that was just two groups, so it wasn’t what you would call a community like the Latin Quarter. There was so much of a community at the Latin Quarter that Lumumba Carson had actually created a Hip-Hop Coalition thing that Stetsasonic, MC Serch, King Sun, Eric B. & Rakim, all of us were part of that. Also, a lot of us were still doing day jobs at the time, so when it came to paid gigs, the Latin Quarter was one of the only places you could go as an artist. There were a couple of things that might have happened at the Rooftop in Harlem, but they had there own thing going on there. There were a couple of things that might have happened at the USA roller-skating rink out in Queens, but they had there own little thing going on as well. But when it came to some real Hip-Hop, the Latin Quarter was where it was at and everyone wanted to be a part of it. So much so that you had a group like Salt-N-Pepa, who weren’t frequently at the Latin Quarter, but, as I mentioned earlier, they ended up shooting their video for “Tramp” there because that place was a staple of New York Hip-Hop.”
It was the place that everybody wanted to be affiliated with in some way at the time?
“Absolutely. Let me tell you, one of my dopest Latin Quarter stories involves MC Hammer. Now, me and Hammer have been cool for a long time. But when I first met Hammer I met him as Stanley Kirk Burrell of the Holy Ghost Boys. He was the first gospel rapper I ever met in my life. He used to come to the Latin Quarter to watch Stretch and Tron dance. Now, that whole thing he used to do going across the stage that everyone called the Hammer Dance, that was Stretch and Tron’s thing. But the Latin Quarter was like a university or something, man. I mean, I can’t even front, there were some guys who went in there wack who came out dope (laughs). But you really had to be there to fully understand how important the Latin Quarter was, man. Every week there would be someone performing, every week Red Alert would be playing something new, there was the fashion, there was just all this stuff going on. I mean, Union Square was the only real equivalent to Latin Quarter, although they had a lot of problems with violence. But Latin Quarter got violent to. Man, it got so violent that it was ridiculous.”
People who were associated with the Latin Quarter seem to have differing opinions on how violent it actually was there. From what you remember, was violence a regular problem?
“I mean, people were getting robbed at Latin Quarter every week. People were getting robbed and all of that. But the security dudes, Robocop and them, they had a way of getting the trouble out of the club quickly. They did it the same way the guys at the Roxy used to do it early in the disco days. At the Roxy, a fight would break out, the guards would jump in, grab the guy, take him outside, and the party would just keep on going. That’s how they did it at the Latin Quarter as well. But I do remember there was this one particular night that was just the illest night. Paradise was my man and him and Stetsasonic’s then manager Lumumba Carson were cool, so we used to hang out up in the office. Now, the office in the Latin Quarter was also upstairs where the stage was, but it was across from the stage on the other side. Now, this one particular night, man, it just went bananas. We were all standing upstairs in the office just looking down watching this fight break out and it was nuts. People were throwing stuff and it was just really going crazy. I’ll never forget that night…”
Was this the infamous Jackie Wilson benefit event that so many artists have spoken about over the years?
“I don’t remember what night it was. All I remember was, yo, it was like something out of a movie. It was crazy. But like I said, there was always something happening at Latin Quarter, but they were just real good at isolating it quickly and getting it outside. There was a backdoor downstairs that was directly underneath the office and that gave them a pretty straight line to grab the culprit if they were on the dance-floor and then get them straight outside.”
How true is it that “Go Stetsa I” was the Crooklyn stick-up kid anthem at the Latin Quarter?
“For robbing people? Yeah, it was (laughs). That’s true. I don’t know how that happened but it’s true…”
It probably had something to do with that ‘Go Brooklyn!’ chant…
“Maybe it was (laughs). But “Go Stetsa” was definitely the tuck-your-chain record in the Latin Quarter. Once you heard that drum roll, if you weren’t ’bout it then you needed to leave right then (laughs). I don’t really know where that started, but it might have started in prison. I had a homie who was locked-up on Rikers Island when “Go Stetsa” came out and he told me that people used to throw their shoes at the speaker when that record came on the radio. Not to cut the record off, but just because they were excited to hear it. So when “Go Stetsa” came on the radio in prison, people would start throwing their shoes at the speaker (laughs). That’s crazy.”
So dudes were probably coming out of prison and telling people how “Go Stetsa” used to make people go crazy when they were locked-up…
“Exactly (laughs). But yeah, that’s definitely true that “Go Stetsa” was the stick-up kid anthem. That’s not a myth. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. It was nuts. The one thing that we did love though, was that Stetsasonic, and also BDP, had a certain reputation. When both us and BDP performed at the Latin Quarter, no junk went on in the crowd. I can’t say anything about what would happen after, but while we were onstage nothing went down.”
Was that down to the respect the LQ crowd had for Stet and BDP as artists or was it down to the size of the crews that you rolled with?
“It was a little bit of both. I only remember one particular night when I had to get a little bit antsy with the crowd. Someone in the crowd had said something and I just said, ‘Stop the music! Man, they’ll take you out of here in a bag, man…’ and the whole audience started laughing because they knew. But overall, I think a lot of it had to do with the respect both us and BDP had, but it also had a lot to do with the actual entertainment as well. I mean, with Stetsasonic, there was a bunch of us onstage so people knew that was going to be exciting. But with BDP, there was only three of them, Scott La Rock, D-Nice and KRS-One. But to see them onstage was incredible. I mean, even to this day Kris is phenomenal, but back then they were just the illest thing to watch, yo. To watch Kris as a young kid, brand new, doing “Poetry”, we were looking at him like, ‘How the f**k did he come up with this?’ I’m listening to him and watching him as an emcee myself, thinking, ‘Where did this guy come from?’ It was bananas, man. But I would say, aside from Just-Ice, compared to Stetsasonic and BDP, the rest of the artists who would perform at the Latin Quarter didn’t really make the grade. They were okay, they did their thing, they rocked, but not like that. If I could describe it as one thing, they just didn’t keep it interesting enough for the crowd. I mean, with BDP, Scott La Rock would take the SP-12 onstage with them and things like that. So we were always doing something to make it interesting. Like, whatever was the hot record out at the time, we might drop that at the beginning of the show and say a rhyme over it, just to give the people something a little different each time we performed.”
What impact do you remember the news of Scott La Rock’s tragic murder having on the Latin Quarter community?
“I remember Lumumba calling me to tell me what had happened and I couldn’t believe it. We jumped in the car and went Uptown to confirm it. It was hard on all of us, man. Scott was Puffy before Puffy was Puff. Scott had three label deals before he died. He really was about his business and he was about the business of Hip-Hop. So Scott’s whole thing wasn’t just about making the music, it was about how we could be independent and in control of our own music. Scott wasn’t really with Stet being signed to Tommy Boy in particular (laughs). He’d say to me, ‘Daddy-O, you could have you own label.’”
So he had that sense of vision back then to understand how large Hip-Hop could become as a business?
“Exactly. But what made Scott’s death so tough was that, when someone close to you passes away and they’ve reached an old age you can make sense of it, but when it happens to a young person, it’s unexpected. Plus, what made it even more unexpected, was that we were all going through this huge period of growth in Hip-Hop and there was so much happening at the time, so for one of our heroes to get taken out like that, it was just real tough. Obviously we heard what happened around D-Nice getting into some beef over a chick, but then we started to hear rumours that the guy who did it wasn’t even no hardcore dude like that, so it was like ‘C’mon, man. That didn’t have to happen.’ So that was a tough one, man. But as far as KRS, I’m not saying that Kris wasn’t already dope, but it definitely did something to him on the rhyming side…”
There was definitely a huge difference between the KRS you heard on the “Criminal Minded” album in 1987 and the KRS you heard on 1988′s “By All Means Necessary”…
“To me, at that point, KRS-One became the best emcee in the world…”
As as fan, you listened to “Criminal Minded” and thought KRS-One was a great emcee, but you listened to “By All Means Necessary” and thought, ‘This is someone who’s really trying to teach me something here’…
“That situation definitely changed Kris and, this is just my opinion, but I think he felt he definitely had to make sure that Scott’s legacy stood for something. I mean, I wasn’t privy to any of this, but knowing the type of person that Scott was, Scott probably always told Kris to rhyme about the stuff he was talking about on “By All Means Necessary”. I can see Scott La Rock saying to Kris, ‘Yo, man. Why don’t you say something, man?’ So if there was anything good that came out of that whole situation, I guess you can say it was the impact it had on the music KRS went on to make.”
Check Part Three of this interview here.
Stetsasonic – “Go Stetsa I” (Tommy Boy Records / 1986)