Bumpy Knuckles & Nottz ft. Biz Markie – “Check It Out Y’all” (@BumpyKnuckles / @NottzRaw / 2018)
The two Hip-Hop legends combine humour with hardcore flavour in this brilliant video from the Nottz-produced album “Pop Duke Vol. 1”.
Bumpy Knuckles & Nottz ft. Biz Markie – “Check It Out Y’all” (@BumpyKnuckles / @NottzRaw / 2018)
The two Hip-Hop legends combine humour with hardcore flavour in this brilliant video from the Nottz-produced album “Pop Duke Vol. 1”.
In this second instalment of my interview with Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, the Brooklyn-bred Hip-Hop legend discusses almost signing to Sugarhill Records, recording the group’s debut 1986 album “On Fire” and rocking the stage at NYC’s infamous Latin Quarter – check Part One here.
So how did you get involved in the Mr. Magic competition that subsequently led to Stetsasonic securing a record deal?
“I’m trying to think how we met Fly Ty because that’s how it came about. We met Tyrone from Cold Chillin’. I don’t remember exactly how we met Fly Ty, that’s something that Delite probably would remember better. But we met Ty somehow and he liked us, so he was kind of managing us for a time, and at the same time he was managing Roxanne Shante and I think he had Biz Markie as well. It was at the time when they were first trying to pull that whole Cold Chillin’ roster together. Ty was telling us that we should enter this rap contest that Mr. Magic was putting on. Now, we’d been entering different contests prior to the Mr. Magic thing. But as Delite so eloquently puts it, we always kept coming in second (laughs). I mean, I remember being beaten by this kid Mike in Brooklyn who was one of the baddest singers I ever heard, which was ill because he ended-up just singing on the train. But I remember Mike beating us one time. I remember losing to Father Taheem out in Queens. I remember all of that. It’s not like we were wack, but we just kept coming in second (laughs). I remember one time we had a tie and we got thirty three dollars and some cents because we had to split the one hundred dollars prize money with Doug E. Fresh and Busy Bee at a competition at the Roxy (laughs). I was mad because Doug came on with Ricky, Slick Rick, and that was the first time Doug had brought Rick out. They actually performed “Treat Her Like A Prositute” that night. I left early because I was so mad (laughs). I remember Delite coming to my house, explaining that we’d tied and giving me this money, but telling me that I shouldn’t have left (laughs).”
So what happened with the Mr. Magic contest?
“So anyway, Fly Ty told us we should enter the contest and we did it. I’m not sure how many times we performed before we got into the finals. It might have been twice or it might have been three times. But we performed in different boroughs of New York and every time we did it went really well and the people loved us. Each time we got boosted up to the next level.”
Who else do you remember being in the competition?
“I know there were other people who ended up making records who performed as part of the contest, but I can’t really remember who. What I do remember though is that we won so unanimously in the final and Coney Island was going bananas. Now the way it was set up, there were three labels involved who would each give a deal to the artists in first, second and third place. I remember Pop Art was the third place label, Tommy Boy was second place and Sugarhill Records was first place. I always tell people that if we’d been smart we’d have gone with Lawrence Goodman and Pop Art as that could have led us to Next Plateau with the link he had with Salt-N-Pepa and all the success they had. But that’s a whole other story, right. I mean, Lawrence told us that day that we should have rocked with him, but we didn’t. Then there was Tommy Boy, but as we’d won first place we weren’t really thinking about Tommy Boy at that time. So we ended up doing the Sugarhill thing and Fly Ty knew Sylvia Robinson and all those guys. So we won the competition and now Sugarhill are going to offer us this contract. We went up to Sugarhill Records in New Jersey and it was just a joke. It was like this crazy, whole pre-staged thing. I mean, the Furious Five were playing frisbee in the parking lot when we arrived, Melle Mel comes out from the back of the house with two girls up under his arms, like ‘What’s up Daddy-O?’ I’ll never forget, Leland Robinson, who was real young at the time, but he was out there with a new Toyota which was the hot car at the time. So he was cleaning the rims of his Toyota and then Joey Robinson Jr. drove in with a Benz.”
So they were really pulling out all the stops to show you there was big money at Sugarhill…
“Exactly. Now Sugarhill had two properties that looked exactly the same, one at the bottom of the hill in New Jersey and one up the hill. So we were at the one down the hill, and then they said they were going to take us to the other property up the hill as Sylvia Robinson wanted to meet us. So we went, and all of us in the group tell this story the same way, but we kinda felt like her Rolls Royce keys were strategically placed on the counter in the house and things like that (laughs). Sylvia kept saying, ‘The kids have been raging about y’all’, but when they gave us the contract it was just horrible…”
Locking you in for ten years with two percent royalties or something?
“It was exactly two percent royalties (laughs). It was four percent wholesale. But we were just like, ‘Yo, this is just…no.’ Not that our Tommy Boy deal ended up being that much better, but I did love the flexibility and the time that we had with Tommy Boy. So we told Fly Ty, we’re not rocking with Sugarhill. He was trying to convince us to go with them and saying how big they were as a label and if we put a record out on Sugarhill then it would blow up. But we were all just like, ‘This is wack!'”
So you decided to take the competition’s second prize of signing with Tommy Boy…
“That’s right. It was actually Tom Silverman at Tommy Boy who taught us what a hook was in a record because we didn’t know (laughs). Our first single “Just Say Stet” was originally a record we’d made that was just called “Stetsasonic” and the hook we ended-up using, ‘If you can’t say it all, Just say Stet…’, was originally just a line from one of my rhymes. Tom heard that line and was like, ‘That’s a hook!’ and we were like, ‘What do you mean?’ So he explained the whole thing about using that line as a hook. Then after the single dropped we started working on the first album, “On Fire”.”
“On Fire” dropped in 1986 but that same year you and Delite appeared on the Incredible Mr. Freeze single “Back To The Scene Of The Crime” on Pow Wow Records. How did that come about?
“Freeze was another guy that I knew through Kevin Porter. It’s funny because at that time we were trying so hard to get on. But Stetsasonic’s road to getting put on was so different to everyone else’s (laughs). Now, Freeze was from East New York, he had a record deal, and he said to us, ‘Yo, I want you guys to rhyme on this.’ But to be honest, we weren’t really in love with the beat on that particular track…”
I always thought perhaps the reason you were featured on that single was due to the fact it was produced by Arthur Baker and the connection he had with Tommy Boy…
“No, no. Like I said, we already knew Freeze and at the time that he got his deal we were killing the park jams. Freeze wished that he was getting what me and Delite were getting in Alabama Park. I mean, once we started doing those Alabama jams, we got nice. Delite became everything I wanted him to become. I mean, D would say to me, ‘Yo, do I sound good?’ and I’d be like, ‘D, you don’t know how good you sound.’ I mean, his voice next to mine and the way we would bounce off of each other….”
When Stetsasonic’s first album came out I was still a huge Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five fan and I would judge any new group I heard against them. I always remember thinking at the time that, to me, Delite was to Stet what Cowboy was to the Furious Five in terms of how his voice had such a big presence on record…
“Absolutely. You nailed it one thousand percent. I loved the way we sounded together and what Delite brought to the group. I mean, we were really doing it out in those parks, so Freeze wanted us on his record because he’d already told us that he loved what we were doing. When we actually recorded “Back To The Scene Of The Crime” we didn’t even had a record deal ourselves. So doing that record was part of us trying to get on and get ourselves a deal.”
At what point did Stet first start referring to themselves as ‘The Hip-Hop Band’?
“We started using that name when DBC first came onboard. We didn’t have Bobby Simmons in the group yet on the drums. But we started using the Hip-Hop Band name when DBC joined us because me and Delite looked around and said, ‘Holy s**t, we’ve got a band now.’ The band to us was always DBC, Wise and Paul, because those guys could play music all day, whether it be on the drum machine, the human beatbox or the turntables. Then you had the three emcees, which was me, Delite and Frukwan. I mean, if you listen to “On Fire”, you hear us talking about being the six-man band. One of the most prominent lines on “On Fire” that related to how we saw ourselves was, ‘If you call us a group, we’ll call you a liar, Stetsasonic is a band my man, We’re on fire!'”
So how did Bobby Simmons originally become involved with the group?
“Okay, this is a long story (laughs). When we did “Go Stetsa I” I had originally programmed the beat on the LinnDrum for that track and it was an old-school James Brown beat, right? But I wanted drum rolls. Now, me and Delite we had a friend called Nawthar Muhammad and he played the drums. So we asked him to come in and do drum rolls and cymbals for the track. I remember we were in Calliope Studios and I was telling him exactly where I wanted him to do a cymbal, do a roll, and he did it. But we had to play a little beat up underneath what he was doing so that he could keep the beat. It was so unplanned, but the drums on “Go Stetsa” are only three tracks. We had a mic on him and then a mic all the way on the other side of the studio in the bathroom that we used for ambience. So if you listen to my verse on “Go Stetsa” we dropped that ambience track out and then we bring it back. So that’s why my line ‘Brooklyn, New York is our hometown…’ sounds so tight because we took that track out. So it was so unplanned, because we’d talked to the engineer and he’d said we didn’t need to put extra mics on the drums if all we were doing was recording a roll.”
Bob Power of A Tribe Called Quest fame engineered that record, right?
“Bob Power was a pain in the ass (laughs). We taught Bob Power how to make all these types of Hip-Hop records. I’m not saying he wasn’t already a good engineer, but he really cut his teeth with Stetsasonic. I mean, this is obviously pre-D’Angelo and all of that. In fact, the reason he got hooked up with all of that was through me and Kedar Massenburg being connected, but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, he was a good engineer but it was very difficult for us to deal with him back then because of what we were trying to do. Especially me and Prince Paul because of the type of guys we are. We are super spontaneous in the studio.”
Plus, with Hip-Hop still being relatively new, it must have been a completely different recording experience to what studio engineers were used to in comparison to working with artists from other genres…
“Right, right. So on and off Bob Power wouldn’t be available and we’d be happy when he wasn’t (laughs). So the reason we hooked up with Bob Colter is because we’d already tried working with all these different engineers and things just hadn’t worked out. I mean, we even tried the tech guy because we thought he might work as he knew so much about all of the equipment. One of the biggest problems we had was that we had this raw sound because we were still trying to mimick the whole two turntables and a mic sound, and the engineers used to always clean it up and we’d be like, ‘That’s not what we want!’ Then we’d go through this whole thing and they’d end up giving the music back to us how we originally wanted it and that was something they could have done two hours before (laughs). So anyway, one day we had Bob Colter in the studio, who we later found out was just as spontaneous as we were. So anyway, he pulls up the “Go Stetsa” track which we were getting ready to work on, but he only pulls up the live drums and the vocals, I guess because of the way the track was labelled. So then he’s getting ready to pull up the drum machine track and I just said, ‘Whoa! Hold up, hold up. Play it like that.’ I was like, ‘Delite, come over here. Do you hear this s**t?’ And that’s how “Go Stetsa” ended-up sounding the way it did with the drums. Which is a very long story to say, that experience then let us know exactly how we sounded on live drums and that we could use those live drums in a way that didn’t sound like some corny R&B record.”
Is that what then gave you the idea of putting Bobby Simmons down with the group?
“So getting back to Bobby, remember I mentioned DJ Scooter Love and the Kickin’ Coffin earlier? Bobby used to carry records for those guys and was already my boy from Brownsville. So Bobby was now the back-up deejay for Red Alert at the Latin Quarter when we started poppin’. He walked up to me one day and said, ‘Yo, D. I know you cut “Go Stetsa” with drums and you know that I’m nice on the drums. We should try it one time…’ and I just said, ‘Let’s do it!’ But it was an ill set-up the way we performed with Bobby in the Latin Quarter for the first time. Now, the best way I can describe it to you is if you look at the video to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Tramp”, you can see how the Latin Quarter worked. The stage they had was up top and then the dance-floor was at the bottom. We had to put Bobby and his drums down on the floor and then we were up top on the stage. But it turned out dope as hell.”
So Bobby was performing with Stet in a live context before he actually started working with the group in the studio?
“Exactly. I mean, the live performances were coming out so dope that by the time we went into the studio to do “In Full Gear”, Bobby was officially in the group.”
Touching on the Latin Quarter for a moment, what memories do you have of that particular spot?
“Overall, I remember that the Latin Quarter represented the underground. I mean, I know that word gets used over and over, but it’s really the only word I’ve got to describe what was happening in New York back then. I mean, at the time, Russell Simmons was really starting to blow with the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, he had Whodini, so the commercial part of being on the radio and getting big money for tours was starting to happen and a lot of that was happening with Russell. Russell was that guy who was doing all of that. But then there were the rest of us, and all the rest of us had to cut our teeth at the Latin Quarter. Now, this is obviously prior to us being managed by Rush a little later down the line. But when it came to the Latin Quarter, you had Stetsasonic, you had Ultramagnetic MC’s, you had Boogie-Down Productions, Lumumba Carson who went on to be Professor X in X-Clan was hanging out there with me as he was managing us for awhile, you had Just-Ice, even Kid-N-Play and a little later on the Audio Two. It was actually through meeting Audio Two at the Latin Quarter that I ended-up producing “Top Billin'” for them because Red Alert used to play “I Like Cherries” all the time. Of course, Red Alert played a huge part in the Latin Quarter, then along with Red came the Violators. So you had all of this real Hip-Hop that was happening in this place and it was kinda the polar opposite at the time of what Russell was doing with the tours and all of that.”
When you think back to that time, are there any particular moments that standout to you that really represent the Latin Quarter experience?
“One particular moment that I always think of when people ask me about the Latin Quarter was Red Alert playing Eric B. & Rakim’s “My Melody” for the first time. Yo, man, that might even be my most magical moment in Hip-Hop. That was the first time that any of us had heard it. I remember it coming on and just thinking, ‘What the hell is happening right now?’ The way the record started with the keyboard and then it goes into those drums was just crazy, but then Rakim’s voice came on and everyone was just like, ‘Yooooooo!’ I mean, none of us who went to the Latin Quarter knew Rakim at this point. Actually, Biz Markie knew Rakim because he used to be out on Long Island. But the rest of us didn’t know Rakim. We didn’t really know anything about him. The only tapes you could find of Rakim back then were Wyandanch High School parties or whatever from all the way out there in Long Island. I mean, it wasn’t like Rakim was coming and rhyming with people at the Latin Quarter or anything like that. So we still didn’t really know who he was. Which is what made it so ill when everyone heard that record for the first time. Eric B. was there that night though. I remember Eric coming in with his whole massive, Supreme Magnetic and all of those dudes. They were standing there with all these gold rings on and all of that whilst “My Melody” is playing (laughs). It was just the illest thing.”
Just to let everyone know that was their boy Rakim booming over the system…
“Man, that record was so hot that Red Alert played it three times in a row that night. I tell people all the time, that on the streets of New York, “My Melody” was killin’ “Eric B. Is President”. I think “Eric B. Is President” was a better radio record, but “My Melody” was the bigger street record.”
Considering the amount of legendary artists who were part of that Latin Quarter scene, how much of a sense of community was there amongst you all?
“I think it was the tightest Hip-Hop community I’ve ever seen. I mean, the only thing I’ve ever felt that could rival that was when Stetsasonic and Public Enemy shared a tour bus together, but that was just two groups, so it wasn’t what you would call a community like the Latin Quarter. There was so much of a community at the Latin Quarter that Lumumba Carson had actually created a Hip-Hop Coalition thing that Stetsasonic, MC Serch, King Sun, Eric B. & Rakim, all of us were part of that. Also, a lot of us were still doing day jobs at the time, so when it came to paid gigs, the Latin Quarter was one of the only places you could go as an artist. There were a couple of things that might have happened at the Rooftop in Harlem, but they had there own thing going on there. There were a couple of things that might have happened at the USA roller-skating rink out in Queens, but they had there own little thing going on as well. But when it came to some real Hip-Hop, the Latin Quarter was where it was at and everyone wanted to be a part of it. So much so that you had a group like Salt-N-Pepa, who weren’t frequently at the Latin Quarter, but, as I mentioned earlier, they ended up shooting their video for “Tramp” there because that place was a staple of New York Hip-Hop.”
It was the place that everybody wanted to be affiliated with in some way at the time?
“Absolutely. Let me tell you, one of my dopest Latin Quarter stories involves MC Hammer. Now, me and Hammer have been cool for a long time. But when I first met Hammer I met him as Stanley Kirk Burrell of the Holy Ghost Boys. He was the first gospel rapper I ever met in my life. He used to come to the Latin Quarter to watch Stretch and Tron dance. Now, that whole thing he used to do going across the stage that everyone called the Hammer Dance, that was Stretch and Tron’s thing. But the Latin Quarter was like a university or something, man. I mean, I can’t even front, there were some guys who went in there wack who came out dope (laughs). But you really had to be there to fully understand how important the Latin Quarter was, man. Every week there would be someone performing, every week Red Alert would be playing something new, there was the fashion, there was just all this stuff going on. I mean, Union Square was the only real equivalent to Latin Quarter, although they had a lot of problems with violence. But Latin Quarter got violent to. Man, it got so violent that it was ridiculous.”
People who were associated with the Latin Quarter seem to have differing opinions on how violent it actually was there. From what you remember, was violence a regular problem?
“I mean, people were getting robbed at Latin Quarter every week. People were getting robbed and all of that. But the security dudes, Robocop and them, they had a way of getting the trouble out of the club quickly. They did it the same way the guys at the Roxy used to do it early in the disco days. At the Roxy, a fight would break out, the guards would jump in, grab the guy, take him outside, and the party would just keep on going. That’s how they did it at the Latin Quarter as well. But I do remember there was this one particular night that was just the illest night. Paradise was my man and him and Stetsasonic’s then manager Lumumba Carson were cool, so we used to hang out up in the office. Now, the office in the Latin Quarter was also upstairs where the stage was, but it was across from the stage on the other side. Now, this one particular night, man, it just went bananas. We were all standing upstairs in the office just looking down watching this fight break out and it was nuts. People were throwing stuff and it was just really going crazy. I’ll never forget that night…”
Was this the infamous Jackie Wilson benefit event that so many artists have spoken about over the years?
“I don’t remember what night it was. All I remember was, yo, it was like something out of a movie. It was crazy. But like I said, there was always something happening at Latin Quarter, but they were just real good at isolating it quickly and getting it outside. There was a backdoor downstairs that was directly underneath the office and that gave them a pretty straight line to grab the culprit if they were on the dance-floor and then get them straight outside.”
How true is it that “Go Stetsa I” was the Crooklyn stick-up kid anthem at the Latin Quarter?
“For robbing people? Yeah, it was (laughs). That’s true. I don’t know how that happened but it’s true…”
It probably had something to do with that ‘Go Brooklyn!’ chant…
“Maybe it was (laughs). But “Go Stetsa” was definitely the tuck-your-chain record in the Latin Quarter. Once you heard that drum roll, if you weren’t ’bout it then you needed to leave right then (laughs). I don’t really know where that started, but it might have started in prison. I had a homie who was locked-up on Rikers Island when “Go Stetsa” came out and he told me that people used to throw their shoes at the speaker when that record came on the radio. Not to cut the record off, but just because they were excited to hear it. So when “Go Stetsa” came on the radio in prison, people would start throwing their shoes at the speaker (laughs). That’s crazy.”
So dudes were probably coming out of prison and telling people how “Go Stetsa” used to make people go crazy when they were locked-up…
“Exactly (laughs). But yeah, that’s definitely true that “Go Stetsa” was the stick-up kid anthem. That’s not a myth. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. It was nuts. The one thing that we did love though, was that Stetsasonic, and also BDP, had a certain reputation. When both us and BDP performed at the Latin Quarter, no junk went on in the crowd. I can’t say anything about what would happen after, but while we were onstage nothing went down.”
Was that down to the respect the LQ crowd had for Stet and BDP as artists or was it down to the size of the crews that you rolled with?
“It was a little bit of both. I only remember one particular night when I had to get a little bit antsy with the crowd. Someone in the crowd had said something and I just said, ‘Stop the music! Man, they’ll take you out of here in a bag, man…’ and the whole audience started laughing because they knew. But overall, I think a lot of it had to do with the respect both us and BDP had, but it also had a lot to do with the actual entertainment as well. I mean, with Stetsasonic, there was a bunch of us onstage so people knew that was going to be exciting. But with BDP, there was only three of them, Scott La Rock, D-Nice and KRS-One. But to see them onstage was incredible. I mean, even to this day Kris is phenomenal, but back then they were just the illest thing to watch, yo. To watch Kris as a young kid, brand new, doing “Poetry”, we were looking at him like, ‘How the f**k did he come up with this?’ I’m listening to him and watching him as an emcee myself, thinking, ‘Where did this guy come from?’ It was bananas, man. But I would say, aside from Just-Ice, compared to Stetsasonic and BDP, the rest of the artists who would perform at the Latin Quarter didn’t really make the grade. They were okay, they did their thing, they rocked, but not like that. If I could describe it as one thing, they just didn’t keep it interesting enough for the crowd. I mean, with BDP, Scott La Rock would take the SP-12 onstage with them and things like that. So we were always doing something to make it interesting. Like, whatever was the hot record out at the time, we might drop that at the beginning of the show and say a rhyme over it, just to give the people something a little different each time we performed.”
What impact do you remember the news of Scott La Rock’s tragic murder having on the Latin Quarter community?
“I remember Lumumba calling me to tell me what had happened and I couldn’t believe it. We jumped in the car and went Uptown to confirm it. It was hard on all of us, man. Scott was Puffy before Puffy was Puff. Scott had three label deals before he died. He really was about his business and he was about the business of Hip-Hop. So Scott’s whole thing wasn’t just about making the music, it was about how we could be independent and in control of our own music. Scott wasn’t really with Stet being signed to Tommy Boy in particular (laughs). He’d say to me, ‘Daddy-O, you could have you own label.'”
So he had that sense of vision back then to understand how large Hip-Hop could become as a business?
“Exactly. But what made Scott’s death so tough was that, when someone close to you passes away and they’ve reached an old age you can make sense of it, but when it happens to a young person, it’s unexpected. Plus, what made it even more unexpected, was that we were all going through this huge period of growth in Hip-Hop and there was so much happening at the time, so for one of our heroes to get taken out like that, it was just real tough. Obviously we heard what happened around D-Nice getting into some beef over a chick, but then we started to hear rumours that the guy who did it wasn’t even no hardcore dude like that, so it was like ‘C’mon, man. That didn’t have to happen.’ So that was a tough one, man. But as far as KRS, I’m not saying that Kris wasn’t already dope, but it definitely did something to him on the rhyming side…”
There was definitely a huge difference between the KRS you heard on the “Criminal Minded” album in 1987 and the KRS you heard on 1988’s “By All Means Necessary”…
“To me, at that point, KRS-One became the best emcee in the world…”
As as fan, you listened to “Criminal Minded” and thought KRS-One was a great emcee, but you listened to “By All Means Necessary” and thought, ‘This is someone who’s really trying to teach me something here’…
“That situation definitely changed Kris and, this is just my opinion, but I think he felt he definitely had to make sure that Scott’s legacy stood for something. I mean, I wasn’t privy to any of this, but knowing the type of person that Scott was, Scott probably always told Kris to rhyme about the stuff he was talking about on “By All Means Necessary”. I can see Scott La Rock saying to Kris, ‘Yo, man. Why don’t you say something, man?’ So if there was anything good that came out of that whole situation, I guess you can say it was the impact it had on the music KRS went on to make.”
Check Part Three of this interview here.
Stetsasonic – “Go Stetsa I” (Tommy Boy Records / 1986)
JW Hype – “My Dedication (The Juice Crew)” (JWHype.BandCamp.Com / 2013)
The Chicago producer-on-the-mic pays homage to Marley Marl’s legendary crew of lyricists on this lead single from his forthcoming album “Prince Of The Hype Era” – fresh like it was still 88, you suckers!!!
A true veteran of the Queens, NY Hip-Hop scene, Rotten Apple resident Satchel Page spent his youth surrounded by pioneers of the game, from those who made their name turning-out the park jams of the early-80s, to others who went on to become internationally known once rap began to make its journey from the streets to the mainstream.
But unlike many of his peers, Page didn’t spend the 80s or 90s in the Hip-Hop spotlight, even though he was associated with some of the most well-known figures of the culture’s golden-era. Having sharpened his lyrical skills onstage in front of first-generation Queens b-boys and b-girls, fate and circumstance would prevent the New York native from sharing his passion for the microphone with the masses, with Page instead deciding to step back from pursuing a career in music in favour of a more secure and stable lifestyle.
Having returned to the studio in recent years, working with producer Ayatollah and appearing on childhood friend Neek The Exotic’s 2011 Large Professor-assisted album “Still On The Hustle”, Page recently released his own new solo project “Fine Wine”.
In this two-part interview an animated Satchel Page takes a walk down memory lane, as he remembers rolling with a young LL Cool J, battling Biz Markie and seeing his Queens neighbourhood ravaged by the crack epidemic of the Reagan-era.
How and when were you first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“Well, I’m from Southside Jamaica, Queens, which I would say is one of the meccas of the Hip-Hop culture. I really started rhyming after making the transition from break-dancing, which shows you how long ago I started (laughs). When I started grabbing the mic most of the people my age were still break-dancing and it was the older cats who were rhyming. But I was one of those young cats who was grabbing the mic early in Jamaica, Queens back in the park jam era.”
So before you started rhyming, when did you first start breakin’?
“Breakin’ came to Queens, I would say, in the late-70s. We’d have the block parties, people would bring out their music equipment and we would just dance to the music all night long. That was when we first really started to see this new music taking form and the break-dancers would come out and everything. We used to call it the electric boogie back then (laughs). People would be poppin’ and stuff and it really just took off from there in Queens. Everybody was doing it in the late-70s and early-80s.”
Were acts coming from the Bronx to perform at those early park jams or was it strictly deejays and emcees from Queens?
“I always tell people that if Hip-Hop started in the Bronx on a Monday, then the rest of New York was doing it on Tuesday and Wednesday (laughs). It really spread that fast. The first memory I have of those park jams in Queens was when I was playing Little League baseball. I was about ten-years-old and I can remember everybody on the baseball field dancing and not being able to concentrate on the game because there were people in the next field over playing music! That was like a phenomenon to us. We could hear the music and they were playing these disco break-beats and everybody was dancing and trying to play baseball at the same time (laughs). I mean, that had to be around 1977 or 1978. So this was early and it wasn’t anybody who was coming from the Bronx doing that, this was Queens cats just bringing their equipment out and doing their thing. Hip-Hop started in the Bronx but we were doing it very early in Queens with the jams and stuff. We’ve been jammin’ in Queens for a long time (laughs).”
Who were some of the best known deejays in the parks during the early days of Hip-Hop in Queens?
“Ah man, at the height of the park jams in Queens the biggest name was Grandmaster Vic. He was the ultimate. Vic was like Grandmaster Flash to people in Queens. So there was Grandmaster Vic, the Amazing Dewitt from Baisley and Kid Quick from Rochdale. Those are some of the names that I remember. But a lot of the time it wasn’t about the single deejay, it was about the crews. So there was the Boss Crew, you had Cipher Sounds who were coming out of 40 projects, you had the Clientele Brothers which had people like Mikey D, LL Cool J and Johnny Quest down with them….”
Eddie O’Jay, Everlovin’ Kid Ice and those dudes…
“Yeah, yeah (laughs). So we’re talking the early-80s at this point. This was still really before making records was your claim to fame. Your claim to fame was being able to rock at a park jam and having tapes of that circulating around New York. That was how you made your name back then.”
Going back to Grandmaster Vic, he was known for his blends, right?
“He invented that. He invented that whole idea of blending Hip-Hop with R&B. Puffy and all these people like Jodeci and Mary J. Blige really owe Grandmaster Vic. When he did it, it was unheard of to take the accapella of an R&B record and blend it with straight Hip-Hop breaks. When he started doing that it was a previously unheard phenomenon that really took people by storm. I mean, in the early-80s people were buying Grandmaster Vic tapes for like fifty dollars. Those were real mixtapes.”
How early on was Vic actually mixing Hip-Hop with R&B?
“Early on, early on. That’s what he was known for. He was good with the scratches and everything and was a real pure deejay, but when it came to the blending, he had such an ear for putting two records together that you would never think would blend but he would make it work. That was in the early-80s he was doing that. I remember he could pretty much blend Keni Burke’s “Risin’ To The Top” with anything (laughs). I think Keni Burke might owe Grandmaster Vic some royalties because he really helped make that song famous. You don’t even understand, when Vic would put that record on at the jams people would go crazy. To this day, “Risin’ To The Top” is the Queens anthem. That’s the Queens anthem because of Grandmaster Vic and his crew, the Boss Crew which consisted of cats like Divine and Chilly Dee who were legends back then. They had the Boss Crew, which stood for Brothers Of South Side. They would tear parties up so bad that it was the equivalent of going to something like Summer Jam now. But when it comes to Grandmaster Vic, all those dudes like Funkmaster Flex, DJ Clue, Kid Capri, Ron G, all the deejays that went on to become big and famous from making mixtapes, they all took a little piece of Grandmaster Vic.”
So at what point did you make the transition from dancing to rhyming?
“I’ll tell you when it happened. It was when I met LL Cool J. My cousin was also a big deejay at that time and I’d say he was on the same level as Grandmaster Vic. His name was DJ Jesse James. Now, his emcees were astronomically huge in Queens at the time. They were called the Albino Twins. They were these two albino dudes and they used to just destroy the parties. I mean, they were really more party emcees and not so much on the lyrical tip, but this was when we were still in that party and park jam era. So they were big in Queens and I used to roll with them and be the one carrying the equipment and stuff. I mean, I’m only about ten or eleven-years-old at this point. So my cousin came to me and said, ‘Yo, I’ve got this new young cat and he’s just ferocious on the mic.’ He introduced me to him and it was Cool J. Now, when Cool J came he just brought a whole new style to the streets of Queens that was unheard of because at that time everybody was just doing the party style of rhyming. That’s really what emcee-ing was to us back then. But when LL came out, and he was only about fourteen-years-0ld, he came with that very lyrical style that, when I first heard it, it just blew me away. So after the first time I heard LL rhyme, I went home and started writing my own rhymes because there was more of an intelligence aspect to it that I felt I could do rather than just the crowd participation stuff which you really needed a huge amount of personality for.”
So when you first heard LL, was it at a park jam or on a tape?
“It was in my cousin DJ Jesse James’ basement. They were practicing for a jam we were about to go to that night and LL was rhyming freestyle off the instrumental to T La Rock’s “It’s Yours”.”
Which is ironic considering the comparisons that were made between LL Cool J and T La Rock when “I Need A Beat” came out…
“”It’s Yours” definitely inspired him. When he was rolling with my cousin I would be with LL and he would recite that record all the time. I mean, we all knew the record but LL was the only person I knew who could recite that record word-for-word. He knew every single word to that song backwards and forwards. So yeah, LL could never deny T La Rock’s influence on him.”
So was LL performing regularly with your cousin and his crew?
“Ah man, when LL got down with the Albino Twins it was crazy because then you had the illest party rockers with the illest lyricist. I used to roll with them and see them just turn jams upside down (laughs). Their style used to be that they’d turn up to the party, tear the place up and then just leave (laughs). I mean, after they left people didn’t even want to stay no more. There was no reason for them to stay around. It was like they’d just been hit by a tornado (laughs). Now, LL and the Albino Twins were actually from the Northside of Queens and back then Queens was very localised. But I remember walking up into the hardest neighbourhoods in the middle of 40 projects with them. Now, dudes from the Northside, which is Hollis and places like that, they didn’t really come to Southside Queens. The Twins and LL were some of the few who would come from the Northside to the Southside, in the middle of 40 projects, and be able to actually get the microphone, much less then tear the place up. I saw them do that on more than one occasion (laughs). So LL was definitely a big influence on me when I first started picking up that pen.”
Are there any battles from that period that still standout to you?
“Yeah, actually one of the illest moments I ever had in Hip-Hop was when LL had a battle with this guy called Cap who was from Laurelton, Queens, which had the L.A. Posse. Cap also had a crew called the El-Producto Brothers. Now, this particular battle was at a block party, and they always used to start around three in the afternoon. LL was on early doing his thing, and Cap got on him just out of nowhere. Cap had this disrespectful rhyme that just killed LL. Now, LL was about to get back on him, but it was still real early and I remember my cousin Jesse James coming up to LL and saying, ‘Yo, chill, chill. Don’t do it now. Let’s wait until night time when the crowd’s here and then you can go at him.’ My cousin had this van at the time and LL went straight into the van. We didn’t see LL for the rest of the day. Now, around the time the party was really rockin’, my cousin came up to me and told me to go get LL. I remember opening up the van and LL was in there with the music going and he was just putting the pen to the pad (laughs). I told him that my cousin had said it was time. I remember LL asking me, ‘Yo! Is it crowded?’ and I was like, ‘Man, it’s packed!’ I remember LL getting out that van, going up onstage and he said a rhyme to this dude Cap that was tailor-made for him (laughs). The crowd just went bananas. I mean, the rhyme was just so skillful and advanced that people were looking at LL like he was a martian (laughs). Cap tried to come back at LL and right in the middle of his rhyme LL just turned around and mooned him (laughs). The crowd fell-out laughing and that was the battle over. But I remember there were people there that day who went on to become legends. I mean, DJ Irv, Irv Gotti, he was there, Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, Ed Lover was there. Ed was actually someone else who used to roll with my cousin and the Albino Twins. He always used to do songs over to perform at the parties and make them funny. I remember when Run DMC had “My Adidas”, Ed did “My Skeezers” and things like that (laughs).”
Do you recall the first time you performed in public?
“The very first time I performed was at a block party. Now back then, when crews used to battle it was more like a battle of sound systems which was taking something from the Jamaican thing. At the time my cousin had the illest sound system and there was also this other crew from Southside called Cipher Sounds. I remember, both of them wanted to jam at this particular park on the same day. Everybody knew that they were going to jam at this park. So my cousin showed up on one side of the park, Cipher Sounds showed up on the other side of the park, and it was about whoever was rockin’ the most and who the crowd was swaying to. That was the first time I ever got on the mic and I just tore it up. People were just astonished because they were only used to seeing me carrying the equipment and dancing. I was real short as well. I mean, I’m still short now, but I was even shorter back then (laughs). So that was my first time rockin’ a jam and I just loved the feeling I got from doing that. Afterwards, I’d be walking around the neighbourhood and people would be pointing me out like, ‘That’s that dude who rhymes with the Albino Twins…’ and stuff like that…
What name were you rhyming under back then?
“My name back then was G.L.T. which stood for Genuine Lyrical Technique. To be honest, it stood for pretty much whatever I felt at the time (laughs). It also used to stand for Good Lookin’ Troy, with Troy being my first name.”
So were you battling other emcees on the street at that point as well as performing at the jams?
“I had a battle with Biz Markie before he even came out on record which was funny. Biz was actually walking through my neighbourhood with Rahzel who went on to be the beatbox for The Roots. This was before Biz had come out with the Juice Crew and all that. Biz was just walking down the street doing that ‘Boom-ha-ha..’ thing he used to do (laughs). Now, Biz is a funny-looking cat and we actually thought something was wrong with him (laughs). We were just young and crazy back then, so we started clowning on him and Biz started telling us how he’s into music and is doing this and that. So we’re laughing at him, thinking that he’s lying. Then before you know it, Biz started rhyming, I started rhyming, and we were going back and forth. I pretty much think I got him though (laughs). But we laughed Biz Markie off our block. We told him, ‘Yo,you sound corny. You sound crazy.’ Then maybe about a year later we heard that same laugh of his all over the radio and we all just looked at each other like, ‘Oh no!’ Me and my crew swear to this day that Biz made “Vapors” about us (laughs).”
On the subject of the Juice Crew, with their early members coming from Queensbridge, how much of a connection did QB have with everything else that was going on in Queens at the time?
“Queensbridge was always just off on their own doing their own thing. Like I said, Queens was very localised so you didn’t always know what was happening outside of your own neighbourhood. I mean at the age we were back then, none of us were driving or anything like that. So you pretty much stayed in your neighbourhood. We thought we were all of Queens (laughs) I mean, for us, our introduction to Queensbridge pretty much was the Juice Crew when MC Shan and Marley Marl came out with “The Bridge”. So when they came out, that was something brand new to us. But when MC Shan came out that was big. I mean, most of the guys I was rolling with didn’t go on to make records, so when Shan started coming to other parts of Queens to perform, that was big because he was already out with his records.”
What impact did it have in Queens when Run-DMC first came out?
“That was huge. I remember, you’d see them driving down the block. I mean, back then, if you were a rap star you were still living in your old neighbourhood really. It’s not like now where rap stars are living in Hollywood (laughs). Back then you’d go to the shopping mall in Queens and you might bump into Run-DMC. Matter of fact, I knew where Run lived so I used to always drop off my demos to him. I used to go right to his house, ring his bell and give him any new demos I’d been working on. Run actually tried to get me a deal with Profile Records but right before it happened things happened at the label and it all went crazy. But anytime I had new music, Run would listen to it. He was definitely cool. But it was crazy to see an act as big as Run-DMC on an everyday basis just up in Hollis chillin’ or in the barber-shop.”
Did people in Queens expect Run-DMC to blow-up like they did?
“It was a surprise to tell you the truth. Based on the reputation they had in the streets, people would have probably bet that the Albino Twins would have been bigger stars than Run-DMC at the time. The Albino Twins had a bigger name and were known more all over Queens than Run and them. To be honest, the first time a lot of us heard Run-DMC was actually when they came out on record (laughs). I don’t remember Run and them doing jams locally like Grandmaster Vic and them were. But Run-DMC did come out very early, so they were doing the record thing early on and were doing that rather than doing the jams like everyone else. But once “Sucker MCs” came out, it was a wrap. They were all over the place. But when they were big, they would still come to the jams. I remember they had a battle with the Albino Twins at a Hollis Day event. This would have been around 1983 or 1984 and the Albino Twins took ’em out (laughs).”
What was your reaction when LL got signed to Def Jam?
“I knew it was coming because it was the summer right before he got signed when I was with him everyday almost. I was listening to “I Need A Beat” months before it even came out and I was telling everybody about him. I think I was LL’s first fan (laughs). I used to tell everybody that he was my cousin because he was down with my cousin and I thought I’d ride that a little bit, so I used to tell people, ‘Yo, my cousin’s got this joint coming out called ‘I Need A Beat.’ I mean, when LL’s first album came out, I was singing those joints word for word because those were rhymes that I’d heard LL writing in my cousin’s basement. Some of those rhymes LL had written when he was twelve-years-0ld.”
So what was your plan at that point considering you were seeing local acts from Queens signing major record deals?
“At that point, it really became less about rockin’ jams and more about getting a record deal because everybody was getting a deal (laughs). You started seeing people that you grew-up with on TV and things like that. I mean, that’s what happened with Neek The Exotic. He was one of the dudes that I grew-up with. Then I looked up one day and he’s doing “Fakin’ The Funk” with Main Source and I was like, ‘Wow! This is really getting close.’ Neek was like my brother but I hadn’t seen him for about six months at the time and next thing I know he’s got a record out (laughs).”
You mentioned earlier that you would give your demo tapes to Run – when would that have been exactly?
“That would have been around 88 / 89. That was when the golden-era was really starting. All over Queens and New York as a whole, Hip-Hop was just going out of control. I remember, I was actually graduating high-school and had the chance to go away to college, but I turned that down because New York was so hot with the Hip-Hop and that’s what I was doing, so I wanted to stay.”
Was that a hard transition for some people to deal with when the music started to leave the parks and become more about the actual record industry?
“Nah, I think at that time everybody was pretty much thinking that they had a chance to be the next big star. So everybody was welcoming the chance to take it from the streets and actually make real money from the music. You still had people doing the jams and everything, but everybody was in the studio. That was like the catchphrase of the day, ‘I’m in the studio’ (laughs). Everybody was making demos and beings as so much of the Hip-Hop of that time was coming from New York, everybody knew somebody who was a connection to the industry. Like, I knew Run, so I’d drop my demos off to him. People always had their connections. I remember, I went to high-school with Fredro Starr from Onyx and Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, and we would tell each other about the different contacts and connections we knew about.”
From what I understand the Lost Boyz already had a reputation on the streets of Queens long before they ever put a record out…
“Yeah, well, Mr. Cheeks is my man. The Lost Boyz were always a little crew that used to roam around and do their thing in the streets. This was the time when crack was really dominating the era and everybody was doing their little things with the drugs and running around making their little bit of money. I mean, if you were young, the main two things you did in Queens in the 80s was either rap or sell drugs and some did both (laughs). So the Lost Boyz used to do their thing in other ways, but Cheeks always represented the Hip-Hop part of it and was always doing his music thing.”
Did you know B-1 who was also down with the Lost Boyz?
“I mean, I didn’t come up with him but I knew of him. But I didn’t know him personally like I knew Cheeks. To this day, Cheeks is my brother. But I didn’t know B-1 like that. I mean, I grew-up with Cheeks, Freaky Tah, Fredro Starr and Big DS, rest in peace. Those were my brothers that I really grew-up with.”
So you were there when Fredro and them were in their house music stage before they hit with Onyx?
“It’s funny, because when Onyx first came out I didn’t recognise them (laughs). These were people that I grew-up with my whole life and I’d watched the video and heard the song and I didn’t realise it was Fredro and them. It was Large Professor and Neek who told me it was them. I’d linked up with Neek again after he’d done “Fakin’ The Funk” and I was up at Large Pro’s house with him and Large was like, ‘Yo, your boys are blowing’ and I was like, ‘Who?’ Large and Neek were telling me it was Fredro and them. I was saying, ‘Well, I ain’t heard their song’ and they were telling me it was “Throw Ya Gunz” and I’m there saying, ‘Nah, I’ve seen that video. That ain’t Fredro and them. That’s these bald-head cats with mean faces.’ I had to go back and look at the video and really look at the faces and I was like, ‘Wow! It is them!’ Before that they were doing house music and had big purple hair like some punk rock stuff. I’ve gotta give it to Jam Master Jay because that transformation was genius and it definitely came off, but it took those of us in the ‘hood who grew-up with them by surprise (laughs).”
Part Two of this interview coming soon.
Satchel Page – “Keep Calling Me” (@SatchelPage / 2013)
Marley Marl remember producing the Biz Markie classic “Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz” in the latest episode of DubSpot.Com’s “Classic Recipes” series.
Part One of this interview with turntable pioneer DJ Cheese found the New Jersey native discussing his introduction to Hip-Hop, hooking-up with Word Of Mouth and signing with Profile Records. In this concluding instalment Cheese remembers winning the 1986 DMC World Championships, hanging-out with Biz Markie and paying for his time spent hustling in the streets.
So how did you get involved with 1986’s DMC competition?
“Well, I didn’t really choose to enter the DMC, the DMC chose me. How it happened was through me being in the New Music Seminar battles in New York. I won the New Music Seminar battle in ’84 and then came back in 1985. I really won that battle as well but I was cheated out of it. Tony Prince from DMC was there at the time and everyone knew I won that battle which is how I ended-up going to England for the DMC. At the time New York was always about New York, so you couldn’t really go there then and get a fair battle. I was lucky enough to get one in ’84 but they weren’t about to let me win two times in a row. Now the winner of that 1985 battle was going to go to the UK to represent the United States in the DMC World Championships, that was announced at the beginning of the battle. Now, even though I didn’t win that NMS title that year (note: NYC’s DJ Easy G Rockwell won) in the books they know who really won that battle because I was told right there that night that I was going to the DMC event. I remember Kurtis Blow coming over to me and telling me it wasn’t right what had happened and that it was clear who’d really won the battle.”
You won the DMC event with a ground-breaking routine made-up of various turntable tricks – were you aware that what you were bringing to the competition was so different to what the other deejays would be doing?
“Nah, not at all. I thought the other deejays there were going to be doing the same thing that I came to do, which was battle. I didn’t think the competition was going to be that laidback. I thought everyone knew why every other person was there, but obviously not. I didn’t go there to mix. I went there to battle.”
At the beginning of the routine there was that slight glitch when you started cutting the Hashim record – what went through your mind at that point when the needle skipped?
“I was always used to things like that happening. I never panicked in a situation like that because that was just Hip-Hop back then. If you were good at what you did then you already knew that the crowd were going to love it. So I didn’t panic at that point. That’s why I got right back to it so fast because I knew where the routine was going to go from there and what I was going to do.”
Dutch deejay Orlando Voorn famously shouted “What is this, a mixing competition or a scratching competition?” after your win was announced and he placed third – what was your response to the reactions you were getting?
“I didn’t really get any negative feedback about my routine other than from the other deejays who were involved in the competition. I remember I could see the fire coming out of Orlando Voorn’s face (laughs). Chad Jackson (note: 1987’s DMC Champion) was definitely cool about it. I got a lot of positive feedback from people saying that they’d never seen anything like that before up close and personal. Back then we did two sets over two days and I remember the attention I got from other deejays being upset after the first day just made me want to go even harder, because they hated what I’d done but the crowd loved it. The first day they weren’t ready with what I came with so I took everybody off guard with the handcuffs, the blindfold, spinning around, using my elbows. But then the next day when we came back there were guys there with pool sticks, bike tyres, one dude even had the kitchen sink! It was crazy (laughs). Suddenly it was like a magic show and everybody had to come up with some new tricks.”
How did it feel to win that DMC event?
“That was definitely another highlight for me to take the title of world champion deejay at the time. I didn’t think I was going to go over there and win that. I mean, it was a world championship, so I figured I was going to go over there and be up against all these deejays from all around the world and have more competition than I really had at that event.”
So with 1986 being such a huge year for you with the success of “Coast To Coast”, the DMC win and headlining UK Fresh, what was the plan moving forward?
“The plan moving forward was to do the album with Word Of Mouth on Profile, but as I said we started to understand what was happening with our management so we let Duke Bootee know that we didn’t want to be a part of his label anymore. We didn’t want anything else to do with him. When he picked us up from the airport after we came back from Europe he was basically telling us that we didn’t have no other choice. I remember him saying that he had contracts and that even if we were reincarnated we’d come back and he’d still own us. He basically told Word Of Mouth that he didn’t give a f**k about them. He told them, ‘You two can leave today and I wouldn’t give a f**k but this guy here ain’t going nowhere.’ Duke was like, ‘Finding a deejay like Cheese is like finding a needle in a haystack but you rappers are a dime a dozen.’ I think Word Of Mouth were shocked when he said that because he was real aggressive with it. Duke pulled over on the highway and was like, ‘You two can get the f**k out now or we can go back to my house and we can split this money out and we done.’ Like I said, we didn’t really have access to the business side of things and that was then the group really fell apart because I still wanted to do music but the other guys were hesitant on how we were going to do it on our own. I felt there were ways we could’ve gotten it done but they weren’t as motivated about it as I was. So I actually walked away from them afterwards. I mean, looking back, we really should have made a group decision and fought it out more than we did. Even though we were being robbed we should have stuck it out a little longer and used the situation to make other connections in the industry so that we could move on. I mean, I remember hearing bad talk about Duke Bootee from Tom Silverman at Tommy Boy and then I went to the DMC and Tony Prince was in my ear telling me to watch the dude. So I’m hearing the same story from two major industry dudes, which let me know that Duke was already known as a slimeball in the business. But being young at the time, I didn’t know any of that before we got involved with him. I mean, I looked up to Duke because he was the one who put me on and got me to do my first record. But on the other side of the coin, he was a bad businessman and it seemed that the industry knew it already, it was just me who didn’t know that.”
What was your involvement with Tom Silverman?
“Tom Silverman was trying to sign me to Tommy Boy and he told me like, ‘Duke’s not a good dude. He’s going to get you for your money.’ I was working from Tom’s studio at the time when Keith LeBlanc was doing the “Lipservice” record (note: released on Tommy Boy in 1984 under the name Beatmaster). Back then in Hip-Hop if you f**ked with a crew then you were loyal to that one crew. So I made Duke aware of what Tom had said to me and he was like, ‘Well, that’s the last time you’re working there.’ So when Tony Prince told me the same thing that was when I kept it to myself because I wanted to see where it was going to go. So when Word Of Mouth started to see what was going on, that was when I told them what had been said to me and that was when we decided to walk away from the label.”
So was Tom Silverman trying to sign just you to Tommy Boy or Word Of Mouth as well?
“We really didn’t get too much into the conversation but I believe he just wanted to sign me as a deejay because he really didn’t speak on the group. He was impressed with me as he was involved in setting-up the New Music Seminar and had seen what I was capable of doing.”
I understand that Biz Markie also approached you about being his deejay when he first started putting records out in the mid-80s?
“Yeah. At that time it was me, Biz, Big Daddy Kane and TJ Swan who were all running together at one point. They used to spend the night at my house and go to parties with me. At the time, I was doing two or three parties a week so they used to travel with me. It was towards the end of our run with “Coast To Coast” when Biz first asked me to be his deejay. I still didn’t know where things were going to go with Word Of Mouth, so I was like, ‘I’m down with these dudes already’ and I didn’t want to just walk away from them at that point. Then Big Daddy Kane came along and he was the second one to ask me to be his deejay. Biz and Kane would freestyle at all the parties I was doing in Jersey and the way I was rockin’ with them it was as if we’d practiced routines together, but we never had practiced. They’d just be hanging out with me coming to the parties. Kane would be like, ‘Let me get the mic’ and I already knew he was hot even though people didn’t really know who he was at that time, but he would turn the party out. He’d be rockin’ and I’d drop the beat out on his punchline or throw a cut in there and he’d look back over his shoulder like, ‘How the f**k did you know I was about to drop that punchline?’ So after that he wanted me to be his deejay as well.”
So did you turn Kane down as well because you were still with Word Of Mouth?
“Yeah, right. I was also approached by Queen Latifah and Shakim of the Flavor Unit to be her deejay as well. At that time, I wasn’t even with Word Of Mouth no more, I was in the streets hustling. But I was so caught up in the streets at that time that I turned them down, which became the third biggest disappointment of my career. First I let Biz go by, then Big Daddy Kane, and then here comes Queen Latifah. I let all three of those opportunities go by.”
What was your connection with Biz Markie?
“Biz at the time basically lived in Jersey. You used to see Biz walking around Jersey on a Tuesday (laughs). I mean, Biz was already hot even before his records came out and hit radio because he was known for doing his human beatbox. So he’d already established himself and Kane was running with Biz at that time. As far as Kane, anyone who came from New York to Jersey, the crowd was already looking forward to seeing them rock because they were expecting them to be dope. I mean, that wasn’t always the case, but Kane obviously was a real dope emcee so he definitely left a big impression on people. From time to time people will remind me, ‘You remember that time you brought Kane out at such and such a party? You remember when you brought Biz?’ People still remember that.”
Did anyone ever try and battle Kane at any of those Jersey parties?
“Nah, not at all (laughs). I mean, after Kane got on the mic didn’t nobody else wanna get on it. If he was the first one on, then Kane was the last one on. A person would be a fool to try and go in behind that (laughs).”
Were you involved with any of the other Flavor Unit members aside from Latifah?
“Nah, but I knew all of them. I knew Mark The 45 King. I mean, when Shakim approached me about working with Latifah it was because Mark was busy with other projects so he couldn’t be her deejay as well. This was around the time that “Wrath Of My Madness” was being played on the radio which was a hot single to me. But part of the reason I turned them down was because I really didn’t want to relive the experience I’d had with Word Of Mouth and the music business.”
So at that point you were burnt out with the business side of the music game?
“Yeah, I was definitely burnt out with the business side of the game and that was when I got caught up in the lifestyle as far as being in the streets was concerned. Basically my addiction in the streets was the lifestyle and the money. I never had a drug habit which is what some people think. I’ve never used drugs, had a drink or smoked a cigarette in my life. So it wasn’t what a lot of people thought it was in terms of them thinking I had a drug addiction because everytime I came home from jail I went right back. No, I had an addiction to money. I mean, when I was touring the UK and making records my addiction was Hip-Hop and it was always about the love of the culture for me and at that point it wasn’t about the money. But that addiction to money came later once I got into the streets.”
How long were you in the streets for?
“I would say from about 1987 through to 2002. I was in and out prison and my mindset during that time was all about getting out to go straight back to the streets. I knew exactly what I was going to do. Today, that’s not my mindset. I’ve prepared myself for it this time. Today my mind is back to the music and I’m back to where I was in ’83, ’84. I know there are people out there who think it’s just a matter of time before I go back to jail but I’m looking to prove them wrong. I’m not upset with anyone for thinking that, because I know I let people down, but now I have to work hard to get that respect back.”
What did you serve time for?
“Distribution of cocaine. There’s nothing else on my jacket other than that.”
Were you still dabbling with Hip-Hop while you were in the streets or did you completely disconnect yourself from the music business?
“I was still doing parties inbetween all that and I did a couple of shows. I did a couple of shows with Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick when I was in the streets. I opened up for 50 Cent while I was in the streets. But for the most part I just walked away from the music even though I would still practice on the turntables at home. I remember I did a show with Kane at The Apollo one time around ’88 / ’89 and he gave me a cold shoulder and treated me like I was a stranger. I don’t know if he was disappointed because I turned him down when he asked me about being his deejay or whether he was disappointed because he knew what I was doing in the streets. I remember we were in the green room and he was standing in the doorway. He was looking at me and I was looking at him, but he didn’t give me a head-nod or nothing. So I approached him like, ‘Remember me?’ and he was just like, ‘Yeah’ and that was it. In my mind I was like, ‘Wow! You used to sleep on my floor and this is how it is now?’ I went and sat back down and I was kinda upset but now when I look back at it I know I disappointed a lot of people with what I was doing. I mean, I’ve talked to Kane since I last came home and we didn’t speak about that particular incident but he was just happy that I’m home and doing what I’m doing.”
How long were you locked-up for before the last time you came home?
“I was released in 2011 and I’d been away for almost nine years.”
So are you still in touch with Word Of Mouth today?
“Yeah, we did a single called “Life Without Hip-Hop” a little while ago. Like I said, I’m not going going back to the streets again whether this music thing goes my way or it fails. I’m so motivated right now and I keep telling Word Of Mouth that all the old-school crews are still touring and we’re one of the few groups that aren’t out there touring. I understand I was away, but I’m home now so let’s drop the single and let the people know we’re back. But this has been going on for about fifteen months now and I told them flat-out either we’re going to do it or it’s over for good. I’ve got the studio right here at home so we don’t need to pay for studio time or anything like that, we can do it all right here. But it’s just not getting done, so regardless I’m going to keep moving how I’ve been moving. I’ve had quite a few deejay sponsors come along who’re backing me right now because they see what I’m doing and I’m moving right now.”
What’s your opinion on the current state of turntablism?
“I mean, to me everyone is doing the same thing. Everyone’s using their laptops now with Serato. I mean, there’s nothing really wrong with that but it’s just sounds like you’re using one turntable and just doing a lot of scratching. Where are the skills at? Where’s the technical part of being able to do something with that turntable? To me, it always used to be about how you used those turntables and that mixer. It’s moved away from that now and it’s need to get back to what that word turntablism really means. It used to be about the funk. It used to be exciting to watch someone on the turntables and see how nice they were. There are some people out there who’re slowly bringing it back.”
Has it surprised you being on social media and seeing how much people still remember the impact you made the first time around?
“Oh yeah, definitely. Coming home and seeing all the activity on Facebook with people sending me stuff from events that I didn’t even remember doing or pictures that I didn’t even remember taking, to me all that stuff is big.”
How would you sum-up the contributions you made to the golden-era of Hip-Hop as both a deejay and with Word Of Mouth?
“Back then we never even looked it at in terms of what contribution we were making. We were just in the scene doing what we did. Looking back on it now, it’s a decision the people have to make when it comes to how much of a contribution we made. Me personally, I can’t make that decision. That’s something the people have to decide.”
F0llow DJ Cheese on Twitter @KingKutDJCheese.
Footage of DJ Cheese’s 1986 DMC routine.
More vintage footage from Tim Westwood in the form of this 1988 interview with Biz Markie on the UK deejay’s short-lived cult late-night TV show N-Sign Radio – lookout for the priceless demonstration of the infamous Biz Dance.