Tag Archives: Lumumba Carson

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

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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'”….”

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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.”

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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.”

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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…”

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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.”

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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.”

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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…

The girls?

“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).”

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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.”

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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.”

Ryan Proctor

Check the final part of this interview here.

Stetsasonic performing “A.F.R.I.C.A.” at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1990.

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

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

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

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

So what happened with the Mr. Magic contest?

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

Who else do you remember being in the competition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Three of this interview here.

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

Old To The New Q&A – Prime Minister Pete Nice (Part One)

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In a post-Eminem world it’s perhaps difficult for many to understand how a white emcee could raise even as much as an eyebrow from anybody both in and outside of Hip-Hop. But once upon a time, in a rap galaxy far, far away, the sight of a pale-faced microphone fiend was guaranteed to inspire a variety of both positive and negative (yet equally intense) reactions from all across the board.

Just being a white fan of Hip-Hop throughout the genre’s earliest days and into the 90s presented a cultural maze that demanded to be navigated if you were truly going to follow your passion for beats and rhymes, with that web of social norms and racial politics becoming even more complex if you chose to step beyond simply supporting the culture and actually attemped to participate as either a b-boy, graffiti artist, deejay or, the final frontier, as an emcee.

Whilst the Beastie Boys can perhaps lay claim to being the first widely-recognised crew of Caucasians to grab the mic, bursting out of NYC’s early-80s punk-rock scene to become one of the earliest signings to the legendary Def Jam label, Prime Minister Pete Nice and MC Serch of 3rd Bass fame upped the credibility ante, with both determined to be considered as dope emcees existing on a Black planet, not because of their whiteness, but in spite of it.

With Pete and Serch each having personal histories steeped in the Rotten Apple’s early Hip-Hop scene, the duo rejected the alcohol-fuelled antics and rock-edged sounds of the Beasties in favour of a more serious approach to their music, combining long-practiced lyrical skills and witty wordplay with stellar production from the likes of Sam Sever, Prince Paul and The Bomb Squad.

Adding DJ Daddy Rich behind the turntables, 3rd Bass dropped two classic long-players, 1989’s “The Cactus Album” and 1991’s “Derelicts Of Dialect”, before an unexpected split found Pete and Serch each taking the solo route, with their influence also being felt via involvement in the mid-90s debut projects of Kurious Jorge and Nas respectively.

With July 2013 marking twenty years since the release of Pete Nice & Daddy Rich’s only album project, “Dust To Dust”, the Prime Minister kindly agreed to jump on the phone for a lengthy in-depth interview, discussing everything from memories of the Latin Quarter, first meeting MC Serch and Beastie beef, to Lyor Cohen’s business hustle, working with KMD and the chances of 3rd Bass hitting the road again.

So read on, or get your mack-daddy license revoked!

How and when were you introduced to Hip-Hop?

“Well, when I was a kid my father was a basketball coach and he coached some of the best high-school players in New York City. In the summer he would travel with them to what was called the Empire State Games, which were almost like the Olympic Games of New York state. I used to be the ball-boy on the team from when I would have been about ten-years old. So from like 77, 78, 79 through to the early-80s I was always with these older high-school kids that played basketball and they’d always have their tapes when they came out, everything from Jimmy Spicer and Kurtis Blow through to early Run DMC. Those were some of the earliest groups I remember hearing, along with Funky Four Plus One, Cold Crush, Crash Crew and Divine Sounds.”

When did you actually start rhyming?

“As I got older and went to high-school in Brooklyn, one of my boys Jazzy, who ended-up in the group Whistle doing “Just Buggin'”, his cousin was Kangol from UTFO. So he used to bring in all the Roxanne tapes before they were even out and then you’d hear them on Red Alert. I mean, when we were kids that was the thing, to have a cassette ready to roll to tape Red Alert, Chuck Chillout or Mr. Magic on the radio. In New York, that was pretty much the ultimate at that point. So we all just formed a little group in high-school in the lunch-room basically, with my boy Kibwe K, Fresh Fred, Buddah B, honorary member The White Box, and we had a group that was called Sin Qua Non. But then when we graduated from high-school they went to Syracuse and I stayed in school in New York City at Columbia so we were kind of split-up geographically. But before we had split up, my man Kibwe, who was from Bed-Stuy, his father knew the Black activist Sonny Carson and his son Lumumba who ended-up becoming Professor X in X-Clan. He was managing some acts at the time, so we got introduced to him, and Lumumba was actually managing the group before we all split up and went away to school. I remember we did our first show at the Empire Roller Rink in Flatbush. But then when everyone went away to school, I was the only one around, so Lumumba was just managing me as a solo act. At the same time he was also managing Positive K before he had any records out, he had Just-Ice and Stetsasonic too. That’s when me and Serch first kinda met because I used to go to the Latin Quarter in Manhattan. At the point I was with Lumumba, as I said he was managing Stetsasonic, so I’d go to a Stetsasonic show at the Latin Quarter. I’d get picked up from my dorm room by Walter and Lumumba in the Aerostar which thinking about it now is hysterical (laughs).”

Were you working with Lumumba with the intention of making a record?

“He was promising to get me in the studio and everything and in that winter nothing really happened. At the same time I had met up with this guy through my room-mate at Columbia called Lord Scotch who was also known as Kid Benetton and is the brother of the writer Jonathan Lethem. So this would have been sophomore year at Columbia when me and Scotch hooked-up and we formed this other group called the Servin’ Generalz. We hung-out a lot at that time at the Albee Square Mall in Brooklyn and this was around the time when beat-boxing was prevalent and our boy Shameek The Beat Mizer, who also wrote graffiti, he was the third man in the group. At the time, I don’t know how I met them, but I got together with the two guys who were managing Kid ‘N’ Play. The name of their company was Richlen Productions because one of the guys was named Rich and the other was called Lenny (laughs). They were going to put us together with Hurby Luv Bug at the time. So I’m thinking if I’m with Lumumba he’s got Stetsasonic and other acts, these guys Rich and Len had ties with Hurby Luv Bug, there were all these different opportunities so we figured we’d just go with the first person that wanted to sign us. But at the same time, me and Benetton had cut this brief demo at this studio on Fulton Street down by the Albee Square Mall.”

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Was that demo shopped to any particular labels?

“Nah, it wasn’t anything that was to such a level that it was a professional demo. I think maybe I played it for Rich and Lenny, that was the thing that actually got them to want to sign us. So we were about to sign with them, there were papers drawn up and everything, then right at that point Blake (Lord Scotch) disappears. He just totally disappeared off the face of the earth. Then Shameek gets arrested with some other guy because they held-up a whole subway car…”

That sounds like something that could only have happened in the New York of the 80s…

“Exactly. So now, I’ve gone from the Sin Qua Non group, to no group, to Servin’ Generalz and then back to being solo again. At that time, my room-mate SAKE who’d hooked me up with Blake, he knew a couple of other people like Dante Ross, who wasn’t even over at Def Jam yet at that point, he was just working as kind of like a gofer over at Rush. I think at the time Dante would even road manage for Eric B. & Rakim and whoever else they needed him to look after. I remember there was one day I was with Dante and he had to get a passport for Rakim so we were running around all over the city trying to track down information to get this passport (laughs). I think they were actually going to do a show out by you in the UK. Anyway, around that time I’d decided that I was just going to go in the studio and cut a demo myself and I ended-up getting that to Dante. At the exact same time, Dante had already been working with Serch and had put him together with Sam Sever. Actually it was funny, because the other time I’d met Serch was at this club called Roseland at an Eric B. & Rakim show. I think it was Heavy D as well. Me and Blake went to the front door and Serch happened to be there, and then I met him one other time at the Latin Quarter.”

So at this point you and Serch were just aware of each other but there was no relationship there to speak of?

“The Latin Quarter was actually the first time I formally met Serch with Blake. It was funny, because I remember Serch came out of like a low-budget limo and he had this air-brushed denim ‘SERCH’ jacket on. Serch had already got his first record out at this point. At the time, Red Alert and Chuck Chillout would run his promos on the radio.”

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So this was around 1986?

“Yeah, it was right around 86. P-Fine from NYU was playing Serch’s record as well. Then right after that time, I think it was that summer, I got my radio show on WKCR at Columbia. Most people don’t realise it, but I had the first rap show on KCR. Stretch & Bobbito being on there wasn’t until years afterwards. It was me and Clark Kent at the time and we were probably on air for part of a semester. I was still going to school there at the time and it was unheard of to have anything close to rap on the radio there. I don’t know if you remember the rapper Little Shawn, but he was up there, and Biz Markie was up there at one time. I’m pretty sure that the reason we got kicked off the air was because at some point some equipment disappeared. Who knows if it was even anyone affiliated with us at the time, but we ended-up getting blamed for it (laughs).”

Did you have many artists coming through the show?

“Nah, not really. I mean, we had Little Shawn up there and there was one show I missed because I was out of town that Clark did and I think Biz Markie was there for that one. But the show wasn’t really established at that point where you’d have artists coming through all the time. Plus, we were on so late. I have the times on a flyer I kept somewhere (laughs). But at any rate, the whole aspect of our show, as much as having an artist come through to freestyle and whatever was cool, it was Clark’s mixes that were off the hook. Even today, I still see him on Twitter and he was just on Hot 97 the other week rippin’ it, so he still has it. But his mixes back then were a really big deal. Plus, we’d get the first pressings of records back then around the same time that someone like a Red Alert would get them and maybe even before in some cases. Clark was touring with Dana Dane at the time so from time to time he would have to miss a show, and that was actually when he introduced me to Daddy Rich. So the first time me and Daddy Rich met was when he was filling in for Clark when he was on the road with Dana Dane.”

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The Hip-Hop landscape has changed dramatically since the early-80s, but when you first started rhyming how were you received as a white emcee?

“As far as being a white emcee, at the time that me and Serch, and even Scotch, were contemplating rhyming, there was no-one out there already. Being a white emcee really was an unknown entity and it was something that hadn’t even been attempted. Rap and Hip-Hop has come so far now that I think people forget that today. I mean, people did look at you first like you were nuts. But I mean, I really started out at first with friends in school. So first of all you had to get accepted in your own small group, then when people saw that you really appreciated the music and you had skills, that’s when you started to move into different public situations, like when we did our show at the Empire Roller Rink. At that time, people would just look at you like, ‘These f**kin’ white kids…’ y’know. But then when they could actually see that you can rhyme, then you’d f**k up their heads a little bit, you get a little respect and then you’d just take it from there. That’s pretty much the way me and Serch always approached it back then. Blake was even on a different level, because I don’t even think he thought he was white on any level. He was just in another zone. They broke the mould with Blake. But I mean, he was rhyming before even Serch got up the mettle to even write any rhymes or do anything when he was at school at Music & Art. I mean, Blake was already rhyming at the time with the Kangol Crew and some other kids.”

I know I’ve read Scotch say that he doesn’t claim the title himself, but in your opinion would you say he was the first white emcee in New York?

“I mean, if there’s anyone else who wants to jump up and say that they were, I never knew of them. Maybe they were in a different state or something, but I highly doubt there was anyone else out there doing it that early. I mean, there were a lot of white break-dancers and, of course, graffiti artists, but no-one had ever got down on the mic. I mean, obviously then the Beastie Boys element comes up, and of course they had records out before we did as 3rd Bass, although you could say that Serch had his solo single out. Then right after the Beastie Boys you had groups like the White Boys who came out and Jon Shecter from The Source had his B.M.O.C. record out when we were in the studio doing our demos. We kinda got a little kick out of that (laughs). But then the ironic thing about that, is that Brett Ratner, who directed my solo videos, is actually the person who put out that B.M.O.C. record (laughs).”

You mentioned earlier going to the legendary Latin Quarter club – what memories do you have of the nights you spent there?

“Off the top of my head, having mentioned the Stetsasonic show earlier, I remember sitting backstage at the Latin Quarter before the guys were going onstage. Frukwan was there with Prince Paul and he said something like, ‘I’ve gotta get out of here early tonight because I’ve got to get to work early in the morning.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean you’ve got to work? You guys are Stetsasonic! You’re not supposed to be working.’ He was like, ‘C’mon, we’ve still gotta work, man.’ So it was like a realisation that just because you had a hit record out, you’re not retiring. It wasn’t like any big money was being made in the rap game at that point. Back then, it was just about guys doing it because they loved the music and wanted to put out records. That was also my first time meeting Prince Paul as well, who obviously we went on to work with as 3rd Bass. I also remember vividly one time being in the Latin Quarter and walking up to Just-Ice and his beatbox DMX actually thought I was MCA from the Beastie Boys which was pretty funny.”

Is there one particular Latin Quarter memory that really defines what the club was to you?

“Actually, the biggest night probably ever at Latin Quarter, and this also relates to Lord Scotch, was when they had this particular night that was a benefit for the soul singer Jackie Wilson to raise money for his tombstone. I’ve heard people talk about this show in interviews before. Everybody was on the bill from LL to Salt-N-Pepa to Full Force, Awesome Two, I think KRS, Doug E. Fresh, I mean anyone you could imagine got up there that night. Just-Ice performed. It was like a who’s who all night. At some point, Special K and Teddy Ted threw some records out into the crowd, someone stepped on someone’s sneaker somewhere and a scuffle started. Then at some point the drug dealer Supreme who used to roll with Eric B. & Rakim was in there taunting LL and was picking up a chair. S**t just jumped off all over the place. I’m standing by the coat-check, Bow-Legged Lou, Full Force and Lisa Lisa were there, Melle Mel was standing not too far away, and the next thing you know there’s fights breaking out all over the place, people are getting slashed with razors, then you heard some gunshots. So we were running out the front door after hearing those gunshots out onto the street. Someone picked up one of those big New York City garbage cans and put it through a car window. S**t was jumping off all over the place. So we ran at least two blocks with Bow-Legged Lou (laughs). This all happened at about two or three in the morning and I ended up in a Burger King in Times Square with Melle Mel (laughs). It was surreal. But because I’d lost Scotch during all of this, I ended-up going back to the Latin Quarter. So I get back there and there’s Scotch and Biz Markie, with Biz beat-boxing, Scotch stood on top of a speaker just rhyming and there’s people just laid out on the floor (laughs). It was f**kin’ nuts! But that’s my ultimate LQ memory (laughs).”

Was violence a reoccurring problem there from what you can remember?

“I mean, that’s the only time I was there when anything that big jumped off. There used to be the odd fight and scuffle here and there, but the place would have never stayed open for as long as it did if there was stuff going on like that all the time. Then, of course, it did ultimately close. But I remember there was a kid from my high-school and I think his father had some sort of ownership interest in the Latin Quarter. I saw him there one time and he was like one of the only other white kids I saw there. There was also one other white kid that I would see there who always used to have on some pretty fly sneakers. I just always remember these sneakers he would wear. They were like a brand that nobody had really seen before, so that’s why I always remember them. I remember Dante would be around as well, that was when he was affiliated with Rush so he’d come through with the artists. The Beastie Boys would be there with Russell Simmons as well and that whole crew when they came through to promote their records, but I mean they weren’t going there just to hang-out. Me, Blake and Serch would go to the Latin Quarter just to hang-out when we were freakin’ nobodies.”

What other clubs were you going to in NYC at that time?

“Union Square was the other big club right at that time. You also had another club people would go to regularly called The World. Actually, a funny story, Clark had Mixmaster Ice from UTFO come up to our radio show once or twice, and then, I can’t remember if it was as part of the NYU Seminar or the New Music Seminar, but we were given time on the bill at this big show at a place called The Limelight. So me, Clark and Mixmaster Ice show-up and get to the door and there’s like four or five pretty big security guys and then a couple of, I don’t know, they looked like ninja Japanese guys (laughs). I can remember standing out on the avenue, Clark had a towel around his neck and his turntables in the cases, Ice was right next to him. They wouldn’t let us in because they were saying that we weren’t on the list. They’ve always laughed at me since, especially Clark, because I was like ‘Step offff…’ and started to go after them. Then the next thing these ninja kids are coming out and Clark was like, ‘Let’s just get the f**k outta here…’ But Clark won’t let me live that down to this day probably. It became an on-going joke so he’d see me and just be like ‘Step offff…’ (laughs). That’s kinda why I did that in the “Brooklyn-Queens” video, it was like an inside joke (laughs). But Latin Quarter was really the main spot and then you had other clubs downtown like Area and 1018 that would be Hip-Hop on certain nights where there would be performances. Then you also had The Red Parrot which was in mid-town and they would have some decent shows with different artists performing.”

Were you grabbing the mic at any of those clubs before you got on as 3rd Bass?

“No, not really. Downtown there used to be a couple of clubs in abandoned school buildings and one was Hotel Amazon and actually me and Serch would sometimes warm up the crowd there. I mean, we would show up anywhere and just say give us some time on the mic to introduce groups or whatever. We introduced Public Enemy there one time, I think. There was another spot, I think it was Irving Plaza Hotel, and we introduced Rob Base when his record “It Takes Two” was out. So we used to show up everywhere and anywhere. To the point where, even when we didn’t have records out, if Serch connected with a promoter or something, they’d be like, ‘Do you guys want to come out to Illinois?’ or something like that. Actually, we went on one trip to the Bay Area as judges for a basketball contest that Hammer was at. There was a dunk contest, a three-point contest and they also had a dance contest. That’s where the beef started between Serch and Hammer, because Hammer wouldn’t let Serch get into the dance contest (laughs). But I remember we were there with like UTFO, Whodini, Grandmaster Dee was there, so we were with a lot of old-timers even before we had our own records out as a group. We would basically go anywhere and do anything we could to promote ourselves and the group.”

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Various stories have been told about how you and Serch first officially met with different people taking credit for the introduction – but how do you recall that first meeting actually happening?

“I mean, we had been in the same spot before at the Latin Quarter and not known each other. But I think the first time ever when it was like, ‘This is Pete, this is Serch’ was with Blake at the Latin Quarter. Then after that it was through Dante because he had my demo and he was also already working with Serch at Rush and had put him with Sam Sever. I’m trying to think of the exact times and Serch might remember that better. But I remember me, Dante and Serch went to go see Schoolly D at The World. I remember Serch was bangin’ some chick from the projects called Lorraine (laughs). Serch had a blue Granada at the time that didn’t have a radio that we would call the Think Tank (laughs). So picture me, Dante, Serch and possibly this chick called Lorraine heading to The World to go see Schoolly D (laughs). I remember Russell Simmons was there and I talked to him briefly, but Serch was talking to him more than I was because at that point Russell knew Serch better than he knew me. But I would say that was like the first time we actually went out together.”

Do you remember when you were first introduced to Sam Sever?

“I think I met Sam Sever through Dante Ross. I think it was Dante who introduced me to Sam. Afterwards I called up Sam and asked him to come into the studio to check out what I was doing and he started collaborating with me on my demo. I think that’s when Dante spoke to Lyor Cohen like, ‘Why don’t we try and put these guys together?’ It was by no means anything how some people make it out to be, like some calculated move by anybody. It just happened. I mean, it was even more like Sam’s call at the time than it was anybody’s because he was already working with both of us. I remember us all meeting at Sam’s apartment and Serch’s mom was like a performer back in the day and she was like the typical stage mother. So she was like, ‘Well, you know, Michael’s a soloist so I don’t really know about this group idea.’ So I had to meet Serch’s mom at Sam’s crib and it was just hysterical. But me and Serch hit it off pretty well right off the bat.”

So you and Serch clicked together from the very beginning?

“I mean, listen, I’ve always said that any white emcee, and even white b-boys, have a chip on their shoulder and think that nobody else is as nice as you or can be down other than you. That still lives on to today to some point. But you have to remember, we were doing this back in the early-80s, so a lot of how things were back then is lost on the kids of today. I mean, when I went to high-school most of the white kids were burnt-out and listening to Led Zeppelin. That’s what was accepted back then. I used to go to school in a pair of Wallabees, a polo shirt and Lee straight-leg jeans (laughs).”

Ryan Proctor

Read Part Two of this interview here.

3rd Bass – “Brooklyn-Queens” (Def Jam / 1990)