LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out – Second Hand Audio Remix” (@SecondHandAudio / 2017)
UK production duo DJP and The Breakbeat Junkie rework a 1990 classic from Uncle L.
LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out – Second Hand Audio Remix” (@SecondHandAudio / 2017)
UK production duo DJP and The Breakbeat Junkie rework a 1990 classic from Uncle L.
Corona, Queens Hip-Hop legend Dr. Butcher talks to TheBeeShine.Com about coming up in 80s New York with LL Cool J and Kool G. Rap, becoming part of the original X-Men, working with Large Professor and more.
In the third part of my interview with Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, the talented producer-on-the-mic talks about working with the Audio Two, recording the timeless classic “Talkin’ All That Jazz” and why Stet were always welcome in Miami – check Part One and Part Two.
1987 was a busy year for Daddy-O outside of Stetsasonic with you being involved in producing MC Watchout & DJ OZ’s “Blind Man’s Bluff” plus Positive K’s “Quarter Gram Pam” and Audio Two’s “Make It Funky” / “Top Billin'” singles which were both on First Priority. How did you come to work so closely with the First Priority label?
“Okay, so Delite was really the catalyst for that. Back then, Red Alert had this night at the Latin Quarter which used to be on a Tuesday, like an after-work night. It wasn’t all Hip-Hop, but it was still a Red Alert night. Now first of all, and I’ve said this before, without Delite there would have been no Stetsasonic. Just like Delite could probably say that without Daddy-O there would have been no Stet. But my reasons for saying that and his reasons would be totally different (laughs). Now, the reason I can say that without Delite there’d be no Stet, is because I hated everything. I hated everything, yo. I was such a hater back then (laughs). One time, Delite went to see Flash and them at the Peppermint Lounge and he came back saying how great it was. I was like, ‘F**k them, man. Are they better than us?’ I hated everything (laughs). Delite always used to tell me, ‘Just do it better. And if you’re not going to do it better than don’t talk to me about it, D.’ So Delite was the quintessential taste-maker in my opinion. He was the guy who knew everything that was going on just to try and figure out what was going to happen next. So Delite was hanging out at the Latin Quarter on a Tuesday night when everybody else was doing Friday and Saturday nights. I’m like, ‘What the f**k are you going down there on a Tuesday for?’ Delite would be like, ‘Red Alert’s playing and your man Lumumba be down there sometimes..’ and I was just like, ‘Whatever, man.’ So Delite was staying with me at the time and he always used to come back from those Tuesday nights singing ‘I like cherries ‘cos cherries taste better….’ and I’d be like, ‘What the hell are you singing?’ Delite would keep telling me that I had to hear this Audio Two song. Now, Delite ain’t got no singing voice either, so he was making it sound even worse, right (laughs). But Delite was like, ‘Yo, you’ve got to hear this record.’ But it was only Red Alert who was playing it and he was only playing it on a Tuesday night at the Latin Quarter. I don’t know if he couldn’t or wouldn’t play it on the radio, but he was only playing it on these Tuesday nights. So I went with Delite one night and I heard the record. Now, Delite had been trying to describe the record to me and had told me it was this bugged out song that sounded like nothing you’d ever heard before. But when I actually heard the record, I liked it.”
So how did that lead to you actually connecting with the Audio Two?
“What happened was, Stetsasonic had got a nice little name in the city. We started getting around. Now, we were doing a release party that was going to be at the Palladium. Not the main part of the Palladium, but the Michael Todd Room which was still a nice venue. We invited all these people and Tommy Boy invited a lot of people as well. So Nat Robinson from First Priority came along with MC Lyte and the Audio Two. I looked Milk in his face and was like, ‘Yo! If you ever need anyone to produce for you, then I’m here.’ Milk was like, ‘Word?!’ So I told him that I really liked their stuff a lot and next thing Milk was calling to Nat, ‘Dad! Dad! Daddy-O said he’ll produce us! Daddy-O said he’ll produce us!’ So Nat was just like, ‘Okay, we’ll talk about it.’ So that’s how I ended up working with the Audio Two and MC Lyte. Now, I’m trying to think how I got hooked-up with Positive K. I almost want to say that I got with Pos K through Lumumba Carson…
Because Lumumba was managing Positive K during the same period he was managing Stetsasonic, right?
“Yeah, that’s right. So I got hooked up with Positive K through Lumumba. But now that you’re saying it, I guess my mind just wasn’t on it that “Quarter Gram Pam” was on First Priority as well (laughs). I remember making “Quarter Gram Pam” before we did “Top Billin'”….”
After Stet’s “Go Stetsa I”, Audio Two’s “Top Billin'” was the second official Brooklyn anthem you had a hand in producing and it had such a unique sound to it. What inspired that beat?
“It’s so funny that you’re saying what you’re saying because both of those records were just great mistakes (laughs). Like I explained earlier, “Go Stetsa” was a great mistake with us bringing in the live drummer to do the fills and rolls etc. Now, before I did “Top Billin'” for the Audio Two I was working on their single “Make It Funky”. Now, I’m in Staten Island at Nat Robinson’s crib which was Milk and Giz’s crib as well. I’d programmed the SP-12 to do some things for “Make It Funky”. I go upstairs to talk to Nat or whatever and Milk calls up from the studio and is like, ‘Yo! You’ve got to hear something I just did.’ We’re like, ‘Okay, what’s he done now.’ I mean, if anyone was going to be the producer in Audio Two it was going to be Giz anyway, right. Now, I’d been trying to sample “Impeach The President” but the SP-12 only gave you x-amount of time, so Milk couldn’t get the full loop in there. So all he got was the ‘boom-boom-kick’ and that was it. So now Milk has that boom and kick up in the SP bouncing against my “Make It Funky” drum pattern. So we heard it and thought it was dope and then Milk is like, ‘I wrote something…’ and he did the whole thing right there. Milk looked at me and was like, ‘Daddy-O, should I make it longer?’ and I said ‘F**k no!’ I knew exactly what we were going to do with that record and I told Milk right there, ‘This is a Red Alert classic. We’re going to go ahead and do this “Make It Funky” track but we’re not going to tell anyone about this “Top Billin'” record.’ The plan was to make the deejays feel like they found it themselves on the b-side of the single and it worked.”
1987 also saw Stetsasonic drop the “A.F.R.I.C.A.” single which made a huge political statement against apartheid. Was that track something that the group wanted to do initially or was it something that Tommy Boy instigated?
“It was actually initiated by Tommy Boy but in a weird kind of way. Now, that track did end up on “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” but that was just because the Norman Cook remix was so hot and I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve got to put this on something.’ “A.F.R.I.C.A” would never have made it onto any album if Norman Cook never did that remix. His remix made me feel like it was something that I could put on an album. The original version, which I love, I just loved it being what it was as a single. So the original version of “A.F.R.I.C.A.” was a stand-alone piece that was what I always call Stetsasonic’s longest running record, meaning that long after that record was off radio, the Africa Fund had worked with us to put teaching guides in schools and all of that, so that record was constantly being used and referred to long after it came out. Now, what happened was, through Monica Lynch at Tommy Boy we met a guy from ABC 20/20 called Danny Schechter. He used to call himself Danny Schechter The News Dissector and he became a good friend of mine. Danny was just one of those erratic white guys, scruffy beard, almost looked like Captain Kangaroo, who was probably one of the earliest versions of a WikiLeaks or something like that. He was always challenging everything like, ‘This is what’s really going on.’ So he had an idea that he had taken to Monica with no particular group in mind. He said to her that apartheid in South Africa was a big issue and that he didn’t understand why no rappers were covering it. So, Monica brought the idea of doing the record to us. She told us that they were going to talk about doing a song to some of the other groups on the label as well, but that she wanted to hear what we thought about it. I immediately said yes, went home and did a little bit of research. Danny actually had a video tape and it was heart-wrenching watching that for the first time and seeing everything that was going on in South Africa…”
At the time apartheid was a topic that nobody really wanted to speak on in the Western world because, regardless of your skin colour, it was almost impossible to talk about it without having to confront certain uncomfortable contributing issues…
“Right, right. Absolutely. So Dan showed us this tape and straight away I was like, ‘We’re going to do it.’ Now, Delite, that was one thing that he wasn’t really with initially, but Frukwan definitely was. So we went into the studio, Frukwan, myself and Wise. Now the beat for “A.F.R.I.C.A.”, that came from Wise with him beat-boxing and we took that and made it into a beat. Then me and Frukwan wrote the rhyme. We wrote the whole thing. So by the time we brought Delite, Paul and DBC in, they were like, ‘Yo, that’s kinda hot.’ I showed Delite where he was going to fit in and that was it. We did it and it really worked out. Looking back on it, what was interesting was that “A.F.R.I.C.A.” was our first video as Stetsasonic. We used to have big fights with Tommy Boy because Monica Lynch used to say that videos didn’t sell records. So we never got the videos that you saw other artists at that time getting from their labels. So with “A.F.R.I.C.A.”, we were happy to be getting a video.”
That record really made a big impact at the time because this was before the likes of Public Enemy and KRS-One were really dealing with politics in a major way in their music…
“Yeah, definitely. But it was really that 1990 Wembley performance in London for Nelson Mandela that opened a lot up for us. Even though we’d done a lot of other things around the record and apartheid with people like Jesse Jackson, that Wembley performance really opened things up. The crowd were receptive to what we were saying and that was great. I mean, that was a great day for us as a group. Going back to when Kevin Porter used to mentor us, he always used to tell us not to just look at ourselves as a rap group, but to look at ourselves as entertainers who could be on a par with a Prince or a Michael Jackson, who just happened to rap. So that performance at Wembley let us feel like we were real entertainers. I remember, we met Terence Trent D’Arby, Patti Labelle, Neil Young and just an array of entertainers who were huge at the time. Me and Bono from U2 were talking, just kickin’ it, and that was dope because we were being accepted by everyone. I remember Denzel Washington was there, we performed that song, I walked offstage and Denzel hugged me. But it just felt like the other artists there understood what we were trying to do and that was always something that Delite and I wanted to do for Hip-Hop, to get people to understand what Hip-Hop was about and what it could be. I mean, I’m still the same way today because I still think a lot of people have got it twisted in terms of what they think we are.”
Would you say “A.F.R.I.C.A.” was the catalyst which led to you addressing other political issues on 1988’s “In Full Gear” album with tracks like “Freedom Or Death”?
“I’d say yes, but in a weird way (laughs). I mean, “Freedom Or Death” was something I made for Sonny Carson. That was always his line. I mean there were different things happening in New York at the time, there was the whole Yusef Hawkins thing, and Sonny had this whole ‘freedom or death’ thing that he was doing in response to that. Lumumba Carson and them hadn’t made any records yet. He wasn’t Professor X yet and there was no X-Clan at this point. So there was really no voice at that time to express what Sonny was talking about. I sat with Sonny one day and he explained the whole freedom or death concept to me and he said it exactly the way I wrote it. So I would say that “A.F.R.I.C.A.” did have something to do with us touching on other issues because making that record let us know that we could cover certain issues as a group because the challenge had been how do we make a record about something like apartheid and make it fun? I mean, you could make message records all day, but they’re not necessarily going to be hot. Plus, it wasn’t like we were making a song like Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” that was about the general ghetto that a lot of people already knew about or could relate to. There were specific names of people who were involved in apartheid in South Africa and different things that were going on, so in order to really express what was happening we knew that we had to put all of that into the record. We knew it wouldn’t have been enough to just gloss over it and say that apartheid was going on and that people shouldn’t like what was happening. We knew that wasn’t going to work. We had to go into detail. So then it was about how do we make that fun for people to listen to. But once we’d done it, that first time, we realised that there was no telling what we could do musically. So “A.F.R.I.C.A.” definitely opened up something for us as far as that was concerned and introduced us to being able to make songs about specific things. I mean, when we were recording “On Fire”, there were songs on there about specific things as well, but it was more about us being Stetsasonic…”
There was definitely a noticeable amount of artistic growth between “On Fire” and “In Full Gear”…
“Right, right. Well, you’ve probably heard Chuck D’s story about how Stetsasonic and Public Enemy went on tour together and three albums came out of that tour bus – “In Full Gear”, “It Takes A Nation Of Millions…” and “3 Feet High And Rising”. I mean, whilst Public Enemy were making “Nation” we were making “In Full Gear”, so we were bouncing ideas off of each other all the time. But one story I always remember about “A.F.R.I.C.A.” is when we were on tour with MC Hammer, Public Enemy, EPMD and 2 Live Crew. I can’t remember exactly what year this was, but it was heyday Hammer, “U Can’t Touch This” Hammer. We were doing different spots and on some dates you got all of the groups, other times you might just get three of us. But as Stetsasonic we were used to opening up and we would trade with EPMD, so one night it was them opening and the next night it was us. Anyway, this one night, Hammer had flown in on his private jet, EPMD had opened up, we were getting ready to go onstage and the promoter came to us and said that Hammer was going on before us. We were like, ‘What?!’ I mean, when I say this was heyday Hammer, he had the full stage show with all the dancers and everything. So there was nothing we would do about it. Hammer went out there and killed it and then we’ve got to go on after that. So the rest of the group are looking at me like, ‘What are we going to do now, D?’ I was like, ‘I know how we’re going to do this. I want you to come out with me first Paul.’ Everyone was like, ‘Huh?!’ because the way we used to do it was the band would go out first and play a little, then introduce Frukwan, he would introduce Delite and then Delite would introduce me and we’d do the show. But I wanted Paul to just come out with me and I told him to get “A.F.R.I.C.A.” ready. So we went out there and I got on some real preacher s**t. I was saying how for years Black people had been singing and dancing. I made Hammer look like it was buffoonery that he’d just done (laughs). I talked a little about apartheid, told Paul to drop the beat, the rest of the group came out and we performed “A.F.R.I.C.A.” first before we did all our other records that people wanted to hear.”
When you recorded “Talkin’ All That Jazz” were you expecting it to play such a large part in the debate surrounding sampling at the time?
“Absolutely not. “Talkin’ All That Jazz” was the only record on “In Full Gear” that I wrote for all three of us, me, Delite and Frukwan. Now, there’s a radio show in New York called The Week In Review with Bob Slade which is still on today. It’s a very, very informative show where they highlight certain things and talk about different issues. So what happened was, James Mtume was a guest on the radio show and he was talking about how Hip-Hop was creating this generation of uncreative musicians through sampling. He’s saying how it’s making people lazy and how the people who’re sampling don’t know how to play instruments or really know anything about music, blah, blah, blah. Now, I wasn’t able to be a guest on that particular show, but then Bob Slade brought me up on another show and I was able to talk about sampling from our perspective. So it kinda kept going back and forth between me and Mtume, but not directly. Now, Delite had already come up with the idea of doing a record called “Talkin’ All That Jazz”, but his idea was to do something similar to what Guru and Premier did later with “Jazz Music” and “Jazz Thing”. Delite wanted to do a record like that, really showing the similarities between Hip-Hop and jazz. We also wanted to show how, not being disrespectful, but in the same way that people thought Kenny G and Najee was real jazz, we felt the same thing was going to happen with Hip-Hop and that our own Coltranes and all of that would be pushed to the side if we weren’t being mindful. So that was originally what we wanted to do with “Talkin’ All That Jazz” and Delite had also come up with the idea of using the Lonnie Liston Smith “Expansions” sample.
Were you already a fan of “Expansions”?
“Yeah, yeah. I mean, “Expansions” was one of the records that people used to play out in the parks at those jams back in Brooklyn in the 70s. So I thought the original idea was cool and we were going to do it. But when this whole Mtume thing came up, I told Delite and Frukwan that I was going to write “Talkin’ All That Jazz” about that situation. I remember them both saying to me, ‘Are you sure, D?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do this.’ So I put it together. Then we went in the studio and we tried to sample “Expansions” but it was too fast, so we slowed it down but it didn’t sound right. I guess if the time-stretch stuff that they use nowadays had been available then we would have done that. But it wasn’t. So, Prince Paul was already in the studio at this point working with De La Soul and Don Newkirk was also involved in some of those sessions. So Paul just said we should let Don play it. Bobby Simmons said that we needed to have it played using this cello type sound and when he pulled it up I told Don that’s what we were looking for. So he played those opening bars that you hear on the record. Then Newkirk said he was going to do something else with it, and that’s when he added some of the other keyboard parts that you hear on there. Then Tom Silverman at Tommy Boy had to get me on the phone with Lonnie Liston Smith for the rights to use his record. I remember I got on the phone and Lonnie said to me, ‘Young blood, you can have that, man. That ain’t “Expansions” no more, you done made something new.'”
Which basically proved the exact point you were trying to make with the record…
“It did (laughs). I couldn’t believe he was saying that to me. I remember him saying how he was proud of us for taking his music and making something new out of it.”
Throughout “In Full Gear” you made a handful of references to Miami and there was also the track “Miami Bass”. What was your preoccupation with Miami at the time you were recording that album?
“At that time, I’ll tell you what it was in one word…
“No, it was Luke (laughs). When Stetsasonic went to Miami for the first time when we did the Def Jam tour in 87 with LL Cool J, Luke took care of me like, man, I don’t really know how to describe it. It was like the royal guard came out for me or something, yo. He took me to the ‘hood and showed me around and from that point on there was like a carte blanch thing going on with Stetsasonic in Miami. All the way down to Luke telling us what to perform in Miami. I remember him telling us to perform “On Fire” and saying that they didn’t know anything else that we did down there (laughs). I was like, ‘They like “On Fire”?!’ and Luke said, ‘It’s the bass! That’s what they listen to down here.’ I was smoking weed at the time and I remember Luke taking me to this guy’s house to pick some up and when the guy opened the door he started jumping up and down saying ‘You’re “On Fire”?! “On Fire”, “On Fire”?!’ Luke really laid it out and it was such a great experience for us, particularly in contrast with other people on the tour like LL. He had a lot of pressure at the time and they didn’t really like him down there. But one thing about Stet which I really think went a long way towards how people accepted us was that we never sneered our noses at anybody. We always let the music speak for itself and we really won a lot of people over that way. I remember we were on tour in the Midwest one time with Public Enemy and we were getting ready to perform. There was this dude there who was saying, ‘Ya’ll Stetsasonic? Yeah, I like you, y’all okay, but Public Enemy are my boys.’ He had a little money and whatever. I’ll never forget, we did the show, and he left Public Enemy and took us to the club and brought us all champagne (laughs).”
You were featured some years back in Mikey D’s documentary “The Making Of A Legend” commenting on his infamous battle with Melle Mel at the 1988 New Music Seminar. What do you remember about that incident?
“That was just a horrible night, man. I don’t think anyone is ever going to forget what happened that night. I mean, I tell people all the time, when they’re talking about the greatest emcee to ever live, I always say Melle Mel. When people talk about the greatest rhyme ever recorded, I always say it’s Melle Mel’s rhyme on “Beat Street Breakdown”…
Melle Mel will always be one of my favourite emcees and personally I think his three greatest lyrical moments are “The Message”, “Beat Street Breakdown” and “World War III”…
“Yeah, I mean that rhyme on “Beat Street Breakdown” just encompasses everything. He didn’t miss out anything on that record. It’s all there. So I say all of that almost as a disclaimer because Mel will always be my hero. But, when it comes down to it, a battle is a battle. So he tried to come at Mikey D with some rhymes that he’d done before and Mikey really isn’t the type of emcee to come at or go up against like that. Mike is nice. So Mel came at him and Mikey tossed him (laughs). Then Melle Mel got physically mad and went and took the Seminar belt back. It was sad, man. I mean, Mike ain’t no super tough guy but he ain’t from no punk part of Queens either and he had enough massive in there with him that night to have turned that into something totally different. But the respect level was there. So I remember Mikey just looking at Mel, like ‘What?!’ There was definitely a sadness in Mikey that night like, ‘I can’t believe Mel would do that.’ I mean, it was an honour for Mikey to go up against Melle Mel, it would have been an honour for Mikey to have lost to Melle Mel, but he didn’t (laughs). It was tough to see that happen to Mikey, man. But Mel’s got those moments, man. Some years back I worked with a company called Sock Bandit on their documentary “Hip-Hop Immortals”. Now, when we did that we called Mel up to the office, and Melle Mel went on for about forty minutes cursing out 50 Cent and then we found out he didn’t actually know 50 (laughs). It was just weird. So Mel has his moments, man (laughs).”
You produced Bango’s “Ghettoish” for Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate compilation in 1988 and you also worked on a couple of tracks off the 7A3 album “Coolin’ In Cali”. How did you get involved in those two projects?
“The Bango track came about purely through me and Ice-T being cool and him liking me as a producer. He told me that he was working on the Rhyme Syndicate compilation and that he had this kid out of Cleveland with a little street edge to him who he thought I would like. Now, 7A3, I actually knew Sean and Brett already because we were from the same area in Brooklyn. But again, that came through Ice-T and Jorge Hinosoja, because Jorge was involved in putting that project together. Jorge was just a cool dude and when you were working with him, if he saw there was an opportunity, then he did it. So I knew Sean and Brett from East New York, I knew Jorge and Ice-T, so we just put it together and made that happen.”
1989 saw Stetsasonic taking on a major role in the Stop The Violence Movement’s “Self-Destruction”. What do you remember about recording that single?
“There’s a couple of things that I always remember, like LL Cool J not being on the record. Now, there’s actually a performance we did on the Dr. Ruth Show that had LL on it that was really dope. He obviously didn’t have a part on the record, but the band played something behind him and he did a little something on there. LL was asked about “Self-Destruction” and why he didn’t participate and he said it was because of that beat that we used for the song. He said he hadn’t had a record out in awhile, he was due to be coming out with “Walking With A Panther” and he said, ‘Man, I haven’t been heard for awhile and I didn’t want to be heard after some time away on that beat.’ There were actually a few people who didn’t really care for the original track. Public Enemy actually didn’t really care for the track. Then D-Nice started throwing those extra parts in there from people’s own records. We actually didn’t say anything. So we didn’t know he was going to throw that part from the “Talkin’ All That Jazz” remix up under there because when we’d recorded our part we’d rhymed to the original track. So that was something I remember. Plus, I was right there when LL wrote MC Lyte’s rhyme and that really was an ill piece of history to see. LL asked Lyte to say her rhyme and she’d done this part rhyming all these facts together. LL asked Lyte who was going on after her on the record and she said it was me. LL was like, ‘You can’t go on before Daddy-O with that. You know how he’s going to come…’ So LL just took the pad from her and started writing the whole thing down which became Lyte’s verse. Then, one of my biggest recollections of making that record, which connects with what we were talking about earlier, is that the video shoot for “Self-Destruction” is where I first met James Mtume. He walked up to me, shook my hand and said, ‘Hi, I’m James Mtume the narrow-minded.’ I mean, we’re really good friends now (laughs). But that was definitely a moment.”
Check the final part of this interview here.
Stetsasonic performing “A.F.R.I.C.A.” at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1990.
In the second part of my interview with golden-age favourite DJ Tat Money, the Philadelphia-bred scratch mechanic talks about how he first met Steady B, his late-80s appearances at New York’s New Music Seminar and the history behind the infamous ‘transformer scratch’ – check Part One here.
When did you first meet Steady B?
“Steady already had records out when I met him. He’d put out stuff like “Take Your Radio” and “Bring The Beat Back” as singles when we first connected. Oddly enough, we connected at Funk-O-Mart, at the record store I was working at. He came to the store to meet me. A mutual friend of ours had told him about me. Like I said earlier, I would make tapes for myself and keep them at my house to listen to. But the crew that I was with, T.F.D., they would come over and be like, ‘You’ve gotta let me hold one of those tapes!’ I’d been quiet about what I was doing on the turntables and I hadn’t really been trying to show people. But they were amazed by it and I was shocked that they liked it. I was like, ‘Really? You think it’s that good?’ Well, they would take the tapes, go back home and practice off them, which was crazy to me as they started out before me (laughs). That was pretty flattering because I always thought they were pretty good and I actually learnt a few tricks from them. So Steady had heard about me through people hearing those tapes.”
Were you surprised when Steady approached you considering he’d already been recording with Grand Dragon K.D. as his deejay?
“See what happened was, Steady and K.D. had some internal issues. Lawrence Goodman, who was Steady’s uncle and manager, he basically used to run the camp. He was kinda like a Suge Knight type (laughs). Not as much brawn, but he definitely had the takeover mentality (laughs). We used to hear it all the time, like, ‘You might think you know, but I know!'” So K.D. and Lawrence bumped heads…
Was K.D. known around Philly as a deejay prior to coming out with Steady?
“Really, I didn’t know much about him. He was picked up by Steady and, like I said, they had some internal issues. Grand Dragon wanted things to go his way and Lawrence wanted them to go his way (laughs). But that was the mentality back then. It was about the deejay and the emcee. Your music didn’t have anything to do with the manager! So Grand Dragon felt like, ‘Okay, well if I’m the deejay then I’ve gotta run the crew.’ But he wasn’t given that chance and him and Lawrence bumped heads, so then it was like, ‘Okay, we’ve gotta get someone else.’ I mean, Steady and Lawrence had put the thing together originally, so I guess they felt nobody was going to tell them how things were gonna be.”
Steady must have been building some nice momentum as well with the attention that his LL Cool J diss “Take Your Radio” had got…
“To be honest, the way things came together with that was kind of on a whim actually. A guy had brought a tape to them originally and then something happened to this guy. His name was Jimmy…”
Was this Jimmy The Jawn?
“That’s him (laughs). From what I understand, he had this great idea to do a song dissin’ LL Cool J who was huge at the time. Lawrence had obviously been doing songs already with artists like Major Harris and Eddie “D” who had the song “Cold Cash $ Money” which was hot around Philly. So Jimmy The Jawn had this little vibe going and everybody was talking about him and Lawrence really wanted to make something pop off in the rap game. So Lawrence heard about this guy and Steady went to the same school as Jimmy, which was Overbrook High School. So Lawrence was looking for him to record this song and they just could not locate him. So beings that they couldn’t find him, Lawrence just decided to bring Steady in and told him to do the record instead. I mean, LL was the man at the time and the crazy thing was that Steady actually loved LL (laughs). I mean, he loved LL. But it was just a business move early on and it was really just a way to try and get into the game even though some people might have thought you were coming in on the wrong foot.”
What impact did “Take Your Radio” have locally?
“It had a nice impact in Philly because when people heard it they were like, ‘Wow! You’re going against LL?!’ Of course people are going to support their own, and that’s what they did. I mean, it wasn’t enough to put Steady on the same level as LL obviously, but it definitely made an impact. There was a little bit of a backlash, so obviously Steady had to come with some back-up records, which is when he dropped “Do The Fila”…”
That was such a great record…
“Steady originally made that record under the name MC Boob because Lawrence was afraid of legalities and whatever. But people definitely took to the record and The Fila was a big dance out here in Philly. But they were definitely worried about the legalities of using the word ‘Fila’ in the title and also the fact that they pretty much took the whole record from Joeski Love who had “Pee Wee’s Dance” out. So they were basically like, ‘Ah, let’s just put it out under a nom de plume and keep it moving.’ But locally, people were definitely feeling Steady.”
So when you came onboard Steady was already in the process of recording his debut 1986 album “Bring The Beat Back”, right?
“That’s right. When Steady came down to find me at Funk-O-Mart he didn’t ask me on the spot to be his deejay, he asked me to audition. He wanted me to audition for his manager, Lawrence Goodman. Steady was like, ‘I’ve already heard what you can do. I want you to show my manager what you can do because I need a deejay.’ So they both came to my house and I cut up Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper” for them and Steady was like, ‘See, I told you he was fresh!’ So I was like, ‘Oh you like that? Watch this…’ and I started doing some tricks and they were like, ‘Okay cool, can you come to the studio and cut up a few records?’ So that was the beginning of it all. I was on four tracks from the “Bring The Beat Back” album, which were “Nothin’ But The Bass”, “Surprise”, “Stupid Fresh” and “Hit Me”.
You entered the New Music Seminar deejay battle in 1987 – what do you remember about that?
“Here’s how it went down. Basically, the first time I entered we were recording the “What’s My Name” album, which was Steady’s second album. I mean, I’d got my feet wet doing those four tracks for the first album, but now with the second project, we were going to construct an entire album together. So we put a lot into the second album and we really felt like we’d made some great songs and I’d learned a lot about the whole recording process. Now, when we got to the end of recording that album, we got told that we were going to New York to the New Music Seminar. I was like, ‘What is that?’ I mean, I’d heard that Jazzy Jeff had won it the previous year but I didn’t really know all about it at that point. I knew that it was about having cut routines and stuff like that, but I was an artist now and all my time was being spent in the studio rather than practicing routines. I mean, I was with Steady almost every day back then, so the days of me practicing for six hours a day were over now that I was spending ten hours a day in the studio. So anyway, we go up to the Seminar and I cut up a couple of records in the deejay battle, still not really knowing what it was about, and I got taken out in the preliminaries by Mr. Mixx from the 2 Live Crew. He was up there cutting up Run-DMC’s “Hard Times” and I was just like, ‘Wow! I’m not prepared for this.’ We’d just finished putting “What’s My Name” together and I had no kind of routines (laughs). But the next year I went back and I was prepared for it because now I knew what it was all about.”
So the second time you actually went with the intention of winning the deejay battle?
“The second time I went in 1988, I had routines now. I understood what the whole Seminar thing was about so I made sure I was prepared the second time. I was a little bit nervous because of getting taken out that first year, but I’d practiced so much that I was also confident. Now, the thing to remember is that the year before I first went to the New Music Seminar, Jazzy Jeff had won the deejay battle. The first year I actually went and got knocked out, Cash Money had won the battle. Now, this second year I went there, you had Jazzy Jeff and Lady B on the judges panel and they were the only two judges from Philly, everyone else was from New York. Red Alert was on there, Mixmaster Ice and a bunch of different people from New York. So I get up there and I thought I did okay during my first two rounds. Even though I won the rounds, I thought I’d just done alright, but it definitely built my confidence up. I mean, I remember they had a huge mixer which obviously I’d never practiced on before and it really tested your talent to be able to perform your routines on equipment you weren’t really familiar with. I remember I beat Vandy C. in one of the early rounds and he was complaining about it. I can hear him now walking around saying to everyone, ‘Man, I can’t believe it!’ I remember Jazzy Jay was there and he was hyping me up after those early rounds, telling me how I was going to win the competition. Now, the third routine I did was my “Rock The Bells” routine. I’d been practicing over Cash Money’s house and he’d done something while we were over there which I borrowed for the routine, which was the ‘record-stop’. So it was like, ‘Rock the burrr…’, ‘Rock the burrr…’ and nobody had ever seen that before. The crowd went wild and I won another round.”
You must have been feeling pretty good at that point?
“Yeah, I’m climbing my way up. So I’m in the semi-finals now. At this point, they told Jazzy Jeff and Lady B that they didn’t need them on the panel anymore. Which I thought was really weird. So they took them both off the panel and you could tell there was some shady stuff going on. So anyway, I went up against this guy from Holland called All Star Fresh. I get up there and did this crazy routine with this wool-cap on my head like you wear in the winter with a ball on the end of it. It was blazing hot, I had on shorts and everything with this winter hat on my head and people were looking at me like, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ So I get up there and start cutting up Public Enemy, ‘Bass! How low can you go?’, Bass! How low can you go?’ and as I’m cutting I pulled the hat down over my eyes, spun around and the crowd just blew-up (laughs). I mean these were early tricks, but people were still excited to see them. So the crowd went crazy for that. Then All Star Fresh gets up there and basically did Cash Money’s routine from the previous year, cutting up Run-DMC, ‘Not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good…’ That was really it. Then I went back up and did another trick using “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” and I really did some crazy cuts. Then All Star Fresh comes back and he did a blend, mixing Rob Base’s “It Takes Two” with a Roxanne Shante record or something. Next thing I know, they said he won and I was out of my mind! I was just sat there like, ‘You’ve gotta be f**kin’ kidding me?'”
How did the crowd respond to that?
“Man, let me tell you how it happened. The announcers for the New Music Seminar that year were Daddy-O, Flavor Flav and Biz Markie. What they would do, they would have the deejays go on and then whilst they were tallying up the votes the emcees would go on and then afterwards they’d tell you who won that particular round of the deejay competition. So, Biz was like, ‘Do we have the results for the deejay battle?’ He got the results, turned around, looked at me, then said ‘We have the result…and it’s real f**ked-up.’ He said the second part kinda under his breath (laughs). Then he said, ‘The winner is All Star Fresh…’ and he said it really fast (laughs). The crowd were just silent. There was like a sea of people in there and it was quiet for about five seconds. There wasn’t a sound. Then all you heard after that were just monstrous boos coming from everywhere (laughs). Then this chant started, ‘Tat! Tat! Tat!’ The person who started the chant was Jon Shecter from The Source. He’d done an interview with me years ago, before he even did B.M.O.C. I saw him in the crowd and he was the one who started the chant. But after that day, I got my respect in New York and I was happy. But the final that year was All Star Fresh and DJ Scratch and, of course, Scratch beat him. But I think it came down to the fact that Philly deejays had won for the previous two years and they felt it had to go to a New York deejay that year so they wouldn’t let me get through to the final.”
Philly deejays were really setting the standards back then though…
“Yeah, definitely. I mean, Miz was in that Seminar as well but he got knocked out because of that big mixer I mentioned. He tried to get up on the turntables, put his knee up there, he hit the wrong button and all hell broke loose (laughs). It just didn’t work for him that year. He actually battled DJ Scratch during the rounds. But from what everyone was saying afterwards, the final should have either been me and Miz, or me and Scratch. After the announcement was made, I walked over to the judges and I was so angry. I just waved my hand, like, ‘Whatever! You know who won that round!’ I walked away and Red Alert stopped me and was like, ‘Yo! You won that, man!’ He wasn’t afraid to say what was real. I was about to get real frustrated and start saying some stuff, but then I saw this camera in my face and it was Ice-T’s video camera. He recorded the whole thing. From what I remember, there was only two people with video cameras in that place and that was Ice-T and Hurby Luv Bug. So I saw the camera in my face and I paused because I was thinking I’m an artist on Jive Records now and I’ve got to be careful about my public persona because I was being introduced as ‘Jive Records’ own DJ Tat Money..’ and I didn’t want to do or say anything that might have damaged my career back then (laughs). But that was my experience of the New Music Seminar.”
On the subject of the influence of Philly deejays, let’s talk about the ‘transformer scratch’ for a moment. Many people consider DJ Spinbad to be the person who invented it, Cash Money to be the person who named it and Jazzy Jeff to be the person who first came out with it on record. Agree or disagree?
“Everything you said is true, except for the last part. Jeff was the first person to put it on a record with the name attached to it. The first transforming on record was actually on Steady B’s “Bring The Beat Back” and that was done by Grand Dragon K.D.. He was transforming on that record back then, it’s just that people outside of Philly didn’t know what it was called at that point. But the transformer scratch was already poppin’ in the streets. Now, when Spinbad first did it, he was doing it using the ‘It’s time…’ part from Hashim’s ‘”Al-Naafiysh”. I think he did that scratch for the first time in public at the Wynn Ballroom and everyone was like, ‘Whaaaat?!’ Then the tape of that party went around the streets and people were going crazy when they heard it. This was around 1985. Like I said earlier, there was huge competition in Philly as far as being a deejay was concerned, and if you couldn’t do all the different types of scratches then you really weren’t worth anything to anybody. You had to earn your stripes. Plus, deejays from different areas cut a little differently to one another. Now, when the transformer scratch came out, Spinbad came from the Mount Airy / Germantown area which is North Philly. So he cut a little differently then guys like us from West Philly. So, when he first did his interpretation of what became known as the transformer scratch at the Wynn Ballroom, spinning it back so it made that particular sound, Cash Money heard it and decided to speed it up. Then Cash did his version of it at a party, but he actually named it. His emcee at the time was Kool Breeze Steve and he got up there like, ‘Cash Money watches “Transformers” everyday at four-o-clock and this is what he learned…’ Cash gets on the turntables and does the scratch, but he’d sped it up and really made it into something special. Then the tape of that party got around and now you had all these different deejays in Philly hearing it and trying to do it, which is how Grand Dragon K.D. then ended up doing it on “Bring The Beat Back” and then Jazzy Jeff did it and actually used the name ‘transformer scratch’ on record a little afterwards with “The Magnificent…”.
Check Part Three of this interview here.
Steady B – “Bring The Beat Back” (Pop Art Records / 1986)
A true veteran of the Queens, NY Hip-Hop scene, Rotten Apple resident Satchel Page spent his youth surrounded by pioneers of the game, from those who made their name turning-out the park jams of the early-80s, to others who went on to become internationally known once rap began to make its journey from the streets to the mainstream.
But unlike many of his peers, Page didn’t spend the 80s or 90s in the Hip-Hop spotlight, even though he was associated with some of the most well-known figures of the culture’s golden-era. Having sharpened his lyrical skills onstage in front of first-generation Queens b-boys and b-girls, fate and circumstance would prevent the New York native from sharing his passion for the microphone with the masses, with Page instead deciding to step back from pursuing a career in music in favour of a more secure and stable lifestyle.
Having returned to the studio in recent years, working with producer Ayatollah and appearing on childhood friend Neek The Exotic’s 2011 Large Professor-assisted album “Still On The Hustle”, Page recently released his own new solo project “Fine Wine”.
In this two-part interview an animated Satchel Page takes a walk down memory lane, as he remembers rolling with a young LL Cool J, battling Biz Markie and seeing his Queens neighbourhood ravaged by the crack epidemic of the Reagan-era.
How and when were you first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“Well, I’m from Southside Jamaica, Queens, which I would say is one of the meccas of the Hip-Hop culture. I really started rhyming after making the transition from break-dancing, which shows you how long ago I started (laughs). When I started grabbing the mic most of the people my age were still break-dancing and it was the older cats who were rhyming. But I was one of those young cats who was grabbing the mic early in Jamaica, Queens back in the park jam era.”
So before you started rhyming, when did you first start breakin’?
“Breakin’ came to Queens, I would say, in the late-70s. We’d have the block parties, people would bring out their music equipment and we would just dance to the music all night long. That was when we first really started to see this new music taking form and the break-dancers would come out and everything. We used to call it the electric boogie back then (laughs). People would be poppin’ and stuff and it really just took off from there in Queens. Everybody was doing it in the late-70s and early-80s.”
Were acts coming from the Bronx to perform at those early park jams or was it strictly deejays and emcees from Queens?
“I always tell people that if Hip-Hop started in the Bronx on a Monday, then the rest of New York was doing it on Tuesday and Wednesday (laughs). It really spread that fast. The first memory I have of those park jams in Queens was when I was playing Little League baseball. I was about ten-years-old and I can remember everybody on the baseball field dancing and not being able to concentrate on the game because there were people in the next field over playing music! That was like a phenomenon to us. We could hear the music and they were playing these disco break-beats and everybody was dancing and trying to play baseball at the same time (laughs). I mean, that had to be around 1977 or 1978. So this was early and it wasn’t anybody who was coming from the Bronx doing that, this was Queens cats just bringing their equipment out and doing their thing. Hip-Hop started in the Bronx but we were doing it very early in Queens with the jams and stuff. We’ve been jammin’ in Queens for a long time (laughs).”
Who were some of the best known deejays in the parks during the early days of Hip-Hop in Queens?
“Ah man, at the height of the park jams in Queens the biggest name was Grandmaster Vic. He was the ultimate. Vic was like Grandmaster Flash to people in Queens. So there was Grandmaster Vic, the Amazing Dewitt from Baisley and Kid Quick from Rochdale. Those are some of the names that I remember. But a lot of the time it wasn’t about the single deejay, it was about the crews. So there was the Boss Crew, you had Cipher Sounds who were coming out of 40 projects, you had the Clientele Brothers which had people like Mikey D, LL Cool J and Johnny Quest down with them….”
Eddie O’Jay, Everlovin’ Kid Ice and those dudes…
“Yeah, yeah (laughs). So we’re talking the early-80s at this point. This was still really before making records was your claim to fame. Your claim to fame was being able to rock at a park jam and having tapes of that circulating around New York. That was how you made your name back then.”
Going back to Grandmaster Vic, he was known for his blends, right?
“He invented that. He invented that whole idea of blending Hip-Hop with R&B. Puffy and all these people like Jodeci and Mary J. Blige really owe Grandmaster Vic. When he did it, it was unheard of to take the accapella of an R&B record and blend it with straight Hip-Hop breaks. When he started doing that it was a previously unheard phenomenon that really took people by storm. I mean, in the early-80s people were buying Grandmaster Vic tapes for like fifty dollars. Those were real mixtapes.”
How early on was Vic actually mixing Hip-Hop with R&B?
“Early on, early on. That’s what he was known for. He was good with the scratches and everything and was a real pure deejay, but when it came to the blending, he had such an ear for putting two records together that you would never think would blend but he would make it work. That was in the early-80s he was doing that. I remember he could pretty much blend Keni Burke’s “Risin’ To The Top” with anything (laughs). I think Keni Burke might owe Grandmaster Vic some royalties because he really helped make that song famous. You don’t even understand, when Vic would put that record on at the jams people would go crazy. To this day, “Risin’ To The Top” is the Queens anthem. That’s the Queens anthem because of Grandmaster Vic and his crew, the Boss Crew which consisted of cats like Divine and Chilly Dee who were legends back then. They had the Boss Crew, which stood for Brothers Of South Side. They would tear parties up so bad that it was the equivalent of going to something like Summer Jam now. But when it comes to Grandmaster Vic, all those dudes like Funkmaster Flex, DJ Clue, Kid Capri, Ron G, all the deejays that went on to become big and famous from making mixtapes, they all took a little piece of Grandmaster Vic.”
So at what point did you make the transition from dancing to rhyming?
“I’ll tell you when it happened. It was when I met LL Cool J. My cousin was also a big deejay at that time and I’d say he was on the same level as Grandmaster Vic. His name was DJ Jesse James. Now, his emcees were astronomically huge in Queens at the time. They were called the Albino Twins. They were these two albino dudes and they used to just destroy the parties. I mean, they were really more party emcees and not so much on the lyrical tip, but this was when we were still in that party and park jam era. So they were big in Queens and I used to roll with them and be the one carrying the equipment and stuff. I mean, I’m only about ten or eleven-years-old at this point. So my cousin came to me and said, ‘Yo, I’ve got this new young cat and he’s just ferocious on the mic.’ He introduced me to him and it was Cool J. Now, when Cool J came he just brought a whole new style to the streets of Queens that was unheard of because at that time everybody was just doing the party style of rhyming. That’s really what emcee-ing was to us back then. But when LL came out, and he was only about fourteen-years-0ld, he came with that very lyrical style that, when I first heard it, it just blew me away. So after the first time I heard LL rhyme, I went home and started writing my own rhymes because there was more of an intelligence aspect to it that I felt I could do rather than just the crowd participation stuff which you really needed a huge amount of personality for.”
So when you first heard LL, was it at a park jam or on a tape?
“It was in my cousin DJ Jesse James’ basement. They were practicing for a jam we were about to go to that night and LL was rhyming freestyle off the instrumental to T La Rock’s “It’s Yours”.”
Which is ironic considering the comparisons that were made between LL Cool J and T La Rock when “I Need A Beat” came out…
“”It’s Yours” definitely inspired him. When he was rolling with my cousin I would be with LL and he would recite that record all the time. I mean, we all knew the record but LL was the only person I knew who could recite that record word-for-word. He knew every single word to that song backwards and forwards. So yeah, LL could never deny T La Rock’s influence on him.”
So was LL performing regularly with your cousin and his crew?
“Ah man, when LL got down with the Albino Twins it was crazy because then you had the illest party rockers with the illest lyricist. I used to roll with them and see them just turn jams upside down (laughs). Their style used to be that they’d turn up to the party, tear the place up and then just leave (laughs). I mean, after they left people didn’t even want to stay no more. There was no reason for them to stay around. It was like they’d just been hit by a tornado (laughs). Now, LL and the Albino Twins were actually from the Northside of Queens and back then Queens was very localised. But I remember walking up into the hardest neighbourhoods in the middle of 40 projects with them. Now, dudes from the Northside, which is Hollis and places like that, they didn’t really come to Southside Queens. The Twins and LL were some of the few who would come from the Northside to the Southside, in the middle of 40 projects, and be able to actually get the microphone, much less then tear the place up. I saw them do that on more than one occasion (laughs). So LL was definitely a big influence on me when I first started picking up that pen.”
Are there any battles from that period that still standout to you?
“Yeah, actually one of the illest moments I ever had in Hip-Hop was when LL had a battle with this guy called Cap who was from Laurelton, Queens, which had the L.A. Posse. Cap also had a crew called the El-Producto Brothers. Now, this particular battle was at a block party, and they always used to start around three in the afternoon. LL was on early doing his thing, and Cap got on him just out of nowhere. Cap had this disrespectful rhyme that just killed LL. Now, LL was about to get back on him, but it was still real early and I remember my cousin Jesse James coming up to LL and saying, ‘Yo, chill, chill. Don’t do it now. Let’s wait until night time when the crowd’s here and then you can go at him.’ My cousin had this van at the time and LL went straight into the van. We didn’t see LL for the rest of the day. Now, around the time the party was really rockin’, my cousin came up to me and told me to go get LL. I remember opening up the van and LL was in there with the music going and he was just putting the pen to the pad (laughs). I told him that my cousin had said it was time. I remember LL asking me, ‘Yo! Is it crowded?’ and I was like, ‘Man, it’s packed!’ I remember LL getting out that van, going up onstage and he said a rhyme to this dude Cap that was tailor-made for him (laughs). The crowd just went bananas. I mean, the rhyme was just so skillful and advanced that people were looking at LL like he was a martian (laughs). Cap tried to come back at LL and right in the middle of his rhyme LL just turned around and mooned him (laughs). The crowd fell-out laughing and that was the battle over. But I remember there were people there that day who went on to become legends. I mean, DJ Irv, Irv Gotti, he was there, Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, Ed Lover was there. Ed was actually someone else who used to roll with my cousin and the Albino Twins. He always used to do songs over to perform at the parties and make them funny. I remember when Run DMC had “My Adidas”, Ed did “My Skeezers” and things like that (laughs).”
Do you recall the first time you performed in public?
“The very first time I performed was at a block party. Now back then, when crews used to battle it was more like a battle of sound systems which was taking something from the Jamaican thing. At the time my cousin had the illest sound system and there was also this other crew from Southside called Cipher Sounds. I remember, both of them wanted to jam at this particular park on the same day. Everybody knew that they were going to jam at this park. So my cousin showed up on one side of the park, Cipher Sounds showed up on the other side of the park, and it was about whoever was rockin’ the most and who the crowd was swaying to. That was the first time I ever got on the mic and I just tore it up. People were just astonished because they were only used to seeing me carrying the equipment and dancing. I was real short as well. I mean, I’m still short now, but I was even shorter back then (laughs). So that was my first time rockin’ a jam and I just loved the feeling I got from doing that. Afterwards, I’d be walking around the neighbourhood and people would be pointing me out like, ‘That’s that dude who rhymes with the Albino Twins…’ and stuff like that…
What name were you rhyming under back then?
“My name back then was G.L.T. which stood for Genuine Lyrical Technique. To be honest, it stood for pretty much whatever I felt at the time (laughs). It also used to stand for Good Lookin’ Troy, with Troy being my first name.”
So were you battling other emcees on the street at that point as well as performing at the jams?
“I had a battle with Biz Markie before he even came out on record which was funny. Biz was actually walking through my neighbourhood with Rahzel who went on to be the beatbox for The Roots. This was before Biz had come out with the Juice Crew and all that. Biz was just walking down the street doing that ‘Boom-ha-ha..’ thing he used to do (laughs). Now, Biz is a funny-looking cat and we actually thought something was wrong with him (laughs). We were just young and crazy back then, so we started clowning on him and Biz started telling us how he’s into music and is doing this and that. So we’re laughing at him, thinking that he’s lying. Then before you know it, Biz started rhyming, I started rhyming, and we were going back and forth. I pretty much think I got him though (laughs). But we laughed Biz Markie off our block. We told him, ‘Yo,you sound corny. You sound crazy.’ Then maybe about a year later we heard that same laugh of his all over the radio and we all just looked at each other like, ‘Oh no!’ Me and my crew swear to this day that Biz made “Vapors” about us (laughs).”
On the subject of the Juice Crew, with their early members coming from Queensbridge, how much of a connection did QB have with everything else that was going on in Queens at the time?
“Queensbridge was always just off on their own doing their own thing. Like I said, Queens was very localised so you didn’t always know what was happening outside of your own neighbourhood. I mean at the age we were back then, none of us were driving or anything like that. So you pretty much stayed in your neighbourhood. We thought we were all of Queens (laughs) I mean, for us, our introduction to Queensbridge pretty much was the Juice Crew when MC Shan and Marley Marl came out with “The Bridge”. So when they came out, that was something brand new to us. But when MC Shan came out that was big. I mean, most of the guys I was rolling with didn’t go on to make records, so when Shan started coming to other parts of Queens to perform, that was big because he was already out with his records.”
What impact did it have in Queens when Run-DMC first came out?
“That was huge. I remember, you’d see them driving down the block. I mean, back then, if you were a rap star you were still living in your old neighbourhood really. It’s not like now where rap stars are living in Hollywood (laughs). Back then you’d go to the shopping mall in Queens and you might bump into Run-DMC. Matter of fact, I knew where Run lived so I used to always drop off my demos to him. I used to go right to his house, ring his bell and give him any new demos I’d been working on. Run actually tried to get me a deal with Profile Records but right before it happened things happened at the label and it all went crazy. But anytime I had new music, Run would listen to it. He was definitely cool. But it was crazy to see an act as big as Run-DMC on an everyday basis just up in Hollis chillin’ or in the barber-shop.”
Did people in Queens expect Run-DMC to blow-up like they did?
“It was a surprise to tell you the truth. Based on the reputation they had in the streets, people would have probably bet that the Albino Twins would have been bigger stars than Run-DMC at the time. The Albino Twins had a bigger name and were known more all over Queens than Run and them. To be honest, the first time a lot of us heard Run-DMC was actually when they came out on record (laughs). I don’t remember Run and them doing jams locally like Grandmaster Vic and them were. But Run-DMC did come out very early, so they were doing the record thing early on and were doing that rather than doing the jams like everyone else. But once “Sucker MCs” came out, it was a wrap. They were all over the place. But when they were big, they would still come to the jams. I remember they had a battle with the Albino Twins at a Hollis Day event. This would have been around 1983 or 1984 and the Albino Twins took ’em out (laughs).”
What was your reaction when LL got signed to Def Jam?
“I knew it was coming because it was the summer right before he got signed when I was with him everyday almost. I was listening to “I Need A Beat” months before it even came out and I was telling everybody about him. I think I was LL’s first fan (laughs). I used to tell everybody that he was my cousin because he was down with my cousin and I thought I’d ride that a little bit, so I used to tell people, ‘Yo, my cousin’s got this joint coming out called ‘I Need A Beat.’ I mean, when LL’s first album came out, I was singing those joints word for word because those were rhymes that I’d heard LL writing in my cousin’s basement. Some of those rhymes LL had written when he was twelve-years-0ld.”
So what was your plan at that point considering you were seeing local acts from Queens signing major record deals?
“At that point, it really became less about rockin’ jams and more about getting a record deal because everybody was getting a deal (laughs). You started seeing people that you grew-up with on TV and things like that. I mean, that’s what happened with Neek The Exotic. He was one of the dudes that I grew-up with. Then I looked up one day and he’s doing “Fakin’ The Funk” with Main Source and I was like, ‘Wow! This is really getting close.’ Neek was like my brother but I hadn’t seen him for about six months at the time and next thing I know he’s got a record out (laughs).”
You mentioned earlier that you would give your demo tapes to Run – when would that have been exactly?
“That would have been around 88 / 89. That was when the golden-era was really starting. All over Queens and New York as a whole, Hip-Hop was just going out of control. I remember, I was actually graduating high-school and had the chance to go away to college, but I turned that down because New York was so hot with the Hip-Hop and that’s what I was doing, so I wanted to stay.”
Was that a hard transition for some people to deal with when the music started to leave the parks and become more about the actual record industry?
“Nah, I think at that time everybody was pretty much thinking that they had a chance to be the next big star. So everybody was welcoming the chance to take it from the streets and actually make real money from the music. You still had people doing the jams and everything, but everybody was in the studio. That was like the catchphrase of the day, ‘I’m in the studio’ (laughs). Everybody was making demos and beings as so much of the Hip-Hop of that time was coming from New York, everybody knew somebody who was a connection to the industry. Like, I knew Run, so I’d drop my demos off to him. People always had their connections. I remember, I went to high-school with Fredro Starr from Onyx and Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, and we would tell each other about the different contacts and connections we knew about.”
From what I understand the Lost Boyz already had a reputation on the streets of Queens long before they ever put a record out…
“Yeah, well, Mr. Cheeks is my man. The Lost Boyz were always a little crew that used to roam around and do their thing in the streets. This was the time when crack was really dominating the era and everybody was doing their little things with the drugs and running around making their little bit of money. I mean, if you were young, the main two things you did in Queens in the 80s was either rap or sell drugs and some did both (laughs). So the Lost Boyz used to do their thing in other ways, but Cheeks always represented the Hip-Hop part of it and was always doing his music thing.”
Did you know B-1 who was also down with the Lost Boyz?
“I mean, I didn’t come up with him but I knew of him. But I didn’t know him personally like I knew Cheeks. To this day, Cheeks is my brother. But I didn’t know B-1 like that. I mean, I grew-up with Cheeks, Freaky Tah, Fredro Starr and Big DS, rest in peace. Those were my brothers that I really grew-up with.”
So you were there when Fredro and them were in their house music stage before they hit with Onyx?
“It’s funny, because when Onyx first came out I didn’t recognise them (laughs). These were people that I grew-up with my whole life and I’d watched the video and heard the song and I didn’t realise it was Fredro and them. It was Large Professor and Neek who told me it was them. I’d linked up with Neek again after he’d done “Fakin’ The Funk” and I was up at Large Pro’s house with him and Large was like, ‘Yo, your boys are blowing’ and I was like, ‘Who?’ Large and Neek were telling me it was Fredro and them. I was saying, ‘Well, I ain’t heard their song’ and they were telling me it was “Throw Ya Gunz” and I’m there saying, ‘Nah, I’ve seen that video. That ain’t Fredro and them. That’s these bald-head cats with mean faces.’ I had to go back and look at the video and really look at the faces and I was like, ‘Wow! It is them!’ Before that they were doing house music and had big purple hair like some punk rock stuff. I’ve gotta give it to Jam Master Jay because that transformation was genius and it definitely came off, but it took those of us in the ‘hood who grew-up with them by surprise (laughs).”
Part Two of this interview coming soon.
Satchel Page – “Keep Calling Me” (@SatchelPage / 2013)
The Staten Island emcee flips LL Cool J’s classic “Rock The Bells” instrumental to voice his disapproval of Mr. Smith’s “Accidental Racist” collaboration with country singer Brad Paisley.
Regular OldToTheNew visitors will recall a recent interview I did with Queens, New York legend Mikey D which included a number of questions relating to his well-known rivalry with a young LL Cool J back in the 80s.
A couple of weeks ago Mikey contacted me to say he was planning to make a public online apology to LL for comments he’d made over the years and wanted to do a follow-up interview to clarify his position on the matter.
As Mikey’s statement of apology to LL started to appear on numerous Hip-Hop websites and blogs, I sat down with the veteran emcee to find out what had prompted his decision and also what happened when Mr. Smith unexpectedly phoned Mikey recently.
So the interview we did seemed to get a good response from those who read it…
“Yeah that was dope. I felt a little guilty afterwards though but we’ll get to that (laughs).”
That leads nicely onto the LL Cool J situation that you wanted to address – you mentioned to me previously that you spoke to LL recently – is that conversation what led to you wanting to apologise for comments you’ve made about him in the past?
“Well, basically it wasn’t a case of me thinking about the situation because I spoke to him recently. I already had the thought on my mind prior to speaking with him. It was just a coincidence that we happened to speak although we didn’t speak specifically on the interview that you and I did or anything like that. I mean, I started having a change of heart about that whole Cool J situation awhile ago. But for some reason everytime I get interviewed I always snap back into defensive mode when that topic comes up. It’s like I automatically respond with the same amount of anger that I had before and just end-up saying the same s**t that I’ve been saying for years and years. I’ve never had a chance to really sit back and look from the outside at the situation. I mean, back in the day when I was drinking a lot of forties I was with people who were drinking to, so anytime the LL situation would come up we’d all be drinking and of course that can bring anger out when people are saying certain things, plus with me being the type of person I was, as far as being this battle rapper, I fell into all the negativity.”
So do you feel that you’ve been painting an inaccurate picture of what happened between yourself and LL back in the 80s?
“I mean, a lot of the stuff that happened in the past was my fault, so how could I blame Cool J for my failures?! I didn’t take the time to really think about what was going on. So now, as a different person and a sober person, as a person who has changed and matured, I can look back at all of that and I kick myself in the butt for everything that happened. I mean, me and Cool J did take jabs at each other, but at the end of the day I threw the first punch. LL was already doing his thing and I was the one that was left behind, but not because Cool J left me as when he got his contract he told me we could be the next Run DMC. It was me that didn’t believe him and wanted to just stay in the streets running around drinking, satisfying these cats that I was running with instead of taking care of business.”
Your biggest problem with LL always seemed to be that you felt he was emulating your style and image on his early records…
“When his records started coming out I started taking jabs at him because people were telling me, ‘He took your style and ran with it.’ Looking back at it, how could I say he took my style when he was already hot when I met him. I’ve always said in my interviews that when we originally met we were supposed to be battling first as he was the best in Jackson High School and I was the best in Springfield High School. He was already that good. So if he bit my style why would I then say let’s get together and rock out after we’d met and compared notes? That was contradiction number one. Contradiction number two was when I kept on saying, and started believing, that LL stole my style with the Kangols and all of that. People were wearing Kangols and sweatsuits before Mikey D! I got that image from people before me. Cool J got that image from people before him. It wasn’t like Mikey D told LL to start wearing Kangols or anything like that. But I fed into all of that bulls**t when people would say those things to me. So I just felt that it was time for me to be a man and publicly apologise to that brother for all those years that I dragged LL’s name through the dirt because I was wrong. As a man I can admit that I was wrong and I do feel bad about it. ”
You mentioned that you had a change of heart about the situation some time ago – when would you say that actually happened?
“My change of heart really happened when I decided to stop drinking. Well, saying that, even when I initally stopped drinking I was sober but I was still in the same surroundings in the ‘hood hearing people saying that same stuff. So what really brought the change of heart was when I moved away from everything. Me and my lady moved and I got my life together. By me getting away from everything and not having anybody in my ear all of the time talking about the same situation, it gave me a chance to reflect and think back on mistakes that I made and to be thankful for where I am now. A lot of people talk about keeping it real and never leaving the ‘hood, but leaving the ‘hood was the best thing that could have ever happened to because since I did that I don’t drink anymore, I’m much healthier, I’m more focused and basically I’ve got one of my best friends back. So after making that move I had the opportunity to look back and reflect on a lot of things. Even the situation with Melle Mel at the 1988 New Music Seminar. I don’t owe him an apology publically because what he did was still wrong, but all these years later I didn’t have to keep feeding into it talking about, ‘I had to do what I had to do.’ I could have went about that differently as well.”
With regards to the LL situation though I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard interviews with you where you’ve been disrespectful or flippant about him. I mean, you were very clear in our interview about the fact that Cool J did come to you after he got signed to Def Jam and talked about doing something together but it was your decision not to pursue that…
“Right, right. But I just started to feel weird about it. I felt like I was adding more fuel to the fire, particularly when I’d do an interview over the phone years back and I’d have my people around me drinking, saying stuff about the situation when I’d get asked questions and it was really just putting a battery in my back to say stuff that really didn’t need to be said. It was just that battle instinct in me that would come back and I was saying stuff that was so embedded in my mind that I’d said so many times before that it would just come out without me even really thinking about what I was saying. I guess it was just young stuff, but here we are thirty years later and I just wanted to clear the air about all of that and move on. I can’t blame anyone for how things turned out because I had the opportunity to be side by side with LL but I f**ked that up myself.”
Regarding the Melle Mel situation, that New Music Seminar incident was such a historic moment during Hip-Hop’s Golden Age that I don’t think people will ever stop talking about that battle in the same way that people still talk about classic boxing matches…
“Right. But I definitely wanted to publicly apologise to my boy LL. I think it takes a man to do that and it’s a big step because I guess it could hurt my image or reputation but who cares? It’s a whole new day, it’s a whole new me and I just want to focus on moving forward with the new music I’ve been working on. Artistically I feel better than ever and I’m planning to make old-school feel new again (laughs). I want people to judge me on my craft now and not because of things I’ve already done. I want people to respect what I’m doing now.”
So when you spoke with LL recently did you discuss how you felt about the situation with him?
“Well actually I did the public apology first and then I spoke to him. He called me and I was buggin’ out like ‘Wow it’s really him!’ because I didn’t know the number and usually I don’t answer numbers I’m not familiar with. But I happened to answer the call and we spoke for a few and before the end of the conversation I told him straight up that it’s been thirty years that this s**t has been getting between us and that I wanted to apologise to him for all the times I’d dragged his name through the dirt.”
What was his response?
“Basically he was like ‘It’s nothing, it ain’t even a thing’ but he respected me as a man for even making the statement. He respected the fact that I swallowed my pride and got that chip off my shoulder. I just told him that we’re grown men now and there’s no reason for us to be going through any of this and that I wasn’t going to have anybody in my ear anymore trying to make it into something that it ain’t.”
When would you have spoken to him last?
“It was probably when he would have done the filming for my documentary “The Making Of A Legend” which would have have been about 2005. We never really stayed in touch or nothing like that, partly because I didn’t want him to think I was trying to ride his coattails for nothing and that’s still the case. I’m not asking for nothing or expecting me making this statement to boost my career because that’s not what I’m about.”
What’s the likelihood of you and LL actually collaborating on something now you’ve opened those lines of communication again?
“That’s an option that’s in the air right now but like I said I don’t want anyone thinking I’m doing this to re-launch my career because that’s not what it’s about. But I definitely put a bug in his ear that hopefully one day we’ll get a chance to do a project together and that option is open for both of us. So hopefully before everything is said and done Cool J and I will rock together on something. Nothing was made concrete, but it was a suggestion that was made and it’s definitely an option.”
So moving forward is the LL situation something that you now no longer want to discuss in interviews etc?
“I know it will always be mentioned and all of that but I just wanted to clarify my position. I know it’s something that will still be talked about for years to come and I don’t have a problem with that. The only thing I had a problem with was some of the things I said about the situation that I think could have been clarified a little more and said a little more directly. So that situation is always going to be discussed and I can’t change history, but I can clarify history.”
Now you’ve made this apology to LL what do you think the reaction will be from longstanding Mikey D fans?
“I mean, people grow and I really wanted to clear this out of my system and in order for me to be in a good place to make music that makes the fans happy I need to be happy myself. I had this feeling in my gut and my instinct was telling me that certain things I said were wrong. So my real fans should really respect me and the growth and maturity that I’m showing. Doing this doesn’t take anything away from my battle capabilities or my lyrical prowess. It was a decision I made to put my mind at rest by clearing out all of the drama and if anyone does have a problem with it then they weren’t really a fan to begin with. It’s not about publicity, it’s not about money, it’s coming from my heart.”
So now all of this is out in the open do you feel better prepared to focus on the new music you’re working on?
“Absolutely. I’m really looking forward to this Elements Of Hip-Hop project coming out and getting back out there. I want people to see that’s there’s no age limit on making good Hip-Hop. For me to be able to still have the impact today that I had back when I first came out is a beautiful feeling. It feels like I’m a brand-new artist.”
Elements Of Hip-Hop’s album “Calm Before The Storm” will be released on April 2nd.
More vintage footage from Tim Westwood’s archives featuring a behind-the-scenes look at Public Enemy’s visit to London as part of 1987’s Def Jam Tour – lookout for appearances from LL Cool J and the UK’s She-Rockers plus some priceless interaction between Chuck and Flav.
In the world of Hip-Hop there are those who boastfully make misguided claims of legendary status and those who have legendary status bestowed upon them by fans and peers due to their talent and contributions to the artform. Queens, NY icon Mikey D definitely falls into the latter category.
Making his name on the streets of early-80s New York as a ferocious battle emcee, the skilled wordsmith quickly built a reputation that would see him continue to be respected as an artist throughout the years, from his L.A. Posse releases with innovative producer Paul C. and childhood friend DJ Johnny Quest, to his time as a member of Main Source in the 90s and up to the present day.
Despite enduring numerous career setbacks during decades of destroying microphones, Mikey’s passion for the music and culture which grabbed his attention as a young kid from Laurelton’s Merrick Boulevard has never left him.
Currently putting the finishing touches to a project with NY vinyl veteran DJ Mercury under the name Elements Of Hip-Hop, Mikey D kindly took some time out to discuss his long personal history for this three-part interview, including his relationship with a young LL Cool J, winning the 1988 New Music Seminar emcee battle, the tragic murder of Paul C. and his future music plans.
Can you remember when you were first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“It was around the late-70s, like 78, 79. I was in Laurelton, Queens, but my boy Derek, we called him Dee Money, he was from Harlem but his grandmother lived next door to my grandmother and in the summertime he would always come to Queens. Now, his brother was a little older than him, so he would be going to Harlem World and have all the cassettes of the live shows. So Dee Money used to steal his brother’s tapes and bring them with him to Queens for the summer (laughs). So, we’re just little kids at the time, sitting on the steps listening to this new music, which was Hip-Hop. After awhile I started emulating what I was hearing coming out of that big radio on the tapes and I had it y’know. I was saying the rhymes I was hearing on the tapes but I was doing it my way. Then eventually I started writing my own rhymes. I remember Grandmaster Caz had this rhyme about a girl named Yvette and the rhyme that I wrote was about a girl named Kim (laughs). So I was emulating Grandmaster Caz when I wrote my first rhyme and that was really my introduction right there because after I wrote that rhyme everybody started feeling it and I wanted more.”
So it was the lyrical aspect of Hip-Hop that grabbed you immediately rather than any of the other elements?
“It was definitely the rapping and the way the crowd took to the rapper that drew me in. The way the crowd would respond to a rapper’s punchlines and things like that just drove me crazy when I heard it. I was always a class clown and stuff like that and I liked the attention so that was my niche right there (laughs).”
At what point did you make the move from writing rhymes to actually performing in public?
“Johnny Quest used to live right down the block from me at the time I started writing rhymes. Johnny’s brother gave him some equipment for Christmas, around like 1980 / 81, but we were still young so we were really just rapping in the house and making tapes. Then the tapes started getting known publicly. Now, at this time, they used to always throw these park jams around the way, but I was always scared to get on because it was the older guys that were running the set and doing their thing. I was getting known underground from the tapes, so I was being recognised for that, but I was still just rapping in people’s houses. But one day I went to this park, 231, where they had this jam and I’m sitting there vibin’ and enjoying what’s going on. There was this guy there called TLC, I’ll never forget it. For some reason he had the balls to call me out. Now, at this point I’d never had a battle or rocked in front of a crowd and now we’re in the park, there’s a big crowd, I’m already hot from the tapes but I don’t have the experience of rockin’ in front of a large crowd. So TLC calls me out and starts disrespecting me in his rhyme and I was like, ‘Holy s**t!’ But what he didn’t know was that I’d come prepared. I’d already written battle rhymes just incase something like this ever happened, because when we were rockin’ in the houses there could be seventeen other emcees there getting on the tapes with you, so you never knew who had what, so you always had to be prepared for a battle. So I went out there and tore TLC apart (laughs). That was the first time I ever performed in front of an audience and it was the first time I got a taste of blood and like a pitbull I wanted more (laughs).”
Did TLC already know you from the tapes or did he call you out because he thought you were an easy target?
“TLC definitely knew who I was at that time but he had the crown in the park jams already. I was only known from the tapes, not for the park jams. So he took it upon himself to try and play me. But that was a bad decision for him and that was it for me. After I won that first battle it was off to the races, man.”
So that was the moment you decided you wanted to be known as a battle rapper?
“Yeah. I think a lot of these emcees and rappers that come out now, they learn how to do it. I feel like I was born to do this. From hearing those first tapes that Dee Money had, I knew from that point on that rhyming was what I wanted to do and it just came so naturally to me. I knew rhyming was something that was meant for me to do.”
How old were you when you had that first battle?
“I was around twelve or thirteen.”
Do you still remember the rhyme that you dropped?
“Oh my god, I don’t even remember what I said to TLC (laughs). But it definitely shut him down. I don’t even think he was rapping after that (laughs).”
And this is back when losing a public battle and having your reputation damaged by another emcee could easily end someone’s reign as a popular rapper in the neighbourhood…
“Exactly. And it wasn’t only the emcee as an individual who suffered when they lost a battle, it was the whole neighbourhood as well. See, TLC was from Farmers Boulevard and Farmers was in the house that day in the park. So he’s seen as being the best emcee from Farmers, and now here I come, a new jack from Laurelton, Merrick Boulevard to be exact, and those two places were already rivals. So here TLC is putting me on the spot, which meant putting the reputation of the area he was reppin’ on the line as well. So once I took him out, that’s what put Laurelton on the map and that was really the moment the L.A. Posse was born.”
What other artists were there at that time on the street who had reps in Queens?
“Well at that time there weren’t too many people out. I mean, this was before Run DMC, this was more around the Sugarhill Gang / Funky Four Plus One More era and a lot of those guys were coming from the Bronx. In Queens at that time we were still finding our way. We had a group called the Rappermatical 5 from Laurelton. They were the only group I knew from Queens at that time who had a record out. They were from my neighbourhood. I never had the opportunity to battle them though because I looked up to them at that time. There was another group around called the Professional 5 as well, but Queens was really still trying to find its way. We didn’t get on the map until Run DMC really.”
How did you become part of the Clientele Brothers?
“The Clientele Brothers lived in my neighbourhood. They were the baddest. They were to Queens what Cold Crush was to the Bronx. There was four of ’em. They were all hot emcees. They had the dance steps. They were that crew that I really looked up to. There was one particular guy in the crew called Eddie O’Jay and he was like the Black Fonz. He was the coolest dude on earth to me (laughs). He had all the girls. So I followed his path in terms of the way he carried himself. I was like a young him. He didn’t even know who I was back then because they were already doing their thing, but eventually we got an opportunity to meet and talk and that’s when I actually became a part of the Clientele Brothers.”
Is that when you started using the name Playboy Mikey D?
“Well Playboy Mikey D was a little before the Clientele Brothers. At the time we had a group called the Sensational 5 and we all had our little nicknames like Everlovin’ Kid Ice, Loveable Little B, Loverboy TC, Romantic Lover Snow and I was Playboy Mikey D. That’s actually when Cool J got down with us and we gave him the name Ladies Love.”
So at what point did you meet LL and what stage was he at in terms of his aspirations to be a rapper?
“Well me and L, we were about fifteen when we met. I went to Springfield High School and he went to Jackson High School. We didn’t know each other. Now, in the same way the neighbourhoods would have one person to rep a particular place, so did the schools. Springfield and Jackson were rival schools. I was the baddest dude in Springfield and word of mouth had it that Cool J, or Jay-Ski as he was known then, was the best in Jackson. So we had mutual friends who wanted to see us battle. They hooked up a place for us to meet, which was Roller Castle in Elmont, Long Island. Flavor Flav was down with his crew called Spectrum and they used to deejay and host all these different events there. Now, me and Cool J weren’t scheduled to battle on the flyer or anything, that was just the place where everybody would go on the weekend. But we arranged to meet there, get on the mic and battle. So Cool J and I both got there and met each other for the very first time. Now, back in those days, before you’d even battle or get onstage, you might be off in a corner somewhere comparing notes, you say a rhyme, I’ll say a rhyme, just feeling each other out. So that’s what we did and both of us were buggin’ out because his voice texture and how he would spit certain rhymes reminded me of myself and vice versa. We didn’t have the exact same style, but we did have similar styles. We were feeling each other, we slapped five, we became friends and we got up on that stage and we rocked together. We didn’t battle. We thought we sounded too much alike, so we decided we should get up and rock together. We got cool from that day on and he started coming around the way all the time. So that’s how me and Cool J met in the beginning. Jay-Ski!”
So was the plan for you to continue performing together?
“Well, I was down with both Sensational and the Clientele Brothers, doing shows with both of them. Cool J was from Hollis, borderline St. Albans. He would come around my way all the time to check me out because I was already doing things. I was a street legend already from the tapes and Cool J was on the come-up. So he used to walk from his ‘hood to my ‘hood. He wasn’t wearing Kangols at this time though, he was just wearing regular clothes, head-bands, whatever. I introduced him to the whole crew and the guys from Sensational wanted to put him in the group. Now, his name being Jay-Ski just didn’t sound right with the rest of the names we had in the group. So he went home, slept on what I’d said, then came back around the way the next day and was like, ‘I’ve changed my name! I’ve changed my name to Cool J!’ I was like, ‘I like that! That sounds dope! But you need a nickname! You’re always talking about how you want the ladies to love you, so you should be called Ladies Love Cool J. That would be dope!’ He went home, thought about it, then came back the next day and said he was keeping that name. So that was the birth of Ladies Love Cool J. That’s where the name came from. The LL part got broken down when he started messing with Def Jam because they thought the name was too long. He didn’t want to get rid of the Ladies Love part of his name so he broke it down to LL Cool J.”
Were you aware of LL’s deal with Def Jam before it happened?
“Yeah, he brought it to my attention. But you see with Cool J, in the early days, he had a reputation for stretching the truth and exaggerating about certain things. So I didn’t believe him (laughs). I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ First of all, I’d never heard of Def Jam at that particular time. LL showed me the contract, he told me we could be the next Run DMC and I thought he was day-dreaming again and running off with his mouth (laughs). At that time as well, that was when I started to become more street-orientated and was really finding my own way. I was hangin’ with the Clientele Brothers who were much older than me, drinking forties, and starting to be around the wrong elements. Whereas Cool J on the other hand, he was really taking his dream seriously and was following those proper channels. What I did wrong was that I doubted him. I didn’t believe him. First of all he’d tried to steal my spot in the Clientele Brothers, he started getting this ego thinking he was better than me. So there was a little jealousy and animosity boiling between us back then. So when he showed me the Def Jam contract I just didn’t believe him. I thought it was another one of his stunts to try and impress people and make me look bad, that’s how I was looking at it. But I was wrong. Then LL got signed to Def Jam and the rest is history (laughs).”
Do you remember hearing LL’s debut single “I Need A Beat” for the first time?
“Yes I do, yes I do. The first time I heard it I was in Rochdale Village, Queens. It came on the radio and I was like ‘Damn! This s**t sounds like me. Holy cow! Cool J did it!’ I swear to God when that record first started getting played my phone was ringing off the hook with people congratulating me about my record because that’s how much we sounded alike. Everybody thought that record was me (laughs). Cool J came by the house a couple of times after that record came out and we talked, kicked it and stuff like that. But see, he wasn’t trying to put me on then because I’d have been a threat.”
So there wasn’t ever any talk at that point of you working together on any of his Def Jam material?
“No. He really tried to stay as far away from that as possible because I would have been the only person out at the time who could have given him any type of competition or been able to take any attention away from him. There would have been two of us out there then who were equally as nice and LL wouldn’t have been getting all of the attention. Plus, after a little time the streets started rejecting him because of the similarities. The way he changed his style to sound even more like me. My image became his image and people on the streets noticed that. If you were to ask anyone who came up around here during that time they would all vouch for me because the streets could see what was happening and that’s when the real animosity came in because he really wanted to prove to everyone that he was better than me. But what’s so funny about that is that a little after that Russell Simmons called my phone and asked me to sit down for a meeting with him and Rick Rubin. So I went to the meeting and these guys told me that they wanted to put me on, this, that and the third.”
How early in LL’s career did this meeting happen?
“Well, it was kinda early. It was before the “Radio” album came out so it would have been between 1984 and 1985. I remember it was a little before I got the contract with Reality Records to do “No Show” with the Symbolic Three. But the reason I never signed with Def Jam was because their intention was to have me there as that back-up in case Cool J’s fire started to go out. So they would have had a similar artist ready to come straight out. But I would have just been there sitting on the shelf. Now, LL Cool J has been going for thirty years and is still going strong so if I’d have signed that contract I’d have still been sitting on that shelf (laughs).”
Was LL aware that meeting had taken place?
“No, we never discussed that and even to this day I’m not sure he’s aware that actually happened (laughs). I think the reason they wanted to sign me was because they knew that if I got with another label then I would have been a real threat to what they had going with Cool J. Eventually we would have bumped heads and that could have meant a big problem for Def Jam back then.”
How did you end-up writing and featuring on the Symbolic Three’s 1985 Doug E. Fresh answer record “No Show”?
“Well, I already knew the group who were known as the Symbolic Four at the time. But one of them was so bad she had to go to reform school or something like that, so it just became three of them. I started dating one of the group, Sha-Love, that’s my daughter’s mom. Now what happened was, I went to the “Krush Groove” film set to be an extra. I met DJ Dr. Shock that day. Me and my human beatbox Prince Cie went down there and although we were only supposed to be extras in the movie we were all over the set freestyling. We were getting a lot of attention that day. So I met Dr. Shock who took my number and he said he knew someone who was a manager, which was Arthur Armstrong. I met with Arthur Armstrong and he wanted to sign me and then I brought in the Symbolic Three because they said they needed a girl group. Now Arthur was close friends with Jerry Bloodrock who ran Reality Records back then. Now at this time Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick had just come out with “The Show” and Jerry said he knew a lot of people were going to try and answer that record so he wanted to put out an answerback record immediately on the same label. Now back then, I was the master of parody and used to always flip people’s records, so I wrote “No Show” for the girls and obviously wrote myself into the track and threw a couple of jabs here and there (laughs). So that’s really how that record came about because Jerry Bloodrock wanted to try and keep all of the answer records to “The Show” in-house. “No Show” came out before Super Nature’s “The Show Stoppa” with Salt-N-Pepa and them.”
Considering how big of a record “The Show” was were you comfortable making “No Show” knowing that it could be seen as a diss record?
“I really didn’t care because I was just trying to get out there. My whole M.O. back then was battling so it was second nature to me to do that song. I just made it a funny song. I didn’t know Doug or Slick personally at that time but I really wasn’t caring what the response might have been if they’d wanted to battle after that because I knew Slick Rick couldn’t have touched me lyrically and Doug wasn’t really a rapper. Plus, I didn’t go too hard at them and get personal on the record or anything like that, I just wrote a fun song. I wasn’t trying to start beef or anything like that, I was just doing what the company wanted and was hoping to be able to put some hit records out.”
Did you ever get any feedback on that record from Doug or Rick?
“I never heard from Slick Rick but I did hear from Doug E. Fresh. I remember him telling me, ‘Yo! You are nice on the mic but you’ve gotta stop dissing people’ (laughs). Doug and I are friends to this day but I’ve never actually met Slick Rick personally.”
Considering you’d largely made your name as a battle emcee up to that point, how did you find the transition from rhyming in the street to working in the studio?
“It was easy because, like I said, rhyming came natural to me. When I first started writing rhymes I was already writing material based around concepts anyway. The first rhyme I ever wrote was a story. So I was used to writing stuff other than just battle rhymes. All I had to do was format the song, which wasn’t nothing. I just had to write one looooong rhyme and then just break it up. So it wasn’t hard. The only thing I did wrong back then was that I kept the streets with me. I didn’t separate the streets from the studio. I was busy, as they say now, trying to keep it real and all that crap. I didn’t separate the business from the street and that was the biggest mistake I made back then.”
Looking back now are there any street battles that you think of as moments when you really earnt your stripes as an emcee?
“Wow, there were so many of them (laughs). I remember going to Kool G. Rap’s house before he even had any records out and his name was just Kool G at the time. I remember telling him, ‘Your name sounds like you’re trying to bite off my man Cool J’ (laughs). I’d just put “No Show” out, so they took me to his house and we battled. That was a pretty nice battle. That was cool. He said I won but I actually thought we were kinda even. I think he was just being humble (laughs).”
Did G. Rap say that at the time or was that something said in hindsight?
“Nah, we slapped five and G. Rap was like ‘You got it! You got it!’ That’s just what I did back in those days. See, I just got so fed up with going from corner to corner in my neighbourhood and battling and being the best in my area, that me and Johnny Quest used to buy a quart of beer, we would jump on the bus and the train, get off at a random stop and if we saw any people in a cypher we’d assume they were rapping and I’d step into the cypher and be like, ‘Who’s the emcee over here? Who’s the baddest emcee around here? I’ll battle aaaanybody!’ We used to walk through ‘hoods doing that. We walked through Queensbridge doing that. Nobody wanted it. A few tried but they lost. There were so many of those battles (laughs). I actually remember one particular time, I used to go with this girl called Shantel who was Run’s cousin and she had this birthday party. DMC was there and Jam Master Jay was there. They were walking around the party like they were all that and I was like, ‘I’ll battle y’all! Y’all ain’t saying nothin’! I’ll battle both of y’all’ (laughs). Jam Master Jay was saying ‘Wait until Run come and then we can do it.’ I was saying that we didn’t even have to do it at the party, we could do it outside in the park, because at the same park where I beat TLC in that first battle, they were jammin’ outside that night as well. They accepted my challenge, I went to that park and those guys never showed up. So I battled them without them even being there (laughs). There’s still tapes of that going around. But when it comes to battles, the New Music Seminar in 1988 when me and Melle Mel went at it, that was the one. That battle was when I really had to earn my respect on another level.”
Lookout for Part Two of this interview coming soon with Mikey D discussing working with legendary producer Paul C. and his infamous New Music Seminar battle with Grandmaster Melle Mel.
Interesting 2009 documentary covering the career of infamous Queens, NY emcee Mikey D (aka Mikey Destruction), touching on his early friendship with LL Cool J, the legendary 1988 New Music Seminar battle with Melle Mel and his time as a member of Main Source in the mid-90s – lookout for new material from Mikey D coming soon.
Ladies Love speaks about his forthcoming album “Authentic Hip-Hop”.
LL Cool J ft. Joe – “Take It” (@LLCoolJ / 2012)
Ladies Love gets on his Mr. Smith steez like it was 1995 all over again with this official single from his upcoming album “Authentic Hip-Hop” – some might hate on the veteran emcee’s smooth comeback, but when LL hits the target few can make head-nodding R&B-flavoured joints like the king from Queens.
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G. Rap gives DJ Vlad his top five rap acts from his home borough of Queens, NY.