Tag Archives: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five

The Lord Of The Rhyme – 10 Reasons Why Grandmaster Melle Mel Will Always Be One Of The Greatest Emcees Of All-Time

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In 1982 I was a seven-year-old kid growing-up in the UK obsessed with “Star Wars” and comic books. Then I heard a record that would literally change the course of my life by introducing me to the music and culture of Hip-Hop. That record was “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.

I can still remember hearing “The Message” for the first time like it happened yesterday. A classmate of mine had come into school with a cassette excited about a new song that his older brother had been playing continuously and, as young kids always want to emulate the cooler older kids, he’d brought it in on tape to share with anyone who wanted to listen.

I can’t remember exactly how he described the track, aside from that it had some bad language in the opening line, but I do remember that I was curious to hear what my classmate was so excited about. I borrowed the tape and took it home.

In 1982 I didn’t have anything that resembled my own stereo-system. Neither were Walkmans readily available. So, I borrowed my dad’s small mono cassette player, took it into my bedroom, slid the tape in and pressed play. For the next seven minutes I was mesmerised.

First, the beat started and it sounded nothing like the music my parents played around the house or that I’d heard on the radio. That slow, deliberate drum programming combined with those strange keyboards that sounded like they were being played underwater immediately had me both hooked and confused.

Then came that voice. When Melle Mel started rhyming, I didn’t know what to think. Who is this? Why’s he talking instead of singing? Why is there broken glass everywhere? Where does this person come from?

By the time the Bronx emcee had reached the infamous “Don’t push me…” hook, my young mind had been introduced to a world I didn’t know existed and I was as intrigued by “The Message” lyrically as I was musically.

Of course, as a young, working-class white kid from England, I couldn’t comprehend much of what was being described and addressed in “The Message”. But with Melle Mel delivering his rhymes in what I would come to know as his trademark gruff, authoritative style, even though I might not have fully understood everything I was hearing, I knew from the way it was being said that it was something important.

Melle Mel’s voice literally demanded and commanded my attention.

With my official introduction to Hip-Hop made and a series of lucky coincidences meaning I was around older brothers of friends who were already listening to rap and electro, Melle Mel became the standard by which I judged all other emcees I heard.

Listening to artists like Captain Rock and Divine Sounds on the “Electro” compilations of the time from UK label Streetsounds, the question I always asked myself was, ‘Are they as good as Melle Mel?’

By the time Mel had parted ways with Grandmaster Flash and was leading his own incarnation of the Furious Five, dropping singles like “Beat Street Breakdown” and “Step Off”, he was like a lyrical super-hero to me.

At that moment in time, I would have probably even argued that Mel’s trademark “Urrrghrah!” was more impressive than some other artist’s entire verses!

Of course, as the years have rolled by, plenty of other supreme lyricists have risen to prominence and left their own indelible mark on the culture of Hip-Hop, from the likes of Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and Chuck D, to Nas, Ghostface and Black Thought, just to name a few.

But regardless of how many other microphone fiends might have captured my attention since I was first introduced to Hip-Hop over thirty years ago, to me, Melle Mel will always be the first name I mention in any conversation about the greatest emcees of all-time.

To refresh your memory, here’s ten reasons why…

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “Superappin” (Enjoy Records / 1979)

In the wake of the surprise late-70s success of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, some of the same crews who’d been busy laying Hip-Hop’s foundations on Bronx street corners were eager to make the jump from block party to wax, with labels like Bobby Robinson’s Enjoy Records all too happy to cash in on what many viewed to be a musical fad.

Clocking in at twelve minutes of fluid disco-flavoured funk, “Superappin”showcased a tighter Furious Five than was heard on the Brass Records “We Rap More Mellow” track released the same year (without the group’s actual consent) under the name Younger Generation.

But whilst members of the Furious Five such as Rahiem and the late, great Cowboy rhymed about their microphone prowess and success with the ladies, Melle Mel clearly had bigger things on his mind, literally predicting the success he would go on to experience in the 80s with lines such as, “It was something in my heart from the very start, I could see myself at the top of the chart..” and “My name on the radio and in the magazines, My picture on a TV screen…”.

Ending that particular verse with a confident, “It ain’t like that yet, But, huh, you’ll see…”, Melle Mel was either daydreaming outloud or could clearly envision the potential his talent had to be heard around the world.

The BX emcee was already looking forward to the days when he’d no longer have to take the train, take the train.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “It’s Nasty” (Sugarhill Records / 1981)

Putting their own unique spin on Talking Heads spin-off group Tom Tom Club’s infectious early-80s new wave hit “Genius Of Love”, “It’s Nasty” once again found the Furious Five committing well-rehearsed crew routines to studio tape as well as demonstrating some slick dance moves in the accompanying low-budget video.

But what I’ll always remember about hearing this track for the first time as a young kid in the 80s was Melle Mel starting to rhyme in French after bragging about the water-bed seats in his limousine! I had no idea what he was talking about at the time but I knew it had to be some ol’ fly ish, otherwise why would he have gone to all the trouble of learning another language to say it?!

In my opinion, “Je m’apelle Melle Mel…”remains one of the simplest, yet most memorable lines in Hip-Hop history.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “The Message” (Sugarhill Records / 1982)

In the same year that Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” took Hip-Hop into a futuristic musical universe, “The Message” kept the music well and truly rooted in the Rotten Apple gutters that it was born from with vivid images of ghetto life in New York City.

Although it’s been well-documented that not all members of GMF & The Furious Five were excited about recording this slow-paced slice of social commentary that appeared to be at odds with the party-rocking style rap was known for at the time, “The Message” deservedly became one of the most important records in Hip-Hop’s evolution.

With Melle Mel only sharing mic duties with Sugarhill-affiliate Duke Bootee, “The Message” showcased Hip-Hop’s potential to address social issues and makes listeners think at the same time as it was making their heads nod.

It could be argued that had the majority of the track’s rhymes about junkies in back-alleys, stick-up kids and unemployment been delivered by any voice other than Melle Mel’s dominant bark, “The Message” could have easily lost some of its initial sonic impact.

Although he was guilty of lifting lyrics from the previously released “Superappin” for his final verse on the track, Melle Mel’s performance on “The Message” remains one of the most captivating and influential displays of lyricism in popular music, highlighting the full effect of 80s Reaganomics on inner-city America.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “New York New York” (Sugarhill Records / 1983)

Another brilliant example of Melle Mel’s ability to place his poignant social commentary of the time within a wider political / economical framework, “New York New York” painted pictures of corporate skyscrapers and a robot-like workforce inadvertently reinforcing the status quo (“A castle in the sky, One mile high, Built to shelter the rich and greedy…”), whilst also graphically describing the plight of the “poor and the needy” on the streets below.

Amidst funky guitar licks and shimmering synths, Mel goes on to describe the limited options for young Black Americans of the 80s, seedy goings on in Times Square, and the tragedy of a young mother abandoning her baby in the city streets, setting the stage for the vivid lyrical portraits the Bronx emcee would find himself painting the following year.

Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five – “Beat Street Breakdown” (Atlantic / Sugarhill Records / 1984)

Arguably Melle Mel’s finest lyrical accomplishment, the lead single from cult Hip-Hop flick “Beat Street” went far beyond simply being a catchy ode to the film’s central graffiti-obsessed character Ramon.

Weaving elements of the “Beat Street” story-line into an epic seven-minute long display of verbal mastery, Mel compared the end-to-end burners seen on NYC subway cars of the time to the work of Michelangelo, tackled social inequality and predicted a future filled with economic struggle and religious conflict in a world populated by people who had become slaves to technology.

By the time this track reached its stirring climax, with Melle Mel shouting “And if you believe that you’re the future, Scream it out and say ‘Oh yeah!'”, it was impossible not to feel inspired.

Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five – “World War III” (Sugarhill Records / 1984)

As a child in the early-80s it felt like the threat of a nuclear apocalypse was everywhere. The Cold War between America and Russia was in full effect and with the UK being a close ally of the US it seemed natural at the time to assume England would be a target if disaster struck.

It seemed like every time my parents watched the early-evening news there was a story involving Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and the possibility of either one of them pressing that little red button.

In school we were even shown an animated ‘educational’ programme that gave advice on what to do if a warning of an imminent nuclear attack was given and how to survive a blast. Ban The Bomb-style graffiti slogans could be seen around my local town centre. As a kid with a vivid imagination, I was shook.

So by the time Melle Mel dropped his own lyrical bomb, the nine-minute masterpiece that is “World War III”, my young mind was already convinced that the planet wasn’t going to make it past 1985.

Covering everything from the potential horrors of a nuclear holocaust and the futility of war, to the struggles faced by veteran soldiers trying to fit back into civilian life (with Vietnam having only ended less than a decade before), Mel painted disturbing end-of-the-world images on a grand scale throughout this track from 1984’s “Work Party” album.

Descriptions of post-nuclear streets filled with “mutant dogs and sabre-toothed rats”, bloody battlefields and communities forced to live underground to survive the fallout might sound far-fetched today, but thirty years ago the possibility of approaching a point in history where “the world is a ghetto, high and low” didn’t seem out of the question.

With “World War III”, Melle Mel brilliantly captured the fear, anxiety and paranoia that surrounded the nuclear debate of the time, turning the subject of potential global conflict into one of the most instense, emotionally-charged examples of lyrical skill ever to be committed to wax.

Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five – “The Truth” (Sugarhill Records / 1984)

Melle Mel’s contribution to this raw, block-party-style lyrical tour de force remains one of my favourite verses of all-time from any emcee.

Following spirited bragging and boasting from Scorpio, Cowboy and King Lou, the Grandmaster almost bursts through the speakers as he grabs the mic to close this track with an ego-driven verse of gargantuan proportions.

In less than sixty seconds, Mel crushes the competition in no uncertain terms, asserting his legendary status, demanding respect for helping to lay the foundations of Hip-Hop, whilst also aiming some less than subtle verbal shots at then new kids on the block Run-DMC, who’d made a huge impact on the rap world a year earlier with the release of “Sucker M.C.’s”.

With Melle Mel, as always, not ready to give up an inch of the ground he’d claimed at this point in his five years of already making records, he ended his verse on “The Truth” with some stern words for the upcoming kings from Queens (“You got a little bit of fame and wealth, Now you think you did it all by yourself, Huh, I am you, But you ain’t me, Because you didn’t start rockin’ ’til ’83, Melle Mel is the best that will ever exist, And if I gotta be a sucker, suck on this!”).

Chaka Khan ft. Grandmaster Melle Mel – “I Feel For You” (Warner Bros Records / 1984)

Before Alicia Keys sang about the streets of New York with Nas, Mary J. Blige breathed new life into an old-school soul classic with Method Man, or Jody Watley tackled the subject of friends with Rakim, iconic vocalist Chaka Khan enlisted the help of Melle Mel to add some Hip-Hop flavour to her remake of a track originally recorded by Prince for his self-titled 1979 album.

In hindsight, this was my first experience of dealing with the conflicting feelings shared by many true-school heads when seeing Hip-Hop being given exposure on a mainstream level.

On the one hand, to me, in 1984, Hip-Hop was still very much an underground secret shared by a select few that in a pre-internet age wasn’t easily accessible to the masses. Hip-Hop was still largely being viewed as a here-today-gone-tomorrow youth fad by the older generation. So, as as fan, you wanted the music to gain more exposure and be taken seriously so that everyone could appreciate and understand the brilliance of this innovative, creative culture.

But on the other hand, I remember not being totally sure how I felt about hearing my dad mimicking Melle Mel’s opening “Chak-Chak-Chaka Khan…” line from “I Feel For You” when the record would come on the radio station he listened to when we were out in the car. As far as I was concerned, my dad didn’t know who Melle Mel was, he wasn’t a fan of Hip-Hop, and therefore it didn’t feel quite right for him, or other casual listeners, to be reducing the talent of an artist such as Melle Mel to one catchy sing-a-long line with no real intention of investigating his catalogue of material.

That might all sound a little over-dramatic now, but that’s how seriously I took this Hip-Hop ish even back then.

Either way, “I Feel For You” was, and still is, a great record, which, thanks to that brief, to-the-point Melle Mel appearance, played its part in pushing the art of rap into places it might previously not have been welcome.

Afrika & The Zulu Kings – “Cars” (Posse Records / 1986)

I can remember hearing this track for the first time on British radio icon Mike Allen’s Hip-Hop show on London’s Capital station.

By the time 1986 had come around, I was already becoming a huge fan of then upcoming West Coast legend Ice-T thanks to tracks such as 1984’s “Reckless” from the “Breakin'” soundtrack and the vicious single “Ya Don’t Quit”.

So to hear the Iceberg rhyming alongside Melle Mel on this Afrika Islam-produced gem at a time before collaborations in Hip-Hop were commonplace was a big deal.

Even now, when I hear Mel’s third verse description of his custom ride with its plush interior, state-of-the-art phone, Uzi in the trunk and a button which, if pushed, might make the car “sprout wings”, I can still remember hearing this record and picturing the NY legend driving through the Rotten Apple in something that looked like a cross between K.I.T.T. out of “Knight Rider” and the Batmobile!

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “Cold In Effect” (Elektra Records / 1988)

Even in 1988, as a new generation of artists were changing the sonic landscape of Hip-Hop forever with a variety of revolutionary styles and sounds, Melle Mel still wasn’t giving up his throne for anyone.

In the same year that classic albums such as “It Takes A Nation Of Millions…”, “Follow The Leader” and “Strictly Business” dropped, the original Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five line-up reunited for one last album, the Elektra-released “On The Strength”.

During a period which saw Mel publicly battling new-school emcees of the time KRS-One and Queens legend Mikey D at the infamous Latin Quarter and New Music Seminar respectively, he still found time to give some spirited performances on what would be the Furious Five’s last group project.

Declaring his rap dominance on this track almost a full decade after he’d initially emerged on wax from his Bronx stomping grounds, Melle Mel wasn’t ready to let anyone retire him to the old-school history books, coming out swinging like a veteran boxer determined to prove he could still go a few rounds with the young bucks.

Or, in this case, just prove that he was still, and always will be, cold in effect, boyee!

Ryan Proctor

Old To The New Q&A (Part Two) – Daddy-O

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In this second instalment of my interview with Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, the Brooklyn-bred Hip-Hop legend discusses almost signing to Sugarhill Records, recording the group’s debut 1986 album “On Fire” and rocking the stage at NYC’s infamous Latin Quarter – check Part One here.

So how did you get involved in the Mr. Magic competition that subsequently led to Stetsasonic securing a record deal?

“I’m trying to think how we met Fly Ty because that’s how it came about. We met Tyrone from Cold Chillin’. I don’t remember exactly how we met Fly Ty, that’s something that Delite probably would remember better. But we met Ty somehow and he liked us, so he was kind of managing us for a time, and at the same time he was managing Roxanne Shante and I think he had Biz Markie as well. It was at the time when they were first trying to pull that whole Cold Chillin’ roster together. Ty was telling us that we should enter this rap contest that Mr. Magic was putting on. Now, we’d been entering different contests prior to the Mr. Magic thing. But as Delite so eloquently puts it, we always kept coming in second (laughs). I mean, I remember being beaten by this kid Mike in Brooklyn who was one of the baddest singers I ever heard, which was ill because he ended-up just singing on the train. But I remember Mike beating us one time. I remember losing to Father Taheem out in Queens. I remember all of that. It’s not like we were wack, but we just kept coming in second (laughs). I remember one time we had a tie and we got thirty three dollars and some cents because we had to split the one hundred dollars prize money with Doug E. Fresh and Busy Bee at a competition at the Roxy (laughs). I was mad because Doug came on with Ricky, Slick Rick, and that was the first time Doug had brought Rick out. They actually performed “Treat Her Like A Prositute” that night. I left early because I was so mad (laughs). I remember Delite coming to my house, explaining that we’d tied and giving me this money, but telling me that I shouldn’t have left (laughs).”

So what happened with the Mr. Magic contest?

“So anyway, Fly Ty told us we should enter the contest and we did it. I’m not sure how many times we performed before we got into the finals. It might have been twice or it might have been three times. But we performed in different boroughs of New York and every time we did it went really well and the people loved us. Each time we got boosted up to the next level.”

Who else do you remember being in the competition?

“I know there were other people who ended up making records who performed as part of the contest, but I can’t really remember who. What I do remember though is that we won so unanimously in the final and Coney Island was going bananas. Now the way it was set up, there were three labels involved who would each give a deal to the artists in first, second and third place. I remember Pop Art was the third place label, Tommy Boy was second place and Sugarhill Records was first place. I always tell people that if we’d been smart we’d have gone with Lawrence Goodman and Pop Art as that could have led us to Next Plateau with the link he had with Salt-N-Pepa and all the success they had. But that’s a whole other story, right. I mean, Lawrence told us that day that we should have rocked with him, but we didn’t. Then there was Tommy Boy, but as we’d won first place we weren’t really thinking about Tommy Boy at that time. So we ended up doing the Sugarhill thing and Fly Ty knew Sylvia Robinson and all those guys. So we won the competition and now Sugarhill are going to offer us this contract. We went up to Sugarhill Records in New Jersey and it was just a joke. It was like this crazy, whole pre-staged thing. I mean, the Furious Five were playing frisbee in the parking lot when we arrived, Melle Mel comes out from the back of the house with two girls up under his arms, like ‘What’s up Daddy-O?’ I’ll never forget, Leland Robinson, who was real young at the time, but he was out there with a new Toyota which was the hot car at the time. So he was cleaning the rims of his Toyota and then Joey Robinson Jr. drove in with a Benz.”

So they were really pulling out all the stops to show you there was big money at Sugarhill…

“Exactly. Now Sugarhill had two properties that looked exactly the same, one at the bottom of the hill in New Jersey and one up the hill. So we were at the one down the hill, and then they said they were going to take us to the other property up the hill as Sylvia Robinson wanted to meet us. So we went, and all of us in the group tell this story the same way, but we kinda felt like her Rolls Royce keys were strategically placed on the counter in the house and things like that (laughs). Sylvia kept saying, ‘The kids have been raging about y’all’, but when they gave us the contract it was just horrible…”

Locking you in for ten years with two percent royalties or something?

“It was exactly two percent royalties (laughs). It was four percent wholesale. But we were just like, ‘Yo, this is just…no.’ Not that our Tommy Boy deal ended up being that much better, but I did love the flexibility and the time that we had with Tommy Boy. So we told Fly Ty, we’re not rocking with Sugarhill. He was trying to convince us to go with them and saying how big they were as a label and if we put a record out on Sugarhill then it would blow up. But we were all just like, ‘This is wack!'”

So you decided to take the competition’s second prize of signing with Tommy Boy…

“That’s right. It was actually Tom Silverman at Tommy Boy who taught us what a hook was in a record because we didn’t know (laughs). Our first single “Just Say Stet” was originally a record we’d made that was just called “Stetsasonic” and the hook we ended-up using, ‘If you can’t say it all, Just say Stet…’, was originally just a line from one of my rhymes. Tom heard that line and was like, ‘That’s a hook!’ and we were like, ‘What do you mean?’ So he explained the whole thing about using that line as a hook. Then after the single dropped we started working on the first album, “On Fire”.”

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“On Fire” dropped in 1986 but that same year you and Delite appeared on the Incredible Mr. Freeze single “Back To The Scene Of The Crime” on Pow Wow Records. How did that come about?

“Freeze was another guy that I knew through Kevin Porter. It’s funny because at that time we were trying so hard to get on. But Stetsasonic’s road to getting put on was so different to everyone else’s (laughs). Now, Freeze was from East New York, he had a record deal, and he said to us, ‘Yo, I want you guys to rhyme on this.’ But to be honest, we weren’t really in love with the beat on that particular track…”

I always thought perhaps the reason you were featured on that single was due to the fact it was produced by Arthur Baker and the connection he had with Tommy Boy…

“No, no. Like I said, we already knew Freeze and at the time that he got his deal we were killing the park jams. Freeze wished that he was getting what me and Delite were getting in Alabama Park. I mean, once we started doing those Alabama jams, we got nice. Delite became everything I wanted him to become. I mean, D would say to me, ‘Yo, do I sound good?’ and I’d be like, ‘D, you don’t know how good you sound.’ I mean, his voice next to mine and the way we would bounce off of each other….”

When Stetsasonic’s first album came out I was still a huge Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five fan and I would judge any new group I heard against them. I always remember thinking at the time that, to me, Delite was to Stet what Cowboy was to the Furious Five in terms of how his voice had such a big presence on record…

“Absolutely. You nailed it one thousand percent. I loved the way we sounded together and what Delite brought to the group. I mean, we were really doing it out in those parks, so Freeze wanted us on his record because he’d already told us that he loved what we were doing. When we actually recorded “Back To The Scene Of The Crime” we didn’t even had a record deal ourselves. So doing that record was part of us trying to get on and get ourselves a deal.”

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At what point did Stet first start referring to themselves as ‘The Hip-Hop Band’?

“We started using that name when DBC first came onboard. We didn’t have Bobby Simmons in the group yet on the drums. But we started using the Hip-Hop Band name when DBC joined us because me and Delite looked around and said, ‘Holy s**t, we’ve got a band now.’ The band to us was always DBC, Wise and Paul, because those guys could play music all day, whether it be on the drum machine, the human beatbox or the turntables. Then you had the three emcees, which was me, Delite and Frukwan. I mean, if you listen to “On Fire”, you hear us talking about being the six-man band. One of the most prominent lines on “On Fire” that related to how we saw ourselves was, ‘If you call us a group, we’ll call you a liar, Stetsasonic is a band my man, We’re on fire!'”

So how did Bobby Simmons originally become involved with the group?

“Okay, this is a long story (laughs). When we did “Go Stetsa I” I had originally programmed the beat on the LinnDrum for that track and it was an old-school James Brown beat, right? But I wanted drum rolls. Now, me and Delite we had a friend called Nawthar Muhammad and he played the drums. So we asked him to come in and do drum rolls and cymbals for the track. I remember we were in Calliope Studios and I was telling him exactly where I wanted him to do a cymbal, do a roll, and he did it. But we had to play a little beat up underneath what he was doing so that he could keep the beat. It was so unplanned, but the drums on “Go Stetsa” are only three tracks. We had a mic on him and then a mic all the way on the other side of the studio in the bathroom that we used for ambience. So if you listen to my verse on “Go Stetsa” we dropped that ambience track out and then we bring it back. So that’s why my line ‘Brooklyn, New York is our hometown…’ sounds so tight because we took that track out. So it was so unplanned, because we’d talked to the engineer and he’d said we didn’t need to put extra mics on the drums if all we were doing was recording a roll.”

Bob Power of A Tribe Called Quest fame engineered that record, right?

“Bob Power was a pain in the ass (laughs). We taught Bob Power how to make all these types of Hip-Hop records. I’m not saying he wasn’t already a good engineer, but he really cut his teeth with Stetsasonic. I mean, this is obviously pre-D’Angelo and all of that. In fact, the reason he got hooked up with all of that was through me and Kedar Massenburg being connected, but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, he was a good engineer but it was very difficult for us to deal with him back then because of what we were trying to do. Especially me and Prince Paul because of the type of guys we are. We are super spontaneous in the studio.”

Plus, with Hip-Hop still being relatively new, it must have been a completely different recording experience to what studio engineers were used to in comparison to working with artists from other genres…

“Right, right. So on and off Bob Power wouldn’t be available and we’d be happy when he wasn’t (laughs). So the reason we hooked up with Bob Colter is because we’d already tried working with all these different engineers and things just hadn’t worked out. I mean, we even tried the tech guy because we thought he might work as he knew so much about all of the equipment. One of the biggest problems we had was that we had this raw sound because we were still trying to mimick the whole two turntables and a mic sound, and the engineers used to always clean it up and we’d be like, ‘That’s not what we want!’ Then we’d go through this whole thing and they’d end up giving the music back to us how we originally wanted it and that was something they could have done two hours before (laughs). So anyway, one day we had Bob Colter in the studio, who we later found out was just as spontaneous as we were. So anyway, he pulls up the “Go Stetsa” track which we were getting ready to work on, but he only pulls up the live drums and the vocals, I guess because of the way the track was labelled. So then he’s getting ready to pull up the drum machine track and I just said, ‘Whoa! Hold up, hold up. Play it like that.’ I was like, ‘Delite, come over here. Do you hear this s**t?’ And that’s how “Go Stetsa” ended-up sounding the way it did with the drums. Which is a very long story to say, that experience then let us know exactly how we sounded on live drums and that we could use those live drums in a way that didn’t sound like some corny R&B record.”

Is that what then gave you the idea of putting Bobby Simmons down with the group?

“So getting back to Bobby, remember I mentioned DJ Scooter Love and the Kickin’ Coffin earlier? Bobby used to carry records for those guys and was already my boy from Brownsville. So Bobby was now the back-up deejay for Red Alert at the Latin Quarter when we started poppin’. He walked up to me one day and said, ‘Yo, D. I know you cut “Go Stetsa” with drums and you know that I’m nice on the drums. We should try it one time…’ and I just said, ‘Let’s do it!’ But it was an ill set-up the way we performed with Bobby in the Latin Quarter for the first time. Now, the best way I can describe it to you is if you look at the video to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Tramp”, you can see how the Latin Quarter worked. The stage they had was up top and then the dance-floor was at the bottom. We had to put Bobby and his drums down on the floor and then we were up top on the stage. But it turned out dope as hell.”

So Bobby was performing with Stet in a live context before he actually started working  with the group in the studio?

“Exactly. I mean, the live performances were coming out so dope that by the time we went into the studio to do “In Full Gear”, Bobby was officially in the group.”

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Touching on the Latin Quarter for a moment, what memories do you have of that particular spot?

“Overall, I remember that the Latin Quarter represented the underground. I mean, I know that word gets used over and over, but it’s really the only word I’ve got to describe what was happening in New York back then. I mean, at the time, Russell Simmons was really starting to blow with the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, he had Whodini, so the commercial part of being on the radio and getting big money for tours was starting to happen and a lot of that was happening with Russell. Russell was that guy who was doing all of that. But then there were the rest of us, and all the rest of us had to cut our teeth at the Latin Quarter. Now, this is obviously prior to us being managed by Rush a little later down the line. But when it came to the Latin Quarter, you had Stetsasonic, you had Ultramagnetic MC’s, you had Boogie-Down Productions, Lumumba Carson who went on to be Professor X in X-Clan was hanging out there with me as he was managing us for awhile, you had Just-Ice, even Kid-N-Play and a little later on the Audio Two. It was actually through meeting Audio Two at the Latin Quarter that I ended-up producing “Top Billin'” for them because Red Alert used to play “I Like Cherries” all the time. Of course, Red Alert played a huge part in the Latin Quarter, then along with Red came the Violators. So you had all of this real Hip-Hop that was happening in this place and it was kinda the polar opposite at the time of what Russell was doing with the tours and all of that.”

When you think back to that time, are there any particular moments that standout to you that really represent the Latin Quarter experience?

“One particular moment that I always think of when people ask me about the Latin Quarter was Red Alert playing Eric B. & Rakim’s “My Melody” for the first time. Yo, man, that might even be my most magical moment in Hip-Hop. That was the first time that any of us had heard it. I remember it coming on and just thinking, ‘What the hell is happening right now?’ The way the record started with the keyboard and then it goes into those drums was just crazy, but then Rakim’s voice came on and everyone was just like, ‘Yooooooo!’ I mean, none of us who went to the Latin Quarter knew Rakim at this point. Actually, Biz Markie knew Rakim because he used to be out on Long Island. But the rest of us didn’t know Rakim. We didn’t really know anything about him. The only tapes you could find of Rakim back then were Wyandanch High School parties or whatever from all the way out there in Long Island. I mean, it wasn’t like Rakim was coming and rhyming with people at the Latin Quarter or anything like that. So we still didn’t really know who he was. Which is what made it so ill when everyone heard that record for the first time. Eric B. was there that night though. I remember Eric coming in with his whole massive, Supreme Magnetic and all of those dudes. They were standing there with all these gold rings on and all of that whilst “My Melody” is playing (laughs). It was just the illest thing.”

Just to let everyone know that was their boy Rakim booming over the system…

“Man, that record was so hot that Red Alert played it three times in a row that night. I tell people all the time, that on the streets of New York, “My Melody” was killin’ “Eric B. Is President”. I think “Eric B. Is President” was a better radio record, but “My Melody” was the bigger street record.”

Considering the amount of legendary artists who were part of that Latin Quarter scene, how much of a sense of community was there amongst you all?

“I think it was the tightest Hip-Hop community I’ve ever seen. I mean, the only thing I’ve ever felt that could rival that was when Stetsasonic and Public Enemy shared a tour bus together, but that was just two groups, so it wasn’t what you would call a community like the Latin Quarter. There was so much of a community at the Latin Quarter that Lumumba Carson had actually created a Hip-Hop Coalition thing that Stetsasonic, MC Serch, King Sun, Eric B. & Rakim, all of us were part of that. Also, a lot of us were still doing day jobs at the time, so when it came to paid gigs, the Latin Quarter was one of the only places you could go as an artist. There were a couple of things that might have happened at the Rooftop in Harlem, but they had there own thing going on there. There were a couple of things that might have happened at the USA roller-skating rink out in Queens, but they had there own little thing going on as well. But when it came to some real Hip-Hop, the Latin Quarter was where it was at and everyone wanted to be a part of it. So much so that you had a group like Salt-N-Pepa, who weren’t frequently at the Latin Quarter, but, as I mentioned earlier, they ended up shooting their video for “Tramp” there because that place was a staple of New York Hip-Hop.”

It was the place that everybody wanted to be affiliated with in some way at the time?

“Absolutely. Let me tell you, one of my dopest Latin Quarter stories involves MC Hammer. Now, me and Hammer have been cool for a long time. But when I first met Hammer I met him as Stanley Kirk Burrell of the Holy Ghost Boys. He was the first gospel rapper I ever met in my life. He used to come to the Latin Quarter to watch Stretch and Tron dance. Now, that whole thing he used to do going across the stage that everyone called the Hammer Dance, that was Stretch and Tron’s thing. But the Latin Quarter was like a university or something, man. I mean, I can’t even front, there were some guys who went in there wack who came out dope (laughs). But you really had to be there to fully understand how important the Latin Quarter was, man. Every week there would be someone performing, every week Red Alert would be playing something new, there was the fashion, there was just all this stuff going on. I mean, Union Square was the only real equivalent to Latin Quarter, although they had a lot of problems with violence. But Latin Quarter got violent to. Man, it got so violent that it was ridiculous.”

People who were associated with the Latin Quarter seem to have differing opinions on how violent it actually was there. From what you remember, was violence a regular problem?

“I mean, people were getting robbed at Latin Quarter every week. People were getting robbed and all of that. But the security dudes, Robocop and them, they had a way of getting the trouble out of the club quickly. They did it the same way the guys at the Roxy used to do it early in the disco days. At the Roxy, a fight would break out, the guards would jump in, grab the guy, take him outside, and the party would just keep on going. That’s how they did it at the Latin Quarter as well. But I do remember there was this one particular night that was just the illest night. Paradise was my man and him and Stetsasonic’s then manager Lumumba Carson were cool, so we used to hang out up in the office. Now, the office in the Latin Quarter was also upstairs where the stage was, but it was across from the stage on the other side. Now, this one particular night, man, it just went bananas. We were all standing upstairs in the office just looking down watching this fight break out and it was nuts. People were throwing stuff and it was just really going crazy. I’ll never forget that night…”

Was this the infamous Jackie Wilson benefit event that so many artists have spoken about over the years?

“I don’t remember what night it was. All I remember was, yo, it was like something out of a movie. It was crazy. But like I said, there was always something happening at Latin Quarter, but they were just real good at isolating it quickly and getting it outside. There was a backdoor downstairs that was directly underneath the office and that gave them a pretty straight line to grab the culprit if they were on the dance-floor and then get them straight outside.”

stetsasonic pic 12

How true is it that “Go Stetsa I” was the Crooklyn stick-up kid anthem at the Latin Quarter?

“For robbing people? Yeah, it was (laughs). That’s true. I don’t know how that happened but it’s true…”

It probably had something to do with that ‘Go Brooklyn!’ chant…

“Maybe it was (laughs). But “Go Stetsa” was definitely the tuck-your-chain record in the Latin Quarter. Once you heard that drum roll, if you weren’t ’bout it then you needed to leave right then (laughs). I don’t really know where that started, but it might have started in prison. I had a homie who was locked-up on Rikers Island when “Go Stetsa” came out and he told me that people used to throw their shoes at the speaker when that record came on the radio. Not to cut the record off, but just because they were excited to hear it. So when “Go Stetsa” came on the radio in prison, people would start throwing their shoes at the speaker (laughs). That’s crazy.”

So dudes were probably coming out of prison and telling people how “Go Stetsa” used to make people go crazy when they were locked-up…

“Exactly (laughs). But yeah, that’s definitely true that “Go Stetsa” was the stick-up kid anthem. That’s not a myth. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. It was nuts. The one thing that we did love though, was that Stetsasonic, and also BDP, had a certain reputation. When both us and BDP performed at the Latin Quarter, no junk went on in the crowd. I can’t say anything about what would happen after, but while we were onstage nothing went down.”

Was that down to the respect the LQ crowd had for Stet and BDP as artists or was it down to the size of the crews that you rolled with?

“It was a little bit of both. I only remember one particular night when I had to get a little bit antsy with the crowd. Someone in the crowd had said something and I just said, ‘Stop the music! Man, they’ll take you out of here in a bag, man…’ and the whole audience started laughing because they knew. But overall, I think a lot of it had to do with the respect both us and BDP had, but it also had a lot to do with the actual entertainment as well. I mean, with Stetsasonic, there was a bunch of us onstage so people knew that was going to be exciting. But with BDP, there was only three of them, Scott La Rock, D-Nice and KRS-One. But to see them onstage was incredible. I mean, even to this day Kris is phenomenal, but back then they were just the illest thing to watch, yo. To watch Kris as a young kid, brand new, doing “Poetry”, we were looking at him like, ‘How the f**k did he come up with this?’ I’m listening to him and watching him as an emcee myself, thinking, ‘Where did this guy come from?’ It was bananas, man. But I would say, aside from Just-Ice, compared to Stetsasonic and BDP, the rest of the artists who would perform at the Latin Quarter didn’t really make the grade. They were okay, they did their thing, they rocked, but not like that. If I could describe it as one thing, they just didn’t keep it interesting enough for the crowd. I mean, with BDP, Scott La Rock would take the SP-12 onstage with them and things like that. So we were always doing something to make it interesting. Like, whatever was the hot record out at the time, we might drop that at the beginning of the show and say a rhyme over it, just to give the people something a little different each time we performed.”

krs_scott

What impact do you remember the news of Scott La Rock’s tragic murder having on the Latin Quarter community?

“I remember Lumumba calling me to tell me what had happened and I couldn’t believe it. We jumped in the car and went Uptown to confirm it. It was hard on all of us, man. Scott was Puffy before Puffy was Puff. Scott had three label deals before he died. He really was about his business and he was about the business of Hip-Hop. So Scott’s whole thing wasn’t just about making the music, it was about how we could be independent and in control of our own music. Scott wasn’t really with Stet being signed to Tommy Boy in particular (laughs). He’d say to me, ‘Daddy-O, you could have you own label.'”

So he had that sense of vision back then to understand how large Hip-Hop could become as a business?

“Exactly. But what made Scott’s death so tough was that, when someone close to you passes away and they’ve reached an old age you can make sense of it, but when it happens to a young person, it’s unexpected. Plus, what made it even more unexpected, was that we were all going through this huge period of growth in Hip-Hop and there was so much happening at the time, so for one of our heroes to get taken out like that, it was just real tough. Obviously we heard what happened around D-Nice getting into some beef over a chick, but then we started to hear rumours that the guy who did it wasn’t even no hardcore dude like that, so it was like ‘C’mon, man. That didn’t have to happen.’ So that was a tough one, man. But as far as KRS, I’m not saying that Kris wasn’t already dope, but it definitely did something to him on the rhyming side…”

There was definitely a huge difference between the KRS you heard on the “Criminal Minded” album in 1987 and the KRS you heard on 1988’s “By All Means Necessary”…

“To me, at that point, KRS-One became the best emcee in the world…”

As as fan, you listened to “Criminal Minded” and thought KRS-One was a great emcee, but you listened to “By All Means Necessary” and thought, ‘This is someone who’s really trying to teach me something here’…

“That situation definitely changed Kris and, this is just my opinion, but I think he felt he definitely had to make sure that Scott’s legacy stood for something. I mean, I wasn’t privy to any of this, but knowing the type of person that Scott was, Scott probably always told Kris to rhyme about the stuff he was talking about on “By All Means Necessary”. I can see Scott La Rock saying to Kris, ‘Yo, man. Why don’t you say something, man?’ So if there was anything good that came out of that whole situation, I guess you can say it was the impact it had on the music KRS went on to make.”

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Three of this interview here.

Stetsasonic – “Go Stetsa I” (Tommy Boy Records / 1986)

Old To The New Q&A (Part One) – Daddy-O

stetsasonic pic 6

When it comes to golden-era Hip-Hop greats, the six-man crew Stetsasonic can proudly take their place alongside the likes of Run-DMC and Public Enemy as one of the most talented groups to have emerged during the genre’s immense growth period of the 1980s.

Signed to Tommy Boy Records, the self-proclaimed ‘Hip-Hop Band’ followed the success of their debut single “Just Say Stet” with 1986’s “On Fire” album, before adding to the catalogue of classic long-players released throughout 1988 with the brilliant “In Full Gear”, which, of course, spawned the timeless pro-sampling anthem, “Talkin’ All That Jazz”.

Led by fiery Brooklyn-bred lyricist Daddy-O, Delite, Wise, Frukwan, DBC and Prince Paul embraced the influences of multi-faceted old-school crews such as Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five whilst carving out their own creative space within the ever-evolving Hip-Hop scene of the time, delivering an energetic mix of emcee bravado, sparse beats, live instrumentation and social commentary.

By the time Stet’s 1991 album “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” was released, Prince Paul had helped to reshape Hip-Hop’s sonic landscape through his work with De La Soul, whilst Daddy-O had also been spreading his production wings via a diverse selection of artists including Queen Latifah, Third World and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

In subsequent years, Paul would join Frukwan in the original line-up of the Wu-Tang spin-off project Gravediggaz, whilst Daddy-O would release his 1993 solo project “You Can Be A Daddy, But Never Daddy-O” whilst continuing to produce for the likes of Mary J. Blige, Freestyle Fellowship and Junior M.A.F.I.A..

In this first instalment of my four-part interview with the BK rap legend, Daddy-O discusses Crooklyn block parties, his introduction to Hip-Hop and the formation of Stetsasonic.

But remember, if you can’t say it all….

What are you earliest musical memories growing-up in New York City?

“I always say that Hip-Hop has a mother, a father and a godfather. This is the Daddy-O version of things, right (laughs). For me, the mother of Hip-Hop is disco. But not John Travolta disco. I’m talking about disco like First Choice and the Salsoul Orchestra. The type of music that Pete DJ Jones and all those guys were playing right before Grandmaster Flash learnt how to deejay. Now, I always say that the father of Hip-Hop is reggae because I firmly believe that we got our rhyme style from the toasters of the past like Lone Ranger, Fat Head, Yellowman and all of them. Then the godfather is James Brown. I mean, without his music I’m not sure how things would have happened because it was his whole style and rhythm that really enabled the culture to grow and develop in those very early days. So that’s what was happening in New York in the 1970s. Now, even though there were parties and things happening all year round, let’s put it in the summer. You’ve got equipment out everywhere. I’m growing-up in Brooklyn at the time, so I’m not where Flash or none of them are in the Bronx, but there were systems galore. In every project building there were people playing outside and because some of the projects were so big there might be two or three systems out playing in the same project. I remember the concept of having the newest record was always the thing, and that wasn’t just the case for the deejays, but for the fans as well. I mean, most of those records that you would hear being played at the block parties weren’t being played on the radio. The radio was playing disco like Donna Summer and that type of stuff. I mean, back then some of those underground disco records were like twelve minutes long and at that time before things like Pro Tools it was hard to make radio versions, yo. These records were twelve minutes of dopeness with bands in the studio playing, and those long records were structured that way with different breakdowns and parts where the girl would come in singing and things like that (laughs). I’m not saying it would have been impossible for some of those artists to have made radio versions of their songs that were easier to play, but going into that studio and cutting all that tape was nothing like doing a digital edit today…”

Times have definitely changed, right…

“I mean, let’s be honest, it was expensive as well (laughs). So getting back to my story, the majority of the records you were hearing at the parties and in the parks were not being heard on the radio. Those were records you would hear in the clubs or at the jams. Now me being a teenager at the time, there weren’t that many clubs I could get into (laughs). So I’m hearing records like John Davis & The Monster Orchestra’s “I Can’t Stop” being played at the jams and there would be an announcer on the mic. There wasn’t any rapping going on at this point as we came to know it. There would be an announcer on the mic and he would be saying stuff and shouting out neighbourhoods and things like that. We’d also have the reggae parties in Brooklyn at that time as well, which were a different thing altogether. You’d have the reggae block parties where they’d be playing all these different 45s and dub-plates, which was their particular thing. So the Brooklyn I grew-up in was vibrant with music and it was definitely a young crowd who were at the jams and it was a whole lot of fun. It was all about who  was jammin’ on a particular day, hangin’ out at the jam, maybe a particular sound system wasn’t really killin’ it, so you’d be like, ‘Yo! We’re leaving. We’re going to go over to that jam on Williams Avenue as this one on Wyona is wack!'”

Who were some of the local deejays you remember from that time?

“I remember a kid named Reggie D. I  also remember this kid called DJ Wise. But the big deejay from where I was from in Brownsville, East New York was a guy named Scooter Love. His crew had this thing called the Kickin’ Coffin and they had a real coffin that they would bring onstage with them. The thing about the Kickin’ Coffin was that people would wait to see them bring that out (laughs). I mean, even them bringing their equipment out was a show. Then Scooter and them would put on the white gloves and everything and they’d actually have their turntables inside the coffin. So the hottest parties in my area were always from Scooter Love with the Kickin’ Coffin. Now, if you were to speak with Delite, his version would be totally different because he was still in Queens at this time and I guess the guys over there had a little bit more money, which is why Queens actually had the best sound systems with cats like Cipher Sounds and all them. I mean, they would have bottoms in their set-ups and everything. Our thing in Brooklyn, we had Cerwin Vega speakers and all that, so it was still loud, but the systems were nothing like the walls of sound that guys like Cipher used to have. Our thing in Brooklyn was more about the flash and the parties and the records. I mean, every area used to have their own records and we definitely had some records that were specific to Brooklyn and were considered our anthems back then.”

What were some of the most popular Brooklyn anthems that you’d hear at the jams?

“MFSB’s “Love Is The Message” was probably the number one Brooklyn anthem back then. There was also this other record that was huge in Brooklyn at the time, which it took me a long time to find, I have it on my hard-drive now but I can’t remember the group right now. But it’s a cover version of the the O’Jay’s “For The Love Of Money” which was remade by a disco group. That was an incredible record. There was also the Brooklyn Dreams record “Music, Harmony & Rhythm” which we sampled on a Stetsasonic record years later. Then you had the whole Salsoul thing, which, I don’t know how that translated in other boroughs of New York at the time, but the Salsoul thing was huge in Brooklyn. Anything by Larry Levan, Loleatta Holloway, First Choice, all of that stuff was heavy-duty and we loved it in Brooklyn.”

mfsb cover

So all of this is around the late-70s?

“Yeah, we’re going into the late-70s here, 78, 79. Then by 1980, that’s when I actually started hearing Hip-Hop and knowing that it existed because that’s when I started getting the tapes. I remember my prize possession back then was a Cold Crush Brothers tape that was from New Year’s Eve of 1980 going into 1981. I remember JDL had a rhyme on there where he was talking about what he’d done in 1980 but how he was going to do so much more in 81 (laughs). So that was when I really started hearing Hip-Hop, from hearing those tapes. I mean, I always loved music and I had always had a boombox that I carried around before people started rapping and stuff. But the first time I was introduced to Hip-Hop, I remember I was sitting on the stoop and one of my buddies who knew I loved music told me that he had something that I had to hear. Now, I want to say this was in 1980. But he had a Grandmaster Flash tape. But it wasn’t a Flash tape that had been recorded outside at one of the jams, this was a Flash tape that had been made inside Flash’s crib. Now, at that time, there were three types of Hip-Hop tapes. There were the live tapes that were recorded with the condenser mics that most people hated because you couldn’t really even tell what people were saying (laughs). Then you had the live tapes that were recorded at the shows that were actually taped from being plugged into the system. Those were the ones that everyone loved because you could really hear the crowd, the emcees and everything else. Then there were the tapes that people made in the crib. Now a lot of people liked hearing those tapes from the crib because they were basically practice tapes for the different crews, so you got to hear them putting their routines together. So it was one of those tapes from Flash that my buddy brought to me on this particular day. I’ll never forget it because it started off with Flash cutting up The Headhunters’ “God Made Me Funky” and Melle Mel was saying ‘One for the treble, two for the bass, C’mon Flash let’s rock the place…’ and they had the funk machine on as well with the echoes, ‘Yes, yes, y’all (y’all, y’all), To the beat y’all (y’all, y’all)’ I was like, ‘What the hell is that?!’ I had never heard nothing like that in my life. I’d never heard anybody rhyming in rhythm like that, the echo-chamber was driving me crazy because I thought it sounded so dope and the scratching behind it was just so ill.”

When did you first start rhyming yourself?

“Now at this same time, me and my brother Kedar Massenburg were going to high-school. He was going to a high-school called Erasmus Hall which was in Flatbush and I was going to a high-school called Thomas Jefferson which was in East New York. Now, Kedar said to me one day, ‘Yo, you really like all that rapping stuff? My man does all of that, my man Reggie. He’s got equipment and everything.’ Now, this was the same Reggie D that I mentioned earlier. So Kedar knew that I was starting to write my little rhymes and everything, so he knew that Reggie and this rapper he had called Barshon D had this show coming up on Labour Day. So Kedar was like, ‘Why don’t you write the rhyme for the kid?’ So he hooked it up somehow and I wrote this Labour Day rhyme for this Barshon kid for him to perform with Reggie at this show in the neighbourhood. So I went to this show to see him perform my rhyme, and he was wack! I was so hurt because it was my rhyme (laughs). I was like, ‘I will never write for anybody else again. I’m going to do this myself’ and that’s really when I seriously started rhyming (laughs).”

So this happened during that 1980 period?

“Yeah, this is 1980, slipping into 1981. I came up with a name, Doctor On, and I started rhyming. But I was rhyming differently back then to how people heard me later on. I actually still have this old Doctor On tape but I can’t find it and I’m so mad (laughs). But the largest difference back then was that I really didn’t have any point of reference in terms of what I should sound like. So I was sounding like all the different emcees from Uptown that I’d heard on the tapes because I didn’t know how else I should sound. But I was writing my own rhymes, all these different types of rhymes, and figuring out how to write four-bar rhymes, which I guess were really more like limericks, and then I was also writing regular rhymes. I mean, it amazes me that people don’t really do those kind of four-bar limerick rhymes anymore. I actually heard Kendrick Lamar doing something like that recently and it was brilliant. Now, just to clarify, what we used to call four-bar rhymes were the rhymes that would go something like, ‘I was walking down the street one day and I saw this pretty girl, But I kept on walking….’ and then you finish it with the next line. So I was doing stuff like that, the nursery-rhyme type stuff, and then I was also doing more regular rhymes as well.”

Were any other members of what would become Stetsasonic in the picture at this point?

“Well, Delite was one of my best friends and even though he knew Cipher Sounds and all those dudes out in Queens, he was just never really into it. But he had moved to Brooklyn by this time. So when I started writing my rhymes, he was like, ‘You want to get into that? I’m down!’ So me and him, just me and Delite, started figuring out what we were going to do with the music thing. So me and Delite started rhyming together, trying to figure it out, and we started going through this third member thing because we knew we wanted to be something, but we were just trying to work it out. Now, at the same time I was living in East New York, which was Ocean Hill, Brownsville, but we call it East New York, there were a group of young guys who used to hang out on the corner selling dope. I knew all of them, but they used to be on that ‘Yo, don’t come around here. Don’t hang around us’ stuff. But they’d still shout me out and say hi when they saw me. I’ll never forget this one day I was walking down the block, and one of these guys, Nathaniel, he called me over and was like, ‘Yo! What’s your name?’ I told him that I went by the name Doctor On and he was like, ‘Yo! F**k that! That’s wack! You’re going to go by the name of Daddy-O and this is how you’re going to do it…’ And he just killed me right there because he started going, ‘D-to- the-A-double-D-Y-O, I go by the code of MC Daddy-O, And this is something that you must be told, You couldn’t touch me with a sureshot pole, Daddy-O, Rhymes galore, MC Daddy-O came back for more, y’all…’ I looked at him like he was crazy but he sounded so dope. So I took on the name Daddy-O from that moment. So, from there I started hanging around these guys and they started telling me stuff, like, ‘We was in this group called the Stetson Brothers, we were out on Long Island with this deejay Pudgy T and emcee Supreme, and they tossed Melle Mel and them!’ Now Flash and Melle Mel were my favourite group at the time, so I’m thinking that nobody could beat them. But this is another tape that I wish I still had. They brought me the tape and I heard it. Flash and them had gone out to Long Island and those Stetson boys beat the brakes off them with that style that Nathaniel had used when he gave me my name. They used to call that rhyme style the ‘Gangster Rock’ because it was so much harder than what everyone else was doing at the time. I mean, Uptown, you’d hear guys saying things like, ‘Toot the horn, ring the bell…’, but with this ‘Gangster Rock’ style that these Stetson guys had which they taught me, one thing was that we slowed the beat down crazy. Let me tell you how much I thought we owned the slow beat, I didn’t even talk to Grand Daddy I.U. for the first year of knowing him (laughs). Later on, I said to him, ‘I was so mad at you, man’ and I.U. was like, ‘Why Daddy-O?’ and I told him, ‘Because that slow thing is ours, man.’ I mean, that first I.U. album was crazy to me, man, because it was slow (laughs). But the difference that let me know I.U. wasn’t biting was because he wasn’t trying to do the second part of the style, which was to be really hard and aggressive with your voice.”

grand daddy cover

So the ‘Gangster Rock’ style was about slow beats and really punctuating the words in your rhymes?

“Yeah, absolutely. So anyway, the guys on the corner, they were telling me about the whole Stetson Brothers thing and I was always saying, ‘Yo! I wanna meet Pudge. I wanna meet Supreme’ and they would always say ‘One day, one day’. But these guys were hustling. So what happened is, as they started teaching me, I started building this whole thing up. Now, Bambaataa had the Zulu Nation, so I decided I was going to make this whole Stetsa Nation thing. So I went in my old neighbourhood, where Alabama Park was, and me and Delite just started recruiting people to be in Stetsa Nation. Some people were emcees, some people were deejays, we made little buttons to show you were in Stetsa Nation (laughs). So we were just out there recruiting…”

Was anybody part of that wider crew who went on to leave their own mark in Hip-Hop?

“Nobody. Nope. They all went on to do other things with their lives, so I guess you could say those of us who ended up in Stetsasonic were the pick of the litter (laughs). The only thing I will say, is that I remember AZ was a little boy at the time we were doing the Stetsa Nation thing. I mean, when people always talk about how AZ is fly, I always tell them that AZ has been fly since he was three-years-old (laughs). I remember him being a three-old-year old kid out on Alabama Avenue with doper kicks on then the grown men (laughs). But as far as Stetsa Nation was concerned, there wasn’t really anyone else involved who went on to make a name for themselves in Hip-Hop.”

So how did the group itself start to develop out of the Stetsa Nation?

“So as we started to grow, we found this deejay. One day me and Delite were hanging out in East New York and this guy had his speakers out of his window and he was killing it. I remember we always wanted to find a guy that could do a three-second backspin and things like that and we heard this guy doing it out of his window using “I Can’t Stop”, just going back and forth doing these crazy backspins. So we were both like, ‘Who is that?!’ One of my homeboys was like, ‘Yo, that’s Mike.’ I was asking if he had emcees, but my boy was telling that he was just a deejay. So me and Delite went up to his crib like, ‘Yo, we want you to be our deejay’ and he was real happy about it (laughs). Mike had actually put together a deejay set-up called Mass Communication. So me and Delite were part of Mass Communication for a minute, we were doing the Stetsa Nation thing and then when I was out on the block I was still hanging out with Nathaniel and them from the Stetson Brothers. Now, at this point, when it looked like we were about to start bringing the equipment out and be rhyming, I tried to bring them with me. I was like, ‘Yo, man, c’mon!‘ because Nat was nice. I mean, later on I may have got better than them, but at that point, Nat was so nice that it was crazy. I mean, Nat was the dude who gave me my name, he showed me my vocal growl, all of that, so I really wanted them to come and be down to perform. But they were doing their thing on the corner, so they were like, ‘Nah, man. You can have that. We’re passing the torch.’ So when I told Delite what they’d said, he was like, ‘Okay, well I get where you’re coming from with the Stetsa Nation thing D, but what are we going to do about the group, us?’ I told him, ‘Well, we can just be Stetsa Nation’ but Delite was like, ‘Nah, that’s not going to work. We’ve got to be something. Treacherous Three is something. Fearless Four is something. We’ve got to be something.’ So Delite came up with the name Stetsasonic, which he explained by saying that Stetsa means style and Sonic means sound. So we did the Stetsasonic 3 MC’s and then we fought like battlecats for the next, let me see, 80, 81, 82, 83, for about the next two-and-a-half years to try and figure out who that third emcee was going to be. So it was me and Delite, then we put this kid Asim in the group for like half-a-second, but he said he couldn’t do it because we practiced too much (laughs). Then we put Crown Supreme in the group and actually started doing some shows around town, but then Supreme got hooked up with his girl Peaches and she didn’t want him to come to practice (laughs). Then we grabbed Del D, who would have always been the best third emcee we would have had, he was nice, but I don’t know what happened with Del (laughs). Then we grabbed Bushaan, but he got tired of practicing. Then we ended up grabbing two deejays because we were seeing Doug E. Fresh doing the two deejay thing with Chill Will and Barry B, but that didn’t really work out.”

stetsasonic pic 5

So the group definitely didn’t come together easily then?

“Not at all (laughs). We had this guy Kevin Porter, who was kind of like a mentor, who was a dancer and one of the original lockers in New York. He was showing us the industry and getting us in, but he was more on the theatrical side. I mean, he was the reason our first show was at Carnegie Hall! Hip-Hop was so new back then that nobody denied it. I tell people all the time, that we used to perform at friggin’ dinner clubs on top of pianos while people were eating (laughs). Anyway, we were trying to pull things together, and Kevin Porter really kept trying to help us improve the group. Now, I’m trying to think if he brought Wise to us first or Frukwan. I think he brought Wise first and it was at the time when Buffy and them who went on to become the Fat Boys lived right around the corner from me and they’d just won the Tin Pan Apple contest that got them their deal. So the Fat Boys were just getting popular with the whole beatbox thing and Kevin told us he wanted to bring us this kid who could beatbox. So he brings us Wise, who was this little skinny, light-skinned, handsome dude and he could do everything that Buffy and them could do. At the time, people were under the impression that Buffy could do what he did because he was fat, and I was under that impression as well (laughs). But Wise could do all of that stuff as well, so I said he had to be in the group. Mind you, Delite was getting mad at me because I kept adding people to the group (laughs). Delite was saying that I didn’t actually have to add more people to the group, but that we could just use them as we needed them, like the equivalent of work-for-hire. But I didn’t want to do that and then have someone else run off with them in another group (laughs). So Wise became part of the group. Del D was still in the group at this point as the third emcee, but it was a weird kind of situation because he was never around. So me, Delite and Wise started making these routines, and man, we started blowing the brakes off of every block party we went to. We used to do this thing where before we would perform, we’d put Wise onstage under a sheet and he would stay really still, so nobody even knew what that was. Then me and Delite would get up there, put in a tape, rap for about half-a-second, then Wise would start doing the beatbox and as he got up the sheet would be coming up like a ghost (laughs). Man, we were burning those block parties up with that routine…”

Were these local block parties in Brooklyn or were you starting to travel more as as a crew by this time?

“I remember the one we really killed was right back at Arasmus Hall. We went right back to Arasmus and murdered it. But yeah, we were doing block parties all around Brooklyn. Then I remember, Kevin Porter brought me Frukwan. He was like, ‘You’ve got to hear this rapper.’ It was actually supposed to be Cal Cash, Frukwan’s brother, who was originally meant to be in the group. Cal was nice, he was a real emcee and he had the voice and everything. But when we heard Frukwan, he sounded just like us. We had those mean rhymes, like going at an emcee’s throat rhymes, and Frukwan had that. I told Delite, ‘Yo, if we don’t put this boy in the group then he’s going to come back at some point and destroy us.’ I remember thinking he had this ill whine in his voice as well. That was the other thing, because the original Stetson Brothers had this kid in the group called Rocko who had this whine in his voice. When I heard Frukwan I remember saying to Delite, ‘Yo, you hear the whine in his voice? He’s got the Rocko whine, yo.’ So we put Frukwan in the group. My man Shamel, he was down with us as well and was sort of like the fourth emcee who would come in sometimes and then not come in sometimes (laughs). Me, Delite and Wise used to practice a whole lot, so a lot of the others who were down with the group at different times just trailed off a bit, but Frukwan endured it. He actually endured coming to shows with us where he wouldn’t even get to go onstage. Frukwan was actually in the group when we won the contest to get our record deal and he wasn’t even on stage.”

That was the competition that Mr. Magic and WBLS were involved with, right?

“Yeah, exactly. I mean, me, Delite and Wise had practiced so much with just the three of us and we had all these different routines, we just didn’t feel that we had the time to change the routine to slide Frukwan in to do a rhyme. We told him that we were just going to have to go ahead and do it.  So he endured all of that to still be part of the group. But the way the other guys got into the group was ill. So with DBC, me and Delite had a mutual friend who was DBC’s brother, and he came to us one day and was like, ‘Yo, my brother lives in Middletown, New York and he does music for this rap stuff.’ DBC had actually worked with the Boogie Boys on the “Fly Girl” record and a couple of other things, so he had equipment like drum machines and everything. So DBC came down from Middletown to meet us one time, spent the night at my house talking about some stuff, and then, once again, I got Delite mad because I told him that I was putting D in the group (laughs).”

Now, I’ve heard Prince Paul talk about how he became part of the group numerous times, but how do you remember it happening?

“At the time, we didn’t even have a deejay, but we were able to go around town and do all these different routines because we had Wise on the beatbox. The music that we used to use for our intro as we were coming onstage, I used to make that doing the pause-tape thing and then just put the cassette in at the beginning of the performance. Me and Delite just used to say a few lines over the music and then Wise would start beat-boxing and we’d do our routines. So we decided that we needed a deejay. One day, we were at Breevort Houses in Brooklyn, and they used to do a thing called Breevort Day and in the main part of the projects all the big deejays used to be out there. Now, on one of the little side blocks there was some equipment set-up and someone was cutting up Liquid Liquid’s “Cavern”. I could hear them cutting up that track and they really were hurting that record. I heard it first before I saw who was doing it. Then when I looked, I saw this little dude behind the turntables with all this attitude as he’s back-spinning those records. You know how that Liquid Liquid track has that cymbal right at the beginning of it, right? Paul was catching that and just going back and forth, but he was doing it with so much attitude that it looked like he was almost throwing the damn records (laughs).”

So it was that combination of skill and attitude that caught your attention?

“Yeah, yeah. Now, at that time, Frukwan was in the group now, Shamel was with us that day, there was a bunch of us there. Prince Paul always tells the story that he thought we were a gang when he first saw us because we were there with all those damn spikes and the leather on, which is how we were dressing back then. I’m stood there in the middle of the group and I’m motioning for him to come over and he thought we were going to beat him up (laughs).”

I’ve heard him say that he almost didn’t travel from Long Island to Brooklyn that day for that particular jam, so things could have have happened very differently…

“Yeah (laughs). So we went over there to speak with Paul and told him that we really wanted him to deejay for us and he agreed. So now we’ve got a deejay, Prince Paul, and then we just really started making a go of it with the group.”

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Two of this interview here.

Stetsasonic 3 MC’s performing in 1984.

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