Erick and Parrish run through a collection of their 80s / 90s classics unplugged-style during a visit to Chicago.
Erick and Parrish run through a collection of their 80s / 90s classics unplugged-style during a visit to Chicago.
PMD ft. Agallah & Charlie Marotta – “Prodigy Tribute” (@PMDofEPMD / 2017)
Taken from the album “Business Mentality”.
PMD – “Good To Go” (@PMDofEPMD / 2017)
The EPMD legend lets the funk flow on this cut off his recent album “Business Mentality”.
PMD ft. Dinco D, RJ Da Realest & John Jiggs – “Spirit” (@PMDOfEPMD / 2017)
Pounding posse cut from the EPMD legend’s new album “Business Mentality”.
PMD – “Slow Your Roll” (@PMDofEPMD / 2017)
The legendary Mic Doc returns with the first single from his forthcoming album “Business Mentality”.
If you miss the days of high-top fades, James Brown loops, fat gold chains and matching sweatsuit / sneaker outfits, then Chicago’s JW Hype might just be the artist for you.
Mesmerised as a youngster in the 80s by the seemingly endless flow of new styles and sounds pouring out of the then equally young culture of Hip-Hop, JW spent just as much time studying beats and rhymes as he did studying his school-books, immersing himself, like so many others of his generation, in music from the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. & Rakim and EPMD.
Fast-forward some twenty-five years later and Hype has gained himself something of a cult online following with his own brand of back-to-the-future throwback rap. Drawing heavily on his golden-era influences, the Chi-town producer-on-the-mic’s two recent EPs, 2012’s “Return Of The Hype Era” and 2013’s “Back 2 Work”, found JW flawlessly recreating the funky, uptempo feel of the classic records so many of us were doing the Running-Man or the Kick-Step to in 1989.
Also available as a limited edition vinyl release on the Chopped Herring imprint, Hype’s two free downloadable EPs instantly take the listener back in time, with the rapper’s slick flow, quick wit and dope beats sounding authentic enough to make the uninitiated wonder if they’ve stumbled across a demo-tape from the First Priority vaults upon first listen.
Here, JW Hype discusses his reasons for wanting to pay homage to late-80s Hip-Hop, favourite rap videos and his thoughts on the music of today.
Get busy, y’all!
What are your earliest recollections of Hip-Hop?
“Man, I can take it way back (laughs). I’m in my mid-thirties so I remember hearing the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” on the radio when I was a kid. I used to break-dance when I was in second, third grade, plus my uncles were all deejays, so I was familiar with groups like Newcleus and music like that. But I would say the time when I started actually developing my own tastes was around 86 / 87. I would say that’s when I really fell in love with Hip-Hop through hearing people like Rakim. I had an uncle who was in high-school when I was still in elementary school, so I remember him bringing albums over like “Paid In Full” when that first came out, the first Public Enemy album, and other stuff like MC Lyte, Sweet Tee, Three Times Dope. So I would always be going through his tapes and taking them outside to listen to and that’s when I really started developing my own tastes in terms of what appealed to me musically.”
Was there a local scene to speak of at that time when you were growing-up in Chicago?
“I mean, I grew-up in the suburbs but we were frequently back and forth to the city. My uncle, he was from the city, so he was bringing this music to me. I mean, I was already familiar with it and new what it was, but he was bringing it to me en masse. I had a few friends around me at the time, all elementary kids, and we were all listening to rap. We were all deep into Hip-Hop (laughs). We would figure out different ways to get tapes and go to the record store together. So I wouldn’t say there was really a Hip-Hop scene around us at that time. I mean, growing-up in the 80s, it was really an eclectic time for music and you had pop, rock, whatever, and we were familiar with everything but we just really gravitated towards Hip-Hop.”
What was interesting in the early-t0-mid 80s was that a lot of the same musical technology of the time, such as synthesizers and drum machines, was being used across a variety of genres, from pop and soul to funk and Hip-Hop…
“Oh yeah, definitely. Especially when you get to the more electronic sounding records, like the Eurythmics and groups like that, there was definitely a lot of the same sounds and technology being used in different genres that really crossed barriers in a way.”
So given that you were listening to music from different genres as a kid in the 80s, what was it about Hip-Hop that really drew you towards it over anything else?
“I think I always liked it on a sub-conscious level, but the record that really made me consciously say ‘This is for me’, I would have to say that was EPMD’s “You Gots To Chill”. The reason why was because I had that Zapp “More Bounce To The Ounce” record that they sampled on there. I loved that Zapp record. Then when I heard what they’d done with it on “You Gots To Chill”, I was like, ‘Okay, this is something I could do.’ I mean, I didn’t even really understand what they were doing in terms of sampling, but it made me realise that I didn’t need a band or anything like that to make music. But when I then realised I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of sampling, I decided to start rapping (laughs). But yeah, EPMD’s “You Gots To Chill” was the record that really did it for me. I wanted to be a kid rapper back then (laughs).”
Did you ever pursue the idea of actually making records back then?
“Not at all. Like I said, I was living in the suburbs at that time, so making records or anything like that really wasn’t a reality for me. Rhyming was just something that I really loved to do. It was just a serious, intense passion.”
So moving a little more up-to-date, when did you first get the idea to start putting together whole projects based around that late-80s throwback-rap sound?
“I was already making music and doing production for people on a local level. I was also doing little remix projects here and there. Plus, I did my own album in 2008, “Where Da’ Sidewalk Ends”, which was a local release. There were a couple of songs on that album which were like throwback songs, and they were the songs that everyone seemed to love. So I started thinking that, at some point, I wanted to put a whole project together in that same style. Time went on, but the thought never went away. So I finally did it and that was 2012’s “Return Of The Hype Era” EP. It was just something that I’d always wanted to do because I felt that era had never really been revisited like that. I think people have more tried to revisit the mid-80s, but hadn’t really done the same thing with that 1987 – 1990 period. I mean, for me, those years really laid the foundation for everything that came afterwards in the 90s. In my opinion, there were a lot of artists that released classic music back then that don’t necessarily get mentioned as often as they should when people look back at that time. I mean, you look at a Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud for example, they put out a classic album. Paul C. was ahead of his time with the production and lyrically and flow-wise they were doing things on there that a lot of rappers didn’t really pick up on until later. It’s important that records and artists like that are remembered which I think sometimes get forgotten.”
That period was definitely a great time to be a fan of Hip-Hop because the music was making huge creative leaps and you were literally hearing things being done for the first time, whether that was musically in terms of sampling or lyrically with the subject matter emcees were bringing to the table and the different rhyme styles they were using to deliver it…
“It was just a really experimental time where it seemed like all the artists were just trying to top each other creatively. Everyone was doing their own thing but it was all building towards something. The artists of that time seemed to have a sense that they were building something, even if they weren’t exactly sure of what it was at that point. But that just added on to the greatness of it all, because it just felt like there was a greater cause behind the music other than it just being about making money and fame. People were doing it for the love of the art and to add-on to the culture. I mean, as cliched as that sounds today, that’s really what it was. Plus, something else that contributed to the overall creativity of that time was the fact that this was right before the sampling laws started to come in. I mean, you’ll never hear another album like “It Takes A Nation Of Millions…” with so many different samples all crashing together in just one song because financially now it would be impossible to make an album like that with all of the clearances you’d need.”
On the subject of sampling, how did you go about choosing the samples you used on “Return Of The Hype Era” and its follow-up “Back 2 Work”? You used some very well-known samples on each release, so was it a case of you picking samples that were used on some of your favourite records from back-in-the-day and seeing if you could flip it a little differently or make a track that could stand next to those same golden-era records?
“That’s almost exactly how I did it. I mean, when you listen back to the music of that golden-era time period, a lot of the same samples were used over and over for different records. It seemed liked people really didn’t care about how many times a particular sample had been used, it was more just about, ‘Okay, I want to rap over this.’ So I worked on “Return Of The Hype Era” with that same mindset, as if I was actually making that release during that time period. So I didn’t go into it worrying about if the samples had been used before. I just used the music that I wanted to use. But moving forward, I think I will be using different samples that haven’t necessarily been heard before because I think I’ve made the point that I set out to make with “Return Of The Hype Era” and “Back To Work”.”
Have there been people who’ve been confused by your music when they’ve heard it?
“Yeah, a few people have definitely thought it was something that was old, and then they’ve gotten confused when they’ve heard some more up-to-date lyrical references and then they’ve realised it’s actually something new (laughs). But to me, that’s a massive compliment if someone does hear the music and thinks it did actually come from that late-80s era because that means that I did my job.”
Playing devils advocate for a moment, what would your response be to people who might criticise your music and say you’re holding on to an era in Hip-Hop that’s never coming back?
“I would point to someone like a Mayer Hawthorne. I mean, he’s pretty much doing the same thing that I’m doing with Hip-Hop but in an R&B format. When you listen to his music you can’t really tell whether it was recorded in the 60s or now. I think that artists like myself or a Mayer Hawthorne are needed in our respective genres because there are people out there who do want to hear that sound that I’m making. There are people out there who still love that sound and someone has to do it. But also, I’m not trying to bring that era back as such. I mean, I know that era has gone (laughs). But I also think a style of music can never really die. You can’t kill a particular style or sound. I mean, artists might stop making a particular style on a massive level, but that doesn’t mean that it no longer exists. When you look at rock, it’s changed on a huge level over the years, but that doesn’t mean that someone can’t go into an old studio like the Beatles would have used, pick up all of their old instruments and make an album today like they would have made back then.”
Given the number of different golden-era influences that can be heard in your music, what prompted you to focus so heavily on the Juice Crew in particular for last year’s “My Dedication” single?
“I was obsessed with the Juice Crew when I was younger. They were really the first crew where everyone involved was just dope. I don’t think that had really happened in Hip-Hop before the Juice Crew where individually everyone was just great on their own. Not only that, but they were hugely influential at the time. I just felt that if I was going to do something to show respect to the Juice Crew, I really needed to accentuate it. I mean, me and my buddies, we were just obsessed with the Juice Crew. They really were like a phenomenon to us.”
The recent clip you dropped for “Get Hype” features footage from a long-list of classic Hip-Hop videos. Are there any videos in particular that stand out to you from that late-80s era?
“Let me see. I loved that Big Daddy Kane video for “Lean On Me”. I remember when that came out, everyone was just so hyped about that video and I really think they took the dancing to the next level with some of the moves they were doing. I loved MC Lyte’s “Paper Thin”, which was always just a classic video to me. Also, Gang Starr’s “Words I Manifest”, EPMD’s “You Gots To Chill” and I can’t forget Kane’s “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'”. I could really just watch those videos all day long (laughs).”
During that time-period there were so many different styles co-existing, from the gangsta rap of N.W.A. to the politics of a KRS-One and the humour of a Biz Markie, but it all fell under the banner of Hip-Hop and was given equal attention and exposure by the Hip-Hop media at the time. Do you think we’ll ever get back to a place where there’s such a balance in terms of the music that’s being presented to the public?
“I don’t think so. I think the music and the industry around it has just grown way too much for that to happen again. I mean, back then, Hip-Hop was a counter-culture artform and I think that was something that helped it because it was something that was out of the ordinary. I mean, you had your mainstream, but then you had your counter-cultures. Today, rap isn’t the counter-culture anymore, it is the mainstream culture now. There isn’t really that sense of community that you had back in the day. I mean, because Hip-Hop was on a much smaller scale back then and there was only a relatively small amount of people involved in it, it made it feel that much more special. But now? I’m really the wrong person to talk to about rap right now because it can get real dark (laughs). I mean, the last person I was really paying attention to was Joey Bada$$ and that whole movement, but they’ve even become very disappointing in terms of where I thought they were going to go when they first came out.”
With that in mind, do you think we’ll ever again see another universally acclaimed classic album that really captures the attention of everyone within the culture in the same way that a Run-DMC or a Public Enemy did back in the 80s?
“I mean, every generation has their classics but I don’t think the albums that are called classics today will still be considered classics in years to come or celebrated in the same way as the classics from our generation. I mean, in terms of what’s coming out now, I don’t see there being an album that’s considered a classic by everyone.”
So the fourteen-year-0ld kid listening to Drake’s “Nothing Was The Same” or a Rick Ross release today isn’t going to be celebrating those albums in twenty-five years time in the same way that thirty-something fans from our generation still cherish albums like De La Soul’s “3 Feet High And Rising” or Big Daddy Kane’s “Long Live The Kane”?
“It’s actually a very good question and, thinking about it now, one of the reasons why I don’t think that will happen is because I don’t think the respect level is there from the fans. I don’t think today’s fans have the respect for the music that people are making today, regardless of whether they actually like it or not. I mean, you look at someone like a Drake, people have labelled his albums as being classics, but in ten or twenty years time, are his albums going to be mentioned or cherished like the classics from back in the day are by us? I really don’t think so. Which is partly down to the mentality of today’s so-called fan and also because the music that a lot of these artists are making doesn’t stand on anything. It doesn’t really have any substance to it. But when you look at the albums that we consider classics today from the 80s and 90s, even at the time, there was a respect level for the artists, the music and the culture around it that made us really consider what people like Rakim and Kane were doing as something that was special and ground-breaking. So some twenty years later, we can have these anniversaries and still celebrate those albums because they’ve stayed with us for all this time. But twenty years from now, I don’t think a fourteen-year-old kid today is necessarily going to be celebrating a Drake album in the same way, because I don’t think the music has that type of staying power.”
If, as you say, the level of respect that today’s younger fans have for current artists has declined compared to the past, do you think that also has something to do with the fact that, aside from the quality of the actual music being made, so many fans today are also aspiring artists themselves?
“I think that’s definitely a part of it, but I also think that the audience that listens to the music today isn’t the same type of audience say, from our generation, who have the same level of expectation from artists today as we did back then. I think the audience that today’s mainstream rap attracts is the lowest common denominator of individual. Back in the day, the people who were attracted to Hip-Hop weren’t your typical crowd of kids. It was a smarter kid, a more eclectic kid, a kid who willing to step outside of the box. Whereas today, nothing about the music is really outside of the box. So there’s no respect level towards what these kids are a part of, because they’re actually not a part of anything in the same way that we felt that we were part of a culture. We felt like we were a part of Hip-Hop back then and it gave us a sense of identity, but the music today doesn’t give kids that same sense of identity like it did for us because a teenage kid today listening to Rick Ross, their mom is probably listening to the same thing when she turns the radio on in the car (laughs).”
Would you say the music today is almost just an accessory to an image-driven fantasy lifestyle that’s being pushed by many popular current artists?
“No-one’s really truly invested in these artists. There’s no bigger picture culturally around what they’re doing. The music that’s considered popular now, so much of it isn’t even really attached to the culture of Hip-Hop. I mean, when I hear some of the music today, I don’t think deejay, I don’t think break-dancers, I don’t think the Bronx. It just doesn’t embody that spirit of Hip-Hop, and if I can’t feel that spirit of the culture in the music then to me it’s just rap music. I mean, I wonder sometimes today if the people listening to this stuff are actually music fans. I think there’s a small number of people out there who’re genuinely into the music and everyone else is just here for the show. They want to know who’s beefin’ with who and all of that kinda stuff. I don’t think they’re even really listening to the music they’re saying they’re fans of.”
So what’s next for JW Hype?
“My goal is really just to continue putting out projects. I mean, I’m not looking to make any money off the music I’ve been putting out because I couldn’t possibly clear all of the samples. So I’m just putting it out for free and hopefully it’ll grow to a point where I’m able to do shows. What I’d also like to do is involve some of the older artists from that golden-era period and get them on-board as well. I just really want to keep making music and having fun. I haven’t decided if the music I make moving forward is still going to be under the same name, or if I’m just going to keep the JW Hype brand for that old-school flavoured material and figure out a way to perhaps put out some other material. But to be honest, I think I’ve only really just scratched the surface with the music I’ve put out recently and I think there’s still a lot more people out there who would appreciate what I’m doing if they heard it. It’s just a case of getting more blogs and websites on-board with what I’m doing to really be able to penetrate the audience that I’m trying to reach. So I definitely think there’s still a lot more work to be done.”
Follow JW Hype on Twitter – @JW_Hype
JW Hype – “Get Busy” (JWHype.BandCamp.Com / 2014)
PMD ft. Nymrod – “Smoke MC’s” (RBC Records / 2013)
Taken from the EPMD legend’s recent EP “New Business”.
PMD ft. Team Takeover – “Symphony 2013” (RBC Records / 2013)
Posse cut taken from the EPMD legend’s solo EP “New Business”.
Jorun Bombay Presents The Rampagers (Emskee, Oxygen & Phill Most Chill) – “DWG Rampage” (Diggers With Gratitude / 2013)
Dope reworking of an EPMD classic taken from the limited vinyl-only compilation “DWG Sampler One (A Journey Through The Crates)”.
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.
In Part One of this interview with legendary lyricist Mikey D, the Queens, NY emcee discussed his earliest Hip-Hop memories, meeting LL Cool J and battling Kool G. Rap. In this next instalment, the Rotten Apple representative talks about working with the late, great producer Paul C., signing to Sleeping Bag Records in the late-80s and his historic New Music Seminar battle with Grandmaster Melle Mel.
How did you actually meet Paul C.?
“I met Paul C. through Will Seville and Eddie O’Jay of the Clientele Brothers. We lived in Laurelton and Paul C. lived in Rosedale which were within walking distance. So Will and Eddie picked me and Johnny Quest up one day and told us we’re going to this producer’s house. They’re telling us how this dude is kinda nice and how he’s got his studio set-up. Now, at that time, it was unheard of to have a studio in your crib and stuff like that. But Paul had his equipment hooked-up in his garage. I’d never heard of Paul before, but they took us there, and I remember Paul asking me to rhyme. I did my thing and me and Paul really hit it off from that point on. I mean, Paul really wasn’t dealing with Hip-Hop on a big scale at that time. He was still down with his band and all of that. Then he got offered a job to be an engineer at 1212 Studio. Now, prior to that, me and Quest were always going to Paul’s house making tapes for the street. Then once Paul got that job at 1212, after the sessions were finished late at night he would call us and be like ‘Come to the studio, let’s work!’ So we used to jump on the bus, head over to 1212 and that’s when it really started to happen.”
What were your first impressions of Paul when you met him?
“He wasn’t what I was expecting to see at all. I wouldn’t say he looked like a nerd, he looked a little bit cooler than a nerd (laughs). But Paul was really quiet and really humble. I don’t know really what I expected to see when we went over there. Maybe like a punk rocker dude with an attitude and a chip on his shoulder (laughs). But Paul was just really humble, super cool and so friendly. Paul’s personality definitely didn’t match the beats he was making (laughs). So at that time we were branching away from Reality, the Symbolic Three and all that because I was getting tired of writing for other people and knew I had something to offer myself. So me and Johnny Quest put Paul C. down with the L.A. Posse. Now, Johnny Quest and Paul, that was all I needed. I had a hot deejay that nobody could touch, I was a hot rapper that nobody could touch, and now, I’ve got this producer that nobody can touch in Paul C.. A white guy at that?! Oh my god! (laughs).”
From what you can remember was Paul C. aware that what he was doing in terms of chopping samples etc. was so revolutionary at that time and would have such an impact on Hip-Hop?
“Doing those beats was just natural for Paul. I mean, none of us ever really used to listen to the radio to hear what else was going on, we just stayed original to what we wanted to do. With Paul, I don’t think he thought it was going to become as big as it did in terms of his production. He just did what he did. It was effortless to him. He didn’t even really have to try that hard, it just came so naturally to him. Paul C. was a genius. Like, you remember my record “Bust A Rhyme Mike”, right, the flipside of “My Telephone”? Now, who would have ever thought of me doing the human beatbox? Paul told me to go ‘Boom’, ‘Kick’, that was all he told me do. That’s all I did. Then Paul hooked the beat up from that, which was crazy to me back then. Same thing with “I Get Rough”. The bassline on that track was Rahzel’s voice. What Paul C. was doing back then was incredible to me.”
So what was a typical studio session with Paul like back then?
“We would just go in and that was it. There was a store downstairs and we would go and buy some sandwiches and beer to take up to the studio. At that time, Paul was smoking his little joints of weed. We would just get creative and be in that studio until like seven the next morning. And at any given time you would have all sorts of different people in there with us as well. Large Professor was up in some of those early studio sessions we had, but he was real young then and I didn’t know who he was or that he’d go on to become Large Professor (laughs). Everybody was coming through 1212 at that time. That’s how I met Ced-Gee, Kool Keith and them from Ultramagnetic, Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud were up there all the time, Sweet Tee, Jazzy Jay would come through, even Jeru The Damaja used to be up there before he got on.”
Do you recall any memorable studio cyphers taking place?
“Everybody was just mingling really. There were six floors of studios in that place. There’d also be a lot of rock bands practising in there as well. Metallica used to work in that building. 1212 was like a college dorm with everyone hanging out in each other’s sessions and partying.”
What were your thoughts when you heard the creative direction that Ultramagnetic MC’s were taking with their whole scientific, spaced-out style?
“I remember just thinking it was so different. It wasn’t something I would have done back then personally, but it was different and I was definitely feelin’ it. There were so many different flavours being heard in that studio with all the artists working in there, but my thing was always just to stay in my lane and do me, rather than hearing what someone else was doing and trying to follow them.”
Out of interest, what were your thoughts on the Bridge Wars which would still have been simmering around that time? Were you offended when KRS-One dissed Queens?
“Absolutely, because Shan didn’t say Hip-Hop started in Queens, he said that was where it started at for him. But then everyone started jumping on the bandwagon. I remember one time, we had a roller rink in Queens and KRS-One was supposed to battle MC Shan there. Now, I don’t know what happened to Shan but he didn’t show up. So who was the first person to jump up onstage ready to battle and represent Queens? Me! I wanted to battle KRS-One but he didn’t want to battle me at that time. I remember T La Rock was there as well and he had some funny stuff to say, so I was looking to battle him as well. Now, T La Rock had obviously made “It’s Yours”, but going back to what I said about being the king of parody, I’d written a song called “Your Drawers”. So that’s how T La Rock met me, when I crushed him with his own song (laughs).”
So being from Queens could definitely cause problems when you would travel to other parts of New York even if you weren’t directly affiliated with any of the artists feuding on wax?
“Definitely, definitely. Now, at that time Queens had all the stars in Hip-Hop, partly because Russell Simmons took Hip-Hop to a whole ‘nother level. We had Run DMC. We had LL Cool J. We had Salt-N-Pepa. We had Sweet Tee. We had Kid-N-Play. A lot of the major money-making artists at that time were coming out of Queens. So the rest of New York City was looking at us in Queens like the way New York looks at Southern artists now (laughs). People from other boroughs would try and diss Queens by saying that we had green grass and both our parents (laughs). So because I didn’t have a pissy staircase and roaches I couldn’t be nice as an artist? Get out of my face with that (laughs). But Queens still proved itself at the end of the day.”
When you signed to Sleeping Bag Records was that on the strength of the buzz surrounding your 1987 single “I Get Rough” or was the label also familiar with your history prior to that?
“They were aware of me already through Ivan ‘Doc’ Rodriguez and Mantronik. The original plan was for me to get signed and be the new emcee for Mantronix. That’s what was supposed to happen. But I believe in loyalty so I wasn’t about to leave Quest and Paul. We’d already built something and I didn’t want to see that start to be taken apart. So if Sleeping Bag wanted to sign me, they had to sign Paul C. and Johnny Quest. It had to be Mikey D & The L.A. Posse. I’m not getting down with Mantronix. I liked the sound Mantronix had, even though it was very different to ours, but I wasn’t going to leave Paul and Quest behind.”
Sleeping Bag was a big label at the time with a lot of popular Hip-Hop and Dance acts on the roster – were you looking at that deal as a potentially life-changing situation considering the success other acts were experiencing on the label?
“You know what? It didn’t even hit us like that. We already believed in ourselves, so we were approaching it like we were meant to be there. We were of the opinion that a label like Sleeping Bag should have come to us a long time ago. But we just remained humble and stayed in our lane. It was cool, though. I mean, by the time we signed to Sleeping Bag I knew a lot of the artists affiliated with the label already like Just-Ice, EPMD, Mantronix of course. I remember everyone thinking DJ Cash Money of Cash Money & Marvelous and I were brothers (laughs). But yeah, we were really in a good space at that time and I enjoyed Sleeping Bag. Being signed to them, of course, was how I got entered into the New Music Seminar emcee battle in 1988 and the situation with Melle Mel happened.”
The story of you winning the emcee battle at the 1988 New Music Seminar and ending-up battling Melle Mel is very well known – but what was going through your mind at that time as a young, upcoming artist standing onstage knowing that you’re about to battle a legendary emcee and Hip-Hop pioneer?
“See, technically it wasn’t supposed to be a battle. It was supposed to be a demonstration with that year’s champion, me, rapping with the previous year’s champion, which was Melle Mel. But no. Melle Mel turned it into a battle. Now you’ve got to remember that at that time the Queens / Bronx thing was still going on and at the same time the Old-School / New-School thing was heating up. So I already had two strikes against me (laughs). First of all I’m from Queens and second of all I was considered new-school. Now, I was going to give Mel his respect. I said my rhymes and didn’t saying nothin’ about him. He gets on the microphone and disrespects me. Then he starts talking about how, if I’m a real champion I’d battle him for my belt. I said I didn’t want to battle for my belt. I’d just won it and I wanted to take it back to the ‘hood to represent. Melle Mel slams his belt on the ground, starts talking about how I’m no champion and now the crowd starts going crazy shouting ‘Go Mikey! Go Mikey!’ I look at Mel, I look at the crowd, I look at my belt, I look at his belt on the floor, I slammed my belt on top of his belt and was like ‘Let’s go!’. So now Melle Mel is doing push-ups onstage and I started rhyming off the beat of his push-ups dissing him and the crowd is going crazy. He couldn’t come back after that but at the same time that he was trying to, Grandmaster Caz picks up both of the belts while I have my back turned. So by the time Melle Mel finally lost the battle, Caz hands Mel the damn belts! Now Melle Mel was too big for me to be running up on him (laughs). But he’s rushing through the crowd with both belts, pushing Big Daddy Kane out the way and Jackie Paul, a lady who was a part of the New Music Seminar. It was a mess. But I proved myself. Then a few weeks later Tom Silverman from Tommy Boy Records who was involved with the Seminar presented me with a bigger and better belt (laughs).”
In hindsight do you have a different opinion now on Melle Mel’s actions that night?
“I forgive him for that but I still don’t agree with what he did. It was a coward move and I can’t respect that. I can respect Melle Mel as an artist, for his achievements and everything he’s done for Hip-Hop, but at that event he just made a complete idiot out of himself and I lost all respect for him. I mean, I respect him now as a man, but I don’t respect the move he made on that night.”
From hearing what Daddy-O said in the footage for your documentary “The Making Of A Legend” the situation could have turned very ugly…
“It could of but I defused a whole lot of that tension. I mean, I had people like King Sun and Just-Ice ready to move on Melle Mel and I was like ‘No!’ Johnny Quest and I were the only two out of our crew who went to the Seminar that night. Luckily, we went without my crew otherwise Mel could have got moved on that way. People in the audience who I’d just met were ready to make moves on him, but I didn’t want any of that because if someone had moved on Mel it would have reflected badly on me and my future. If anything had happened to Melle Mel people would have automatically said that I had a part in that so I just wanted everyone to let it go.”
After the Seminar what happened with the Sleeping Bag deal?
“Well, after the Seminar we were busy working on an album which was coming out pretty nice. We presented the album to Sleeping Bag and unfortunately God took Paul C. from us before it could be released. Once that happened everything started spiralling downhill because I didn’t want to put the album out after Paul passed away. It didn’t feel right to do that. I was like, ‘Nah, this ain’t cool.’ I left the label and all of that.”
So would you largely attribute you stepping away from the industry at that point to Paul C.’s 1989 murder?
“Well, at that time it felt like everything was spiralling out of my control. My daughter had just been born. The music money wasn’t enough to pay my bills, buy a crib or pay for my daughter’s baby food, y’know. I was giving more to the music than I was receiving. I was giving my life to this music and I just wasn’t really getting nothing in return. Then after Paul was taken from us it was really crazy because now I’m thinking ‘Damn, man. They did that in his house! Who does that?!’ So now we’re paranoid like, ‘Could they be coming after us next?’ I started drinking even more around that time like, ‘F**k this! I can’t handle it!’ It was like that beer made me feel like nothing could mess with me or something like that. So I really just fell back for a little while and helped raise my daughter. I still had Hip-Hop in my heart but all of the gangsta rap was starting to come out and I just wasn’t really feeling it like that, y’know.”
With one of your close friends having just been murdered it’s easy to see why you didn’t want to be around the more violent aspects of Hip-Hop that were starting to become popular at that time…
“Exactly. You just took the words right out my heart. That’s exactly how I felt at that time.”
Lookout for Part Three of this interview coming soon with Mikey D covering his time as a member of Main Source in the 90s and his new Elements Of Hip-Hop project.
More footage of Raekwon on “The Combat Jack Show” discussing the influence of EPMD’s Hit Squad on the early days of Wu-Tang and his chemistry with brother-from-another-mother Ghostface.
Goondox ft. Smoothe Da Hustler & N.O. The God – “Bang Out” (@Goondox / 2012)
Rugged Snowgoons-produced banger off the forthcoming collabo album from the German production team, PMD and Sean Strange entitled “Welcome To The Goondox”.
Footage of the legendary Parrish Smith and his upcoming artist Sean Strange performing on Shade45’s Soul Assassins Radio.
Footage of EPMD and The Hit Squad performing the 1992 classic “Head Banger” at a recent show in Richmond, Virginia.
Photo By Karen “InchHigh” Dabner McIntyre
Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London Date: 7 June 2012
After the Hit Squad reunion show in NYC earlier this year, I for one was hoping that particular line-up of EPMD, K-Solo, Redman and Das EFX might have seen fit to bless their European fans with their combined golden-era glory. Unfortunately, however, that was not to be, with only the Green-Eyed Bandit and the Mic Doc reaching UK shores recently for their second visit in just over a year, this time choosing to perform two shows at the brilliant Jazz Cafe venue.
After DJ Scratch had tested the turntables and amused the crowd with his reserved “jazz voice”, Erick and Parrish rushed the stage to the 90s jeep beats of the pounding “I’m Mad”, both decked out in all black with E sporting his standard head sweatband and PMD rocking the trademark fisherman hat.
Barely giving the crowd time to breathe, the duo dropped their timeless true-school anthems “Strictly Business”, the Zapp-sampling “You Gots To Chill” and their debut 1987 single, performing both “It’s My Thing” and the flipside “You’re A Customer”, with that particular track’s crisp production sounding particularly fat over the Jazz Cafe’s crystal clear sound-system.
Pausing only to give each other a pound and revel in the crowd’s enthusiastic reponse, the pair’s wide smiles and playful behaviour indicated that, even after a quarter of a century on wax and a dramatic early-90s break-up, the childhood friends still possess an undeniable bond that obviously goes deeper than simply hitting the road every once in awhile to dust off the EPMD back catalogue and pay some bills.
The constant good-natured banter between the duo also extended to their interaction with the crowd, with E-Double persistently reminding the audience “I’m Erick Sermon and that’s Parrish Smith” for the benefit of any “youngsters who might have snuck in.”
Leaving the stage for a short time to allow DJ Scratch to impressively showcase some of his well-known turntable tricks, the Long Island lyricists soon returned and continued working through banger after banger. The twosome play-acted their way through the 1988 skeezer tale “Jane”, gave a forceful performance of “So What Cha Sayin'” and preceded the bass-heavy “Gold Digger” with a sermon from Sermon about the 1990 single being the inspiration for Kanye West’s hit of the same name.
Taking a moment to address their solo careers, Erick stated that the pair don’t usually perform their own individual material at EPMD shows, but as fans had apparently made requests as they entered the venue he encouraged PMD to drop his head-knocking 1996 single “Rugged-N-Raw”, following which Smith joked, “Yo, E, can you perform “Hostile” now?”, referring to the track that introduced Keith Murray to the masses on Erick Sermon’s 1993 solo debut “No Pressure” (the Funk Lord did in fact perform a track of his own, the Marvin Gaye-sampling crowd favourite “Music”, later in the show).
Although the legendary partnership stuck to the usual script of encouraging the crowd to “continue supporting real Hip-Hop” and repeating how much they loved performing in the UK, the intimate atmosphere of the relatively small Jazz Cafe did lend the performance a spontaneous, improvised feel.
Following the night’s finale, a short two-man version of the Hit Squad posse cut “Head Banger”, the pair should have left the stage to the sound of DJ Scratch cutting up the 1970 Roy Head breakbeat “She’s About A Mover”. But as Erick made his way up the venue’s stairs to the comfort of the dressing room, PMD just couldn’t tear himself away, staying to drop verses from “The Symphony 2000” and “Get The Bozack” as Scratch went back-and-forth on the turntables.
Personally, I would have also liked to have seen Erick and Parrish performing their “Juice” soundtrack banger “It’s Going Down” and the 1992 b-side sureshot “Brothers From Brentwood L.I.”. But when virtually every track on the night’s set list was a certified Hip-Hop classic, EPMD, once again, didn’t really leave people much to complain about.
Strictly underground funk, keep the crossover.
EPMD performing “Jane” at The Jazz Cafe.
Footage of EPMD, Redman and K-Solo performing the 1992 classic “Head Banger” at last night’s Hit Squad Reunion show in NYC.
The Goondox ft. Swollen Members, Jus Allah, Virtuoso, Jaysaun etc. – “Raps Of The Titans” (TheGoondox.Com / 2011)
Huge posse cut from the forthcoming album “Welcome To The Goondox” which is the debut collaboration project from NY emcee Sean Strange, golden-era legend PMD and Germany’s Snowgoons production team.
Oxygen (a.k.a Ox The Architect) is a very busy man nowadays. Having just released the dope and extremely collectable seven-inch single “Brilliance” on Correct Technique Records as one-half of SPOX PhD alongside DJ Spinna, the Long Island Hip-Hop vet is also currently in the lab working with the likes of Phill Most Chill, Large Professor, Wyld Bunch, Daily Diggers and the UK’s own Danny Spice.
Yet for those who may be unfamiliar with the East Coast native’s material as a member of both Sputnik Brown and Soundsci (get your Google on!), Oxygen’s current underground notoriety is definitely no overnight phenomenon. With a Hip-Hop heritage that goes back to the 80s rocking L.I. parties with his crew Hype Sound Productions and penning rhymes for local group The In’fo M.C.’s, Oxygen may have worked and recorded under a variety of names over the years, but his love and passion for music has remained consistent.
Taking time out from working on the forthcoming SPOX PhD album “Sound Pieces Of Xperience”, Oxygen dug in the crates for Old To The New to reminisce on a selection of Strong Island classics that fill this talented emcee and dedicated beat-digger with hometown pride.
Cold wild Long Island is where he rests.
MC EZ & Troup – “Get Retarded” (Fresh Records / 1988)
“I never even knew this was a Long Island product until about five years after it dropped. Mr Magic and Marley Marl were the first I remember to break this record on the air in ’88. The moment you heard the hi-hats in the intro and then the ‘zoom-zoom-zoom-zoom-za-z00m-za-zoom’s’ came in you automatically went into maniac mode!!! Some years later after this 12” dropped I discovered while talking about music with a co-worker of mine at a job I had with Time Warner distribution centre that he was actually Troup (a.k.a. Teddy Lee). I wound up becoming great friends with him and still am. “Get Retarded” is definitely a classic tune that will forever be a staple in L.I. Hip-Hop history.”
Biz Markie – “Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz” (Prism / 1986)
“My earliest memory of Biz was back in ’85 when he rocked a jam at Wyandanch High School alongside Groove B. Chill and the “Kid Wizard” Rakim Allah. It was at that show he introduced a live version of this song before the single even dropped. Instead of TJ Swan on the chorus and the beat that made it to the final version, this performance featured a much more raw beat that sounded to me like Synsonic drums. The chorus was actually this vocoder voice finessed similar to the way the Fearless Four used it on “F-4000″. Classic! It’s hard to believe that was over twenty-five years ago now that I reflect back on it.”
Supreme Force – “Handling Things” (NIA Records / 1986)
“Flashback to the North Babylon High School talent show in 1985. There was always a crazy buzz on the Island about these area kids who were setting mics on fire with the ferociousness of Cold Crush, Treacherous Three or Fantastic 5. To make it even sweeter, they were right from my hometown and I had the pleasure of attending High School with these cats. When they ripped the stage at that talent show, it was like watching a classic soul group from the ’60s. They came on decked out in these fresh suits and they even handed out flowers to the ladies in the front row. Very classy. One love to these brothers, especially my dude Supreme E-Z-E for purchasing some of my graf pieces so I could have lunch money back then. Thanks E!”
The UN – “Mind Blowin'” (456 Entertainment / 2004)
“It was my man Musa who first put me up on The UN. At the time, we were in the lab working on some early Sputnik Brown material. When the session was over, he burned me a copy of “UN Or U Out” onto a CD and was like, ‘Yo! Peep this on your way home!’ I did… and I lost my freakin’ mind! The entire album, in my opinion, is flawless. But what I will always remember is how brolic this track came in with them drums and the feeling that came over me. The whole crew blessed that track lovely. It wasn’t until several days later that I even got to listen to the rest of the album because I got stuck with that particular track on repeat most of the way home that night.”
Kings Of Pressure – “You Know How To Reach Us” (Let’s Go Records / 1987)
“This is one of those prominent Long Island college radio classics from the 80s which I believe is on every cassette I recorded back then. On 88.7 WRHU (Hofstra University) Jeff “Air” Foss had a show that featured a dynamic deejay named Johnny Juice holding down the tables for him. Juice, in addition to being part of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad among other things, was a member of this group Kings Of Pressure. Late nights he would completely destroy the wheels at WRHU and this was one of the many tunes he broke on air for us. I always thought this was so cleverly produced with the beeper noise beeping under the track along with the beat. Illmatic!”
EPMD – “You’re A Customer” (Fresh Records / 1987)
“Enter another reference to DJ Johnny Juice here and I will keep this short and sweet; Juice used to murder this record on the air! To the point where I would actually feel bad for the records. My soul would be in mourning days after the radio show was over. Word up! It was that severe. The snares chopped through the speakers like machetes on this record. If you weren’t around at the time when EPMD first dropped this song on us then you completely missed out.”
De La Soul – “Stakes Is High” (Tommy Boy / 1996)
“These kids from Amityville were already a household name by the time this track was released. This was the one, to me, that represented the greatest show of maturity in De La’s sound and lyrical content. I was living down in Charlotte, NC when this one came out and my man Cut Wizard Albee would bless me with a regular batch of taped radio shows on cassettes to keep me up to speed. When my ears connected with this tune it was clear to me that these L.I. prodigies had officially arrived. De La have mastered the art of re-invention. Dilla cold crushed the production on this one too! One of my favourites from him.”
Crimedanch Cartel ft. LL Cool J – “Money Is The Key” (White Label / 1996)
“Boy, oh, boy! This joint right here is serious business. Although I just recently learnt that this was pressed on wax at some point, I actually heard this during one of my visits to NY from NC up in the now defunct Paradise Records that was on the side of Jimmy’s Supermarket in the ‘hood. I want to say it was Isreal from the group who popped in with the demo cassette. Deep down, it always bothered me that Crimedanch Cartel never got a chance to release a proper album and tour the planet for everyone to absorb their sound during that time period. With a feature and backing from Rakim already under their belt, capped off with this track featuring one of the most consistent emcees of our time LL Cool J, they were certified ‘next’ in my opinion. “Money Is The Key” would have been their ticket to ride.”
Eric B. & Rakim – “No Competition” (UNI Records / 1988)
“If I had to pick my favourite Rakim joint, I would have to say this is definitely it. First of all, do you hear the bombs he’s dropping on this record?! From start to finish, this is just lyrically flawless. Secondly, the Manzel “Space Funk” record they flipped, particularly this version on Downstairs Records with the intro in reverse, is one of my all-time favourite breaks. I remember the hot summer nights of the late-80s when Rakim used to whip through the neighbourhood in his burgundy Jeep Cherokee with the tyre-cover on the back that simply suggested you “Follow The Leader”. Damn, that was a special moment in time that gave us a glimmer of hope in the midst of the crack era and the series of unnecessary homicides that plagued our segregated community on the Island. Time marches on.”
Public Enemy – “Timebomb” (Def Jam / 1987)
“To cap off my list, I had to pay respect to the most powerful Hip-Hop group of our time! The classic P.E. album “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” was the one that sent shock waves through the entire body. I think it was Dr. Dre’s Operating Room on 90.3 WBAU where I first heard “Timebomb”. In fact, they played the entire album from start to finish over the air before it was released to the public. I was still in high school and had a Cutlass with a Blaupunkt radio, Concord amp, some Pyle Driver 6 x 9s in the window, the 15″ speaker box in the trunk, and this song used to knock dumb heavy. At least it did until someone bagged up my system. Easy come, easy go. My nephews had me sorted out with a replacement by the time the sun rose in the east. Then it was back to business as usual. No place on Earth could ever come close to New York in the 80s and the unique energy that Public Enemy brought to the table will never be emulated. Period!”
E-Double freestyle on TimWestwoodTV.