Tag Archives: Fanatic

Old To The New Q&A – Omniscence (Part Four)

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In the final installment of my Omniscence interview, the North Carolina artist discusses recording with Sadat X in the 90s, parting ways with East West Records and his new EP “Sharp Objects” produced by Australia’s Debonair P – check Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

Sadat X featured on one of the remixes that appeared on the “Touch Y’All” single in 1996. Was that a collaboration that East West instigated or did you already have connections with Sadat? 

“That’s a great question. I was at a party one night. I can’t remember exactly where, but it was an industry function. Like I said before, I was never that guy to be walking up to other artists and introducing myself because you never really know how you’re going to be received (laughs). So I was at this party with my man Sincere Thompson who was just an all-round business guy who had been behind various projects on the promotional side and he already knew Sadat. So he asked me what I thought about doing a song with Sadat X and I was like, ‘That’s a no-brainer!’ I mean, I was already such a fan of Sadat X from when he’d been with Brand Nubian and doing songs like “Concerto In X Minor”. Plus, there was also the Five Percent culture that Sadat represented, which I represented as well, so Sincere went ahead and put that together.”

Considering you were already a big fan of Sadat, were you in awe slightly when you actually got in the studio with him?

“You know what? I was, man (laughs). But by that time I’d really learnt how to conduct myself as a fan-slash-artist. But I remember it was just really cool, man. Sadat X came to the Hit Factory, which is where we recorded the song. Fanatic had hit him with three beats and I told Sadat he could choose whichever one he liked the most because I was feeling all three. So he picked the one with the Isaac Hayes sample. But yeah, we talked a lot about sports. He brought his man Mark Da Spark, but not MY man Mark Sparks (laughs). At that point my Mark  had already done “I Like It” for Grand Puba and a few other joints on the “2000” album, so I asked Sadat if he was familiar with my Mark and told him that he was originally from our crew in North Carolina, and Sadat was like, ‘Yo, you know him? Yo, we’ve been looking for son, man? I want him to do something on my next project.’ So they were asking me if I could get in touch with him and whatever, although I believe we’re still to hear a Sadat X record produced by Mark Sparks so they still need to get that together (laughs). But that’s why I said on the “Touch Y’all” remix, ‘Kakalak and Now Rule reunited like Peaches & Herb’ because Puba and my Mark had already done the “I Like It” record, so by me and Sadat working together we were just reuniting North Carolina and New Rochelle one more time.”

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Where did the concept for the “Touch Y’all” video come from because it really seemed to be tapping into some of the technological advances that were happening at the time around virtual reality etc?

“That was a concept brought to me by a director called Francis Lawrence who went on to direct some pretty big movies, including “I Am Legend” with Will Smith. We didn’t know each other before he was called upon to direct my video, but I remember him telling me what he wanted to do and describing how the concept behind the video was about me and my boys being able to touch all these different people across the world. He was describing how it was going to incorporate the virtual reality idea, with me putting the glasses on and everything. So basically, the concept was that it’s just me sat there rhyming, but what I’m seeing through these virtual reality glasses is me taking over the building, setting up satellites and everything so I can touch the world. It was a great concept for the video.”

One of my favourite lines on “Touch Y’all” was ‘You don’t understand, I never get dissed in rap, That’s like the Geto Boys doing Christian rap.’ But then, ironically, Bushwick Bill did go on to record Christian rap…

“Yeah he did (laughs). How crazy is that? That just shows you that you never know what’s going to happen in the future, man (laughs). But yeah, that was one of my favourite lines as well, and so far I never have been dissed in rap (laughs).”

So, at this point, the “Touch Y’all” single was out there and people were waiting on your album “The Raw Factor” to drop. Were there any tensions between yourself and Vincent Herbert at the time in terms of the musical direction you were going to move in, given the Biggie / Puffy comments you made earlier in the interview?

“I’ll be honest with you, me and Vince never had a problem at all. Vince is a great guy and I’m not just saying that to be politically correct or nothing like that. He still gave me the opportunity to get my music out there. I might have had the opportunity to go in different directions rather than signing with Vince, but who’s to say how things would have turned out if I had signed with a Chris Lighty or someone like that. So Vince still gave me that opportunity to get my music heard. But overall, we still had some hard records on “The Raw Factor”. I mean, I had mixed feelings about the album at the time because I had records on there that I really, really felt good about and then I had some other tracks that I still liked, but I was unsure if everyone else was going to like them (laughs). So there was no tension between me and Vincent, it was more an inner disagreement within myself about how some of the songs on “The Raw Factor” were going to pan out with those people who had last heard me on the “Funky One Liner” EP.”

So you were definitely feeling some pressure?

“I mean, I had been through a whole lot during that year living up in the city. Girls were in abundance, I was running around trying to smoke every blunt I could lay my hands on, I was going to the studio for late-night sessions, and then the nights I didn’t have to go to the studio I was partying. So I was really getting burnt out and the whole situation was a lot for a kid being the age I was then to take on mentally and physically. I mean, if you go back to the beginning of my story, where I was at by that time in the mid-90s was so far away from who I truly was, it was becoming a little overwhelming to be honest with you.”

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There were a lot of artists tied-in with Elektra in the mid-90s such as Juggaknotz, Deda Baby Pa and Supernatural whose projects all got shelved in the same way as your album “The Raw Factor”. In your opinion, why did your album not come out? 

“I don’t know what everyone else’s situation was, but with my situation, I know there were some sample clearance issues that had taken place. The budget for my album was perhaps not being used strictly for my album. I’ll never forget it, Busta Rhymes’ first solo album “The Coming” and my album were due to drop on the same day. I want to say it was March 26th, 1996. Busta and I were going to go on a promotional tour to push our albums, which ironically was going to start in North Carolina. I was very excited about it and I remember being out in New Jersey with some of my people celebrating and I was packing getting ready to roll out. I got a phone call from Vincent Herbert’s assistant telling me that we had to have a big meeting because Elektra weren’t ready to move forward with my album. Then when we had the meeting, Vincent’s take on it was that Elektra were tripping and his plan was to take me to another label and I remember he was talking about how we’d record new songs and everything. I remember saying, ‘Yo, I’ve done all of that work to get to this! I got signed in late-94 and here we are in 1996 and nothing’s really dropped out there aside from a couple of singles!’ Now the album wasn’t coming out, I’m getting mentally overwhelmed with everything that was going on, and I think overall Elektra had put a certain amount of money into me but hadn’t seen anything back from that. I mean, I wasn’t signed directly to Elektra like a Daddy D, a Lin Que or an 8-Off, I was signed to Vincent who then had a label deal with them. So I think Elektra had given Vincent a certain budget to use, not just for my album, but for any artist that was going to be on his label. So Elektra were on Vincent’s ass because of how long it was going to take to finish the album up because of the sample clearances, and I think they just decided that they couldn’t send me out on the road with Busta to promote an album that wasn’t actually ready to be released when they wanted it to be. So at the time when we had that meeting with the label, that was when I told Vincent that I appreciated everything he’d done for me, but that things weren’t really moving in the direction I wanted them to and I wanted to try something different. I mean, I could have carried on, but in my heart I knew it wasn’t the right thing for me anymore. It was time to just turn the car around and go back because if I hadn’t then I would’ve ended-up somewhere I didn’t really want to be. I was just drained, man. I wanted to go home (laughs). I just wanted to go back home for a minute and get my head together. I mean, the skills weren’t going anywhere, the love for the music wasn’t going anywhere, but I just needed a clearer head at the time. So that was the end of “The Raw Factor”, so we thought (laughs).”

How easy was it for you to make that transition from being a new artist, moving in industry circles and being on the verge of dropping your debut album to then going back to where it all started in North Carolina and leaving all of that behind?

“When I first got back it was real easy because around the way now I’m the man (laughs). People were like, ‘Yo! He’s back!’ Even in the bigger cities of North Carolina I was getting a great response from people when I first got home. So I was letting that stroke my ego for a minute. The women were still there, the weed was still there, whatever I needed. People were still treating me like I was their hero. But then as that slowly started to fade away I started to see reality and was like, ‘Yo! This s**t is over’ I realised that I needed to start over and re-grind (laughs). At that time, Fanatic had stayed on with Vincent for a little bit, which is when he did the “Crush On You” record with Lil’ Kim. I mean, Fanatic was still under Vincent’s umbrella when he was shopping a lot of his beats to artists. I know Biggie was a big fan of his work because Fanatic used to send beat-tapes to Mister Cee and I did actually meet Biggie one time and he did let me know that he knew who we both were. But Fanatic did finally end up coming back to North Carolina and we were like, ‘We can still do this!’ I mean, it was still 1996 when this happened, so we took it back to square one, put out a little compilation on 6th Boro and that’s where you got tracks like ” Stage Domination” and “Causin’ Terror”. But those records were a little harder than the previous material partly because I was hanging-out again with people who were involved in the street life and also because I had some frustrations about things not working out the way I’d wanted them to with the music.”

Were you being approached by other labels once it became clear you were a free agent again, or by that time was it a case of the majors looking for music with more commercial appeal and what you were doing didn’t really fit into that format?

“Yeah, I definitely agree with what you just said about the labels looking for something different by that time. But it was also down to me as well, because I’d been scorned by the industry, so I was mad, I was upset and I was determined not to get back into another situation like that unless everything was right. There were definitely some people who were interested in doing some things, but nothing that was truly the right fit for me.”

Moving forward a few years, with people’s access to the Internet having grown substantially by the late-90s / early-2000s, “The Raw Factor” quickly became an online Hip-Hop holy grail. Were you surprised when you saw the interest there still was in the album that was coming from all across the world?

“I would have to say that I wasn’t surprised and the reason why is because with the Hip-Hop fans across the water and in other countries there is such a love and respect for the music and culture as it grows older. That’s not to take anything away from the people here in the US who hold the culture so dearly, but in other places across the world, like in Europe, there has just always been such an interest in the history of the music and in those artists that contributed to Hip-Hop during that golden-era period. I’m not going to say that I always knew people were going to show me the amount of love for my music that I received when I started looking online, but once I started to see some of that feedback it made sense to me why those people remembered what I’d done. So I wasn’t surprised by the initial love that I received from people online, but I am surprised by the amount of love that I’ve received since then. I mean, if you’re into Hip-Hop and you know about an artist like an Omniscence or a Cella Dwellas, someone like that, then that means you’re really deep into this culture. I mean, so many people think Hip-Hop is just about what they’re hearing on the radio and they don’t understand or know about the many artists that have contributed to the culture over the years.”

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The crew over at Dope Folks Records have recently put out some of your material from “The Raw Factor”, but you’ve also been working with Australia’s Debonair P who produced your new EP “Sharp Objects”. How did you approach putting the project together?

“Well, firstly I want to say that this new project illustrates one of the greatest thing about the Internet, that a talented brother like Debonair P can be all the way out in Australia but we can still connect to make some good music like we have done through our love for the culture. I mean, I’d been getting hit up for years about the old music with people offering me what I thought was insane amounts of money, but Debonair P was really the first person to hit me on the net and tell me that he was a big fan of my older music but to also ask if I would be interested in doing something new. I was like, ‘What? You really want to hear that?!’ The thing is, I never stopped recording music. Even after the situation with Elektra and everything, I still kept making music and never took my ear away from the culture. I mean, there have been some other people who’ve asked me to do some stuff, but Debonair P was the first person I felt was on the right vibe for me to be able to work with him. He came at me and said he wasn’t looking to make a killing off this, but he let me know what money he expected us to make, and he was just a straight-up cat and told me that he’d really like to hear me do something new. So the way that he came at me, I just felt that it was right. So we did the “Raw Factor 2.0” single last year, which I gave that title because I wanted to link it back to the old days so people could make that connection rather than just jump straight in with something different. I wanted to use that single to show people that I am still that emcee from that era, and now with the new “Sharp Objects” EP, that’s about letting people know that I’m older now, more mature, and there’s some topics that I want to address today that reflect the twenty years of living that I’ve done since that “Funky One Liner” EP and the music I made for the original “Raw Factor” album. But after this project, Debonair P and myself are also going to be working on a full-length album which will definitely feature some one-liner action because I know people still want to hear that from me and it’s my foundation as an emcee. I also want to take the opportunity to shout-out Dope Folks Records for re-releasing some of that older material from me.”

You mentioned earlier the part your Five Percent beliefs played in you working with Sadat X back in the 90s. How much of an influence, if any, do those beliefs have on the new music you’re making today?

“I think it probably has a greater influence on the music I’m making today than it did back then. I got into the whole Five Percent thing through some of my peers back in the day. There was a point in time when I really needed that and I went to them to be taught the lessons and I got into it very, very hard. But I would hear guys who were deep into the lessons and then when they would write their rhymes every line would contain a word from the lessons or a different reference. My thing was that I was an emcee first before I was a Five Percenter, so I wanted to always be able to appeal to someone who doesn’t know anything about the Supreme Mathematics, but at the same time I also wanted to always drop certain jewels or say certain things to let people know that, true indeed, I am the true and living God. But I’ve gotta be real, there were times when I fell off of my lessons, like when I was in New York recording “The Raw Factor”. I won’t say that was a period in time when I was most on-point with my lessons, even though I should have been. I was being overwhelmed by the industry and falling for certain temptations. But since coming back home I’ve been able regain a lot of the knowledge of self, and now I know how to approach it and really incorporate it into my music. Not to the point where I’m going too deep with it, but at the same time I’m not going to be saying anything so ignorant that it’s at odds with those beliefs. But anytime someone wants to test the God on anything from the School of Enrolment down to the Solar Facts and Actual Facts, then we can get into that. But I do want to start dropping more knowledge in the music I’m making today because that’s one regret I do have when I listen to my older music, that I didn’t do more of that”

So given the amount of experience you’ve had in the world of music over the last twenty-something years, what advice would you give to an upcoming emcee today?

“I would say to anyone to go back and study the beginnings of this music, the culture and the business and be knowledgeable about what you’re getting into. Don’t just jump in and think this music started right here. Now with the Internet there’s really no excuse for someone not to know the history of this great culture, man. Just try to find out where the music has already been before you get on that path to where you’re going. Plus, if you are looking to try and make some money off this music, be very prepared and have your business straight as far as your management and everything is concerned. Lastly, just let the music come from your heart, let it come straight from the soul. A lot of people ask me how I dealt with being out of the game and going from being an artist signed to a major label back to square one. But the thing is, that experience of being signed to a major label wasn’t really what I wanted it to be. So let it come from your heart when you’re making the music, but make sure you have everything else in place outside of the music.”

Ryan Proctor

Follow Omniscence on Twitter (@Omniscence) and check the new “Sharp Objects” EP here.

Omniscence – “Sharp Objects” EP Snippets (Gentleman’s Relief / 2013)

Old To The New Q&A – Omniscence (Part Three)

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In this third part of my interview with North Carolina’s Omniscence, the talented lyricist discusses signing with EastWest Records in the mid-90s, recording his shelved debut album “The Raw Factor” and being awarded Rhyme Of The Month in The Source – check Part One and Part Two.

How did Vincent Herbert and 3 Boyz From Newark become involved in your career?

“So, Vincert Herbert came to us and obviously he was more known as being an R&B guy. He’d done stuff with Christopher Williams, Babyface and some other high profile R&B stuff. But what happened was, he’d come to Charlotte, North Carolina to a radio station on some other business. Now, the deejay at the station was called DC and he was our man from back in the day. He was actually the quiet storm deejay on the station playing the R&B songs and there definitely wasn’t no Hip-Hop stuff going down on his show (laughs). Vincent was promoting a particular act or record, I’m not really sure, but he’d come by DC’s show and they started talking. DC asked Vincent if he was looking for any new artists and if he was, would he consider signing a Hip-Hop artist. DC played Vincent “Gotta Maintain” off the “Funky One Liner” EP and he loved it. So that was what first got Vincent interested in signing me. Simultaneously, whilst Vincent is trying to sign us, Biggest Gord and Enid Shor are in New York putting this potential deal together with Chris Lighty. Vincent was saying that he wanted to sign both me and Fanatic, with Fanatic getting a production deal, but the deal Gord and Enid were putting together with Chris Lighty was just for me only as an artist.”

So was that swaying your decision, the fact that one deal was for both of you and the other deal on the table was for you only?

“Yeah, yeah. I mean, I wasn’t about to turn my back on Fanatic, even though he would have still been involved in any project I did, but the plan was for both of us to get signed, which is what Vincent was offering. I remember Vincent was always in the Benz with all the jewellery on which kinda amazed both me and Fanatic because he was younger than both of us (laughs). I mean, I’d have been around twenty-two years old at this time and Vincent must have been about nineteen or twenty. He always had money (laughs). But long story short, Vincent flew both me and Fanatic up to New York, put us in a hotel room, told us to kick back, relax and he was going to be back the next day so we could sign the paperwork. I’m thinking, ‘Yo, I don’t know if this is the right move or not’ because I’d met so many wonderful people through Enid so I was wondering what might happen there. I mean, through her and Biggest Gord, I got to meet pretty much the whole Gang Starr Foundation, like Bahamadia, Malachi The Nutcracker and a few of the other guys. Now, this is something that I have to live with everyday, that potentially I could have fallen under the wing of Chris Lighty business-wise and the musical umbrella of DJ Premier (laughs). That would have truly been out of this world. But everything happens for a reason.”

So why did you eventually decide not to sign with Chris Lighty and Violator?

“Well, this is what happened. Fanatic and I are sat up in this hotel room having some heated arguments about which direction we should go in (laughs). Obviously, one direction didn’t involve him, although I was loyal to Fanatic so I would never have left him behind, but the other direction meant that both of us would be part of the deal. Now, Enid had called my mom back home in Bear Creek looking to speak to me about something. My mom doesn’t really know what’s going on so she’s like, ‘Oh, he’s in New York.’ So Enid asked my mom if she could get in touch with me and when I called home my mom passed the message on for me to call Enid. I called her up and she’s like, ‘What are you doing in New York?’ I was like, ‘Yo, we’re getting ready to sign this deal with Vincent Herbert.’ She was saying, ‘No, no, you’re getting ready to make one of the biggest mistakes of your life.’ I was telling her that this deal was Fanatic’s opportunity as well because he’d put everything into me as an artist and that was something that I really had to keep in mind while deciding which deal to take. Enid was like, ‘Don’t go anywhere, I’m going to get Chris Lighty to call you right now.’ Sure enough, two minutes later the phone rings, Fanatic answers, passes me the phone and it’s Chris Lighty. We started talking and I explained to him that I was looking to move in a direction that would benefit both me and Fanatic. I remember Chris saying, ‘Yo, I know Vincent, he’s a good dude, but he’s an R&B guy.’ I mean, this would have been around winter 1994. But we were talking and Chris was telling me how much he liked my music and that when he listened to what me and Fanatic were doing it put him in mind of a group like a Black Moon. He actually told me that Black Moon were a group that he’d wanted to get his hands on as well, but for some reason that never really happened. Chris said to me, ‘Yo, if you give me this opportunity to work with you, I will make sure that your music does not get diluted in any way, but yet you will still see the numbers you need to see.'”

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It definitely sounds like Lighty was giving you a strong sales pitch…

“I remember saying to Chris, ‘Yo, I know who you are Mr. Lighty and it’s a real honour that you would even be speaking to me right now on this phone. But I think we’re going to go ahead and go in the direction that we spoke about with Vincent.’ He was like, ‘Alright, man. Good luck’ and hung up the phone. I didn’t talk to him again after that (laughs). But rest in peace to Chris Lighty, man. I mean, I’ll be honest with you, for a long time I kicked myself over making that decision not to sign with him. But anyway, we went ahead and signed the deal with Vincert Herbert.”

So you’ve signed to EastWest Records through Vincent Herbert and now you’re part of the Elektra family which already included the likes of Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Brand Nubian, Leaders Of The New School etc. You must have thought you’d made it at that point?

“Exactly (laughs). At the time, I got over the Chris Lighty situation quick once we got signed (laughs). It was time to do work now. So we got signed, we got our little budget, money was coming in and things were moving. Now, keep in mind, I’m from Bear Creek, North Carolina, and now here we are up in the big city, not just as visitors for the New Music Seminar, but we’re living in the city now and I’m a new, upcoming artist. Everything was moving so fast. I’ll never forget those initial recordings we did. I mean, we recording what was supposed to be the “Raw Factor” album at the Hit Factory in downtown Manhattan, which was this real, upscale studio. Now, I remember saying how I wanted to keep the vibe on the same train as the “Funky One Liner EP”, but by this time, in early 1995, Biggie was on the scene and had really made an impact. I mean, Biggie was really one of the first times that a raw emcee like that had been able to make both the underground records and the radio records. With the music he was making with Puffy, he was really showing you how to make both types of record. Biggie was really doing it and of course Puffy had started using the old 80s samples and loops, so a lot of labels were looking for artists to pull that formula off, including Vincent Herbert because he already had that R&B background anyway. But inside, I was thinking, ‘Nah, this is the vibe I’m about. I’m in this other lane over here.'”

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Had you discussed the possibility of attempting to achieve that underground / radio balance with Vincent prior to you being signed or was that a conversation that came after you’d done the deal with EastWest?

“Right, right. It was after Biggie had really made a mark that we started talking about that particular sound. I actually remember me and Fanatic sitting down with Vincent just after we’d signed and discussing the fact that even though they’d been on the EP, we wanted “Gotta Maintain” on the album, which was a record Vincent liked, and we also wanted “I’m On Mine” on there as well. We wanted those two records on “The Raw Factor”. So we’d told Vincent that we wanted to keep that original raw side of our sound, although we did obviously understand that we were in the music business now. But I really trusted Fanatic, so I knew whatever sample we might have used, he was still going to come hard with the drums, like with “Touch Y’all” and even “Amazin'”, although that was the only track on “The Raw Factor” that Fanatic didn’t produce (note: the original “LP Version” of “Amazin'” was produced by Rheji Burrell of 3 Boyz From Newark). So I was never too wary of what we were doing, but I was aware that the sound was changing compared to what we’d originally come in the door with.”

Around that 1995 period there were definitely plenty of artists who were starting to follow that Bad Boy Records blueprint… 

“Exactly. So that’s why when you listen to “The Raw Factor”, I was conscious of what was happening with the music, so I made sure that I kept that griminess in my voice. Which, at the time, I remember thinking created a very different sound. But I love those records, man. To be honest, I like them more now than I did back then because I was a little upset about the transition the music was going through (laughs).”

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Elektra put out a promo project in 1995 called “iLLSTYLE LiVE!” which featured performances from yourself and label-mates such as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Das EFX, Supernatural, Juggaknotz etc. Firstly, I wanted to ask you what you remember from that night, and secondly, do you recall noticing a reaction from the audience when you dropped that Mary J. Blige bi-sexual line during your intro?

“This is another Funkenklein thing, right (laughs). I love it. Okay, let me answer the first part of the question. By the time that event happened, we were probably about eight or nine tracks into the recording of “The Raw Factor”. “Amazin'” had already been recorded and that was due to be the first single. To this day, I kinda wish that had been the official first single. I mean, even Fanatic had come to me, even though it was the one song he hadn’t produced, and told me that was the joint we should have gone with and done the video for rather than “Touch Y’all”. But at any rate, we got the call from the label headquarters, Sylvia Rhone, to say they were going to do a showcase and they wanted all the artists to come to this particular location. It was kinda weird actually because it was in somewhere that was more like a warehouse rather than being in a club situation or anything like that. Believe it or not, there wasn’t actually that many people there because it was an industry function so it was just industry people there rather than fans being involved. But I remember coming in and the first people I got to rub elbows with were Daddy D, who was signed to the label, and MC Lyte and Lin Que were there, so I spoke to them for a little bit and expressed my utmost respect to both of them. I remember, everybody wasn’t there at the same time. So people like Busta Rhymes, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Das EFX, they all came in later in the night because we were the newer artists, so we were performing earlier than them. But see, I’m not the type of guy to be running up on cats like, ‘This is me! I’m your label-mate!’ So I wasn’t particularly sitting down and chopping it up with everyone (laughs). But I do definitely remember Ol’ Dirty buggin’ out that night (laughs). He bugged out! I got to holla at him for a minute and I’ll tell you the truth, Ol’ DB was like, ‘Yo! I don’t know who the f**k you are, but if you’re getting in this industry s**t then be ready because these muthaf**kers are devils’ I was just like, ‘Yo, there it is. That’s Ol’ DB’ (laughs). I got to chop it up with my man Rampage from Flipmode as well. I also remember at the end of the night we all got together and Sylvia was saying how proud she was of what we’d all done and made us aware that the label were going to put it out as a release. So it did feel like I was kinda in a family before it was all said and done, but after that night we never reunited like that again. Other than my man Supernatural, as we definitely stayed in touch and would meet up, freestyle and just hang out. Out of everybody, he’s the one person during that era that I could say outside of the label functions etc, we would make an effort to hook-up and talk.”

So what about that Mary J. Blige line?

“Damn, I thought I was going to be able to talk long enough for you to forget that part of the question (laughs). I mean, at the time there was a rumour going around that Mary went both ways. I had the utmost respect for Mary J. and she was like the Queen of Hip-Hop at the time. But I was always into the rhymes that would make your jawdrop, like some of the things that a Lord Finesse would say. Nas was someone else who had that impact on me with some of his earlier records like “Half Time” with some of the imagery he was using. He would say some things that were just so ill, man. I mean, in some ways there are some things that you should never really speak on, but then on an emcee level you have to take it there (laughs). I just wanted to grab people’s attention with what I was saying. So with the Mary line, that was something people were talking about all the time in the street, so I just wanted to throw it in there (laughs). But I definitely did see some raised eyebrows among some of those industry cats who were there that night (laughs). I wouldn’t say there was a huge gasp when I said it, but I definitely remember thinking that people had heard what I said and it had got some attention (laughs).”

Omniscence – “Amazin’ – Live Version With Intro” (1995 / Elektra)

What did it mean to you when you were awarded Rhyme Of The Month for one of your verses off “Amazin'” in the October 1995 issue of The Source?

“It was a big deal to me. I’d been a fan of The Source for so long. I mean, as we discussed earlier in the interview, I’d just been such a big fan of the music and the culture for so long, so to get that Rhyme Of The Month in The Source really meant so much to me. I mean, I remember The Source from when it was just a sheet of paper before it became an actual magazine, so for them to recognise me like that was very big, man. It was just a moment that I’ll never forget.”

Did you already know you were getting that month’s Hip-Hop Quotable before you actually saw the issue?

“I did know that they were going to do a brief write-up on the “Amazin'” single and I was waiting for that particular issue of the magazine to come up so I could read the article. That was crazy in itself, because if you look at the other artists included in that issue’s Sureshot Singles you’ll see that Jay-Z was getting his shot with “In My Lifetime” which was crazy to see considering the little bit of history that we had and with Ski producing that single as well. That was a crazy moment to see that. But anyway, I didn’t know that I was going to get Rhyme Of The Month and I actually saw that first before the single write-up as I was flicking through the pages. I saw it and was just like, ‘Yo! What the…??!!’ (laughs). I was blown away, man. I literally kept going back to that page and just staring at it (laughs). My boys were telling me, ‘Yo, get off your own d**k, man’ (laughs). I was just like, ‘Nah, you don’t understand, man. I just got Rhyme Of The Month in The Source!’ It was a very big deal back then.”

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It was definitely considered a real stamp of approval back then because there were so many talented emcees out at the time who were just as worthy of being given that accolade…

“Exactly, exactly. I mean, I don’t know if there were any politics involved or not. But all I know is that from my end, I didn’t know anybody at The Source like that. I just did a little quick interview with the guy for the single review and he was really feeling “Amazin'”, so he might have gone back and said they should put me in there, I don’t know. But I really appreciated it, man. Being able to say you had Rhyme Of The Month in The Source back then was kinda like a trophy amongst emcees (laughs). I mean, I don’t want you to think I’ve got it framed and hanging on the wall in my hallway when you come in the house, but in my mind it still stands as a big moment for me (laughs).”

Did you notice an increased level of interest in you once that issue of The Source came out?

“Well, shortly after that issue came out the label flew us down to Miami for the How Can I Be Down? conference and various people were coming up to me like, ‘Yo, you’re the guy that got Rhyme Of The Month…’ so I think it definitely contributed towards the buzz on the “Raw Factor” album that was supposed to be coming out. I remember my man Do-It-All from Lords Of The Underground gave me a call to let me know he’d seen it and people were definitely talking about it. But it didn’t influence me in any way as far as the direction I wanted to take my music in, it just made me very appreciative of where I’d gotten to up to that point.”

Ryan Proctor

Check the final part of this interview here.

Omniscence – “Amazin’ – 3 Boyz From Newark Ka-Ka Lak Mix” (EastWest Records / 1995)

Old To The New Q&A – Omniscence (Part Two)

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In this second part of my interview with 90s favourite Omniscence, the North Carolina emcee talks about performing at the New Music Seminar in NYC, recording his debut 1993 EP “The Funky One Liner” and rhyming with a young Jay-Z – check Part One here.

Shortly after that initial run of releases on Payroll Records the crew split with Ski going up to New York – was there ever any talk of you going with him at the time?

“So this is what  happened. When I first came through the door and said those rhymes to Ski, he had immediately introduced me to Fanatic. But it was kinda like the situation when Dipset joined the Roc-A-Fella camp, although obviously on a much smaller scale (laughs). There were already tensions happening within the original crew. So you’re coming into that as a new jack and you’re looking up to all these guys but you don’t know that there are these underlying tensions and the crew is actually getting ready to split. So what happened was, Fanatic, Mark Sparks and Dizzy Dee from B.A.D. Rep decided to stay together in North Carolina and Ski decided to go with Roland Jones and Supreme Nyborn to New York. With both Roland and Nyborn originally being from New York, they decided to go back up there because that’s where everything was happening. I mean, even though the Bizzie Boyz and Nyborn had put those records out which had got some buzz, nothing was happening in North Carolina because of that. When it came to Hip-Hop, it was all happening in New York. So they decided to go up there to make it happen and that’s where the split in the crew came from. So Fanatic and Mark formed a production crew called Def Rhythm Productions, with the name coming from DJ Def, which is what Mark was known as then, and the Rhythm Fanatic. That was actually where I got my first shot on wax when they put out a vinyl compilation called “Back To The Lab” in 1990.”

Which featured your solo track “Lost In The Music”…

“Yeah, that was my debut, man (laughs). There was this local guy called DJ Starchild and we all went over to his house way out in the woods and literally recorded all the vocals for the album in one day. If you listen to the record, you can hear there are no ad-libs or doubling or anything like that. Plus, if you listen to my voice, you can hear I sound totally different on that record to anything else I did afterwards.”

To me, you sound like a mix of Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith’s rhyme styles off the first EPMD album on “Lost In The Music”…

“Right, right, laidback (laughs). For one, my voice hadn’t really developed when we made that record as I was only sixteen-years-old. But also, at that time I enjoyed the smoothness of rhyming. I was a huge Rakim fan and he was one of the first guys to get on who wasn’t screaming or shouting his lyrics. He just had that smoother vibe. But then as time went on, my style started to become a little rougher around the edges as I was becoming a little older and starting to see certain aspects of the street life which were then having an influence on me as an emcee. Plus, Hip-Hop in general was starting to become a little grimier once we started to get up into the early-90s, with groups like Das EFX, Lords Of The Underground, Onyx. Basically, when I made “Lost In The Music” I hadn’t been corrupted yet (laughs).”

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So after Ski had left for New York did he keep in touch at all because at this point I’m assuming he hadn’t met up with Clark Kent and started doing the Original Flavor stuff yet?

“That’s a great question, man. Like I said, it was Ski who introduced me to Fanatic. I’ll never forget there was this one Saturday afternoon when him, Fanatic and myself were going to meet at Mixmaster D of the Bizzie Boyz’ house to go over some beats. The original plan was that I was going to be on the second Payroll compilation and they were recruiting artists at the time to be on that. But the split was happening between the crew at the same time. So Ski never showed up at the house that day and I’ll never forget that Fanatic was very upset about that and was like, ‘Yo, Ski’s on something else, man. He’s got something else going on.’ But I’ll never forget, before Ski went to New York he called my house and was like, ‘Yo, I would love to bring you with me but I know you can’t go.’ I was only sixteen-years-old and I already knew my mom wasn’t going to let me go to New York (laughs). Now, at the time, Ski was still really learning to make beats and Fanatic was the more seasoned producer. I remember Ski telling me, ‘Yo, you’re in good hands with Fanatic, man. You’ve got the beats so you’re good.’ I’ll never forget that conversation. But to answer your question, yeah, Ski would come back to North Carolina from time to time. Then of course, when we put out the “Back To The Lab” compilation under Def Rhythm Productions, we were like, ‘Yo, we’ve gotta go to New York and let this be known.’ I’ll never forget we went to the New Music Seminar in 1990 and we ran into Clark Kent who already knew Fanatic from being in the Bizzie Boyz and he was like, ‘Yo! Where’s Ski, man? I’m looking for Ski!’ He thought Ski was still with us even though there had been that split in the crew and Ski had already gone to New York with Roland and Nyborn. So there was definitely a rivalry there between the two sides of the Payroll camp, although Ski and I were never rivals like that.”

So did the two sides of the crew bump heads at the Seminar that year?

“This is a crazy story, man. I’ve never actually told this story in an interview before. So we’re up there in New York City at the New Music Seminar. Now, the name of our crew was the Over-Due Crew. Obviously we couldn’t run with the name Payroll anymore because the other guys were running with that. Now, there was this showcase at Irving Plaza in Manhattan the weekend of the New Music Seminar. Now, when I say that everybody was there, I mean everybody was there. I’m talking about Poor Righteous Teachers, BDP, Leaders Of The New School before they’d even come out. I remember Poor Righteous Teachers were having a problem with their sound, and Busta Rhymes, who I had no clue of who he was at the time, he jumped onstage and started beat-boxing for them (laughs). Ultramagnetic MC’s were there. Everybody was there. I’ll never forget that night. But I was very, very nervous (laughs). There must have been about forty acts who performed that night, some established and some who were coming up. The night was hosted by Ice-T and a then up-and-coming group from the Native Tongues called Black Sheep (laughs). Which was crazy for me to see because of knowing Lawnge from back in the day. I remember telling Fanatic that Lawnge used to deejay in Sanford and he didn’t believe me (laughs).”

That must have been a mind-blowing experience as a fan of Hip-Hop to be seeing so many huge acts all in the one place?

“I’m really trying to paint a picture for you (laughs). There were just so many people there and it was packed to capacity. I remember, every now and then either Dres or Lawnge would shout-out who was coming up later and I remember they said, ‘Yo! Brand Nubian is in the house tonight!’ and the whole place erupted. I was looking around like, ‘Who is Brand Nubian?!’ (Laughs). I think they had ” Feels So Good” out at that point, but I didn’t know who they were yet (laughs). I’ve also heard Common say he was there that night as well. Anyway, I might have been like act twenty on the bill and Ski and the Payroll crew were on a few acts afterwards. Now, if you remember, during that era everything was very fast-paced and uptempo with people trying to prove that they could rhyme over really fast beats and everything. I remember, everybody before me had come out and was rhyming super-fast. Now, as we said earlier, at this point I was a lot smoother in my style and delivery. We had a record called “Make The Connection” which sampled the “Superman Lover” joint from Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson which nobody had really used yet. It was so smooth and the crowd just really got the opportunity to sit back and listen to my lyrics. I did have two dancers behind me, but even they were cutting some smooth steps (laughs). But everything just went really, really well and I could have so easily messed everything up because I was super nervous (laughs). Well, later on that night Ski and all of them got up onstage, with Mixmaster D on the turntables. Now, both Ski and D were assassins on the mic and turntables, so this is no reflection on the skills of the Bizzie Boyz, but there were just a few things that didn’t go their way on the night. There was a banner that was behind them that fell down whilst Ski was performing and they had to take it back on a couple of records because the turntables were skipping. It just didn’t go well for them, man (laughs). I’ll never forget that night because with my performance going so well, it felt like I was carrying the flag for my crew. I came through that performance and it really gave me a super-boost of confidence that I could actually do this, man.”

It let you know that you had the talent to carry on without the Bizzie Boyz etc being part of the crew…

“Yeah, man. I mean, like I said, there was still a little tension between the crews. Supreme Nyborn went on to make a record called “What If I Was Serious” where he threw a little shot at our crew and he was clowning Fanatic at the end of it.”

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Speaking of lyrics, on the track “Stage Domination” which you recorded in the mid-90s after the East West /Elektra situation, you say a line ‘Back in ’89 I was gassed up by Funkenklein.’ Now around that time, Dave Funkenklein would have been putting his Hollywood BASIC roster together, so I always wondered what that line was in relation to…

“Oh my god (laughs). Yes indeed. Well, I didn’t know Funkenklein personally and never had any dealings with him myself. It was Fanatic and Mark who had made some connections with him. They were dealing with him and they’d always tell me that Funkenklein was loving my “Lost In The Music” joint. So they were always talking about how we were going to try and get some more music to Funkenklein. Now, I never met the man or had anything against him, but back then that line really came out of me wondering what had happened with that situation, because I kept hearing the name Funkenklein from Fanatic and Mark but then nothing came out of it. So I was just throwing it out there. But from what I understand Funkenklein was a fan of what I was doing. Yo, you’re the only guy that’s ever asked me about that line so big-ups to you for that (laughs).”

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So what happened after the success of the Over-Due Crew’s appearance at that 1990 New Music Seminar?

“I mean, in terms of people who were part of the Over-Due Crew, many of whom were included on the “Back To The Lab” project, there was probably about twenty of us, all of whom I hold in high regard. But what happened was, if things ain’t happening then people start to fall off and go in different directions. So our crew got narrowed down to Mark and Fanatic who were the producers and Dizzy and D-Mack who formed a group called Southern Hospitality, plus me as a solo artist. So as time goes on, I’m hanging out with these guys, we’re shooting rhymes back and forth, and I want to credit both of those guys with giving me the name The Funky One-Liner. See, Dizzy’s name was The Funky Beat-Breaker, D-Mack was The Funky Break-Ripper or something like that (laughs). Now because I was on the punchline thing, they decided to call me the Funky One-Liner (laughs). I mean, they had punchlines too and we were all very influenced by Big Daddy Kane and what he had been doing with the one-liners. But then of course, there was also Lord Finesse and we were all loving what he was doing lyrically. Now, if you go back and look at all our names, you’ll see we all had ‘Funky’ in there and of course Lord Finesse had dropped the “Funky Technician” album. So I started to become known as Omniscence The Funky One-Liner. I also want to say that I was very influenced by Chill Rob G as well in terms of how he was putting certain words together.”

Were you and the guys in Southern Hospitality both looking for separate record deals at this point?

“So, I actually joined their group Southern Hospitality which we shortened down to SoHo. We recorded about five or six songs together which we started to shop around trying to get a record deal. We’d go up to New York to the Seminar, we went to the Jack The Rapper events, shopping our demo and performing. Now, we ended up signing a contract with Kenny Smith out of Queens, New York who played basketball for North Carolina and then Houston. Somehow our demo fell into his hands and he liked what he heard. The name of his label was Baseline To Baseline. So we were getting ready to fly out to Houston and Fanatic called me to say he thought the contract wasn’t the right move. He was like, ‘Yo, the only way you can get out of that contract is to get out of the group.’ So I thought about it long and hard, man. I called Dizzy and talked to him for awhile and told him I was getting out of the group. My thought was that Fanatic had brought me into the game, well Ski had brought me in initially, but Fanatic had guided me along the way since. So long story short, I got out of the group. They went on to record a song called “Shorty” which was actually produced by Mark Sparks as he stayed with them even though he wasn’t part of the contract. But it was a dope record.”

So is this when you and Fanatic started working on what would become 1993’s “The Funky One Liner” EP?

“Yeah, now it’s just me and Fanatic. We didn’t have a deal or nothing, but Fanatic had a connection to a real high-quality studio in Greensboro called Ultimix. This is where he would begin the 6th Boro label. Fanatic had actually formed his own little group called the Funke Leftovers and he came to me and said he wanted me to write some rhymes for him that were aimed at the ladies and then we’d work on my stuff separately at the same time. So the first release on 6th Boro Records was a record by the Funke Leftovers and they had a real Jodeci-type look with the leather vests, no shirts on and everything. Of course, I wanted no part of that (laughs). But simultaneously I was crafting what would become the “Funky One Liner” EP. I’ll never forget I was writing crazy rhymes and Fanatic shot me this one particular beat-tape and that tape had pretty much all but one of the joints that would end-up being on the EP. I scrapped all of the rhymes that I’d been writing previously and decided I was just going to zone into those tracks. Something about those particular beats really caught me and I wrote all of the rhymes in about a week, man. Those beats just had a certain vibe to them and definitely put me into a certain zone. I was pretty much sleeping all day, getting up and going to the studio late at night and I would have all my peoples with me who were living various elements of the street life which had an influence on me at the time. I mean, I never want to portray myself as being the super criminal street killer or anything like that, but I was always able to be around that element and not be out of place just by being myself.”

Were those late-night sessions for creative or practical reasons?

“The late night sessions were because the hook-up Fanatic had meant that we could only use the studio after everyone else had finished and gone home (laughs). Now, Fanatic didn’t smoke or drink, but I told him that I needed to have my element around me while we were recording the EP. So I’d bring my boys in, we’d get lifted and have the forties and everything (laughs). I mean, I wouldn’t get too zooted, but enough for me to be able to really get into my zone. So that’s how the “Funky One Liner” EP was born.”

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Around this early-90s period there were so many up-coming emcees who were trying to get on. Do you ever recall battling or ciphering with anybody who went on to make a name for themselves?

“Definitely. I mean, if we flashback to the time when Ski was doing Original Flavor, he would come down to North Carolina. Now, following that moment at the New Music Seminar when Clark Kent approached us and was looking for Ski, of course he found Ski and subsequently connected him with a young Dame Dash and an upcoming Jay-Z. So these guys would all come down to North Carolina at different times and when we would go up to New York we would connect with them. So I definitely remember me and Jay going at it a couple of times (laughs). I mean, it’s almost hard sometimes to tell people that because not everyone knows where Jay-Z was at in his career back then (laughs).”

Who would you say had the edge between the two of you?

“Me and Jay ciphering together was like the immovable object going up against the unstoppable force (laughs). Jay-Z was the unstoppable force, meaning that, at that time, his rhymes were being said at the speed of light with that fast style he had back then. He was really quick with what he was saying. But then you had me, and I was about the punchlines and the one-liners. So if we had truly battled back then, I don’t know that I  wouldn’t have won that (laughs). But I definitely respect Jay to see where he’s taken it, from where he was at back when I was rhyming with him. I mean, he’s one of the few emcees to have obtained true power in the music business.”

Were there any actual battles you were involved in that standout to you?

“I mean, locally, I had plenty of battles with other emcees (laughs). But as far as the industry is concerned, right after we dropped the “Funky One Liner” EP in 1993, the main battle I had was as part of the New Music Seminar in 1994. At this time Fanatic and Ski were on much better terms so Ski had spoken to Clark Kent about getting me into the emcee competition at the Seminar that year. So I stepped up into that and I was like, ‘Wow!’ But it was a different format than how I’d seen it done previously. I would come out and spit my rhymes, then the next man who I was against in that particular round would come out and do his thing. So it wasn’t like we were onstage together rhyming face-to-face. But anyway, I went first in my round, which perhaps was my downfall, and went out and hit the crowd with a barrage of punchlines. Then the guy who beat me I’m positive was called MC Chill and was from Brooklyn. This wasn’t the same MC Chill who came out on Fever Records though. But he was really animated in what he was doing, so he really had the crowd in an uproar to, so the whole crowd was just shouting, ‘Rematch! Rematch!’ Actually, if you go back to the “Stage Domination” record we were talking about earlier, if you listen to the beginning of it, that’s my battle in the New Music Seminar that I was talking about on there. The crowd were saying they couldn’t pick a winner but the decision had to me made, so I was one and done (laughs). I remember Jay-Z was there that year and people were saying he was going to be in the battle as well. Now, I’d already rhymed with Jay, so if we’d have got put together I already knew how he was going to come. But a lot of people were definitely wary about the fact that Jay was possibly going to battle, so he was definitely feared by other emcees. But for some reason he stayed out of it. Judgemental from Chicago defeated King Sun in the final to take the crown that year”

The label on the “Funky One Liner” EP featured the statement ‘This Material Is Currently Being Shopped’ and a phone number to call if anyone was interested in doing business. Did you actually have people reach out to you off the back of that?

“Yeah, we did. That number on the label was actually Fanatic’s number. But people definitely reached out to him and we ended-up being bidded on heavy! Going back to that New Music Seminar battle, I remember stepping off the stage and the first person who came up to speak to me was Tom Silverman from Tommy Boy who said he wanted to talk about some things. But actually, before we’d gone to the Seminar, we’d enlisted the help of a lady called Enid Shor who had numerous years of experience of getting artists signed to labels with good deals. Now, at this time she was partnered up with DJ Premier’s man, Biggest Gord, and the way it would work is that Enid had the experience of the business and Gord had the access to the streets to find all the raw upcoming talent. So before going to the Seminar we were actually working with them on trying to get a deal. The way that happened was that Gang Starr had come down to North Carolina to do a show, and DJ K-Nyce, the same K-Nyce who had done some recording previously with Supreme Nyborn, he slid their road manager a vinyl copy of the “Funky One Liner” EP. They called back like ‘Yo, this s**t is crazy!’ and before they left town they actually came through the studio. So imagine this, me and Fanatic are in the studio listening to some beats or whatever, and then here comes DJ Premier with the Carhartt suit on and everything telling us how much he likes the record. So he ended up passing it to Gord and Enid who were doing their thing, which is how we ended up working with them. But we ended-up with a few deals on the table. Firstly, we had an offer to sign to East West / Elektra straight up without Vincent Herbert and 3 Boyz From Newark. Then we had another offer from Vincert Herbert, who we ended up signing with, which I’ll get into. Then we had a couple more as well. But none of those offers were as big as what Gord and Enid managed to bring to the table, which was Chris Lighty, who was very interested in the project.”

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Three of this interview here.

Omniscience – “I Gotta Maintain” (6th Boro Records / 1993)

Old To The New Q&A – Omniscence (Part One)

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Hip-Hop, like any another musical genre, is littered with the stories of talented artists who, through a combination of circumstances, business politics and fate, never quite left the the mark they perhaps deserved to.

North Carolina’s Omniscence came to the attention of most global Hip-Hop fans on a wave of excitement thanks to his 1995 promo single “Amazin'”, a punchy, drum-heavy track that perfectly showcased the upcoming emcee’s talent for memorable rhymes and battle-ready wordplay.

Having been scooped up by Elektra’s East West Records subsidiary following the underground success of his 1993 EP “The Funky One Liner”, the twenty-something lyricist appeared to be on the verge of joining the likes of Busta Rhymes and Ol’ Dirty Bastard as the major label’s next wave of mid-90s Hip-Hop talent.

1996’s Sadat X-assisted “Touch Y’all” single only further increased the buzz around Omniscence’s debut album “The Raw Factor”, a project which unfortunately would be shelved, with the NC emcee subsequently fading back into the shadows of a pre-Internet rap world.

In recent times, however, the name Omniscence has been commanding attention once again, thanks in part to the Dope Folks imprint reissuing some of the artist’s older material, but mainly due to the new music the talented wordsmith has been recording with Australian producer Debonair P.

Last year’s limited edition vinyl single “Raw Factor 2.0” announced the official return of Omniscence, with the recently-released “Sharp Objects” EP further proving the 90s veteran hasn’t missed a beat when it comes to quality lyricism, backed by impressive production from Debonair which mixes boom-bap sensibilities with a soulful flavour.

In this first part of my career-spanning interview with Omniscence, the North Cackalack-based microphone fiend discusses his early memories of Hip-Hop, being introduced to a young Will-Ski (aka Ski Beatz) and the impact of local crews such as the Bizzie Boyz  and B.A.D. Rep during the Payroll Records era.

Was music a part of your life before Hip-Hop came along?

“Well, I’m originally from Bear Creek in North Carolina which isn’t one of the main cities in the area. It’s a very rural area. But back in the day, my family was always known for music. My grandfather was in a gospel quartet who ended-up singing with some of the early successful gospel singers of the day. So they toured around a lot in the gospel circuit. Then my mom and my aunt, they were very big collectors of music. But it was my uncle who got me into a lot of the more obscure music from back in the day. He was one of the first guys in our area to have a Technics 1200 turntable. I’m talking this was around the early-80s. That’s how serious he was (laughs). But back in his day he was part of a group called The Mighty Majors and they were a local group from Greensboro, North Carolina and they made some noise going around doing live shows. It was even said that at one time they had some label offers on the table but I don’t really know what happened with those. But those were my earliest influences when it came to music. I remember my mom putting on those classic Philadelphia International records in the house, Gamble & Huff, and then of course Chic and Nile Rodgers. I grew-up listening to all types of music. I remember my dad turning me on to Steely Dan when I was about eight-years-old. I noticed that the sound was a little different to the classic soul that I was used to hearing in the house, with the jazz and rock elements that they brought to the table. So I became a very big Steely Dan fan at a very young age because of my father (laughs). I was just listening to a lot of different music and pretty much like a lot of us who grew-up at a certain time, we were hearing the records that would go on to be sampled in Hip-Hop before we really knew what Hip-Hop was (laughs).”

At what point did you first become aware of Hip-Hop?

“Well, I would really have to credit my first cousin Jeff Hanner, we called him Big Jeff, for introducing me to Hip-Hop. He had an uncle who used to drive these big eighteen-wheeler trucks out of town and sometimes he would make trips up to New York and he would take Jeff up there with him. Now, when Jeff would come back he would bring these records back with him that he’d picked up on the trip. One of the first twelve-inch singles I remember him bringing back was the Fatback Band’s “King Tim III”. He also used to bring back these cassettes. Now, Jeff had family on his mom’s side who actually lived in New York. So he used to bring back these cassettes of the Cold Crush Brothers, Flash & The Furious Five, all that stuff. He would play these cassettes to me when he’d come home and I would just be mesmerised, man….”

These were live recordings of the Bronx block parties and jams, right?

“Right, right. Exactly. I’ve actually been hounding Jeff in recent years, like ‘I know you’ve still got some of that old stuff’ but he claims he can’t get up with it (laughs). But those were some of my earliest moments being introduced to Hip-Hop. Then of course, by the time the Sugarhill Gang came through with “Rapper’s Delight” I was already fully aware of the culture and what was taking place in New York. I remember they were playing that song on the radio here in North Carolina and I was telling my parents like, ‘This is what’s coming next’ and they were like, ‘No, no, no, this record is toooo long’ (laughs). I mean, they were even fading the record out when they played it here on the radio because I guess they thought it was too long as well (laughs). One record back then that really amazed me was Flash’s “The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel”. I remember when my cousin had brought that single back and it just really amazed me because that was the first time I was hearing records being cut-up ON record! I mean, I’d heard the live tapes of Flash so I understood how he was catching the break and everything, I’d figured that much out, but I didn’t know that they could actually put that on a record (laughs). That’s what amazed me. But my cousin was bringing all types of records home, like the Treacherous Three joints, Jimmy Spicer’s “Adventures of Super Rhyme”. So those records were my early introduction to Hip-Hop.”

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At that point, given that you weren’t in a major city, was it literally just you and your cousin listening to the music or were there other local kids who were up on Hip-Hop as well?

“Honestly, because we were in such a rural area, it did actually feel like it was just me and my cousin who were listening to this music (laughs). But of course, then we started to spread what we were hearing through our friends in the neighbourhood. I mean, when I say we lived in a rural area, I guess it makes people think of farms and cows (laughs). I mean, stuff like that was around, but I definitely grew-up in a neighbourhood, there just wasn’t any real big buildings around or stuff like that (laughs). But I mean, I was about eight or nine-years-old at that time, so it definitely felt like Hip-Hop was just our thing. But then as I got a little older and started to travel to other places in North Carolina I soon started to realise the music was everywhere. But at that time, it definitely felt like me and my cousin were in our own little world with the music (laughs). See, to be honest, I was listening to some of those early records before I even became fully aware of the graffiti, the break-dancing and how all the elements of the culture fitted together. I mean, for people living in the cities, all the different aspects of the culture were happening together at the same time, but for me and a lot of us down here in North Carolina, it was the rhyming side of things that was our introduction to Hip-Hop, even more so than the deejay aspect because we were just hearing the records. As a kid back then, I would try to visualise what was going on, but like I said, as I began to travel a little more and the culture simultaneously started to become more accessible by being televised and things like the “Beat Street” movie, I started to see how everything came together. To be honest with you, I saw “Beat Street” before I saw “Wild Style” (laughs). But back then, it was about what you had access to.”

How early on did you actually decide you wanted to start rhyming yourself?

“I’ll say in the mid-80s. Now, at that point there were a few record stores that were kinda close-by to me. Still none in my town though, here in Bear Creek (laughs). I think one of the closest stores to me was in a town called Sanford in North Carolina. I would go to this record store down there and it’s kinda crazy because you would never be able to guess who worked in there. It was Mista Lawnge of Black Sheep! Now, he’s originally from New York but he had family who lived down in Sanford.”

Do you remember the name of the record store?

“It was called Diamond Dee’s and it was owned by a guy named Sammy Dally (laughs). He was one of the biggest deejays in the area and used to do gigs all across the state. Now, Will, which is what I called Lawnge at the time, had got connected with him somehow and must have told him he had some skills when it came to this Hip-Hop thing. So, they used to have a teen night that Lawnge would deejay at with his cousin called Ishmael. Obviously at this time we didn’t know he was going to go on to do his thing like that with Black Sheep, but he definitely had some skills back then. Now, it was through going to these teen nights that I first started to think about actually rhyming because at these gatherings there used to be people break-dancing and rapping and I knew it was something that I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. I mean, I didn’t want to just jump up onstage because I hadn’t really figured it out yet. It was kinda like how Nas said on “Halftime” that he used to be afraid to rap at the park jams (laughs). I didn’t want to get up there and make a fool out of myself. So, I went home and started to really think about writing. I wrote a couple of things but I still wasn’t really pursuing it. The first time I would really start to go after the rhyming thing was when I first met Will-Ski of the Bizzie Boyz.”

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Now, this is Will-Ski who went on to find fame as the producer everyone now knows as Ski Beatz, but back then he was known more as an emcee. Had the Bizzie Boyz already put records out when you first met Ski?

“Yeah, the Bizzie Boyz already had records out when I first met Ski. I mean, their first records started coming out around 1987. Now, I had a cousin who was going to school at the time in Greensboro at North Carolina A&T and she was staying with her aunt who lived right around the corner from Will-Ski. I’d already been listening to the Bizzie Boyz stuff on the local college radio station, which was North Carolina A&T’s radio station, 90.1. I was just intrigued by the fact that these guys were from North Carolina yet their music was just as official as anything else I was hearing in 87 / 88 from New York. So, my cousin knew that I was really into the music and that I wanted to rhyme but that I’d not yet really started pursuing it. So she called me one night and was like, ‘Yo, you’re never going to guess who I live around the corner from?’ She didn’t even know Ski’s name, so she was like, ‘One of the members of the Bizzie Boyz!’ I was just like, ‘Wow! I would love to meet him.’ Now, about a month later, I guess she’d caught Ski’s eye or something and they started dating each other before I ever even met him. Then, finally, my cousin was like, ‘Why don’t you come up here and meet Ski.’ So I went up there, Ski put on some beats for me and was like, ‘I hear you want to rhyme.’ So we’re there and Ski just said these incredible lyrics, because at that time Ski was definitely on-point when it came to the rhymes. He hadn’t really moved into the production side of things like he did later on, so he was definitely on top of his game as an emcee. So anyway, I started freestyling and to be honest with you I didn’t really have it together that day (laughs). I’d always been able to freestyle but on that particular day I was a little nervous so it just didn’t come out right. So Ski stopped me and was like, ‘Yo, take these beats home. Formulate your rhymes, think about what you want to say and put your own style on it.’ So I went home and wrote two verses, which were the first rhymes I ever actually penned with serious intent. I brought the rhymes back to Ski, he put the beats back on, I ran through the verses and he was like, ‘Yo, you’re a natural. You can do this.’ So that was really the start of me being an emcee.”

You also had another local crew that came out on Payroll Records alongside the Bizzie Boyz, which was B.A.D. Rep with MC Dizzy Dee and DJ Def, who would go on to be known as the producer Mark Sparks. At the time though, how much of an inspiration was it for you as an aspiring artist to see acts coming out of North Carolina who were gaining attention outside of the local area?

“It was crazy and that’s how I know that everything that happened was meant to happen because North Carolina was probably the most unlikely place at the time for Hip-Hop to shine its face. I mean, we felt like we were out there doing what we did and that nobody knew we even existed. Being overseas, I know that’s a feeling that people out there in the UK who were involved with Hip-Hop back then can probably relate to. I mean, even when I was hearing the Bizzie Boyz on college radio along with some of the other releases that came off of Payroll Records, they were coming out of Greensboro, which was still a more metropolitan area than where I was from. So even though I saw that they were doing it, I still couldn’t see how that could ever happen for me being where I was from in Bear Creek. I really didn’t know how I could ever get into that circle. So, it was just fate that my cousin ended-up living right around the corner from Ski and that I then ended-up meeting him. It was just meant to be.”

It’s also pretty crazy when you look at the wider impact both Ski and Mark Sparks went on to have as producers in the 90s…

“That’s true. But before that, you really have to look at Fanatic, who was involved with the Payroll situation and also produced my first solo release in 1993, “The Funky One Liner” EP. It was Fanatic who really taught both Ski and Mark how to use the SP-1200. I mean, Fanatic was really the architect production-wise behind those Bizzie Boyz records like “Droppin’ It” and “Dope”. But it is crazy to look at what both Mark and Ski went on to do. I mean, Mark did some incredible records with people like Grand Puba and then Guru on one of the “Jazzmatazz” projects and of course Ski did what he did with Jay-Z on the “Reasonable Doubt” album.”

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Aside from the Bizzie Boyz and B.A.D. Rep were there any other local artists you were looking up to around the late-80s?

“I will say there was an artist who was called O-Shabazz who was from around the way as well, who didn’t put records out with Payroll but his name definitely rang many bells locally. He was an emcee who had gained a lot of notoriety as far as live performances were concerned and being able to go up in the clubs or the parties and really do his thing. O-Shabazz and Ski actually used to battle each other back in the day before Ski even started making records. He’s a dude I actually got to meet some years down the line, but I always have to mention him as an emcee I definitely looked up to back in those early days. Plus, there was also a brother from around my way who was the first person I ever saw go and actually record music. Now, this was before I was recording with Fanatic in the Payroll era. This was a guy called Rule who was in a neighbouring town. I hadn’t even started to write rhymes or anything at the point he was doing his thing in the 80s. I was more of a dancer at this point and I was kinda nice as well (laughs). But I definitely have to give Rule his props because he was someone else who really got me interested in the whole idea of making music. I remember him telling me he was going to record this song one weekend and I actually got to go with him. We went over to somebody’s house, I can’t remember whose house it actually was now, but it was a small four-track set-up and the beat didn’t even have any samples in it or anything, it was one of those old 808 joints (laughs). But I got to see that whole process happen, so I definitely have to include Rule as an influence on me. There was also a guy called Darryl Jones from Fairfield who took “Outstanding” by the Gap Band and made a joint around 87 / 88. But to be honest, nobody was making records to my knowledge with the officialness and the seriousness of the Payroll guys.”

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Where did Supreme DJ Nyborn fit into all of this, as he was rolling with the Payroll Records crew as well?

“Honestly, Supreme Nyborn’s “Versatility” was actually the first record I heard from the Payroll camp, even before the Bizzie Boyz, although chronologically I believe the Bizzie Boyz came out first on the label. But Nyborn’s sound was just so New York, because obviously he was originally from New York, so at the time I had no idea that record had anything to do with North Carolina. But both Nyborn and Roland Jones, who was the founder of Payroll Records, were from New York City. So what happened is, Roland had come down to Greensboro and set-up a little record store in the hood. That’s what drew Ski, Fanatic, Mixmaster D of the Bizzie Boyz and B.A.D. Rep in, going to the record store, which then led to the music that came out on Payroll Records. I would venture to say that Nyborn was there from the very beginning of everything because him and Roland were so tight back then. But my interaction with the crew and how I came through the door was through Ski, then I met Fanatic and a guy called Eli Davis who now actually manages the singer Anthony Hamilton and 9th Wonder. So I never really got to chop it up with Nyborn until later on. So when I talk about my earliest memories of being around that crew, I always speak on the Bizzie Boyz and B.A.D. Rep because that’s who I was close with at the time.”

Ryan Proctor

Read Part Two of this interview here.

The Bizzie Boyz – “Hold The Lafta” (Payroll Records / 1989)