Tag Archives: Queens

EP Review – Timeless Truth

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Timeless Truth

“Dominican Diner”

(Timeless Truth)

The phrase ‘takin’ it to the next level’ has definitely been overused throughout the years in relation to artists describing what they’re bringing to the table on a new release. More often than not, said artists are guilty of believing their own hype and fail to deliver on their promise of unleashing music of a high enough standard to satisfy our collective Hip-Hop addiction. NYC’s Timeless Truth, however, have never fallen short when the moment has arrived to bring that uncut raw to your metaphorical door, steadily building a strong catalogue of work that’s steeped in Rotten Apple rap heritage whilst also remaining fresh and new.

With their excellent 2012 EP “Brugal & Presidentes” and the equally impressive album “Rock-It Science”, blood brothers Oprime39 and Solace captured the essence of classic New York boom-bap rap, filtered it through their shared experiences of coming up in the Corona / Flushing areas of Queens, mixed in some razor-sharp rhymes skills, and rightfully took their place alongside the likes of Meyhem Lauren, Spit Gemz and Starvin B as part of a new generation of artists capable of carrying on tradition and building on the Q-borough’s already impressive Hip-Hop foundations.

Reppin’ both their Queens pedigree and Dominican roots with pride, Timeless Truth have the ability to literally make you feel the energy and history of New York City in their music, not necessarily through endless lyrical references, but just in the gritty tone of their beats and rhymes.

Listening to the creative output of Oprime and Solace, it’s impossible not to have the experience accompanied by a flow of five-borough-inspired images exploding in the middle of your third-eye vision. Box-fresh Timberlands. Vintage Polo gear. The closing amphitheatre scene in “Wild Style”. Graffiti-covered 80s-era subway trains. Butter-soft leather bombers. Gigantic boom-boxes. Intense street-corner rhyme ciphers. Milk-crates packed with dusty vinyl being carried to park jams.

It’s not just the sound of Timeless Truth that captivates the listener, it’s also the aura surrounding their music which connects them to the past as well as the present that ensures its potency.

That being said, the pair’s latest release, the “Dominican Diner” EP, is another flawless example of what happens when artists dedicate themselves to studying the science of Hip-Hop and apply those lessons when they get into the lab.

Blessed with an impeccable selection of beats by fellow NY resident Fafu, it’s easy to imagine Oprime and Solace striking traditional b-boy poses in the studio as they hammer the microphone with their dense, code-of-the-streets wordplay.

The opening “Trife” is a lumbering, organ-driven banger which finds the “Queens giants” referencing Tony Montana, The Fonz and Chico Debarge all within the space of four-minutes, shouting out their local stomping grounds accompanied by a haunting, ethereal vocal sample.

“Power Pieces”, that “peace ain’t the word to play s**t”, is a sublime slice of underground brilliance, with Oprime and Solace presenting themselves as “rookies with minds of veterans” amidst Fafu’s subtle keys and shuffling drums.

Staying on the mellow side, “Creme De La Creme” is built around a jazzy, late-night vibe and a soulfully sweet female sample, with the duo sounding like seasoned pros kicking back at an after-hours spot to exchange street knowledge over shots of hard liquor.

The rattling drums of “Out Of The Loop” bring a straight-out-the-basement flavour to the track, evoking thoughts of the Truth brothers passing the mic back-and-forth in a small, dimly lit subterranean space as they rock relentlessly over well-worn break-beats, whilst the raw, minimal “Bail Money In The Mattress” is an effective demonstration of crew solidarity with Brooklyn’s Maffew Ragazino riding shotgun.

Although the level of quality remains high throughout “Dominican Diner”, the real gem here is the smooth-but-rugged “Glory”, which showcases the “Latin kids with fantastic adjectives and narratives” dropping heartfelt jewels regarding the importance of family, past, present and future, over Fafu’s warm, shimmering soundscape.

Another musical triumph for Timeless Truth, “Dominican Diner” has everything on the menu that many heads today say the game is missing.

So grab a table, pull up a chair and prepare to be served a full plate of home-cooked Hip-Hop goodness that’s well-seasoned with the essence of the culture.

Ryan Proctor

Follow Timeless Truth on Twitter – @TimelessTruth

Old To The New Q&A – Starvin B

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Queens, New York. From Run-DMC, LL Cool and Kool G. Rap, to Nas, Mobb Deep and Large Professor, not forgetting other rap giants such as A Tribe Called Quest, Organized Konfusion and Tragedy Khadafi, the Rotten Apple borough has a strong Hip-Hop lineage which has left an indelible mark on the art-form over the years.

Whilst KRS-One may have once dropped the infamous line “Queens keeps on fakin’ it…” on his 1987 classic “The Bridge Is Over” during the BDP / Juice Crew rivalry, history has proven over and over again that definitely isn’t the case.

In recent years, a new generation of Queens emcees have put themselves on the map, each with their own style and musical identity, but all sharing a passion for lyricism and a desire to remain true to the foundations of the culture which spawned them.

The likes of Meyhem Lauren, Spit Gemz and Timeless Truth have delivered some of the best Hip-Hop present-day NYC has had to offer, with all being worthy of adding on to the QU legacy, holding their microphones in one hand and the future of their home borough’s continued place in rap’s history books in the other.

Another artist more than capable of ensuring the Hip-Hop credibility of Queens remains intact is Starvin B. A naturally gifted emcee, the Indonesian / Irish lyricist has already built himself an impressive catalogue, including 2010’s “Uplifted”, 2012’s “Something In The Water” and his most recent album “Blood From A Stone” produced entirely by frequent collaborator One-Take.

Mixing sharp wit and street smarts with battle-ready punchlines and a vicious sense of humour, Starvin is the type of artist that you feel you’ve really gotten to know after listening to his music. Honest, creative and authentic, the native New Yorker’s brand of Hip-Hop wears its golden-era influences with pride whilst avoiding simply retreading old musical ground.

Speaking live and direct from the Galaxy of Queens for this interview, Starvin B discusses growing-up in NYC, working with childhood rap heroes and the creative process behind his “Blood From A Stone” album.

Do you remember when you were first introduced to Hip-Hop?

“It was as a kid, y’know. My mom actually put me on to Hip-Hop. My mom was a Public Enemy fan and she would show me the tapes. It was the beats that caught me at first. But Hip-Hop just really stood out to me as something that could give you a voice and allow you to speak out and say what you thought about the world and what was happening around you. So, I really have to give credit to my mom for introducing me to Hip-Hop. I mean, I’d heard Run-DMC before when I was a real little kid, but I didn’t really understand the music at that point. But what really got me interested was mom with her Public Enemy tape of the “Apocalypse 91…” album and I’d also probably have to say LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” album as well.”

How old would you have been around that time?

“Man, I’d have been about seven or eight-years-old. But like I said, before that I remember hearing Run-DMC and some other stuff that had come out, but I was young and I didn’t really know what I was listening to. But around those times when moms was listening to her Public Enemy tape, that’s when things started to get real crazy (laughs).”

What was it about that particular Public Enemy album that really drew you in?

“It was the “Can’t Truss It” beat. That beat was just something that I’d jump around and go crazy to as a kid (laughs). So it was that and also the fact that they were talking about social issues. I mean, I didn’t know anything about the injustices that they were talking about, but I just knew that something was wrong with the way the world was. Something was a little off. My mom coached me along with it as well and would talk to me about some of the things that Public Enemy were talking about on their records. So it was cool.”

You grew-up in Queens, right?

“Yeah, yeah. I grew-up in Woodside, Queens, Sunnyside, Queens, the Long Island City area…”

So were you aware at that young age that Hip-Hop was all around the neighbourhoods you were living in?

“Absolutely. I mean, I remember going to the store as a young kid and seeing people break-dancing on cardboard out in the street, people on the corner freestyling and stuff like that. So Hip-Hop was definitely something that was all around me at a young age. To me, back then, it just seemed like Hip-Hop was the main outlet that everyone seemed to be migrating towards. I mean, I remember thinking as a kid that there were a lot of cool things about Hip-Hop, but that there were also some weird things about Hip-Hop, like seeing people on the corner sucking dinkies. Grown men sucking on dummies?! (Laughs). I remember seeing that and thinking there was some weird stuff around Hip-Hop as well as the cool stuff (laughs). But I remember there was graffiti everywhere that I was growing-up and it was cool to be able to walk down the street and read the walls. I just thought Hip-Hop was dope. I mean, back then, Hip-Hop wasn’t everywhere like it is today. Now, you can walk into a Walmart, there’s rap playing and it’s considered normal. Back then, you’d walk into the supermarket and hear Lite FM playing or something. Hip-Hop hadn’t caught on with the mainstream like it has now. I mean, as far as what frequency I was on back then, it was popular on the street and amongst my friends, but it was really like a secret code, y’know. If you knew then you knew.”

I remember back then, growing-up here in the UK, if you even saw someone wearing their laces a certain way it let you know they must be a Hip-Hop head because it just wasn’t as widely integrated with the mainstream as it’s become now…

“Yeah, definitely. That was the code. It was all about the style of dress, a certain way you might wear something, certain things that you would say and slang that you’d use. I mean, there was nothing set in stone back then in the late-80s / early-90s, so people could come with their own styles…”

Exactly. There were definitely rules to the culture, in terms of not biting etc, but that encouraged people to be original in what they were doing and led to there being so many different flavours and styles in the music…

“Yeah, and we were listening to all of it. I mean, here in New York, Video Music Box was something that mixed all the different elements and flavours of the music together, so whatever was on offer and was good, you messed with it. I mean, really, there wasn’t a lot of artists to choose from back in those days, but most of what you were hearing back then was good because the music was still new and fresh and people were experimenting and bringing new things to the table. Of course, you liked certain things more than others. I mean, I never really liked PM Dawn (laughs). But one thing that I always look at now and think is crazy is how the social voice of Hip-Hop became less and less as the music grew in popularity. I mean, if that side of Hip-Hop was more prevalent nowadays, I think the whole world would have a different view on it.”

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When you were growing-up, did you spend most of your childhood in Queens or were you also getting out and seeing the other boroughs of New York?

“I mean, the neighbourhood I grew-up in is real close to Manhattan and is only twenty minutes away on the number seven train. So I’d go across to Manhattan as a kid and caught a little bit of what was going on back then, like the old-school Times Square with the peep shows and arcades. Then, when I hit about twelve-years-0ld, I started going out on my own, hitting the arcades, running around, going crazy and doing retarded s**t (laughs). But I didn’t really get into the real life of the other boroughs until I was about sixteen, going to places, coppin’ weed and stuff like that. But back then, I didn’t really understand any other borough like I understood Queens.”

What were some of the biggest differences that stood out to you between Queens and other New York boroughs?

“I mean, I didn’t really know about the rivalries that had happened between different boroughs until I was about fifteen or sixteen. At first, I thought everywhere in New York was pretty much a place that you had to adapt to. I mean, Queens, to me, was, and is, the most multi-cultural borough in New York. There’s a lot of different ethnicities in Queens. In my neighbourhood, there’s a lot of Dominicans and Colombians, then you also have a lot of Asians. A lot of people in Queens are from families who came from immigrants coming to New York. My pops was an immigrant who came to New York with a couple of dollars in his pocket and he just wanted to make it. So, even from a young age, I always thought that New York is the melting pot that it is. You never know who you’re going to meet walking down the street. I mean, I never had one dominant group of people in my life in terms of race and culture. So to me, it’s just like, people are people. But in terms of the differences between the boroughs, I always remember thinking that Manhattan was a lot more flashy. People always seemed to really want to spruce up their s**t and make it more of a spectacle. Coming from Queens, when you think about the style and fashions that Hip-Hop artists from the area were coming with in the early-90s, it was almost just like work gear. Carhartt jackets, Timberland boots, people were looking like they really worked and were about to put up a roof or some s**t (laughs). So Queens to me was always a little less flashy than some of the other boroughs.”

So when did you first start writing rhymes?

“When I was a little kid, I wanted to know the words to songs that I liked, like Main Source’s “Fakin’ The Funk”. I would sit there, play a little bit of the song, stop it, write the words down. Then play it and stop it again. I’d do that until I had the whole song written down. Doing that kinda taught me the pattern of how to write a rhyme. I did that to a bunch of songs, so I could learn all the words and then look cool as a kid when the song would come on (laughs). I did that with some other Main Source records, Brand Nubian, of course Public Enemy. That Public Enemy “Apocalypse 91…” album helped you out with that as well because they actually gave you the lyrics on the cover (laughs). Then the next thing you know, I was like, ‘Let me try and do my own thing.’ Now, here I am twenty years later still doing that s**t (laughs).”

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Was there a point where you felt like you’d made that transition from just being a fan to actually being an emcee in your own right?

“I mean, that feeling really came from me just showing-out, participating in cyphers and people telling me that I was that good. I was always just a fan who wanted to participate, but then there were a couple of moments that made me think that I might really have a shot at doing this properly. I’d be just rockin’ in the neighbourhood and people would be telling me that I was nice, which definitely made me feel good. I remember this one time when I was in sixth grade, we went to this ice-skating rink for a class trip and they started playing A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario”. Me and a couple of friends basically rocked the ice-skating rink just imitating “Scenario” (laughs). I guess because we were little kids it looked kinda cute and was a novelty, but it just felt good seeing people going crazy. There were teenage girls lifting me up in the air and stuff like that (laughs). It felt good. I remember, my boy Malik, he played the role of Phife Dawg in that, he was having a good time to. Plus my boy Tommy, who isn’t here anymore, rest in peace. We would just alternate who would take which verse (laughs). Those were good times. But that was a moment that really made me think, ‘Oh man, I really want to do this.’ I was still a little kid at that point though. So, in terms of me actually doing things myself, I was probably about seventeen when I started doing the open-mics here and there. There was one particular event that we rocked really good that made me think I could really do this. Foul Monday was there as well and he’s someone I still rock with today. So there were a couple of situations that happened which made me think I could do this, like when you’d be rhyming and a crowd would develop and people would tell me that music was something that I should pursue.”

Would you see other artists from Queens who were already putting records out around your neighbourhood during that time?

“Not really. I mean, you’d hear about people from Queens who were putting records out. There was always a couple of degrees of separation, like, you’d know someone who knew someone who was involved in something. I remember when Killa Kids from Queensbridge put out a record and I actually used to go to school with a couple of them. So when I saw they actually had a record out, that was cool. But in terms of established artists who were already out there, I never really saw anyone face-to-face or just saw them hanging-out. I mean, a couple of artists would pass through now and then, like you’d hear someone say that Mobb Deep were around the way. So you might see them, but it wasn’t something that would happen everyday, so it was still something special when that would happen. I mean, of course, you might have run into different artists in different neighbourhoods or if you were involved with certain circles of people, but I didn’t personally.”

When you first started rhyming did you have the intention then of releasing music to a wider audience or was it just something you initially intended to keep within your own circle?

“In my mind, when I was writing anything, I was writing it like it was going to be the most famous hit song ever (laughs). But really, it was just for the craft of it and to entertain myself, like, ‘How well can I write a rhyme right now?’ I never felt like I could rest creatively. I would always be trying to see if I could write something better than the last rhyme that I wrote.”

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Something that’s been very clear listening to the projects you’ve put out in recent years is that you obviously really enjoy the creative process that goes into writing rhymes….

“Of course. I mean, you’re the controller of your own world when you’re rhyming. You can take what life gives you and feed it back out in your own way with your own spin on it….

You can definitely tell that you’re putting real effort into your verses and not just writing down the first thing that comes into your head. Your style is very vivid and visual and you have plenty of quotable lines that stay with the listener after the music has stopped…

“That’s cool. I appreciate that. I mean, that’s the aim. As an emcee, I want to write rhymes that are timeless. I feel that Hip-Hop has really poor representatives right now, because so many people think that it’s all about them and their quest to get rich. Not many people are really doing new stuff right now or trying to bring new fans to Hip-Hop. I mean, I want to try and reach the girls who work in retail and listen to techno (laughs). I want to catch their attention because I’m doing something a little different to what they’re used to, so that if they heard my music they’d be telling people, ‘I heard this really cool song today.’ I mean, that’s how we all got turned on to Hip-Hop. That’s how you got turned on to Hip-Hop at one time. It might seem so long ago now, but at some point you heard something that was so odd and so honest that it really stood out and brought you into Hip-Hop and made you want to know and hear more. I just don’t think there are enough artists doing that today.”

You’re definitely right. For me, hearing Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” in 1982 introduced me to Hip-Hop and what intrigued me about that record so much was that it wasn’t like anything I’d heard before as a kid. I wanted to understand it. But I think part of the problem today is that a lot of listeners don’t have the attention span to peel back the layers of a record. They want to understand everything straight away and not have to try to decode what an artist is saying or find a deeper meaning in their rhymes…

“Definitely. But, as an artist, you have to be interesting enough to make people want to decode your stuff. Like, for example, if you think back to when Wu-Tang first came out, they were a lot more interesting than a lot of other artists that were out at the time. I mean, if you were to compare Wu-Tang to another act out at the time, like a Das EFX. That might seem like a weird comparison, but a group like Das EFX, they didn’t really have any deep substance in their rhymes. That’s not to dis them, but they were more about their diggedy-diggedy style and how they said their rhymes rather than being about substance. But with a group like Wu-Tang, when they came out, you really had to pay attention to what they were talking about because they came with their own slang and their whole approach drew you into their world and made you want to understand where they were coming from. Wu really started their own sub-culture in Hip-Hop. So, as an artist, I think it’s important to make what you’re doing interesting enough to make people want to get deeper into your music and try to understand what you’re about once they do hear it.”

Some years back you began working with fellow Queens lyricists Spit Gemz and Shaz Illyork and became affiliated with their movement The Opposition. How did that happen?

“It was really through the internet. Spit Gemz hit me up on the internet, told me that he’d seen that I’d done some stuff and that I should come by and try to work on something. So he brought me over to Goblin Studios in Queens, introduced me to everyone there and I’ve been working with them now for some years. So it was really cool. But we really just hooked-up on some regular checking-your-inbox type s**t.”

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Goblin Music Studios really seems to have become a focal point for a lot of today’s Queens emcees as well as attracting established artists from elsewhere in New York…

“Yeah, yeah. I mean, there aren’t a lot of places now that are able to facilitate what you want to do with your music but also be part of the music as well. I mean, with a lot of studios, you go there, you exchange money for the session, you rock for a few hours and then you take your stuff and leave. You don’t really care too much about the place itself or the studio dog (laughs). But Goblin Studios is a little bit different. It just has so much character. It’s kind of an edgy place. I mean, I knew Gob Goblin from back in the days. I met him in a cypher rapping when I was a teenager and he’s definitely a talented emcee in his own right.”

Was that before or after he was featured on a couple of the Beatnuts’ albums?

“That was actually during the time he was out on the Beatnuts albums. Then when Spit Gemz first took me to Goblin Studios I was like, ‘I know this guy.’ But it’s a different element in that studio. It’s like, a lot of that back in the days kind of energy, like high-school stuff, mobbin’ out with a bunch of kids, rockin’ on the corners. There’s always a bunch of people around the studio hanging-out, so that creates an audience for what you’re doing. I mean, there’s one side of the studio that’s about making music and being creative, then there’s the other side of it which is about hanging-out, drinking, telling jokes and then it might turn into a cypher and the next thing you know you’ve got a performance going on (laughs). There’s definitely a lot of different elements that are part of Goblin Studios that make it different from most other studios. Plus, there’s the fact that a lot of old-school artists come there to record now. I mean, Sadat X has been in there a lot, M.O.P. are there a lot, Sean Price. So the studio has kind of been a beacon to like-minded people and has drawn them there.”

It must be kind of crazy for you to be in Goblin Studios hanging-out with legends like Sadat X when twenty years ago you were writing down his rhymes so you could learn them…

“Yeah, I actually said that to Sadat. It is crazy. But you get over it. I mean, you don’t want to make too much of it and make it out like it’s some crazy, mystical thing, y’know (laughs). I mean, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people I grew-up listening to and I hope I get to work with more. You’ve always gotta pay homage to those who came before us in anyway you can, but I think the best way to pay homage is to make good music that comes from an honest place, reflects some skill and gives Hip-Hop some credibility back.”

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Given how vivid your rhyme style is, what’s your creative process when you sit down to write?

“It really comes down to whatever I feel when I turn on a beat and then I try to hold onto that feeling for as long as I can. So, often, I’ll get an idea from listening to a particular beat and it builds from there. Like, with the “Buddha Bless” joint on the new album, One-Take sent me a video of him making a beat with his son on his lap and it was that beat. So I started thinking about all the wild s**t that I did when I was a kid and I wrote the song hoping that One-Take’s kid wouldn’t turn out to be an a**hole like I was (laughs). I just put a more crazy spin on it with the things that I was saying on there. But when I’m writing in general, I really just try to stay free with what I’m thinking about and I really try to have fun with it.”

Considering how closely linked a lot of the current generation of Queens emcees are, Spit Gemz, Eff Yoo, Nutso etc, how much competition is there amongst you all?

“It’s always there. I mean, there’s a certain vernacular that people use in Hip-Hop, like, ‘Yo, you killed him on that song!’ But I really don’t try to take it that far. You’ve just got to be yourself and offer your own style. So I don’t really take it that far with those type of conversations because when you start thinking like that I think it can really affect your writing and you can starting coming across like someone who’s constantly trying too hard. I mean, there’s always competition, but you’ve just got to deliver by being yourself, and if you’re not doing that then people won’t be mentioning your name. As long as people are mentioning your name and checking for your music then you’re good. I mean, no-one wants to be known as the weakest link in the chain, so that competitive element is always there, but it’s not that intense or prevalent in every conversation we have. It’s not like we all sit around telling each other, ‘Yo! You really did me in on that song!’ There’s none of that s**t (laughs).”

You definitely all seem to support each other’s work as well through social media etc…

“I mean, I have no doubt in my mind that most of my real fans are rappers. I don’t have the fanbase that I need to have, and the reason that I have been able to gain any momentum is because other artists who do already have fanbases have shown people my music and told them that it’s something that they should be listening to.”

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There’s been an on-going debate in recent years about New York having lost its musical identity etc. Do you find yourself becoming frustrated with the New York Hip-Hop scene when major media outlets such as Hot 97 and different magazines / websites continue to front on a lot of underground NY artists who’re putting out quality music?

“Nah, I just don’t think people are really up on it like that. I mean, if you know then you know. People wouldn’t be complaining about the music if they really knew the sources to go to. They wouldn’t be complaining about the lack of New York Hip-Hop if they knew about certain artists. To me, the people who deserve to know about it know about it. For those who don’t know, and don’t try to look for it, then stay in radio land or wherever. There’s always going to be dope records out there for people who keep their eyes peeled. But I don’t get frustrated about it. I’m still going to do what I’m doing. It’s not really that much of a big deal to me. Whatever the end of the story may be, it’s all about the journey for me. Regardless of what is happening in the mainstream, I still have people who’re supporting my music and keeping it above water. It’s definitely not falling on deaf ears and there is still an audience and an appreciation for it. I mean, of course there are industry politics involved as well. If I had a huge budget and a lot of money to throw at my projects, then I know I’d be in a different spot to where I’m at right now. I’m at the stage where the money I make from music goes into making more music. I might have some money left from it here and there which I can use to pay some bills or buy some food, but otherwise the money is going back into the music. So, if people really want to see artists who’re not getting the attention they might deserve make it to a certain point, they just need to support them to the fullest extent. Buy the albums, buy the merchandise and go to the shows if they’re touring in your neighbourhood.”

You seem to have built up a very strong fanbase across Europe. Has that surprised you at all?

“I’ll be honest, the support is much greater from Europe than it is anywhere else in terms of fans buying the music and reaching out to collaborate on material. It was crazy at first when I saw that was happening. It was back in the MySpace days that started to happen with me. I noticed that people from Europe were buying my music and then producers from places like France and Switzerland started to reach out to me with beats wanting to work together. It was definitely cool and surprising when it started happening. But now, it’s really just part of the game. Those are the people who I’m making my music for now. You always try to aim at your target audience when you’re putting a project together, so I’m thinking about those fans all across Europe when I’m recording music now and hope that they continue to enjoy what I’m doing and come back each time I put something new out.”

Why do you think the support is so strong across Europe when you’re having to fight to get the same level of support at home?

“Me and a friend were just talking about that. I think the respect that people have for Hip-Hop in Europe is that much more intense because it’s not in your face. I mean, you guys out there aren’t from the place where it started and I think that means you have more respect for the origins of the culture. Over here, in New York, it’s like old news to some people. Whereas, to people elsewhere in the world, New York Hip-Hop culture is almost like a mythical creature. So it goes beyond just supporting the music and becomes about supporting that feeling of golden-era type s**t. People want that feeling of genuine Hip-Hop with honest lyrics that’s true to the history of the culture, which they’re not getting from hearing contrived music that’s made in a laboratory somewhere to brainwash your kids (laughs). I think in Europe there’s just more of an awareness that the feeling of Hip-Hop is going away and they’re trying to bring it back around perhaps more than people are doing here in the States. But yo, I’m trying to get to Europe as soon as I can. I just need to get my name out there more, keep making music and I’m sure it will happen.”

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The artwork for the new album “Blood From A Stone” is definitely striking. What’s the concept behind the cover?

” I love the cover art, I think it’s great. But I originally wanted it to be very scary-looking like a “Tales From The Crypt” comic. I just wanted the image to make people think a little and tamper with the idea they might have of what living in America or New York is really all about. I wanted to take an image of New York that’s glorified, the Statue Of Liberty, and make it something dark. I just wanted to show people that we’re not living in the land of freedom that some people think we are.”

“Blood From A Stone” is produced entirely by Brooklyn’s One-Take. You’ve featured his production before on previous projects such as “Something In The Water”, but what prompted you to work exclusively with him on this new album?

“I work really, really fast if I like a beat. With One-Take, he was around Goblin Studios and he’d leave me beats to check and he also started emailing me stuff. So when I was at home chillin’ and in the mood to write, I had a nice collection of his beats already. I mean, we’d already done a couple of really good joints on “Something In The Water”. So we just started stashing songs away. Then, by the end of last summer, we realised we had about twelve or thirteen songs finished so we decided we had to start thinking about how we were going to put them out. I mean, the songs on the album came together gradually, but it just worked out that they sound very cohesive as an album. But in terms of the beats, One-Take has a very golden-era sound to what he does and I like to rhyme over music that has feeling to it. So the album definitely isn’t contrived in anyway, it’s just natural stuff that came out of the two of us working together.”

What I like about One-Take’s production is that it’s definitely influenced by that golden-era boom-bap but it still has its own character and flavour. It doesn’t sound like someone just trying to emulate a DJ Premier or a Pete Rock…

“Yeah, it’s definitely original. I mean, One-Take has been doing this for a long time and he’s a student of the game. As a producer, you don’t want to fall into the category of sounding like another producer, otherwise people are just going to go and listen to the original rather than listen to the knock-off. So you have to be doing original stuff.”

You also have veteran NY emcees on “Blood From A Stone” like Shabaam Sahdeeq and Tragedy Khadafi. It must feel good knowing that your music is being embraced by those artists who came before you and left their own mark on the game…

“Yeah. But I really have to give a lot of the credit to that happening being down to me being stationed in Goblin Studios. I mean, Shabaam Sahdeeq isn’t necessarily an artist who records a lot at Goblin, although he’s always welcome to, but we did do the song together there as he happened to come by. We’d been talking and were both fans of each other, so that’s how that happened. With Tragedy, he’s an artist who records at Goblin all the time. So I met him over there, we got to talk and build, and I have a lot of respect for him in terms of his contribution to Hip-Hop and what he does on the mic. Tragedy is definitely someone whose opinions you need to respect and you have to listen to any advice he may give creatively. That’s why I’m honoured that he would even want to do a song with me. It’s a blessing. But I really have to say a lot of it came down to me being in the right place at the right time and that place was Goblin Studios.”

With the amount of artists who’re affiliated with Goblin Studios, are there any plans for a Goblin compilation project?

“I’ve been trying to do that. I might have to be the one that steals all the music out of the studio and just puts it out (laughs). I might have to just go in there with a USB stick, take everything, put all the music out, and then have everyone mad at me for a couple of weeks. But I’ve definitely been saying that’s something we should do. I mean, Gob Goblin himself is a tremendous emcee in his own right and there’s tracks in the studio that are laying around waiting to be released. But, he’s also a business-minded guy, so I think that’s part of the reason why a compilation hasn’t come out yet because he wants to make sure anything that does come out is done the right way.”

When you look at the newer generation of artists currently coming out of Queens, Meyhem Lauren, Timeless Truth, yourself, the borough definitely seems to be putting the New York underground in a choke-hold right now with a real collective focus on lyricism…

“Yeah. I mean, similar to what we were just saying about Europe, out of all the New York boroughs, I think we care more in Queens. I mean, Hip-Hop is like a sport really, and I think we take it very seriously, we put the training in and that shows in the way we express ourselves musically. It’s just what we do. I mean, in Brazil there are dudes who practice kicking a soccer ball around for fifteen hours. In Queens, we do rap s**t for fifteen hours (laughs). If you’re from Queens, then you know the code of what’s right and what’s wrong as far as what you want to hear in music. At the same time, you can’t put yourself in a box as an artist, but there’s certain s**t that’s just not going to fly.”

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So what future plans does Starvin B have?

“Well, I’m trying to see the whole world and put out as much music as I can. I basically just want to enjoy life, man. Eventually, I’d like to get into writing some screenplays and putting some visual art together. Maybe some short films, stuff like that. That’s definitely a goal of mine. I’ve always liked movies and I’ve already started writing some screenplays. I’ve read screenplays so I understand the format they’re put together in, like working on the dialogue and writing the whole scene out. I’m not really looking at focussing on a particular genre, I’d just like to tell some stories. But anything that I did would definitely be very closely based around real life because my problem with movies sometimes is when they’re just not realistic and I’m like, ‘That’s bulls**t!’ (Laughs). But the writing side of it is what interests me, I’m not trying to be an actor or a director. I’m sure I probably could do some acting, but that’s not something that I’m rushing to get into.”

What are some of your favourite films?

“There’s a lot of them. I could go everywhere (laughs). I mean, I really liked everything from “Ghostbusters” to “Edward Scissorhands” to “Taxi Driver”. Then there’s things like “Goodfellas”, of course. But that was everyone’s favourite movie (laughs). “A Bronx Tale” is another one. “The Gods Must Be Crazy” is an ill movie as well. I’d like to do a movie like that. But I like all kinds of movies. I mean, Disney’s “Fantasia” was an ill movie growing-up. “Fantasia” is a trip, man. There’s something about that movie that doesn’t feel like it was really made for a child’s mind. There was just something about that movie, man (laughs).”

So for anyone reading this who isn’t already familiar with your music, why should they now check out Starvin B?

“Well, they should definitely listen for the simple fact that I’m being written about right now. Somebody has chosen to do this interview and talk to me about my music. That would intrigue me enough. I mean, if you’ve read this whole interview I think that should be enough to make you wanna listen to my music. My music is something that’s done from a very honest place and if you respect anything with any grit to it, then you’ll like it.”

Any final words?

“Just for everyone to try to support. Also, I’m always down to network, so hit me up at starvinb@gmail.com. Anybody that’s wants to work can hit me up there. I’m doing this grassroots, so anyone who wants to work or collaborate, I’m the guy that you talk to.

Ryan Proctor

Follow Starvin B on Twitter – @Starvin_B

Starvin B – “Blue Note” (StarvinB.BandCamp.Com / 2014)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At what point did that change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Akinyele?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Proctor

“Fine Wine” is available now on iTunes.

Follow Satchel Page on Twitter – @Satchel Page

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

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

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A true veteran of the Queens, NY Hip-Hop scene, Rotten Apple resident Satchel Page spent his youth surrounded by pioneers of the game, from those who made their name turning-out the park jams of the early-80s, to others who went on to become internationally known once rap began to make its journey from the streets to the mainstream.

But unlike many of his peers, Page didn’t spend the 80s or 90s in the Hip-Hop spotlight, even though he was associated with some of the most well-known figures of the culture’s golden-era. Having sharpened his lyrical skills onstage in front of first-generation Queens b-boys and b-girls, fate and circumstance would prevent the New York native from sharing his passion for the microphone with the masses, with Page instead deciding to step back from pursuing a career in music in favour of a more secure and stable lifestyle.

Having returned to the studio in recent years, working with producer Ayatollah and appearing on childhood friend Neek The Exotic’s 2011 Large Professor-assisted album “Still On The Hustle”, Page recently released his own new solo project “Fine Wine”.

In this two-part interview an animated Satchel Page takes a walk down memory lane, as he remembers rolling with a young LL Cool J, battling Biz Markie and seeing his Queens neighbourhood ravaged by the crack epidemic of the Reagan-era.

How and when were you first introduced to Hip-Hop?

“Well, I’m from Southside Jamaica, Queens, which I would say is one of the meccas of the Hip-Hop culture. I really started rhyming after making the transition from break-dancing, which shows you how long ago I started (laughs). When I started grabbing the mic most of the people my age were still break-dancing and it was the older cats who were rhyming. But I was one of those young cats who was grabbing the mic early in Jamaica, Queens back in the park jam era.”

So before you started rhyming, when did you first start breakin’?

“Breakin’ came to Queens, I would say, in the late-70s. We’d have the block parties, people would bring out their music equipment and we would just dance to the music all night long. That was when we first really started to see this new music taking form and the break-dancers would come out and everything. We used to call it the electric boogie back then (laughs). People would be poppin’ and stuff and it really just took off from there in Queens. Everybody was doing it in the late-70s and early-80s.”

Were acts coming from the Bronx to perform at those early park jams or was it strictly deejays and emcees from Queens?

“I always tell people that if Hip-Hop started in the Bronx on a Monday, then the rest of New York was doing it on Tuesday and Wednesday (laughs). It really spread that fast. The first memory I have of those park jams in Queens was when I was playing Little League baseball. I was about ten-years-old and I can remember everybody on the baseball field dancing and not being able to concentrate on the game because there were people in the next field over playing music! That was like a phenomenon to us. We could hear the music and they were playing these disco break-beats and everybody was dancing and trying to play baseball at the same time (laughs). I mean, that had to be around 1977 or 1978. So this was early and it wasn’t anybody who was coming from the Bronx doing that, this was Queens cats just bringing their equipment out and doing their thing. Hip-Hop started in the Bronx but we were doing it very early in Queens with the jams and stuff. We’ve been jammin’ in Queens for a long time (laughs).”

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Who were some of the best known deejays in the parks during the early days of Hip-Hop in Queens?

“Ah man, at the height of the park jams in Queens the biggest name was Grandmaster Vic. He was the ultimate. Vic was like Grandmaster Flash to people in Queens. So there was Grandmaster Vic, the Amazing Dewitt from Baisley and Kid Quick from Rochdale. Those are some of the names that I remember. But a lot of the time it wasn’t about the single deejay, it was about the crews. So there was the Boss Crew, you had Cipher Sounds who were coming out of 40 projects, you had the Clientele Brothers which had people like Mikey D, LL Cool J and Johnny Quest down with them….”

Eddie O’Jay, Everlovin’ Kid Ice and those dudes…

“Yeah, yeah (laughs). So we’re talking the early-80s at this point. This was still really before making records was your claim to fame. Your claim to fame was being able to rock at a park jam and having tapes of that circulating around New York. That was how you made your name back then.”

Going back to Grandmaster Vic, he was known for his blends, right?

“He invented that. He invented that whole idea of blending Hip-Hop with R&B. Puffy and all these people like Jodeci and Mary J. Blige really owe Grandmaster Vic. When he did it, it was unheard of to take the accapella of an R&B record and blend it with straight Hip-Hop breaks. When he started doing that it was a previously unheard phenomenon that really took people by storm. I mean, in the early-80s people were buying Grandmaster Vic tapes for like fifty dollars. Those were real mixtapes.”

How early on was Vic actually mixing Hip-Hop with R&B?

“Early on, early on. That’s what he was known for. He was good with the scratches and everything and was a real pure deejay, but when it came to the blending, he had such an ear for putting two records together that you would never think would blend but he would make it work. That was in the early-80s he was doing that. I remember he could pretty much blend Keni Burke’s “Risin’ To The Top” with anything (laughs). I think Keni Burke might owe Grandmaster Vic some royalties because he really helped make that song famous. You don’t even understand, when Vic would put that record on at the jams people would go crazy. To this day, “Risin’ To The Top” is the Queens anthem. That’s the Queens anthem because of Grandmaster Vic and his crew, the Boss Crew which consisted of cats like Divine and Chilly Dee who were legends back then. They had the Boss Crew, which stood for Brothers Of South Side. They would tear parties up so bad that it was the equivalent of going to something like Summer Jam now. But when it comes to Grandmaster Vic, all those dudes like Funkmaster Flex, DJ Clue, Kid Capri, Ron G, all the deejays that went on to become big and famous from making mixtapes, they all took a little piece of Grandmaster Vic.”

So at what point did you make the transition from dancing to rhyming?

“I’ll tell you when it happened. It was when I met LL Cool J. My cousin was also a big deejay at that time and I’d say he was on the same level as Grandmaster Vic. His name was DJ Jesse James. Now, his emcees were astronomically huge in Queens at the time. They were called the Albino Twins. They were these two albino dudes and they used to just destroy the parties. I mean, they were really more party emcees and not so much on the lyrical tip, but this was when we were still in that party and park jam era. So they were big in Queens and I used to roll with them and be the one carrying the equipment and stuff. I mean, I’m only about ten or eleven-years-old at this point. So my cousin came to me and said, ‘Yo, I’ve got this new young cat and he’s just ferocious on the mic.’ He introduced me to him and it was Cool J. Now, when Cool J came he just brought a whole new style to the streets of Queens that was unheard of because at that time everybody was just doing the party style of rhyming. That’s really what emcee-ing was to us back then. But when LL came out, and he was only about fourteen-years-0ld, he came with that very lyrical style that, when I first heard it, it just blew me away. So after the first time I heard LL rhyme, I went home and started writing my own rhymes because there was more of an intelligence aspect to it that I felt I could do rather than just the crowd participation stuff which you really needed a huge amount of personality for.”

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So when you first heard LL, was it at a park jam or on a tape?

“It was in my cousin DJ Jesse James’ basement. They were practicing for a jam we were about to go to that night and LL was rhyming freestyle off the instrumental to T La Rock’s “It’s Yours”.”

Which is ironic considering the comparisons that were made between LL Cool J and T La Rock when “I Need A Beat” came out…

“”It’s Yours” definitely inspired him. When he was rolling with my cousin I would be with LL and he would recite that record all the time. I mean, we all knew the record but LL was the only person I knew who could recite that record word-for-word. He knew every single word to that song backwards and forwards. So yeah, LL could never deny T La Rock’s influence on him.”

So was LL performing regularly with your cousin and his crew?

“Ah man, when LL got down with the Albino Twins it was crazy because then you had the illest party rockers with the illest lyricist. I used to roll with them and see them just turn jams upside down (laughs). Their style used to be that they’d turn up to the party, tear the place up and then just leave (laughs). I mean, after they left people didn’t even want to stay no more. There was no reason for them to stay around. It was like they’d just been hit by a tornado (laughs). Now, LL and the Albino Twins were actually from the Northside of Queens and back then Queens was very localised. But I remember walking up into the hardest neighbourhoods in the middle of 40 projects with them. Now, dudes from the Northside, which is Hollis and places like that, they didn’t really come to Southside Queens. The Twins and LL were some of the few who would come from the Northside to the Southside, in the middle of 40 projects, and be able to actually get the microphone, much less then tear the place up. I saw them do that on more than one occasion (laughs). So LL was definitely a big influence on me when I first started picking up that pen.”

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Are there any battles from that period that still standout to you?

“Yeah, actually one of the illest moments I ever had in Hip-Hop was when LL had a battle with this guy called Cap who was from Laurelton, Queens, which had the L.A. Posse. Cap also had a crew called the El-Producto Brothers. Now, this particular battle was at a block party, and they always used to start around three in the afternoon. LL was on early doing his thing, and Cap got on him just out of nowhere. Cap had this disrespectful rhyme that just killed LL. Now, LL was about to get back on him, but it was still real early and I remember my cousin Jesse James coming up to LL and saying, ‘Yo, chill, chill. Don’t do it now. Let’s wait until night time when the crowd’s here and then you can go at him.’ My cousin had this van at the time and LL went straight into the van. We didn’t see LL for the rest of the day. Now, around the time the party was really rockin’, my cousin came up to me and told me to go get LL. I remember opening up the van and LL was in there with the music going and he was just putting the pen to the pad (laughs). I told him that my cousin had said it was time. I remember LL asking me, ‘Yo! Is it crowded?’ and I was like, ‘Man, it’s packed!’ I remember LL getting out that van, going up onstage and he said a rhyme to this dude Cap that was tailor-made for him (laughs). The crowd just went bananas. I mean, the rhyme was just so skillful and advanced that people were looking at LL like he was a martian (laughs). Cap tried to come back at LL and right in the middle of his rhyme LL just turned around and mooned him (laughs). The crowd fell-out laughing and that was the battle over. But I remember there were people there that day who went on to become legends. I mean, DJ Irv, Irv Gotti, he was there, Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, Ed Lover was there. Ed was actually someone else who used to roll with my cousin and the Albino Twins. He always used to do songs over to perform at the parties and make them funny. I remember when Run DMC had “My Adidas”, Ed did “My Skeezers” and things like that (laughs).”

Do you recall the first time you performed in public?

“The very first time I performed was at a block party. Now back then, when crews used to battle it was more like a battle of sound systems which was taking something from the Jamaican thing. At the time my cousin had the illest sound system and there was also this other crew from Southside called Cipher Sounds. I remember, both of them wanted to jam at this particular park on the same day. Everybody knew that they were going to jam at this park. So my cousin showed up on one side of the park, Cipher Sounds showed up on the other side of the park, and it was about whoever was rockin’ the most and who the crowd was swaying to. That was the first time I ever got on the mic and I just tore it up. People were just astonished because they were only used to seeing me carrying the equipment and dancing. I was real short as well. I mean, I’m still short now, but I was even shorter back then (laughs). So that was my first time rockin’ a jam and I just loved the feeling I got from doing that. Afterwards, I’d be walking around the neighbourhood and people would be pointing me out like, ‘That’s that dude who rhymes with the Albino Twins…’ and stuff like that…

What name were you rhyming under back then?

“My name back then was G.L.T. which stood for Genuine Lyrical Technique. To be honest, it stood for pretty much whatever I felt at the time (laughs). It also used to stand for Good Lookin’ Troy, with Troy being my first name.”

So were you battling other emcees on the street at that point as well as performing at the jams?

“I had a battle with Biz Markie before he even came out on record which was funny. Biz was actually walking through my neighbourhood with Rahzel who went on to be the beatbox for The Roots. This was before Biz had come out with the Juice Crew and all that. Biz was just walking down the street doing that ‘Boom-ha-ha..’ thing he used to do (laughs). Now, Biz is a funny-looking cat and we actually thought something was wrong with him (laughs). We were just young and crazy back then, so we started clowning on him and Biz started telling us how he’s into music and is doing this and that. So we’re laughing at him, thinking that he’s lying. Then before you know it, Biz started rhyming, I started rhyming, and we were going back and forth. I pretty much think I got him though (laughs). But we laughed Biz Markie off our block. We told him, ‘Yo,you sound corny. You sound crazy.’ Then maybe about a year later we heard that same laugh of his all over the radio and we all just looked at each other like, ‘Oh no!’ Me and my crew swear to this day that Biz made “Vapors” about us (laughs).”

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On the subject of the Juice Crew, with their early members coming from Queensbridge, how much of a connection did QB have with everything else that was going on in Queens at the time?

“Queensbridge was always just off on their own doing their own thing. Like I said, Queens was very localised so you didn’t always know what was happening outside of your own neighbourhood. I mean at the age we were back then, none of us were driving or anything like that. So you pretty much stayed in your neighbourhood. We thought we were all of Queens (laughs) I mean, for us, our introduction to Queensbridge pretty much was the Juice Crew when MC Shan and Marley Marl came out with “The Bridge”. So when they came out, that was something brand new to us. But when MC Shan came out that was big. I mean, most of the guys I was rolling with didn’t go on to make records, so when Shan started coming to other parts of Queens to perform, that was big because he was already out with his records.”

What impact did it have in Queens when Run-DMC first came out?

“That was huge. I remember, you’d see them driving down the block. I mean, back then, if you were a rap star you were still living in your old neighbourhood really. It’s not like now where rap stars are living in Hollywood (laughs). Back then you’d go to the shopping mall in Queens and you might bump into Run-DMC. Matter of fact, I knew where Run lived so I used to always drop off my demos to him. I used to go right to his house, ring his bell and give him any new demos I’d been working on. Run actually tried to get me a deal with Profile Records but right before it happened things happened at the label and it all went crazy. But anytime I had new music, Run would listen to it. He was definitely cool. But it was crazy to see an act as big as Run-DMC on an everyday basis just up in Hollis chillin’ or in the barber-shop.”

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Did people in Queens expect Run-DMC to blow-up like they did?

“It was a surprise to tell you the truth. Based on the reputation they had in the streets, people would have probably bet that the Albino Twins would have been bigger stars than Run-DMC at the time. The Albino Twins had a bigger name and were known more all over Queens than Run and them. To be honest, the first time a lot of us heard Run-DMC was actually when they came out on record (laughs). I don’t remember Run and them doing jams locally like Grandmaster Vic and them were. But Run-DMC did come out very early, so they were doing the record thing early on and were doing that rather than doing the jams like everyone else. But once “Sucker MCs” came out, it was a wrap. They were all over the place. But when they were big, they would still come to the jams. I remember they had a battle with the Albino Twins at a Hollis Day event. This would have been around 1983 or 1984 and the Albino Twins took ’em out (laughs).”

What was your reaction when LL got signed to Def Jam?

“I knew it was coming because it was the summer right before he got signed when I was with him everyday almost. I was listening to “I Need A Beat” months before it even came out and I was telling everybody about him. I think I was LL’s first fan (laughs). I used to tell everybody that he was my cousin because he was down with my cousin and I thought I’d ride that a little bit, so I used to tell people, ‘Yo, my cousin’s got this joint coming out called ‘I Need A Beat.’ I mean, when LL’s first album came out, I was singing those joints word for word  because those were rhymes that I’d heard LL writing in my cousin’s basement. Some of those rhymes LL had written when he was twelve-years-0ld.”

So what was your plan at that point considering you were seeing local acts from Queens signing major record deals?

“At that point, it really became less about rockin’ jams and more about getting a record deal because everybody was getting a deal (laughs). You started seeing people that you grew-up with on TV and things like that. I mean, that’s what happened with Neek The Exotic. He was one of the dudes that I grew-up with. Then I looked up one day and he’s doing “Fakin’ The Funk” with Main Source and I was like, ‘Wow! This is really getting close.’ Neek was like my brother but I hadn’t seen him for about six months at the time and next thing I know he’s got a record out (laughs).”

You mentioned earlier that you would give your demo tapes to Run – when would that have been exactly?

“That would have been around 88 / 89. That was when the golden-era was really starting. All over Queens and New York as a whole, Hip-Hop was just going out of control. I remember, I was actually graduating high-school and had the chance to go away to college, but I turned that down because New York was so hot with the Hip-Hop and that’s what I was doing, so I wanted to stay.”

Was that a hard transition for some people to deal with when the music started to leave the parks and become more about the actual record industry?

“Nah, I think at that time everybody was pretty much thinking that they had a chance to be the next big star. So everybody was welcoming the chance to take it from the streets and actually make real money from the music. You still had people doing the jams and everything, but everybody was in the studio. That was like the catchphrase of the day, ‘I’m in the studio’ (laughs). Everybody was making demos and beings as so much of the Hip-Hop of that time was coming from New York, everybody knew somebody who was a connection to the industry. Like, I knew Run, so I’d drop my demos off to him. People always had their connections. I remember, I went to high-school with Fredro Starr from Onyx and Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, and we would tell each other about the different contacts and connections we knew about.”

From what I understand the Lost Boyz already had a reputation on the streets of Queens long before they ever put a record out…

“Yeah, well, Mr. Cheeks is my man. The Lost Boyz were always a little crew that used to roam around and do their thing in the streets. This was the time when crack was really dominating the era and everybody was doing their little things with the drugs and running around making their little bit of money. I mean, if you were young, the main two things you did in Queens in the 80s was either rap or sell drugs and some did both (laughs). So the Lost Boyz used to do their thing in other ways, but Cheeks always represented the Hip-Hop part of it and was always doing his music thing.”

Did you know B-1 who was also down with the Lost Boyz?

“I mean, I didn’t come up with him but I knew of him. But I didn’t know him personally like I knew Cheeks. To this day, Cheeks is my brother. But I didn’t know B-1 like that. I mean, I grew-up with Cheeks, Freaky Tah, Fredro Starr and Big DS, rest in peace. Those were my brothers that I really grew-up with.”

So you were there when Fredro and them were in their house music stage before they hit with Onyx?

“It’s funny, because when Onyx first came out I didn’t recognise them (laughs). These were people that I grew-up with my whole life and I’d watched the video and heard the song and I didn’t realise it was Fredro and them. It was Large Professor and Neek who told me it was them. I’d linked up with Neek again after he’d done “Fakin’ The Funk” and I was up at Large Pro’s house with him and Large was like, ‘Yo, your boys are blowing’ and I was like, ‘Who?’ Large and Neek were telling me it was Fredro and them. I was saying, ‘Well, I ain’t heard their song’ and they were telling me it was “Throw Ya Gunz” and I’m there saying, ‘Nah, I’ve seen that video. That ain’t Fredro and them. That’s these bald-head cats with mean faces.’ I had to go back and look at the video and really look at the faces and I was like, ‘Wow! It is them!’ Before that they were doing house music and had big purple hair like some punk rock stuff. I’ve gotta give it to Jam Master Jay because that transformation was genius and it definitely came off, but it took those of us in the ‘hood who grew-up with them by surprise (laughs).”

Ryan Proctor

Part Two of this interview coming soon.

Satchel Page – “Keep Calling Me” (@SatchelPage / 2013)

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

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In the world of Hip-Hop there are those who boastfully make misguided claims of legendary status and those who have legendary status bestowed upon them by fans and peers due to their talent and contributions to the artform. Queens, NY icon Mikey D definitely falls into the latter category.

Making his name on the streets of early-80s New York as a ferocious battle emcee, the skilled wordsmith quickly built a reputation that would see him continue to be respected as an artist throughout the years, from his L.A. Posse releases with innovative producer Paul C. and childhood friend DJ Johnny Quest, to his time as a member of Main Source in the 90s and up to the present day.

Despite enduring numerous career setbacks during decades of destroying microphones, Mikey’s passion for the music and culture which grabbed his attention as a young kid from Laurelton’s Merrick Boulevard has never left him.

Currently putting the finishing touches to a project with NY vinyl veteran DJ Mercury under the name Elements Of Hip-Hop, Mikey D kindly took some time out to discuss his long personal history for this three-part interview, including his relationship with a young LL Cool J, winning the 1988 New Music Seminar emcee battle, the tragic murder of Paul C. and his future music plans.

Can you remember when you were first introduced to Hip-Hop?

“It was around the late-70s, like 78, 79. I was in Laurelton, Queens, but my boy Derek, we called him Dee Money, he was from Harlem but his grandmother lived next door to my grandmother and in the summertime he would always come to Queens. Now, his brother was a little older than him, so he would be going to Harlem World and have all the cassettes of the live shows. So Dee Money used to steal his brother’s tapes and bring them with him to Queens for the summer (laughs). So, we’re just little kids at the time, sitting on the steps listening to this new music, which was Hip-Hop. After awhile I started emulating what I was hearing coming out of that big radio on the tapes and I had it y’know. I was saying the rhymes I was hearing on the tapes but I was doing it my way. Then eventually I started writing my own rhymes. I remember Grandmaster Caz had this rhyme about a girl named Yvette and the rhyme that I wrote was about a girl named Kim (laughs). So I was emulating Grandmaster Caz when I wrote my first rhyme and that was really my introduction right there because after I wrote that rhyme everybody started feeling it and I wanted more.”

So it was the lyrical aspect of Hip-Hop that grabbed you immediately rather than any of the other elements?

“It was definitely the rapping and the way the crowd took to the rapper that drew me in. The way the crowd would respond to a rapper’s punchlines and things like that just drove me crazy when I heard it. I was always a class clown and stuff like that and I liked the attention so that was my niche right there (laughs).”

At what point did you make the move from writing rhymes to actually performing in public?

“Johnny Quest used to live right down the block from me at the time I started writing rhymes. Johnny’s brother gave him some equipment for Christmas, around like 1980 / 81, but we were still young so we were really just rapping in the house and making tapes. Then the tapes started getting known publicly. Now, at this time, they used to always throw these park jams around the way, but I was always scared to get on because it was the older guys that were running the set and doing their thing. I was getting known underground from the tapes, so I was being recognised for that, but I was still just rapping in people’s houses. But one day I went to this park, 231, where they had this jam and I’m sitting there vibin’ and enjoying what’s going on. There was this guy there called TLC, I’ll never forget it. For some reason he had the balls to call me out. Now, at this point I’d never had a battle or rocked in front of a crowd and now we’re in the park, there’s a big crowd, I’m already hot from the tapes but I don’t have the experience of rockin’ in front of a large crowd. So TLC calls me out and starts disrespecting me in his rhyme and I was like, ‘Holy s**t!’ But what he didn’t know was that I’d come prepared. I’d already written battle rhymes just incase something like this ever happened, because when we were rockin’ in the houses there could be seventeen other emcees there getting on the tapes with you, so you never knew who had what, so you always had to be prepared for a battle. So I went out there and tore TLC apart (laughs). That was the first time I ever performed in front of an audience and it was the first time I got a taste of blood and like a pitbull I wanted more (laughs).”

Did TLC already know you from the tapes or did he call you out because he thought you were an easy target?

“TLC definitely knew who I was at that time but he had the crown in the park jams already. I was only known from the tapes, not for the park jams. So he took it upon himself to try and play me. But that was a bad decision for him and that was it for me. After I won that first battle it was off to the races, man.”

So that was the moment you decided you wanted to be known as a battle rapper?

“Yeah. I think a lot of these emcees and rappers that come out now, they learn how to do it. I feel like I was born to do this. From hearing those first tapes that Dee Money had, I knew from that point on that rhyming was what I wanted to do and it just came so naturally to me. I knew rhyming was something that was meant for me to do.”

How old were you when you had that first battle?

“I was around twelve or thirteen.”

Do you still remember the rhyme that you dropped?

“Oh my god, I don’t even remember what I said to TLC (laughs). But it definitely shut him down. I don’t even think he was rapping after that (laughs).”

And this is back when losing a public battle and having your reputation damaged by another emcee could easily end someone’s reign as a popular rapper in the neighbourhood…

“Exactly. And it wasn’t only the emcee as an individual who suffered when they lost a battle, it was the whole neighbourhood as well. See, TLC was from Farmers Boulevard and Farmers was in the house that day in the park. So he’s seen as being the best emcee from Farmers, and now here I come, a new jack from Laurelton, Merrick Boulevard to be exact, and those two places were already rivals. So here TLC is putting me on the spot, which meant putting the reputation of the area he was reppin’ on the line as well. So once I took him out, that’s what put Laurelton on the map and that was really the moment the L.A. Posse was born.”

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What other artists were there at that time on the street who had reps in Queens?

“Well at that time there weren’t too many people out. I mean, this was before Run DMC, this was more around the Sugarhill Gang / Funky Four Plus One More era and a lot of those guys were coming from the Bronx. In Queens at that time we were still finding our way. We had a group called the Rappermatical 5 from Laurelton. They were the only group I knew from Queens at that time who had a record out. They were from my neighbourhood. I never had the opportunity to battle them though because I looked up to them at that time. There was another group around called the Professional 5 as well, but Queens was really still trying to find its way. We didn’t get on the map until Run DMC really.”

How did you become part of the Clientele Brothers?

“The Clientele Brothers lived in my neighbourhood. They were the baddest. They were to Queens what Cold Crush was to the Bronx. There was four of ’em. They were all hot emcees. They had the dance steps. They were that crew that I really looked up to. There was one particular guy in the crew called Eddie O’Jay and he was like the Black Fonz. He was the coolest dude on earth to me (laughs). He had all the girls. So I followed his path in terms of the way he carried himself. I was like a young him. He didn’t even know who I was back then because they were already doing their thing, but eventually we got an opportunity to meet and talk and that’s when I actually became a part of the Clientele Brothers.”

Is that when you started using the name Playboy Mikey D?

“Well Playboy Mikey D was a little before the Clientele Brothers. At the time we had a group called the Sensational 5 and we all had our little nicknames like Everlovin’ Kid Ice, Loveable Little B, Loverboy TC, Romantic Lover Snow and I was Playboy Mikey D. That’s actually when Cool J got down with us and we gave him the name Ladies Love.”

So at what point did you meet LL and what stage was he at in terms of his aspirations to be a rapper?

“Well me and L, we were about fifteen when we met. I went to Springfield High School and he went to Jackson High School. We didn’t know each other. Now, in the same way the neighbourhoods would have one person to rep a particular place, so did the schools. Springfield and Jackson were rival schools. I was the baddest dude in Springfield and word of mouth had it that Cool J, or Jay-Ski as he was known then, was the best in Jackson. So we had mutual friends who wanted to see us battle. They hooked up a place for us to meet, which was Roller Castle in Elmont, Long Island. Flavor Flav was down with his crew called Spectrum and they used to deejay and host all these different events there. Now, me and Cool J weren’t scheduled to battle on the flyer or anything, that was just the place where everybody would go on the weekend. But we arranged to meet there, get on the mic and battle. So Cool J and I both got there and met each other for the very first time. Now, back in those days, before you’d even battle or get onstage, you might be off in a corner somewhere comparing notes, you say a rhyme, I’ll say a rhyme, just feeling each other out. So that’s what we did and both of us were buggin’ out because his voice texture and how he would spit certain rhymes reminded me of myself and vice versa. We didn’t have the exact same style, but we did have similar styles. We were feeling each other, we slapped five, we became friends and we got up on that stage and we rocked together. We didn’t battle. We thought we sounded too much alike, so we decided we should get up and rock together. We got cool from that day on and he started coming around the way all the time.  So that’s how me and Cool J met in the beginning. Jay-Ski!”

So was the plan for you to continue performing together?

“Well, I was down with both Sensational and the Clientele Brothers, doing shows with both of them. Cool J was from Hollis, borderline St. Albans. He would come around my way all the time to check me out because I was already doing things. I was a street legend already from the tapes and Cool J was on the come-up. So he used to walk from his ‘hood to my ‘hood. He wasn’t wearing Kangols at this time though, he was just wearing regular clothes, head-bands, whatever. I introduced him to the whole crew and the guys from Sensational wanted to put him in the group. Now, his name being Jay-Ski just didn’t sound right with the rest of the names we had in the group. So he went home, slept on what I’d said, then came back around the way the next day and was like, ‘I’ve changed my name! I’ve changed my name to Cool J!’ I was like, ‘I like that! That sounds dope! But you need a nickname! You’re always talking about how you want the ladies to love you, so you should be called Ladies Love Cool J. That would be dope!’ He went home, thought about it, then came back the next day and said he was keeping that name. So that was the birth of Ladies Love Cool J. That’s where the name came from. The LL part got broken down when he started messing with Def Jam because they thought the name was too long. He didn’t want to get rid of the Ladies Love part of his name so he broke it down to LL Cool J.”

Were you aware of LL’s deal with Def Jam before it happened?

“Yeah, he brought it to my attention. But you see with Cool J, in the early days, he had a reputation for stretching the truth and exaggerating about certain things. So I didn’t believe him (laughs). I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ First of all, I’d never heard of Def Jam at that particular time. LL showed me the contract, he told me we could be the next Run DMC and I thought he was day-dreaming again and running off with his mouth (laughs). At that time as well, that was when I started to become more street-orientated and was really finding my own way. I was hangin’ with the Clientele Brothers who were much older than me, drinking forties, and starting to be around the wrong elements. Whereas Cool J on the other hand, he was really taking his dream seriously and was following those proper channels. What I did wrong was that I doubted him. I didn’t believe him. First of all he’d tried to steal my spot in the Clientele Brothers, he started getting this ego thinking he was better than me. So there was a little jealousy and animosity boiling between us back then. So when he showed me the Def Jam contract  I just didn’t believe him. I thought it was another one of his stunts to try and impress people and make me look bad, that’s how I was looking at it. But I was wrong. Then LL got signed to Def Jam and the rest is history (laughs).”

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Do you remember hearing LL’s debut single “I Need A Beat” for the first time?

“Yes I do, yes I do. The first time I heard it I was in Rochdale Village, Queens. It came on the radio and I was like ‘Damn! This s**t sounds like me. Holy cow! Cool J did it!’ I swear to God when that record first started getting played my phone was ringing off the hook with people congratulating me about my record because that’s how much we sounded alike. Everybody thought that record was me (laughs). Cool J came by the house a couple of times after that record came out and we talked, kicked it and stuff like that. But see, he wasn’t trying to put me on then because I’d have been a threat.”

So there wasn’t ever any talk at that point of you working together on any of his Def Jam material?

“No. He really tried to stay as far away from that as possible because I would have been the only person out at the time who could have given him any type of competition or been able to take any attention away from him. There would have been two of us out there then who were equally as nice and LL wouldn’t have been getting all of the attention. Plus, after a little time the streets started rejecting him because of the similarities. The way he changed his style to sound even more like me. My image became his image and people on the streets noticed that. If you were to ask anyone who came up around here during that time they would all vouch for me because the streets could see what was happening and that’s when the real animosity came in because he really wanted to prove to everyone that he was better than me. But what’s so funny about that is that a little after that Russell Simmons called my phone and asked me to sit down for a meeting with him and Rick Rubin. So I went to the meeting and these guys told me that they wanted to put me on, this, that and the third.”

How early in LL’s career did this meeting happen?

“Well, it was kinda early. It was before the “Radio” album came out so it would have been between 1984 and 1985. I remember it was a little before I got the contract with Reality Records to do “No Show” with the Symbolic Three. But the reason I never signed with Def Jam was because their intention was to have me there as that back-up in case Cool J’s fire started to go out. So they would have had a similar artist ready to come straight out. But I would have just been there sitting on the shelf. Now, LL Cool J has been going for thirty years and is still going strong so if I’d have signed that contract I’d have still been sitting on that shelf (laughs).”

Was LL aware that meeting had taken place?

“No, we never discussed that and even to this day I’m not sure he’s aware that actually happened (laughs). I think the reason they wanted to sign me was because they knew that if I got with another label then I would have been a real threat to what they had going with Cool J. Eventually we would have bumped heads and that could have meant a big problem for Def Jam back then.”

How did you end-up writing and featuring on the Symbolic Three’s 1985 Doug E. Fresh answer record “No Show”?

“Well, I already knew the group who were known as the Symbolic Four at the time. But one of them was so bad she had to go to reform school or something like that, so it just became three of them. I started dating one of the group, Sha-Love, that’s my daughter’s mom. Now what happened was, I went to the “Krush Groove” film set to be an extra. I met DJ Dr. Shock that day. Me and my human beatbox Prince Cie went down there and although we were only supposed to be extras in the movie we were all over the set freestyling. We were getting a lot of attention that day. So I met Dr. Shock who took my number and he said he knew someone who was a manager, which was Arthur Armstrong. I met with Arthur Armstrong and he wanted to sign me and then I brought in the Symbolic Three because they said they needed a girl group. Now Arthur was close friends with Jerry Bloodrock who ran Reality Records back then. Now at this time Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick had just come out with “The Show” and Jerry said he knew a lot of people were going to try and answer that record so he wanted to put out an answerback record immediately on the same label. Now back then, I was the master of parody and used to always flip people’s records, so I wrote “No Show” for the girls and obviously wrote myself into the track and threw a couple of jabs here and there (laughs). So that’s really how that record came about because Jerry Bloodrock wanted to try and keep all of the answer records to “The Show” in-house. “No Show” came out before Super Nature’s “The Show Stoppa” with Salt-N-Pepa and them.”

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Considering how big of a record “The Show” was were you comfortable making “No Show” knowing that it could be seen as a diss record?

“I really didn’t care because I was just trying to get out there. My whole M.O. back then was battling so it was second nature to me to do that song. I just made it a funny song. I didn’t know Doug or Slick personally at that time but I really wasn’t caring what the response might have been if they’d wanted to battle after that because I knew Slick Rick couldn’t have touched me lyrically and Doug wasn’t really a rapper. Plus, I didn’t go too hard at them and get personal on the record or anything like that, I just wrote a fun song. I wasn’t trying to start beef or anything like that, I was just doing what the company wanted and was hoping to be able to put some hit records out.”

Did you ever get any feedback on that record from Doug or Rick?

“I never heard from Slick Rick but I did hear from Doug E. Fresh. I remember him telling me, ‘Yo! You are nice on the mic but you’ve gotta stop dissing people’ (laughs). Doug and I are friends to this day but I’ve never actually met Slick Rick personally.”

Considering you’d largely made your name as a battle emcee up to that point, how did you find the transition from rhyming in the street to working in the studio?

“It was easy because, like I said, rhyming came natural to me. When I first started writing rhymes I was already writing material based around concepts anyway. The first rhyme I ever wrote was a story. So I was used to writing stuff other than just battle rhymes. All I had to do was format the song, which wasn’t nothing. I just had to write one looooong rhyme and then just break it up. So it wasn’t hard. The only thing I did wrong back then was that I kept the streets with me. I didn’t separate the streets from the studio. I was busy, as they say now, trying to keep it real and all that crap. I didn’t separate the business from the street and that was the biggest mistake I made back then.”

Looking back now are there any street battles that you think of as moments when you really earnt your stripes as an emcee?

“Wow, there were so many of them (laughs). I remember going to Kool G. Rap’s house before he even had any records out and his name was just Kool G at the time. I remember telling him, ‘Your name sounds like you’re trying to bite off my man Cool J’ (laughs). I’d just put “No Show” out, so they took me to his house and we battled. That was a pretty nice battle. That was cool. He said I won but I actually thought we were kinda even. I think he was just being humble (laughs).”

Did G. Rap say that at the time or was that something said in hindsight?

“Nah, we slapped five and G. Rap was like ‘You got it! You got it!’ That’s just what I did back in those days. See, I just got so fed up with going from corner to corner in my neighbourhood and battling and being the best in my area, that me and Johnny Quest used to buy a quart of beer, we would jump on the bus and the train, get off at a random stop and if we saw any people in a cypher we’d assume they were rapping and I’d step into the cypher and be like, ‘Who’s the emcee over here? Who’s the baddest emcee around here? I’ll battle aaaanybody!’ We used to walk through ‘hoods doing that. We walked through Queensbridge doing that. Nobody wanted it. A few tried but they lost. There were so many of those battles (laughs). I actually remember one particular time, I used to go with this girl called Shantel who was Run’s cousin and she had this birthday party. DMC was there and Jam Master Jay was there. They were walking around the party like they were all that and I was like, ‘I’ll battle y’all! Y’all ain’t saying nothin’! I’ll battle both of y’all’ (laughs). Jam Master Jay was saying ‘Wait until Run come and then we can do it.’ I was saying that we didn’t even have to do it at the party, we could do it outside in the park, because at the same park where I beat TLC in that first battle, they were jammin’ outside that night as well. They accepted my challenge, I went to that park and those guys never showed up. So I battled them without them even being there (laughs). There’s still tapes of that going around. But when it comes to battles, the New Music Seminar in 1988 when me and Melle Mel went at it, that was the one. That battle was when I really had to earn my respect on another level.”

Ryan Proctor

Lookout for Part Two of this interview coming soon with Mikey D discussing working with legendary producer Paul C. and his infamous New Music Seminar battle with Grandmaster Melle Mel.

Rappin’ Is Fundamental – Shaz Illyork

Footage of Shaz Illyork performing at his recent art show “The Fundamentals Of Ill” in Astoria, Queens.

Back Where I Belong – LL Cool J

1986 Dutch TV interview with James Todd Smith about his “tender love raps” and how back in the day it was “unnecessary” for Hip-Hop to have a message in the music – hmmmm.