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

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In this concluding part of my interview with Queens, NY emcee Satchel Page, the rhyming veteran discusses the close relationship between Hip-Hop and the 80s drug game, growing-up with Neek The Exotic and meeting the legendary Large Professor – check Part One here.

How much of an impact did the crack era of the 80s and 90s have on South Jamaica?

“It affected everybody almost every second of every day. That’s the best way I can try to explain how big the drug game was in Queens back then. Everybody knew somebody who was on it, or who was selling it, or you were on it or selling it yourself. It was everywhere. It was also in the music of the time. Actually, the crack era is really what ended the park jam days because now you had these big drug dealers moving around. So whereas before, we were going to the park jams to party, now you had these drug dealers with their turf wars who were meeting at these jams and now the jams started getting shot-up. You couldn’t have a jam back then without it getting shot-up. That’s what really ended the park jam era. It wasn’t the fact that cats stopped doing it or started making records, it was the fact that it just wasn’t safe anymore. The cops would shut them down as soon as anyone did try and throw a park jam because they knew there would be some trouble. The violence was serious and that all came from people making so much money off of the crack era. I saw people that I grew-up with fighting each other and killing each other over money. The crack era pretty much ravaged my part of Queens and you can still see the evidence of that to this day.”

It must have been crazy to see that on a day to day basis?

“It really took us by storm. I mean, the drug game was just so influential back then. At one point, the drug dealers were more influential in the neighbourhoods than the Hip-Hop artists. The Hip-Hop artists wanted to be the drug dealers in some cases…

I remember back in the 80s looking at album covers featuring NY artists like Rakim wearing the Dapper Dan suits etc and thinking that was Hip-Hop fashion – then in subsequent years finding out it was the drug dealers who were dressing like that initially and the rappers were emulating them

“There was definitely a close relationship between the two because the two people making the most money in your neighbourhood were the Hip-Hop artists and the drug dealers. I remember we used to have this big basketball tournament in Queens and Rakim would bring his crew to play the Supreme Team, which was a big time drug organisation that most people have heard of. So they would play this tournament and they would have NBA players on the teams like Mark Jackson, “Pearl” Washington and other big-time players because the drug dealers had enough money to pay them. They would all throw an exhibition game in the summer. LL would always be seen with big drug dealers around that time as well. At that time I think the rappers wanted to be around the drug dealers because of the connection they had to the street. I mean, you would see LL uptown with Alpo. Then you’d see him with Bimmy, who was one of the biggest drug dealers in Queens from Baisley, who was down with the Supreme Team. LL and Bimmy were very close. They actually used to switch-up cars. One day you’d see LL driving Bimmy’s car and then you’d see Bimmy driving LL’s car. They both had the big white 740 BMWs. So the drug dealers and the rappers were really interchangeable back then. I mean, a big drug dealer like Supreme, when he’d have a birthday party, he’d go get all the top talent and have a party right in Baisley Park projects and it would be with LL, Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash. It’d be the same kinda line-up you might see at Madison Square Garden and it would be right there in the park (laughs). That’s how it was at the height of the drug era.”

How open were the dealers back then in terms of trying to hide what they were doing out in the street?

“Man, it was wide open. That’s what’s so astonishing when you look at how New York is now compared to back then. I mean, New York is like a police state now. But in the 80s, it was an open market. I mean, you’d see the lines running two or three blocks long early in the morning with people looking to buy their drugs. These guys would be out there selling their drugs right out in the open and the police weren’t around or anything. People were just making so much money. I remember, a friend of mine drove up to me in a Mercedes Benz around the mid-80s when the crack era was really just starting and he would have been about fourteen-years-old. It was crazy! But at that point, crack was really just taking hold of the poor neighbourhoods and I think the police and the politicians were thinking it was a problem that was contained, so they weren’t really paying that much attention to it. I don’t think they knew it was as big as it was or how much of a problem it was becoming. I don’t think they realised how much money was being generated and by the time they did realise there were millionaires on nearly every block.  It was kinda like Miami in the late-70s and early-80s during the cocaine era. It’s a time that could never be replicated. I mean, you’d see guys that you grew-up with and went to school with who started selling crack and within two weeks they were driving around in hundred thousand dollar cars. It was that easy. I remember my little stint selling it, I could go out and in one day I could come back at fourteen-years-old and have easily made fifteen hundred dollars as just a low, low, low level dealer. I mean, you could just walk out your front door and sell right off your stoop and make that kind of money. You didn’t even have to travel. It was just so easy.”

At what point did that change?

“In Southside, the point that changed everything was when they killed that cop Edward Byrne in 1988. When that hit the news, they locked down the whole neighbourhood. The neighbourhood was never the same after that. It became a police state. Within a couple of years the drug game had really slowed down and people couldn’t just stand out on the corner anymore selling drugs. But when they killed that cop, it became apparent to the police that these guys weren’t just nickel-and-dime punks selling a small amount of drugs, they were on par with the Mafia as far as the money they were making and the violence that was going on.”

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So getting back to the music, how did you meet Neek The Exotic?

“Man, I can remember Neek for as long as I can remember myself. His cousin was actually my next door neighbour and Neek would always come to his cousin’s house from Flushing every weekend. So me and Neek would always hangout and we hit it off from day one. So me and Neek go back to when we were like three-years-0ld playing together. So when he came out on Main Source’s “Fakin’ The Funk” it was big for me because that was my man right there. As soon as he came out he came looking for me and we linked back up.”

So you’d fallen out of touch prior to him coming out with Main Source?

“Yeah. Like I said, he was from Flushing and he was out there doing his thing. At that time a lot of dudes were in Hip-Hop halfway and in the streets halfway and Neek was no exception. I dabbled in the streets a little, but that was never really me. I pretty much just stayed with the Hip-Hop thing. So I wasn’t rockin’ with Neek like that because he was in the street, but we were always brothers. So when he came out with Large Pro he was actually looking for me. But like I said, this was before you had cellphones and everything. You just had someone’s house number and if you couldn’t catch them on that then you weren’t getting in touch with them (laughs). So he was trying to get in touch with me just to let me know that he was moving with the music thing. Then he saw my brother, told him he’d been trying to reach me, he gave my brother his new number and we linked back up.”

Earlier you mentioned Run was trying to get you a deal in the late-80s – so inbetween that and you getting back together with Neek were you regularly pushing demos to labels?

“Yeah, definitely. I think if you were an emcee in New York at that time then everybody was in ‘Please listen to my demo’ mode. Every weekend, I’d be going out up to Manhattan, dropping demo tapes off at all the labels, getting called back, getting bullshi**ed, almost getting deals but nothing coming off. I did that whole gamut. I remember Def Jam were very interested at one point. When things didn’t work out with Profile, Run had taken my music up to Def Jam. We were close to getting a deal with this guy up there. But right at the moment we were about to get a deal, he fell out of favour with Russell Simmons and got caught stealing money from the label. So he got fired (laughs). I remember reading about the guy getting caught in Russell Simmons’ autobiography.”

Do you remember any of the tracks you had on those demo tapes?

“I remember I had this track called “No Baby!” which went ‘No baby! Get your hands off my brand new Mercedes’ (laughs) That was one of the joints that Run liked and took us up to Def Jam with. He thought that was going to be a hit record. We had another track called “Crack The Whip”. I mean, we had a lot of records. I did so many songs back then. It was funny because even though I had a rep from the park jams in the early-80s, I used to make all these songs but didn’t really know how many people already knew about me until I’d meet people. Like when Neek first introduced me to Large Professor, they had “Fakin’ The Funk” out, Large had the album with Main Source out and he was already a big name. So Neek introduced us and the first thing Large said to me was, ‘Yo, it’s an honour to meet you, man. I remember Neek always used to bring your tapes out to Flushing and we all thought this cat G.L.T. was ill.’ That really blew my mind! I mean, this was Large Professor saying that to me and I had no idea that he knew about me. But back then when we were doing the tapes, you’d know someone from the tapes before you ever got the chance to see them in a lot of cases. Like I said, Queens was very segregated back then and we were so young so you really only knew people based on how far you could walk (laughs).”

Speaking of being young, did you have anything in your wardrobe back then from the Shirt Kings store in Jamaica’s Colosseum Mall?

“Man, you wasn’t from Southside if you didn’t have something from Shirt Kings (laughs). You had to have a shirt from Shirt Kings and some gold-teeth from Eddie’s Gold Caps downstairs in the Colosseum (laughs). I had G.L.T. on the front of my shirt with a character with his arms crossed in a b-boy stance. That was Hip-Hop! It was religion to us back then and here we are today and we still can’t get it out of our systems. We lived and breathed Hip-Hop. That’s what we did. Every second of our lives was Hip-Hop. We did it for the love.”

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So when you reconnected with Neek in the early-90s and were introduced to Large Pro was there any intention of you working together on something?

“Yeah, definitely. Once me and Neek hooked-up again we started doing music and it was on. I started rolling with them and was going to shows. That was actually the first time that I’d thought to myself, ‘This is it!’ I mean, I was rolling with a crew who were already out so I really felt something was going to come out of it. But what happened was, my man Neek, like I said he was kinda living two lifestyles and that other lifestyle caught up with him and he had to go away for a little bit in the midst of all that. Now, Neek was my man and Large was my brother through Neek. So when Neek went away, like I said, it wasn’t that easy to  get in touch with people back then, so I kinda lost track of Large Pro at the time.”

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Were you around Large Professor when he was working with Nas on “Illmatic”?

“I remember the day Nas got his deal. We came from a show that Neek and Large had actually done with Run-DMC. We pulled up and Nas and MC Serch were in the park across from Large’s crib drinking Moet. We were like, ‘What happened?’ and then Large was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right, Nas just got his deal.’ I was like, ‘Oh s**t!’ I mean, back then Nas to me was just this little young cat who could rhyme. He wasn’t Nasty Nas the legend yet. He was just a little young kid from Queensbridge who could rhyme. So yeah, I remember seeing Nas and MC Serch drinking their champagne right across from Large Professor’s complex. I remember seeing Q-Tip up at a couple of Large Professor’s studio sessions and Busta Rhymes would be up there as well. Rolling with Large was crazy back then because I was meeting all these artists who were big at the time. Even now when I go to Large Professor’s house and see that “Illmatic” plaque on the wall, I’m still like ‘Wow!'”

What about Akinyele?

“I didn’t know Akinyele until he came out with the music. When he came out with his music I remembered Neek and them saying his name. But personally, I never met Akinyele.”

You stepped away from the music game in the mid-90s – what led you to make that decision?

“Yeah, that was definitely around that time. Hip-Hop became more and more about who you knew. Plus, around the age I was then, you start changing, you have to start supporting yourself. So my mindset was aimed more towards establishing myself outside of music. I got a job, started working and started a family. I really stopped doing the music thing all together from, I’d say, 1996 to 2006. I started up some businesses and got myself on solid ground financially. I mean, I was still paying attention because I had people who were still in the music business. I was still listening to the music, I just wasn’t making music myself. I mean, I would still get on the mic every now and then, but I wasn’t seriously pursuing a record deal or trying to get in the business. It was more a hobby for me at that point. But seeing cats I grew-up with become stars was great to me.”

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In recent years you’ve dropped a handful of projects including 2010’s “Young Patriarch” album with Ayatollah – what drew you back to making music?

“Well, with the technology that had come around like YouTube and MySpace, I realised it was easy to let people hear your music. When I started back, that was really my only goal, just for people to hear my music. I just wanted to leave some sort of mark on the game because I’d put so much into it over the years.”

So what’s the concept behind your new album “Fine Wine”?

“Basically, my whole style is like fine wine and as it ages it just gets better as time goes on. So that’s why I decided to give the album that title. My style has been aged since 1971 which was the year I was born (laughs).”

Putting you on the spot here, if you had to name three tracks that you think best represent Hip-Hop from Queens, what would they be?

“Man, that’s a good one. I would definitely say something from the Lost  Boyz, “Jeeps, Lex Coups,  Bimaz & Benz”. I would say “Represent” from Nas and then I’ve gotta say Run DMC, “Sucker MCs”. That’s three different styles right there and there’s always been a lot of different flavours in Queens.”

KRS definitely got it wrong then when he said ‘Queens keeps on fakin’ it…’ on the “The Bridge Is Over”?

“Yeah, he definitely got it wrong with that (laughs). But it was all in the game. He could say something like that and still get love for it because it was just so damn witty. Man, I used to be out there yelling “Queens keeps on fakin’ it…” in the clubs when “The Bridge Is Over” would come on (laughs). There’s no denying magic.”

Ryan Proctor

“Fine Wine” is available now on iTunes.

Follow Satchel Page on Twitter – @Satchel Page

2012 footage of Large Professor, Neek The Exotic and Satchel Page performing in NYC.