A true veteran of the Queens, NY Hip-Hop scene, Rotten Apple resident Satchel Page spent his youth surrounded by pioneers of the game, from those who made their name turning-out the park jams of the early-80s, to others who went on to become internationally known once rap began to make its journey from the streets to the mainstream.
But unlike many of his peers, Page didn’t spend the 80s or 90s in the Hip-Hop spotlight, even though he was associated with some of the most well-known figures of the culture’s golden-era. Having sharpened his lyrical skills onstage in front of first-generation Queens b-boys and b-girls, fate and circumstance would prevent the New York native from sharing his passion for the microphone with the masses, with Page instead deciding to step back from pursuing a career in music in favour of a more secure and stable lifestyle.
Having returned to the studio in recent years, working with producer Ayatollah and appearing on childhood friend Neek The Exotic’s 2011 Large Professor-assisted album “Still On The Hustle”, Page recently released his own new solo project “Fine Wine”.
In this two-part interview an animated Satchel Page takes a walk down memory lane, as he remembers rolling with a young LL Cool J, battling Biz Markie and seeing his Queens neighbourhood ravaged by the crack epidemic of the Reagan-era.
How and when were you first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“Well, I’m from Southside Jamaica, Queens, which I would say is one of the meccas of the Hip-Hop culture. I really started rhyming after making the transition from break-dancing, which shows you how long ago I started (laughs). When I started grabbing the mic most of the people my age were still break-dancing and it was the older cats who were rhyming. But I was one of those young cats who was grabbing the mic early in Jamaica, Queens back in the park jam era.”
So before you started rhyming, when did you first start breakin’?
“Breakin’ came to Queens, I would say, in the late-70s. We’d have the block parties, people would bring out their music equipment and we would just dance to the music all night long. That was when we first really started to see this new music taking form and the break-dancers would come out and everything. We used to call it the electric boogie back then (laughs). People would be poppin’ and stuff and it really just took off from there in Queens. Everybody was doing it in the late-70s and early-80s.”
Were acts coming from the Bronx to perform at those early park jams or was it strictly deejays and emcees from Queens?
“I always tell people that if Hip-Hop started in the Bronx on a Monday, then the rest of New York was doing it on Tuesday and Wednesday (laughs). It really spread that fast. The first memory I have of those park jams in Queens was when I was playing Little League baseball. I was about ten-years-old and I can remember everybody on the baseball field dancing and not being able to concentrate on the game because there were people in the next field over playing music! That was like a phenomenon to us. We could hear the music and they were playing these disco break-beats and everybody was dancing and trying to play baseball at the same time (laughs). I mean, that had to be around 1977 or 1978. So this was early and it wasn’t anybody who was coming from the Bronx doing that, this was Queens cats just bringing their equipment out and doing their thing. Hip-Hop started in the Bronx but we were doing it very early in Queens with the jams and stuff. We’ve been jammin’ in Queens for a long time (laughs).”
Who were some of the best known deejays in the parks during the early days of Hip-Hop in Queens?
“Ah man, at the height of the park jams in Queens the biggest name was Grandmaster Vic. He was the ultimate. Vic was like Grandmaster Flash to people in Queens. So there was Grandmaster Vic, the Amazing Dewitt from Baisley and Kid Quick from Rochdale. Those are some of the names that I remember. But a lot of the time it wasn’t about the single deejay, it was about the crews. So there was the Boss Crew, you had Cipher Sounds who were coming out of 40 projects, you had the Clientele Brothers which had people like Mikey D, LL Cool J and Johnny Quest down with them….”
Eddie O’Jay, Everlovin’ Kid Ice and those dudes…
“Yeah, yeah (laughs). So we’re talking the early-80s at this point. This was still really before making records was your claim to fame. Your claim to fame was being able to rock at a park jam and having tapes of that circulating around New York. That was how you made your name back then.”
Going back to Grandmaster Vic, he was known for his blends, right?
“He invented that. He invented that whole idea of blending Hip-Hop with R&B. Puffy and all these people like Jodeci and Mary J. Blige really owe Grandmaster Vic. When he did it, it was unheard of to take the accapella of an R&B record and blend it with straight Hip-Hop breaks. When he started doing that it was a previously unheard phenomenon that really took people by storm. I mean, in the early-80s people were buying Grandmaster Vic tapes for like fifty dollars. Those were real mixtapes.”
How early on was Vic actually mixing Hip-Hop with R&B?
“Early on, early on. That’s what he was known for. He was good with the scratches and everything and was a real pure deejay, but when it came to the blending, he had such an ear for putting two records together that you would never think would blend but he would make it work. That was in the early-80s he was doing that. I remember he could pretty much blend Keni Burke’s “Risin’ To The Top” with anything (laughs). I think Keni Burke might owe Grandmaster Vic some royalties because he really helped make that song famous. You don’t even understand, when Vic would put that record on at the jams people would go crazy. To this day, “Risin’ To The Top” is the Queens anthem. That’s the Queens anthem because of Grandmaster Vic and his crew, the Boss Crew which consisted of cats like Divine and Chilly Dee who were legends back then. They had the Boss Crew, which stood for Brothers Of South Side. They would tear parties up so bad that it was the equivalent of going to something like Summer Jam now. But when it comes to Grandmaster Vic, all those dudes like Funkmaster Flex, DJ Clue, Kid Capri, Ron G, all the deejays that went on to become big and famous from making mixtapes, they all took a little piece of Grandmaster Vic.”
So at what point did you make the transition from dancing to rhyming?
“I’ll tell you when it happened. It was when I met LL Cool J. My cousin was also a big deejay at that time and I’d say he was on the same level as Grandmaster Vic. His name was DJ Jesse James. Now, his emcees were astronomically huge in Queens at the time. They were called the Albino Twins. They were these two albino dudes and they used to just destroy the parties. I mean, they were really more party emcees and not so much on the lyrical tip, but this was when we were still in that party and park jam era. So they were big in Queens and I used to roll with them and be the one carrying the equipment and stuff. I mean, I’m only about ten or eleven-years-old at this point. So my cousin came to me and said, ‘Yo, I’ve got this new young cat and he’s just ferocious on the mic.’ He introduced me to him and it was Cool J. Now, when Cool J came he just brought a whole new style to the streets of Queens that was unheard of because at that time everybody was just doing the party style of rhyming. That’s really what emcee-ing was to us back then. But when LL came out, and he was only about fourteen-years-0ld, he came with that very lyrical style that, when I first heard it, it just blew me away. So after the first time I heard LL rhyme, I went home and started writing my own rhymes because there was more of an intelligence aspect to it that I felt I could do rather than just the crowd participation stuff which you really needed a huge amount of personality for.”
So when you first heard LL, was it at a park jam or on a tape?
“It was in my cousin DJ Jesse James’ basement. They were practicing for a jam we were about to go to that night and LL was rhyming freestyle off the instrumental to T La Rock’s “It’s Yours”.”
Which is ironic considering the comparisons that were made between LL Cool J and T La Rock when “I Need A Beat” came out…
“”It’s Yours” definitely inspired him. When he was rolling with my cousin I would be with LL and he would recite that record all the time. I mean, we all knew the record but LL was the only person I knew who could recite that record word-for-word. He knew every single word to that song backwards and forwards. So yeah, LL could never deny T La Rock’s influence on him.”
So was LL performing regularly with your cousin and his crew?
“Ah man, when LL got down with the Albino Twins it was crazy because then you had the illest party rockers with the illest lyricist. I used to roll with them and see them just turn jams upside down (laughs). Their style used to be that they’d turn up to the party, tear the place up and then just leave (laughs). I mean, after they left people didn’t even want to stay no more. There was no reason for them to stay around. It was like they’d just been hit by a tornado (laughs). Now, LL and the Albino Twins were actually from the Northside of Queens and back then Queens was very localised. But I remember walking up into the hardest neighbourhoods in the middle of 40 projects with them. Now, dudes from the Northside, which is Hollis and places like that, they didn’t really come to Southside Queens. The Twins and LL were some of the few who would come from the Northside to the Southside, in the middle of 40 projects, and be able to actually get the microphone, much less then tear the place up. I saw them do that on more than one occasion (laughs). So LL was definitely a big influence on me when I first started picking up that pen.”
Are there any battles from that period that still standout to you?
“Yeah, actually one of the illest moments I ever had in Hip-Hop was when LL had a battle with this guy called Cap who was from Laurelton, Queens, which had the L.A. Posse. Cap also had a crew called the El-Producto Brothers. Now, this particular battle was at a block party, and they always used to start around three in the afternoon. LL was on early doing his thing, and Cap got on him just out of nowhere. Cap had this disrespectful rhyme that just killed LL. Now, LL was about to get back on him, but it was still real early and I remember my cousin Jesse James coming up to LL and saying, ‘Yo, chill, chill. Don’t do it now. Let’s wait until night time when the crowd’s here and then you can go at him.’ My cousin had this van at the time and LL went straight into the van. We didn’t see LL for the rest of the day. Now, around the time the party was really rockin’, my cousin came up to me and told me to go get LL. I remember opening up the van and LL was in there with the music going and he was just putting the pen to the pad (laughs). I told him that my cousin had said it was time. I remember LL asking me, ‘Yo! Is it crowded?’ and I was like, ‘Man, it’s packed!’ I remember LL getting out that van, going up onstage and he said a rhyme to this dude Cap that was tailor-made for him (laughs). The crowd just went bananas. I mean, the rhyme was just so skillful and advanced that people were looking at LL like he was a martian (laughs). Cap tried to come back at LL and right in the middle of his rhyme LL just turned around and mooned him (laughs). The crowd fell-out laughing and that was the battle over. But I remember there were people there that day who went on to become legends. I mean, DJ Irv, Irv Gotti, he was there, Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, Ed Lover was there. Ed was actually someone else who used to roll with my cousin and the Albino Twins. He always used to do songs over to perform at the parties and make them funny. I remember when Run DMC had “My Adidas”, Ed did “My Skeezers” and things like that (laughs).”
Do you recall the first time you performed in public?
“The very first time I performed was at a block party. Now back then, when crews used to battle it was more like a battle of sound systems which was taking something from the Jamaican thing. At the time my cousin had the illest sound system and there was also this other crew from Southside called Cipher Sounds. I remember, both of them wanted to jam at this particular park on the same day. Everybody knew that they were going to jam at this park. So my cousin showed up on one side of the park, Cipher Sounds showed up on the other side of the park, and it was about whoever was rockin’ the most and who the crowd was swaying to. That was the first time I ever got on the mic and I just tore it up. People were just astonished because they were only used to seeing me carrying the equipment and dancing. I was real short as well. I mean, I’m still short now, but I was even shorter back then (laughs). So that was my first time rockin’ a jam and I just loved the feeling I got from doing that. Afterwards, I’d be walking around the neighbourhood and people would be pointing me out like, ‘That’s that dude who rhymes with the Albino Twins…’ and stuff like that…
What name were you rhyming under back then?
“My name back then was G.L.T. which stood for Genuine Lyrical Technique. To be honest, it stood for pretty much whatever I felt at the time (laughs). It also used to stand for Good Lookin’ Troy, with Troy being my first name.”
So were you battling other emcees on the street at that point as well as performing at the jams?
“I had a battle with Biz Markie before he even came out on record which was funny. Biz was actually walking through my neighbourhood with Rahzel who went on to be the beatbox for The Roots. This was before Biz had come out with the Juice Crew and all that. Biz was just walking down the street doing that ‘Boom-ha-ha..’ thing he used to do (laughs). Now, Biz is a funny-looking cat and we actually thought something was wrong with him (laughs). We were just young and crazy back then, so we started clowning on him and Biz started telling us how he’s into music and is doing this and that. So we’re laughing at him, thinking that he’s lying. Then before you know it, Biz started rhyming, I started rhyming, and we were going back and forth. I pretty much think I got him though (laughs). But we laughed Biz Markie off our block. We told him, ‘Yo,you sound corny. You sound crazy.’ Then maybe about a year later we heard that same laugh of his all over the radio and we all just looked at each other like, ‘Oh no!’ Me and my crew swear to this day that Biz made “Vapors” about us (laughs).”
On the subject of the Juice Crew, with their early members coming from Queensbridge, how much of a connection did QB have with everything else that was going on in Queens at the time?
“Queensbridge was always just off on their own doing their own thing. Like I said, Queens was very localised so you didn’t always know what was happening outside of your own neighbourhood. I mean at the age we were back then, none of us were driving or anything like that. So you pretty much stayed in your neighbourhood. We thought we were all of Queens (laughs) I mean, for us, our introduction to Queensbridge pretty much was the Juice Crew when MC Shan and Marley Marl came out with “The Bridge”. So when they came out, that was something brand new to us. But when MC Shan came out that was big. I mean, most of the guys I was rolling with didn’t go on to make records, so when Shan started coming to other parts of Queens to perform, that was big because he was already out with his records.”
What impact did it have in Queens when Run-DMC first came out?
“That was huge. I remember, you’d see them driving down the block. I mean, back then, if you were a rap star you were still living in your old neighbourhood really. It’s not like now where rap stars are living in Hollywood (laughs). Back then you’d go to the shopping mall in Queens and you might bump into Run-DMC. Matter of fact, I knew where Run lived so I used to always drop off my demos to him. I used to go right to his house, ring his bell and give him any new demos I’d been working on. Run actually tried to get me a deal with Profile Records but right before it happened things happened at the label and it all went crazy. But anytime I had new music, Run would listen to it. He was definitely cool. But it was crazy to see an act as big as Run-DMC on an everyday basis just up in Hollis chillin’ or in the barber-shop.”
Did people in Queens expect Run-DMC to blow-up like they did?
“It was a surprise to tell you the truth. Based on the reputation they had in the streets, people would have probably bet that the Albino Twins would have been bigger stars than Run-DMC at the time. The Albino Twins had a bigger name and were known more all over Queens than Run and them. To be honest, the first time a lot of us heard Run-DMC was actually when they came out on record (laughs). I don’t remember Run and them doing jams locally like Grandmaster Vic and them were. But Run-DMC did come out very early, so they were doing the record thing early on and were doing that rather than doing the jams like everyone else. But once “Sucker MCs” came out, it was a wrap. They were all over the place. But when they were big, they would still come to the jams. I remember they had a battle with the Albino Twins at a Hollis Day event. This would have been around 1983 or 1984 and the Albino Twins took ’em out (laughs).”
What was your reaction when LL got signed to Def Jam?
“I knew it was coming because it was the summer right before he got signed when I was with him everyday almost. I was listening to “I Need A Beat” months before it even came out and I was telling everybody about him. I think I was LL’s first fan (laughs). I used to tell everybody that he was my cousin because he was down with my cousin and I thought I’d ride that a little bit, so I used to tell people, ‘Yo, my cousin’s got this joint coming out called ‘I Need A Beat.’ I mean, when LL’s first album came out, I was singing those joints word for word because those were rhymes that I’d heard LL writing in my cousin’s basement. Some of those rhymes LL had written when he was twelve-years-0ld.”
So what was your plan at that point considering you were seeing local acts from Queens signing major record deals?
“At that point, it really became less about rockin’ jams and more about getting a record deal because everybody was getting a deal (laughs). You started seeing people that you grew-up with on TV and things like that. I mean, that’s what happened with Neek The Exotic. He was one of the dudes that I grew-up with. Then I looked up one day and he’s doing “Fakin’ The Funk” with Main Source and I was like, ‘Wow! This is really getting close.’ Neek was like my brother but I hadn’t seen him for about six months at the time and next thing I know he’s got a record out (laughs).”
You mentioned earlier that you would give your demo tapes to Run – when would that have been exactly?
“That would have been around 88 / 89. That was when the golden-era was really starting. All over Queens and New York as a whole, Hip-Hop was just going out of control. I remember, I was actually graduating high-school and had the chance to go away to college, but I turned that down because New York was so hot with the Hip-Hop and that’s what I was doing, so I wanted to stay.”
Was that a hard transition for some people to deal with when the music started to leave the parks and become more about the actual record industry?
“Nah, I think at that time everybody was pretty much thinking that they had a chance to be the next big star. So everybody was welcoming the chance to take it from the streets and actually make real money from the music. You still had people doing the jams and everything, but everybody was in the studio. That was like the catchphrase of the day, ‘I’m in the studio’ (laughs). Everybody was making demos and beings as so much of the Hip-Hop of that time was coming from New York, everybody knew somebody who was a connection to the industry. Like, I knew Run, so I’d drop my demos off to him. People always had their connections. I remember, I went to high-school with Fredro Starr from Onyx and Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, and we would tell each other about the different contacts and connections we knew about.”
From what I understand the Lost Boyz already had a reputation on the streets of Queens long before they ever put a record out…
“Yeah, well, Mr. Cheeks is my man. The Lost Boyz were always a little crew that used to roam around and do their thing in the streets. This was the time when crack was really dominating the era and everybody was doing their little things with the drugs and running around making their little bit of money. I mean, if you were young, the main two things you did in Queens in the 80s was either rap or sell drugs and some did both (laughs). So the Lost Boyz used to do their thing in other ways, but Cheeks always represented the Hip-Hop part of it and was always doing his music thing.”
Did you know B-1 who was also down with the Lost Boyz?
“I mean, I didn’t come up with him but I knew of him. But I didn’t know him personally like I knew Cheeks. To this day, Cheeks is my brother. But I didn’t know B-1 like that. I mean, I grew-up with Cheeks, Freaky Tah, Fredro Starr and Big DS, rest in peace. Those were my brothers that I really grew-up with.”
So you were there when Fredro and them were in their house music stage before they hit with Onyx?
“It’s funny, because when Onyx first came out I didn’t recognise them (laughs). These were people that I grew-up with my whole life and I’d watched the video and heard the song and I didn’t realise it was Fredro and them. It was Large Professor and Neek who told me it was them. I’d linked up with Neek again after he’d done “Fakin’ The Funk” and I was up at Large Pro’s house with him and Large was like, ‘Yo, your boys are blowing’ and I was like, ‘Who?’ Large and Neek were telling me it was Fredro and them. I was saying, ‘Well, I ain’t heard their song’ and they were telling me it was “Throw Ya Gunz” and I’m there saying, ‘Nah, I’ve seen that video. That ain’t Fredro and them. That’s these bald-head cats with mean faces.’ I had to go back and look at the video and really look at the faces and I was like, ‘Wow! It is them!’ Before that they were doing house music and had big purple hair like some punk rock stuff. I’ve gotta give it to Jam Master Jay because that transformation was genius and it definitely came off, but it took those of us in the ‘hood who grew-up with them by surprise (laughs).”
Part Two of this interview coming soon.
Satchel Page – “Keep Calling Me” (@SatchelPage / 2013)