Tag Archives: New Music Seminar

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

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In this second part of my interview with 90s favourite Omniscence, the North Carolina emcee talks about performing at the New Music Seminar in NYC, recording his debut 1993 EP “The Funky One Liner” and rhyming with a young Jay-Z – check Part One here.

Shortly after that initial run of releases on Payroll Records the crew split with Ski going up to New York – was there ever any talk of you going with him at the time?

“So this is what  happened. When I first came through the door and said those rhymes to Ski, he had immediately introduced me to Fanatic. But it was kinda like the situation when Dipset joined the Roc-A-Fella camp, although obviously on a much smaller scale (laughs). There were already tensions happening within the original crew. So you’re coming into that as a new jack and you’re looking up to all these guys but you don’t know that there are these underlying tensions and the crew is actually getting ready to split. So what happened was, Fanatic, Mark Sparks and Dizzy Dee from B.A.D. Rep decided to stay together in North Carolina and Ski decided to go with Roland Jones and Supreme Nyborn to New York. With both Roland and Nyborn originally being from New York, they decided to go back up there because that’s where everything was happening. I mean, even though the Bizzie Boyz and Nyborn had put those records out which had got some buzz, nothing was happening in North Carolina because of that. When it came to Hip-Hop, it was all happening in New York. So they decided to go up there to make it happen and that’s where the split in the crew came from. So Fanatic and Mark formed a production crew called Def Rhythm Productions, with the name coming from DJ Def, which is what Mark was known as then, and the Rhythm Fanatic. That was actually where I got my first shot on wax when they put out a vinyl compilation called “Back To The Lab” in 1990.”

Which featured your solo track “Lost In The Music”…

“Yeah, that was my debut, man (laughs). There was this local guy called DJ Starchild and we all went over to his house way out in the woods and literally recorded all the vocals for the album in one day. If you listen to the record, you can hear there are no ad-libs or doubling or anything like that. Plus, if you listen to my voice, you can hear I sound totally different on that record to anything else I did afterwards.”

To me, you sound like a mix of Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith’s rhyme styles off the first EPMD album on “Lost In The Music”…

“Right, right, laidback (laughs). For one, my voice hadn’t really developed when we made that record as I was only sixteen-years-old. But also, at that time I enjoyed the smoothness of rhyming. I was a huge Rakim fan and he was one of the first guys to get on who wasn’t screaming or shouting his lyrics. He just had that smoother vibe. But then as time went on, my style started to become a little rougher around the edges as I was becoming a little older and starting to see certain aspects of the street life which were then having an influence on me as an emcee. Plus, Hip-Hop in general was starting to become a little grimier once we started to get up into the early-90s, with groups like Das EFX, Lords Of The Underground, Onyx. Basically, when I made “Lost In The Music” I hadn’t been corrupted yet (laughs).”

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So after Ski had left for New York did he keep in touch at all because at this point I’m assuming he hadn’t met up with Clark Kent and started doing the Original Flavor stuff yet?

“That’s a great question, man. Like I said, it was Ski who introduced me to Fanatic. I’ll never forget there was this one Saturday afternoon when him, Fanatic and myself were going to meet at Mixmaster D of the Bizzie Boyz’ house to go over some beats. The original plan was that I was going to be on the second Payroll compilation and they were recruiting artists at the time to be on that. But the split was happening between the crew at the same time. So Ski never showed up at the house that day and I’ll never forget that Fanatic was very upset about that and was like, ‘Yo, Ski’s on something else, man. He’s got something else going on.’ But I’ll never forget, before Ski went to New York he called my house and was like, ‘Yo, I would love to bring you with me but I know you can’t go.’ I was only sixteen-years-old and I already knew my mom wasn’t going to let me go to New York (laughs). Now, at the time, Ski was still really learning to make beats and Fanatic was the more seasoned producer. I remember Ski telling me, ‘Yo, you’re in good hands with Fanatic, man. You’ve got the beats so you’re good.’ I’ll never forget that conversation. But to answer your question, yeah, Ski would come back to North Carolina from time to time. Then of course, when we put out the “Back To The Lab” compilation under Def Rhythm Productions, we were like, ‘Yo, we’ve gotta go to New York and let this be known.’ I’ll never forget we went to the New Music Seminar in 1990 and we ran into Clark Kent who already knew Fanatic from being in the Bizzie Boyz and he was like, ‘Yo! Where’s Ski, man? I’m looking for Ski!’ He thought Ski was still with us even though there had been that split in the crew and Ski had already gone to New York with Roland and Nyborn. So there was definitely a rivalry there between the two sides of the Payroll camp, although Ski and I were never rivals like that.”

So did the two sides of the crew bump heads at the Seminar that year?

“This is a crazy story, man. I’ve never actually told this story in an interview before. So we’re up there in New York City at the New Music Seminar. Now, the name of our crew was the Over-Due Crew. Obviously we couldn’t run with the name Payroll anymore because the other guys were running with that. Now, there was this showcase at Irving Plaza in Manhattan the weekend of the New Music Seminar. Now, when I say that everybody was there, I mean everybody was there. I’m talking about Poor Righteous Teachers, BDP, Leaders Of The New School before they’d even come out. I remember Poor Righteous Teachers were having a problem with their sound, and Busta Rhymes, who I had no clue of who he was at the time, he jumped onstage and started beat-boxing for them (laughs). Ultramagnetic MC’s were there. Everybody was there. I’ll never forget that night. But I was very, very nervous (laughs). There must have been about forty acts who performed that night, some established and some who were coming up. The night was hosted by Ice-T and a then up-and-coming group from the Native Tongues called Black Sheep (laughs). Which was crazy for me to see because of knowing Lawnge from back in the day. I remember telling Fanatic that Lawnge used to deejay in Sanford and he didn’t believe me (laughs).”

That must have been a mind-blowing experience as a fan of Hip-Hop to be seeing so many huge acts all in the one place?

“I’m really trying to paint a picture for you (laughs). There were just so many people there and it was packed to capacity. I remember, every now and then either Dres or Lawnge would shout-out who was coming up later and I remember they said, ‘Yo! Brand Nubian is in the house tonight!’ and the whole place erupted. I was looking around like, ‘Who is Brand Nubian?!’ (Laughs). I think they had ” Feels So Good” out at that point, but I didn’t know who they were yet (laughs). I’ve also heard Common say he was there that night as well. Anyway, I might have been like act twenty on the bill and Ski and the Payroll crew were on a few acts afterwards. Now, if you remember, during that era everything was very fast-paced and uptempo with people trying to prove that they could rhyme over really fast beats and everything. I remember, everybody before me had come out and was rhyming super-fast. Now, as we said earlier, at this point I was a lot smoother in my style and delivery. We had a record called “Make The Connection” which sampled the “Superman Lover” joint from Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson which nobody had really used yet. It was so smooth and the crowd just really got the opportunity to sit back and listen to my lyrics. I did have two dancers behind me, but even they were cutting some smooth steps (laughs). But everything just went really, really well and I could have so easily messed everything up because I was super nervous (laughs). Well, later on that night Ski and all of them got up onstage, with Mixmaster D on the turntables. Now, both Ski and D were assassins on the mic and turntables, so this is no reflection on the skills of the Bizzie Boyz, but there were just a few things that didn’t go their way on the night. There was a banner that was behind them that fell down whilst Ski was performing and they had to take it back on a couple of records because the turntables were skipping. It just didn’t go well for them, man (laughs). I’ll never forget that night because with my performance going so well, it felt like I was carrying the flag for my crew. I came through that performance and it really gave me a super-boost of confidence that I could actually do this, man.”

It let you know that you had the talent to carry on without the Bizzie Boyz etc being part of the crew…

“Yeah, man. I mean, like I said, there was still a little tension between the crews. Supreme Nyborn went on to make a record called “What If I Was Serious” where he threw a little shot at our crew and he was clowning Fanatic at the end of it.”

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Speaking of lyrics, on the track “Stage Domination” which you recorded in the mid-90s after the East West /Elektra situation, you say a line ‘Back in ’89 I was gassed up by Funkenklein.’ Now around that time, Dave Funkenklein would have been putting his Hollywood BASIC roster together, so I always wondered what that line was in relation to…

“Oh my god (laughs). Yes indeed. Well, I didn’t know Funkenklein personally and never had any dealings with him myself. It was Fanatic and Mark who had made some connections with him. They were dealing with him and they’d always tell me that Funkenklein was loving my “Lost In The Music” joint. So they were always talking about how we were going to try and get some more music to Funkenklein. Now, I never met the man or had anything against him, but back then that line really came out of me wondering what had happened with that situation, because I kept hearing the name Funkenklein from Fanatic and Mark but then nothing came out of it. So I was just throwing it out there. But from what I understand Funkenklein was a fan of what I was doing. Yo, you’re the only guy that’s ever asked me about that line so big-ups to you for that (laughs).”

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So what happened after the success of the Over-Due Crew’s appearance at that 1990 New Music Seminar?

“I mean, in terms of people who were part of the Over-Due Crew, many of whom were included on the “Back To The Lab” project, there was probably about twenty of us, all of whom I hold in high regard. But what happened was, if things ain’t happening then people start to fall off and go in different directions. So our crew got narrowed down to Mark and Fanatic who were the producers and Dizzy and D-Mack who formed a group called Southern Hospitality, plus me as a solo artist. So as time goes on, I’m hanging out with these guys, we’re shooting rhymes back and forth, and I want to credit both of those guys with giving me the name The Funky One-Liner. See, Dizzy’s name was The Funky Beat-Breaker, D-Mack was The Funky Break-Ripper or something like that (laughs). Now because I was on the punchline thing, they decided to call me the Funky One-Liner (laughs). I mean, they had punchlines too and we were all very influenced by Big Daddy Kane and what he had been doing with the one-liners. But then of course, there was also Lord Finesse and we were all loving what he was doing lyrically. Now, if you go back and look at all our names, you’ll see we all had ‘Funky’ in there and of course Lord Finesse had dropped the “Funky Technician” album. So I started to become known as Omniscence The Funky One-Liner. I also want to say that I was very influenced by Chill Rob G as well in terms of how he was putting certain words together.”

Were you and the guys in Southern Hospitality both looking for separate record deals at this point?

“So, I actually joined their group Southern Hospitality which we shortened down to SoHo. We recorded about five or six songs together which we started to shop around trying to get a record deal. We’d go up to New York to the Seminar, we went to the Jack The Rapper events, shopping our demo and performing. Now, we ended up signing a contract with Kenny Smith out of Queens, New York who played basketball for North Carolina and then Houston. Somehow our demo fell into his hands and he liked what he heard. The name of his label was Baseline To Baseline. So we were getting ready to fly out to Houston and Fanatic called me to say he thought the contract wasn’t the right move. He was like, ‘Yo, the only way you can get out of that contract is to get out of the group.’ So I thought about it long and hard, man. I called Dizzy and talked to him for awhile and told him I was getting out of the group. My thought was that Fanatic had brought me into the game, well Ski had brought me in initially, but Fanatic had guided me along the way since. So long story short, I got out of the group. They went on to record a song called “Shorty” which was actually produced by Mark Sparks as he stayed with them even though he wasn’t part of the contract. But it was a dope record.”

So is this when you and Fanatic started working on what would become 1993’s “The Funky One Liner” EP?

“Yeah, now it’s just me and Fanatic. We didn’t have a deal or nothing, but Fanatic had a connection to a real high-quality studio in Greensboro called Ultimix. This is where he would begin the 6th Boro label. Fanatic had actually formed his own little group called the Funke Leftovers and he came to me and said he wanted me to write some rhymes for him that were aimed at the ladies and then we’d work on my stuff separately at the same time. So the first release on 6th Boro Records was a record by the Funke Leftovers and they had a real Jodeci-type look with the leather vests, no shirts on and everything. Of course, I wanted no part of that (laughs). But simultaneously I was crafting what would become the “Funky One Liner” EP. I’ll never forget I was writing crazy rhymes and Fanatic shot me this one particular beat-tape and that tape had pretty much all but one of the joints that would end-up being on the EP. I scrapped all of the rhymes that I’d been writing previously and decided I was just going to zone into those tracks. Something about those particular beats really caught me and I wrote all of the rhymes in about a week, man. Those beats just had a certain vibe to them and definitely put me into a certain zone. I was pretty much sleeping all day, getting up and going to the studio late at night and I would have all my peoples with me who were living various elements of the street life which had an influence on me at the time. I mean, I never want to portray myself as being the super criminal street killer or anything like that, but I was always able to be around that element and not be out of place just by being myself.”

Were those late-night sessions for creative or practical reasons?

“The late night sessions were because the hook-up Fanatic had meant that we could only use the studio after everyone else had finished and gone home (laughs). Now, Fanatic didn’t smoke or drink, but I told him that I needed to have my element around me while we were recording the EP. So I’d bring my boys in, we’d get lifted and have the forties and everything (laughs). I mean, I wouldn’t get too zooted, but enough for me to be able to really get into my zone. So that’s how the “Funky One Liner” EP was born.”

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Around this early-90s period there were so many up-coming emcees who were trying to get on. Do you ever recall battling or ciphering with anybody who went on to make a name for themselves?

“Definitely. I mean, if we flashback to the time when Ski was doing Original Flavor, he would come down to North Carolina. Now, following that moment at the New Music Seminar when Clark Kent approached us and was looking for Ski, of course he found Ski and subsequently connected him with a young Dame Dash and an upcoming Jay-Z. So these guys would all come down to North Carolina at different times and when we would go up to New York we would connect with them. So I definitely remember me and Jay going at it a couple of times (laughs). I mean, it’s almost hard sometimes to tell people that because not everyone knows where Jay-Z was at in his career back then (laughs).”

Who would you say had the edge between the two of you?

“Me and Jay ciphering together was like the immovable object going up against the unstoppable force (laughs). Jay-Z was the unstoppable force, meaning that, at that time, his rhymes were being said at the speed of light with that fast style he had back then. He was really quick with what he was saying. But then you had me, and I was about the punchlines and the one-liners. So if we had truly battled back then, I don’t know that I  wouldn’t have won that (laughs). But I definitely respect Jay to see where he’s taken it, from where he was at back when I was rhyming with him. I mean, he’s one of the few emcees to have obtained true power in the music business.”

Were there any actual battles you were involved in that standout to you?

“I mean, locally, I had plenty of battles with other emcees (laughs). But as far as the industry is concerned, right after we dropped the “Funky One Liner” EP in 1993, the main battle I had was as part of the New Music Seminar in 1994. At this time Fanatic and Ski were on much better terms so Ski had spoken to Clark Kent about getting me into the emcee competition at the Seminar that year. So I stepped up into that and I was like, ‘Wow!’ But it was a different format than how I’d seen it done previously. I would come out and spit my rhymes, then the next man who I was against in that particular round would come out and do his thing. So it wasn’t like we were onstage together rhyming face-to-face. But anyway, I went first in my round, which perhaps was my downfall, and went out and hit the crowd with a barrage of punchlines. Then the guy who beat me I’m positive was called MC Chill and was from Brooklyn. This wasn’t the same MC Chill who came out on Fever Records though. But he was really animated in what he was doing, so he really had the crowd in an uproar to, so the whole crowd was just shouting, ‘Rematch! Rematch!’ Actually, if you go back to the “Stage Domination” record we were talking about earlier, if you listen to the beginning of it, that’s my battle in the New Music Seminar that I was talking about on there. The crowd were saying they couldn’t pick a winner but the decision had to me made, so I was one and done (laughs). I remember Jay-Z was there that year and people were saying he was going to be in the battle as well. Now, I’d already rhymed with Jay, so if we’d have got put together I already knew how he was going to come. But a lot of people were definitely wary about the fact that Jay was possibly going to battle, so he was definitely feared by other emcees. But for some reason he stayed out of it. Judgemental from Chicago defeated King Sun in the final to take the crown that year”

The label on the “Funky One Liner” EP featured the statement ‘This Material Is Currently Being Shopped’ and a phone number to call if anyone was interested in doing business. Did you actually have people reach out to you off the back of that?

“Yeah, we did. That number on the label was actually Fanatic’s number. But people definitely reached out to him and we ended-up being bidded on heavy! Going back to that New Music Seminar battle, I remember stepping off the stage and the first person who came up to speak to me was Tom Silverman from Tommy Boy who said he wanted to talk about some things. But actually, before we’d gone to the Seminar, we’d enlisted the help of a lady called Enid Shor who had numerous years of experience of getting artists signed to labels with good deals. Now, at this time she was partnered up with DJ Premier’s man, Biggest Gord, and the way it would work is that Enid had the experience of the business and Gord had the access to the streets to find all the raw upcoming talent. So before going to the Seminar we were actually working with them on trying to get a deal. The way that happened was that Gang Starr had come down to North Carolina to do a show, and DJ K-Nyce, the same K-Nyce who had done some recording previously with Supreme Nyborn, he slid their road manager a vinyl copy of the “Funky One Liner” EP. They called back like ‘Yo, this s**t is crazy!’ and before they left town they actually came through the studio. So imagine this, me and Fanatic are in the studio listening to some beats or whatever, and then here comes DJ Premier with the Carhartt suit on and everything telling us how much he likes the record. So he ended up passing it to Gord and Enid who were doing their thing, which is how we ended up working with them. But we ended-up with a few deals on the table. Firstly, we had an offer to sign to East West / Elektra straight up without Vincent Herbert and 3 Boyz From Newark. Then we had another offer from Vincert Herbert, who we ended up signing with, which I’ll get into. Then we had a couple more as well. But none of those offers were as big as what Gord and Enid managed to bring to the table, which was Chris Lighty, who was very interested in the project.”

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Three of this interview here.

Omniscience – “I Gotta Maintain” (6th Boro Records / 1993)

Old To The New Q&A – DJ Tat Money (Part Two)

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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.”

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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”.

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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.”

tat money pic 6

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…”.

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Three of this interview here.

Steady B – “Bring The Beat Back” (Pop Art Records / 1986)

Old To The New Q&A – Mikey D (Part Two)

mikey d 3

In Part One of this interview with legendary lyricist Mikey D, the Queens, NY emcee discussed his earliest Hip-Hop memories, meeting LL Cool J and battling Kool G. Rap. In this next instalment, the Rotten Apple representative talks about working with the late, great producer Paul C., signing to Sleeping Bag Records in the late-80s and his historic New Music Seminar battle with Grandmaster Melle Mel.

How did you actually meet Paul C.?

“I met Paul C. through Will Seville and Eddie O’Jay of the Clientele Brothers. We lived in Laurelton and Paul C. lived in Rosedale which were within walking distance. So Will and Eddie picked me and Johnny Quest up one day and told us we’re going to this producer’s house. They’re telling us how this dude is kinda nice and how he’s got his studio set-up. Now, at that time, it was unheard of to have a studio in your crib and stuff like that. But Paul had his equipment hooked-up in his garage. I’d never heard of Paul before, but they took us there, and I remember Paul asking me to rhyme. I did my thing and me and Paul really hit it off from that point on. I mean, Paul really wasn’t dealing with Hip-Hop on a big scale at that time. He was still down with his band and all of that. Then he got offered a job to be an engineer at 1212 Studio. Now, prior to that, me and Quest were always going to Paul’s house making tapes for the street. Then once Paul got that job at 1212, after the sessions were finished late at night he would call us and be like ‘Come to the studio, let’s work!’ So we used to jump on the bus, head over to 1212 and that’s when it really started to happen.”

What were your first impressions of Paul when you met him?

“He wasn’t what I was expecting to see at all. I wouldn’t say he looked like a nerd, he looked a little bit cooler than a nerd (laughs). But Paul was really quiet and really humble. I don’t know really what I expected to see when we went over there. Maybe like a punk rocker dude with an attitude and a chip on his shoulder (laughs). But Paul was just really humble, super cool and so friendly. Paul’s personality definitely didn’t match the beats he was making (laughs). So at that time we were branching away from Reality, the Symbolic Three and all that because I was getting tired of writing for other people and knew I had something to offer myself. So me and Johnny Quest put Paul C. down with the L.A. Posse. Now, Johnny Quest and Paul, that was all I needed. I had a hot deejay that nobody could touch, I was a hot rapper that nobody could touch, and now, I’ve got this producer that nobody can touch in Paul C.. A white guy at that?! Oh my god! (laughs).”

paul c pic

From what you can remember was Paul C. aware that what he was doing in terms of chopping samples etc. was so revolutionary at that time and would have such an impact on Hip-Hop?

“Doing those beats was just natural for Paul. I mean, none of us ever really used to listen to the radio to hear what else was going on, we just stayed original to what we wanted to do. With Paul, I don’t think he thought it was going to become as big as it did in terms of his production. He just did what he did. It was effortless to him. He didn’t even really have to try that hard, it just came so naturally to him. Paul C. was a genius. Like, you remember my record “Bust A Rhyme Mike”, right, the flipside of “My Telephone”? Now, who would have ever thought of me doing the human beatbox? Paul told me to go ‘Boom’, ‘Kick’, that was all he told me do. That’s all I did. Then Paul hooked the beat up from that, which was crazy to me back then. Same thing with “I Get Rough”. The bassline on that track was Rahzel’s voice. What Paul C. was doing back then was incredible to me.”

So what was a typical studio session with Paul like back then?

“We would just go in and that was it. There was a store downstairs and we would go and buy some sandwiches and beer to take up to the studio. At that time, Paul was smoking his little joints of weed. We would just get creative and be in that studio until like seven the next morning. And at any given time you would have all sorts of different people in there with us as well. Large Professor was up in some of those early studio sessions we had, but he was real young then and I didn’t know who he was or that he’d go on to become Large Professor (laughs). Everybody was coming through 1212 at that time. That’s how I met Ced-Gee, Kool Keith and them from Ultramagnetic, Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud were up there all the time, Sweet Tee, Jazzy Jay would come through, even Jeru The Damaja used to be up there before he got on.”

Do you recall any memorable studio cyphers taking place?

“Everybody was just mingling really. There were six floors of studios in that place. There’d also be a lot of rock bands practising in there as well. Metallica used to work in that building. 1212 was like a college dorm with everyone hanging out in each other’s sessions and partying.”

What were your thoughts when you heard the creative direction that Ultramagnetic MC’s were taking with their whole scientific, spaced-out style?

“I remember just thinking it was so different. It wasn’t something I would have done back then personally, but it was different and I was definitely feelin’ it. There were so many different flavours being heard in that studio with all the artists working in there, but my thing was always just to stay in my lane and do me, rather than hearing what someone else was doing and trying to follow them.”

Out of interest, what were your thoughts on the Bridge Wars which would still have been simmering around that time? Were you offended when KRS-One dissed Queens?

“Absolutely, because Shan didn’t say Hip-Hop started in Queens, he said that was where it started at for him. But then everyone started jumping on the bandwagon. I remember one time, we had a roller rink in Queens and KRS-One was supposed to battle MC Shan there. Now, I don’t know what happened to Shan but he didn’t show up. So who was the first person to jump up onstage ready to battle and represent Queens? Me! I wanted to battle KRS-One but he  didn’t want to battle me at that time. I remember T La Rock was there as well and he had some funny stuff to say, so I was looking to battle him as well. Now, T La Rock had obviously made “It’s Yours”, but going back to what I said about being the king of parody, I’d written a song called “Your Drawers”. So that’s how T La Rock met me, when I crushed him with his own song (laughs).”

So being from Queens could definitely cause problems when you would travel to other parts of New York even if you weren’t directly affiliated with any of the artists feuding on wax?

“Definitely, definitely. Now, at that time Queens had all the stars in Hip-Hop, partly because Russell Simmons took Hip-Hop to a whole ‘nother level. We had Run DMC. We had LL Cool J. We had Salt-N-Pepa. We had Sweet Tee. We had Kid-N-Play. A lot of the major money-making artists at that time were coming out of Queens. So the rest of New York City was looking at us in Queens like the way New York looks at Southern artists now (laughs). People from other boroughs would try and diss Queens by saying that we had green grass and both our parents (laughs). So because I didn’t have a pissy staircase and roaches I couldn’t be nice as an artist? Get out of my face with that (laughs). But Queens still proved itself at the end of the day.”

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When you signed to Sleeping Bag Records was that on the strength of the buzz surrounding your 1987 single “I Get Rough” or was the label also familiar with your history prior to that?

“They were aware of me already through Ivan ‘Doc’ Rodriguez and Mantronik. The original plan was for me to get signed and be the new emcee for Mantronix. That’s what was supposed to happen. But I believe in loyalty so I wasn’t about to leave Quest and Paul. We’d already built something and I didn’t want to see that start to be taken apart. So if Sleeping Bag wanted to sign me, they had to sign Paul C. and Johnny Quest. It had to be Mikey D & The L.A. Posse. I’m not getting down with Mantronix. I liked the sound Mantronix had, even though it was very different to ours, but I wasn’t going to leave Paul and Quest behind.”

Sleeping Bag was a big label at the time with a lot of popular Hip-Hop and Dance acts on the roster – were you looking at that deal as a potentially life-changing situation considering the success other acts were experiencing on the label?

“You know what? It didn’t even hit us like that. We already believed in ourselves, so we were approaching it like we were meant to be there. We were of the opinion that a label like Sleeping Bag should have come to us a long time ago. But we just remained humble and stayed in our lane. It was cool, though. I mean, by the time we signed to Sleeping Bag I knew a lot of the artists affiliated with the label already like Just-Ice, EPMD, Mantronix of course. I remember everyone thinking DJ Cash Money of Cash Money & Marvelous and I were brothers (laughs). But yeah, we were really in a good space at that time and I enjoyed Sleeping Bag. Being signed to them, of course, was how I got entered into the New Music Seminar emcee battle in 1988 and the situation with Melle Mel happened.”

The story of you winning the emcee battle at the 1988 New Music Seminar and ending-up battling Melle Mel is very well known – but what was going through your mind at that time as a young, upcoming artist standing onstage knowing that you’re about to battle a legendary emcee and Hip-Hop pioneer? 

“See, technically it wasn’t supposed to be a battle. It was supposed to be a demonstration with that year’s champion, me, rapping with the previous year’s champion, which was Melle Mel. But no. Melle Mel turned it into a battle. Now you’ve got to remember that at that time the Queens / Bronx thing was still going on and at the same time the Old-School / New-School thing was heating up. So I already had two strikes against me (laughs). First of all I’m from Queens and second of all I was considered new-school. Now, I was going to give Mel his respect. I said my rhymes and didn’t saying nothin’ about him. He gets on the microphone and disrespects me. Then he starts talking about how, if I’m a real champion I’d battle him for my belt. I said I didn’t want to battle for my belt. I’d just won it and I wanted to take it back to the ‘hood to represent. Melle Mel slams his belt on the ground, starts talking about how I’m no champion and now the crowd starts going crazy shouting ‘Go Mikey! Go Mikey!’ I look at Mel, I look at the crowd, I look at my belt, I look at his belt on the floor, I slammed my belt on top of his belt and was like ‘Let’s go!’. So now Melle Mel is doing push-ups onstage and I started rhyming off the beat of his push-ups dissing him and the crowd is going crazy. He couldn’t come back after that but at the same time that he was trying to, Grandmaster Caz picks up both of the belts while I have my back turned. So by the time Melle Mel finally lost the battle, Caz hands Mel the damn belts! Now Melle Mel was too big for me to be running up on him (laughs). But he’s rushing through the crowd with both belts, pushing Big Daddy Kane out the way and Jackie Paul, a lady who was a part of the New Music Seminar. It was a mess. But I proved myself. Then a few weeks later Tom Silverman from Tommy Boy Records who was involved with the Seminar presented me with a bigger and better belt (laughs).”

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In hindsight do you have a different opinion now on Melle Mel’s actions that night?

“I forgive him for that but I still don’t agree with what he did. It was a coward move and I can’t respect that. I can respect Melle Mel as an artist, for his achievements and everything he’s done for Hip-Hop, but at that event he just made a complete idiot out of himself and I lost all respect for him. I mean, I respect him now as a man, but I don’t respect the move he made on that night.”

From hearing what Daddy-O said in the footage for your documentary “The Making Of A Legend” the situation could have turned very ugly…

“It could of but I defused a whole lot of that tension. I mean, I had people like King Sun and Just-Ice ready to move on Melle Mel and I was like ‘No!’ Johnny Quest and I were the only two out of our crew who went to the Seminar that night. Luckily, we went without my crew otherwise Mel could have got moved on that way. People in the audience who I’d just met were ready to make moves on him, but I didn’t want any of that because if someone had moved on Mel it would have reflected badly on me and my future. If anything had happened to Melle Mel people would have automatically said that I had a part in that so I just wanted everyone to let it go.”

After the Seminar what happened with the Sleeping Bag deal?

“Well, after the Seminar we were busy working on an album which was coming out pretty nice. We presented the album to Sleeping Bag and unfortunately God took Paul C. from us before it could be released. Once that happened everything started spiralling downhill because I didn’t want to put the album out after Paul passed away. It didn’t feel right to do that. I was like, ‘Nah, this ain’t cool.’ I left the label and all of that.”

So would you largely attribute you stepping away from the industry at that point to Paul C.’s 1989 murder?

“Well, at that time it felt like everything was spiralling out of my control. My daughter had just been born. The music money wasn’t enough to pay my bills, buy a crib or pay for my daughter’s baby food, y’know. I was giving more to the music than I was receiving. I was giving my life to this music and I just wasn’t really getting nothing in return. Then after Paul was taken from us it was really crazy because now I’m thinking ‘Damn, man. They did that in his house! Who does that?!’ So now we’re paranoid like, ‘Could they be coming after us next?’ I started drinking even more around that time like, ‘F**k this! I can’t handle it!’ It was like that beer made me feel like nothing could mess with me or something like that. So I really just fell back for a little while and helped raise my daughter. I still had Hip-Hop in my heart  but all of the gangsta rap was starting to come out and I just wasn’t really feeling it like that, y’know.”

With one of your close friends having just been murdered it’s easy to see why you didn’t want to be around the more violent aspects of Hip-Hop that were starting to become popular at that time…

“Exactly. You just took the words right out my heart. That’s exactly how I felt at that time.”

Ryan Proctor

Lookout for Part Three of this interview coming soon with Mikey D covering his time as a member of Main Source in the 90s and his new Elements Of Hip-Hop project.

World Supreme Hip Hop Documentary – Freshco & Miz

Brilliant documentary “World Supreme Hip Hop” telling the story of legendary New York / Philadelphia emcee / deejay duo Freshco & Miz – directed by Shawn “Freshco” Conrad himself and featuring appearances from Kool DJ Red Alert, DJ Enuff, Monie Love and DJ Wiz plus vintage footage of the pair’s respective 1989 New Music Seminar battle victories – check FreshcoAndMiz.Com for more info.

Old To The New Q&A – Rob Swift

In 2009, the Hip-Hop world and deejay community at large lost one of its greatest talents when NYC’s Grandmaster Roc Raida tragically passed away following complications relating to an injury sustained while practicing the self-defense discipline Krav Maga.

As a member of infamous Rotten Apple deejay collective The X-Men (led by Harlem’s Steve Dee) and also his later crew The X-ecutioners (alongside Rob Swift, Mista Sinista and Total Eclipse), Raida played a pivotal role in building the turntablism movement that emerged during the 1990s, taking the influences of pioneers such as Grandmaster Flash and creating new techniques that pushed the turntable to its limits.

With a career that spanned twenty years, Raida’s lively mix of body tricks, beat-juggling and sharp battle-ready routines saw him win the 1995 DMC World Championship, work with the likes of Showbiz & AG, Big Pun and MF Grimm, and also release a number of group and solo projects, building a legacy before his untimely passing that will forever remain in the Hip-Hop history books and continue to inspire future generations of deejays.

But, of course, whilst Hip-Hop fans lost an incredible musical figure, those closest to Roc Raida lost a friend, a husband and a father. Enter Rob Swift with his tribute project “Roc For Raida” which officially dropped today (March 20th) via www.djrobswift.com.

Released twenty-one years after the pair’s first meeting in March of 1991, “Roc For Raida” is a carefully crafted sonic monument not only to the friendship that existed between Swift and the Harlem deck-wrecker, but also the bond Raida shared with all members of his former crews who were joined together by the letter X.

Containing a mix of routines, original tracks and interview audio with Raida himself, all proceeds from the sale of “Roc For Raida” will be donated to the turntable icon’s wife Tyeasha Williams and three daughters Tia, Nyra and Asia.

Here, the always-interesting Rob Swift speaks on his memories of Raida, putting the tribute project together, and his hopes for the future of turntablism.

Roc Raida R.I.P.

Was the “Roc For Raida” project something that had been in the pipeline for some time?

“No, it wasn’t something I had in the pipeline. At the turn of the year I had just arrived back in New York City from a show I had on New Year’s Eve in Bucharest. 2011 was behind me, I accomplished all I’d set out to in that year, and 2012 was in front of me and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I always make it a point to set goals for myself and think of new ways to help the art of deejay-ing and turntablism get out there and expose it to people. So I was sitting at home thinking about what that next goal of mine was going to be and then it hit me, why not make this year, 2012, about Roc Raida? I’ve accomplished a lot as an individual already. I’ve released albums, I’ve released DVDs, I’ve appeared in movies, I’ve done commercials, I’ve collaborated with artists who I truly respect from all genres of music. I just felt that it had been enough about me and what I wanted to accomplish, I wanted to do something to just honour Roc Raida. So it literally hit me while I was sitting on my couch that I should compose a mixtape and dedicate it to him. It wasn’t something that I’d been planning for months, the idea just hit me when I was sitting down thinking about what I was going to do in 2012 to bless my fans with new music.”

Talk about how and when you first met Roc Raida…

“Ah, man. In 1990 I saw Steve Dee compete at the New Music Seminar in the battle for World Supremacy. For those that don’t already know, the New Music Seminar was an annual music conference held in June every year in New York City. As part of that conference there always used to be an emcee battle and a deejay battle. Being such an avid follower at the time of deejay-ing and the culture, I went to the NMS in 1990 to see Steve Dee compete and that inspired me to want to get into battles. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor by the name of Dr. Butcher who helped me prepare for my first competition. We practiced for twelve months like Shaolin monks (laughs). I remember I’d go over to Butcher’s house and his girlfriend would be there and he would kick his girlfriend out of the room and he and I would literally practice for hours. His girlfriend hated me for that (laughs). So in July of 1990 we started working to get me ready to compete in the 1991 DMC competition which, of course, is another annual deejay event that always has its World Finals in London. So every deejay practicing for that event is hoping to get a round trip ticket to London. So from July 1990 to March 1991 Butcher was helping me prepare for the battle. When I entered the 1991 DMC battle, it was in the preliminaries that I first met Steve Dee and his crew The X-Men. Now at the time, the members of the X-Men were Steve Dee, Sean C., Johnny Cash, Diamond J and last but certainly not least Roc Raida. I remember they were heckling deejays throughout the event and just being very boastful and loud (laughs).”

Trying to psych out the competition…

“Exactly. It’s like a mind-game sometimes at deejay competitions with some deejays trying to get into the minds of other competitors. I was there with Dr. Butcher and although I was calm I was also very observant of the fact that they were acting the way they were. But the one exception was Roc Raida. Out of all of the X-Men, Roc Raida was the quietest one that night. I remember he was kinda just scanning the room, looking around, but not saying anything to anyone. I just thought it was really cool that he was kind of distancing himself from the behaviour of the rest of his crew and that really made a solid impression on me. Now fast-forward to the end of the night, all of the X-Men had gone onstage to do their two-minute qualifying sets and I’d also done my qualifying set. I actually got picked to move on to the finals and the only one out of the X-Men who got picked was Steve Dee. So after the battle all of them were kinda snickering and saying stuff to the judges, basically letting them know that they were upset that the rest of the crew didn’t make it through. They did have a right to be upset because all of them were good, but I think that the judges didn’t want all of the crew to go through and make it an X-Men final, so they just picked the one they thought was the best on that night. But after the battle, Dr. Butcher, who was already an acquaintance of Steve Dee wanted to introduce us as he knew I was a fan of his, and when I went to meet Steve, Roc Raida happened to be standing next to him. So I shook hands with Steve Dee and we exchanged a few kind words, and then I shook hands with Raida and I remember he looked at me with a grin but didn’t say anything (laughs). He didn’t say one word, he just grinned at me, looked at me, nodded his head as if to say ‘What’s up?’ and that was it. So that’s the Roc Raida I remember encountering for the first time, very quiet, very introverted, but I also remember that when I saw him get onstage to do his qualifying set I was blown away by how good he was.”

So you were definitely immediately impressed by Raida as a deejay the first time you saw him on the turntables?

“Man, he was so good. He really was so, so good. Raida was just so clean and he definitely had his own style and approach to the turntables that was unique. Over time he really honed that style of his into what we know now as the Grandmaster Roc Raida style of deejay-ing. The cool thing about meeting those guys was that, fast forward to the East Coast finals of the DMC battle, I placed third and I was really mad, upset and frustrated. I was really emotional because I at least wanted to go through to the US Finals. I remember Dr. Butcher really trying to console me, and as my mentor his feelings were hurt because my feelings were hurt. He went up to Steve and asked him if he could talk to me and maybe give me some words of advice given the experience he already had with battles. So Steve came up to me, got in my ear and gave me his phone number. I called him the next day, we talked and Steve said that he would love to have both me and Dr. Butcher join his crew as members of The X-Men. So for me, that was my prize for entering the battle; not getting through to the finals, but being made a member of that crew. Because as a result of that, I ended up bonding the way I did with Roc Raida, and he and I out of everyone became the closest and the rest is history. Now fast-forward twenty-one years and here I am today talking about that night. I met Roc Raida in the middle of March 1991 and that’s why I wanted to release “Roc For Raida” in March because the month has so much signifance to me.”

Footage of Roc Raida at 1991’s New Music Seminar.

Can you remember the first practice session you and Raida had together? There must have been a lot of friendly competition involved back then…

“Oh my god (laughs). The first time I practiced with Raida it was just so much fun. See, Dr. Butcher was already an accomplished deejay. He was already out on the road deejay-ing for Kool G. Rap and working in the studio with Large Professor and Main Source. Butcher really was a mentor to me, so when we would practice I was more of a student listening to the advice he had for me and learning from him and just watching him. So with Roc Raida the difference was that Raida and I were on the same level. We were both students of the culture. We were both passionate about making a mark on the art of deejay-ing and turntablism. We were both unknowns who wanted to be known. So because of that, practising with Raida was different to practicing with Dr. Butcher and I was able to have a different sort of fun with it. I mean, when you have two kids as we were then both wanting to accomplish so much as deejays, being hungry and passionate, all that can come out of that is good, and it did because we made each other better and we helped each other reach our goals. We ended up building careers out of that passion that have spanned twenty one years, you know.”

I remember when you and Raida both started doing cuts on releases from artists like Akinyele and Show & AG in the 90s. I always had this vision of the pair of you kind of bragging to each other light-heartedly like “Guess who I’ve just been asked to do the cuts for?’ or ‘You heard Show & AG have got something new coming out? I’m doing the cuts on that…’

“Man, just hearing you say that is giving me tingles because you just completely captured what my interaction with Raida was like back in the 90s when we were first starting out. Because we would say to each other, ‘Look who I’m doing cuts for’ (laughs). I remember the first time we realised we were known was about 1993 which was one year removed from when Raida and I retired from battling in 1992. In 1993, Raida was at one of the NMS events and I remember he was like, ‘Yo this guy just stopped me and knew who I was and I didn’t really know how to respond.’ Raida was telling me that the guy was saying ‘I’ve been following you and Rob Swift, you guys are really dope.’ When Raida told me that he was like ‘Yo, people know who we are, man.’ To me, that was like the first time I actually realised that we had respect amongst people who we didn’t even know. We both sat there like, ‘We’ve got fans!’ It’s memories like those that have been creeping back as I was working on the “Roc For Raida” project. Memories of when we first started out. It’s great because thinking about those things and remembering those conversations with Raida really helped me get back in touch with a time that seems so long ago now.”

Were there any specific Roc Raida routines that made you wish you’d thought of a particular idea or scratch?

“Dude, I had that response to practically every routine Raida ever did – I wish it was me who’d come up with that idea, I wish it was me who’d done that scratch, I wish it was me who’d thought of that trick (laughs). But on the flipside of that, the beauty of it is that there were times where Raida did routines and it actually was me. Now, I don’t say that to brag or to bring attention to myself, so I guess I should give you some context on that. As I said, Raida and I retired from deejay competitions in 1992. We felt like competitions were becoming very biased and that some of the judges involved were playing favourites or that some battles were even rigged and it was already pre-agreed who would win. So after experiencing that we decided that we weren’t going to battle anymore and would just concentrate on getting our names out there in other ways, which is what led to us both starting to deejay for acts like Akinyele and Showbiz & AG. In 1995, Raida decided to come out of retirement and give the DMCs another shot. Because Raida was so busy travelling with Show & AG and didn’t have as much time to practice individually as we had done before we started deejay-ing for all these rap groups, Raida asked for my help. Now at the time, I was developing new approaches to beat-juggling, which is a technique that revolves around taking kicks, snares and hi-hats from a song and rearranging them. Usually when you hear beat-juggles the music is moving forward, but I’d figured out a way to beat-juggle backwards and make the music sound like it was going in reverse. I started developing this style of beat-juggling and came up with a routine using “Eric B. Is President”. There was another beat-juggle routine I’d come up with using Ed O.G & Da Bulldogs’ “I Got Ta Have It” which was more musical as I was re-arranging the horn sounds. That was when I really started to think about turntablim on a more musical level, whereas Raida approached it very much from a more physical body-tricks, flashy, visual point of view. You would see Raida and you would sweat watching him deejay because it was so energetic and action packed…”

But Raida always had that focussed look on his face that let you know he was in total control of everything he was doing regardless of how energetic a routine was…

“Exactly. That was Raida. Even though we practiced together we were successful in not sounding alike because we were aware of the importance of each developing our own styles. So when Raida decided to enter the 1995 DMCs, because of time constraints he asked me to help him prepare. So what I did was, I gave Raida those beat-juggling routines I’d been working on because I wanted him to win. I loved Raida like a brother and if he won it meant that I won and all the other X-Men won as well. So I played my part to help him the way Dr. Butcher had helped me. So to answer your original question, there are routines of his that he’s done that I gave to him, so when Raida was on the turntables doing these incredible things, there was also a part of me up there with him. When you listen to “Roc For Raida” there’s actually a segment where he talks about how we would help each other prepare for battles and give each other routines that we’d been saving for the right time to unleash on the world. If someone else in the crew needed that routine for a battle or something, then he got it and that’s just the way it was. Raida says it perfectly on the mixtape, that that’s what the X-Men was about, helping each other out. So when I tell that story about giving Raida my routines, I don’t say it to be egotistical or to be given credit, I say it to make the point that that’s just how giving we were to each other as a crew. That’s something that I really miss about those days, because that’s really what it was all about, just all of us helping each other to reach our goals.”

Footage of Roc Raida at 1995’s DMC World Championships.

Putting this project together must have been a very emotional experience for you?

“It definitely was, man. I’ve got an interesting story about something that happened when I finished the project. As I was about to start mastering I had the idea of holding off on completing the mastering process so I could add one more element to the project. I knew that I had these audio tapes that had been given to me by John Carluccio who had directed a film in 1997 called “Battle Sounds” which was the first battle deejay documentary. He’d given me audio cassette tapes containing outtakes and excerpts from interviews he’d done for the project with myself, Roc Raida, Steve Dee, Mista Sinista, and during those interviews we were talking about each other and the impact we’d had on each other’s lives as friends. I decided I wanted to find those tapes and then figure out a way to use that audio to narrate the project. So I looked for the tapes and I couldn’t find them. I looked for hours and I was really bugged because I knew being able to use that audio would make the mixtape sound exactly the way I wanted a fan to hear the project. I just couldn’t find them, so I decided I just had to carry on with the mastering because it was late-January by this time and I knew that I wanted to have the project ready for a March release. So reluctantly I continued with the process, but inside I was bothered by the fact that I knew the potential I felt the mixtape had wasn’t going to be fully reached as I hadn’t been able to find those tapes. Now, it just so happened that a machine I was using in the studio, a compressor, broke on me as I went to start mastering again. I was just like, ‘What else can go wrong?!’ First I couldn’t find the tapes I wanted to use and then the machine I need to finish the project breaks on me. So I was sitting in my studio frustrated and then it occurred to me that I knew what to do to bypass that machine and still make the music sound good. But to do that I had to go in to an old equipment box to find some wires and cords to rewire some stuff, and in that box I found those missing audio tapes that’d I been looking for (laughs). At the time, I remember thinking to myself ‘Yo! That was Raida totally sabotaging my equipment because he wanted me to find those tapes so that his voice could be heard on this project.'”

Was it difficult to listen to those tapes again?

“When I actually started listening to the tapes there were parts that literally made my eyes water. I remember there was one night I was going through one of the tapes and my girlfriend was next to me and she literally started crying listening to Raida and I talking about each other. So that was the most emotional part of the project for me, listening to each other speak about our friendship and how close we were. It’s sometimes easy to forget how innocent and pure things were during those times and I think the mixtape really captures that.”

How much of the influence of both The X-Men and The X-ecutioners do you see and hear in younger deejays today?

“Man, again, I don’t say this to be egostistical because that really isn’t me, but who haven’t we influenced? The X-Men and The X-ecutioners have influenced generations of deejays. I’m 39-years-old now and there’s young deejays today learning the artform of turntablism by referring to video tapes of me explaining how I created my “Nobody Beats The Biz” routine from the 90s. I see young deejays in battles doing the exact same tricks that Roc Raida did in battles fifteen years ago. So we’ve influenced a lot of people. But that being said, we were influenced by a lot of people who came before us. I mean, I would not be here today if it hadn’t been for Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, Charlie Chase, individuals like that. I also wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t have been for local deejays, people like my father and my brother. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for deejays like Cash Money, and the same goes for Roc Raida. But what I always say when I’m asked this type of question, is that it’s important for those younger deejays who were influenced by what we did to understand that at some point they can be better than what we did. They can be better than Rob Swift. They can be better than Roc Raida. It doesn’t stop with what we created. Turntablism keeps going. If Raida and I had had the mentality that we couldn’t be better than a Cash Money or a Steve Dee or a Mixmaster Ice from UTFO, then I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you today. I’d just be reading an article that you’d done interviewing someone else. It’s about elevating the art and knowing that you can be better than the people who influenced you and that’s such an important thing for young deejays to understand. I teach a class at the Scratch DJ Academy and I’m teaching these students from Lang College’s New School For Liberal Arts and I tell them all the time that they’re getting better and better and if they keep practicing they will be better than me. I’m not afraid to tell them that because I want them to be better than me. I want to see people step into this artform and achieve higher success than I have both skillfully and creatively because that means the art will always continue to grow.”

I remember reading interviews with you when The X-ecutioners dropped 1997’s “X-pressions” album and you were talking about wanting turntablism to be viewed as a serious musical genre in its own right. We’ve done a handful of interviews over the past decade or so where you’ve continued to talk about wanting to see turntablism reach a point where it could be studied and taught with the turntable being used as an instrument. Now here we are in 2012 and it definitely seems that those goals have been achieved. It must make you extremely proud to see those ideas and dreams you and others shared back in the 90s being taken seriously, which in turn has allowed the artform to grow with you still being a driving force behind that growth today…

“You said it perfectly, man (laughs). That’s why I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview with me because you were there when I was saying back then what I wanted to accomplish and now we can kinda revisit what I said and see if I did achieve those goals. So here I am now teaching a fully-credited college course in deejay-ing which is crazy. It’s nuts (laughs). So this conversation is putting even more stuff into perspective for me because sometimes you get so caught up in what you want to accomplish you don’t always have the time to soak it all up and pat yourself on the back when you’ve actually reached a particular goal because you’re already moving on to something else.”

There are some people who feel that the art of turntablism isn’t as organic as it once was and that recent technological advances have led to a generation of lazy deejays who rely too heavily on their equipment to do the work. With that in mind, do you think it’s still possible for there to be a generation of deejays who become iconic in the same way that a Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jeff or Q-Bert did purely through their skill and creative innovation?

“That’s a great question. I think that whether or not the next generation of deejays is successful in elevating the artform using the technology available to them today depends a lot on who they’re learning from. I mean, there were wack deejays when Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa were deejay-ing. There were wack deejays when Mixmaster Ice and DJ Aladdin and Joe Cooley were doing stuff. There were always wack deejays in the past the same way there are wack deejays now. But it all boils down to who you are learning from. I’m the deejay I am today because of my father and the appreciation he instilled in me for music and my culture. I am who I am today becuase my brother taught me about Hip-Hop first-hand, taking me to the train-yards to watch him do graffiti with his friends. He took me to house-parties and I would watch my brother deejay and his friends breakdance. I’m the deejay I am today because of people like Dr. Butcher who sat me down and broke down the mental approach to deejay-ing and how you perceive the turntables and your ability to manipulate them. So going back to your question, technology is supposed to make you less limited in what you can achieve. What I can do today with Serato Scratch Live I couldn’t do only using turntables and a mixer and because of that I’m a better deejay in 2012 than I ever was. But then on the flipside of that, you have those people who see someone on YouTube or at an awards show deejay-ing, think it looks cool, and then think they can buy some turntables and a laptop, download some songs and be playing in public within a week. But often the people they’ve seen doing that aren’t performing live on television anyway, they’re basically doing a deejay version of Milli Vanilli, so straight away their influences are not good ones, which worries me because if your influences are inadequate then you yourself are going to be inadequate. So as far as the younger generation of deejays is concerned, there ability to become legendary and iconic and known for doing great things depends a lot on who they choose to model themselves after and look to for their influences. But I do have faith that there will be young deejays out there now who will help the art elevate and use technology the right way.”

So playing devil’s advocate, where do you stand on the debate surrounding deejays using vinyl-only in their sets and routines?

“I always get frustrated when I hear people talking about vinyl-only and that stuff sucks if people don’t use vinyl. No, it doesn’t. It has nothing to do with whether you’re using vinyl or not. It’s about the approach to the equipment. That to me is the more important thing. I mean, I love vinyl, I still buy records and I still use vinyl when I perform. But I also like technology and I think that what companies like Serato and Rane are doing today is beefing up the hardware that we use as deejays and making it so that we can literally produce a song from scratch in real-time in front of a live audience, which is amazing. But again, it’s all about the approach to the equipment, and I’m so hands-on in everything I do I’m not going to just simply let the technology do the work for me. You’ve always got to be accepting that time moves forward, it doesn’t stand still. So you have to be able to apply that mentality to life in general and adapt and keep up and incorporate technology in a way that suits you, rather than just be mad at it or turn your back on it because otherwise you’re going to be left behind.”

So following “Roc For Raida” what’s next for Rob Swift?

“Honestly, I’m the type of person who works best when I feel inspired to do something. I try not to look too far ahead into the future as to what my projects are going to be. I just try to stay in tune with myself and whenever I feel inspired to do something, whatever it may be, then I do it. I’m not sure what I’m going to do in the future. S**t, if you’d told me six months ago that I’d be dropping a Roc Raida project and teaching a college class then I’d have been like ‘Really? Okay, cool.’ I really don’t plan that far ahead, I just try to be ready for whatever happens. But right now I’m really trying to generate as much noise as I can for “Roc For Raida” and that’s my only focus right now.”

Any closing words for Raida’s fans?

“I really just want people who’re reading this to please support the project. All proceeds from “Roc For Raida” are going to Tyeasha Williams, Raida’s widow, and his three daughters Tia, Nyra and Asia. I just want people to support and do something charitable to give something back. Roc Raida gave so much of himself to others during his career in order to entertain his fans, so it would be nice for those fans to do their part and give something back as well.”

Ryan Proctor

“Roc For Raida” is available now via www.djrobswift.com.

“Roc For Raida” Online Trailer

Ready For Combat – MC Serge / Freshco / DJ Aladdin /DJ Miz

Footage of the 1989 New Music Seminar in NYC featuring MC Serge battling then Tommy Boy artist Freshco and LA’s DJ Aladdin going up against Philly’s DJ Miz.