Diamond D ft. Fat Joe, Fred The Godson & Raekwon – “Survive Or Die” (@DiamondDITC / 2020)
Piano-laced posse cut off the Diggin’ In The Crates legend’s album “The Diam Piece 2”.
Diamond D ft. Fat Joe, Fred The Godson & Raekwon – “Survive Or Die” (@DiamondDITC / 2020)
Piano-laced posse cut off the Diggin’ In The Crates legend’s album “The Diam Piece 2”.
Jim Jones ft. Fat Joe – “NYC” (@JimJonesCapo / 2019)
Harlem-meets-The BX on this Rotten Apple tribute from Jones’ Heatmakerz-produced album “El Capo”.
Fat Joe’s debut album “Represent” is a personal favourite of mine. Not just a favourite album from 1993. Not just a favourite album from the 90s overall. But a personal favourite of all-time.
“Represent” may not have been considered the most polished or ground-breaking album when it dropped, but there was something about the raw Bronx attitude of a 22-year-old Joey Crack combined with the thunderous beats of some of the East Coast’s finest producers that ensured the project remained stuck in my Walkman headphones for months after its July 27th release date twenty-five years ago.
Introduced to the Hip-Hop world at large via D.I.T.C.’s Diamond D, who produced a Fat Joe promo for DJ Red Alert’s Kiss FM radio show in 1991 before offering the Rotten Apple rhymer some mic time on his classic 1992 album “Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop”, the graffiti-writing rapper was clearly starting to build a buzz for himself during the early-90s, with his street reputation appearing to precede him.
Yet it wouldn’t be until the spring of 1993 that Joe would make his official solo splash into the rap game with the release of the brilliant “Flow Joe” single on Relativity Records, a heavy-duty slice of horn-laced BX boom-bap flavour crafted by the aforementioned Diamond, featuring NY turntable legend Rob Swift on the cut, a catchy-yet-hardcore hook and the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer rhymes of a hungry Fat Joe who clearly felt he had something to prove as he sought to hold it down for Latino lyricists (“Everybody knows Fat Joe’s in town, ‘Nuff respect for the Boogie-Down, I’m livin’ in the Bronx on an ave called Trinity, My name rings bells within the vicinity…”).
This single immediately grabbed my attention when I first heard it on Tim Westwood’s Capital Rap Show over here in the UK. Already a big Diggin’ In The Crates fan thanks to prior releases from Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG and, of course, Diamond D, I was wide open at the thought of a full-length Fat Joe project, not least because after hearing that initial single, any subsequent album felt like it promised to be an uncompromising dose of gritty New York rap music.
Hip-Hop in 1993 was in a state of flux. Times were changing. Fat Joe’s “Represent” landed right in the middle of a year that was seeing new sounds and voices from the West Coast beginning to dominate, whilst the East Coast was starting to lose its vice-like grip on the culture.
The impact of Dr. Dre’s classic “The Chronic”, released at the very end of 1992, was casting a synth-heavy G-Funk shadow across Planet Rock. Anticipation for Snoop’s debut album “Doggystyle” (released late in ’93) was steadily building. Ice Cube remained one of the culture’s most controversial voices. MC Eiht’s “Streiht Up Menace” from the “Menace II Society” soundtrack was one of the most popular singles of the year Stateside. Cypress Hill were selling huge amounts of records. 2Pac was beginning to gain notoriety.
Meanwhile, some veteran New York giants were either splitting-up, faltering or rebuilding. EPMD had proven that business was personal by announcing the group’s break-up. Public Enemy had lost some momentum following the release of their 1992 album “Greatest Misses”. LL Cool J had received mixed reviews for his”14 Shots To The Dome” project, released in March 1993. Whilst Big Daddy Kane’s “Looks Like A Job For…” (released in May) found the Brooklyn legend having to regain the trust of many fans who’d balked at the overt R&B influences of 1991’s “Prince Of Darkness”.
The full impact of Nas and Biggie was still yet to be felt in 1993, with the future icons still each only having a single and some guest appearances under their respective belts. Neither “Illmatic” or “Ready To Die” would be released until the following year, with both artists then being credited with bringing the Hip-Hop crown back home to New York in 1994.
Many people, however, quite rightly point to late 1993 album releases from A Tribe Called Quest, Black Moon and Wu-Tang Clan as all having played a major part in drawing attention back to the traditional New York sound.
I, however, would go one step further and say that, in the summer of that same year, knowingly or not, Fat Joe was already doing his best to ensure New York remained on top of the game.
To say I was amped for the release of “Represent” would be an understatement. Whilst the first half of 1993 had definitely seen some strong album releases from a selection of East Coast artists (Onyx, Lords Of The Underground, Akinyele, Masta Ace Incorporated, Trends Of Culture etc), I had a different level of excitement in relation to Fat Joe’s debut. Partly because of his Diggin’ In The Crates affiliation and partly because the overall power of that “Flow Joe” single really had me hooked.
In the pre-Internet Hip-Hop world, you didn’t always know the definitive release date of an album, you just knew it was coming based on ads you would see in magazines like The Source. That was the case with Fat Joe’s “Represent”.
I can distinctly remember going on a family holiday at the time the release of “Represent” was looming. At almost eighteen-years-old, I hadn’t been on holiday with my parents for a few years. My sister had been diagnosed with cancer mid-1992, and twelve months into her treatment the future was looking a little uncertain, so my mother had decided it would be a good idea to go on a holiday that year in-case it was the last opportunity we had (thankfully it wasn’t and my sister is still alive and well today).
Before we left I gave my cousin fifteen pounds (the average price of an import CD in the UK at that time) and strict instructions to look out for “Represent” dropping whilst I was away. He worked in Luton, then home to the brilliant Soul Sense Records, so I was confident that if the album came out he’d be able to get it.
My girlfriend at the time also came on that family holiday with us and I can recall laying on a beach listening to a Westwood radio tape with “Flow Joe” on it and repeatedly telling her how high my hopes were for “Represent” and how disappointed I was going to be if my cousin hadn’t succeeded in his mission by the time we got home.
Any music lover who has ever bought physical product will tell you about the eagerness involved in tearing the wrapping off of a new purchase. But when it’s an album you’ve been anticipating for a period of time, that eagerness is heightened. When I returned from holiday and got my hands on my CD copy of “Represent”, I needed to hear it immediately.
I remember looking at that cover shot of Fat Joe standing on a darkened Bronx street-corner and thinking how rugged it looked (I hadn’t yet seen the “Flow Joe” video), then flipping the case over and seeing the picture of the In Memory Of…mural dedicated to Joe’s late friend Anthony Crespo aka Tony Montana. Then I ran down the tracklist which was followed by these words – Produced By Diamond D. Additional Production By Lord Finesse, The Beatnuts, Showbiz and Chilly Dee.
I had no idea who Chilly Dee was, but I remember thinking that if his production work was sitting next to beats provided by dudes who were already considered living legends then he must be up-to-par.
I plugged in my headphones and hit ‘Play’ on the CD.
The segue from the short “Scarface”-sampling intro “A Word To Da Wise” into the beginning of the moody and atmospheric Lord Finesse-crafted “Livin’ Fat” remains one of the greatest album openings ever, with the Funkyman’s work behind the boards on that particular cut standing as unquestionable proof as to why he should forever be considered one of Hip-Hop’s greatest producers.
With the echoing horns, heavy bass and pounding drums of “Livin’ Fat” capturing the ominous energy of a late-night encounter in a Bronx project building hallway, the track offered the perfect opportunity for Fat Joe to make his intentions clear, shouting out his affiliation with the late Chris Lighty (“I can’t get played ‘cos I roll with Baby Chris…”), detailing his expectations of “Represent” reaching Gold status (at least), and offering some very direct info on his day-to-day routine (“I be rippin’ the mic, Clockin’ dough, Stickin’ the hoes, After every single show, y’know?!”)
Joe’s claims on “Livin’ Fat” of being “One of the best to grab the mic…” may have seemed unfounded to many in 1993, but in reality who was going to argue with someone who by their own admission used to bully their way onto the mic at block parties and was able to remain in control of said microphone because people were scared to tell him his lyrical skills just weren’t as impressive as those of others.
“Bad Bad Man” was another immediate standout from the album, with Joe giving props to Gang Starr, threatening to hand-out physical beatdowns and “checking out stunts in the Polo Grounds” over an ill Diamond D-dissected loop from Yvonne Fair’s 1975 track “Let Your Hair Down”.
In more recent times, Fat Joe has mentioned that he is unable to listen to “Represent”. In 2010 he told HipHopDX.Com, “I can’t listen to my first album. It’s like brutal to me…Lyrically, I’ve grown so much over the years.”
Yet, if the rapper had any doubts about his rhyming abilities in 1993, he definitely didn’t let it show, placing himself on tracks alongside emcees with deservedly formidable reputations and defiantly holding his own, resulting in “Represent” containing three of my favourite 90s posse cuts.
The Tenor Saw-sampling “Watch The Sound” found Diamond D and Grand Puba delivering politically-incorrect punchlines over speaker-rattling jeep beats, whilst amidst dialogue snippets from the Matty Rich-directed film “Straight Out Of Brooklyn” and the sound of loud gunfire, Fat Joe called on the tough-guy terminology of lyrical architect Kool G Rap and the Flavor Unit’s Apache for the Hip-Hop adrenaline rush that was “You Must Be Out Of Your F**kin’ Mind” (with Joe verbally date-stamping the track with his infamous line “I’m sick and tired of muthaf**kers trying to sound like Das EFX!”).
The greatest posse cut on “Represent”, however, has to be the Chilly Dee-produced “Another Wild N****r From The Bronx”. Based around the same Bobbi Humphrey “Blacks And Blues” sample made popular by K.M.D.’s 1991 track “Plumskinzz”, Fat Joe was joined by homeboys Gismo, Kieth Kieth and NY legend King Sun for an absolute juggernaut of a track, with all involved (Kieth Kieth in particular – or should that be Keith Keith?) delivering some potent New York straight talk.
The Beatnuts supplied Joe with a swaggering head-nodder in the form of the autobiographical “The S**t Is Real” (a track which would gain further traction when released as a single in ’94 complete with a DJ Premier remix), whilst the huge drums of the Showbiz-produced “I Got This In A Smash” inspired the Bronx representative to show some uncharacteristic vulnerability as he described the moment he found out about the murder of his friend Tony Montana (“Ahhh s**t, Another brother hit, This time it’s Tone, Life is a f**kin’ bitch, It really hurts when the s**t hits home, Early in the morning, They’re callin’ me on the phone, Tellin’ me my man caught eight to the chest, Nah this couldn’t be, Tone always wore a vest…Man, I’m gonna miss him, I love him to death, Charlie’s in jail and I’m the only brother left…”).
The juvenile humour of “Shorty Gotta Fat Ass” and the lively “Get On Up” offered moments of light-hearted respite from Joe’s relentless, hardcore attack. Yet the closing “I’m A Hit That” left me scratching my head at the time. Obviously aimed at the ladies, this Showbiz-produced track featured Fat Joe adopting a playful, Heavy D-style flow which seemed out of place within the overall context of the album. To end the project with a track that almost seemed like an afterthought seemed like a strange decision.
In the September 1993 issue of The Source, “Represent” was given a three-and-a-half-mic review. I believed then (as I do now) that the album deserved four-mics (which would have elevated it to ‘Slammin’ – Definite Satisfaction’ status). The overall response to the project from Da Ghetto Communicator was positive. But obviously the magazine’s mighty Mind Squad weren’t all as enthusiastic about Fat Joe when it came time for the group vote to take place which determined the mic-rating the album would receive.
“Represent” would reach a peak position of 46 on Billboard’s Top R&B / Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Fast-forward to the winter of 1993, almost six months after “Represent” dropped, and I can clearly remember still rocking the album in my headphones on freezing cold mornings as I walked to my local bus station en route to university lectures.
When I say I kept “Represent” on heavy rotation long after its initial release, I really do mean heavy rotation.
Whilst “Represent” may not have had a particularly influential impact on the culture, to me, it was, and still is, a rough diamond of an album that had undeniable character, with Fat Joe’s sense of purpose and determination to succeed remaining tangible throughout.
This was raw, uncut New York Hip-Hop at its best – no frills, no apologies, no sell-out.
As the saying goes, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking at the intimidating figure on the cover of “Represent” back in 1993, it’s safe to say few people would have singled Fat Joe Da Gangsta out as being an artist destined for a lengthy career involving mainstream success.
Yet in the years following the release of “Represent”, Fat Joe’s career would indeed go from strength-to-strength, albeit with mixed musical results, as the Bronx rapper navigated his way from his boom-bap beginnings, through the Puffy-dominated late-90s jiggy-era, and on to the radio-friendly R&B trends of the early-2000s and beyond (in-between all of this Joe would of course introduce the incredible Big Pun to the world via his Terror Squad crew).
A quarter-of-a-century after his debut album dropped, Fat Joe remains a larger-than-life figure both inside and outside of Hip-Hop. And if his Coca Vision interviews are anything to go by, Joe’s passion for the culture definitely doesn’t appear to have been worn-down by the politics and drama of the music industry.
So, Fat Joe, if you ever find yourself stumbling across this write-up whilst online, let me take this opportunity to personally thank you for dropping a classic debut album which has given me hours of listening pleasure over the years.
As the man himself said on “Another Wild N****r From The Bronx” – “My rhymes are homicidal, I take your title, I’m Joe Da Fat Gangsta, Far from Billy Idol!”
Bodega Bamz – “Terror” (@BodegaBamz / 2018)
The Rotten Apple emcee gives props to Fat Joe’s Terror Squad on this piano-laced cut off his new project “P.A.P.I.”.
D.I.T.C. ft. Fat Joe, Lord Finesse & Diamond D – “Rock Shyt Too” (@DITCEnt / 2016)
Supa Ugly-produced cut taken from the new Diggin’ In The Crates remix project “Sessions”.
D.I.T.C. ft. Fat Joe, Lord Finesse & Diamond D – “Rock Shyt” (@DITCEnt / 2016)
Supa Ugly-produced banger from the legendary NY crew.
D.I.T.C. ft. Fat Joe, A.G. & O.C. – “It’s Cold Outside – Showbiz & Motif Alumni Remix” (@DITCEnt / 2016)
Remix pressure taken from the forthcoming Diggin’ In The Crates project “Sessions”.
D.I.T.C. ft. A.G., O.C. & Fat Joe – “Diggin’ Number” (@DITCEnt / 2016)
Producer J Clyde supplies the three NY giants with some head-nodding, horn-laced dopeness off the new Diggin’ In The Crates album which is due for a March release.
Bronx production legend Show delivers some drum-heavy action for this cut available on the vinyl-only Slice Of Spice release of Diggin’ In The Crates’ “The Remix Project”.
As one of Hip-Hop’s all-time greatest crews, the Diggin’ In The Crates collective have amassed a vast amount of classics between them throughout the years.
On this free project, producers such as DJ Premier, 9th Wonder and Apollo Brown join forces with the likes of Lord Finesse, Diamond D and Buckwild to rework various bangers from the D.I.T.C. discography with impressive results.
The former Roc-A-Fella-affiliated producer turns the sinister sound of DJ Premier’s original version of this Big L classic on its head with this latest remix from the forthcoming Diggin’ In The Crates project.
Born and raised in the birthplace of Hip-Hop, Bronx emcee Majestic Gage takes his craft very seriously. It’s that same dedication to the art of lyricism which led to the 28-year-old wordsmith being recruited by NYC’s mighty D.I.T.C. to stand as one of the crew’s next generation of artists (alongside A-Bless and the now sadly deceased Tashane), building on the classic foundations set by the likes of Lord Finesse, A.G. and O.C. with genuine raw talent and a true love of the culture.
Having already recorded with established Diggin’ In The Crates affiliates D-Flow and Milano as one-third of Barbury’N, Gage has also been taking his own steps to showcase his skills, recently dropping the solo track “Fair Warning” produced by Harlem’s Ty Ahart.
With heavy involvement in the forthcoming D.I.T.C. compilation and his own projects on the horizon, Gage is determined to earn his props and respect the old-fashioned away, by displaying authentic microphone techniques rather than relying on gimmicks or being forced to embrace popular trends.
Here, the BX resident discusses his initial forays into rhyming, being co-signed by legendary producer Showbiz and his thoughts on New York radio.
What are some of your earliest Hip-Hop memories?
“My earliest memories of Hip-Hop are just hearing it around the house. My aunt, my mom’s younger sister Keisha, she used to always play Hip-Hop and I’d be hearing songs like Audio Two’s “Top Billin'”, other songs by Rakim, and I just used to walk around the house and listen to them. I used to think that rapping was cool, but at that point in time I never thought about actually doing music or anything like that. I mean, I was real young around that time, about seven-years-old, maybe even a little younger. So Hip-Hop was just something that I would hear in the house that I thought was cool and I used to rap along with the lyrics and I’d see the videos on TV.”
Although you were obviously very young at that point, did you have any awareness that the music you were hearing actually started in the same borough of New York that you were being raised in?
“I wasn’t aware at that age that it had happened in my borough like that. But, I used to watch “Beat Street” all the time (laughs). That was one of my favourite movies when I was little. I used to watch that movie over and over and over. Then, as I got older and a little more into the music, I started going back and listening to a lot of the older stuff which gave me some of the history behind the music. I mean, my mom wouldn’t even let me listen to the new stuff that was coming out, like when Biggie was first coming up and artists like that. She would not let me listen to that stuff due to the content of the music (laughs). So I used to listen to a lot of older artists like Kool Moe Dee, Rakim, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and stuff like that. In fact, listening to KRS-One on “South Bronx” was actually how I really found out that Hip-Hop started in the Bronx (laughs). Looking back on it now, that was kinda fortunate for me, because I got to hear that stuff first and to know where the music came from. Plus, like I said, I was watching “Beat Street” and seeing the break-dancers and people putting graffiti on the walls, which was all just intriguing to me. But I still wasn’t actually rapping at that time. It was just cool to me to see Lee and them get down at The Roxy (laughs). I must have watched that movie about a hundred times.”
So being exposed to that older material helped you join the dots between what had happened in the 80s and the newer artists who were coming out at that time in the early-90s…
“Exactly. It was just fortunate for me to be exposed to that older music before I really heard the new stuff at the time, rather than starting to listen to the music where my era started in the 90s and then having to go back.”
So when did you actually start rhyming? Was it something you made a conscious decision to pursue or did it happen more naturally?
“Man, I remember this like it was yesterday. I was nine-years-old and I was in the fourth grade. It would have been around 1994. It was the beginning of the school year and my teacher gave us a homework assignment where we all had to go home and write a rap about ourselves. Then, when we came back to school on Monday everybody had to say their rap in front of the class. Now, my step-father used to rap back in the day, so when I went home I got him to help me with the rhyme. But aside from that, I’ve always had music in me anyway as my biological father is a musician and plays guitar. So anyway, my step-father helped me write this rhyme and I memorised it, even though it was probably only about six bars long (laughs). So I went to school on Monday, I said the rhyme in front of the class and everybody went crazy (laughs). That was a real rush and it was something I’d never felt before in my life. I mean, I was a pretty shy kid and I wasn’t someone who talked a lot or anything like that, but doing that in front of the class just made me feel some sort of way and I just couldn’t really explain it. But my teacher liked the rhyme so much that she brought me down to the second grade class and they all sat down in a circle around me and I said the same rhyme in front of these second graders and they were going crazy again! That feeling just came back (laughs). So, after that, I was like, ‘That was pretty ill.’ So what I started doing was, my step-father had a bunch of rhymes that he’d written back in the day….”
Was your step-father someone who was known for rhyming back-in-the-day or was he just doing it more as a past-time with his boys because Hip-Hop was so prevalent in the Bronx?
“Nah, he wasn’t really known for it. I mean, he was around people like Showbiz and them back in the day being from the Bronx, but he was rhyming just to rhyme. He didn’t put anything out or really do anything with it. I can’t even remember the name he said he used to rhyme under. But he had a whole bunch of rhymes written down and I used to go home from school and just read them. Then I started changing little words in the rhymes and I would learn those. But what happened is, after a certain amount of time, all of my step-father’s rhymes ran out (laughs). Now, I would change the words in his rhymes, spit the rhymes to my friends and everyone would be like, ‘Whoa!’ So when they eventually ran out, I had to start writing my own rhymes (laughs). I started rapping with my older brother, who had been writing rhymes before me. He was the person who put me on to people like Biggie and 2Pac. So we were writing our raps together and making little tapes to let our friends hear. Then, as I hit my teenage years, there weren’t really many people rhyming in my junior high-school, so my first ciphers were in my neighbourhood with some of the kids around there…”
Were you confident about your skills at that time or did it take awhile before people started saying that you were nice?
“Okay, so it was 1998 and I was about thirteen-years-old. I had mad raps already that I’d written and different song ideas. So this was around the time DMX had put out “It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot”. I remember, it was night-time and me and my boys were on our way to Harlem. We were walking down the block in the Bronx going past this restaurant called the Shrimp Box. One of my boys was like, ‘Yo! That looks like DMX!’ and I was like, ‘Nah!’ Now, we used to play games like that if we saw someone that looked like a celebrity. So I thought that’s what he was doing. We went across the street and my man Shawn was like, ‘You should go in there and rap to him, yo.’ Man, I was scared (laughs). I was petrified and was just like, ‘Naaah’ So Shawn said, ‘I’m going to go in there and talk to him.’ So he went in there, came out and was like, ‘X said that you ain’t no real rapper if you can’t go in there and rap to him.’ So I sucked up all my nervousness, went in there, gave DMX a pound and he was crazy cool. He was in there with his wife and a couple of his boys, I spit my rhyme for DMX and he was bobbing his head. Now, the whole situation was crazy to me because this was when DMX was at the height of success and he was right there in the Bronx. He called his manager right there on the spot, but he never picked up. But that’s when I really started thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve really got to get on this music thing, because if DMX says I’m nice then I must have something.’ I mean, X was one of my favourite artists back then.”
That must have really been an incredible moment for you as a young emcee to be given props by one of New York’s biggest artists at the time…
“Yeah, definitely. What was funny though was when I went back to my ‘hood and I’m telling people, ‘Yo, I rapped for DMX!’ everybody was like, ‘You’re lying!’ I was like, ‘Yo! I rapped for DMX on Third Avenue in the Shrimp Box!’ He autographed my dollar bill, so I showed them that and they just told me it was fake (laughs). But that was dope though to meet DMX like that. But it was after that, when I went to high-school, that was when I started to have my first battles. I’d only ever been in ciphers before and had never really battled, but people were telling me that I was nice so I was kinda itching to battle. I’d seen people battling before and always wanted to test those waters. So once I got into high-school, it was on (laughs). I remember a kid approached me within the first two weeks of starting high-school, he just walked right up to me and was like, ‘Yo! You wanna battle?’ It was just me, him and his man, nobody else was even paying attention and we just started going at it. We ended-up getting escorted out of the hall because everyone had to go to class, but I felt like I’d won so I was telling people that I’d battled him and that I ate him (laughs). Now, I wasn’t knowing that this guy Dave was considered the king of battling in the school. So, I was in the gym one day and he came up to me with mad people and was like, ‘You said you ate me? Let’s battle right now!’ We battled each other everyday after that (laughs). Every time he saw me, we battled. So I would go home and write my little raps because I knew he was going to come looking for me the next day. That went on until he gave me my respect and was like, ‘Okay, you’re nice.’ But that whole situation really helped me sharpen up my skills.”
At that time in the late-90s, Bronx rappers like Big Pun, Fat Joe and Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz were really holding their own against other NY artists like Jay-Z, DMX and Nas who were starting to make mainstream noise. Were you looking up to BX artists like that as a young kid or did their success make them feel a million miles away from where you were at?
“I mean, Lord Tariq and them, as young emcees we definitely looked up to them. I’d never actually seen Tariq or Money Boss in person because I’m not from their section of the Bronx. Tariq was from the Soundview area and I’m more real southern Bronx, around about the 150s and the 130s. But I did used to see Fat Joe back then. Joe used to have his store on Third Avenue, right next to the Shrimp Box where I met DMX (laughs). This was when he first came out with his 560 clothing line and he opened up his store in the Bronx. So, Fat Joe used to be up there all the time and I remember Shyheim used to come through as well. I remember seeing Big Pun up in there one time as well, but this was before Pun had even come out. I just saw this big dude up in the store and thought it was Fat Joe’s brother (laughs). But Joe was from Forest which isn’t too far away from my projects, so he used to always be around the area.”
So how and when did the link with D.I.T.C. happen?
“I hooked-up with D-Flow first. My man Dunn Dee had known Flow for years because our project buildings aren’t too far from each other. So Flow and Party Arty used to be in my hood all the time and they knew my man Dunn Dee who I used to rhyme with and then he actually ended up managing me. I put a mix-tape out called “The Landlord” around 2004 and while I was working on my second mix-tape project, Dee let D-Flow hear the first one. He came to my hood and I guess he liked the mix-tape because he was like, ‘Yo! You should come to the studio and record.’ So the first time I went there me and Flow actually did a song together. It wasn’t even planned or nothing like that but he heard what I was doing and was like, ‘Yo, I’ve got something for that too.’ The song actually came out dope (laughs). So I just kept going up to Flow’s studio to record and then after awhile he approached me and my man Dunn Dee and told us that he wanted me to be a part of Get Dirty. Flow broke everything down to me and told me that he still wanted me to do my music the way that I was doing it, but that I’d rep the brand and all that. I was definitely cool with it and I met Party Arty and all of that. Arty was crazy cool and he treated me like a brother from the gate. Both Flow and Arty really treated me like family from the jump.”
Did you have to get the official stamp of approval from Showbiz?
“The first time I met Show, I’d gone to the studio with D-Flow to record. We’d gone down to D&D, which is now HeadQCourterz, and that was the first time I met Show. He didn’t really pay attention to me at the time because he wasn’t even really there for that. I just gave him a pound and that was it, y’know. But then Flow kept saying that he was going to tell Show that we should do a group and he was telling me about Milano. But anyway, Flow kept saying that he was going to tell Showbiz about me. So, I waited patiently and it was probably about a year after that when Flow took me down to D&D and let Show hear my music. All three of us were sitting in the room listening to my music and Show was saying that he liked it and that he also really liked my concepts. That was something that I always tried to do, have concepts, because I can rap all day but I really wanted to show people that I could actually structure a song. So anyway, Show liked the music and it was on from there. But the first few times we went to the studio after that, we didn’t even record no music, we were just in there having conversations and building. That’s what I like about Show, the fact that we didn’t just jump straight into the music, we were in there having conversations about everything from just life in general to Hip-Hop and whatever else.”
Considering at this point you were starting to mix with some real Hip-Hop legends, were you fully aware of the legacy that Diggin’ In The Crates had already created?
“Yeah, I definitely was. I mean, I used to see A.G. around my hood and I already knew that he was a legend because the older guys around me were putting me on to the music that Show & A.G. had already put out. I always thought they were dope, Show with the beats and those drums…”
It’s almost impossible to talk about Showbiz without mentioning drums…
“Exactly (laughs). So to have the opportunity to actually work around people like that was just so dope to me. When Show first told me that he liked my music I went home and I was just so happy (laughs). I went home to my girl like, ‘Yo! He liked my s**t!”
When you then started recording with D-Flow and Milano as Barbury’N, did you feel a lot of pressure considering they were already established and respected, while you were a new name to a lot of people?
“I definitely felt that pressure but I liked it though (laughs). I knew that people really weren’t expecting anything from me because most people had never really heard of me before. You had Milano, you got D-Flow and then you got this kid Majestic Gage and I knew people were going to be like, ‘Who’s that?’ But I feel that whole situation really helped me get better as an emcee and it really let me showcase my talents alongside two already respected lyricists. I’m just really glad that both Flow and Milano let me work with them on the Barbury’N music like they did because they were already veterans and they really didn’t have to let the young boy into their circle. So I really do thank them for that.”
Barbury’N – “Living At Still” (D.I.T.C. Entertainment / 2011)
Lyricism is obviously something that’s very important to you, but what keeps you on that creative path of putting so much effort into your writing considering how quick people are to accept simple, throwaway rhymes today?
“Number one, it’s just because I love to be super lyrical, y’know. That’s the era I came up in when dudes were just super nice. You had to be nice. That’s just something that I’ve always stuck to regardless of what the climate of the game might be. But also, I keep doing it for people like yourself who’re still checking for it. I do it for people who still want to really listen to lyrics. So I don’t mind going against the grain with my music and swimming upstream because I feel like the game’s going to come full circle and it’s going to get back to being about people’s skills. But that’s why I still make my music like that, because I know there’s still people out there that love to listen to music like that. That’s what I love to listen to. I mean, I understand that not everyone can be lyrical. But I have the ability to do that, so why not put my best foot forward every time and deliver that, y’know.”
Also, with the Diggin’ In The Crates affiliation and lyricism really being at the heart of the music the crew have released over the years, you really have an obligation to carry on that tradition…
“Definitely. The core D.I.T.C. fans won’t expect anything less than that. So I definitely have to deliver on that aspect. I mean, sometimes I think it was destined for me to land in this position with Diggin’ In The Crates because they’re such a staple of the Bronx. Obviously, Big L was from Harlem and O.C. repped for Brooklyn, but the original members like Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG, they’re all from the Bronx, so I definitely think it was meant for me to be here.”
Recently there’s been a lot of discussion around New York stations like Hot 97 not being totally supportive of underground New York artists and Old Man Ebro’s Minors / Majors comparison has generated a lot of feedback. What are your thoughts on that?
“I mean, I tell people all the time, the climate of the game is so different now that you don’t need stations like that to win. You don’t need Hot 97 to win. You don’t need Power 105 to win. I mean, it’s great to get your records played on there and it definitely helps, but you can still get your music out there without them. Plus, the deejays up at those stations, they can’t really choose what they want to play, they get told what to play. I mean, I run into people all the time that say they don’t want to hear the same ten or twelve records all day. But as far as the artists here in New York who do still cater to that traditional sound, they’re coming up and it’s through others means of winning aside from the radio. Dudes like Action Bronson and Joey Badass, they get radio spins now but they put that work in themselves so the radio had to take notice. Then you’ve got other artists like Spit Gemz who’re doing their thing. I mean, the radio situation is what it is, but as New York artists we can’t lose our identity through trying to follow trends because trends only last so long, y’know. I just feel like we shouldn’t be making records just to get them played on the radio. I mean, we’re at a point now where some dudes have hooks that are longer than there actual verses (laughs).”
What’s the status of the forthcoming D.I.T.C. compilation project that was announced last year featuring yourself, A-Bless and Tashane?
“All the music for that is done. I mean, A.G. and Show have got some other things that they’re working on and obviously they announced the remix album project with a variety of producers working on there. But the compilation is definitely still in the pipeline and all the music is done, all the videos are done and everything. A.G. is on a bunch of joints on the album, but it’s basically just focusing on the next generation of Diggin’ In The Crates. Show and them didn’t want to take too much of the shine away from us by having everyone on the album. But I do understand that when some of the fans see that name Diggin’ In The Crates they do want to hear the original members. I do get that. I read the comments on the Internet and everything. But this compilation project is about those same original members passing the torch to us so we can continue that legacy. I mean, a few years ago you had people talking about the generation gap in Hip-Hop and how some of the younger cats didn’t respect the artform and how some of the older cats weren’t giving younger artists a chance. But now that gap is actually being bridged by what D.I.T.C. are doing, some of those same fans who were talking about that generation gap don’t want to accept the music. But this isn’t something that you see happening a lot, with respected older artists putting out talented new artists and really embracing what they’re doing. But those negative comments didn’t surprise me when I first started reading them. I mean, Showbiz prepared us for it early on and he told us that there would be people out there who didn’t want to accept us as part of Diggin’ In The Crates. So when I started seeing those comments, I was just like, ‘Show said this would happen a looooong time ago.'”
Everyone really represented in that D.I.T.C. cipher video that was released last year with A.G. and DJ Premier, but it was definitely sad to hear about the passing of Tashane not long after that…
“Yeah, definitely. I mean, it was so dope to put that video together. Myself, A-Bless and Tashane all had a really good relationship already because we’d been recording songs together before we actually did that video. We were all just hungry. So for the three of us to be around Premier, Showbiz, O.C., A.G. and Lord Finesse, it was just dope for them to let us rock out like that. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I can remember Tashane joking around like, ‘I ain’t got my rhymes, son. Let me hear what you got?’ I was like, ‘Nah, son.’ (Laughs). But Tashane was just super talented and creative. He was passionate about everything he did. Even when he was just talking, you could hear his passion when he would just speak. That was just him. Everything he said, he meant it, although he was also a joker as well. But when it came down to that music, he was definitely on it. So him passing was definitely a real loss.”
So what can people expect from you next as a solo artist?
“I got music, y’know. I could put out a project tomorrow if I wanted to. But I don’t want it to get mixed up with the D.I.T.C. compilation. I’ve got some songs that I want to release, so I’m going to be putting those out with some visuals just to keep feeding the people something. Then, eventually I will be dropping a project. Hopefully that will be sometime this year. I just really want to be consistent with putting the music out because nowadays people can forget about you real quick. But I’m not going to put just anything out for the sake of it. I definitely want the music I put out there to really leave an impression on people. So this year, I really want the people to be able to get to know me better through my music.”
Follow Majestic Gage on Twitter – @MajesticGage
Majestic Gage – “Fair Warning” (Majestic Gage Music / 2014)
Donnie Propa of the UK’s Heavy Links crew has joined forces with Planet Rock Graphics to drop this head-nodding mixtape of 90s favourites featuring the likes of Nas, Big L, Lord Finesse and many other East Coast icons – download here.
Fat Joe – “MGM Grand” (@FatJoe / 2013)
Taken from Joey Crack’s recent “Darkside III” project.
Although Fat Joe’s 1993 debut “Represent” is one of my all-time favourite albums, I’ve had extremely mixed opinions about the music the Bronx emcee has dropped over the last decade-plus – but there are definitely some strong tracks on this latest free “Darkside” project which features production from DJ Premier, Diamond D and 9th Wonder – download here.
Hailing from the project buildings of the South Bronx, NYC’s D-Flow first came to the attention of most in the mid-90s, introduced as a new recruit to the legendary Rotten Apple crew Diggin’ In The Crates via two stellar appearances on Showbiz & A.G.’s well-received “Goodfellas” album.
Having combined forces with long-time friend Party Arty to form the Ghetto Dwellas, Flow’s intricate verses and battle-hardened rhymes were heard on numerous D.I.T.C.-related releases throughout the late-90s / early-t0-mid 2000s, including classic tracks such as “Themes, Schemes & Dreams” alongside O.C. and “Who’s The Dirtiest” off Show & A.G.’s “Full Scale LP”.
Always clearly able to hold his own when sharing the mic with some of the greatest emcees to have emerged from the five boroughs, D-Flow’s standing in the game hasn’t always mirrored the level of his talent, with circumstances and life situations sometimes disrupting the BX representative’s career plans, not least the unexpected passing of Party Arty in 2008.
With his new “Paraphernalia” mixtape due to drop imminently, Flow took some time out to discuss his early days as a member of D.I.T.C., working with Party Arty and future plans.
The Bronx is back!
What was your first introduction to Hip-Hop?
“I was in middle-school. One day I was on a school trip and a partner of mine he had the headphones. You remember when you’d get on the bus to go on a school trip and everyone would be trying to get into something, whether you got a book to read or your music to listen to? Well, I didn’t have anything and this partner of mine next to me had a Walkman. He gave me his headphones and what I was listening to was “The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick”. I was so amazed by what I was hearing with the story-telling and everything. Then from that point, it was on. I was trying to figure out how to do it, how I could hear more of it and where I could get it. So that was the very first taste I got of Hip-Hop when I was about fourteen-years-0ld.”
Growing-up in the South Bronx did you already have any awareness of what was going on in the BX in terms of Hip-Hop?
“I mean, around that time I wasn’t really of an age where I was allowed to be out in the streets of the South Bronx alone. But eventually I would get out and hang-out a little past my curfew time (laughs). I’d sneak in the back of places and get a taste of the jams that were going on in my projects. I’m from Mott Haven projects which is in the heart of the South Bronx. You can’t mention the South Bronx without mentioning those projects. Now, in Mott Haven they had a community centre and in the back of the community centre is this dome where they’ve got a stage with an awning on top and dudes used to get on stage and perform. So that was another early taste of Hip-Hop that I got when I used to sneak into the back of the jams and see what was going on with dudes from the neighbourhood spinning on the turntables trying to come up.”
Did you see anyone performing who went on to do bigger things outside of the local jams?
“Absolutely. I’m right next door to another project called Patterson projects, which is where A.G. is from. Now, when I used to go over to those projects I used to see Percee P tearing the mic down at the jams. This was way before I started doing what I do. But I used to watch cats like him and Lord Finesse and A.G. doing their thing at the time. This would have been around the late-80s. Like I said, I was kinda young so I was kind of unaware of what was going on with them at the time. I knew Finesse was a battle rapper and that he’d battled Percee P and would go to different schools and just tear dudes down. If I’m not mistaken, that’s actually how A.G. and Lord Finesse met through battling each other. But I was young at the time so those were the stories that I’d hear the older dudes talking about. I mean, I didn’t even know A.G. at this time.”
At what point did you actually start rhyming?
“Well, after the jams and stuff like that I started running into dudes on the street, like seeing A.G. in the neighbourhood and other cats from other projects that were close by. Like, over in Mitchell projects there was this group called Hellbound and I remember this guy called O-Smooth who was another rapper from the neighbourhood and also a guy called D-Terror who was from another building in my projects who used to be out there rhyming. I used to see those cats doing what they did and I was just in awe. I was real interested in what they were doing. Rhyming was something that I just gravitated to and it kinda came to me easy when I tried to put it down. So that’s basically how I started, just seeing dudes do what they do and it was something that I loved to hear and something that I loved to watch. So I just gravitated to it and started trying to put my pen game down, listening to different people, emulating what they did, and that’s how I learnt to rap. Then when I went back to show my friends what I was doing they were in awe and liked what I was doing, so from there it was on.”
At what point did you hook-up with Party Arty?
“Me and Arty grew-up in the same projects. He lived in the building right next to my building and we were actually in the first grade together. I mean, I knew Arty for longer than I knew most of my family members and it was the same for him. He was really a brother-from-another-mother. I grew-up at his house and he grew-up at my house. So we were together all the time before we even started rapping. Before the music it was basketball. We did everything together. I actually started rapping before Arty did. I didn’t introduce it to him because he had an older brother who used to spin on the turntables and write his little raps down, so Arty was kinda in a musical family already. But the idea of us doing something together was something that I brought to him as he was my best friend, like ‘Yo, I think we should do this.'”
So that was when the Ghetto Dwellas came into existence…
“Yeah. I mean we had a couple of other group names which I can’t really remember now, but Ghetto Dwellas was something that we stuck with from the early-90s. That was us.”
Did Party always have that gruff rhyme style that he became known for on record?
“Not at all. When we first started rhyming, Arty rhymed just like everyone else. He didn’t really develop his voice until he started maturing. Back in those days we used to drink the forty ounces, go in the studio and just bug out. I remember there was this one day when Arty was just extra hype when he was rhyming and we were like, ‘That sounds crazy! You’ve gotta rhyme like that from now on.’ So that whole style he had was something that he transitioned into after we started doing music.”
I always imagined him being mad tired after a studio session with the amount of effort it sounded like he was putting into his delivery…
“He was never, never tired (laughs). It was something that just came natural to him. He always made it seem effortless the way he delivered his rhymes.”
How and when did you officially become part of D.I.T.C.?
“Well, becoming part of D.I.T.C. was definitely something that me and Arty had to work for. A.G. was a little older than us and he was a friend of Arty’s older brother and was a part of that generation. We were like the little guys at the time. We watched A.G. do what he was doing and put out all that early stuff with Showbiz like “Giant In The Mental” and “Soul Clap”. I witnessed that in my neighbourhood, just seeing all the older cats being excited about it and playing the tape. I remember I asked this guy where he got the tape from and how much he paid for it. He told me it cost him fifty dollars and I believed him! That’s how incredible it was for me at the time. I believed a cassette tape would cost fifty dollars! So A.G. was part of that older generation and we were introduced to him by some of those older dudes who were telling him that he should check us out. Eventually we got with him, he heard us and loved what we were doing and immediately took us under his wing and started introducing us to other cats in different neighbourhoods that we might not have been aware of at the time. So we would go around and we would battle different cats just getting our name up and getting our buzz up, but still we weren’t allowed to go into the recording studio. We were still young dudes who were wet behind the ears and we really had to work for it.”
Were there any particular battles from back then that still stand-out to you?
“Absolutely, absolutely. There was a legendary battle we had on Big L’s plot up in Harlem on 139th. It was actually something that L set up for us because even though we weren’t from his neighbourhood we were still all family in D.I.T.C. and that’s how we all looked at each other. So Big L would be in his neighbourhood and have young cats coming up to him telling him, ‘Yo, this is what we’re doing’ and L would be like, ‘I’ve got some young dudes that’s doing it the way that it’s supposed to be done’ and he would bring us through to battle cats. I remember this one particular battle you had the Lox out there and Mase as well. There was about forty people out on the block with dudes standing on cars and everything. Dudes were capturing the footage on cameras. You might actually see some of that battle in the Big L documentary DVD that’s coming out either at the end of this year or the beginning of next year…”
So was it just you and Party Arty going up against people?
“We were out there going up against the whole of Harlem (laughs). We were out there for like seven hours and cats were just coming from different sides of the town to do what they do. But me and my man stood there all night with Deshawn as well and we just held it down from day to night. By the time it was over it was night time and dudes were gone already (laughs). It was a real memorable time. I was just happy to be involved and see that dudes were feeling what I was doing. So at that point I basically knew everybody in D.I.T.C. because, like I said, Big L would come through and get us anytime he felt like some kids needed to be put in their place. We were kinda in the mix of everything that was going on at the time. But it did take time for us to meet everybody in the crew. I mean, when we first started going to the studio you’d probably just have Big L in there one night and then maybe the next time you’d have O.C. and Lord Finesse. Then maybe the next time Buckwild would be in there with Showbiz. So gradually we became part of the family and got up with everybody.”
What influence did that have on you as a young upcoming emcee to be around other artists who were already considered giants in the rap game?
“It had a great influence. I mean, to this day, all the lessons that I learnt back then from being around those dudes I still apply to what I do. The way I do my music, the type of music that I do. That’s my family right there and their influence just rubs right off. I mean, I got to be around so many talented artists from being with the crew up in D&D Studios and Chung King. I got to experience so much at such a young age that I felt like a vet at the age of twenty-one. It really opened my eyes as well to all the hard work that went into making the records, like with the mixing process, the mastering process, dealing with the reels and all of that. Back then we were carrying around forty pound tape reels from the car up three flights of stairs to the studio and all of that. So all of those details really helped shape and mold me, like seeing how different dudes all had their own different way of working and things like that. Like, O.C. might record his verse differently to A.G. who might record his verse differently to Big L. I got to see so many dudes working through their recording process. I remember one time I got to see Das EFX record and watch how they laid their verses down. I mean, I always thought they went into the booth at separate times to record their individual parts, but they were in the booth together using the same mic and laying their verses on the same tape track. They were in there going back and forth like they were performing a show (laughs).”
Your first appearance on wax was on Show & A.G.’s 1995 album “Goodfellas” with you featuring on both “Got The Flava” with Method Man and “Add On” with Lord Finesse…
“When I did that first song with A.G. and Lord Finesse it was something I had to work towards. Party Arty was on the album before me, but getting that spot on there was definitely something I had to work towards in terms of going through a process and writing a couple of verses. It was a privilege. I knew there was an album being done and I knew I had to get on that album. So I had to put that work in. Like I said, Arty had already secured his spot on the project before me so I had to go extra hard and really prove to A.G. that I was worthy of being on there. Once I got on there it was a beautiful thing.”
“Got The Flava” is one of my favourite posse cuts of the 90s – what do you remember about that studio session?
“Yeah, that was definitely a memorable studio session and I’ll tell you why. Right before that studio session Party Arty had been shot three times and he was still recovering when we did that song. Plus, that session was the day we met Method Man. We were all in Chung King and Method Man came through and we were all introduced and he jumped on the song. At the time, Method Man was Arty’s favourite artist so that was a real good day. I’ll never forget that day.”
Was Method Man actually supposed to be on that track originally?
“He was actually on tour at the time and had left the tour to come back to New York to take care of something. I think he was just coming to the studio to drop something off or maybe pick something up or whatever. We happened to meet in the lobby and I introduced myself, told Meth who I was and who I was there working with and it was all love from there. Method Man came into the session and we just vibed out for about three hours. That’s exactly how it happened.”
I remember that Method Man appearance really stood-out because that was the first time that a major emcee unaffiliated with the D.I.T.C. camp had featured on a Showbiz & A.G. track…
“Right, right. Well back then, D.I.T.C. felt they really didn’t need any extra emcees guesting on their projects. As a crew they really had it all together themselves. I actually think putting Method Man on “Got The Flava” was something that A.G. wanted to do for me and Arty because like I said, Method Man was Arty’s favourite artist. So I think A.G. asking Meth to get on that track was something that he did for us. If that had just been a track that A.G. was on I don’t think that would have been his first thought back then to ask someone outside the crew to get on it. But being as we were all on the song together, that was perfect.”
Around that time how much work were you actually doing in the studio with Arty on Ghetto Dwellas material?
“We were consistently working. We weren’t necessarily working on any particular project but we were always working on new material so that we were always ready for whatever opportunities might have presented themselves at the time. We were in it for the ride and we loved to make music. It was fun to us. It was incredible to us to be a part of everything that was going on around us. We worked hard and a lot of those songs that we were recording at that time really blended in with what the rest of the crew were doing. “Make It Official” was one of the first tracks we recorded when we first got in the studio which was produced by Wali World. From listening to that, you could really hear the potential.”
“Feel The Beat” was another early track that’s definitely stood the test of time…
“Yep, yep. I remember all of those songs. Man, you’re really bringing back some memories…”
Considering the reputation D.I.T.C. had built by the mid-90s for delivering classic Hip-Hop, did you feel any pressure knowing that fans would have high expectations for any new artist coming out of the crew?
“Man, I wasn’t thinking about no pressure or anything like that. I just wanted to rhyme. I didn’t care who I was rhyming in front of or where I was rhyming at. I just loved to do it. Whenever it was time to get it in I was always prepared and ready. Like, if you watch that legendary Big L interview with 88HipHop.Com, that right there was totally unexpected. I was just up there for the ride and then it was like, ‘You want me to rhyme? Okay, cool…’ I was always focused and ready to step up. If you actually watch that clip closely you can even see the nerves in my face moving around (laughs)…
As the Ghetto Dwellas you and Arty definitely built a nice cult fanbase for yourselves – were you surprised by how quickly people gravitated towards you as artists in your own right?
“To be honest, I didn’t really get the full effect of that at the time. We weren’t really doing any touring as the Ghetto Dwellas and I wasn’t really getting around too much. The music was just out there and people were listening. The internet wasn’t really that big at the time, so I couldn’t really see the size of the response we were getting out there. So I would get the information through A.G. and other members of D.I.T.C. who would tell me how well things were going with our music when they’d come back off tour and things like that. So I didn’t really get to experience that love until later on. I was just happy to have music out and to be doing what I was doing at that time. I mean, if I’d have got the full effect of what was going on in terms of how people were responding to our music it might have changed who I was at the time and, who knows, I might have been someone different today. But back then, I was doing music and living real life and going through real life s**t. I have two sons and my youngest son who’s twelve-years-old now is handicapped, so I had to deal with that. That was something that I had to be there for. So at some points, my total focus wasn’t music. It was an in and out thing. So what I’m saying is, if I’d have known back then exactly how people were gravitating towards what we were doing and how big our following was, maybe I would have gone a little harder and I’d have been in a different situation today. I mean, it was kinda hard for me back then to see how things were growing from where I was at. I was dealing with real life at the time and it was kinda hard for me.”
Was there ever a full-length Ghetto Dwellas album project in the pipeline?
“There wasn’t really a plan for a full-length album or anything like that because I was dealing with what I was dealing with at the time. Which is partly why you might have started to hear me and Arty appearing separately on certain joints and different projects. That’s just how it was at the time and we weren’t really concentrating on recording a Ghetto Dwellas album. Arty had more time for the music at that point than I did. My eldest son is nineteen-years-old now. I had my first son in 1994 and me and my wife were together for that whole time. Arty had a kid as well but he kinda had a break because his daughter lived with her mother so he was able to be in a lot of places and get a lot of stuff done. But I was dealing with other things. So the Ghetto Dwellas album was never really the focus for all of us. We just wanted to do music and I did it whenever I could. I tried to get on as many projects as I could and was always around but my focus wasn’t always on music even though it was something that was always in my heart.”
Was it difficult for you to step back considering the momentum you’d been building?
“Don’t get me wrong, whenever I was away from what was going on with the crew, I was still doing music. I always made sure my sword stayed sharp in-case I ever came across a battle or something. I mean, the only hardship that came out of that was seeing what maybe I could have been doing after the fact. But that’s normal for everybody. Whenever you step away from something and you see what you’re missing, you always feel some kinda way. But that’s also what kept me loving music. I never want to stop doing music. But if there’s something that I need to deal with at the time for me to make sure that I can continue to feed myself and my family, then I’m going to do that. I mean, if I don’t take care of myself then I can’t do music. But D.I.T.C is my family, so there was never hard feelings from anyone about me doing what I had to do back then. It was always love and I could always walk back through the door when I was able to make music. I could always call my brothers about anything because aside from the music D.I.T.C. is about friendship. I mean, I look on these dudes like they’re my family. That’s Uncle Finesse right there and my big brothers Showbiz and A.G. They know my family and I know their families. They were always there for me.”
When Party Arty passed away unexpectedly in 2008 did you consider stepping away from music or was it a case of you feeling that you had to continue to honour his memory?
“Absolutely. That’s exactly how I felt. At first I had to step back and look at the situation and really deal with what had happened. Arty was like my ear, y’know. If Arty told me something was dope, then it was dope. Couldn’t anyone else tell me any different. If Arty told me something was dope, then I didn’t care what the rest of the world was saying. I mean, I really lost my best friend. But I had to recover from that and I knew the music was something that I needed to continue to do for him, it was something that I needed to do for me, it was something that I needed to do for us because we both loved to make music. I know he’s looking down on me right now happy that I’m still doing what I’m doing. I’m still doing what we started and it’s never gonna stop. Music is a part of my life and that’s never going to end. Hip-Hop is always going to be in my life.”
Bringing things up-to-date, what’s the status of the Barbury’N project you were working on with Milano and Majestic Gage?
“When you’re doing the group thing it’s kinda hard because it never seems to work exactly how you want it to work. At this point, we all thought it would be better to each do music on our own time because it wasn’t working trying to get everyone together with different schedules that just weren’t matching up. So we felt that we would all be more effective musically just working on our own music and doing what we do for ourselves. Milano felt the same way and Gage is still working with Showbiz on his new project along with A. Bless and a new cat Tashane. So Gage is doing that right there, I’m focusing on my solo projects and Milano has his new mixtape coming as well. We wanted to do the group thing first and then branch off to do our solo stuff but, like I said, trying to get three schedules to match is kinda hard so we had to flip it around.”
So what can people expect from the “Paraphernalia” mixtape you’re about to drop?
“It’s eighty percent original music. I’ve got Showbiz producing on there along with Drawzilla and E. Blaze. There’s only three freestyle tracks on there. Out of the thirteen tracks on the mixtape, ten of them are original. I’m basically giving away an album with this project, you could say. Then after this I’ve got my official album project dropping at the top of next year.”
That album is going to be produced entirely by Ray West, right?
“Yeah, he’s doing all of the production on there. Ray is so unique with what he does. You can tell that there’s a lot of heart that goes into the music he makes. He’s not really influenced by what other people are doing and he’s genuinely doing something unique. It’s Hip-Hop and you can’t ask for no more than that when you’re working on a project. It’s just good music. I love Ray West, man. But the album itself is going to feature me talking about different things that people can relate to. I’m a narrator and I want people to really feel me in their soul and be like, ‘Damn, I know what this dude is going through.’ That’s what you’re going to get on the album, straight real s**t about real situations that hopefully might help cats on the other side of the world get through some s**t that they need to get through. I want to be able to relate to people and I want people to be able to relate to me.”
As a Bronx emcee making music today do you feel a responsibility to both preserve the history and further the legacy of the birthplace of Hip-Hop?
“I think we’re holding on to the culture and the authenticity of Hip-Hop. We’ve got a greater respect for it than a lot of dudes do. When you hear an emcee coming from the Bronx, there’s normally a lyrical thing going on. I mean, I wouldn’t feel right switching sides at this point (laughs). It’s just not in my blood to do that. I mean, music is worldwide now and the game has changed so much that we’ll probably never get back to the music being as authentic as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean that I have to let it go. There’s always going to be someone out there who’s looking for some real Hip-Hop s**t and who wants to know about what’s happening out in these streets instead of what’s happening in the clubs. That’s what I’m interested in knowing about. I want to know what’s happening in these streets right now. I want to know what’s happening in that project building over there on the tenth floor in that corner apartment. What’s happening in there? People are still going through the same struggles. Those things don’t change. But not everyone has to like what I do. I just want to do this and take care of my family off of it. I don’t have to be popular or have millions of dollars. I just want to be comfortable, be happy and live long. If I can do that through music and reach the people that I need to reach then I’m happy with that.”
Follow D-Flow on Twitter – @DFlowDITC – and lookout for the mixtape “Paraphernalia” dropping June 7th on DatPiff.Com.
Show & A.G. ft. D-Flow, Wali World, Party Arty & Method Man – “Got The Flava” (Payday Records / 1995)
1998 88HipHop.Com freestyle featuring D-Flow, Party Arty, A.G. and Big L.
Barbury’N (D-Flow, Milano Constantine & Majestic Gage) – “Living At Still” (Mugshot Music / 2011)
Those of you out there who keep your ear close to the gritty Hip-Hop underground will no doubt already be familiar with Bronx-bred emcee The Almighty $amhill.
Making a memorable contribution to the P Brothers’ 2008 album “The Gas” alongside the likes of Milano Constantine and Roc Marciano, the Rotten Apple representative has also dropped a number of impressive street tracks whilst working on various official projects, mixing his honest and unapologetically raw approach to lyricism with rugged, soul-drenched production.
Having recently released his free EP project “The Preface” via Unkut.Com, the East Coast talent is currently putting the finishing touches to his debut album “The $amhill Story” which is scheduled to drop this summer and promises more of the wordsmith’s trademark New York straight talk.
Whilst $am was taking a break from the lab, I threw him a selection of my own personal favourite tracks to have emerged from the birthplace of Hip-Hop to see what memories, thoughts and opinions they may provoke.
The Bronx is back…
Ultramagnetic MC’s – “Ego Trippin'” (Next Plateau Records /1986)
$amhill: “That s**t was crazy! What’s funny about Ultramagnetic MC’s is that them dudes is from my neighbourhood. Some them is from 159th Street & Washington and 3rd Avenue. I remember I used to see Ced Gee over there all time as a little boy. I would hear “Ego Trippin'” at the jams in the park and people would lose their minds. What was crazy though, was that dudes like Ultramagnetic were people I’d see in the community before I saw them on TV or anything like that. You’d see them around and people would be like, ‘Yo, that’s the dude from Ultramagnetic MC’s.’ So for me to then see them on Video Music Box after that was kinda bugged out. But that song was so dope to me because of that f**kin’ beat. It was just so knockin’! The drums were crazy and then that piano came in. That song was literally magnetic. It drew you to it. If you were a music head then you were drawn to “Ego Trippin'” not just because of the s**t that they were saying on there, but how they were saying it over that beat. That song made you want to move. I mean, Hip-Hop back then was like how soul music used to be, where you felt it from the inside first. What also bugged me out about that record was that when I first heard it, it kinda seemed like they were going at Run DMC with the lines about Peter Piper. I remember listening to that as a little boy thinking, ‘Hold on?! Are they shi**ing on Run DMC?!’ (laughs) It was songs like “Ego Trippin'” that made me realise that I like my music hardcore.”
Boogie-Down Productions – “The Bridge Is Over” (B-Boy Records / 1987)
$amhill: “I was a little boy when that record came out, man. That was one of those songs I’d hear when they used to have the jams in the park and everyone would bring their s**t out and plug into the street-light. But man, when that beat would come on with that piano, that s**t would be pandemonium. I had two older sisters and a brother and they would take me to the jams and I’d break away from them just acting crazy in the park taking it all in. I was young at the time and I didn’t really understand that KRS was beefin’ with Marley Marl and them, but the overall feel of that record was incredible. It was only after I saw the video on Video Music Box and then started to listen to Marley Marl and Red Alert on the radio that I realised what was happening with them.
But that song was so powerful because it was representing where we were from and it was also letting people know that Hip-Hop started in The Bronx and you’ll respect that or we’ll run right through you. With me growing-up in Hip-Hop, I had to recognise that that song was monumental. I mean, KRS was really disrespecting people on “The Bridge Is Over” (laughs).
I was in elementary school when that song dropped and rap was the consistent topic everyday that everyone would be talking about. So off of us talking about “The Bridge Is Over”, I also started to learn more about MC Shan, Craig G, Roxanne Shante and other people that were doing this music in other places. So I had to recognise that there were other people doing Hip-Hop in other parts of New York City. But from that moment right there I’ve always loved KRS-One as an emcee. I mean, he was born in Brooklyn but he’s always represented The Bronx and seeing him do that back then let me know early on that you have to represent where you’re from in this rap s**t and really be proud of it.”
Just-Ice – “Going Way Back” (Fresh Records / 1987)
$amhill: “That record is a classic. Around the time that “Going Way Back” came out the park jams were slowly dying down in The Bronx because people were getting killed and there’d always be something going on like a shootout. So the jams in the park were really getting shut down. So now you’d be hearing records first on the radio with Mr. Magic’s show and Red Alert and then a couple of weeks later Ralph McDaniels would be playing the video on Video Music Box.
Now, the thing with Just-Ice is that he was a street ni**a. He’s a dude that would handle what he needed to handle in his own way. A lot of people didn’t know that about Just-Ice then unless you were from The Bronx. But to hear him on that record talking about how he was there when certain things happened in The Bronx, Zulu Nation, this, that and a third, it really felt like he was teaching me and putting me onto some s**t that I really didn’t know about. But that record was so hardcore and Just-Ice always used to wear those leather rasta hats which he had on in the video. The part I always remember is when Just-Ice says ‘Yo KRS! What’s the purpose of you stopping me?’ (laughs).
The beat to that song was so strong and his voice was so aggressive but at the same time he was teaching me. It reminded me in some ways of someone like a Farrakhan, because he was always very aggressive in delivering his lessons. I learnt from listening to Farrakhan that if you’re not aggressive in the way you deliver your message then a lot of people won’t take you seriously. So when Just-Ice was telling me on “Going Way Back” about certain blocks and how if you don’t know what happened with this person then you wasn’t there, I had to listen to him because he was both commanding and demanding your attention. He was giving you a history lesson that you had to pay attention to.”
Tim Dog – “F**k Compton” (Ruffhouse Records / 1991)
$amhill: “That record had a major impact on me and my whole entire neighbourhood because Tim Dog lived just a couple of buildings away from me. But the funny s**t about that is that I didn’t actually know that then (laughs). I guess the older dudes I was hanging around with already knew Tim Dog from around the way and of course he already had the Ultra affiliation. But when that song came out it was wild aggressive, it was ignorant, it was disrespectful, and we loved it (laughs). We loved everything about it. But at first it confused me why he was dissing certain people on that record because I f**ked with N.W.A.. I loved aggressive, hardcore sounding s**t and at the time N.W.A. was the epitome of that type of style and the way they were coming with it was just so real. I mean, back then, as a little boy I used to think rappers like the Geto Boys and N.W.A . would really come to my mother’s house and kill everybody there (laughs). Like, seeing the video to N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” I thought Ice Cube was going to bust through the TV screen and kill somebody. Then when Tim Dog came out and was like ‘F**k them! This is where I’m from and this is what I’m about’ I was like, ‘Yooooo! Hold on, man Who is this?’
I mean, I wasn’t taking sides or none of that, but Tim Dog was really staking his claim and it was hot! I remember buggin’ out how he dissed Michel’le like that because it was just so uncalled for (laughs). I also remember buggin’ over how he actually came on the record with ‘Awwww shit…’ I was like, ‘How do you just come on a record with ‘Awwww shit…’?’ I was a kid at the time and curse words intrigued me, I was always cursing someone out, so when a ni**a would be cursing everyone out that would be the funniest s**t in the world to me. So when Tim Dog did that on “F**k Compton” I thought the dude had lost his mind but I loved it. And it was more than just being about the fact that Tim Dog was from my block, it was about the fact that he had to have some f**kin’ balls to do what he did on that record. He went at the whole of Compton! I mean, I couldn’t be mad at DJ Quik, MC Eiht or any of those dudes for going back at him or dissing the Bronx. I mean, I liked DJ Quik and MC Eiht. Their music wasn’t getting played on New York radio at the time but their videos would be on Video Music Box and I was like, ‘Yo, these dudes have really got a story to tell.’ But Tim Dog was just like, ‘F**k your story!’ He really didn’t care (laughs).
After that I had to get “Penicillin On Wax” when it came out. I mean, everybody in my mother’s neighbourhood was listening to “Penicillin On Wax” because Tim Dog was from the block and that album was crazy! Nobody could say that Tim Dog was wack. But what I took from Tim Dog back then was the realisation that you can do exactly what you want to do with your life and not give a f**k about what anyone else has to say about it.”
Showbiz & A.G. – “Soul Clap” (Mercury Records / 1992)
$amhill: “Well, I can honestly say that Showbiz & A.G. really made me want to be $amhill even more and pursue this music. I used to hear “Soul Clap” on the radio and I remember the EP they had that it was on because I bought it. I s**t you not, I used to buy everything on bootleg back then (laughs). The bootleg man used to be up the block next to McRogers, which was my neighbourhood’s bootleg McDonalds (laughs). So the tape man would be there and sell everything for two dollars. I used to have thousands of those tapes. But I got Showbiz & A.G.’s first s**t with “Soul Clap” on there and that record was crazy to me. The bassline on there was just so breathtaking. I’d be walking to school listening to those dudes in my headphones and I loved what they were doing.
To me, A.G. is the epitome of the evolving emcee. From how he rhymed on Lord Finesse’s first album “Funky Technician”, to how he rhymed on his own early s**t, to how he rhymes now, you can hear that was somebody who wanted to get better every time he came out. A.G. didn’t take what he did as a joke. You could tell he wanted people to know rhyming was what he loved to do and that came across in the music. A.G. is definitely the epitome of an emcee to me.
As for Showbiz, I remember the first time I saw their video for “Fat Pockets” on Video Music Box and then went outside afterwards and saw him on the f**kin’ corner, that s**t changed my life forever. It made me realise that even with all the music stuff, Showbiz and A.G. were just regular dudes from my community. Seeing them around like that really made me follow everything they did and it let me know that I could do it to just by being me. But around that time, I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, I’d be at house parties and when “Soul Clap” would come on the whole place would go crazy because that song was so funky.
I have such a profound respect for both of them. A.G.’s brother Wally World is one of my producers who I’ve done a whole bunch of stuff with. Two years ago I had about a two or three hour conversation with Showbiz in his studio. This dude I used to be cool with took me down there to meet him because I was always saying that Showbiz & A.G. were the reason why I was doing this. So I was introduced to Showbiz and we ended up having a three hour conversation about God and spirituality. He asked to hear my music and he respected what I was doing. I was telling him how I used to see him around the neighbourhood when I was a little boy and how he would have all this jewellery on and be looking so fly, and he was just sat there staring at me like, ‘Wow! Just off of me being me, this young ni**a is doing what he’s doing now.’ But I really respected Showbiz for taking the time to hear me out and to speak to me about the things that we did.
Same thing with A.G., I remember seeing him at a radio station a couple of years ago and he was saying how if something isn’t about the truth then he doesn’t want to speak about it because he’s so connected to wanting to spread the knowledge of God and that s**t literally sent chills down my spine.
But to me, Showbiz & A.G. have never done anything wack. They’ve consistently evolved and that’s what I’ve always loved about them. It would be a dream come true for me to do a song with Show & A.G. just off the strength of the impact those two men had on my life before they ever even knew anything about me.”
Fat Joe – “Flow Joe” (Relativity Records / 1993)
$amhill: “It’s funny that you say that s**t because “Flow Joe” is one of my personal favourites as well. I remember seeing when Fat Joe was filming that video. But it really impacted me because I remember when Red Alert used to play a short version of the song as a promo on his radio show with the ‘Everybody know Fat Joe’s in town…’ verse. I used to sit there and wait for that promo to come on when I’d be listening to the radio. That Diamond D beat was so hardcore and the way it dropped with the kick and the snare was just incredible to me. Back then you could buy the cassette maxi-singles with the instrumental on it and I picked that up and used to play that s**t all the time.
That s**t was so dope to me. I mean, what Fat Joe was saying on there in his lyrics was good and it was cool for what it was, but the s**t that was just so crazy about that track was that beat. The music was just so cinematic and I don’t know how many people got that same feeling from it that I did. It made me want to get into Fat Joe even more and see where he was coming from with his music. I mean, the founding members of D.I.T.C. being from the Bronx just made such an impression on me because I would just see these dudes walking around. It just made me believe that if I wanted to do this music thing then I could do it.
But going back to that track, if anyone ever asked me what my favourite Fat Joe tracks were I would have to say “Flow Joe” and “Respect Mine” off the second album. I always preferred the version of “Flow Joe” they did the video for rather than the one that was on the first album. But that album “Represent” was crazy. I remember I always wanted to rap over the beat that was used on the interlude “My Man Ski”. When I was in high-school there was a talent show and I was going to be in it and the beat on that interlude was so dope so I looped it up on the tape-deck and I was going to do a freestyle to it. But then I got kicked out of the show because I was being stupid (laughs).”
Money Boss Players – “Crap Game” (Warning Records / 1996)
$amhill: “Hmmmm. It’s like this man, the best thing about Money Boss Players is Lord Tariq and I’ma leave it at that. You can print that. The best thing about Money Boss is Lord Tariq and that’s all I have to say on it. It is what it is. I just don’t really f**k with that. I got respect for Lord Tariq and I’ve learnt that Lord Tariq has respect for me and my music and I’ll leave it at that.”
Big Pun – “I’m Not A Player” (Loud Records / 1997)
$amhill: “The original mix of that song is crazy. Big Pun was an intriguing dude to me. I mean, I never knew him personally, I just knew of him from the community. You remember the remix video where he’s riding around on that scooter? Pun would actually ride around the Bronx on that f**kin’ scooter. I would see Pun’s big ass on that scooter riding around Home Street, Boston Road, Forest Projects, I would see him do that. But the original version of that song was so crazy to me because I love soul music and the way that O’Jays sample was flipped was so dope. Then on top of that I had to respect the lyrical ability of Big Pun as well. I remember thinking how he reminded me of Kool G. Rap when I first heard him, not to where he was biting his style, but like Big L and Lord Finesse, Pun just enhanced that style and was the next generation. I just thought he was f**kin’ nice.
When Pun came out Hip-Hop was getting into some other s**t but he was still able to remain himself and keep it street. I mean, that “Capital Punishment” album was off-the-wall! You could tell there were certain tracks on there where Pun was trying to reach for that commercial appeal, but overall he did his thing on there. It always seemed to me that Pun knew what he wanted to do with his music and he did exactly that. I mean, Pun passed away in 2000, it’s now thirteen years after his death and we still haven’t had another new emcee come through from anywhere and make that type of impact to say I’m one of those next ni**as who’s going to be respected as legendary status.”
Follow $amhill on Twitter @MoeMiller96 and lookout for the full album “The $amhill Story” coming later this year.
Fat Joe & Chi Ali – “Games & Things” (@ChiAliBX / 2013)
Joey Crack welcomes fellow Bronx native Chi Ali back to the streets of the Rotten Apple in this clip for the pair’s recent Showbiz-produced collaboration.
Lord Finesse is an artist who really needs no introduction. A founding member of the legendary NY-based Diggin’ In The Crates crew, a former affiliate of Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate collective and a successful solo act in his own right, the Bronx-bred producer-on-the-mic is considered one of Hip-Hop’s most revered talents, with albums such as his 1990 Wild Pitch debut “Funky Technician” ranked as undisputed classics within rap circles.
Having not released an official full-length collection of new material since 1995’s “The Awakening”, Finesse’s name has remained in the spotlight via a number of one-off single releases, live deejay sets and production work for the likes of Brand Nubian, Freestyle Professors and Vinnie Paz.
More recently, the Funkyman teamed-up with the reputable Slice Of Spice label to polish off some unreleased gems from his vaults, which have then been made available as collectable, limited-edition vinyl-only pieces.
This relationship with Slice Of Spice has also helped Finesse to once again focus on his own solo work, with the L-O-R-D now pushing ahead with his heavily-anticipated album “The Underboss”, a project which has been hinted at numerous times over the years but persistently delayed.
As part of this official return, Lord Finesse recently embarked on a tour of Europe, accompanied by turntable talent DJ Boogie Blind and a renewed sense of purpose. Touching down in a number of cities including London, Glasgow and Copenhagen, the “Here I Come” tour was successful in its mission to allow Finesse to reconnect with fans and announce his plans for 2013, including, of course, that new album.
On a mid-November Sunday night, following the last of his thirteen shows in thirteen days, Lord Finesse and I huddled backstage at Leicester’s Music Cafe for an impromptu interview, with the Hip-Hop icon keen to discuss his future endeavours as well as reminisce on some memorable career moments.
Right about now…the Funk Soul Brother…
Have you been surprised by just how well this “Here I Come” tour has been received because the response to shows on Facebook / Twitter etc has been close to fever pitch?
“I know I worked hard putting this show together with my man Boogie Blind, so I can honestly say that we definitely put the work in to give people something to remember. But to actually see the response and feel the results of that hardwork isn’t something I’ve ever felt before on this scale. I mean, I’ve done plenty of shows before, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as focussed as I have been during this run of shows. We really thought this one out like with the background music, me telling the stories, how the whole show builds up as it goes along. This is probably the first time I’ve ever done a show where I know there are specific points that people will consider to be highlights, like when me and Boogie jump on the turntables together and things like that. I just know I put in a lot of hard-work and it feels good to see it pay-off and have people leaving each show like they just left church or something (laughs).”
Did you feel that you had to put more effort into these shows because you’ve been away for a minute?
“It was definitely due to the fact that I’ve been away for awhile, but secondly it was because I’d also had a chance to reflect on my earlier work. When you’re away for awhile you really get the chance to hear what other people have to say, like ‘Why don’t you ever perform this track?’ or ‘Why don’t you do this during your show?’ So as you’re hearing these different opinions it gives you a chance to think about how you can add certain elements to what you were already doing in order to really give the people what they want. I mean, I’ve been away from the performance side of things for a minute, but I’ve still been hosting events which has allowed me to add a whole other comedic element to the show which also helps people to really get caught up in what you’re doing. So it gets to the point where it doesn’t even feel like two hours have gone by when the show ends, instead people are still wanting to see what I’m going to do next.”
Something I’ve noticed at recent shows here in the UK from artists like Large Professor and Sadat X is that there definitely seems to be a younger fan element in the crowd – would you agree with that?
“I’ve noticed that as well. Obviously, each show has had a lot of original fans there, but I’ve definitely noticed those younger fans this time around. When it comes to them, I just want to make sure I leave a very clear impact so they know exactly what they can expect from me in the future. It’s good for the younger generation to be able to see a real Hip-Hop show from someone who’s really doing the songs, who isn’t rhyming over their own vocals, somebody who’s freestyling, somebody who’s doing the whole package.”
For many of those younger fans, artists such as yourself were probably their introduction to Hip-Hop in the 90s so this would perhaps have been their first opportunity to see you live…
“My goal with this tour was to set the bar real high so that those younger fans left knowing what a real Hip-Hop show is. A lot of people today are paying for these over-priced tickets to see artists who ain’t even putting in a third of the effort I’m putting in onstage. I wanted people who might not have experienced this type of show before to leave every night knowing that there is a significant difference between what someone like a Lord Finesse does and what a lot of these other artists are out there doing, even if they own their records as well. It’s not even about having a hit record when you’re onstage, it’s about who can really execute and translate what they do on that stage. Now, I don’t have what people would consider hit records, but I can still make sure the songs I do have translate well onstage.”
Your music has always contained a lot of personality though which helps in a live setting…
“I mean, I learnt a lot about live shows from watching KRS-One. KRS-One’s live shows are always phenomenal and I always sit there and study how he does it, his order of songs, the crowd participation. KRS has always been a big influence on me when it comes to rocking a crowd.”
During the “Here I Come” stageshow you talk about different moments in your career – which memories still really stand-out to you?
“I’m still here, that’s what stands-out the most to me (laughs). From 1989 to 2012, I’m still here and people still show me love and respect and are still waiting for some new Lord Finesse s**t. I consider myself blessed and humbled at the same time to still have people out there who care about what I’m doing now and who also care about the foundation and legacy of my name. That’s something you really can’t purchase, man.”
Although there always seemed to be a lot of unity amongst New York artists of the early-90s, how high was the spirit of competition within D.I.T.C. at the time considering there were so many classic albums coming out from the likes of Brand Nubian, Main Source, De La Soul etc?
“It was always competitive because we were battling and wanting to make sure our music was incredible and able to stand-out and compete with any other music out there. So we always thought that the music we made had to be incredible, because we’d listen to an album like A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Low End Theory” or Main Source’s “Breaking Atoms” and others that really made us say ‘Damn!’ So you always wanted to make music that was better than anything else you’d heard and even if you said at the time that you weren’t consciously thinking like that, you had to be listening to something that had you wishing that when you did your next project it came out as dope as that.”
Was there ever anything that came out of the D.I.T.C. camp itself that made you think ‘I wish I’d made that record..’?
“Oh, no doubt (laughs). Diamond’s first album “Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop” made me feel like that and also Showbiz & AG’s “Runaway Slave”. See, what you have to understand is that back then everyone’s projects were elevating what everyone else in the crew was doing and pushing people to really deliver their best work. I mean, Diamond had dropped “I’m Not Playin'” with Ultimate Force in 1989 and then my album “Funky Technician” came out a year after that. So my first album had everyone in the crew like Diamond, Showbiz, AG and Fat Joe saying ‘Damn! This ni**a ‘Ness made it, I want to do this s**t.’ So there was always an inspirational aspect to what we were doing back then in terms of the impact the music we were each making had on the other members of the crew.”
And in that sort of group situation nobody wants to be viewed as being the weak link in the chain…
“Yeah, like I remember the first time I heard Showbiz & AG’s “Soul Clap” EP and how Show was chopping the samples on there. When I first heard “Catchin’ Wreck” I’d just come home off the Ice-T / Rhyme Syndicate tour and hearing how Show had chopped some of the same stuff that I’d already used but had done it so differently, I was just like, ‘Yoooo!’ I mean, I wasn’t even really doing production back then. But then when I heard Diamond’s first album as well, that was when I really thought that I needed to step it up. To me, “The Awakening” was a reflection of that, in terms of me really putting my own project together and chopping up all the samples, doing the skits, and really wanting to make something that could stand next to what the crew had already put out. I also remember listening to Big L rhyme as well, hearing him freestyle, and really feeling like I had to write some s**t to match what he was doing. There was never any jealousy or anything like that, it was just always competition. I remember hearing the demo of “Devil’s Son”, I was going somewhere and Show pulled up in the car and he was playing it and I just thought ‘Wow! What the f**k made this ni**a think of this s**t?!’ It was just crazy back then (laughs).”
Personally, Fat Joe’s first album “Represent” was always one of my favourite Diggin’ In The Crates projects…
“Man, Diamond did a number on that album with the production….”
True, but that beat you gave Joe for the opening track “Livin’ Fat” was incredible…
“Yo, I appreciate that. But that s**t Diamond did on there with Apache and Kool G. Rap was crazy! Man, those were definitely the days. I mean, if I could go back and change anything in my career, I wouldn’t (laughs). People ask you that question sometimes and you leave them hanging because really there isn’t anything I would change as far as my own career goes because going through the adversity I faced at times only brings experience. Anytime you’re facing an unknown factor or obstacle, whichever way it goes, you’re still going to come out of the situation with experience you can put to use.”
This year there’s been new projects from O.C., Showbiz & AG, you’ve been out touring, Diamond has announced he’s working on something new – do you think we’ll ever see the crew unite for another D.I.T.C. album?
“I would say yeah, but it has to be bigger than just throwing a record out there, man. To me it’s more personal than that. If we’re just going to do music and throw it out and that’s all it’s going to be, then I don’t wanna do that. It has to be about more than that. I’d want to tour with it and really show people what a D.I.T.C. show would be about in high-definition, with everyone doing their classics and the new material like the way you see Wu-Tang doing it. If it’s just about going in the studio to do an album and we’re not bringing a whole story or really outlining what we’re going to do beyond that, then I’d rather just do what I’m doing. I’ve got a story, there’s things I wanna follow, there’s things I wanna do. I came out of retirement for a reason. What I’ve been doing with this tour is only just scratching the surface of what I have planned. I’ve got some s**t I wanna do and I see the plan, so for me to be diverted from what I’m doing it would have to be for something big.”
If a new group project happened do you think Fat Joe would be a part of it or do you think he’s in a different place now musically considering the commercial success he’s had in recent years?
“Man, I don’t know what that dude’s doing. I just don’t know. I speak to Show all the time, I speak to AG, I speak to O.C., I even spoke to Buckwild recently, Diamond’s out there in Atlanta. I don’t speak to Joe as much. I don’t know what he’s thinking and that’s not meant in a disrespectful manner, I can only speak on the people that I’ve talked to. But if we were to do something I’d just want it to be something so tremendous, and if it ain’t gonna be tremendous then I don’t want to waste the time of the fans. Plus, getting seven chefs in the kitchen to cook one meal ain’t an easy thing to do because everyone’s used to running their own ship now. But me personally, I haven’t done anything since 95 / 96 so now I’ve seen something I really wanna do and I’m going for it. I’ve been dropping the rock on a lot of my situations and now is the time for me to really lock myself away. So after this tour cats might not see me for two or three months because I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
There’s been a lot of talk and rumours in recent years about new Lord Finesse music without any finished product seeing the light of day in terms of a full-album – why the delay?
“I only can do music that I really love. I’m not going to sit there and throw some s**t out just to throw some s**t out, that’s never been how I’ve operated. I’ve always had to be fully one thousand percent into what I’m into to really put that effort forward. I just wasn’t in that mode where I felt I could do that, so why cheat the fans by just throwing something together to make a couple of quick dollars.”
Was it partly down to the way you saw the rap game changing both in a business and creative sense compared to how things were during the golden-age you contributed so heavily to?
“It was partly down to the way the game was going, it was partly down to Big L getting killed, it was partly down to me losing my grandmother. I just didn’t love it the way I used to love it. So I had to really take a step back and reflect on what made me happy about making music and really just dig deep within myself and understand where I was going to go with it if I was going to step back in. Now, my hunger is there again, so the time is now. That’s why I said I don’t want to get diverted because you can have ideas and then be distracted and if those dreams you had never come to fruition a part of you will always feel empty and that will always f**k with you and have you thinking about what could have been. Right now, that’s where I’m at. I have something I want to do musically and I’m thinking about what’s gonna be. So right now I can’t worry about what anyone else thinks, I’ve got to do what’s gonna make me happy.”
Back in the day there were a lot of technical limitations in terms of sampling etc that Hip-Hop artists had to overcome and yet you were able to create timeless music, whereas today, even with advances in technology, many people still struggle to make quality product – what are your thoughts on that?
“That’s why I look at the game now, with all the technology people have, and I’m thinking, is this really the best s**t y’all can come up with? Let me give you my analogy I use to compare our generation with the new generation. If you were taking a maths test back in the 80s and the 70s, the teacher would give you the test, some scrap paper and a pencil. You had to show the working out you did for each equation on the scrap paper to prove that you knew how to get the answer. If you just gave the answer but couldn’t show how you got there people might think you cheated on the test. The teacher wanted to see that you really understood and knew what you were doing when it came to answering the questions in the test. So with that being said, that’s what it was like for us coming up in the production game. People wanted to know that you’d really put the work in when it came to diggin’ for samples and that you really knew how to work the equipment and make it do what you wanted it to do to make those beats. Today, kids are allowed to take maths tests with calculators and they still can’t get every question right, so what is that telling you? It’s the same with music today, people have all this limitless technology but still can’t come up with something great that will stand the test of time. So, it lets you know that technology is great, but you still need the person using it to have imagination and creativity to get the best out of it.”
What would you say to people who might try to slap you with the ‘Mad Rapper’ tag given your opinions on the quality of some present-day Hip-Hop?
“See, what they try to do is curb your answers by calling you a mad rapper, so that when you don’t like something you can be called a hater and things like that. That’s bulls**t! It’s just my opinion. But that’s what they do hoping it’ll stop people from giving their honest opinion because if you say you don’t like something they’re gonna call you a hater, so then some people might not actually want to say they don’t like something. No! If you don’t like something then say it, because if enough people tell some of these artists that their s**t is trash then it’ll actually resonate that it is trash. You can’t tell me that today every record is a hit record, every artist out is hot, that nothing is wack. Back in the day if your s**t was trash then people told you it was trash and you had to come back and do better. But nowadays, when I listen to stuff, I don’t call it trash anymore because maybe that’s too harsh for some people to deal with, so I just say it’s not for me (laughs). I mean, I’m a grown man and I come from that funk and soul era and a lot of the music today just doesn’t touch me, man. I’m trying to touch people with my music, and not like one of those foul priests either, I’m trying to touch people the right way (laughs).”
Another highlight you mention during your show is touring Europe with Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate in 1990 / 1991 – how much of an impact did that experience have on you in terms of you seeing how far your music had reached at that early stage in your career?
“Travelling on a tour across Europe for a month-and-a-half with Ice-T at the age of twenty-one, that is definitely going to have an affect on you. It let me know that I had a fanbase that were supportive across the world and that I could continue to make the music that I loved knowing that I didn’t have to make radio records or club hits to still be able to travel and do things that other artists with commercial hits weren’t able to do. So that experience really opened my eyes to making sure, as an artist, you always utilise the tools and the blessings that you have, which is something I still try to make sure I do today.”
What did you think the first time you saw the UK’s Hijack on that Rhyme Syndicate tour?
“Damn (laughs). They had a performance, man. At that time, I wasn’t really used to the whole performance aspect. I was just a straight emcee who would come onstage, the beat would come on and I’d just kill it. Hijack were bringing fake dead bodies out, they had all types of other s**t going on, and I remember watching them thinking ‘What the f**k is that?’ But they had a show. What I’ve been doing on this tour is give people a show. You really have to make sure you give people their moneys worth and something to remember everytime you hit the stage.”
Putting you on the spot here, what would you say are your three favourite beats that you’ve produced either for yourself or other artists?
“I would say Dr. Dre’s “The Message” is one, Biggie’s “Suicidal Thoughts” is two, but the third one is hard, it could be “Check The Method” because of the musical aspect, it could be “Brainstorm”, or it could even go to Xperado “All Night”, which is the joint Joey Bada$$ just redid, because what I did with what I had on that track was just some other s**t.”
I think one of your best beats has to be Big L’s “Street Struck” – I remember being almost hypnotised the first time I heard that when “Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous” dropped…
“That could be one of my favourite beats as well because we took notes from the sample, echoed those notes and then replayed them and added other elements to the track. So if people can dissect what I used on that I’ll give them a hundred dollars, for real. You’re only going to know what I used on there if somebody that was close to me tells you what I did with that record. Nobody else will be able to tell you that, nobody.”
With the constant threat today of lawsuits etc do you ever think about not using samples so much anymore or does it just make you use them in a more creative way?
“Nah, I’m always going to do what I do. It’s just another challenge. People feel like they’re not going to sample anymore and talk about how they’re going to play everything on a track?! Man, unless you’re Teddy Riley, Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder then cut it out, man. You’ve gotta be someone like a Roy Ayers to really understand the technical skill involved in playing some s**t. Some of these ni**as sound like they’re retarded on those keyboards and what they’re doing really doesn’t have any soul or feeling to it. I’m always going to sample. I’m like Leonardo DiCaprio in that movie “Catch Me If You Can”, man. I really see it as a challenge. If y’all ni**as really think you can catch what I’m doing, okay, I’ma see y’all. Let’s see if you can really tell people what I used and what I did without researching the people around me.”
So what can people expect from Lord Finesse in 2013?
“Inspiration. Fans and artists who’re frustrated with the state of real Hip-Hop will be able to look at what I’m about to do as a new blueprint. That’s all I can say. I’m just about to have fun all over again. I’m still rhyming, it’s still straight beats, there’s still that funk and soul in the music, it’s the same thing people know me for, but this new album “The Underboss” will be like “The Awakening” times ten. No electronic commercial s**t, I’m not doing that. Just believe and have faith that when I come back on the scene you’re going to be able to get with it.”
Footage of Lord Finesse and DJ Boogie Blind rocking the turntables in Manchester, England.
P-Doe ft. KRS-One & Fat Joe – “New York City” (Box Lo Productions / 2012)
Big James-produced five borough flavour.