In Part One of this interview with legendary lyricist Mikey D, the Queens, NY emcee discussed his earliest Hip-Hop memories, meeting LL Cool J and battling Kool G. Rap. In this next instalment, the Rotten Apple representative talks about working with the late, great producer Paul C., signing to Sleeping Bag Records in the late-80s and his historic New Music Seminar battle with Grandmaster Melle Mel.
How did you actually meet Paul C.?
“I met Paul C. through Will Seville and Eddie O’Jay of the Clientele Brothers. We lived in Laurelton and Paul C. lived in Rosedale which were within walking distance. So Will and Eddie picked me and Johnny Quest up one day and told us we’re going to this producer’s house. They’re telling us how this dude is kinda nice and how he’s got his studio set-up. Now, at that time, it was unheard of to have a studio in your crib and stuff like that. But Paul had his equipment hooked-up in his garage. I’d never heard of Paul before, but they took us there, and I remember Paul asking me to rhyme. I did my thing and me and Paul really hit it off from that point on. I mean, Paul really wasn’t dealing with Hip-Hop on a big scale at that time. He was still down with his band and all of that. Then he got offered a job to be an engineer at 1212 Studio. Now, prior to that, me and Quest were always going to Paul’s house making tapes for the street. Then once Paul got that job at 1212, after the sessions were finished late at night he would call us and be like ‘Come to the studio, let’s work!’ So we used to jump on the bus, head over to 1212 and that’s when it really started to happen.”
What were your first impressions of Paul when you met him?
“He wasn’t what I was expecting to see at all. I wouldn’t say he looked like a nerd, he looked a little bit cooler than a nerd (laughs). But Paul was really quiet and really humble. I don’t know really what I expected to see when we went over there. Maybe like a punk rocker dude with an attitude and a chip on his shoulder (laughs). But Paul was just really humble, super cool and so friendly. Paul’s personality definitely didn’t match the beats he was making (laughs). So at that time we were branching away from Reality, the Symbolic Three and all that because I was getting tired of writing for other people and knew I had something to offer myself. So me and Johnny Quest put Paul C. down with the L.A. Posse. Now, Johnny Quest and Paul, that was all I needed. I had a hot deejay that nobody could touch, I was a hot rapper that nobody could touch, and now, I’ve got this producer that nobody can touch in Paul C.. A white guy at that?! Oh my god! (laughs).”
From what you can remember was Paul C. aware that what he was doing in terms of chopping samples etc. was so revolutionary at that time and would have such an impact on Hip-Hop?
“Doing those beats was just natural for Paul. I mean, none of us ever really used to listen to the radio to hear what else was going on, we just stayed original to what we wanted to do. With Paul, I don’t think he thought it was going to become as big as it did in terms of his production. He just did what he did. It was effortless to him. He didn’t even really have to try that hard, it just came so naturally to him. Paul C. was a genius. Like, you remember my record “Bust A Rhyme Mike”, right, the flipside of “My Telephone”? Now, who would have ever thought of me doing the human beatbox? Paul told me to go ‘Boom’, ‘Kick’, that was all he told me do. That’s all I did. Then Paul hooked the beat up from that, which was crazy to me back then. Same thing with “I Get Rough”. The bassline on that track was Rahzel’s voice. What Paul C. was doing back then was incredible to me.”
So what was a typical studio session with Paul like back then?
“We would just go in and that was it. There was a store downstairs and we would go and buy some sandwiches and beer to take up to the studio. At that time, Paul was smoking his little joints of weed. We would just get creative and be in that studio until like seven the next morning. And at any given time you would have all sorts of different people in there with us as well. Large Professor was up in some of those early studio sessions we had, but he was real young then and I didn’t know who he was or that he’d go on to become Large Professor (laughs). Everybody was coming through 1212 at that time. That’s how I met Ced-Gee, Kool Keith and them from Ultramagnetic, Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud were up there all the time, Sweet Tee, Jazzy Jay would come through, even Jeru The Damaja used to be up there before he got on.”
Do you recall any memorable studio cyphers taking place?
“Everybody was just mingling really. There were six floors of studios in that place. There’d also be a lot of rock bands practising in there as well. Metallica used to work in that building. 1212 was like a college dorm with everyone hanging out in each other’s sessions and partying.”
What were your thoughts when you heard the creative direction that Ultramagnetic MC’s were taking with their whole scientific, spaced-out style?
“I remember just thinking it was so different. It wasn’t something I would have done back then personally, but it was different and I was definitely feelin’ it. There were so many different flavours being heard in that studio with all the artists working in there, but my thing was always just to stay in my lane and do me, rather than hearing what someone else was doing and trying to follow them.”
Out of interest, what were your thoughts on the Bridge Wars which would still have been simmering around that time? Were you offended when KRS-One dissed Queens?
“Absolutely, because Shan didn’t say Hip-Hop started in Queens, he said that was where it started at for him. But then everyone started jumping on the bandwagon. I remember one time, we had a roller rink in Queens and KRS-One was supposed to battle MC Shan there. Now, I don’t know what happened to Shan but he didn’t show up. So who was the first person to jump up onstage ready to battle and represent Queens? Me! I wanted to battle KRS-One but he didn’t want to battle me at that time. I remember T La Rock was there as well and he had some funny stuff to say, so I was looking to battle him as well. Now, T La Rock had obviously made “It’s Yours”, but going back to what I said about being the king of parody, I’d written a song called “Your Drawers”. So that’s how T La Rock met me, when I crushed him with his own song (laughs).”
So being from Queens could definitely cause problems when you would travel to other parts of New York even if you weren’t directly affiliated with any of the artists feuding on wax?
“Definitely, definitely. Now, at that time Queens had all the stars in Hip-Hop, partly because Russell Simmons took Hip-Hop to a whole ‘nother level. We had Run DMC. We had LL Cool J. We had Salt-N-Pepa. We had Sweet Tee. We had Kid-N-Play. A lot of the major money-making artists at that time were coming out of Queens. So the rest of New York City was looking at us in Queens like the way New York looks at Southern artists now (laughs). People from other boroughs would try and diss Queens by saying that we had green grass and both our parents (laughs). So because I didn’t have a pissy staircase and roaches I couldn’t be nice as an artist? Get out of my face with that (laughs). But Queens still proved itself at the end of the day.”
When you signed to Sleeping Bag Records was that on the strength of the buzz surrounding your 1987 single “I Get Rough” or was the label also familiar with your history prior to that?
“They were aware of me already through Ivan ‘Doc’ Rodriguez and Mantronik. The original plan was for me to get signed and be the new emcee for Mantronix. That’s what was supposed to happen. But I believe in loyalty so I wasn’t about to leave Quest and Paul. We’d already built something and I didn’t want to see that start to be taken apart. So if Sleeping Bag wanted to sign me, they had to sign Paul C. and Johnny Quest. It had to be Mikey D & The L.A. Posse. I’m not getting down with Mantronix. I liked the sound Mantronix had, even though it was very different to ours, but I wasn’t going to leave Paul and Quest behind.”
Sleeping Bag was a big label at the time with a lot of popular Hip-Hop and Dance acts on the roster – were you looking at that deal as a potentially life-changing situation considering the success other acts were experiencing on the label?
“You know what? It didn’t even hit us like that. We already believed in ourselves, so we were approaching it like we were meant to be there. We were of the opinion that a label like Sleeping Bag should have come to us a long time ago. But we just remained humble and stayed in our lane. It was cool, though. I mean, by the time we signed to Sleeping Bag I knew a lot of the artists affiliated with the label already like Just-Ice, EPMD, Mantronix of course. I remember everyone thinking DJ Cash Money of Cash Money & Marvelous and I were brothers (laughs). But yeah, we were really in a good space at that time and I enjoyed Sleeping Bag. Being signed to them, of course, was how I got entered into the New Music Seminar emcee battle in 1988 and the situation with Melle Mel happened.”
The story of you winning the emcee battle at the 1988 New Music Seminar and ending-up battling Melle Mel is very well known – but what was going through your mind at that time as a young, upcoming artist standing onstage knowing that you’re about to battle a legendary emcee and Hip-Hop pioneer?
“See, technically it wasn’t supposed to be a battle. It was supposed to be a demonstration with that year’s champion, me, rapping with the previous year’s champion, which was Melle Mel. But no. Melle Mel turned it into a battle. Now you’ve got to remember that at that time the Queens / Bronx thing was still going on and at the same time the Old-School / New-School thing was heating up. So I already had two strikes against me (laughs). First of all I’m from Queens and second of all I was considered new-school. Now, I was going to give Mel his respect. I said my rhymes and didn’t saying nothin’ about him. He gets on the microphone and disrespects me. Then he starts talking about how, if I’m a real champion I’d battle him for my belt. I said I didn’t want to battle for my belt. I’d just won it and I wanted to take it back to the ‘hood to represent. Melle Mel slams his belt on the ground, starts talking about how I’m no champion and now the crowd starts going crazy shouting ‘Go Mikey! Go Mikey!’ I look at Mel, I look at the crowd, I look at my belt, I look at his belt on the floor, I slammed my belt on top of his belt and was like ‘Let’s go!’. So now Melle Mel is doing push-ups onstage and I started rhyming off the beat of his push-ups dissing him and the crowd is going crazy. He couldn’t come back after that but at the same time that he was trying to, Grandmaster Caz picks up both of the belts while I have my back turned. So by the time Melle Mel finally lost the battle, Caz hands Mel the damn belts! Now Melle Mel was too big for me to be running up on him (laughs). But he’s rushing through the crowd with both belts, pushing Big Daddy Kane out the way and Jackie Paul, a lady who was a part of the New Music Seminar. It was a mess. But I proved myself. Then a few weeks later Tom Silverman from Tommy Boy Records who was involved with the Seminar presented me with a bigger and better belt (laughs).”
In hindsight do you have a different opinion now on Melle Mel’s actions that night?
“I forgive him for that but I still don’t agree with what he did. It was a coward move and I can’t respect that. I can respect Melle Mel as an artist, for his achievements and everything he’s done for Hip-Hop, but at that event he just made a complete idiot out of himself and I lost all respect for him. I mean, I respect him now as a man, but I don’t respect the move he made on that night.”
From hearing what Daddy-O said in the footage for your documentary “The Making Of A Legend” the situation could have turned very ugly…
“It could of but I defused a whole lot of that tension. I mean, I had people like King Sun and Just-Ice ready to move on Melle Mel and I was like ‘No!’ Johnny Quest and I were the only two out of our crew who went to the Seminar that night. Luckily, we went without my crew otherwise Mel could have got moved on that way. People in the audience who I’d just met were ready to make moves on him, but I didn’t want any of that because if someone had moved on Mel it would have reflected badly on me and my future. If anything had happened to Melle Mel people would have automatically said that I had a part in that so I just wanted everyone to let it go.”
After the Seminar what happened with the Sleeping Bag deal?
“Well, after the Seminar we were busy working on an album which was coming out pretty nice. We presented the album to Sleeping Bag and unfortunately God took Paul C. from us before it could be released. Once that happened everything started spiralling downhill because I didn’t want to put the album out after Paul passed away. It didn’t feel right to do that. I was like, ‘Nah, this ain’t cool.’ I left the label and all of that.”
So would you largely attribute you stepping away from the industry at that point to Paul C.’s 1989 murder?
“Well, at that time it felt like everything was spiralling out of my control. My daughter had just been born. The music money wasn’t enough to pay my bills, buy a crib or pay for my daughter’s baby food, y’know. I was giving more to the music than I was receiving. I was giving my life to this music and I just wasn’t really getting nothing in return. Then after Paul was taken from us it was really crazy because now I’m thinking ‘Damn, man. They did that in his house! Who does that?!’ So now we’re paranoid like, ‘Could they be coming after us next?’ I started drinking even more around that time like, ‘F**k this! I can’t handle it!’ It was like that beer made me feel like nothing could mess with me or something like that. So I really just fell back for a little while and helped raise my daughter. I still had Hip-Hop in my heart but all of the gangsta rap was starting to come out and I just wasn’t really feeling it like that, y’know.”
With one of your close friends having just been murdered it’s easy to see why you didn’t want to be around the more violent aspects of Hip-Hop that were starting to become popular at that time…
“Exactly. You just took the words right out my heart. That’s exactly how I felt at that time.”
Lookout for Part Three of this interview coming soon with Mikey D covering his time as a member of Main Source in the 90s and his new Elements Of Hip-Hop project.