Black Sparx footage of Hip-Hop legends Lord Finesse, A.G. and O.C. performing some D.I.T.C. classics at this weekend’s NY Big L tribute show.
Black Sparx footage of Hip-Hop legends Lord Finesse, A.G. and O.C. performing some D.I.T.C. classics at this weekend’s NY Big L tribute show.
Stretch & Bobbito continue to plunder the vaults for memorable moments from their legendary NY radio show, this week unleashing three 1995 Jigga appearances (including the infamous freestyle with Big L).
Big L – “Put It On – Matman’s ’94 Remix” (@DJMatman / 2015)
With today being the 16th anniversary of Diggin’ In The Crates legend Big L’s tragic death, check out this recent dope reworking of the Harlem icon’s classic 1994 single by London’s DJ Matman.
The Long Island lyricist gives a nod of respect to the late, great Big L as he put his own twist on the Harlem legend’s DJ Premier-produced “Platinum Plus”.
Bronx production legend Show delivers some drum-heavy action for this cut available on the vinyl-only Slice Of Spice release of Diggin’ In The Crates’ “The Remix Project”.
Big L – “Flamboyant – Panik Remix” (@MolemenRecords / 2014)
Chicago-based producer Panik puts a new twist on a Harlem favourite.
As one of Hip-Hop’s all-time greatest crews, the Diggin’ In The Crates collective have amassed a vast amount of classics between them throughout the years.
On this free project, producers such as DJ Premier, 9th Wonder and Apollo Brown join forces with the likes of Lord Finesse, Diamond D and Buckwild to rework various bangers from the D.I.T.C. discography with impressive results.
Diggin’ In The Crates producer Buckwild brings the sonic drama to the late, great Big L’s tale of a dice game gone wrong originally released on 2000’s “The Big Picture” album.
The former Roc-A-Fella-affiliated producer turns the sinister sound of DJ Premier’s original version of this Big L classic on its head with this latest remix from the forthcoming Diggin’ In The Crates project.
Photo by Monifa Skerritt-Perry
If you were an underground Hip-Hop head back in the 90s, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have some Shabaam Sahdeeq wax still taking up space in your vinyl crates.
Officially debuting in 1996 with his indie single “So Real”, the Brooklyn-bred emcee’s slick wordplay over producer Jocko’s smooth Patrice Rushen-sampling beat captured the attention of listeners in record stores the world over, leading to Sahdeeq quickly carving out space for himself in the then steadily growing independent New York rap scene.
Joining the likes of Mos Def, Company Flow and Talib Kweli, Shabaam soon found himself reppin’ the razor-blade insignia of the newly-established underground powerhouse Rawkus Records, dropping well-received singles such as 97’s “Side 2 Side” and 98’s “Soundclash”, whilst also making appearances on the label’s “Soundbombing” compilations plus the remix to then label-mate Pharoahe Monch’s monster 1999 single “Simon Says”.
Whilst label politics would see the Rotten Apple rhymer leaving Rawkus without releasing his own album, Sahdeeq’s reputation for dropping quality music remained unscathed thanks to both his collaborative work with Mr. Complex, DJ Spinna and Apani B. Fly as Polyrhythm Addicts and further singles with the likes of New Jersey’s Ran Reed (“Murderous Flow”) and golden-era great Kool G. Rap (“No Surrender”).
However, by the time Shabaam had settled at new label home Raptivism and recorded his debut solo album “Never Say Never”, personal drama and a brush with the law would find the lyricist beginning a four-year jail sentence just before the project’s 2001 release.
Having spent his time since returning home steadily working on music to regain his fanbase, Sahdeeq recently joined forces with Netherlands-based label Below System and is preparing to drop his long-awaited album “Keepers Of The Lost Art”, an impressive work of true-school Hip-Hop featuring production from the UK’s Lewis Parker plus DJ Skizz and Harry Fraud, as well as appearances from Spit Gemz, Skyzoo and Tragedy Khadafi.
In this interview, the Crooklyn microphone fiend discusses how he first found his passion for rhyming, being signed to Rawkus and the motivation behind his music today.
What are your earliest memories of Hip-Hop?
“I started hearing Hip-Hop at a very early age growing-up in Brooklyn out in the courtyard around our building. Older cousins and uncles would be playing Hip-Hop on their radios. I’d say the first record I heard though that really drove it home to me that Hip-Hop was something I wanted to be a part of was Run-DMC’s “Sucker M.C.’s”. I can remember copping a lot of vinyl singles back in the 80s, like Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show”. I’d also be listening to Hip-Hop on the radio, and back then in New York it was either Mr. Magic or Red Alert, so I’d be going up and down the dial listening to both stations and recording it on tape.”
You weren’t taking sides in the Mr. Magic / Red Alert rivalry then?
“Nah (laughs). I was rolling with both of them and really enjoying the music I was hearing them playing. I remember, at that same time in the 80s, I had an older friend who had a basement with a record player down there and he would be playing me early stuff from people like Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, things like that. So I was really being made aware of a lot of the music that was out back then. I mean, even before that, I’d heard the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” being played at the house parties that the grown-ups would have at that time. I liked “Rapper’s Delight”, but Hip-Hop was coming in from the disco era at that time, but after that is when it started to get rawer musically and that’s when I really started to get into it, from the early-to-mid-80s.”
At what point did you first start attempting to rhyme?
“So, I went from just listening and enjoying the music to freestyling over records and having fun joking around with friends. Then after awhile it was like, ‘Okay, we can really do this.’ So then it went from just freestyling in the park or the basement to actually trying to loop up break-beats and really wanting to do something with the music. I mean, I was rhyming with other kids who at the time I thought were amazing and that really put the bug in me to want to continue making music. What really did it for me in particular though was seeing the live battles that people would have. I had a friend named Kev, who was actually the cousin of my step-brother, and I saw him battle live and at that point I was really like, ‘Yeah, I wanna do that!’ It was live, it was raw and the stuff he was saying was like, ‘Ohhhhh!’ The energy was tangible and was different to how I felt when I was listening to Hip-Hop on a record. I mean, the records we were hearing at the time were more concept-driven and were being made for people to be able to relate to. But the battles were just raw material and were live in the flesh. Instead of saying a rhyme that maybe somebody listening could relate to, battling was all about chopping someone down according to what they were wearing, who they were and things that might have happened in the neighbourhood. I mean when I saw Kev doing that, we were outside in the street, someone was banging on a car to make a beat and it was just a great experience. That really made me want to start writing.”
During that 80s / early-90s period before you actually started making records yourself, do you remember seeing anyone performing live in the parks or at block parties who then want on to become a known name in Hip-Hop?
“Man, I saw a lot of people. I remember seeing Mikey D who went on to be in Main Source rhyming in the parks. I saw Biz Markie out in the parks before he actually got on. I remember seeing Redman tear it down in Queens before he went on to be a star. There were a lot of emcees during that time who were really live. I mean, a little later on, I was in a cypher with Big L in Harlem during Harlem Week before he ever came out with a record. There were a lot of emcees from that time who went on from just having the local fame to bigger things.”
Who was down with the Synista Voicez crew that you were associated with when you first came out?
“It was a collective of people like my step-brother, the guy who did the beats Jocko and also Nick Wiz, plus a couple of other people I knew in the tri-state area. We were trying to put something together but then everyone just went in their different directions so it never really happened like that.”
Photo by Olise Forel for Moving Silence
In recent years Nick Wiz has dropped a series of “Cellar Sounds” compilations which have featured a number of tracks you recorded with him during the early-to-mid 90s prior to your debut single “So Real” dropping in 1996. Was the intention back then for you to drop a Nick Wiz-produced project?
“I was really just getting it together at that time. I mean, between Nick Wiz, Mark Sparks and Jocko, they were the producers that I did my first official recordings with. Before that it was about using a four-track, someone would sample a break-beat and we made a song. But when I got with Mark Sparks, Nick Wiz and Jocko, then it became more professional. We would actually go to the studio to make a song. It wasn’t just about freestyling over break-beats anymore. We were using sixteen to twenty-four tracks and I learned about doing layers, overdubs, punch-ins, hooks and how to really make an actual song. I mean, a lot of the songs that are on those Nick Wiz “Cellar Sounds” compilations were recorded when I’d moved to Jersey and first got with them. Those songs were what we considered demos back then. It actually feels a little funny for those songs to be out because those were the songs that we decided not to put out at the time (laughs). But since they have been out, I’ve had people tell me that they like this song or that song from those “Cellar Sounds” compilations and I’m like, ‘Wow! I never even intended for those songs to ever come out.'”
So were you actively shopping those demo tracks to different labels at the time?
“Yeah. I mean, some of those songs were actually the reason I ended-up getting with Rawkus. But prior to that, I was cool with Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito so I would send them those demos and some of them got played on air in New York. So then I’d have people asking me where they could get my records but the songs were never actually put out (laughs). I remember, “On A Mission”, which was recorded as a demo with Nick Wiz in 1996, that was played heavily on Stretch and Bobbito’s show. But it was such a polished demo that it was able to be played alongside actual records and it didn’t sound out of place. So later on, Wiz told me that he wanted to put all of those old joints out on his compilations because people were asking to hear that old stuff and wanted that element of nostalgia. So I was just like, ‘Do what you do.'”
So prior to Rawkus what other labels had you approached for a deal?
“I mean, I was building with a few labels at the time, like Nervous Records and also Capitol. I mean, I ended-up doing a deal with Capitol and was on the second album from the group Us3 which was called “Broadway & 52nd”. That came out in 1996. It was kinda like a poppy, jazz thing and I was really trying to shop them some of my raw Hip-Hop, but the label really just wanted me to do the jazzier stuff with Us3 for that particular album. So I was supposed to do a solo deal with Capitol, but that ended-up not working out because I didn’t want to do what they wanted me to do (laughs). I mean, that side of things was all new to me and it was a shock to see how certain things worked within the music industry. Some of the business end of things definitely flew over my head. But at the same time, I was just happy to be in the mix. Then what happened was, because things hadn’t panned out with the labels I’d been speaking to, that’s when we ended-up putting out the “So Real” / “It Could Happen” single independently in 96 which then ended-up getting picked-up by Priority’s Freeze Records and given wider distribution.”
So that single must have been getting a nice buzz in New York for it to have been picked up by Priority / Freeze?
“Right. I mean, you had Stretch Armstrong who was playing “It Could Happen” heavily on his radio show, which was the more underground side, then you had Red Alert who was playing “So Real” heavily on his Hot 97 drive-time show. So the single was definitely getting some heavy buzz in New York and it was on the strength of that record that led to me dealing with Rawkus.”
At the time you put out “So Real” in 1996 the independent scene in New York was really starting to gain momentum. Was there a real awareness amongst underground artists in the city that they were contributing to a scene that was building towards something or was it something that grew organically before people had even fully comprehended what was happening?
“It grew into a scene out of necessity. People wanted to put their stuff out and the type of music that was being made just wasn’t resonating with the major labels at the time. So it was a case of artists trying to see what they could do on their own. I mean, even Jay-Z was doing the same thing at the time. He was shopping his music to labels around that same time, 94 /95, and they weren’t picking it up so he wound up putting a single out himself and then he got distribution through Priority for his “Reasonable Doubt” album. But it was a different climate then for sales and you could put a vinyl single out and it would sell and that’s what you built your buzz from. I mean, we probably pressed up about three thousand copies of the “So Real” single when we put that out independently.”
I remember picking that single up from Mr Bongo in London when it dropped…
“Oh yeah, I know about Mr Bongo. I remember when I was in London back in the 90s, I’d stay in Dark-N-Cold and would be freestyling in there with people like DJ MK passing through. Then you had Shortee Blitz who was at another store up the road from there…
“Yeah, yeah, Deal Real. I’d be in the basement there with Shortee Blitz and Destiny just rhyming. Shout-out to my man Supa T…
“Yeah (laughs). I’d be down in that Deal Real basement with Supa T freestyling. Those were good times, man.”
Were you already familiar with a lot of the NY artists who started putting independent records out during that mid-90s period?
“Oh yeah. I mean, all those people like Mos Def, Pumpkinhead, Jean Grae, Talib Kweli, we used to be at all the different events in the city. We all used to be in Washington Square Park freestyling. Everybody used to be there. Everything kinda happened simultaneously because we had events like Lyricist Lounge which was the springboard for a lot of New York artists who then went on to make records. I mean, the first time I ever saw Biggie live was actually at Lyricist Lounge and also Foxy Brown. A lot of people really got some of their first exposure at Lyricist Lounge and then took their music in their own direction depending on who they got put on by. The scene was definitely bubbling at that time and a lot of the people that I’d seen around before that point did wind-up making it onto records, whether that was on a lower, underground level or a higher level, depending on the route that they took.”
By the time both Biggie and Jay-Z had put out their second albums in 1997, as a fan of Hip-Hop, it really felt like a line had been drawn between the underground Hip-Hop world and the commercially successful artists. Some fans were really holding Biggie and Jay-Z up as examples of the music that was hurting Hip-Hop, but then when you’d speak to a lot of underground NY artists, they were actually fans of both of them. What were your thoughts on that at the time?
“I mean, Biggie and Jay-Z were both lyricists. They took their route with the music and it led to them blowing-up. I mean, we all started on the same playing field. I used to see Biggie freestyling on Fulton Street when he was working on his music. But he got with Puff and Puff wanted to try different things with the music and the imagery which led to Big blowing-up. But he was still a lyricist. Same thing with Jay-Z. Then you had other artists who were maybe a little more stubborn who didn’t want to go that same route, so record labels felt that perhaps they couldn’t blow them up in the same way, so they were left to go their own route. But I definitely wasn’t mad at either Biggie or Jay-Z for blowing-up the way they did. It was just the way things went.”
So your attitude back then was that just because you were an underground independent artist, that didn’t mean that you couldn’t also enjoy the music that you were hearing on the radio that was being labelled as commercial?
“Exactly. It was all Hip-Hop. I mean, I was listening to Mase records and Company Flow records back then. Now, when I look back on it, a Mase record from back then is a thousand times better than what’s being played on commercial radio right now.”
Considering how many cyphers you must have seen and been a part of back then, are there any particular names that stand-out to you today when you think about emcees battling in the 90s?
“Yeah. I mean, seeing Big L battle live during Harlem Week, that was definitely a highlight from that time for me. I remember it was a cypher and everybody was taking their turn jumping in, then Big L came along and just shut the s**t down (laughs). After he rhymed, nobody wanted to rhyme anymore. He just dispersed the crowd (laughs). But I remember seeing Mase in those same cyphers during Harlem Week as well when he was with Children Of The Corn and he was raw. Herb McGruff was another one who would shut cyphers down in the street. Someone else who stands out to me from that time is Thirstin Howl. I mean, I saw Thirstin battle everybody (laughs). C-Rayz Walz is another one who I saw battle everybody. Another crazy thing I remember from when I was first coming out is when I was one of the headliners on the bill at a club in NYC and Immortal Technique was in there battling. This was before he even got big on the underground, but he was definitely someone who could battle anybody. He was in there that night slaughtering people. Mos Def was someone as well who I remember seeing crush people in battles when we’d be out in Washington Square Park.”
So how did you officially get signed to Rawkus?
“Initially, I came to them with “So Real”, but they felt it was a little too commercial because we had the Patrice Rushen sample in there and some singing on the hook. But the b-side, “It Could Happen”, that was more the style Rawkus were looking for. That particular track was getting a lot of play on the underground radio shows in New York, so that’s what made Rawkus decide to do a record with me and we dropped the “Side 2 Side” / “Arabian Nights” single in 1997. So now, “Side 2 Side” was still a little more radio-friendly and “Arabian Nights” was the underground record. That was my style at the time, to make songs that might appeal to slightly different audiences, and the same thing happened again with “Side 2 Side” getting some commercial airplay and deejays like Stretch Armstrong would play “Arabian Nights”. “Arabian Nights” has become the joint that everyone will tell me is my classic. So I always have to perform that track. That record was perfect for the underground and the concept just really seemed to catch the people’s imagination.”
Considering you’d already built relationships with artists like Mos Def and Talib Kweli from crossing paths in the NY scene, how did it feel to then be signed to the same label and technically be in competition with each other?
“There was definitely competition but at the same time the fact that we were all on the same label made it feel like we were all one big crew even though we weren’t. I mean, everybody was trying to do their own thing and blow-up in their own way, but we all realised that we were kinda in it together because the music that we were putting out wasn’t commercial music so we were all going to be facing the same struggles. I mean, it definitely felt different to go from rhyming in the park with people for us all to then be making records. It felt like things were moving to another level. But to be honest, I don’t think I was really fully aware of what was going on at that time. I mean, I wasn’t aware of how many records were being sold. I wasn’t aware of publishing. I wasn’t aware of a lot of things that I should have been aware of. I was really still in the ‘rhyming-in-the-park’ phase and it only really started to resonate with me what we’d achieved when the album deal with Rawkus came about and also the deal with Nervous for the Polyrhythm Addicts project. It was at that time that I knew things were really getting serious.”
One of your other Rawkus-released tracks that made an impact was 1998’s DJ Spinna-produced “5 Star Generals” posse cut with A.L., Eminem, Kwest Tha Madd Lad and Skam2. Was that track recorded with everyone in the studio at the same time and, if so, what do you remember from that particular session?
“That track was definitely recorded with everyone in the studio at the same time. I actually have a picture from that session which I need to get back from Mr. Complex (laughs). We recorded “5 Star Generals” at DJ Spinna’s studio in his basement in Brooklyn. Eminem and everybody was there, A.L., Kwest Tha Madd Lad. I remember I was the first person to arrive and I laid my verse first and then everybody else laid there’s down in the order that they’d arrived. I remember when I heard Eminem lay his verse and I was just like ‘Wooooow!’ I actually wanted to change my s**t after I heard that but Spinna was like, ‘Nah, man, it’s good. Leave it.'”
How familiar were you with Eminem at that point?
“I mean, I’d met him previously at some shows. I actually posted the ticket up online of the show we had together at Wetlands. It was hosted by Smif-N-Wessun and it was me, Eminem, The Outsidaz and a couple of other people. I remember someone had performed before me and had gotten booed by the crowd so Smif-N-Wessun were like, ‘The next person who comes up here had better be good.’ I went up there, killed it and got a lot of love from the crowd and at that point I was still relatively unknown. Then the same thing happened with Eminem, he wasn’t really known at the time, he was the white kid down with the Outsidaz, people didn’t really know what to make of him, but he got onstage that night and bodied it. I’d also met him another time at one of the first internet radio stations, which was 88HipHop.Com. Plus, a couple of my friends like Thirstin Howl and A.L., dudes who’d been at the Rap Olympics, they kept telling me, ‘Yo, you need to get this Eminem kid on a song. He’s gonna blow-up, I’m telling you.’ So we invited him down to the studio and he dropped that verse for “5 Star Generals”. The crazy thing is, it was whilst doing the paperwork for that track that Eminem ended-up meeting Paul Rosenberg through my lawyer at the time.”
The album you were recording for Rawkus was never released and you ended-up leaving the label. Where did the Rawkus situation start to go wrong as far as you were concerned?
“I mean, we all were young and we all made mistakes. At the time I placed all the blame on Rawkus. I mean, the guys who were running Rawkus, Brian and Jarret, they were like twenty-four-years-old. We were all around the same age. They were learning the business at the same time as I was learning about the business. The problem was that they also had major investors in the company, like the son of Rupert Murdoch. So what they captured in the beginning with what the label stood for, I think they let that slip through their fingers by trying to be like the major labels they were supposed to be providing an alternative to. They started wasting money and really deviating away from what made the label a success in the first place. I mean, they got gold albums out of Mos Def’s “Black On Both Sides” and Big L’s “The Big Picture” so they became focused on replicating that and kind of sat everyone else on the label down, including Company Flow, which led to El-P going and doing his own thing with Def Jux.”
Do you think the success of the label took everyone by surprise, from the artists to the people who were running Rawkus?
“It surprised the s**t out of everybody, including the dudes who ran the label. I don’t think they really knew exactly what to do with it and it went crazy. I mean, Pharoahe Monch for instance, I don’t think they thought “Simon Says” was going to blow-up as big as it did, so they never cleared that “Godzilla” sample. Then when the single blew-up they were scrambling to clear the sample and by then it was too late. So there were mistakes that were being made. I mean, me and Pharoahe had the same management at the time, and I think that whole malaise behind that single and album kinda pushed my s**t under the radar. I mean, with Pharoahe and I having the same management, if he’s beefing with the label and they’re dealing with his management, that’s also the same management they’re dealing with when it comes to my music. So I was running around in the streets and I decided I wanted a release from the label. I told them that if they weren’t going to put my album out within a certain amount of time then they should let me go so I could run with the music. Rawkus gave me a release but they didn’t let me take any of the music I’d made with them because they knew I could have taken that and blown-up somewhere else. I had like five songs on that Rawkus album from Just Blaze and at that time his only real production credits were on the Harlem World album “The Movement” from Mase’s crew. He was still interning at The Cutting Room studio back then.”
So the Polyrhythm Addicts project “Rhyme Related” that came out via Wreck / Nervous in 1999 was almost like a release for you to be able to put music out without having to deal with Rawkus…
“Exactly. That was the perfect avenue for me to still be able to get music out there and continue what I was trying to accomplish. I was actually going to do a solo deal with Nervous, but the way the paperwork was looking, I was scared to be caught up with them. That was also around the time Nervous were going through s**t with Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun, so I didn’t want to do a deal with them when I could see they were already beefing with their own artists.”
It definitely seemed that some of the labels that had established themselves during that independent era started to reflect the politics of the bigger corporate labels as time went on…
“Man, when money started getting involved and that money started getting big, s**t changed. I mean, if a lot of the labels at that time had just kept it official with their artists then the relationships would have remained strong and everybody really just wanted to work and succeed. But money definitely played a large part in things going wrong between a lot of labels and artists that came out of that underground scene.”
When you think back to that time, are there any artists who fell away from the music scene for whatever reason who you felt could have really left their mark on the game?
“Yeah, yeah. I felt that Kwest Tha Madd Lad could have taken it to the next level. I always felt that his rhymes were funny and witty and that he always made good songs. L-Fudge was someone else who I felt could have taken it to the next level. I mean, there were so many talented artists at that time who I thought had what it took.”
I always thought A.L. was nice with his rhymes…
“A.L. too. Everybody I had on that “5 Star Generals” record I thought had the potential to blow-up. Skam2 was crazy with the rhymes and concepts. I could go on for days about artists from that time who should have blown-up (laughs). But I think a lot of people from that era became discouraged and in some cases lost the love for it or decided that they needed to take another route outside of music because they had families to feed and other responsibilities. I mean, I do other things today aside from just music, but I really can’t let Hip-Hop go because I feel that I’ve devoted a large part of my life to this and whether I blow big or not I’m going to be making this music until I’m gone because this is just what I enjoy to do. I mean, if you put your heart and soul into your music then it’ll always connect with someone out there. I remember when I came home from jail in 2005, I thought the music thing was over for me because I was basically starting from scratch. A lot of people I’d come up with had blown-up while I’d been away and I felt like I’d missed my time and opportunity. I mean, my actual official debut album “Never Say Never” which came out on Raptivism in 2001, I went to jail right before it came out. So I never got to tour with it, I never got to do any videos, I never got to really do any promotion. Since I’ve been home I’ve dropped various projects but I’ve done everything myself, so they haven’t reached as many people as they could have because I didn’t necessarily have the money to put into them. But my new album, “Keepers Of The Lost Art”, that’s basically everything coming around full circle.”
How did you approach making this new album as there definitely seems to be a concept behind it given the title?
“This album, I’ve basically been recording piece by piece for the last couple of years. Certain songs I made I put aside because I thought they would fit with this new project. I could have put them out on other projects but I wanted to save them for the official album, like all of the tracks I recorded with Lewis Parker. My whole approach to “Keepers Of The Lost Art” was that I wanted it to have that boom-bap feel and that classic 90s sound, but I also wanted to use some new producers and mix it all together in a pot. There are so many new artists today who’re trying to duplicate that 90s sound, but I’m from the 90s so I’m not duplicating anything, this is just what I do.”
You mentioned the UK’s Lewis Parker who is responsible for producing a large portion of “Keepers Of The Lost Art”. What drew you to his particular style and sound?
“Lewis produced about half of the album. I mean, I knew of Lewis Parker from when I used to be out in London in the 90s and we’d crossed paths back then. But a friend of mine actually took me out to his house in Queens a few years back when he was living in New York. Lewis started playing some of his beats and I was just like, ‘Yeaaaah!’ That was the sound that I wanted. Lewis has that golden-era sound with those sharp SP drums and it has that warm, analog sound with the ill samples. It was exactly what I was looking for.”
Lewis has been putting in work for about twenty years now and is definitely a master of his craft. If he’d have been born and raised in New York he’d have probably been right there alongside the likes of Pete Rock and Large Professor back in the 90s contributing to some classic East Coast albums….
“Ah man, definitely. He would have been up there with all of them. But I feel that the s**t he got now is enough for him to be mentioned alongside those names today.”
You definitely sound very confident about the music you’ve put together on “Keepers Of The Lost Art”…
“I feel like this album is the greatest work I’ve ever put together. I don’t know how other people are going to feel about it, but I feel that’s it’s my greatest work and I definitely think the planets are aligning for it. I mean, they played one of my tracks on Shade 45 with Sway as part of their “A&R Room” segment and it beat out Jay Electronica and Jay-Z’s “We Made It” track. I saw that and was like, ‘Word?!‘ I mean, I’m a Jay Electronica fan, but to beat him and Jay-Z on something like that was a big deal to me. So I feel that certain things are aligning and hopefully people will take notice when the album drops.”
What are your thoughts on the current New York underground scene?
“I think it’s healthy, man. I do a monthly show out here in New York which is called “It’s Alive!” for obvious reasons because people keep saying that Hip-Hop is dead and it’s not. But we have a good mix of classic vets that come through like Tragedy Khadafi and Blaq Poet and they’re mingling with the new artists and different collaborations are coming out of those meetings. I just think the underground scene in New York is beautiful right now.”
Obviously it’s very different to the scene you came up in considering the technology and online social media outlets that are available to artists today…
“Yeah, it’s definitely a different ball game. I mean, now, you can reach other parts of the world within seconds. Back when I was first coming out, I didn’t know that I had people in places like England listening to my s**t until I actually went over there. Now, talented artists like Spit Gemz and Nutso can gauge who’s checking for their stuff using social media and by being online which means they can really promote themselves to the right people across the world. But at the same time it’s a gift and a curse, because those talented artists are having to deal with the game being saturated. People can just put some microwave s**t up on the computer and straight away they think they’re an artist. But what separates people is the quality of your work, how you put it out, who you’re working with and then the final frontier is the stage. I mean, you can put out whatever you want to on the computer, but when people see you live, that’s what’s gonna separate the true artists from everyone else. As an independent artist, your live show is one of the most important parts of what you do, because that’s your opportunity to convince people who might not already know you that they should be buying your s**t. Nowadays, with everything being so instant, you can kill it onstage, then people go home, Google your name, find all your music, your videos, and that’s what helps you build a fanbase.”
So after almost twenty years in the game, what lessons have your learned along the way that you still apply to to career today?
“So many, so many, soooo many. From the business side of things with contracts, to registering songs for publishing, to really owning your brand. But mainly, I just learnt to put out what you’re feeling from the heart and that’s still something that I do today. You shouldn’t worry about other opinions and let that cloud your vision. If you let that happen then you’re not really being a true artist and making the music that you believe in, you’re just trying to gauge what everyone else likes and then trying to fit in with that. That’s not being creative as far as I’m concerned and it takes away from the artistry. An artist should make the music that they like and then hope that people catch up to what you’re doing. That’s what being creative is about to me. So with this new “Keepers Of The Lost Art” album, I just want to play my part in keeping the art of Hip-Hop alive according to what I feel is captured in the four elements of the culture.”
Follow Shabaam Sahdeeq on Twitter – @ShabaamSahdeeq
Preview “Keepers Of The Lost Art” on Below System Records here.
Shabaam Sahdeeq – “Tranquilo” (Below System Records / 2014)
NY duo Stretch & Bobbito drop what will hopefully be the first of many Soundcloud gems from their legendary WKCR radio show with a vintage 1992 freestyle from the late, great Big L – listen here.
Born and raised in the birthplace of Hip-Hop, Bronx emcee Majestic Gage takes his craft very seriously. It’s that same dedication to the art of lyricism which led to the 28-year-old wordsmith being recruited by NYC’s mighty D.I.T.C. to stand as one of the crew’s next generation of artists (alongside A-Bless and the now sadly deceased Tashane), building on the classic foundations set by the likes of Lord Finesse, A.G. and O.C. with genuine raw talent and a true love of the culture.
Having already recorded with established Diggin’ In The Crates affiliates D-Flow and Milano as one-third of Barbury’N, Gage has also been taking his own steps to showcase his skills, recently dropping the solo track “Fair Warning” produced by Harlem’s Ty Ahart.
With heavy involvement in the forthcoming D.I.T.C. compilation and his own projects on the horizon, Gage is determined to earn his props and respect the old-fashioned away, by displaying authentic microphone techniques rather than relying on gimmicks or being forced to embrace popular trends.
Here, the BX resident discusses his initial forays into rhyming, being co-signed by legendary producer Showbiz and his thoughts on New York radio.
What are some of your earliest Hip-Hop memories?
“My earliest memories of Hip-Hop are just hearing it around the house. My aunt, my mom’s younger sister Keisha, she used to always play Hip-Hop and I’d be hearing songs like Audio Two’s “Top Billin'”, other songs by Rakim, and I just used to walk around the house and listen to them. I used to think that rapping was cool, but at that point in time I never thought about actually doing music or anything like that. I mean, I was real young around that time, about seven-years-old, maybe even a little younger. So Hip-Hop was just something that I would hear in the house that I thought was cool and I used to rap along with the lyrics and I’d see the videos on TV.”
Although you were obviously very young at that point, did you have any awareness that the music you were hearing actually started in the same borough of New York that you were being raised in?
“I wasn’t aware at that age that it had happened in my borough like that. But, I used to watch “Beat Street” all the time (laughs). That was one of my favourite movies when I was little. I used to watch that movie over and over and over. Then, as I got older and a little more into the music, I started going back and listening to a lot of the older stuff which gave me some of the history behind the music. I mean, my mom wouldn’t even let me listen to the new stuff that was coming out, like when Biggie was first coming up and artists like that. She would not let me listen to that stuff due to the content of the music (laughs). So I used to listen to a lot of older artists like Kool Moe Dee, Rakim, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and stuff like that. In fact, listening to KRS-One on “South Bronx” was actually how I really found out that Hip-Hop started in the Bronx (laughs). Looking back on it now, that was kinda fortunate for me, because I got to hear that stuff first and to know where the music came from. Plus, like I said, I was watching “Beat Street” and seeing the break-dancers and people putting graffiti on the walls, which was all just intriguing to me. But I still wasn’t actually rapping at that time. It was just cool to me to see Lee and them get down at The Roxy (laughs). I must have watched that movie about a hundred times.”
So being exposed to that older material helped you join the dots between what had happened in the 80s and the newer artists who were coming out at that time in the early-90s…
“Exactly. It was just fortunate for me to be exposed to that older music before I really heard the new stuff at the time, rather than starting to listen to the music where my era started in the 90s and then having to go back.”
So when did you actually start rhyming? Was it something you made a conscious decision to pursue or did it happen more naturally?
“Man, I remember this like it was yesterday. I was nine-years-old and I was in the fourth grade. It would have been around 1994. It was the beginning of the school year and my teacher gave us a homework assignment where we all had to go home and write a rap about ourselves. Then, when we came back to school on Monday everybody had to say their rap in front of the class. Now, my step-father used to rap back in the day, so when I went home I got him to help me with the rhyme. But aside from that, I’ve always had music in me anyway as my biological father is a musician and plays guitar. So anyway, my step-father helped me write this rhyme and I memorised it, even though it was probably only about six bars long (laughs). So I went to school on Monday, I said the rhyme in front of the class and everybody went crazy (laughs). That was a real rush and it was something I’d never felt before in my life. I mean, I was a pretty shy kid and I wasn’t someone who talked a lot or anything like that, but doing that in front of the class just made me feel some sort of way and I just couldn’t really explain it. But my teacher liked the rhyme so much that she brought me down to the second grade class and they all sat down in a circle around me and I said the same rhyme in front of these second graders and they were going crazy again! That feeling just came back (laughs). So, after that, I was like, ‘That was pretty ill.’ So what I started doing was, my step-father had a bunch of rhymes that he’d written back in the day….”
Was your step-father someone who was known for rhyming back-in-the-day or was he just doing it more as a past-time with his boys because Hip-Hop was so prevalent in the Bronx?
“Nah, he wasn’t really known for it. I mean, he was around people like Showbiz and them back in the day being from the Bronx, but he was rhyming just to rhyme. He didn’t put anything out or really do anything with it. I can’t even remember the name he said he used to rhyme under. But he had a whole bunch of rhymes written down and I used to go home from school and just read them. Then I started changing little words in the rhymes and I would learn those. But what happened is, after a certain amount of time, all of my step-father’s rhymes ran out (laughs). Now, I would change the words in his rhymes, spit the rhymes to my friends and everyone would be like, ‘Whoa!’ So when they eventually ran out, I had to start writing my own rhymes (laughs). I started rapping with my older brother, who had been writing rhymes before me. He was the person who put me on to people like Biggie and 2Pac. So we were writing our raps together and making little tapes to let our friends hear. Then, as I hit my teenage years, there weren’t really many people rhyming in my junior high-school, so my first ciphers were in my neighbourhood with some of the kids around there…”
Were you confident about your skills at that time or did it take awhile before people started saying that you were nice?
“Okay, so it was 1998 and I was about thirteen-years-old. I had mad raps already that I’d written and different song ideas. So this was around the time DMX had put out “It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot”. I remember, it was night-time and me and my boys were on our way to Harlem. We were walking down the block in the Bronx going past this restaurant called the Shrimp Box. One of my boys was like, ‘Yo! That looks like DMX!’ and I was like, ‘Nah!’ Now, we used to play games like that if we saw someone that looked like a celebrity. So I thought that’s what he was doing. We went across the street and my man Shawn was like, ‘You should go in there and rap to him, yo.’ Man, I was scared (laughs). I was petrified and was just like, ‘Naaah’ So Shawn said, ‘I’m going to go in there and talk to him.’ So he went in there, came out and was like, ‘X said that you ain’t no real rapper if you can’t go in there and rap to him.’ So I sucked up all my nervousness, went in there, gave DMX a pound and he was crazy cool. He was in there with his wife and a couple of his boys, I spit my rhyme for DMX and he was bobbing his head. Now, the whole situation was crazy to me because this was when DMX was at the height of success and he was right there in the Bronx. He called his manager right there on the spot, but he never picked up. But that’s when I really started thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve really got to get on this music thing, because if DMX says I’m nice then I must have something.’ I mean, X was one of my favourite artists back then.”
That must have really been an incredible moment for you as a young emcee to be given props by one of New York’s biggest artists at the time…
“Yeah, definitely. What was funny though was when I went back to my ‘hood and I’m telling people, ‘Yo, I rapped for DMX!’ everybody was like, ‘You’re lying!’ I was like, ‘Yo! I rapped for DMX on Third Avenue in the Shrimp Box!’ He autographed my dollar bill, so I showed them that and they just told me it was fake (laughs). But that was dope though to meet DMX like that. But it was after that, when I went to high-school, that was when I started to have my first battles. I’d only ever been in ciphers before and had never really battled, but people were telling me that I was nice so I was kinda itching to battle. I’d seen people battling before and always wanted to test those waters. So once I got into high-school, it was on (laughs). I remember a kid approached me within the first two weeks of starting high-school, he just walked right up to me and was like, ‘Yo! You wanna battle?’ It was just me, him and his man, nobody else was even paying attention and we just started going at it. We ended-up getting escorted out of the hall because everyone had to go to class, but I felt like I’d won so I was telling people that I’d battled him and that I ate him (laughs). Now, I wasn’t knowing that this guy Dave was considered the king of battling in the school. So, I was in the gym one day and he came up to me with mad people and was like, ‘You said you ate me? Let’s battle right now!’ We battled each other everyday after that (laughs). Every time he saw me, we battled. So I would go home and write my little raps because I knew he was going to come looking for me the next day. That went on until he gave me my respect and was like, ‘Okay, you’re nice.’ But that whole situation really helped me sharpen up my skills.”
At that time in the late-90s, Bronx rappers like Big Pun, Fat Joe and Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz were really holding their own against other NY artists like Jay-Z, DMX and Nas who were starting to make mainstream noise. Were you looking up to BX artists like that as a young kid or did their success make them feel a million miles away from where you were at?
“I mean, Lord Tariq and them, as young emcees we definitely looked up to them. I’d never actually seen Tariq or Money Boss in person because I’m not from their section of the Bronx. Tariq was from the Soundview area and I’m more real southern Bronx, around about the 150s and the 130s. But I did used to see Fat Joe back then. Joe used to have his store on Third Avenue, right next to the Shrimp Box where I met DMX (laughs). This was when he first came out with his 560 clothing line and he opened up his store in the Bronx. So, Fat Joe used to be up there all the time and I remember Shyheim used to come through as well. I remember seeing Big Pun up in there one time as well, but this was before Pun had even come out. I just saw this big dude up in the store and thought it was Fat Joe’s brother (laughs). But Joe was from Forest which isn’t too far away from my projects, so he used to always be around the area.”
So how and when did the link with D.I.T.C. happen?
“I hooked-up with D-Flow first. My man Dunn Dee had known Flow for years because our project buildings aren’t too far from each other. So Flow and Party Arty used to be in my hood all the time and they knew my man Dunn Dee who I used to rhyme with and then he actually ended up managing me. I put a mix-tape out called “The Landlord” around 2004 and while I was working on my second mix-tape project, Dee let D-Flow hear the first one. He came to my hood and I guess he liked the mix-tape because he was like, ‘Yo! You should come to the studio and record.’ So the first time I went there me and Flow actually did a song together. It wasn’t even planned or nothing like that but he heard what I was doing and was like, ‘Yo, I’ve got something for that too.’ The song actually came out dope (laughs). So I just kept going up to Flow’s studio to record and then after awhile he approached me and my man Dunn Dee and told us that he wanted me to be a part of Get Dirty. Flow broke everything down to me and told me that he still wanted me to do my music the way that I was doing it, but that I’d rep the brand and all that. I was definitely cool with it and I met Party Arty and all of that. Arty was crazy cool and he treated me like a brother from the gate. Both Flow and Arty really treated me like family from the jump.”
Did you have to get the official stamp of approval from Showbiz?
“The first time I met Show, I’d gone to the studio with D-Flow to record. We’d gone down to D&D, which is now HeadQCourterz, and that was the first time I met Show. He didn’t really pay attention to me at the time because he wasn’t even really there for that. I just gave him a pound and that was it, y’know. But then Flow kept saying that he was going to tell Show that we should do a group and he was telling me about Milano. But anyway, Flow kept saying that he was going to tell Showbiz about me. So, I waited patiently and it was probably about a year after that when Flow took me down to D&D and let Show hear my music. All three of us were sitting in the room listening to my music and Show was saying that he liked it and that he also really liked my concepts. That was something that I always tried to do, have concepts, because I can rap all day but I really wanted to show people that I could actually structure a song. So anyway, Show liked the music and it was on from there. But the first few times we went to the studio after that, we didn’t even record no music, we were just in there having conversations and building. That’s what I like about Show, the fact that we didn’t just jump straight into the music, we were in there having conversations about everything from just life in general to Hip-Hop and whatever else.”
Considering at this point you were starting to mix with some real Hip-Hop legends, were you fully aware of the legacy that Diggin’ In The Crates had already created?
“Yeah, I definitely was. I mean, I used to see A.G. around my hood and I already knew that he was a legend because the older guys around me were putting me on to the music that Show & A.G. had already put out. I always thought they were dope, Show with the beats and those drums…”
It’s almost impossible to talk about Showbiz without mentioning drums…
“Exactly (laughs). So to have the opportunity to actually work around people like that was just so dope to me. When Show first told me that he liked my music I went home and I was just so happy (laughs). I went home to my girl like, ‘Yo! He liked my s**t!”
When you then started recording with D-Flow and Milano as Barbury’N, did you feel a lot of pressure considering they were already established and respected, while you were a new name to a lot of people?
“I definitely felt that pressure but I liked it though (laughs). I knew that people really weren’t expecting anything from me because most people had never really heard of me before. You had Milano, you got D-Flow and then you got this kid Majestic Gage and I knew people were going to be like, ‘Who’s that?’ But I feel that whole situation really helped me get better as an emcee and it really let me showcase my talents alongside two already respected lyricists. I’m just really glad that both Flow and Milano let me work with them on the Barbury’N music like they did because they were already veterans and they really didn’t have to let the young boy into their circle. So I really do thank them for that.”
Barbury’N – “Living At Still” (D.I.T.C. Entertainment / 2011)
Lyricism is obviously something that’s very important to you, but what keeps you on that creative path of putting so much effort into your writing considering how quick people are to accept simple, throwaway rhymes today?
“Number one, it’s just because I love to be super lyrical, y’know. That’s the era I came up in when dudes were just super nice. You had to be nice. That’s just something that I’ve always stuck to regardless of what the climate of the game might be. But also, I keep doing it for people like yourself who’re still checking for it. I do it for people who still want to really listen to lyrics. So I don’t mind going against the grain with my music and swimming upstream because I feel like the game’s going to come full circle and it’s going to get back to being about people’s skills. But that’s why I still make my music like that, because I know there’s still people out there that love to listen to music like that. That’s what I love to listen to. I mean, I understand that not everyone can be lyrical. But I have the ability to do that, so why not put my best foot forward every time and deliver that, y’know.”
Also, with the Diggin’ In The Crates affiliation and lyricism really being at the heart of the music the crew have released over the years, you really have an obligation to carry on that tradition…
“Definitely. The core D.I.T.C. fans won’t expect anything less than that. So I definitely have to deliver on that aspect. I mean, sometimes I think it was destined for me to land in this position with Diggin’ In The Crates because they’re such a staple of the Bronx. Obviously, Big L was from Harlem and O.C. repped for Brooklyn, but the original members like Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG, they’re all from the Bronx, so I definitely think it was meant for me to be here.”
Recently there’s been a lot of discussion around New York stations like Hot 97 not being totally supportive of underground New York artists and Old Man Ebro’s Minors / Majors comparison has generated a lot of feedback. What are your thoughts on that?
“I mean, I tell people all the time, the climate of the game is so different now that you don’t need stations like that to win. You don’t need Hot 97 to win. You don’t need Power 105 to win. I mean, it’s great to get your records played on there and it definitely helps, but you can still get your music out there without them. Plus, the deejays up at those stations, they can’t really choose what they want to play, they get told what to play. I mean, I run into people all the time that say they don’t want to hear the same ten or twelve records all day. But as far as the artists here in New York who do still cater to that traditional sound, they’re coming up and it’s through others means of winning aside from the radio. Dudes like Action Bronson and Joey Badass, they get radio spins now but they put that work in themselves so the radio had to take notice. Then you’ve got other artists like Spit Gemz who’re doing their thing. I mean, the radio situation is what it is, but as New York artists we can’t lose our identity through trying to follow trends because trends only last so long, y’know. I just feel like we shouldn’t be making records just to get them played on the radio. I mean, we’re at a point now where some dudes have hooks that are longer than there actual verses (laughs).”
What’s the status of the forthcoming D.I.T.C. compilation project that was announced last year featuring yourself, A-Bless and Tashane?
“All the music for that is done. I mean, A.G. and Show have got some other things that they’re working on and obviously they announced the remix album project with a variety of producers working on there. But the compilation is definitely still in the pipeline and all the music is done, all the videos are done and everything. A.G. is on a bunch of joints on the album, but it’s basically just focusing on the next generation of Diggin’ In The Crates. Show and them didn’t want to take too much of the shine away from us by having everyone on the album. But I do understand that when some of the fans see that name Diggin’ In The Crates they do want to hear the original members. I do get that. I read the comments on the Internet and everything. But this compilation project is about those same original members passing the torch to us so we can continue that legacy. I mean, a few years ago you had people talking about the generation gap in Hip-Hop and how some of the younger cats didn’t respect the artform and how some of the older cats weren’t giving younger artists a chance. But now that gap is actually being bridged by what D.I.T.C. are doing, some of those same fans who were talking about that generation gap don’t want to accept the music. But this isn’t something that you see happening a lot, with respected older artists putting out talented new artists and really embracing what they’re doing. But those negative comments didn’t surprise me when I first started reading them. I mean, Showbiz prepared us for it early on and he told us that there would be people out there who didn’t want to accept us as part of Diggin’ In The Crates. So when I started seeing those comments, I was just like, ‘Show said this would happen a looooong time ago.'”
Everyone really represented in that D.I.T.C. cipher video that was released last year with A.G. and DJ Premier, but it was definitely sad to hear about the passing of Tashane not long after that…
“Yeah, definitely. I mean, it was so dope to put that video together. Myself, A-Bless and Tashane all had a really good relationship already because we’d been recording songs together before we actually did that video. We were all just hungry. So for the three of us to be around Premier, Showbiz, O.C., A.G. and Lord Finesse, it was just dope for them to let us rock out like that. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I can remember Tashane joking around like, ‘I ain’t got my rhymes, son. Let me hear what you got?’ I was like, ‘Nah, son.’ (Laughs). But Tashane was just super talented and creative. He was passionate about everything he did. Even when he was just talking, you could hear his passion when he would just speak. That was just him. Everything he said, he meant it, although he was also a joker as well. But when it came down to that music, he was definitely on it. So him passing was definitely a real loss.”
So what can people expect from you next as a solo artist?
“I got music, y’know. I could put out a project tomorrow if I wanted to. But I don’t want it to get mixed up with the D.I.T.C. compilation. I’ve got some songs that I want to release, so I’m going to be putting those out with some visuals just to keep feeding the people something. Then, eventually I will be dropping a project. Hopefully that will be sometime this year. I just really want to be consistent with putting the music out because nowadays people can forget about you real quick. But I’m not going to put just anything out for the sake of it. I definitely want the music I put out there to really leave an impression on people. So this year, I really want the people to be able to get to know me better through my music.”
Follow Majestic Gage on Twitter – @MajesticGage
Majestic Gage – “Fair Warning” (Majestic Gage Music / 2014)
Donnie Propa of the UK’s Heavy Links crew has joined forces with Planet Rock Graphics to drop this head-nodding mixtape of 90s favourites featuring the likes of Nas, Big L, Lord Finesse and many other East Coast icons – download here.
Mysonne – “Pay Homage Freestyle” (@Mysonne / 2014)
The Rotten Apple lyricist gives props to the late, great Big L and also Jay-Z over the same Miilkbone instrumental the pair went head-to-head on for their classic 1995 Stretch & Bobbito freestyle.
Blue Collar Television with Harlem vet Herb McGruff discussing Children Of The Corn, rolling with Big L and the 90s era.
Hailing from the project buildings of the South Bronx, NYC’s D-Flow first came to the attention of most in the mid-90s, introduced as a new recruit to the legendary Rotten Apple crew Diggin’ In The Crates via two stellar appearances on Showbiz & A.G.’s well-received “Goodfellas” album.
Having combined forces with long-time friend Party Arty to form the Ghetto Dwellas, Flow’s intricate verses and battle-hardened rhymes were heard on numerous D.I.T.C.-related releases throughout the late-90s / early-t0-mid 2000s, including classic tracks such as “Themes, Schemes & Dreams” alongside O.C. and “Who’s The Dirtiest” off Show & A.G.’s “Full Scale LP”.
Always clearly able to hold his own when sharing the mic with some of the greatest emcees to have emerged from the five boroughs, D-Flow’s standing in the game hasn’t always mirrored the level of his talent, with circumstances and life situations sometimes disrupting the BX representative’s career plans, not least the unexpected passing of Party Arty in 2008.
With his new “Paraphernalia” mixtape due to drop imminently, Flow took some time out to discuss his early days as a member of D.I.T.C., working with Party Arty and future plans.
The Bronx is back!
What was your first introduction to Hip-Hop?
“I was in middle-school. One day I was on a school trip and a partner of mine he had the headphones. You remember when you’d get on the bus to go on a school trip and everyone would be trying to get into something, whether you got a book to read or your music to listen to? Well, I didn’t have anything and this partner of mine next to me had a Walkman. He gave me his headphones and what I was listening to was “The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick”. I was so amazed by what I was hearing with the story-telling and everything. Then from that point, it was on. I was trying to figure out how to do it, how I could hear more of it and where I could get it. So that was the very first taste I got of Hip-Hop when I was about fourteen-years-0ld.”
Growing-up in the South Bronx did you already have any awareness of what was going on in the BX in terms of Hip-Hop?
“I mean, around that time I wasn’t really of an age where I was allowed to be out in the streets of the South Bronx alone. But eventually I would get out and hang-out a little past my curfew time (laughs). I’d sneak in the back of places and get a taste of the jams that were going on in my projects. I’m from Mott Haven projects which is in the heart of the South Bronx. You can’t mention the South Bronx without mentioning those projects. Now, in Mott Haven they had a community centre and in the back of the community centre is this dome where they’ve got a stage with an awning on top and dudes used to get on stage and perform. So that was another early taste of Hip-Hop that I got when I used to sneak into the back of the jams and see what was going on with dudes from the neighbourhood spinning on the turntables trying to come up.”
Did you see anyone performing who went on to do bigger things outside of the local jams?
“Absolutely. I’m right next door to another project called Patterson projects, which is where A.G. is from. Now, when I used to go over to those projects I used to see Percee P tearing the mic down at the jams. This was way before I started doing what I do. But I used to watch cats like him and Lord Finesse and A.G. doing their thing at the time. This would have been around the late-80s. Like I said, I was kinda young so I was kind of unaware of what was going on with them at the time. I knew Finesse was a battle rapper and that he’d battled Percee P and would go to different schools and just tear dudes down. If I’m not mistaken, that’s actually how A.G. and Lord Finesse met through battling each other. But I was young at the time so those were the stories that I’d hear the older dudes talking about. I mean, I didn’t even know A.G. at this time.”
At what point did you actually start rhyming?
“Well, after the jams and stuff like that I started running into dudes on the street, like seeing A.G. in the neighbourhood and other cats from other projects that were close by. Like, over in Mitchell projects there was this group called Hellbound and I remember this guy called O-Smooth who was another rapper from the neighbourhood and also a guy called D-Terror who was from another building in my projects who used to be out there rhyming. I used to see those cats doing what they did and I was just in awe. I was real interested in what they were doing. Rhyming was something that I just gravitated to and it kinda came to me easy when I tried to put it down. So that’s basically how I started, just seeing dudes do what they do and it was something that I loved to hear and something that I loved to watch. So I just gravitated to it and started trying to put my pen game down, listening to different people, emulating what they did, and that’s how I learnt to rap. Then when I went back to show my friends what I was doing they were in awe and liked what I was doing, so from there it was on.”
At what point did you hook-up with Party Arty?
“Me and Arty grew-up in the same projects. He lived in the building right next to my building and we were actually in the first grade together. I mean, I knew Arty for longer than I knew most of my family members and it was the same for him. He was really a brother-from-another-mother. I grew-up at his house and he grew-up at my house. So we were together all the time before we even started rapping. Before the music it was basketball. We did everything together. I actually started rapping before Arty did. I didn’t introduce it to him because he had an older brother who used to spin on the turntables and write his little raps down, so Arty was kinda in a musical family already. But the idea of us doing something together was something that I brought to him as he was my best friend, like ‘Yo, I think we should do this.'”
So that was when the Ghetto Dwellas came into existence…
“Yeah. I mean we had a couple of other group names which I can’t really remember now, but Ghetto Dwellas was something that we stuck with from the early-90s. That was us.”
Did Party always have that gruff rhyme style that he became known for on record?
“Not at all. When we first started rhyming, Arty rhymed just like everyone else. He didn’t really develop his voice until he started maturing. Back in those days we used to drink the forty ounces, go in the studio and just bug out. I remember there was this one day when Arty was just extra hype when he was rhyming and we were like, ‘That sounds crazy! You’ve gotta rhyme like that from now on.’ So that whole style he had was something that he transitioned into after we started doing music.”
I always imagined him being mad tired after a studio session with the amount of effort it sounded like he was putting into his delivery…
“He was never, never tired (laughs). It was something that just came natural to him. He always made it seem effortless the way he delivered his rhymes.”
How and when did you officially become part of D.I.T.C.?
“Well, becoming part of D.I.T.C. was definitely something that me and Arty had to work for. A.G. was a little older than us and he was a friend of Arty’s older brother and was a part of that generation. We were like the little guys at the time. We watched A.G. do what he was doing and put out all that early stuff with Showbiz like “Giant In The Mental” and “Soul Clap”. I witnessed that in my neighbourhood, just seeing all the older cats being excited about it and playing the tape. I remember I asked this guy where he got the tape from and how much he paid for it. He told me it cost him fifty dollars and I believed him! That’s how incredible it was for me at the time. I believed a cassette tape would cost fifty dollars! So A.G. was part of that older generation and we were introduced to him by some of those older dudes who were telling him that he should check us out. Eventually we got with him, he heard us and loved what we were doing and immediately took us under his wing and started introducing us to other cats in different neighbourhoods that we might not have been aware of at the time. So we would go around and we would battle different cats just getting our name up and getting our buzz up, but still we weren’t allowed to go into the recording studio. We were still young dudes who were wet behind the ears and we really had to work for it.”
Were there any particular battles from back then that still stand-out to you?
“Absolutely, absolutely. There was a legendary battle we had on Big L’s plot up in Harlem on 139th. It was actually something that L set up for us because even though we weren’t from his neighbourhood we were still all family in D.I.T.C. and that’s how we all looked at each other. So Big L would be in his neighbourhood and have young cats coming up to him telling him, ‘Yo, this is what we’re doing’ and L would be like, ‘I’ve got some young dudes that’s doing it the way that it’s supposed to be done’ and he would bring us through to battle cats. I remember this one particular battle you had the Lox out there and Mase as well. There was about forty people out on the block with dudes standing on cars and everything. Dudes were capturing the footage on cameras. You might actually see some of that battle in the Big L documentary DVD that’s coming out either at the end of this year or the beginning of next year…”
So was it just you and Party Arty going up against people?
“We were out there going up against the whole of Harlem (laughs). We were out there for like seven hours and cats were just coming from different sides of the town to do what they do. But me and my man stood there all night with Deshawn as well and we just held it down from day to night. By the time it was over it was night time and dudes were gone already (laughs). It was a real memorable time. I was just happy to be involved and see that dudes were feeling what I was doing. So at that point I basically knew everybody in D.I.T.C. because, like I said, Big L would come through and get us anytime he felt like some kids needed to be put in their place. We were kinda in the mix of everything that was going on at the time. But it did take time for us to meet everybody in the crew. I mean, when we first started going to the studio you’d probably just have Big L in there one night and then maybe the next time you’d have O.C. and Lord Finesse. Then maybe the next time Buckwild would be in there with Showbiz. So gradually we became part of the family and got up with everybody.”
What influence did that have on you as a young upcoming emcee to be around other artists who were already considered giants in the rap game?
“It had a great influence. I mean, to this day, all the lessons that I learnt back then from being around those dudes I still apply to what I do. The way I do my music, the type of music that I do. That’s my family right there and their influence just rubs right off. I mean, I got to be around so many talented artists from being with the crew up in D&D Studios and Chung King. I got to experience so much at such a young age that I felt like a vet at the age of twenty-one. It really opened my eyes as well to all the hard work that went into making the records, like with the mixing process, the mastering process, dealing with the reels and all of that. Back then we were carrying around forty pound tape reels from the car up three flights of stairs to the studio and all of that. So all of those details really helped shape and mold me, like seeing how different dudes all had their own different way of working and things like that. Like, O.C. might record his verse differently to A.G. who might record his verse differently to Big L. I got to see so many dudes working through their recording process. I remember one time I got to see Das EFX record and watch how they laid their verses down. I mean, I always thought they went into the booth at separate times to record their individual parts, but they were in the booth together using the same mic and laying their verses on the same tape track. They were in there going back and forth like they were performing a show (laughs).”
Your first appearance on wax was on Show & A.G.’s 1995 album “Goodfellas” with you featuring on both “Got The Flava” with Method Man and “Add On” with Lord Finesse…
“When I did that first song with A.G. and Lord Finesse it was something I had to work towards. Party Arty was on the album before me, but getting that spot on there was definitely something I had to work towards in terms of going through a process and writing a couple of verses. It was a privilege. I knew there was an album being done and I knew I had to get on that album. So I had to put that work in. Like I said, Arty had already secured his spot on the project before me so I had to go extra hard and really prove to A.G. that I was worthy of being on there. Once I got on there it was a beautiful thing.”
“Got The Flava” is one of my favourite posse cuts of the 90s – what do you remember about that studio session?
“Yeah, that was definitely a memorable studio session and I’ll tell you why. Right before that studio session Party Arty had been shot three times and he was still recovering when we did that song. Plus, that session was the day we met Method Man. We were all in Chung King and Method Man came through and we were all introduced and he jumped on the song. At the time, Method Man was Arty’s favourite artist so that was a real good day. I’ll never forget that day.”
Was Method Man actually supposed to be on that track originally?
“He was actually on tour at the time and had left the tour to come back to New York to take care of something. I think he was just coming to the studio to drop something off or maybe pick something up or whatever. We happened to meet in the lobby and I introduced myself, told Meth who I was and who I was there working with and it was all love from there. Method Man came into the session and we just vibed out for about three hours. That’s exactly how it happened.”
I remember that Method Man appearance really stood-out because that was the first time that a major emcee unaffiliated with the D.I.T.C. camp had featured on a Showbiz & A.G. track…
“Right, right. Well back then, D.I.T.C. felt they really didn’t need any extra emcees guesting on their projects. As a crew they really had it all together themselves. I actually think putting Method Man on “Got The Flava” was something that A.G. wanted to do for me and Arty because like I said, Method Man was Arty’s favourite artist. So I think A.G. asking Meth to get on that track was something that he did for us. If that had just been a track that A.G. was on I don’t think that would have been his first thought back then to ask someone outside the crew to get on it. But being as we were all on the song together, that was perfect.”
Around that time how much work were you actually doing in the studio with Arty on Ghetto Dwellas material?
“We were consistently working. We weren’t necessarily working on any particular project but we were always working on new material so that we were always ready for whatever opportunities might have presented themselves at the time. We were in it for the ride and we loved to make music. It was fun to us. It was incredible to us to be a part of everything that was going on around us. We worked hard and a lot of those songs that we were recording at that time really blended in with what the rest of the crew were doing. “Make It Official” was one of the first tracks we recorded when we first got in the studio which was produced by Wali World. From listening to that, you could really hear the potential.”
“Feel The Beat” was another early track that’s definitely stood the test of time…
“Yep, yep. I remember all of those songs. Man, you’re really bringing back some memories…”
Considering the reputation D.I.T.C. had built by the mid-90s for delivering classic Hip-Hop, did you feel any pressure knowing that fans would have high expectations for any new artist coming out of the crew?
“Man, I wasn’t thinking about no pressure or anything like that. I just wanted to rhyme. I didn’t care who I was rhyming in front of or where I was rhyming at. I just loved to do it. Whenever it was time to get it in I was always prepared and ready. Like, if you watch that legendary Big L interview with 88HipHop.Com, that right there was totally unexpected. I was just up there for the ride and then it was like, ‘You want me to rhyme? Okay, cool…’ I was always focused and ready to step up. If you actually watch that clip closely you can even see the nerves in my face moving around (laughs)…
As the Ghetto Dwellas you and Arty definitely built a nice cult fanbase for yourselves – were you surprised by how quickly people gravitated towards you as artists in your own right?
“To be honest, I didn’t really get the full effect of that at the time. We weren’t really doing any touring as the Ghetto Dwellas and I wasn’t really getting around too much. The music was just out there and people were listening. The internet wasn’t really that big at the time, so I couldn’t really see the size of the response we were getting out there. So I would get the information through A.G. and other members of D.I.T.C. who would tell me how well things were going with our music when they’d come back off tour and things like that. So I didn’t really get to experience that love until later on. I was just happy to have music out and to be doing what I was doing at that time. I mean, if I’d have got the full effect of what was going on in terms of how people were responding to our music it might have changed who I was at the time and, who knows, I might have been someone different today. But back then, I was doing music and living real life and going through real life s**t. I have two sons and my youngest son who’s twelve-years-old now is handicapped, so I had to deal with that. That was something that I had to be there for. So at some points, my total focus wasn’t music. It was an in and out thing. So what I’m saying is, if I’d have known back then exactly how people were gravitating towards what we were doing and how big our following was, maybe I would have gone a little harder and I’d have been in a different situation today. I mean, it was kinda hard for me back then to see how things were growing from where I was at. I was dealing with real life at the time and it was kinda hard for me.”
Was there ever a full-length Ghetto Dwellas album project in the pipeline?
“There wasn’t really a plan for a full-length album or anything like that because I was dealing with what I was dealing with at the time. Which is partly why you might have started to hear me and Arty appearing separately on certain joints and different projects. That’s just how it was at the time and we weren’t really concentrating on recording a Ghetto Dwellas album. Arty had more time for the music at that point than I did. My eldest son is nineteen-years-old now. I had my first son in 1994 and me and my wife were together for that whole time. Arty had a kid as well but he kinda had a break because his daughter lived with her mother so he was able to be in a lot of places and get a lot of stuff done. But I was dealing with other things. So the Ghetto Dwellas album was never really the focus for all of us. We just wanted to do music and I did it whenever I could. I tried to get on as many projects as I could and was always around but my focus wasn’t always on music even though it was something that was always in my heart.”
Was it difficult for you to step back considering the momentum you’d been building?
“Don’t get me wrong, whenever I was away from what was going on with the crew, I was still doing music. I always made sure my sword stayed sharp in-case I ever came across a battle or something. I mean, the only hardship that came out of that was seeing what maybe I could have been doing after the fact. But that’s normal for everybody. Whenever you step away from something and you see what you’re missing, you always feel some kinda way. But that’s also what kept me loving music. I never want to stop doing music. But if there’s something that I need to deal with at the time for me to make sure that I can continue to feed myself and my family, then I’m going to do that. I mean, if I don’t take care of myself then I can’t do music. But D.I.T.C is my family, so there was never hard feelings from anyone about me doing what I had to do back then. It was always love and I could always walk back through the door when I was able to make music. I could always call my brothers about anything because aside from the music D.I.T.C. is about friendship. I mean, I look on these dudes like they’re my family. That’s Uncle Finesse right there and my big brothers Showbiz and A.G. They know my family and I know their families. They were always there for me.”
When Party Arty passed away unexpectedly in 2008 did you consider stepping away from music or was it a case of you feeling that you had to continue to honour his memory?
“Absolutely. That’s exactly how I felt. At first I had to step back and look at the situation and really deal with what had happened. Arty was like my ear, y’know. If Arty told me something was dope, then it was dope. Couldn’t anyone else tell me any different. If Arty told me something was dope, then I didn’t care what the rest of the world was saying. I mean, I really lost my best friend. But I had to recover from that and I knew the music was something that I needed to continue to do for him, it was something that I needed to do for me, it was something that I needed to do for us because we both loved to make music. I know he’s looking down on me right now happy that I’m still doing what I’m doing. I’m still doing what we started and it’s never gonna stop. Music is a part of my life and that’s never going to end. Hip-Hop is always going to be in my life.”
Bringing things up-to-date, what’s the status of the Barbury’N project you were working on with Milano and Majestic Gage?
“When you’re doing the group thing it’s kinda hard because it never seems to work exactly how you want it to work. At this point, we all thought it would be better to each do music on our own time because it wasn’t working trying to get everyone together with different schedules that just weren’t matching up. So we felt that we would all be more effective musically just working on our own music and doing what we do for ourselves. Milano felt the same way and Gage is still working with Showbiz on his new project along with A. Bless and a new cat Tashane. So Gage is doing that right there, I’m focusing on my solo projects and Milano has his new mixtape coming as well. We wanted to do the group thing first and then branch off to do our solo stuff but, like I said, trying to get three schedules to match is kinda hard so we had to flip it around.”
So what can people expect from the “Paraphernalia” mixtape you’re about to drop?
“It’s eighty percent original music. I’ve got Showbiz producing on there along with Drawzilla and E. Blaze. There’s only three freestyle tracks on there. Out of the thirteen tracks on the mixtape, ten of them are original. I’m basically giving away an album with this project, you could say. Then after this I’ve got my official album project dropping at the top of next year.”
That album is going to be produced entirely by Ray West, right?
“Yeah, he’s doing all of the production on there. Ray is so unique with what he does. You can tell that there’s a lot of heart that goes into the music he makes. He’s not really influenced by what other people are doing and he’s genuinely doing something unique. It’s Hip-Hop and you can’t ask for no more than that when you’re working on a project. It’s just good music. I love Ray West, man. But the album itself is going to feature me talking about different things that people can relate to. I’m a narrator and I want people to really feel me in their soul and be like, ‘Damn, I know what this dude is going through.’ That’s what you’re going to get on the album, straight real s**t about real situations that hopefully might help cats on the other side of the world get through some s**t that they need to get through. I want to be able to relate to people and I want people to be able to relate to me.”
As a Bronx emcee making music today do you feel a responsibility to both preserve the history and further the legacy of the birthplace of Hip-Hop?
“I think we’re holding on to the culture and the authenticity of Hip-Hop. We’ve got a greater respect for it than a lot of dudes do. When you hear an emcee coming from the Bronx, there’s normally a lyrical thing going on. I mean, I wouldn’t feel right switching sides at this point (laughs). It’s just not in my blood to do that. I mean, music is worldwide now and the game has changed so much that we’ll probably never get back to the music being as authentic as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean that I have to let it go. There’s always going to be someone out there who’s looking for some real Hip-Hop s**t and who wants to know about what’s happening out in these streets instead of what’s happening in the clubs. That’s what I’m interested in knowing about. I want to know what’s happening in these streets right now. I want to know what’s happening in that project building over there on the tenth floor in that corner apartment. What’s happening in there? People are still going through the same struggles. Those things don’t change. But not everyone has to like what I do. I just want to do this and take care of my family off of it. I don’t have to be popular or have millions of dollars. I just want to be comfortable, be happy and live long. If I can do that through music and reach the people that I need to reach then I’m happy with that.”
Follow D-Flow on Twitter – @DFlowDITC – and lookout for the mixtape “Paraphernalia” dropping June 7th on DatPiff.Com.
Show & A.G. ft. D-Flow, Wali World, Party Arty & Method Man – “Got The Flava” (Payday Records / 1995)
1998 88HipHop.Com freestyle featuring D-Flow, Party Arty, A.G. and Big L.
Barbury’N (D-Flow, Milano Constantine & Majestic Gage) – “Living At Still” (Mugshot Music / 2011)
DJ Premier recalls working with Large Professor, Big L and Jay-Z for @OnlyHipHopFacts.
NYC’s DJ Rondevu puts a Harlem twist on this track from the Das EFX member.
Lord Finesse is an artist who really needs no introduction. A founding member of the legendary NY-based Diggin’ In The Crates crew, a former affiliate of Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate collective and a successful solo act in his own right, the Bronx-bred producer-on-the-mic is considered one of Hip-Hop’s most revered talents, with albums such as his 1990 Wild Pitch debut “Funky Technician” ranked as undisputed classics within rap circles.
Having not released an official full-length collection of new material since 1995’s “The Awakening”, Finesse’s name has remained in the spotlight via a number of one-off single releases, live deejay sets and production work for the likes of Brand Nubian, Freestyle Professors and Vinnie Paz.
More recently, the Funkyman teamed-up with the reputable Slice Of Spice label to polish off some unreleased gems from his vaults, which have then been made available as collectable, limited-edition vinyl-only pieces.
This relationship with Slice Of Spice has also helped Finesse to once again focus on his own solo work, with the L-O-R-D now pushing ahead with his heavily-anticipated album “The Underboss”, a project which has been hinted at numerous times over the years but persistently delayed.
As part of this official return, Lord Finesse recently embarked on a tour of Europe, accompanied by turntable talent DJ Boogie Blind and a renewed sense of purpose. Touching down in a number of cities including London, Glasgow and Copenhagen, the “Here I Come” tour was successful in its mission to allow Finesse to reconnect with fans and announce his plans for 2013, including, of course, that new album.
On a mid-November Sunday night, following the last of his thirteen shows in thirteen days, Lord Finesse and I huddled backstage at Leicester’s Music Cafe for an impromptu interview, with the Hip-Hop icon keen to discuss his future endeavours as well as reminisce on some memorable career moments.
Right about now…the Funk Soul Brother…
Have you been surprised by just how well this “Here I Come” tour has been received because the response to shows on Facebook / Twitter etc has been close to fever pitch?
“I know I worked hard putting this show together with my man Boogie Blind, so I can honestly say that we definitely put the work in to give people something to remember. But to actually see the response and feel the results of that hardwork isn’t something I’ve ever felt before on this scale. I mean, I’ve done plenty of shows before, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as focussed as I have been during this run of shows. We really thought this one out like with the background music, me telling the stories, how the whole show builds up as it goes along. This is probably the first time I’ve ever done a show where I know there are specific points that people will consider to be highlights, like when me and Boogie jump on the turntables together and things like that. I just know I put in a lot of hard-work and it feels good to see it pay-off and have people leaving each show like they just left church or something (laughs).”
Did you feel that you had to put more effort into these shows because you’ve been away for a minute?
“It was definitely due to the fact that I’ve been away for awhile, but secondly it was because I’d also had a chance to reflect on my earlier work. When you’re away for awhile you really get the chance to hear what other people have to say, like ‘Why don’t you ever perform this track?’ or ‘Why don’t you do this during your show?’ So as you’re hearing these different opinions it gives you a chance to think about how you can add certain elements to what you were already doing in order to really give the people what they want. I mean, I’ve been away from the performance side of things for a minute, but I’ve still been hosting events which has allowed me to add a whole other comedic element to the show which also helps people to really get caught up in what you’re doing. So it gets to the point where it doesn’t even feel like two hours have gone by when the show ends, instead people are still wanting to see what I’m going to do next.”
Something I’ve noticed at recent shows here in the UK from artists like Large Professor and Sadat X is that there definitely seems to be a younger fan element in the crowd – would you agree with that?
“I’ve noticed that as well. Obviously, each show has had a lot of original fans there, but I’ve definitely noticed those younger fans this time around. When it comes to them, I just want to make sure I leave a very clear impact so they know exactly what they can expect from me in the future. It’s good for the younger generation to be able to see a real Hip-Hop show from someone who’s really doing the songs, who isn’t rhyming over their own vocals, somebody who’s freestyling, somebody who’s doing the whole package.”
For many of those younger fans, artists such as yourself were probably their introduction to Hip-Hop in the 90s so this would perhaps have been their first opportunity to see you live…
“My goal with this tour was to set the bar real high so that those younger fans left knowing what a real Hip-Hop show is. A lot of people today are paying for these over-priced tickets to see artists who ain’t even putting in a third of the effort I’m putting in onstage. I wanted people who might not have experienced this type of show before to leave every night knowing that there is a significant difference between what someone like a Lord Finesse does and what a lot of these other artists are out there doing, even if they own their records as well. It’s not even about having a hit record when you’re onstage, it’s about who can really execute and translate what they do on that stage. Now, I don’t have what people would consider hit records, but I can still make sure the songs I do have translate well onstage.”
Your music has always contained a lot of personality though which helps in a live setting…
“I mean, I learnt a lot about live shows from watching KRS-One. KRS-One’s live shows are always phenomenal and I always sit there and study how he does it, his order of songs, the crowd participation. KRS has always been a big influence on me when it comes to rocking a crowd.”
During the “Here I Come” stageshow you talk about different moments in your career – which memories still really stand-out to you?
“I’m still here, that’s what stands-out the most to me (laughs). From 1989 to 2012, I’m still here and people still show me love and respect and are still waiting for some new Lord Finesse s**t. I consider myself blessed and humbled at the same time to still have people out there who care about what I’m doing now and who also care about the foundation and legacy of my name. That’s something you really can’t purchase, man.”
Although there always seemed to be a lot of unity amongst New York artists of the early-90s, how high was the spirit of competition within D.I.T.C. at the time considering there were so many classic albums coming out from the likes of Brand Nubian, Main Source, De La Soul etc?
“It was always competitive because we were battling and wanting to make sure our music was incredible and able to stand-out and compete with any other music out there. So we always thought that the music we made had to be incredible, because we’d listen to an album like A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Low End Theory” or Main Source’s “Breaking Atoms” and others that really made us say ‘Damn!’ So you always wanted to make music that was better than anything else you’d heard and even if you said at the time that you weren’t consciously thinking like that, you had to be listening to something that had you wishing that when you did your next project it came out as dope as that.”
Was there ever anything that came out of the D.I.T.C. camp itself that made you think ‘I wish I’d made that record..’?
“Oh, no doubt (laughs). Diamond’s first album “Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop” made me feel like that and also Showbiz & AG’s “Runaway Slave”. See, what you have to understand is that back then everyone’s projects were elevating what everyone else in the crew was doing and pushing people to really deliver their best work. I mean, Diamond had dropped “I’m Not Playin'” with Ultimate Force in 1989 and then my album “Funky Technician” came out a year after that. So my first album had everyone in the crew like Diamond, Showbiz, AG and Fat Joe saying ‘Damn! This ni**a ‘Ness made it, I want to do this s**t.’ So there was always an inspirational aspect to what we were doing back then in terms of the impact the music we were each making had on the other members of the crew.”
And in that sort of group situation nobody wants to be viewed as being the weak link in the chain…
“Yeah, like I remember the first time I heard Showbiz & AG’s “Soul Clap” EP and how Show was chopping the samples on there. When I first heard “Catchin’ Wreck” I’d just come home off the Ice-T / Rhyme Syndicate tour and hearing how Show had chopped some of the same stuff that I’d already used but had done it so differently, I was just like, ‘Yoooo!’ I mean, I wasn’t even really doing production back then. But then when I heard Diamond’s first album as well, that was when I really thought that I needed to step it up. To me, “The Awakening” was a reflection of that, in terms of me really putting my own project together and chopping up all the samples, doing the skits, and really wanting to make something that could stand next to what the crew had already put out. I also remember listening to Big L rhyme as well, hearing him freestyle, and really feeling like I had to write some s**t to match what he was doing. There was never any jealousy or anything like that, it was just always competition. I remember hearing the demo of “Devil’s Son”, I was going somewhere and Show pulled up in the car and he was playing it and I just thought ‘Wow! What the f**k made this ni**a think of this s**t?!’ It was just crazy back then (laughs).”
Personally, Fat Joe’s first album “Represent” was always one of my favourite Diggin’ In The Crates projects…
“Man, Diamond did a number on that album with the production….”
True, but that beat you gave Joe for the opening track “Livin’ Fat” was incredible…
“Yo, I appreciate that. But that s**t Diamond did on there with Apache and Kool G. Rap was crazy! Man, those were definitely the days. I mean, if I could go back and change anything in my career, I wouldn’t (laughs). People ask you that question sometimes and you leave them hanging because really there isn’t anything I would change as far as my own career goes because going through the adversity I faced at times only brings experience. Anytime you’re facing an unknown factor or obstacle, whichever way it goes, you’re still going to come out of the situation with experience you can put to use.”
This year there’s been new projects from O.C., Showbiz & AG, you’ve been out touring, Diamond has announced he’s working on something new – do you think we’ll ever see the crew unite for another D.I.T.C. album?
“I would say yeah, but it has to be bigger than just throwing a record out there, man. To me it’s more personal than that. If we’re just going to do music and throw it out and that’s all it’s going to be, then I don’t wanna do that. It has to be about more than that. I’d want to tour with it and really show people what a D.I.T.C. show would be about in high-definition, with everyone doing their classics and the new material like the way you see Wu-Tang doing it. If it’s just about going in the studio to do an album and we’re not bringing a whole story or really outlining what we’re going to do beyond that, then I’d rather just do what I’m doing. I’ve got a story, there’s things I wanna follow, there’s things I wanna do. I came out of retirement for a reason. What I’ve been doing with this tour is only just scratching the surface of what I have planned. I’ve got some s**t I wanna do and I see the plan, so for me to be diverted from what I’m doing it would have to be for something big.”
If a new group project happened do you think Fat Joe would be a part of it or do you think he’s in a different place now musically considering the commercial success he’s had in recent years?
“Man, I don’t know what that dude’s doing. I just don’t know. I speak to Show all the time, I speak to AG, I speak to O.C., I even spoke to Buckwild recently, Diamond’s out there in Atlanta. I don’t speak to Joe as much. I don’t know what he’s thinking and that’s not meant in a disrespectful manner, I can only speak on the people that I’ve talked to. But if we were to do something I’d just want it to be something so tremendous, and if it ain’t gonna be tremendous then I don’t want to waste the time of the fans. Plus, getting seven chefs in the kitchen to cook one meal ain’t an easy thing to do because everyone’s used to running their own ship now. But me personally, I haven’t done anything since 95 / 96 so now I’ve seen something I really wanna do and I’m going for it. I’ve been dropping the rock on a lot of my situations and now is the time for me to really lock myself away. So after this tour cats might not see me for two or three months because I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
There’s been a lot of talk and rumours in recent years about new Lord Finesse music without any finished product seeing the light of day in terms of a full-album – why the delay?
“I only can do music that I really love. I’m not going to sit there and throw some s**t out just to throw some s**t out, that’s never been how I’ve operated. I’ve always had to be fully one thousand percent into what I’m into to really put that effort forward. I just wasn’t in that mode where I felt I could do that, so why cheat the fans by just throwing something together to make a couple of quick dollars.”
Was it partly down to the way you saw the rap game changing both in a business and creative sense compared to how things were during the golden-age you contributed so heavily to?
“It was partly down to the way the game was going, it was partly down to Big L getting killed, it was partly down to me losing my grandmother. I just didn’t love it the way I used to love it. So I had to really take a step back and reflect on what made me happy about making music and really just dig deep within myself and understand where I was going to go with it if I was going to step back in. Now, my hunger is there again, so the time is now. That’s why I said I don’t want to get diverted because you can have ideas and then be distracted and if those dreams you had never come to fruition a part of you will always feel empty and that will always f**k with you and have you thinking about what could have been. Right now, that’s where I’m at. I have something I want to do musically and I’m thinking about what’s gonna be. So right now I can’t worry about what anyone else thinks, I’ve got to do what’s gonna make me happy.”
Back in the day there were a lot of technical limitations in terms of sampling etc that Hip-Hop artists had to overcome and yet you were able to create timeless music, whereas today, even with advances in technology, many people still struggle to make quality product – what are your thoughts on that?
“That’s why I look at the game now, with all the technology people have, and I’m thinking, is this really the best s**t y’all can come up with? Let me give you my analogy I use to compare our generation with the new generation. If you were taking a maths test back in the 80s and the 70s, the teacher would give you the test, some scrap paper and a pencil. You had to show the working out you did for each equation on the scrap paper to prove that you knew how to get the answer. If you just gave the answer but couldn’t show how you got there people might think you cheated on the test. The teacher wanted to see that you really understood and knew what you were doing when it came to answering the questions in the test. So with that being said, that’s what it was like for us coming up in the production game. People wanted to know that you’d really put the work in when it came to diggin’ for samples and that you really knew how to work the equipment and make it do what you wanted it to do to make those beats. Today, kids are allowed to take maths tests with calculators and they still can’t get every question right, so what is that telling you? It’s the same with music today, people have all this limitless technology but still can’t come up with something great that will stand the test of time. So, it lets you know that technology is great, but you still need the person using it to have imagination and creativity to get the best out of it.”
What would you say to people who might try to slap you with the ‘Mad Rapper’ tag given your opinions on the quality of some present-day Hip-Hop?
“See, what they try to do is curb your answers by calling you a mad rapper, so that when you don’t like something you can be called a hater and things like that. That’s bulls**t! It’s just my opinion. But that’s what they do hoping it’ll stop people from giving their honest opinion because if you say you don’t like something they’re gonna call you a hater, so then some people might not actually want to say they don’t like something. No! If you don’t like something then say it, because if enough people tell some of these artists that their s**t is trash then it’ll actually resonate that it is trash. You can’t tell me that today every record is a hit record, every artist out is hot, that nothing is wack. Back in the day if your s**t was trash then people told you it was trash and you had to come back and do better. But nowadays, when I listen to stuff, I don’t call it trash anymore because maybe that’s too harsh for some people to deal with, so I just say it’s not for me (laughs). I mean, I’m a grown man and I come from that funk and soul era and a lot of the music today just doesn’t touch me, man. I’m trying to touch people with my music, and not like one of those foul priests either, I’m trying to touch people the right way (laughs).”
Another highlight you mention during your show is touring Europe with Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate in 1990 / 1991 – how much of an impact did that experience have on you in terms of you seeing how far your music had reached at that early stage in your career?
“Travelling on a tour across Europe for a month-and-a-half with Ice-T at the age of twenty-one, that is definitely going to have an affect on you. It let me know that I had a fanbase that were supportive across the world and that I could continue to make the music that I loved knowing that I didn’t have to make radio records or club hits to still be able to travel and do things that other artists with commercial hits weren’t able to do. So that experience really opened my eyes to making sure, as an artist, you always utilise the tools and the blessings that you have, which is something I still try to make sure I do today.”
What did you think the first time you saw the UK’s Hijack on that Rhyme Syndicate tour?
“Damn (laughs). They had a performance, man. At that time, I wasn’t really used to the whole performance aspect. I was just a straight emcee who would come onstage, the beat would come on and I’d just kill it. Hijack were bringing fake dead bodies out, they had all types of other s**t going on, and I remember watching them thinking ‘What the f**k is that?’ But they had a show. What I’ve been doing on this tour is give people a show. You really have to make sure you give people their moneys worth and something to remember everytime you hit the stage.”
Putting you on the spot here, what would you say are your three favourite beats that you’ve produced either for yourself or other artists?
“I would say Dr. Dre’s “The Message” is one, Biggie’s “Suicidal Thoughts” is two, but the third one is hard, it could be “Check The Method” because of the musical aspect, it could be “Brainstorm”, or it could even go to Xperado “All Night”, which is the joint Joey Bada$$ just redid, because what I did with what I had on that track was just some other s**t.”
I think one of your best beats has to be Big L’s “Street Struck” – I remember being almost hypnotised the first time I heard that when “Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous” dropped…
“That could be one of my favourite beats as well because we took notes from the sample, echoed those notes and then replayed them and added other elements to the track. So if people can dissect what I used on that I’ll give them a hundred dollars, for real. You’re only going to know what I used on there if somebody that was close to me tells you what I did with that record. Nobody else will be able to tell you that, nobody.”
With the constant threat today of lawsuits etc do you ever think about not using samples so much anymore or does it just make you use them in a more creative way?
“Nah, I’m always going to do what I do. It’s just another challenge. People feel like they’re not going to sample anymore and talk about how they’re going to play everything on a track?! Man, unless you’re Teddy Riley, Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder then cut it out, man. You’ve gotta be someone like a Roy Ayers to really understand the technical skill involved in playing some s**t. Some of these ni**as sound like they’re retarded on those keyboards and what they’re doing really doesn’t have any soul or feeling to it. I’m always going to sample. I’m like Leonardo DiCaprio in that movie “Catch Me If You Can”, man. I really see it as a challenge. If y’all ni**as really think you can catch what I’m doing, okay, I’ma see y’all. Let’s see if you can really tell people what I used and what I did without researching the people around me.”
So what can people expect from Lord Finesse in 2013?
“Inspiration. Fans and artists who’re frustrated with the state of real Hip-Hop will be able to look at what I’m about to do as a new blueprint. That’s all I can say. I’m just about to have fun all over again. I’m still rhyming, it’s still straight beats, there’s still that funk and soul in the music, it’s the same thing people know me for, but this new album “The Underboss” will be like “The Awakening” times ten. No electronic commercial s**t, I’m not doing that. Just believe and have faith that when I come back on the scene you’re going to be able to get with it.”
Footage of Lord Finesse and DJ Boogie Blind rocking the turntables in Manchester, England.
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of his tragic 1987 gun-related death UpNorthTrips.Com remember BDP co-founder Scott La Rock alongside other fallen legends such as Jam Master Jay, Biggie and Big L with this United Crates mix – listen here.