In the third part of my interview with Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, the talented producer-on-the-mic talks about working with the Audio Two, recording the timeless classic “Talkin’ All That Jazz” and why Stet were always welcome in Miami – check Part One and Part Two.
1987 was a busy year for Daddy-O outside of Stetsasonic with you being involved in producing MC Watchout & DJ OZ’s “Blind Man’s Bluff” plus Positive K’s “Quarter Gram Pam” and Audio Two’s “Make It Funky” / “Top Billin'” singles which were both on First Priority. How did you come to work so closely with the First Priority label?
“Okay, so Delite was really the catalyst for that. Back then, Red Alert had this night at the Latin Quarter which used to be on a Tuesday, like an after-work night. It wasn’t all Hip-Hop, but it was still a Red Alert night. Now first of all, and I’ve said this before, without Delite there would have been no Stetsasonic. Just like Delite could probably say that without Daddy-O there would have been no Stet. But my reasons for saying that and his reasons would be totally different (laughs). Now, the reason I can say that without Delite there’d be no Stet, is because I hated everything. I hated everything, yo. I was such a hater back then (laughs). One time, Delite went to see Flash and them at the Peppermint Lounge and he came back saying how great it was. I was like, ‘F**k them, man. Are they better than us?’ I hated everything (laughs). Delite always used to tell me, ‘Just do it better. And if you’re not going to do it better than don’t talk to me about it, D.’ So Delite was the quintessential taste-maker in my opinion. He was the guy who knew everything that was going on just to try and figure out what was going to happen next. So Delite was hanging out at the Latin Quarter on a Tuesday night when everybody else was doing Friday and Saturday nights. I’m like, ‘What the f**k are you going down there on a Tuesday for?’ Delite would be like, ‘Red Alert’s playing and your man Lumumba be down there sometimes..’ and I was just like, ‘Whatever, man.’ So Delite was staying with me at the time and he always used to come back from those Tuesday nights singing ‘I like cherries ‘cos cherries taste better….’ and I’d be like, ‘What the hell are you singing?’ Delite would keep telling me that I had to hear this Audio Two song. Now, Delite ain’t got no singing voice either, so he was making it sound even worse, right (laughs). But Delite was like, ‘Yo, you’ve got to hear this record.’ But it was only Red Alert who was playing it and he was only playing it on a Tuesday night at the Latin Quarter. I don’t know if he couldn’t or wouldn’t play it on the radio, but he was only playing it on these Tuesday nights. So I went with Delite one night and I heard the record. Now, Delite had been trying to describe the record to me and had told me it was this bugged out song that sounded like nothing you’d ever heard before. But when I actually heard the record, I liked it.”
So how did that lead to you actually connecting with the Audio Two?
“What happened was, Stetsasonic had got a nice little name in the city. We started getting around. Now, we were doing a release party that was going to be at the Palladium. Not the main part of the Palladium, but the Michael Todd Room which was still a nice venue. We invited all these people and Tommy Boy invited a lot of people as well. So Nat Robinson from First Priority came along with MC Lyte and the Audio Two. I looked Milk in his face and was like, ‘Yo! If you ever need anyone to produce for you, then I’m here.’ Milk was like, ‘Word?!’ So I told him that I really liked their stuff a lot and next thing Milk was calling to Nat, ‘Dad! Dad! Daddy-O said he’ll produce us! Daddy-O said he’ll produce us!’ So Nat was just like, ‘Okay, we’ll talk about it.’ So that’s how I ended up working with the Audio Two and MC Lyte. Now, I’m trying to think how I got hooked-up with Positive K. I almost want to say that I got with Pos K through Lumumba Carson…
Because Lumumba was managing Positive K during the same period he was managing Stetsasonic, right?
“Yeah, that’s right. So I got hooked up with Positive K through Lumumba. But now that you’re saying it, I guess my mind just wasn’t on it that “Quarter Gram Pam” was on First Priority as well (laughs). I remember making “Quarter Gram Pam” before we did “Top Billin'”….”
After Stet’s “Go Stetsa I”, Audio Two’s “Top Billin'” was the second official Brooklyn anthem you had a hand in producing and it had such a unique sound to it. What inspired that beat?
“It’s so funny that you’re saying what you’re saying because both of those records were just great mistakes (laughs). Like I explained earlier, “Go Stetsa” was a great mistake with us bringing in the live drummer to do the fills and rolls etc. Now, before I did “Top Billin'” for the Audio Two I was working on their single “Make It Funky”. Now, I’m in Staten Island at Nat Robinson’s crib which was Milk and Giz’s crib as well. I’d programmed the SP-12 to do some things for “Make It Funky”. I go upstairs to talk to Nat or whatever and Milk calls up from the studio and is like, ‘Yo! You’ve got to hear something I just did.’ We’re like, ‘Okay, what’s he done now.’ I mean, if anyone was going to be the producer in Audio Two it was going to be Giz anyway, right. Now, I’d been trying to sample “Impeach The President” but the SP-12 only gave you x-amount of time, so Milk couldn’t get the full loop in there. So all he got was the ‘boom-boom-kick’ and that was it. So now Milk has that boom and kick up in the SP bouncing against my “Make It Funky” drum pattern. So we heard it and thought it was dope and then Milk is like, ‘I wrote something…’ and he did the whole thing right there. Milk looked at me and was like, ‘Daddy-O, should I make it longer?’ and I said ‘F**k no!’ I knew exactly what we were going to do with that record and I told Milk right there, ‘This is a Red Alert classic. We’re going to go ahead and do this “Make It Funky” track but we’re not going to tell anyone about this “Top Billin'” record.’ The plan was to make the deejays feel like they found it themselves on the b-side of the single and it worked.”
1987 also saw Stetsasonic drop the “A.F.R.I.C.A.” single which made a huge political statement against apartheid. Was that track something that the group wanted to do initially or was it something that Tommy Boy instigated?
“It was actually initiated by Tommy Boy but in a weird kind of way. Now, that track did end up on “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” but that was just because the Norman Cook remix was so hot and I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve got to put this on something.’ “A.F.R.I.C.A” would never have made it onto any album if Norman Cook never did that remix. His remix made me feel like it was something that I could put on an album. The original version, which I love, I just loved it being what it was as a single. So the original version of “A.F.R.I.C.A.” was a stand-alone piece that was what I always call Stetsasonic’s longest running record, meaning that long after that record was off radio, the Africa Fund had worked with us to put teaching guides in schools and all of that, so that record was constantly being used and referred to long after it came out. Now, what happened was, through Monica Lynch at Tommy Boy we met a guy from ABC 20/20 called Danny Schechter. He used to call himself Danny Schechter The News Dissector and he became a good friend of mine. Danny was just one of those erratic white guys, scruffy beard, almost looked like Captain Kangaroo, who was probably one of the earliest versions of a WikiLeaks or something like that. He was always challenging everything like, ‘This is what’s really going on.’ So he had an idea that he had taken to Monica with no particular group in mind. He said to her that apartheid in South Africa was a big issue and that he didn’t understand why no rappers were covering it. So, Monica brought the idea of doing the record to us. She told us that they were going to talk about doing a song to some of the other groups on the label as well, but that she wanted to hear what we thought about it. I immediately said yes, went home and did a little bit of research. Danny actually had a video tape and it was heart-wrenching watching that for the first time and seeing everything that was going on in South Africa…”
At the time apartheid was a topic that nobody really wanted to speak on in the Western world because, regardless of your skin colour, it was almost impossible to talk about it without having to confront certain uncomfortable contributing issues…
“Right, right. Absolutely. So Dan showed us this tape and straight away I was like, ‘We’re going to do it.’ Now, Delite, that was one thing that he wasn’t really with initially, but Frukwan definitely was. So we went into the studio, Frukwan, myself and Wise. Now the beat for “A.F.R.I.C.A.”, that came from Wise with him beat-boxing and we took that and made it into a beat. Then me and Frukwan wrote the rhyme. We wrote the whole thing. So by the time we brought Delite, Paul and DBC in, they were like, ‘Yo, that’s kinda hot.’ I showed Delite where he was going to fit in and that was it. We did it and it really worked out. Looking back on it, what was interesting was that “A.F.R.I.C.A.” was our first video as Stetsasonic. We used to have big fights with Tommy Boy because Monica Lynch used to say that videos didn’t sell records. So we never got the videos that you saw other artists at that time getting from their labels. So with “A.F.R.I.C.A.”, we were happy to be getting a video.”
That record really made a big impact at the time because this was before the likes of Public Enemy and KRS-One were really dealing with politics in a major way in their music…
“Yeah, definitely. But it was really that 1990 Wembley performance in London for Nelson Mandela that opened a lot up for us. Even though we’d done a lot of other things around the record and apartheid with people like Jesse Jackson, that Wembley performance really opened things up. The crowd were receptive to what we were saying and that was great. I mean, that was a great day for us as a group. Going back to when Kevin Porter used to mentor us, he always used to tell us not to just look at ourselves as a rap group, but to look at ourselves as entertainers who could be on a par with a Prince or a Michael Jackson, who just happened to rap. So that performance at Wembley let us feel like we were real entertainers. I remember, we met Terence Trent D’Arby, Patti Labelle, Neil Young and just an array of entertainers who were huge at the time. Me and Bono from U2 were talking, just kickin’ it, and that was dope because we were being accepted by everyone. I remember Denzel Washington was there, we performed that song, I walked offstage and Denzel hugged me. But it just felt like the other artists there understood what we were trying to do and that was always something that Delite and I wanted to do for Hip-Hop, to get people to understand what Hip-Hop was about and what it could be. I mean, I’m still the same way today because I still think a lot of people have got it twisted in terms of what they think we are.”
Would you say “A.F.R.I.C.A.” was the catalyst which led to you addressing other political issues on 1988’s “In Full Gear” album with tracks like “Freedom Or Death”?
“I’d say yes, but in a weird way (laughs). I mean, “Freedom Or Death” was something I made for Sonny Carson. That was always his line. I mean there were different things happening in New York at the time, there was the whole Yusef Hawkins thing, and Sonny had this whole ‘freedom or death’ thing that he was doing in response to that. Lumumba Carson and them hadn’t made any records yet. He wasn’t Professor X yet and there was no X-Clan at this point. So there was really no voice at that time to express what Sonny was talking about. I sat with Sonny one day and he explained the whole freedom or death concept to me and he said it exactly the way I wrote it. So I would say that “A.F.R.I.C.A.” did have something to do with us touching on other issues because making that record let us know that we could cover certain issues as a group because the challenge had been how do we make a record about something like apartheid and make it fun? I mean, you could make message records all day, but they’re not necessarily going to be hot. Plus, it wasn’t like we were making a song like Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” that was about the general ghetto that a lot of people already knew about or could relate to. There were specific names of people who were involved in apartheid in South Africa and different things that were going on, so in order to really express what was happening we knew that we had to put all of that into the record. We knew it wouldn’t have been enough to just gloss over it and say that apartheid was going on and that people shouldn’t like what was happening. We knew that wasn’t going to work. We had to go into detail. So then it was about how do we make that fun for people to listen to. But once we’d done it, that first time, we realised that there was no telling what we could do musically. So “A.F.R.I.C.A.” definitely opened up something for us as far as that was concerned and introduced us to being able to make songs about specific things. I mean, when we were recording “On Fire”, there were songs on there about specific things as well, but it was more about us being Stetsasonic…”
There was definitely a noticeable amount of artistic growth between “On Fire” and “In Full Gear”…
“Right, right. Well, you’ve probably heard Chuck D’s story about how Stetsasonic and Public Enemy went on tour together and three albums came out of that tour bus – “In Full Gear”, “It Takes A Nation Of Millions…” and “3 Feet High And Rising”. I mean, whilst Public Enemy were making “Nation” we were making “In Full Gear”, so we were bouncing ideas off of each other all the time. But one story I always remember about “A.F.R.I.C.A.” is when we were on tour with MC Hammer, Public Enemy, EPMD and 2 Live Crew. I can’t remember exactly what year this was, but it was heyday Hammer, “U Can’t Touch This” Hammer. We were doing different spots and on some dates you got all of the groups, other times you might just get three of us. But as Stetsasonic we were used to opening up and we would trade with EPMD, so one night it was them opening and the next night it was us. Anyway, this one night, Hammer had flown in on his private jet, EPMD had opened up, we were getting ready to go onstage and the promoter came to us and said that Hammer was going on before us. We were like, ‘What?!’ I mean, when I say this was heyday Hammer, he had the full stage show with all the dancers and everything. So there was nothing we would do about it. Hammer went out there and killed it and then we’ve got to go on after that. So the rest of the group are looking at me like, ‘What are we going to do now, D?’ I was like, ‘I know how we’re going to do this. I want you to come out with me first Paul.’ Everyone was like, ‘Huh?!’ because the way we used to do it was the band would go out first and play a little, then introduce Frukwan, he would introduce Delite and then Delite would introduce me and we’d do the show. But I wanted Paul to just come out with me and I told him to get “A.F.R.I.C.A.” ready. So we went out there and I got on some real preacher s**t. I was saying how for years Black people had been singing and dancing. I made Hammer look like it was buffoonery that he’d just done (laughs). I talked a little about apartheid, told Paul to drop the beat, the rest of the group came out and we performed “A.F.R.I.C.A.” first before we did all our other records that people wanted to hear.”
When you recorded “Talkin’ All That Jazz” were you expecting it to play such a large part in the debate surrounding sampling at the time?
“Absolutely not. “Talkin’ All That Jazz” was the only record on “In Full Gear” that I wrote for all three of us, me, Delite and Frukwan. Now, there’s a radio show in New York called The Week In Review with Bob Slade which is still on today. It’s a very, very informative show where they highlight certain things and talk about different issues. So what happened was, James Mtume was a guest on the radio show and he was talking about how Hip-Hop was creating this generation of uncreative musicians through sampling. He’s saying how it’s making people lazy and how the people who’re sampling don’t know how to play instruments or really know anything about music, blah, blah, blah. Now, I wasn’t able to be a guest on that particular show, but then Bob Slade brought me up on another show and I was able to talk about sampling from our perspective. So it kinda kept going back and forth between me and Mtume, but not directly. Now, Delite had already come up with the idea of doing a record called “Talkin’ All That Jazz”, but his idea was to do something similar to what Guru and Premier did later with “Jazz Music” and “Jazz Thing”. Delite wanted to do a record like that, really showing the similarities between Hip-Hop and jazz. We also wanted to show how, not being disrespectful, but in the same way that people thought Kenny G and Najee was real jazz, we felt the same thing was going to happen with Hip-Hop and that our own Coltranes and all of that would be pushed to the side if we weren’t being mindful. So that was originally what we wanted to do with “Talkin’ All That Jazz” and Delite had also come up with the idea of using the Lonnie Liston Smith “Expansions” sample.
Were you already a fan of “Expansions”?
“Yeah, yeah. I mean, “Expansions” was one of the records that people used to play out in the parks at those jams back in Brooklyn in the 70s. So I thought the original idea was cool and we were going to do it. But when this whole Mtume thing came up, I told Delite and Frukwan that I was going to write “Talkin’ All That Jazz” about that situation. I remember them both saying to me, ‘Are you sure, D?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do this.’ So I put it together. Then we went in the studio and we tried to sample “Expansions” but it was too fast, so we slowed it down but it didn’t sound right. I guess if the time-stretch stuff that they use nowadays had been available then we would have done that. But it wasn’t. So, Prince Paul was already in the studio at this point working with De La Soul and Don Newkirk was also involved in some of those sessions. So Paul just said we should let Don play it. Bobby Simmons said that we needed to have it played using this cello type sound and when he pulled it up I told Don that’s what we were looking for. So he played those opening bars that you hear on the record. Then Newkirk said he was going to do something else with it, and that’s when he added some of the other keyboard parts that you hear on there. Then Tom Silverman at Tommy Boy had to get me on the phone with Lonnie Liston Smith for the rights to use his record. I remember I got on the phone and Lonnie said to me, ‘Young blood, you can have that, man. That ain’t “Expansions” no more, you done made something new.'”
Which basically proved the exact point you were trying to make with the record…
“It did (laughs). I couldn’t believe he was saying that to me. I remember him saying how he was proud of us for taking his music and making something new out of it.”
Throughout “In Full Gear” you made a handful of references to Miami and there was also the track “Miami Bass”. What was your preoccupation with Miami at the time you were recording that album?
“At that time, I’ll tell you what it was in one word…
“No, it was Luke (laughs). When Stetsasonic went to Miami for the first time when we did the Def Jam tour in 87 with LL Cool J, Luke took care of me like, man, I don’t really know how to describe it. It was like the royal guard came out for me or something, yo. He took me to the ‘hood and showed me around and from that point on there was like a carte blanch thing going on with Stetsasonic in Miami. All the way down to Luke telling us what to perform in Miami. I remember him telling us to perform “On Fire” and saying that they didn’t know anything else that we did down there (laughs). I was like, ‘They like “On Fire”?!’ and Luke said, ‘It’s the bass! That’s what they listen to down here.’ I was smoking weed at the time and I remember Luke taking me to this guy’s house to pick some up and when the guy opened the door he started jumping up and down saying ‘You’re “On Fire”?! “On Fire”, “On Fire”?!’ Luke really laid it out and it was such a great experience for us, particularly in contrast with other people on the tour like LL. He had a lot of pressure at the time and they didn’t really like him down there. But one thing about Stet which I really think went a long way towards how people accepted us was that we never sneered our noses at anybody. We always let the music speak for itself and we really won a lot of people over that way. I remember we were on tour in the Midwest one time with Public Enemy and we were getting ready to perform. There was this dude there who was saying, ‘Ya’ll Stetsasonic? Yeah, I like you, y’all okay, but Public Enemy are my boys.’ He had a little money and whatever. I’ll never forget, we did the show, and he left Public Enemy and took us to the club and brought us all champagne (laughs).”
You were featured some years back in Mikey D’s documentary “The Making Of A Legend” commenting on his infamous battle with Melle Mel at the 1988 New Music Seminar. What do you remember about that incident?
“That was just a horrible night, man. I don’t think anyone is ever going to forget what happened that night. I mean, I tell people all the time, when they’re talking about the greatest emcee to ever live, I always say Melle Mel. When people talk about the greatest rhyme ever recorded, I always say it’s Melle Mel’s rhyme on “Beat Street Breakdown”…
Melle Mel will always be one of my favourite emcees and personally I think his three greatest lyrical moments are “The Message”, “Beat Street Breakdown” and “World War III”…
“Yeah, I mean that rhyme on “Beat Street Breakdown” just encompasses everything. He didn’t miss out anything on that record. It’s all there. So I say all of that almost as a disclaimer because Mel will always be my hero. But, when it comes down to it, a battle is a battle. So he tried to come at Mikey D with some rhymes that he’d done before and Mikey really isn’t the type of emcee to come at or go up against like that. Mike is nice. So Mel came at him and Mikey tossed him (laughs). Then Melle Mel got physically mad and went and took the Seminar belt back. It was sad, man. I mean, Mike ain’t no super tough guy but he ain’t from no punk part of Queens either and he had enough massive in there with him that night to have turned that into something totally different. But the respect level was there. So I remember Mikey just looking at Mel, like ‘What?!’ There was definitely a sadness in Mikey that night like, ‘I can’t believe Mel would do that.’ I mean, it was an honour for Mikey to go up against Melle Mel, it would have been an honour for Mikey to have lost to Melle Mel, but he didn’t (laughs). It was tough to see that happen to Mikey, man. But Mel’s got those moments, man. Some years back I worked with a company called Sock Bandit on their documentary “Hip-Hop Immortals”. Now, when we did that we called Mel up to the office, and Melle Mel went on for about forty minutes cursing out 50 Cent and then we found out he didn’t actually know 50 (laughs). It was just weird. So Mel has his moments, man (laughs).”
You produced Bango’s “Ghettoish” for Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate compilation in 1988 and you also worked on a couple of tracks off the 7A3 album “Coolin’ In Cali”. How did you get involved in those two projects?
“The Bango track came about purely through me and Ice-T being cool and him liking me as a producer. He told me that he was working on the Rhyme Syndicate compilation and that he had this kid out of Cleveland with a little street edge to him who he thought I would like. Now, 7A3, I actually knew Sean and Brett already because we were from the same area in Brooklyn. But again, that came through Ice-T and Jorge Hinosoja, because Jorge was involved in putting that project together. Jorge was just a cool dude and when you were working with him, if he saw there was an opportunity, then he did it. So I knew Sean and Brett from East New York, I knew Jorge and Ice-T, so we just put it together and made that happen.”
1989 saw Stetsasonic taking on a major role in the Stop The Violence Movement’s “Self-Destruction”. What do you remember about recording that single?
“There’s a couple of things that I always remember, like LL Cool J not being on the record. Now, there’s actually a performance we did on the Dr. Ruth Show that had LL on it that was really dope. He obviously didn’t have a part on the record, but the band played something behind him and he did a little something on there. LL was asked about “Self-Destruction” and why he didn’t participate and he said it was because of that beat that we used for the song. He said he hadn’t had a record out in awhile, he was due to be coming out with “Walking With A Panther” and he said, ‘Man, I haven’t been heard for awhile and I didn’t want to be heard after some time away on that beat.’ There were actually a few people who didn’t really care for the original track. Public Enemy actually didn’t really care for the track. Then D-Nice started throwing those extra parts in there from people’s own records. We actually didn’t say anything. So we didn’t know he was going to throw that part from the “Talkin’ All That Jazz” remix up under there because when we’d recorded our part we’d rhymed to the original track. So that was something I remember. Plus, I was right there when LL wrote MC Lyte’s rhyme and that really was an ill piece of history to see. LL asked Lyte to say her rhyme and she’d done this part rhyming all these facts together. LL asked Lyte who was going on after her on the record and she said it was me. LL was like, ‘You can’t go on before Daddy-O with that. You know how he’s going to come…’ So LL just took the pad from her and started writing the whole thing down which became Lyte’s verse. Then, one of my biggest recollections of making that record, which connects with what we were talking about earlier, is that the video shoot for “Self-Destruction” is where I first met James Mtume. He walked up to me, shook my hand and said, ‘Hi, I’m James Mtume the narrow-minded.’ I mean, we’re really good friends now (laughs). But that was definitely a moment.”
Check the final part of this interview here.
Stetsasonic performing “A.F.R.I.C.A.” at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1990.