3rd Bass’s MC Serch reminisces with Ed Lover on the group’s late-80s beef with MC Hammer.
3rd Bass’s MC Serch reminisces with Ed Lover on the group’s late-80s beef with MC Hammer.
Introduced to an unsuspecting Hip-Hop Nation in 1992 via his smash Pete Rock-produced single “Let It All Hang Out” on Atlantic Records, New York’s A.D.O.R. appeared to have the rap world at his feet as he made his presence felt amidst stiff competition that year from the likes of Das EFX, House Of Pain and Redman.
With successful appearances on “Yo! MTV Raps” and “In Living Color” adding to the momentum of his debut single (which cracked the Billboard Top Ten), anticipation steadily built for what A.D.O.R. would deliver next, with his Pete Rock-affiliation and connection to DJ Eddie F’s Untouchables camp leading heads to believe an impressive debut album was imminent.
Unfortunately, bad business, industry politics and strained relationships would all contribute to A.D.O.R.’s album “The Concrete” being significantly delayed and ultimately shelved, with the NY emcee not releasing a follow-up to “Let It All Hang Out” until 1994’s K-Def-produced single “One For The Trouble”.
In the years since his major label deal with Atlantic dissolved in the mid-90s, A.D.O.R. has gone on to build a strong fanbase as an independent artist, releasing five album projects and a number of singles on his Tru Reign imprint which have always stayed faithful to his original soulful boom-bap blueprint.
In this two-part interview, the veteran lyricist discusses his introduction to Hip-Hop, rolling with a young Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, working with the Chocolate Boy Wonder and dealing with the unpredictable nature of the music industry.
You were born and raised in New York City, right?
“Yep, I was born in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Then when I was about six or seven-years-old we moved to Mount Vernon.”
Was it a big change for you moving from the city to the suburbs or did it not really register at that age?
“When I was in Manhattan I was already out in the streets seeing what was happening because there was always something going on and Mount Vernon was kinda like that to. Mount Vernon is the first suburb right outside of the Bronx. I mean, you can actually walk from Mount Vernon to the North East Bronx. So the South Side of Mount Vernon being right next to the Bronx meant that it was really in tune with what was happening in the streets.”
So when were you first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“My father was a musician. Back in the 70s he was a very talented singer in a crazy New York City rock band. They were moving around in the same circles as Kiss and cats like that. It was real. He used to take me down to the studio sometimes and I remember being in the studio with him at five or six-years-old until maybe three in the morning with them just rockin’ out. I would be hearing crazy sounds and ill s**t, mad s**t would be going on. So I was introduced to music really from when I was a baby. Then when I got a little older, my father left us. Now, it’s hard for a young woman on her own to keep control of a young boy, so I was running around in the streets of Mount Vernon and also New York City because it was still so easy to get to. So I was just all up in it back in the 80s. I started hearing about the Zulu Nation from going to school with cats, we used to pop and break-dance. I could pop crazy back then. We used to go to New York to watch the Floor Masters and the Rock Steady Crew. We were on some crazy New York s**t.”
When did you actually first start rhyming?
“Well, before I got into rhyming I became a deejay. It was crazy because my step-father was a musician as well and he played the bass. He was a talented cat. He had these big-ass speakers, like these giant five-foot cabinet Sunn speakers. They were bass speakers for the studio or when you were playing a concert or something. They had like two thirty-four inch bass woofers with the mid-ranges and the tweeters, y’knowwhatI’msayin’? Then one year they brought me mad deejay equipment for Christmas. My mother knew my passion for the music and she had saved up to get me this equipment. I had the Gemini mixer with a pair of Technics turntables, and then my step-father hooked it all up to those speakers in my room! Now, we were in an apartment building, we weren’t in a house. So I was in an apartment in Mount Vernon on the fourth floor. There was another building about twenty feet across from us and then behind us was this huge parking lot with a post office over there and everything. So we were about seventy feet in the air and I used to pump that s**t, dude. I used to pump that s**t, for real! People on the street would be looking around, like ‘What the f**k is going on?!’ I used to look out from our terrace and see people who were crazy far away just looking (laughs). I’m not even exaggerating. It was crazy, bro (laughs).”
What records were you playing?
“Man, I was playing s**t like “Salsa Smurf” from Special Request, Fearless Four “Rockin’ It”, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force “Planet Rock”. I ain’t even gonna front, I was even playing Madonna when her first s**t came out, “Everybody” (laughs). I mean, I’m not saying that I loved Madonna or anything like that, but when she rocked that “Everybody” joint, that s**t was fat, yo. That was when she was still trying to come up on some street s**t and she had some passion in that s**t. “Buffalo Gals” was another one I used to rock and “Jam On It” from Newcleus. So what happened was, I started listening to the instrumentals of those records and would be playing with words just freestyling over them. I realised I had something special and was kinda slick with my s**t, so I kept on doing it.”
Were you running with a crew back then?
“I mean, all my friends were involved in the music and the break-dancing, going to see Rock Steady and the New York City Breakers with cats giving us love. We were kinda dope when it came to the dancing. We’d battle cats at the dances at our school and s**t like that. We were just kids running around with mad energy, smoking, whylin’ out, messing with the honeys, just being on some real New York s**t. I remember when “Beat Street” came out and everything. But I mean, I had friends who were all into the dancing and the music with the partying and the deejay-ing and all of that, but I was the only one out of my group of friends who really tried to do something on the musical side. I think all of my passion and drive for music that I got from my father really started to encompass me and I started to pursue things. I’d make instrumentals using a tape-recorder and just spit my vocals over that s**t and people would hear what I was doing and be like, ‘Yo, that’s kinda crazy.'”
So when did it get serious for you in terms of actually trying to break into the music industry?
“I got a meeting with Def Jam before I was really connected with anyone in Mount Vernon. One of my boys Scott was running with Hank Shocklee and them from the Bomb Squad. I met Scott just running around on some New York party s**t. So we befriended each other and he ended up starting to do some work at Def Jam. This would have been around the time that 3rd Bass were just coming out, so you’re looking at the late-80s. I’d started going to New York City to work out of some studios in Manhattan to make a demo. So I had a demo package I’d put together which had a couple of good records in it. Scott took that up to Def Jam and then Lyor Cohen actually called my house one day.”
That must have been a surprise…
“Yeah, this is real, man. Lyor called my house and told me that he wanted to meet with me. So I went down to Def Jam. It was one of those things where at the time I wasn’t really thinking about what a big deal that was, but then later you sit back and reflect on it. It’s like Derek Jeter when he said how he’s going on this journey and it is what it is, but one day later he’ll reflect on everything that’s happened in his life and be like, ‘Wow! That was kinda special.’ So anyway, I met with Lyor, I played him a couple of my records and nothing ever came of it. I mean, Lyor obviously felt something from the music he’d already heard from me for him to call to arrange the meeting, but I didn’t end-up getting signed to Def Jam. Maybe they thought that because they had 3rd Bass already that they didn’t need another non-Black artist. I mean, it was tough back then as a non-Black artist to make some real Hip-Hop that was appreciated for what it was.”
Were you battling other emcees at this time?
“I mean, I could always hold my own when it came to freestyling and spit some clever s**t. But I wasn’t running around like a battle-rap cat wanting to eat muthaf**kers heads wearing a back-pack and all that (laughs). That really wasn’t my thing. I was more about just wanting to make some ill music.”
Was it a big deal in Mount Vernon in the mid-80s when Uptown Records started blowing-up with Heavy D & The Boyz?
“Hell yeah! I mean, I went to school with some of those cats from when we were little kids and knew them either directly or indirectly. I mean, some of my boys who I was cool with were running with Heavy D and Puffy. Mount Vernon is a small city. Hev was the first cat to really blow from Mount Vernon and he was like the star of the city. We used to see him running around with his jeep and everything when he’d just got signed and “The Overweight Lover’s In The House” had just come out. It was a great time for Mount Vernon. Now, all through that time I was still working on my music and I had a fat demo. From being around my boy Will, he knew Puff, so I used to run into Puff all the time. So I gave Puff my demo. S**t, when Puff first started working at Uptown, I used to go to the office and he’d let me in through the back and we’d just talk and chill. I had this demo I’d made called “I Wonder Why” and Puff loved that record. That was the track that made Puff think that I might have something.”
You mentioned your friend Will – was that the same guy who appeared on “Yo! MTV Raps” with you back in 1992?
“Yeah, exactly (laughs). Will was my friend from childhood. Now, when I made the demos, I put a package together and started shopping that s**t. That was how you did it back then. You put something together and if you knew cats who were involved in music then you gave them something to listen to. There wasn’t no internet or any of this crazy stuff like there is now. But Puff believed in me and actually started really working my s**t and shopping my demo around. But then soon after that he started getting involved with Mary J. Blige and Biggie and all that s**t right, so I didn’t know if he was really looking out for me. I knew he believed in me, but I didn’t really know how hard Puff was pushing my material, plus I was being impatient at the time as well.”
So would this have been around 1990 when Puffy was first making his mark at Uptown?
“Exactly. This was when Puff was at Uptown making artists like Jodeci and first really putting it together. Funny story, I remember when Puff really got to me one day. He was real cool with me and he always believed in me as an artist and I’ll always appreciate him for that. But I was in his office one day and I was still making demos because people were saying they wanted to hear some more s**t. So I’m making more songs and I’d made this particular track which I took to his office so he could hear it. Puff let’s me in the office and we’re in the back chillin’ and he’s got K-Ci, JoJo, Dalvin and Devante in the office with him. So I play him the new record I’d just done and Puff was like, ‘I don’t really like it that much.’ I thought the record was hot! So after it had finished Puffy turned to Dalvin and was like, ‘Would you buy this?’ and Dalvin was like, ‘Nah, I really wouldn’t buy that.’ That made me so mad, bro. That made me so mad and I think that’s what changed my relationship with Puff a little bit. I mean, that was his way, but it kinda affected me at the time. So I was just like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ But this was all around the time when Puff still had demo packages of mine and had sent some s**t out to Tommy Boy and Columbia. Then all of a sudden my man Buttnaked Tim Dawg, Tim Patterson, he was running around in the music industry with all of them as well. Now, Heavy D & The Boyz had already blown-up and at the time DJ Eddie F had signed Pete Rock & CL Smooth to his Untouchables Entertainment and had gotten them a deal with Elektra.”
Did you already know Pete or CL prior to this?
“Pete and I knew each other just from running around in music. Plus, I knew Pete’s little brother Grap Luva from when we’d be break-dancing back in the day. I battled Grap Luva and we used to pop together. He was nice. So me and Pete knew each other, but we weren’t all directly connected musically. They had their little world with Hev and Al B. Sure! and Pete Rock & CL Smooth and I had my own little A.D.O.R. world. I mean, we had mutual friends and we’d be at parties coming up and they definitely knew me, but I wasn’t all up in there with them as far as the music was concerned. I was really trying to do my own thing. So I wasn’t involved in music because I was from Mount Vernon and was running around with Pete Rock, Heavy D, Eddie F and Puffy. I was a musician anyway and was already doing my own thing. But I mean, we were all at high-school together. We were all at high-school at the same time, me, Hev, Puff, Pete Rock, Al B. Sure!. I mean, one of my best friends Akbar, he was a cousin of Al. B Sure!. But there were like four thousand kids in Mount Vernon High School (laughs).”
So how did you actually get signed to Untouchables Entertainment?
“So what happened was Tim Patterson brought my demo package to Eddie F and he liked it. Now, Tim Dawg had started doing A&R for Eddie’s Untouchables Entertainment. So Eddie was signing all these groups to his production company, producing their material with people like Nevelle Hodge, Dave Hall and Pete Rock, and then Eddie would take the music to the labels and get the deals.”
Considering your connection to Puffy, was there ever any talk of you signing to Uptown?
“It was always possible and was something that maybe could have happened. But at the time, Puff had Jodeci, Heavy D, he started messing with Biggie. So I don’t know if he thought I was going to be a right move for him at that time. I mean, they were on some Uptown new-jack swing s**t…”
So they would have been looking for the next Father MC…
“Exactly. They were on that R&B Hip-Hop s**t and I was more on that organic New York Hip-Hop s**t. I mean, I think there was definitely times when Puff mentioned to Andre Harrell like, ‘What’s up with this white boy?’ and Andre was probably like, ‘Ahhh, I don’t know.’ That s**t was real, man. I mean, even to this day there aren’t that many non-Black artists who have made a real mark on Hip-Hop culture. I mean, I was like the first non-Black solo artist that made real organic New York soul Hip-Hop s**t. I mean, 3rd Bass were doing that ill god-body New York Def Jam s**t, but me, I was on some soulful, jazzy s**t. But as a non-Black artist in Hip-Hop we had to deal with a lot of s**t back then.”
Was there anything in particular that made you decide to sign with Eddie F and Untouchables Entertainment?
“Well, Eddie F was the first person to show me something concrete. He had paperwork. Puffy hadn’t done anything like that at that point. I didn’t really know what was going on with Puff. We were communicating a little bit, but not to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, Puff’s definitely going to get me a record deal.’ So Eddie offered me paperwork and I signed the s**t. That weekend I was at a party, Puff runs up to me at the party and is like, ‘Yo! You signed with Eddie?!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah…’ and Puff’s saying ‘I’m out here working your s**t! I had s**t going!’ I mean, maybe he did have some stuff about to happen with some labels. I don’t know. But we weren’t really communicating like that. All I knew is that, at the time, I wanted to move forward with my music and that’s why I signed with Eddie F and Untouchables.”
You mentioned Biggie earlier – did you ever meet Big whilst you were still in contact with Puffy?
“Hell yeah! Me and Big had a great connection. I remember I did a show with him one time in New York City with Stretch Armstrong, Outkast, Craig Mack, Smif-N-Wessun and Keith Murray. I was in the studio with Big as well when he was working on his early material and Tim Dawg was still at Uptown. That’s Tim you can hear on “Party & Bulls**t”. But yeah, we smoked herb together in the studio. This was when as A.D.O.R. I was more famous than Big and he was showing me love (laughs). He was cool though, man. Back in those early days you could tell that he was just trying to make something out of his life and that he was definitely blessed with talent.”
So after you signed with Eddie F was it a case of him then putting you straight into the studio to start working on tracks to shop to a label?
“Exactly. But one thing that happened in-between that I almost forgot is that in the midst of all that, while I was making demos and working with other producers, another producer from Mount Vernon who was my boy from school had starting making some noise in the music industry. His name was Tony Dofat. So, me and Tone started working together and before the Untouchables situation I actually signed a production agreement with Tony Dofat to make three records where I wouldn’t have to pay for them. It was a case of us making a demo and then if anything ever happened on the strength of the music we made then he would be part of the project. That was actually the first real contract I ever signed. Tony was working out of this studio in the Bronx with this cat called Greg Rogers and he was one of his producers. So I did that deal with Tony and then did the deal with Eddie F.”
Read Part Two of this interview here.
A.D.O.R. performing his debut single “Let It All Hang Out” on “In Living Color” in 1992.
In the final part of my interview with Prime Minister Pete Nice, the Hip-Hop legend talks about recording his 1993 solo album “Dust To Dust”, the death of KMD’s DJ Subroc and the legacy of 3rd Bass – make sure you check Part One, Part Two and Part Three before reading further.
When you started working on your 1993 solo album “Dust To Dust” with Daddy Rich were you concerned about how it was going to be received by fans considering you were coming out of a successful group?
“I mean, I’d always done more of the production on the 3rd Bass records. Serch didn’t really do too much on the production end. So me and Rich were already working really well together both with other producers and on the things that we would do on our own. So we liked the challenge of musically doing s**t on our own. Plus, I’d been working a lot at the time with The Beatnuts with Kurious, so it kinda fell in together. I mean, some of the beats that they had that ended-up on the songs we collaborated on were just nuts. Rich and I were always very proud of “Dust To Dust”. Some people just look at commercial sales but we had a lot of critical acclaim with that project. I mean, listen, if that album had had Serch on it as well and was a 3rd Bass album, it probably could have done better. Obviously, we would have had some different songs on there, but “Dust To Dust” was probably going in the direction of what another 3rd Bass album would have been.”
Personally, I thought Serch’s 1992 “Return Of The Product” project was a solid album, but it did have a slightly different musical vibe to it in comparison to 3rd Bass, mainly due to the work he was doing with production duo Wolf & Epic…
“I mean, Serch had more of a kind-of R&B influence on his album. Now, when we were in the studio, we would both have different ideas of what we wanted, and at some point if me and Rich weren’t there to tone Serch down then the music would go to a certain point. So it was almost like, his solo album was the album you would have had if me and Rich hadn’t been there to pull him back on certain things (laughs). But, you could also say that Serch would hold us back on certain ideas we had as well, which is why 3rd Bass worked so well together when we were in the studio.”
Do you feel that any label politics played a part in how well “Dust To Dust” performed?
“I mean, this was all around the time when Russell was looking to the West Coast and signing Warren G and Montell Jordan. Plus, the other thing that was figured into the mix was the fact that I was working with Kurious Jorge at that point and Russell really wanted Jorge. I wanted a good deal for Jorge and at the same time Donnie Ienner at Sony offered me my label deal for Hoppoh with Bobbito. We really couldn’t turn that down. So there was animosity between myself and Lyor because had had beef with Donnie Ienner as Def Jam was going through a break-up with Sony at the time. I guess you could say that “Dust To Dust” kinda got caught up in the middle of all that. I know I used to speak with people and they’d tell me that Def Jam weren’t working my solo record on purpose. I mean, when they saw that Serch only got to a certain level with his first release as a soloist with a lot of push, that might have influenced things. I mean, Rich and I had some success, but we had no push. That was a really strange time. There were all the problems with KMD at Elektra when Ice-T had the whole “Cop Killer” censorship situation which totally f**ked-up KMD with the album artwork for “Black Bastards”. Then Elektra ended-up dropping the group. We had the tragedy with Subroc and it was just a crazy time. It had even got to a point where KMD had beef with Serch when we had beef together. We did a song for KRS-One on the H.E.A.L. album and Serch said a couple of lines on the track that KMD didn’t like. It was just weird, man. So I ended-up managing KMD when originally they were Serch’s group. I mean, he discovered them. I didn’t know them beforehand. So it was all pretty strange.”
“Dust To Dust” came out following the release of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and the East Coast / West Coast split was starting to happen with gangsta rap really beginning to dominate the industry. What was your opinion at the time on the direction Hip-Hop was moving in?
“I always thought there was room for both East Coast and West Coast groups. I mean, when we came out as 3rd Bass there was a lot of West Coast music out there with the whole N.W.A. thing. When we went out on the road we would see all these pockets of local artists who were big regionally, but there was always room for music from people outside of each region. I guess that West Coast sound did kinda take over, but I still think a lot of East Coast groups at that time still had great followings. Then of course Biggie Smalls came out and did what he did. 2Pac was someone who was interesting to me. When we were with him, we were touring with Digital Underground and he was basically just doing crowd warm-ups and being a roadie. I remember buying 2Pac Whoppers in Burger King and he would get his hair cut by Daddy Rich in my hotel room at the Holiday Inn or something (laughs). That’s the 2Pac that I remember. He was a very intelligent, thoughtful kid at the time. It just seemed that when he was in “Juice”, which Daddy Rich was in as well, he just turned into this more gangsta persona which really wasn’t him. We did a show soon after that out in San Francisco and we saw him there thugged-out with the gold chains. We went up to him and it was almost like he was playin’ us like, ‘I’m too big for this now’ (laughs).”
The Beatnuts produced a number of tracks on “Dust To Dust” – what drew you to their sound?
“I had seen them around and knew them, but when Jorge formally hooked-up with them and said he wanted the Beatnuts to do a lot of tracks on his album, that was when I’d be in the studio with them working on the Kurious stuff. So then it was a natural progression and they’d play me certain things they’d been working on and I’d hear certain tracks and just totally fell in love with their sound. To me, they were taking a certain style to a different level than even someone like a Prince Paul, with it being a little darker and a little heavier. They were definitely very creative with the way they would manipulate sounds. All they really had to do was play me a couple of tapes with tracks they’d done and I was sold right there. I mean, I was already sold on them with the stuff they’d done for Jorge.”
The track they gave you for “Verbal Massage” off “Dust To Dust” still stands as some of the best Beatnuts production ever…
“That beat was ridiculous. Something else that was interesting about recording the album was that, after doing a couple of albums and seeing how much money gets wasted by using a big studio like a Chung King, we actually did “Dust To Dust” in our engineer Adam Gazzola’s house. So we saved a lot of money actually recording it there and then we’d mix it in the bigger studios. That was an interesting process, because it was right at the time when you were able to do more on computers.”
The album had some crazy skits on it. Was that your mother on the answerphone interlude getting upset about her “intelligent son” being at a Public Enemy concert?
“I’m trying to think who’s mother that was (laughs). That wasn’t my mother. It just shows you how long it’s been since I fully listened to the album (laughs). Right at that point, it was around the time that the Jerky Boys were coming out, so that interlude was definitely influenced by that. That was one of my favourite interludes as well. But it definitely wasn’t my mother. It was one of my friend’s mothers. Now you’ve got me thinking and I definitely have to play that back and try to figure out who it was (laughs). The “Pass The Pickle” skit was funny because that was MC Disagree & The Re-Animator. Their stories are funny because those dudes basically hung out with us when we were still trying to make it as 3rd Bass and obviously they had the tie-ins with the Beastie Boys and everything. But at a certain point, John, who was the Re-Animator and lived on the Lower East Side, when we did the first album we had that part where we said you can call up our man Re-Animator and put his number out there. We did all that s**t totally unplanned, just gave out his number and didn’t even tell him. At any point, he would be at home and he would have girls calling him up from Sweden or whatever. But he loved it because he would actually talk to all these people (laughs). That’s actually how he met a guy who would become a good friend to mostly all of us, this kid Beckham. He started to come to a lot of our shows. He called-up John, John got him in touch with us, then next thing you know this kid’s doing the shows with us (laughs). It was nuts.”
So it was the ultimate fan hotline…
“I mean, you think you’re doing something just as a goof, and then John was just getting calls all day long. I remember, he had some calls from people trying to buy Serch’s underwear (laughs). It got to the point where I used to give him stuff to send out to people (laughs). I mean, I had a fan show up who’d tracked me down just recently who collects all kinds of 3rd Bass memorabilia. I have to laugh because I’ve been collecting baseball memorabilia since I was a kid and my interest is in fraud in that particular industry, so I’ve been known to track down old-time baseball guys in the same way that this guy tracked me down. So I definitely had to hit him off with some items.”
I guess your passion for baseball helps you put it into context when you meet old 3rd Bass fans who’re still so enthusiastic about the group, because you are to us what an old baseball player would be to you…
“Exactly (laughs). So I definitely don’t look at people like they’re nuts when they do approach me like that. I definitely appreciate it.”
Unless they’re asking for underwear…
“That’s when it kinda goes wrong (laughs)…”
What was the deal with the Drednotz who were also featured on “Dust To Dust” and went on to release the brilliant “Causin’ A Menace” single in 94 on Elektra?
“The Drednotz were Rich’s group and Benz was the main emcee. Rich had gotten them a deal and that was totally his thing. But we put Benz on “Dust To Dust” on the “3 Blind Mice” track with Kurious. But Drednotz were another great group at that time who kind of got lost in the mix. Artifacts were another great group who were affiliated with us on the management side through Bobbito, and they still have a great following today. But I guess at that time, that was the point where things started to get saturated, even on the underground.”
Taking it back a little, how did you first actually meet Kurious?
“When I was at Columbia, my room-mate and the guy who ended-up being our 3rd Bass road-manager, SAKE, he was a graffiti artist and was also on my basketball team. We lived on 100th & Columbus and Jorge’s building was over on the otherside of the park on, like, 97th. So I knew Jorge through the neighbourhood and also through Bobbito because he lived in Jorge’s building. So when Jorge came-up, he would just be hanging-out at clubs rhyming. First, we got Bobbito a job at Def Jam starting at the bottom. I remember he showed he had potential over there in terms of knowing what the kids were listening to in the streets. I remember he was up on Special Ed before anyone else was (laughs). So then they had him promoting records over at Def Jam, then one thing led to another and he took it further with his own talents. Then Bobbito got Jorge a little gig working at Def Jam and so then he was around everybody and it went from there.”
How much of an impact did Subroc’s tragic passing in 1993 have on you?
“I think the point when Subroc passed away was a real turning point. I mean, I had KMD with Serch, we were their managers, they came in as basically like this innocent group of devout Muslim artists who were very young. Then they got a little older, started to get their own identities, then next thing you know they’re drinking forties and poppin’ acid all over the place. I had Subroc come to my office several times with a machete in his coat and I’d be like, ‘You’ve gotta calm down, man.’ I remember he came to the office one time, I hit him off with an advance for one of their records or whatever, and I figured I had to drive him to the Long Island Railroad so that I knew I’m getting him on the train and he’s not going to get into any trouble. So I’m driving him to the station and he’s asking me how much dynamite it would take to blow up the railroad station in his town in Long Beach?! He was definitely experimenting with drugs and s**t and it was very hard to keep tabs and keep control on the artists that I was dealing with. Then when Subroc actually died it was just such a shock, even though in some ways you could see it coming, y’know. It was just very disconcerting all around.”
Zev Love X’s re-emergence some years later as MF Doom has to be one of the greatest artist comebacks in the history of Hip-Hop…
“I’ve gotta give it to Doom, because he went underground for awhile and was just totally out of it. Then he re-emerged doing the poetry slams and everything and just totally re-invented himself with the whole MF Doom persona. I don’t know if you already know this, but Lord Scotch designed that whole mask. Then you had MF Grimm who was also involved with Doom’s re-emergence early on, but then they had beef. But there were just so many talented people involved with what we did when you look at the outreach of the wider crew, with the whole KMD crew, Kurious and all of his people, the whole 3rd Bass army (laughs). I mean, when you look at Serch as well and the whole Nas thing, there was definitely a lot of influence all the way around. It’s interesting to look back so many years after the fact and see where everything fitted together.”
So did you make a conscious decision to step away from the music business after the release of “Dust To Dust” or did it happen gradually?
“It got to a point where personally I got really disillusioned over just the whole music business in general. Subroc died. What happened with KMD. What happened with our project. That was the time when I started doing a lot of things outside of music, then one thing led to another and it was like, ‘Okay, well this is where things are going.’ I think, also personally for me, Kurious’s first album was dope but was a very slept-on album. We had a certain push at Columbia on it, but also at the same time Nas was coming out and he obviously overtook Kurious in terms of being a label priority. But Jorge had enough success and sales, which I think was about 150,000 copies, to do a second album. Columbia were all-set for that to happen. Then Jorge just kinda disappeard for awhile and didn’t want to be involved. That was just such a crazy time. I mean, I had Jorge not wanting to get into the studio, and then I had Cage who we were trying to put a project together for. Me and Bobbito were basically getting him beats from everyone under the sun, like DJ Premier, and Cage was just like, ‘I don’t like these beats.’ Then when we finally did get him to do something, his lyrics are talking about how he wants to take out a Sony exec with a sawed-off shotgun (laughs). I mean, Cage was like Eminem way before there even was an Eminem, but it just wasn’t timely. If there had never been an Eminem and Cage had come later, he probably could have had a lot more success commercially. When I put him on the “Rich Bring ‘Em Back” record off “Dust To Dust”, he was nice, man.”
The Kurious debut project definitely ranks as one of the greatest albums of the 90s. I remember when Columbia first started pushing both Kurious and Nas thinking how ironic it was that they were doing split-page ads in The Source featuring them both given the 3rd Bass connection each artist had…
“That was bizarre to me. I mean, it made sense on one side because a label only has so much money to promote new artists and there were some similarities between Kurious and Nas, but at the same time they were also very different. But the thing with Jorge was, Columbia were behind him, and obviously my label Hoppoh would have been operational for a lot longer if he’d decided to do that second album. But he kinda went off into the mountains to meditate (laughs)…”
Did Kurious ever give you a reason why he didn’t do that second album at the time?
“I think it was just a mental thing where he wanted to get away from everything for awhile. I mean, we would get him all sorts of beats but one thing just led to another. Then, of course, I had the artist Count Bass D who was really talented and his album was incredible. I thought Count Bass D could have hit and blow-up more than anything, but it just didn’t happen.”
So how long was it before you actually first spoke to Serch after the 3rd Bass break-up?
“I think it was around 96 / 97 when we first spoke after the group split. The graffiti artist and designer Cey Adams had a company called The Drawing Board with Steve Carr and they would do all the in-house artwork for Def Jam. Then Steve started doing videos for people like Heavy D and he’s a big Hollywood director now and did the “Daddy Day Care” movie and things like that. So they played a joke to put me and Serch together on the phone without either of us knowing about it. So that was the first time we’d spoken in years. Out of that reconnection there was talk of a reunion album and we got in the studio and cut a couple of records which I think Serch has since put out online. Then we did Woodstock in 1999 and also Tommy Hilfiger’s brother’s birthday party. So we were actually doing some stuff together, but we just never officially took the full-step to do a whole album. Part of that was down to me being involved in so many other things and not being able to devote the time to it. It’s funny, because both Serch and Rich have spoken to me recently about there being a lot of interest for us to do certain shows and I’m like, ‘Listen, let’s see what happens and maybe I’ll come out of the mothballs.’
Do you still ever write any rhymes at all?
“Because I’m writing my book and I’m writing all the time, I sometimes do think about writing rhymes, but I can honestly say I haven’t written too many rhymes lately (laughs). You do have thoughts that come into your head at times that give you flashbacks, but I haven’t had the motivation to actually write anything. But I guess you’d consider it more poetry at this time rather than just rhymes (laughs). I mean, I can definitely see there’s a lot of nostalgia out there for music of the time we were out as 3rd Bass, but I always lose respect for artists who are way past their prime and then try to put a new album out. I actually respect it more when older artists go out on tour and actually focus on the older material that the fans want to see them performing. But I was in the city the other night and was just flipping the stations and I guess there’s a little buzz on that new Edo.G album and I got into it just listening to a couple of songs. I thought it was pretty good.”
Are there any particular golden-era Hip-Hop albums that you still reach for today when you want to listen to some music?
“Personally, I’d have to say the ones I was involved in like the Kurious album and the KMD stuff, which is kinda self-serving for me to say that but I do actually still listen to them. But then I’ll listen to to the Jungle Brothers first album which will always be a classic to me, all the Public Enemy stuff, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest. Even going back to old Just-Ice stuff. The first Brand Nubian album is one of my favourites of all-time and Grand Puba was always a favourite emcee of mine. The Eric B. & Rakim albums. There’s just so much music from that period in Hip-Hop which has stood the test of time. I know people say you sound like an old-timer when you’re there saying that s**t was doper back when we were doing it, but I really think it was (laughs). There’s something missing in the music today and it’s just not as organic and creative as it used to. I’m sure there are artists like that out there, but everything’s just so fragmented now that it must be so hard for anyone like that to breakthrough on a commercial level and get that kind of recognition.”
Finally, looking back, what would you consider to be the legacy of 3rd Bass?
“I would hope on one level that me, Serch and Rich came up as group that looked beyond race, really had no hang-ups about that and put it out there to both Black and white kids that, ‘Hey, you can be a white kid and be into Hip-Hop.’ I would hope that would be the most enduring legacy that we have. Beyond that, if people still like the music and it holds-up years after and people can listen to it and reminisce on it as being part of the golden-age of Hip-Hop, if people put us in the same realms as our own favourite groups of the time, then that’s like the ultimate compliment. We put out quality music and never sold out to any other influences that were out there at the time. A lot of kids today can’t even begin to comprehend what things were like for me and Serch when we came out, let alone just battling people or doing shows, but actually putting out the records, promoting the records and having hits. I look back on it all now and it’s amazing that things even happened.”
It’s always a great experience to speak with artists I grew-up listening to, but in this particular instance I’d like to give huge props to Pete Nice for being so generous with his time to ensure this interview got completed (three hours on the phone in total!) and for being so detailed and honest with his memories, thoughts and opinions.
Word To The Third!
Visit Pete’s site HaulsOfShame.Com to catch up on his activity in the world of baseball.
1990 3rd Bass Appearance On “The Arsenio Hall Show” Performing “The Gas Face”.
In this third part of my in-depth interview with Pete Nice, the former 3rd Bass member discusses recording the group’s two classic albums, beef with MC Hammer and almost starring in one of Spike Lee’s most iconic movies – check Part One and Part Two.
How did it feel to see “The Cactus Album” go gold approximately just six months after it was released in 1989?
“It definitely felt like we’d accomplished everything we wanted to when we went into the studio and even way beyond that. We were just hoping that someone would pay us to let us make music, so to go gold was a massive achievement. I mean, to put it in perspective, when Slick Rick’s first album came out in 1988 there would be promo copies up at Def Jam, and Serch and I used to steal those and sell them on the corner for ten bucks so we could buy pizza from this place that used to be right next to the label offices. So you couldn’t even compare where we were at then to where we ended-up. It was just ridiculous.”
One of my favourite tracks off the album was “Product Of The Environment” but the Marley Marl remix that was released just took that record to a completely different place in terms of its sound and mood…
“Of all the remixes that were done off that album, that was actually my favourite. I remember when we had different producers who were presenting us with ideas and then we heard that one. I mean, we were cool with Marley Marl as it was, so to have grown-up listening to his radio shows and then have him want to remix our music, that was just a no-brainer. I think he dropped us off a tape with the beat first and then once we heard it we were just like, ‘Let’s go with that one.’ I mean, the album version was really just like an album track, but that remix really turned it into a single musically. I mean, that record in a club….”
The album will always be remembered for the beef between 3rd Bass and MC Hammer which culminated with a hit being put out on the group when you were touring on the West Coast. How seriously did you take that particular situation at the time?
“From everything that we were told it was serious and was apparently real because we had to go through some channels with Russell with some people that he knew like Mike Concepcion who was like a kingpin out on the West Coast. We definitely met with him out there and talked to him at the time. We had security who had worked with N.W.A. following us everywhere. So it was definitely something the record company weren’t taking lightly. Apparently it all got squashed. It really all came from the song “The Cactus” where I had thrown out the line, ‘The Cactus turned Hammer’s mutha out…’ Obviously I wasn’t talking specifically about Hammer’s mother it was just a play on words based on the title of his single. But Hammer’s brother took that and just went nuts with it. I know it was his brother Louis who was the one who called-up Def Jam just flipping out when the record came out. Then to top it off they said that Serch said it, so Serch ended-up taking more of the heat for that when I was actually the one who said it. But our beef with Hammer, aside from when Serch had that little altercation with him at the celebrity basketball game dance contest, was that Hammer had actually come in and totally dissed Run DMC at one point. Now, this was very close to the time when we were recording the “Gas Face” video, so Russell had told us that all of them were going to come to the video, but actually only DMC and Jam Master Jay got out there. We told Lionel Martin to get us a big hammer and that we were going to have Run DMC kick the hammer down (laughs). So that really came out of our respect for Run DMC and was our way of saying that you couldn’t just come out and talk s**t about your founding fathers and be in the position that Hammer was in. I mean, there weren’t too many people who looked at Hammer as being a legitimate artist at the time anyway.”
What was 3rd Bass’s connection with KMD at the time you were recording “The Cactus Album”?
“Well, our dancers Ahmed and Otis, who were also known as Thing 1 and Thing 2, they were from Long Beach, New York and were all down together in the Get Yours Posse with KMD. Doom (Zev Love X) and Subroc were very young at the time when we first started out, and then they were doing their own material and writing. Subroc at the time wasn’t even rhyming, he just had his drum machine and was programming beats. Serch actually knew them before I did and then through the affiliation with our dancers we just started hanging out with them. If you look at the photos that are on the inside of “The Cactus Album” that look like we’re all at a house party, those were taken in the basement of Ahmed’s house. We were very close with them at that time. I remember, we were taking the Long Island Railroad out to see Prince Paul to work with him on “The Cactus Album” and Doom was coming out with us. Doom had been using the term ‘Gas Face’ relentlessly at the time and Serch said, ‘Let’s do a record called “The Gas Face”.’ So we literally wrote that record on the train to the studio and while we were actually in the studio. It was all just totally spontaneous. That’s why, even saying the stuff about Hammer on there, it was just all totally off the top of the head.”
“Brooklyn-Queens” was another big single off the album…
“”Brooklyn-Queens” was a song that I’d had as a concept back from the days of being with Lord Scotch. So that was us expanding on an original idea. The same thing with “Product Of The Environment”, which was us expanding on one of Serch’s original demos. He’d done “Product Of The Environment” with Sam Sever before we ever got together and I had “Brooklyn Queens” before Serch was with me.”
Another favourite track of mine was “Monte Hall” although it sounded totally different to anything else on “The Cactus Album” – where did the idea for that track come from?
“The music that was used on “Monte Hall” with the Grover Washington Jr. loops was something I’d actually planned to use for the “Soul In The Hole” song. But when we looped it up we just decided it would work better on “Monte Hall”. When you looked at Hip-Hop at the time, everyone had their love jam or whatever, like Whodini or UTFO, there was that tradition of having that type of record. So we wanted to have that type of record on the album but not be corny about it. We didn’t want it to come off as being something that wasn’t real. But “Monte Hall” was another record that just totally came together in the studio. I think I had thrown out the name and Serch was just like, ‘Yeah, we’ll f**kin’ call it “Monte Hall”‘ and then we just wrote s**t right there with Sam Sever hooking up the beats. So that song was totally something that wasn’t planned that just got created in the studio”
So there was definitely a lot of spontaneity involved in the recording of “The Cactus Album”?
“Yeah. I mean, we definitely had a lot of things planned out in terms of how many songs we wanted on the album and what the overall concept of the album was going to be. I mean, I’ve told people before how I had conversations with Chuck D about how your A-side should be the same length as your B-side on a cassette because if someone’s listening to it in their car you don’t want there to be any dead-space on your tape because then they might just put in someone else’s tape. So we definitely put a lot of thought into some things, but there was also a lot of spontaneous creativity involved.”
Moving forward, what was the concept behind the imagery used on 1991’s “Derelicts Of Dialect” album cover with the group being shown as ageing men?
“I mean, we had the idea for the title of the album and the concept for the cover came from us tying it into the idea that we kinda came into the business as almost like bums off the street and we figured we’d go out the same way. Actually, I think the people who did the make-up for the album cover were the same people who did the make up for the “Saturday Night Live” TV show. It was something that really we just planned for the album cover, but then it turned into a whole concept for the “Portrait Of The Artist As A Hood” video. I guess overall that was more of a darker album, but it was definitely a progression and reflected our personalities at the time.”
1991 was definitely a pivotal year in Hip-Hop in terms of the friction that was happening between the commercial rap that was starting to be embraced by the mainstream and the true-school artists who were still trying to be heard and recognised. It seemed like “Derelicts Of Dialect” really fell right alongside other albums that year like De La’s “De La Soul Is Dead” and Tribe’s “The Low End Theory” as a response to the commercial music that was being championed by the industry…
“That is true and the album was probably a reflection of the time too which is something I didn’t even think about, so you’re right on point there. Back in that time period we would get offered endorsement deals for Sprite, different soft drinks and other stuff and we would regularly turn them down as it was something that was kind of unheard of back then. We were all about our credibility. Nowadays people wouldn’t even think twice about an artist taking a deal like that, but back at that time it was foreign to us and didn’t really fit into the way we had patterned our career. Even to the point where Spike Lee had Serch and I come in and read for his “Malcolm X” movie. We read for it and he liked us. I remember Laurence Fishburne was in there reading for one of the other parts when we were coming into Spike’s office. He wanted us to play two of the prison guards who roughed Malcolm X up and we were just like, ‘Spike, can you picture people going into a movie theatre and seeing 3rd Bass rough up Malcolm X?’ In retrospect I can see what he was trying to do, but we actually turned it down. As much as we might have wanted to do it, we just couldn’t see ourselves in that role. Who knows how it would have been accepted if we’d done it, but the fact we turned it down because of how it could have been accepted just shows what a different time it was back then in the early-90s…”
I’m sure James Bernard would have written a column in The Source at the time if you had taken those roles…
“Yeah, exactly (laughs). We just didn’t think that it was appropriate so we stayed away. I mean, Spike really wanted us to do it and he might have had better judgement on it than we did, but we decided it’d be best to pass on that one.”
In the same way the MC Hammer beef was attached to “The Cactus Album”, 3rd Bass’s beef with Vanilla Ice was linked to “Derelicts Of Dialect” with the infamous “Pop Goes The Weasel” video beatdown. Were you going at Vanilla Ice primarily because he was one of the most successful commercial rap artists of the time or beccause he was a white successful commercial rap artist who you felt was damaging what Serch and yourself had achieved as white emcees?
“It just seemed to be the music in general at that time. You had Hammer. You had Vanilla Ice. I mean, to a lesser degree, you had Delicious Vinyl with Tone Loc and Young MC. There was a whole commercial side of the music that was going out to the whole country. Radio was really playing that stuff and still ignoring real Hip-Hop. So “Pop Goes The Weasel” was really our answer to that. I mean, that record was successful based on the strength of the familiarity of the Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer” loop, which got it into certain places that otherwise probably wouldn’t have been paying attention to our music. It was almost like a joke between us. I mean, we figured we’d do the record but didn’t really think it would be a single. But we kinda duped everyone into playing our little game because the next thing you know you had all these pop radio stations playing the record which was actually mocking the same people who were playing it. We’d even get sent out to be interviewed on some of these radio shows and then have to explain the concept behind the record (laughs)”.
Did you get any strange reactions once some of those pop deejays realised what the group’s intentions were with “Pop Goes The Weasel”?
“I mean, all the traditional morning jocks and people like that probably still didn’t get it (laughs). I think at that point, we’d turn up at these stations like, ‘Word to your mother’s grandmother’s aunt’s third cousin..’ and all kinds of other stupid s**t (laughs). I mean, I think our core audience at the time understood what we were doing with “Pop Goes The Weasel” and that we were using it as a way to get the message out there but at the same time still keep our own integrity. But that single definitely helped us sell more records. I mean, if we hadn’t broken up at the time I think “Derelicts Of Dialect” would have even sold more than it actually did. We were still out on tour when the group actually split up, so there were definitely more tours and singles planned in connection with that album. So overall, “Dereliects Of Dialect” could have been a much bigger record if we hadn’t split at the time.”
KMD and Chubb Rock were both featured on the album, but “Microphone Techniques” with Nice & Smooth is still one of my favourite collaborations of the 90s to this day…
“That was fun to make. I always loved Nice & Smooth. Greg Nice is just such a character. Being in the studio with those guys was just nuts and something that I’ll always remember. The same thing with being in the studio with Chubb Rock when we did “Kick ‘Em In The Grill”. The verse that Chubb kicked on there just killed me. But with both Greg’s verse on “Microphone Techniques” and Chubb’s on “Kick ‘Em In The Grill”, when they each actually got in the booth to record and dropped their rhymes, everyone just lost it (laughs).”
What memories do you gave of working with Prince Paul on “Derelicts Of Dialect”?
“I mean, when we worked with Prince Paul on “The Cactus Album” it was very spontaneous and just came together. But when it came to the second album, we definitely had more time in the studio with Paul. We recorded most of those songs at this studio called Calliope, which is where KMD did a lot of their stuff to. But we spent a lot of time in there working with Paul and he was working on other stuff at the same time, like a lot of the De La stuff. So it was a cool time creatively to be spending time working with Prince Paul. We were collaborating with him quite a bit, throwing ideas that we had at him, then he’d pick up on something and throw an idea back at us. It was a great process because Paul was never tied to pre-conceived ideas of what he wanted to do as a producer going into the studio. I mean, sometimes we’d go in the studio and he might just have one loop set-up and we’d be like, ‘Man, what is that? We gotta have that one.’ The song “Come In” is something that came together like that. I mean, the actual song “Derelicts Of Dialect” was another big collaboration between us. We already had the concept of what we wanted and then Paul came up with the 9th Creation loop that was used on that record. I think that was actually the first record that we did for the album and really established where we wanted to go with the “Derelicts Of Dialect” project in terms of it being a darker album compared to the first album.”
You mentioned earlier about the group splitting-up – was there a particular moment when you realised that 3rd Bass was over or was it a gradual process?
“I mean, Serch and I had personal problems on the tour we did to support “Derelicts Of Dialect”. We probably didn’t speak to each other for a long stretch of that tour. We’d perform and people probably went to the show and didn’t think there was anything wrong whatsoever. But we had beef together and it probably started a lot earlier than we even thought. I remember there was one point where we did a show for Hot 97 in New York and I think they wanted Marky Mark to open up for us. We told Lyor that we weren’t going to perform and he basically had to beg us to get us to do it. So he basically knew there were some problems in the group and he tried to give us a little talk which probably prolonged things for another couple of weeks, but we just couldn’t move forward together at that point.”
Was it a mutual decision between you and Serch to end the group or were either of you pushing for it to happen more than the other?
“Actually, because we were so succesful at that time I don’t think we really thought that Def Jam was going to let us split-up. We had a lot of things that we were tied into contractually as well. So I think that was a bad move on the label’s part and also with our management. I think a lot of people could have done things differently. But it’s not like we were hammering it home like, ‘We’ve gotta do our solo s**t! We’ve gotta do our solo s**t!’ So things just progressed into that. I mean, at some point I think Serch did some demos and spoke to Russell. I don’t even know if Russell just thought that we could do some solo stuff and then still be 3rd Bass. Who knows what he thought? I mean, if there’s anything that describes where me and Serch were at back then, I guess my “Rat Bastard” video kind of answered any thoughts anyone had about ‘Do these guys have problems together?’ Yes, we did…”
That video definitely didn’t leave much to the imagination…
“Yeah, I guess it kinda said it all right there…”
Check out the final part of this interview here.
Prime Minister Pete Nice & Daddy Rich – “Rap Prime Minister & Daddy Rich (Rat Bastard)” (Def Jam / 1992)
In a post-Eminem world it’s perhaps difficult for many to understand how a white emcee could raise even as much as an eyebrow from anybody both in and outside of Hip-Hop. But once upon a time, in a rap galaxy far, far away, the sight of a pale-faced microphone fiend was guaranteed to inspire a variety of both positive and negative (yet equally intense) reactions from all across the board.
Just being a white fan of Hip-Hop throughout the genre’s earliest days and into the 90s presented a cultural maze that demanded to be navigated if you were truly going to follow your passion for beats and rhymes, with that web of social norms and racial politics becoming even more complex if you chose to step beyond simply supporting the culture and actually attemped to participate as either a b-boy, graffiti artist, deejay or, the final frontier, as an emcee.
Whilst the Beastie Boys can perhaps lay claim to being the first widely-recognised crew of Caucasians to grab the mic, bursting out of NYC’s early-80s punk-rock scene to become one of the earliest signings to the legendary Def Jam label, Prime Minister Pete Nice and MC Serch of 3rd Bass fame upped the credibility ante, with both determined to be considered as dope emcees existing on a Black planet, not because of their whiteness, but in spite of it.
With Pete and Serch each having personal histories steeped in the Rotten Apple’s early Hip-Hop scene, the duo rejected the alcohol-fuelled antics and rock-edged sounds of the Beasties in favour of a more serious approach to their music, combining long-practiced lyrical skills and witty wordplay with stellar production from the likes of Sam Sever, Prince Paul and The Bomb Squad.
Adding DJ Daddy Rich behind the turntables, 3rd Bass dropped two classic long-players, 1989’s “The Cactus Album” and 1991’s “Derelicts Of Dialect”, before an unexpected split found Pete and Serch each taking the solo route, with their influence also being felt via involvement in the mid-90s debut projects of Kurious Jorge and Nas respectively.
With July 2013 marking twenty years since the release of Pete Nice & Daddy Rich’s only album project, “Dust To Dust”, the Prime Minister kindly agreed to jump on the phone for a lengthy in-depth interview, discussing everything from memories of the Latin Quarter, first meeting MC Serch and Beastie beef, to Lyor Cohen’s business hustle, working with KMD and the chances of 3rd Bass hitting the road again.
So read on, or get your mack-daddy license revoked!
How and when were you introduced to Hip-Hop?
“Well, when I was a kid my father was a basketball coach and he coached some of the best high-school players in New York City. In the summer he would travel with them to what was called the Empire State Games, which were almost like the Olympic Games of New York state. I used to be the ball-boy on the team from when I would have been about ten-years old. So from like 77, 78, 79 through to the early-80s I was always with these older high-school kids that played basketball and they’d always have their tapes when they came out, everything from Jimmy Spicer and Kurtis Blow through to early Run DMC. Those were some of the earliest groups I remember hearing, along with Funky Four Plus One, Cold Crush, Crash Crew and Divine Sounds.”
When did you actually start rhyming?
“As I got older and went to high-school in Brooklyn, one of my boys Jazzy, who ended-up in the group Whistle doing “Just Buggin'”, his cousin was Kangol from UTFO. So he used to bring in all the Roxanne tapes before they were even out and then you’d hear them on Red Alert. I mean, when we were kids that was the thing, to have a cassette ready to roll to tape Red Alert, Chuck Chillout or Mr. Magic on the radio. In New York, that was pretty much the ultimate at that point. So we all just formed a little group in high-school in the lunch-room basically, with my boy Kibwe K, Fresh Fred, Buddah B, honorary member The White Box, and we had a group that was called Sin Qua Non. But then when we graduated from high-school they went to Syracuse and I stayed in school in New York City at Columbia so we were kind of split-up geographically. But before we had split up, my man Kibwe, who was from Bed-Stuy, his father knew the Black activist Sonny Carson and his son Lumumba who ended-up becoming Professor X in X-Clan. He was managing some acts at the time, so we got introduced to him, and Lumumba was actually managing the group before we all split up and went away to school. I remember we did our first show at the Empire Roller Rink in Flatbush. But then when everyone went away to school, I was the only one around, so Lumumba was just managing me as a solo act. At the same time he was also managing Positive K before he had any records out, he had Just-Ice and Stetsasonic too. That’s when me and Serch first kinda met because I used to go to the Latin Quarter in Manhattan. At the point I was with Lumumba, as I said he was managing Stetsasonic, so I’d go to a Stetsasonic show at the Latin Quarter. I’d get picked up from my dorm room by Walter and Lumumba in the Aerostar which thinking about it now is hysterical (laughs).”
Were you working with Lumumba with the intention of making a record?
“He was promising to get me in the studio and everything and in that winter nothing really happened. At the same time I had met up with this guy through my room-mate at Columbia called Lord Scotch who was also known as Kid Benetton and is the brother of the writer Jonathan Lethem. So this would have been sophomore year at Columbia when me and Scotch hooked-up and we formed this other group called the Servin’ Generalz. We hung-out a lot at that time at the Albee Square Mall in Brooklyn and this was around the time when beat-boxing was prevalent and our boy Shameek The Beat Mizer, who also wrote graffiti, he was the third man in the group. At the time, I don’t know how I met them, but I got together with the two guys who were managing Kid ‘N’ Play. The name of their company was Richlen Productions because one of the guys was named Rich and the other was called Lenny (laughs). They were going to put us together with Hurby Luv Bug at the time. So I’m thinking if I’m with Lumumba he’s got Stetsasonic and other acts, these guys Rich and Len had ties with Hurby Luv Bug, there were all these different opportunities so we figured we’d just go with the first person that wanted to sign us. But at the same time, me and Benetton had cut this brief demo at this studio on Fulton Street down by the Albee Square Mall.”
Was that demo shopped to any particular labels?
“Nah, it wasn’t anything that was to such a level that it was a professional demo. I think maybe I played it for Rich and Lenny, that was the thing that actually got them to want to sign us. So we were about to sign with them, there were papers drawn up and everything, then right at that point Blake (Lord Scotch) disappears. He just totally disappeared off the face of the earth. Then Shameek gets arrested with some other guy because they held-up a whole subway car…”
That sounds like something that could only have happened in the New York of the 80s…
“Exactly. So now, I’ve gone from the Sin Qua Non group, to no group, to Servin’ Generalz and then back to being solo again. At that time, my room-mate SAKE who’d hooked me up with Blake, he knew a couple of other people like Dante Ross, who wasn’t even over at Def Jam yet at that point, he was just working as kind of like a gofer over at Rush. I think at the time Dante would even road manage for Eric B. & Rakim and whoever else they needed him to look after. I remember there was one day I was with Dante and he had to get a passport for Rakim so we were running around all over the city trying to track down information to get this passport (laughs). I think they were actually going to do a show out by you in the UK. Anyway, around that time I’d decided that I was just going to go in the studio and cut a demo myself and I ended-up getting that to Dante. At the exact same time, Dante had already been working with Serch and had put him together with Sam Sever. Actually it was funny, because the other time I’d met Serch was at this club called Roseland at an Eric B. & Rakim show. I think it was Heavy D as well. Me and Blake went to the front door and Serch happened to be there, and then I met him one other time at the Latin Quarter.”
So at this point you and Serch were just aware of each other but there was no relationship there to speak of?
“The Latin Quarter was actually the first time I formally met Serch with Blake. It was funny, because I remember Serch came out of like a low-budget limo and he had this air-brushed denim ‘SERCH’ jacket on. Serch had already got his first record out at this point. At the time, Red Alert and Chuck Chillout would run his promos on the radio.”
So this was around 1986?
“Yeah, it was right around 86. P-Fine from NYU was playing Serch’s record as well. Then right after that time, I think it was that summer, I got my radio show on WKCR at Columbia. Most people don’t realise it, but I had the first rap show on KCR. Stretch & Bobbito being on there wasn’t until years afterwards. It was me and Clark Kent at the time and we were probably on air for part of a semester. I was still going to school there at the time and it was unheard of to have anything close to rap on the radio there. I don’t know if you remember the rapper Little Shawn, but he was up there, and Biz Markie was up there at one time. I’m pretty sure that the reason we got kicked off the air was because at some point some equipment disappeared. Who knows if it was even anyone affiliated with us at the time, but we ended-up getting blamed for it (laughs).”
Did you have many artists coming through the show?
“Nah, not really. I mean, we had Little Shawn up there and there was one show I missed because I was out of town that Clark did and I think Biz Markie was there for that one. But the show wasn’t really established at that point where you’d have artists coming through all the time. Plus, we were on so late. I have the times on a flyer I kept somewhere (laughs). But at any rate, the whole aspect of our show, as much as having an artist come through to freestyle and whatever was cool, it was Clark’s mixes that were off the hook. Even today, I still see him on Twitter and he was just on Hot 97 the other week rippin’ it, so he still has it. But his mixes back then were a really big deal. Plus, we’d get the first pressings of records back then around the same time that someone like a Red Alert would get them and maybe even before in some cases. Clark was touring with Dana Dane at the time so from time to time he would have to miss a show, and that was actually when he introduced me to Daddy Rich. So the first time me and Daddy Rich met was when he was filling in for Clark when he was on the road with Dana Dane.”
The Hip-Hop landscape has changed dramatically since the early-80s, but when you first started rhyming how were you received as a white emcee?
“As far as being a white emcee, at the time that me and Serch, and even Scotch, were contemplating rhyming, there was no-one out there already. Being a white emcee really was an unknown entity and it was something that hadn’t even been attempted. Rap and Hip-Hop has come so far now that I think people forget that today. I mean, people did look at you first like you were nuts. But I mean, I really started out at first with friends in school. So first of all you had to get accepted in your own small group, then when people saw that you really appreciated the music and you had skills, that’s when you started to move into different public situations, like when we did our show at the Empire Roller Rink. At that time, people would just look at you like, ‘These f**kin’ white kids…’ y’know. But then when they could actually see that you can rhyme, then you’d f**k up their heads a little bit, you get a little respect and then you’d just take it from there. That’s pretty much the way me and Serch always approached it back then. Blake was even on a different level, because I don’t even think he thought he was white on any level. He was just in another zone. They broke the mould with Blake. But I mean, he was rhyming before even Serch got up the mettle to even write any rhymes or do anything when he was at school at Music & Art. I mean, Blake was already rhyming at the time with the Kangol Crew and some other kids.”
I know I’ve read Scotch say that he doesn’t claim the title himself, but in your opinion would you say he was the first white emcee in New York?
“I mean, if there’s anyone else who wants to jump up and say that they were, I never knew of them. Maybe they were in a different state or something, but I highly doubt there was anyone else out there doing it that early. I mean, there were a lot of white break-dancers and, of course, graffiti artists, but no-one had ever got down on the mic. I mean, obviously then the Beastie Boys element comes up, and of course they had records out before we did as 3rd Bass, although you could say that Serch had his solo single out. Then right after the Beastie Boys you had groups like the White Boys who came out and Jon Shecter from The Source had his B.M.O.C. record out when we were in the studio doing our demos. We kinda got a little kick out of that (laughs). But then the ironic thing about that, is that Brett Ratner, who directed my solo videos, is actually the person who put out that B.M.O.C. record (laughs).”
You mentioned earlier going to the legendary Latin Quarter club – what memories do you have of the nights you spent there?
“Off the top of my head, having mentioned the Stetsasonic show earlier, I remember sitting backstage at the Latin Quarter before the guys were going onstage. Frukwan was there with Prince Paul and he said something like, ‘I’ve gotta get out of here early tonight because I’ve got to get to work early in the morning.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean you’ve got to work? You guys are Stetsasonic! You’re not supposed to be working.’ He was like, ‘C’mon, we’ve still gotta work, man.’ So it was like a realisation that just because you had a hit record out, you’re not retiring. It wasn’t like any big money was being made in the rap game at that point. Back then, it was just about guys doing it because they loved the music and wanted to put out records. That was also my first time meeting Prince Paul as well, who obviously we went on to work with as 3rd Bass. I also remember vividly one time being in the Latin Quarter and walking up to Just-Ice and his beatbox DMX actually thought I was MCA from the Beastie Boys which was pretty funny.”
Is there one particular Latin Quarter memory that really defines what the club was to you?
“Actually, the biggest night probably ever at Latin Quarter, and this also relates to Lord Scotch, was when they had this particular night that was a benefit for the soul singer Jackie Wilson to raise money for his tombstone. I’ve heard people talk about this show in interviews before. Everybody was on the bill from LL to Salt-N-Pepa to Full Force, Awesome Two, I think KRS, Doug E. Fresh, I mean anyone you could imagine got up there that night. Just-Ice performed. It was like a who’s who all night. At some point, Special K and Teddy Ted threw some records out into the crowd, someone stepped on someone’s sneaker somewhere and a scuffle started. Then at some point the drug dealer Supreme who used to roll with Eric B. & Rakim was in there taunting LL and was picking up a chair. S**t just jumped off all over the place. I’m standing by the coat-check, Bow-Legged Lou, Full Force and Lisa Lisa were there, Melle Mel was standing not too far away, and the next thing you know there’s fights breaking out all over the place, people are getting slashed with razors, then you heard some gunshots. So we were running out the front door after hearing those gunshots out onto the street. Someone picked up one of those big New York City garbage cans and put it through a car window. S**t was jumping off all over the place. So we ran at least two blocks with Bow-Legged Lou (laughs). This all happened at about two or three in the morning and I ended up in a Burger King in Times Square with Melle Mel (laughs). It was surreal. But because I’d lost Scotch during all of this, I ended-up going back to the Latin Quarter. So I get back there and there’s Scotch and Biz Markie, with Biz beat-boxing, Scotch stood on top of a speaker just rhyming and there’s people just laid out on the floor (laughs). It was f**kin’ nuts! But that’s my ultimate LQ memory (laughs).”
Was violence a reoccurring problem there from what you can remember?
“I mean, that’s the only time I was there when anything that big jumped off. There used to be the odd fight and scuffle here and there, but the place would have never stayed open for as long as it did if there was stuff going on like that all the time. Then, of course, it did ultimately close. But I remember there was a kid from my high-school and I think his father had some sort of ownership interest in the Latin Quarter. I saw him there one time and he was like one of the only other white kids I saw there. There was also one other white kid that I would see there who always used to have on some pretty fly sneakers. I just always remember these sneakers he would wear. They were like a brand that nobody had really seen before, so that’s why I always remember them. I remember Dante would be around as well, that was when he was affiliated with Rush so he’d come through with the artists. The Beastie Boys would be there with Russell Simmons as well and that whole crew when they came through to promote their records, but I mean they weren’t going there just to hang-out. Me, Blake and Serch would go to the Latin Quarter just to hang-out when we were freakin’ nobodies.”
What other clubs were you going to in NYC at that time?
“Union Square was the other big club right at that time. You also had another club people would go to regularly called The World. Actually, a funny story, Clark had Mixmaster Ice from UTFO come up to our radio show once or twice, and then, I can’t remember if it was as part of the NYU Seminar or the New Music Seminar, but we were given time on the bill at this big show at a place called The Limelight. So me, Clark and Mixmaster Ice show-up and get to the door and there’s like four or five pretty big security guys and then a couple of, I don’t know, they looked like ninja Japanese guys (laughs). I can remember standing out on the avenue, Clark had a towel around his neck and his turntables in the cases, Ice was right next to him. They wouldn’t let us in because they were saying that we weren’t on the list. They’ve always laughed at me since, especially Clark, because I was like ‘Step offff…’ and started to go after them. Then the next thing these ninja kids are coming out and Clark was like, ‘Let’s just get the f**k outta here…’ But Clark won’t let me live that down to this day probably. It became an on-going joke so he’d see me and just be like ‘Step offff…’ (laughs). That’s kinda why I did that in the “Brooklyn-Queens” video, it was like an inside joke (laughs). But Latin Quarter was really the main spot and then you had other clubs downtown like Area and 1018 that would be Hip-Hop on certain nights where there would be performances. Then you also had The Red Parrot which was in mid-town and they would have some decent shows with different artists performing.”
Were you grabbing the mic at any of those clubs before you got on as 3rd Bass?
“No, not really. Downtown there used to be a couple of clubs in abandoned school buildings and one was Hotel Amazon and actually me and Serch would sometimes warm up the crowd there. I mean, we would show up anywhere and just say give us some time on the mic to introduce groups or whatever. We introduced Public Enemy there one time, I think. There was another spot, I think it was Irving Plaza Hotel, and we introduced Rob Base when his record “It Takes Two” was out. So we used to show up everywhere and anywhere. To the point where, even when we didn’t have records out, if Serch connected with a promoter or something, they’d be like, ‘Do you guys want to come out to Illinois?’ or something like that. Actually, we went on one trip to the Bay Area as judges for a basketball contest that Hammer was at. There was a dunk contest, a three-point contest and they also had a dance contest. That’s where the beef started between Serch and Hammer, because Hammer wouldn’t let Serch get into the dance contest (laughs). But I remember we were there with like UTFO, Whodini, Grandmaster Dee was there, so we were with a lot of old-timers even before we had our own records out as a group. We would basically go anywhere and do anything we could to promote ourselves and the group.”
Various stories have been told about how you and Serch first officially met with different people taking credit for the introduction – but how do you recall that first meeting actually happening?
“I mean, we had been in the same spot before at the Latin Quarter and not known each other. But I think the first time ever when it was like, ‘This is Pete, this is Serch’ was with Blake at the Latin Quarter. Then after that it was through Dante because he had my demo and he was also already working with Serch at Rush and had put him with Sam Sever. I’m trying to think of the exact times and Serch might remember that better. But I remember me, Dante and Serch went to go see Schoolly D at The World. I remember Serch was bangin’ some chick from the projects called Lorraine (laughs). Serch had a blue Granada at the time that didn’t have a radio that we would call the Think Tank (laughs). So picture me, Dante, Serch and possibly this chick called Lorraine heading to The World to go see Schoolly D (laughs). I remember Russell Simmons was there and I talked to him briefly, but Serch was talking to him more than I was because at that point Russell knew Serch better than he knew me. But I would say that was like the first time we actually went out together.”
Do you remember when you were first introduced to Sam Sever?
“I think I met Sam Sever through Dante Ross. I think it was Dante who introduced me to Sam. Afterwards I called up Sam and asked him to come into the studio to check out what I was doing and he started collaborating with me on my demo. I think that’s when Dante spoke to Lyor Cohen like, ‘Why don’t we try and put these guys together?’ It was by no means anything how some people make it out to be, like some calculated move by anybody. It just happened. I mean, it was even more like Sam’s call at the time than it was anybody’s because he was already working with both of us. I remember us all meeting at Sam’s apartment and Serch’s mom was like a performer back in the day and she was like the typical stage mother. So she was like, ‘Well, you know, Michael’s a soloist so I don’t really know about this group idea.’ So I had to meet Serch’s mom at Sam’s crib and it was just hysterical. But me and Serch hit it off pretty well right off the bat.”
So you and Serch clicked together from the very beginning?
“I mean, listen, I’ve always said that any white emcee, and even white b-boys, have a chip on their shoulder and think that nobody else is as nice as you or can be down other than you. That still lives on to today to some point. But you have to remember, we were doing this back in the early-80s, so a lot of how things were back then is lost on the kids of today. I mean, when I went to high-school most of the white kids were burnt-out and listening to Led Zeppelin. That’s what was accepted back then. I used to go to school in a pair of Wallabees, a polo shirt and Lee straight-leg jeans (laughs).”
Read Part Two of this interview here.
3rd Bass – “Brooklyn-Queens” (Def Jam / 1990)
Regular OldToTheNew visitors will recall a recent interview I did with Queens, New York legend Mikey D which included a number of questions relating to his well-known rivalry with a young LL Cool J back in the 80s.
A couple of weeks ago Mikey contacted me to say he was planning to make a public online apology to LL for comments he’d made over the years and wanted to do a follow-up interview to clarify his position on the matter.
As Mikey’s statement of apology to LL started to appear on numerous Hip-Hop websites and blogs, I sat down with the veteran emcee to find out what had prompted his decision and also what happened when Mr. Smith unexpectedly phoned Mikey recently.
So the interview we did seemed to get a good response from those who read it…
“Yeah that was dope. I felt a little guilty afterwards though but we’ll get to that (laughs).”
That leads nicely onto the LL Cool J situation that you wanted to address – you mentioned to me previously that you spoke to LL recently – is that conversation what led to you wanting to apologise for comments you’ve made about him in the past?
“Well, basically it wasn’t a case of me thinking about the situation because I spoke to him recently. I already had the thought on my mind prior to speaking with him. It was just a coincidence that we happened to speak although we didn’t speak specifically on the interview that you and I did or anything like that. I mean, I started having a change of heart about that whole Cool J situation awhile ago. But for some reason everytime I get interviewed I always snap back into defensive mode when that topic comes up. It’s like I automatically respond with the same amount of anger that I had before and just end-up saying the same s**t that I’ve been saying for years and years. I’ve never had a chance to really sit back and look from the outside at the situation. I mean, back in the day when I was drinking a lot of forties I was with people who were drinking to, so anytime the LL situation would come up we’d all be drinking and of course that can bring anger out when people are saying certain things, plus with me being the type of person I was, as far as being this battle rapper, I fell into all the negativity.”
So do you feel that you’ve been painting an inaccurate picture of what happened between yourself and LL back in the 80s?
“I mean, a lot of the stuff that happened in the past was my fault, so how could I blame Cool J for my failures?! I didn’t take the time to really think about what was going on. So now, as a different person and a sober person, as a person who has changed and matured, I can look back at all of that and I kick myself in the butt for everything that happened. I mean, me and Cool J did take jabs at each other, but at the end of the day I threw the first punch. LL was already doing his thing and I was the one that was left behind, but not because Cool J left me as when he got his contract he told me we could be the next Run DMC. It was me that didn’t believe him and wanted to just stay in the streets running around drinking, satisfying these cats that I was running with instead of taking care of business.”
Your biggest problem with LL always seemed to be that you felt he was emulating your style and image on his early records…
“When his records started coming out I started taking jabs at him because people were telling me, ‘He took your style and ran with it.’ Looking back at it, how could I say he took my style when he was already hot when I met him. I’ve always said in my interviews that when we originally met we were supposed to be battling first as he was the best in Jackson High School and I was the best in Springfield High School. He was already that good. So if he bit my style why would I then say let’s get together and rock out after we’d met and compared notes? That was contradiction number one. Contradiction number two was when I kept on saying, and started believing, that LL stole my style with the Kangols and all of that. People were wearing Kangols and sweatsuits before Mikey D! I got that image from people before me. Cool J got that image from people before him. It wasn’t like Mikey D told LL to start wearing Kangols or anything like that. But I fed into all of that bulls**t when people would say those things to me. So I just felt that it was time for me to be a man and publicly apologise to that brother for all those years that I dragged LL’s name through the dirt because I was wrong. As a man I can admit that I was wrong and I do feel bad about it. ”
You mentioned that you had a change of heart about the situation some time ago – when would you say that actually happened?
“My change of heart really happened when I decided to stop drinking. Well, saying that, even when I initally stopped drinking I was sober but I was still in the same surroundings in the ‘hood hearing people saying that same stuff. So what really brought the change of heart was when I moved away from everything. Me and my lady moved and I got my life together. By me getting away from everything and not having anybody in my ear all of the time talking about the same situation, it gave me a chance to reflect and think back on mistakes that I made and to be thankful for where I am now. A lot of people talk about keeping it real and never leaving the ‘hood, but leaving the ‘hood was the best thing that could have ever happened to because since I did that I don’t drink anymore, I’m much healthier, I’m more focused and basically I’ve got one of my best friends back. So after making that move I had the opportunity to look back and reflect on a lot of things. Even the situation with Melle Mel at the 1988 New Music Seminar. I don’t owe him an apology publically because what he did was still wrong, but all these years later I didn’t have to keep feeding into it talking about, ‘I had to do what I had to do.’ I could have went about that differently as well.”
With regards to the LL situation though I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard interviews with you where you’ve been disrespectful or flippant about him. I mean, you were very clear in our interview about the fact that Cool J did come to you after he got signed to Def Jam and talked about doing something together but it was your decision not to pursue that…
“Right, right. But I just started to feel weird about it. I felt like I was adding more fuel to the fire, particularly when I’d do an interview over the phone years back and I’d have my people around me drinking, saying stuff about the situation when I’d get asked questions and it was really just putting a battery in my back to say stuff that really didn’t need to be said. It was just that battle instinct in me that would come back and I was saying stuff that was so embedded in my mind that I’d said so many times before that it would just come out without me even really thinking about what I was saying. I guess it was just young stuff, but here we are thirty years later and I just wanted to clear the air about all of that and move on. I can’t blame anyone for how things turned out because I had the opportunity to be side by side with LL but I f**ked that up myself.”
Regarding the Melle Mel situation, that New Music Seminar incident was such a historic moment during Hip-Hop’s Golden Age that I don’t think people will ever stop talking about that battle in the same way that people still talk about classic boxing matches…
“Right. But I definitely wanted to publicly apologise to my boy LL. I think it takes a man to do that and it’s a big step because I guess it could hurt my image or reputation but who cares? It’s a whole new day, it’s a whole new me and I just want to focus on moving forward with the new music I’ve been working on. Artistically I feel better than ever and I’m planning to make old-school feel new again (laughs). I want people to judge me on my craft now and not because of things I’ve already done. I want people to respect what I’m doing now.”
So when you spoke with LL recently did you discuss how you felt about the situation with him?
“Well actually I did the public apology first and then I spoke to him. He called me and I was buggin’ out like ‘Wow it’s really him!’ because I didn’t know the number and usually I don’t answer numbers I’m not familiar with. But I happened to answer the call and we spoke for a few and before the end of the conversation I told him straight up that it’s been thirty years that this s**t has been getting between us and that I wanted to apologise to him for all the times I’d dragged his name through the dirt.”
What was his response?
“Basically he was like ‘It’s nothing, it ain’t even a thing’ but he respected me as a man for even making the statement. He respected the fact that I swallowed my pride and got that chip off my shoulder. I just told him that we’re grown men now and there’s no reason for us to be going through any of this and that I wasn’t going to have anybody in my ear anymore trying to make it into something that it ain’t.”
When would you have spoken to him last?
“It was probably when he would have done the filming for my documentary “The Making Of A Legend” which would have have been about 2005. We never really stayed in touch or nothing like that, partly because I didn’t want him to think I was trying to ride his coattails for nothing and that’s still the case. I’m not asking for nothing or expecting me making this statement to boost my career because that’s not what I’m about.”
What’s the likelihood of you and LL actually collaborating on something now you’ve opened those lines of communication again?
“That’s an option that’s in the air right now but like I said I don’t want anyone thinking I’m doing this to re-launch my career because that’s not what it’s about. But I definitely put a bug in his ear that hopefully one day we’ll get a chance to do a project together and that option is open for both of us. So hopefully before everything is said and done Cool J and I will rock together on something. Nothing was made concrete, but it was a suggestion that was made and it’s definitely an option.”
So moving forward is the LL situation something that you now no longer want to discuss in interviews etc?
“I know it will always be mentioned and all of that but I just wanted to clarify my position. I know it’s something that will still be talked about for years to come and I don’t have a problem with that. The only thing I had a problem with was some of the things I said about the situation that I think could have been clarified a little more and said a little more directly. So that situation is always going to be discussed and I can’t change history, but I can clarify history.”
Now you’ve made this apology to LL what do you think the reaction will be from longstanding Mikey D fans?
“I mean, people grow and I really wanted to clear this out of my system and in order for me to be in a good place to make music that makes the fans happy I need to be happy myself. I had this feeling in my gut and my instinct was telling me that certain things I said were wrong. So my real fans should really respect me and the growth and maturity that I’m showing. Doing this doesn’t take anything away from my battle capabilities or my lyrical prowess. It was a decision I made to put my mind at rest by clearing out all of the drama and if anyone does have a problem with it then they weren’t really a fan to begin with. It’s not about publicity, it’s not about money, it’s coming from my heart.”
So now all of this is out in the open do you feel better prepared to focus on the new music you’re working on?
“Absolutely. I’m really looking forward to this Elements Of Hip-Hop project coming out and getting back out there. I want people to see that’s there’s no age limit on making good Hip-Hop. For me to be able to still have the impact today that I had back when I first came out is a beautiful feeling. It feels like I’m a brand-new artist.”
Elements Of Hip-Hop’s album “Calm Before The Storm” will be released on April 2nd.
Veteran NYC turntable terrorist DJ SeanSki has put together this dope tribute to arguably the greatest Hip-Hop group of all-time featuring a number of PE classics plus some of the original tracks sampled by the Bomb Squad in their symphonies of chaos – enter the Terrordome here.
More vintage footage from Tim Westwood’s archives featuring a behind-the-scenes look at Public Enemy’s visit to London as part of 1987’s Def Jam Tour – lookout for appearances from LL Cool J and the UK’s She-Rockers plus some priceless interaction between Chuck and Flav.
TVOne continue the brilliant “Unsung” documentary series by looking at the storied career of legendary Strong Island duo EPMD with appearances from Redman, DJ Scratch, DMC and Keith Murray – relive some Golden Era memories with one of the greatest Hip-Hop groups of all-time here.
With 2012 almost out the door, it’s about that time for magazines, websites and blogs to take the customary look back over the last twelve months to highlight those releases most worthy of recognition for really hitting the sonic bullseye during the course of the year.
Whilst the usual debates concerning the state of Hip-Hop have continued to rage on street corners, social media sites and everywhere else music fans may congregate, inbetween the vast amount of mediocre and downright terrible music that’s come from the mainstream / underground rap worlds during 2012, there’s also been a decent number of impressive album and EP releases from various corners of Planet Rock which have all delivered in terms of quality, creativity and overall dopeness.
As I always say when putting a list like this together, the projects and artists included in this 2012 round-up aren’t the only names and releases that were worth checking over the last year, but they are the ones that spent the most time booming out of my headphones and speakers.
So, in no particular order…
Roc Marciano – “Reloaded” (Decon) – With the release of 2010’s “Marcberg” album transforming Strong Island’s Roc Marciano from respected underground emcee to Hip-Hop cult hero, the former UN member refined his Rotten Apple sound even further on this sophomore solo shot, delivering a relentless barrage of vivid wordplay over melodic, minimalist production.
Nas – “Life Is Good” (Def Jam) – Arguably Queensbridge’s favourite son’s most cohesive and consistent body of work since 1994’s timeless “Illmatic”. Nas might not have chalked-up another universal classic with his latest album, but he did sound more comfortable in his own skin on this project than he has done in a long time, as he reminisced about 90s New York, dealt with parental responsibility and reflected on his recent marriage problems.
Mystro – “Mystrogen” (Don’t Bizznizz) – Having started 2012 amidst rumours of retirement, veteran London emcee MysDiggi laid any such talk to rest with the release of his long-awaited debut full-length, lacing a varied selection of up-beat production from the likes of Mr. Thing and Black Einstein with his witty verses, leftfield life observations and sharp humour.
DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – “Kolexxxion” (Gracie Productions / Works Of Mart) – The infamous Freddie Foxxx teaming-up with hardcore composer DJ Premier for a full-length project was always going to result in something memorable and “Kolexxxion” definitely lived up to expectations. Bumpy proudly displayed his OG stripes, schooling upcoming artists on the rules of the game and giving his opinion on the state of the culture, whilst Premier crafted an impeccable selection of thoroughbred bangers tough enough to crack concrete.
Keith Science – “Vessels Of Thought Volume II” (Central Wax Records) – A polished collection of instrumentals from the New Jersey-based producer, this album encompassed a number of different musical vibes and emotions, ranging from jazzy optimism to aggressive boom-bap, with each track maintaining its own unique sonic personality thanks to Science’s mastery of true-school Hip-Hop production.
Apollo Brown & OC – “Trophies” (Mello Music Group) – Having built himself a solid reputation as the go-to man for drum-heavy underground production, Detroit’s Apollo Brown tested his talents to the limit by joining forces with legendary D.I.T.C. emcee OC, resulting in a quality concept-driven album full of head-nodding beats and lyrical jewels that contained enough creative chemistry to make the uninitiated think the pair had been recording together for years.
Timeless Truth – “Brugal & Presidentes” (Timeless Truth) – Steeped in Rotten Apple heritage, Queens, NY brothers Solace and Oprime39 paid homage to their city’s traditional boom-bap sound on this EP unleashed at the top of 2012 without sounding like they were simply chasing the musical ghosts of a lost era. The duo’s intense, sample-heavy style and ferocious verbal artillery kept heads salivating all year for the release of their recent full-length “Rock-It Science”.
Del The Funky Homosapien & Parallel Thought – “Attractive Sin” (Parallel Thought Ltd) – Ice Cube’s cousin has faced criticism in recent times for being just a little too off-the wall on some of his solo material, but whether it was a conscious decision or just natural creativity, on this Parallel Thought-produced project the Hiero emcee sounded more focused than he has in a long time. Backed by beats ranging from anthemic West Coast funk (“On Momma’s House”) to breakbeat-driven old-school flavour (“1520 Sedgewick”), Del delivered a potent lession in lyrical excellence that recalled the brilliance of his early critically-acclaimed work.
DJ Format – “Statement Of Intent” (Project Blue Book) – A rejuvenated Format returned to burn on his third album, pulling together musical influences that ranged from old-school New York block parties and 80s electro to golden-era greatness, creating a diverse but ultimately-satisfying musical mosaic featuring the likes of Edan, Mr. Lif and Phill Most Chill holding down microphone duties. An entertaining sonic journey back to the future.
House Shoes – “Let It Go” (Tres Records) – A close friend of the late, great Dilla and a talented producer in his own right, Detroit’s House Shoes pulled together an impressive line-up of Motown talent such as Black Milk and Guilty Simpson plus a few out-of-towners (Roc Marciano, The Alchemist etc) to ensure his official debut album was something to remember. Clearly feeling he had something to prove to the non-believers out there, “Let It Go” wasn’t just the sound of a producer putting together a typical compilation-style album, this was the sound of a man on a musical mission.
Part Two coming soon.
BamaLoveSoul.Com mix of various funk, jazz and rock cuts from the likes of The Ohio Players, Minnie Ripperton and Sly Stone as sampled by Illadelphia’s legendary Roots crew – peep it here.
Nas ft. Large Professor – “Loco-Motive” (Def Jam Records / 2012)
No I.D.-produced track reuniting Nasir with Extra P from the forthcoming album “Life Is Good”.
“Big Fun In The Big Town”
(Five Day Weekend)
In the autumn of 1986, Dutch film-maker Bram Van Splunteren undertook what, at the time, many of his peers no doubt deemed to be a foolhardy quest, travelling to the drug-ridden, poverty-stricken inner-city streets of New York to gain a better understanding of the Hip-Hop artists who had caught his imagination and begun to rival his passion for rock artists of the day.
Entering the Rotten Apple with a small camera crew, a list of contacts and a wide-eyed fascination with this new style of cutting-edge music that had seemingly appeared on the world stage almost from nowhere, Splunteren unknowingly captured footage of artists who would go on to become some of Hip-Hop’s most iconic figures during the early days of their recording careers. At the same time the film also shows the close connection between Hip-Hop and the streets the culture was born from by including a handful of rap-obsessed youngsters attempting to look towards a brighter future in a social environment battered by Reaganomics, the 80s crack epidemic and failing school systems.
As the documentary begins, Splunteren is seen in his hotel room flicking through a copy of David Toop’s seminal 1984 book “Rap Attack”, doing some last minute research accompanied by the radio sounds of the late Mr. Magic and a youthful Marley Marl before fully immersing himself in a week of interviews, live performances and tours around some of NYC’s roughest areas of the time.
First visiting turntable pioneer Grandmaster Flash in his South Bronx stomping grounds, the journalist is shown the already defunct Dixie Club (as seen in classic Hip-Hop flick “Wild Style”) before returning to Flash’s nearby apartment where the legend shows-off both a typically garish 80s-style personalised leather jacket and also his natural ability to “take (a record) apart and put it back together again”, cutting up the timeless “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” breakbeat whilst explaining how his first attempts to showcase his talents back in the 70s were disappointingly met with public bemusement.
Before leaving the BX, Splunteren pays a visit to the Harry S Truman High School, capturing teenage students dropping old-school rhymes in the playground, whilst an astute teacher explains how Hip-Hop had provided a creative outlet for the kids seen adopting b-boy poses for the camera at a time when lack of funds meant that music classes had been stripped out of many inner-city schools.
A young Doug E. Fresh is found standing on a Harlem street-corner, running through his beatbox repertoire whilst also predicting Hip-Hop’s rise to global prominence, before Bram makes his way to the crack-infested blocks of Manhattan’s Lower East Side to interview events promoter Vito Bruno about the supposed connection between Hip-Hop and violence.
Perhaps suprisingly, two of the forty-minute film’s most memorable scenes don’t involve any well-known names or soon-to-be legendary figures, but instead capture the hopes, dreams and fears of unknowns caught up in the excitement of being part of a cultural movement the world-at-large was still attempting to understand.
First comes a sobering moment during a one-on-one interview with a member of Manhattan’s CBS Crew, where, away from the boisterous teenage energy of his homeboys, the young Hip-Hop junkie expresses his desire to see his friends succeed in life by making positive choices, but resigns himself to the fact that, living in ghetto circumstances, there’s a strong chance some of those close to him may find themselves caught up in gangs and crime.
Then, upon arriving at Def Jam’s headquarters to meet with Russell Simmons, Splunteren encounters Chicago duo The Mystery Crew, who have travelled all the way from the Windy City to rhyme outside the label’s offices in the hope they might attract the right sort of attention and land a record deal. Delivering lyrics in a brash, back-and-forth Run-DMC style, the pair power their way through inspiring verses speaking out against social ills with a sense of purpose that hints at the fact that, even if the rest of the world hadn’t yet worked it out, these Chi-town emcees knew that Hip-Hop had the potential to change both their lives and the lives of those around them.
It’s difficult to watch “Big Fun In The Big Town” and not find yourself wondering what happened to both the members of NY’s CBS Crew and the Mystery boys. The stories of other artists featured such as Run DMC, Roxanne Shante and Schoolly D have been well-documented, but the inclusion of these moments with relative unknowns only goes to illustrate how much of a lifeline and powerful force Hip-Hop was (and still is) to anyone who felt the cultural ripples of the creative blast that exploded out of the Bronx during the 1970s and early-80s.
Another highlight is seeing a teenage LL Cool J naively discussing how he doesn’t feel Hip-Hop artists should contain messages in their music as such subject matter might alienate listeners, with Mr. Smith’s interview being juxtaposed against footage of Suliaman El Hadi of The Last Poets criticising Hip-Hop artists for not doing enough to make their audience think about the world around them, choosing instead to use their lyrics to, as he sees it, simply boost their own egos.
Call it foresight or just pure luck, but Splunteren seems to display a knack throughout “Big Fun In The Big Town” for touching on topics that would become huge issues for the Hip-Hop community in the years to follow, from the lack of female emcees in the rap world, to the relationship between rap and violence, on to the subject of artistic authenticity and the place of rappers as role models.
Although enthusiastic and obviously keen to find out more about the artists whose records he’d been buying and listening to, Bram’s interview technique and approach to his subjects goes far beyond simple fandom. The Dutch journalist treats the artists he speaks to with a respect and overall awareness of the culture’s roots that wouldn’t come from the mainstream music media for some time.
An undiluted snapshot of a burgeoning artform trying to find its place in the world, “Big Fun In The Big Town” is a timeless piece of film-making that captures everything that was exciting and fresh about Hip-Hop during the culture’s unreplicable golden-age, without ignoring some of the more serious social issues that surrounded the music.
Essential viewing for both old and new Hip-Hop fans alike.
“Big Fun In The Big Town” DVD Trailer
Nas – “The Don” (Def Jam / 2012)
Visual for the recently released Salaam Remi-produced single from Mr. Jones’ forthcoming album “Life Is Good”.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Public Enemy’s groundbreaking debut 1987 album “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” Manchester’s Mr Spin has put together this entertaining twelve minute megamix – check it out here.
Photo By Johann Forbes
Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London Date: 29 March 2012
When Queens, NY foursome Onyx re-invented themselves following their 1990 Profile Records single debut “Ah, And We Do It Like This”, smashing their way back onto the early-90s rap scene via Def Jam with bald-heads, guns and an aggressive rhyme style, opinions were divided. Some heads gravitated towards the crew’s violent verses and hard tracks, whilst others felt the group’s Mad Face Invasion wasn’t quite the rap fix they were looking for at a time when East Coast Hip-Hop was largely dominated by jazzy loops and intricate lyricism.
Yet almost twenty years on, a packed Jazz Cafe was proof that in 2012 the now two-man pairing of Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz can still bring out enough fans who want to get grimy.
Arriving onstage wearing the standard 90s East Coast Hip-Hop uniform of hoodies, jeans and boots, Fredro led the crowd in a back-and-forth chant to the intro of the group’s 1993 debut album “Bacdafucup”, with Sticky growling into his microphone as he paced left to right like an agitated caged animal. Minutes later the opening shouts of the rowdy classic “Throw Ya Gunz” caused immediate pandemonium, with the pair quickly following up that opening salvo with the equally hostile “Shiftee”.
As the duo splashed bottles of water over the crowd, Sticky decided to commit to the performance early, performing a full-blown stage dive that landed him halfway into the audience. Much to the apparent dismay of the two burly security guards accompanying the pair, no sooner had Sticky been pulled back to the safety of the stage he launched himself back into the crowd for a second time.
Although Fredro appeared to be main voice of the night, with his partner chiming in here and there during interaction between songs with the audience, it was definitely Sticky who was the more unpredictable of the two in terms of his actual antics on stage. At one point the raspy rapper clambered onto a speaker box in order to climb up to the balcony railings of the venue’s first floor, hanging over the crowd like a Hip-Hop Spider-Man with no apparent concern for his safety as he barked his rhymes during the 1995 sure-shot “All We Got Iz Us”.
Although most people in attendance were there to enjoy the 90s memories, Fredro and Sticky did a good job of fitting a number of recent tracks into the show without causing any noticeable disruption to the atmosphere of nostalgia. So whilst fans enjoyed OG bangers such as the brilliant “Last Dayz” and 1998’s “Shut ‘Em Down”, newer tracks such as “Black Hoodie Rap” still captured that raw Onyx energy and were welcomed by the energetic audience.
With the pair shouting out fallen legends such as Biggie and Big L, their mentor Jam Master Jay, plus deceased crew member Big DS, Fredro and Sticky were eager to show they were out to rep strictly for their era of Hip-Hop. No more so than when Fredro reeled off a list of golden-era greats such as Jeru The Damaja, Das EFX and Wu-Tang before running through the self-explanatory “I’m So 90s”.
Ending the show with the mosh-pit favourite “Slam” the twosome swiftly trooped off stage, with the amped-up crowd staying put and wondering if there would be a return. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, yet given the fire behind Fredro and Sticky’s performance, I doubt anyone left feeling like they hadn’t got their money’s worth.
Onyx performing “Slam” at The Jazz Cafe
Extensive interview with the legendary Slick Rick in NYC as part of the 2011 Red Bull Music Academy World Tour talking about the recording of his classic 1988 debut album “The Great Adventures Of…”.
Questlove of The Roots speaks to Tim Westwood about the group’s early days and where they find inspiration – must have been pretty annoying constantly being called “Questlover” by Big Tim though.
Jadakiss ft. Styles P & Chynk Show – “Lay Em Down” (Jadakiss.Com / 2011)
When it comes to that East Coast gangsta ish The Lox have still got some lyrical bullets left in the clip.
Taken from Jada’s recent mixtape “I Love You (A Dedication To My Fans)”.
Jadakiss ft. Emanny – “Hold You Down” (Jadakiss.Com / 2011)
The Lox member mixes Hip-Hop with R&B the right way like it’s the 90s all over again on this smoothed-out track from his mixtape “I Love You (A Dedication To My Fans)”.