In a post-Eminem world it’s perhaps difficult for many to understand how a white emcee could raise even as much as an eyebrow from anybody both in and outside of Hip-Hop. But once upon a time, in a rap galaxy far, far away, the sight of a pale-faced microphone fiend was guaranteed to inspire a variety of both positive and negative (yet equally intense) reactions from all across the board.
Just being a white fan of Hip-Hop throughout the genre’s earliest days and into the 90s presented a cultural maze that demanded to be navigated if you were truly going to follow your passion for beats and rhymes, with that web of social norms and racial politics becoming even more complex if you chose to step beyond simply supporting the culture and actually attemped to participate as either a b-boy, graffiti artist, deejay or, the final frontier, as an emcee.
Whilst the Beastie Boys can perhaps lay claim to being the first widely-recognised crew of Caucasians to grab the mic, bursting out of NYC’s early-80s punk-rock scene to become one of the earliest signings to the legendary Def Jam label, Prime Minister Pete Nice and MC Serch of 3rd Bass fame upped the credibility ante, with both determined to be considered as dope emcees existing on a Black planet, not because of their whiteness, but in spite of it.
With Pete and Serch each having personal histories steeped in the Rotten Apple’s early Hip-Hop scene, the duo rejected the alcohol-fuelled antics and rock-edged sounds of the Beasties in favour of a more serious approach to their music, combining long-practiced lyrical skills and witty wordplay with stellar production from the likes of Sam Sever, Prince Paul and The Bomb Squad.
Adding DJ Daddy Rich behind the turntables, 3rd Bass dropped two classic long-players, 1989’s “The Cactus Album” and 1991’s “Derelicts Of Dialect”, before an unexpected split found Pete and Serch each taking the solo route, with their influence also being felt via involvement in the mid-90s debut projects of Kurious Jorge and Nas respectively.
With April 2013 marking twenty years since the release of Pete Nice & Daddy Rich’s only album project, “Dust To Dust”, the Prime Minister kindly agreed to jump on the phone for a lengthy in-depth interview, discussing everything from memories of the Latin Quarter, first meeting MC Serch and Beastie beef, to Lyor Cohen’s business hustle, working with KMD and the chances of 3rd Bass hitting the road again.
So read on, or get your mack-daddy license revoked!
How and when were you introduced to Hip-Hop?
“Well, when I was a kid my father was a basketball coach and he coached some of the best high-school players in New York City. In the summer he would travel with them to what was called the Empire State Games, which were almost like the Olympic Games of New York state. I used to be the ball-boy on the team from when I would have been about ten-years old. So from like 77, 78, 79 through to the early-80s I was always with these older high-school kids that played basketball and they’d always have their tapes when they came out, everything from Jimmy Spicer and Kurtis Blow through to early Run DMC. Those were some of the earliest groups I remember hearing, along with Funky Four Plus One, Cold Crush, Crash Crew and Divine Sounds.”
When did you actually start rhyming?
“As I got older and went to high-school in Brooklyn, one of my boys Jazzy, who ended-up in the group Whistle doing “Just Buggin'”, his cousin was Kangol from UTFO. So he used to bring in all the Roxanne tapes before they were even out and then you’d hear them on Red Alert. I mean, when we were kids that was the thing, to have a cassette ready to roll to tape Red Alert, Chuck Chillout or Mr. Magic on the radio. In New York, that was pretty much the ultimate at that point. So we all just formed a little group in high-school in the lunch-room basically, with my boy Kibwe K, Fresh Fred, Buddah B, honorary member The White Box, and we had a group that was called Sin Qua Non. But then when we graduated from high-school they went to Syracuse and I stayed in school in New York City at Columbia so we were kind of split-up geographically. But before we had split up, my man Kibwe, who was from Bed-Stuy, his father knew the Black activist Sonny Carson and his son Lumumba who ended-up becoming Professor X in X-Clan. He was managing some acts at the time, so we got introduced to him, and Lumumba was actually managing the group before we all split up and went away to school. I remember we did our first show at the Empire Roller Rink in Flatbush. But then when everyone went away to school, I was the only one around, so Lumumba was just managing me as a solo act. At the same time he was also managing Positive K before he had any records out, he had Just-Ice and Stetsasonic too. That’s when me and Serch first kinda met because I used to go to the Latin Quarter in Manhattan. At the point I was with Lumumba, as I said he was managing Stetsasonic, so I’d go to a Stetsasonic show at the Latin Quarter. I’d get picked up from my dorm room by Walter and Lumumba in the Aerostar which thinking about it now is hysterical (laughs).”
Were you working with Lumumba with the intention of making a record?
“He was promising to get me in the studio and everything and in that winter nothing really happened. At the same time I had met up with this guy through my room-mate at Columbia called Lord Scotch who was also known as Kid Benetton and is the brother of the writer Jonathan Lethem. So this would have been sophomore year at Columbia when me and Scotch hooked-up and we formed this other group called the Servin’ Generalz. We hung-out a lot at that time at the Albee Square Mall in Brooklyn and this was around the time when beat-boxing was prevalent and our boy Shameek The Beat Mizer, who also wrote graffiti, he was the third man in the group. At the time, I don’t know how I met them, but I got together with the two guys who were managing Kid ‘N’ Play. The name of their company was Richlen Productions because one of the guys was named Rich and the other was called Lenny (laughs). They were going to put us together with Hurby Luv Bug at the time. So I’m thinking if I’m with Lumumba he’s got Stetsasonic and other acts, these guys Rich and Len had ties with Hurby Luv Bug, there were all these different opportunities so we figured we’d just go with the first person that wanted to sign us. But at the same time, me and Benetton had cut this brief demo at this studio on Fulton Street down by the Albee Square Mall.”
Was that demo shopped to any particular labels?
“Nah, it wasn’t anything that was to such a level that it was a professional demo. I think maybe I played it for Rich and Lenny, that was the thing that actually got them to want to sign us. So we were about to sign with them, there were papers drawn up and everything, then right at that point Blake (Lord Scotch) disappears. He just totally disappeared off the face of the earth. Then Shameek gets arrested with some other guy because they held-up a whole subway car…”
That sounds like something that could only have happened in the New York of the 80s…
“Exactly. So now, I’ve gone from the Sin Qua Non group, to no group, to Servin’ Generalz and then back to being solo again. At that time, my room-mate SAKE who’d hooked me up with Blake, he knew a couple of other people like Dante Ross, who wasn’t even over at Def Jam yet at that point, he was just working as kind of like a gofer over at Rush. I think at the time Dante would even road manage for Eric B. & Rakim and whoever else they needed him to look after. I remember there was one day I was with Dante and he had to get a passport for Rakim so we were running around all over the city trying to track down information to get this passport (laughs). I think they were actually going to do a show out by you in the UK. Anyway, around that time I’d decided that I was just going to go in the studio and cut a demo myself and I ended-up getting that to Dante. At the exact same time, Dante had already been working with Serch and had put him together with Sam Sever. Actually it was funny, because the other time I’d met Serch was at this club called Roseland at an Eric B. & Rakim show. I think it was Heavy D as well. Me and Blake went to the front door and Serch happened to be there, and then I met him one other time at the Latin Quarter.”
So at this point you and Serch were just aware of each other but there was no relationship there to speak of?
“The Latin Quarter was actually the first time I formally met Serch with Blake. It was funny, because I remember Serch came out of like a low-budget limo and he had this air-brushed denim ‘SERCH’ jacket on. Serch had already got his first record out at this point. At the time, Red Alert and Chuck Chillout would run his promos on the radio.”
So this was around 1986?
“Yeah, it was right around 86. P-Fine from NYU was playing Serch’s record as well. Then right after that time, I think it was that summer, I got my radio show on WKCR at Columbia. Most people don’t realise it, but I had the first rap show on KCR. Stretch & Bobbito being on there wasn’t until years afterwards. It was me and Clark Kent at the time and we were probably on air for part of a semester. I was still going to school there at the time and it was unheard of to have anything close to rap on the radio there. I don’t know if you remember the rapper Little Shawn, but he was up there, and Biz Markie was up there at one time. I’m pretty sure that the reason we got kicked off the air was because at some point some equipment disappeared. Who knows if it was even anyone affiliated with us at the time, but we ended-up getting blamed for it (laughs).”
Did you have many artists coming through the show?
“Nah, not really. I mean, we had Little Shawn up there and there was one show I missed because I was out of town that Clark did and I think Biz Markie was there for that one. But the show wasn’t really established at that point where you’d have artists coming through all the time. Plus, we were on so late. I have the times on a flyer I kept somewhere (laughs). But at any rate, the whole aspect of our show, as much as having an artist come through to freestyle and whatever was cool, it was Clark’s mixes that were off the hook. Even today, I still see him on Twitter and he was just on Hot 97 the other week rippin’ it, so he still has it. But his mixes back then were a really big deal. Plus, we’d get the first pressings of records back then around the same time that someone like a Red Alert would get them and maybe even before in some cases. Clark was touring with Dana Dane at the time so from time to time he would have to miss a show, and that was actually when he introduced me to Daddy Rich. So the first time me and Daddy Rich met was when he was filling in for Clark when he was on the road with Dana Dane.”
The Hip-Hop landscape has changed dramatically since the early-80s, but when you first started rhyming how were you received as a white emcee?
“As far as being a white emcee, at the time that me and Serch, and even Scotch, were contemplating rhyming, there was no-one out there already. Being a white emcee really was an unknown entity and it was something that hadn’t even been attempted. Rap and Hip-Hop has come so far now that I think people forget that today. I mean, people did look at you first like you were nuts. But I mean, I really started out at first with friends in school. So first of all you had to get accepted in your own small group, then when people saw that you really appreciated the music and you had skills, that’s when you started to move into different public situations, like when we did our show at the Empire Roller Rink. At that time, people would just look at you like, ‘These f**kin’ white kids…’ y’know. But then when they could actually see that you can rhyme, then you’d f**k up their heads a little bit, you get a little respect and then you’d just take it from there. That’s pretty much the way me and Serch always approached it back then. Blake was even on a different level, because I don’t even think he thought he was white on any level. He was just in another zone. They broke the mould with Blake. But I mean, he was rhyming before even Serch got up the mettle to even write any rhymes or do anything when he was at school at Music & Art. I mean, Blake was already rhyming at the time with the Kangol Crew and some other kids.”
I know I’ve read Scotch say that he doesn’t claim the title himself, but in your opinion would you say he was the first white emcee in New York?
“I mean, if there’s anyone else who wants to jump up and say that they were, I never knew of them. Maybe they were in a different state or something, but I highly doubt there was anyone else out there doing it that early. I mean, there were a lot of white break-dancers and, of course, graffiti artists, but no-one had ever got down on the mic. I mean, obviously then the Beastie Boys element comes up, and of course they had records out before we did as 3rd Bass, although you could say that Serch had his solo single out. Then right after the Beastie Boys you had groups like the White Boys who came out and Jon Shecter from The Source had his B.M.O.C. record out when we were in the studio doing our demos. We kinda got a little kick out of that (laughs). But then the ironic thing about that, is that Brett Ratner, who directed my solo videos, is actually the person who put out that B.M.O.C. record (laughs).”
You mentioned earlier going to the legendary Latin Quarter club – what memories do you have of the nights you spent there?
“Off the top of my head, having mentioned the Stetsasonic show earlier, I remember sitting backstage at the Latin Quarter before the guys were going onstage. Frukwan was there with Prince Paul and he said something like, ‘I’ve gotta get out of here early tonight because I’ve got to get to work early in the morning.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean you’ve got to work? You guys are Stetsasonic! You’re not supposed to be working.’ He was like, ‘C’mon, we’ve still gotta work, man.’ So it was like a realisation that just because you had a hit record out, you’re not retiring. It wasn’t like any big money was being made in the rap game at that point. Back then, it was just about guys doing it because they loved the music and wanted to put out records. That was also my first time meeting Prince Paul as well, who obviously we went on to work with as 3rd Bass. I also remember vividly one time being in the Latin Quarter and walking up to Just-Ice and his beatbox DMX actually thought I was MCA from the Beastie Boys which was pretty funny.”
Is there one particular Latin Quarter memory that really defines what the club was to you?
“Actually, the biggest night probably ever at Latin Quarter, and this also relates to Lord Scotch, was when they had this particular night that was a benefit for the soul singer Jackie Wilson to raise money for his tombstone. I’ve heard people talk about this show in interviews before. Everybody was on the bill from LL to Salt-N-Pepa to Full Force, Awesome Two, I think KRS, Doug E. Fresh, I mean anyone you could imagine got up there that night. Just-Ice performed. It was like a who’s who all night. At some point, Special K and Teddy Ted threw some records out into the crowd, someone stepped on someone’s sneaker somewhere and a scuffle started. Then at some point the drug dealer Supreme who used to roll with Eric B. & Rakim was in there taunting LL and was picking up a chair. S**t just jumped off all over the place. I’m standing by the coat-check, Bow-Legged Lou, Full Force and Lisa Lisa were there, Melle Mel was standing not too far away, and the next thing you know there’s fights breaking out all over the place, people are getting slashed with razors, then you heard some gunshots. So we were running out the front door after hearing those gunshots out onto the street. Someone picked up one of those big New York City garbage cans and put it through a car window. S**t was jumping off all over the place. So we ran at least two blocks with Bow-Legged Lou (laughs). This all happened at about two or three in the morning and I ended up in a Burger King in Times Square with Melle Mel (laughs). It was surreal. But because I’d lost Scotch during all of this, I ended-up going back to the Latin Quarter. So I get back there and there’s Scotch and Biz Markie, with Biz beat-boxing, Scotch stood on top of a speaker just rhyming and there’s people just laid out on the floor (laughs). It was f**kin’ nuts! But that’s my ultimate LQ memory (laughs).”
Was violence a reoccurring problem there from what you can remember?
“I mean, that’s the only time I was there when anything that big jumped off. There used to be the odd fight and scuffle here and there, but the place would have never stayed open for as long as it did if there was stuff going on like that all the time. Then, of course, it did ultimately close. But I remember there was a kid from my high-school and I think his father had some sort of ownership interest in the Latin Quarter. I saw him there one time and he was like one of the only other white kids I saw there. There was also one other white kid that I would see there who always used to have on some pretty fly sneakers. I just always remember these sneakers he would wear. They were like a brand that nobody had really seen before, so that’s why I always remember them. I remember Dante would be around as well, that was when he was affiliated with Rush so he’d come through with the artists. The Beastie Boys would be there with Russell Simmons as well and that whole crew when they came through to promote their records, but I mean they weren’t going there just to hang-out. Me, Blake and Serch would go to the Latin Quarter just to hang-out when we were freakin’ nobodies.”
What other clubs were you going to in NYC at that time?
“Union Square was the other big club right at that time. You also had another club people would go to regularly called The World. Actually, a funny story, Clark had Mixmaster Ice from UTFO come up to our radio show once or twice, and then, I can’t remember if it was as part of the NYU Seminar or the New Music Seminar, but we were given time on the bill at this big show at a place called The Limelight. So me, Clark and Mixmaster Ice show-up and get to the door and there’s like four or five pretty big security guys and then a couple of, I don’t know, they looked like ninja Japanese guys (laughs). I can remember standing out on the avenue, Clark had a towel around his neck and his turntables in the cases, Ice was right next to him. They wouldn’t let us in because they were saying that we weren’t on the list. They’ve always laughed at me since, especially Clark, because I was like ‘Step offff…’ and started to go after them. Then the next thing these ninja kids are coming out and Clark was like, ‘Let’s just get the f**k outta here…’ But Clark won’t let me live that down to this day probably. It became an on-going joke so he’d see me and just be like ‘Step offff…’ (laughs). That’s kinda why I did that in the “Brooklyn-Queens” video, it was like an inside joke (laughs). But Latin Quarter was really the main spot and then you had other clubs downtown like Area and 1018 that would be Hip-Hop on certain nights where there would be performances. Then you also had The Red Parrot which was in mid-town and they would have some decent shows with different artists performing.”
Were you grabbing the mic at any of those clubs before you got on as 3rd Bass?
“No, not really. Downtown there used to be a couple of clubs in abandoned school buildings and one was Hotel Amazon and actually me and Serch would sometimes warm up the crowd there. I mean, we would show up anywhere and just say give us some time on the mic to introduce groups or whatever. We introduced Public Enemy there one time, I think. There was another spot, I think it was Irving Plaza Hotel, and we introduced Rob Base when his record “It Takes Two” was out. So we used to show up everywhere and anywhere. To the point where, even when we didn’t have records out, if Serch connected with a promoter or something, they’d be like, ‘Do you guys want to come out to Illinois?’ or something like that. Actually, we went on one trip to the Bay Area as judges for a basketball contest that Hammer was at. There was a dunk contest, a three-point contest and they also had a dance contest. That’s where the beef started between Serch and Hammer, because Hammer wouldn’t let Serch get into the dance contest (laughs). But I remember we were there with like UTFO, Whodini, Grandmaster Dee was there, so we were with a lot of old-timers even before we had our own records out as a group. We would basically go anywhere and do anything we could to promote ourselves and the group.”
Various stories have been told about how you and Serch first officially met with different people taking credit for the introduction – but how do you recall that first meeting actually happening?
“I mean, we had been in the same spot before at the Latin Quarter and not known each other. But I think the first time ever when it was like, ‘This is Pete, this is Serch’ was with Blake at the Latin Quarter. Then after that it was through Dante because he had my demo and he was also already working with Serch at Rush and had put him with Sam Sever. I’m trying to think of the exact times and Serch might remember that better. But I remember me, Dante and Serch went to go see Schoolly D at The World. I remember Serch was bangin’ some chick from the projects called Lorraine (laughs). Serch had a blue Granada at the time that didn’t have a radio that we would call the Think Tank (laughs). So picture me, Dante, Serch and possibly this chick called Lorraine heading to The World to go see Schoolly D (laughs). I remember Russell Simmons was there and I talked to him briefly, but Serch was talking to him more than I was because at that point Russell knew Serch better than he knew me. But I would say that was like the first time we actually went out together.”
Do you remember when you were first introduced to Sam Sever?
“I think I met Sam Sever through Dante Ross. I think it was Dante who introduced me to Sam. Afterwards I called up Sam and asked him to come into the studio to check out what I was doing and he started collaborating with me on my demo. I think that’s when Dante spoke to Lyor Cohen like, ‘Why don’t we try and put these guys together?’ It was by no means anything how some people make it out to be, like some calculated move by anybody. It just happened. I mean, it was even more like Sam’s call at the time than it was anybody’s because he was already working with both of us. I remember us all meeting at Sam’s apartment and Serch’s mom was like a performer back in the day and she was like the typical stage mother. So she was like, ‘Well, you know, Michael’s a soloist so I don’t really know about this group idea.’ So I had to meet Serch’s mom at Sam’s crib and it was just hysterical. But me and Serch hit it off pretty well right off the bat.”
So you and Serch clicked together from the very beginning?
“I mean, listen, I’ve always said that any white emcee, and even white b-boys, have a chip on their shoulder and think that nobody else is as nice as you or can be down other than you. That still lives on to today to some point. But you have to remember, we were doing this back in the early-80s, so a lot of how things were back then is lost on the kids of today. I mean, when I went to high-school most of the white kids were burnt-out and listening to Led Zeppelin. That’s what was accepted back then. I used to go to school in a pair of Wallabees, a polo shirt and Lee straight-leg jeans (laughs).”
Read Part Two of this interview here.
3rd Bass – “Brooklyn-Queens” (Def Jam / 1990)