Australia’s DJ Bacon pulls together four of his epic previously-released megamixes on this quality EP celebrating the work of Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Ice-T, with each mix containing over 100 samples painstakingly pieced together to create an eventful journey into sound.
Hip-Hop lost one of its pioneering creative architects yesterday with the sad passing of producer Larry Smith, who had been living in a nursing home following a serious stroke in 2007.
Having crafted 80s hits for genre-defining groups Run-DMC and Whodini, Larry’s ability to create both sparse, drum-heavy tracks (“Sucker M.C.’s”) and catchy, melodic soundscapes (“Friends”) has influenced many producers over the years, as well as providing record-buying fans of the culture with some of their most precious back-in-the-day musical memories.
Rest In Peace Larry Smith – thanks for the classic material.
A line-up of Hip-Hop heads including Eternia, Camp Lo, Pete Rock and Del The Funky Homosapien remake Run-DMC’s classic “Christmas In Hollis” for this year’s “George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight Christmas Eve Music Special” airing in Canada this week.
A product of Philadelphia’s diverse Hip-Hop scene of the 1980s, turntable maestro Tat Money made his name as a local deejay before going on to achieve worldwide acclaim alongside fellow Illadelph resident Steady B, contributing both cuts and production to classic albums from the Philly emcee, including 1986’s “Bring The Beat Back” and its 1987 follow-up “What’s My Name” (which featured Tat’s timeless solo track “Rockin’ Music”).
An integral part of the infamous Hilltop Hustlers collective, which also counted Cool C and Three Times Dope as members, Tat Money stood alongside the likes of Jazzy Jeff, Cash Money and DJ Miz as yet another highly-skilled example of Philadelphia’s notoriously competitive deejay community.
With his contributions to Hip-Hop’s golden-age still remembered by many today, Tat has never stepped away from the turntables, currently performing alongside Special Ed, Chubb Rock, Kwame, Dana Dane and Monie Love as part of true-school crew The Alumni.
In the first part of this interview, the Philly legend discusses his early determination to master the craft of turntablism, famous family music connections and being introduced to a young Will Smith.
Were you already listening to a lot of music as a kid before you were introduced to Hip-Hop?
“Well, basically, the way my whole situation evolved I would have to say was through my parents, man. My parents used to have these parties at the house, like family gatherings, and they were really into that. Now, my pops is from Jamaica and my mother is from America. So I have a heavy influence as far as reggae goes. I mean, my dad had Bob Marley eight-track tapes (laughs). Back in the 70s I used to play those in the car. Now, at all these parties, I would act as the deejay, putting on all these old-school records like James Brown and Funkadelic. I would put on all these records and then go out and dance to them with my cousin. I’d get all those 45s, stack them up on the turntable, like ten of them, and then they’d play one after the other in the sequence that I wanted them to play in. It was just such a fun time back then. So that’s what actually sparked me to want to deejay…”
Just seeing the reaction that the music was getting from people?
“Yeah, it just really got me. Now, I got re-introduced to it by chance when I was around ten-years-old. A friend of mine lived around my cousin’s area as well and I was dating his sister as a young kid. So I walked in his house looking for her, we go into the basement area and her brother, who was like two years older than me, he was like, ‘Come here for a second.’ He’s playing songs and I’m like ‘What’s he doing?’ Now, this was around 1979 / 1980 and the two records he had on his turntables were Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “Superappin'” and Jimmy Spicer’s “Adventures Of Super Rhyme”. Those were the first two records I touched as far as Hip-Hop goes and that was my first awareness of the music. I’m listening to the guys on the records rapping and it was literally blowing my mind. I was like, ‘This is incredible!’ But this guy had the BSR turntables and I can’t even remember what mixer he had. Everything was brown and really old-school (laughs). But it was still two turntables and a mixer and I got on there and started playing around. I’ll never forget that moment. Then not long after that the trend started picking up and there were little deejay crews around my area. Actually, I should say in the city because originally we lived in the city and then we moved to the suburbs. But I would be in the city mostly every weekend and I’d see the guys I grew-up with and went to school with starting deejay crews….
What were some of those crews called?
“There was one called the Funk Boys who used to be around my old area and then there was one called T.F.D., which stood for Treacherous Funk Disco. They lived one street away from my old house in West Philly in an area called Wynnefield. Now, the Funk Boys were from 58th Street, which was around where Will Smith is from. Will lived about four or five blocks away from where I lived. But T.F.D. were only about a block away from where I lived, so obviously they were closer. I knew them, they knew me, so I basically started practicing with those guys. Seeing all these deejay crews popping up I knew it was what I wanted to do. So I’d go over to the basement that T.F.D. would use and they already had their whole set-up in there already. I didn’t have any turntables or nothing, but I wanted them so badly.”
Were T.F.D. playing a mix of music at that time or straight Hip-Hop-inspired sets with break-beats etc?
“They were playing more Hip-Hop and R&B. You’d hear all the stuff that was influencing the rap songs of the time. So you’d hear “Heartbeat” by Tanya Gardner and then you’d hear the Treacherous Three’s “Feel The Heartbeat” which had obviously used that. You’d hear all the party songs by people like Teena Marie and Earth, Wind & Fire with some Hip-Hop mixed in there. I mean, at that time, there wasn’t a slew of Hip-Hop records that had come out or that were popular. So you only had a few here and there. So the crews had to mix it up and throw in stuff from Parliament, Earth, Wind & Fire and the songs that would get people up. But just being around those T.F.D. guys really helped me a lot. I mean, I was already into the music but I learned a lot more about actually putting records together. Then slowly but surely I brought a turntable, I brought a mixer and then I brought another turntable and started practicing some more. Then I started sneaking into parties (laughs). I was under-age at the time but I learned how to get in…”
Were these local house parties or events at actual venues?
“We were doing house party stuff but then there’d be an event every now and that would be at a local hall or something and I would sneak in. I was like fifteen-years-old at the time and you needed to be a little older to be able to get in. So I would just talk my way in at the door and I learned how to do that (laughs). Those were fun times.”
What was your first actual turntable set-up?
“I had a Technics SL-B101 which was a curve-arm turntable and an SL-B20 which was a straight-arm turntable. Then I had a big ol’ Gemini mixer that was huge and brown (laughs). I didn’t know any better at the time, but I heard that it had a great crossfader. That crossfader slid so easy like you’d poured grease down into it. I mean, you could blow it across (laughs). So what happened was, I really started to excel. I mean, I’m the type of person that when I get into something, I really throw myself into it and want to do everything I can to really master something. It’s just about proving to myself that I can do something.”
How much time would you spend practicing back then?
“At least six hours a day. As soon as I came home from school, I’d walk through the door, drop my books and go straight to my room to practice. I’d deejay from about 2:30pm until say 7pm, then I’d go eat dinner, then I’d go back and deejay some more. So I was definitely practicing for at least six hours a day. I used to have that Malcolm McLaren & World Famous Supreme Team record cover with the Technics 1200s on it up in front of me when I used to practice as inspiration (laughs).”
How much awareness did you have at that time of what else was happening across Philly as far as the city’s Hip-Hop scene was concerned?
“At that time it was very young. A lot of the songs that were coming out were made in New York obviously, but some of them were being made in Philly unbeknownst to us because there were different labels that people were coming out on and different studios that people liked to use. I knew nothing about the music industry at all so all I could do was read the labels that were on these records and try to understand from that what was going on. Not living in New York and being a young kid, I really didn’t know a lot about what was actually happening in the industry itself. But then I’d hear different things because I had an uncle who was in the music industry before me. His name was Frank Alstin and he was a singer and guitar player. Actually the first record I ever made was with him, we did a record called “Super Lover” on the label WMOT and my rapper at the time was on there as well, Meka. We did that song in 1985 and I was scratching on that record, cutting up ‘F-f-f-fresh’ which was popular at the time (laughs). So my uncle was the person who first took me to a studio which really introduced me to how things worked from that standpoint. So I had the love of music already from being a deejay and now I was going to the studio with him and he had already actually made records. He actually co-wrote “Who Can I Run To” by The Jones Girls. I can still remember the day he brought that record home when I was over at my grandmother’s house, which is where he was living at the time. He was so excited but the record didn’t really take off even though we all thought it was going to work. But then years later, Xscape covered it and I remember him calling me to tell me that he’d been asked for clearance to use the record. So I was telling him, ‘They’re a platinum selling group. You’re about to really get it…’ and sure enough the cheques started rolling in. But then sadly not long after that he died. That’s such a crazy story.”
So your uncle really introduced you to the business side of making music back then…
“He really gave me a lot of insight into the music business. I remember him introducing me to people like McFadden & Whitehead, Teddy Pendergrass who used to stay at his place sometimes to write songs. I just missed meeting the Jackson 5 when they were recording in Philly which would have been ridiculous back then. I remember my uncle was taking me to the studio as a surprise and we stopped off at a deli and bumped into McFadden & Whitehead. We were right by Sigma Studios and, although I didn’t know it, the Jackson 5 were in there working with Gamble & Huff. I remember, my uncle was having a conversation with Whitehead and they were talking real low so I couldn’t hear them even though I actually could. So my uncle was saying how we were going to the studio and I heard Whitehead say, ‘You’ve just missed the Jacksons, they’ve just left.’ I was sitting there like, ‘Arrrghhh’ (laughs).”
Where were you hoping your passion for deejay-ing was going to lead to back then?
“I always knew that I could do something with it, but exactly what I didn’t know. I wanted to be in the game real bad and I felt like I was so close to it that I could almost reach out and touch it. So it was frustrating in a sense even though I always felt like I could make it happen. So to make it happen, I got my myself a job in a local record store because I’d read that Mantronik had used to work in a record store when he was trying to get into the game. So I got myself a job at the best record store in town, which was Funk-O-Mart downtown. I went down there two times and brought a ton of records. It must have been about a hundred and fifty dollars worth of records. It was a whole lot of records. I could barely even carry them home (laughs). The second time I went in there the owner saw me and was like, ‘You know a lot about records. Do you want a job?’ and I said ‘Yes!’ It happened just like that which was exactly what I wanted to happen. So I started working there every day.”
That must have been a dream job?
“Yeah. I mean, I was running into a lot of like-minded people and different artists. I saw DMC there one time when the Fresh Fest came through Philly. Run didn’t make it down, which at the time I was disappointed by because I didn’t realise the power of DMC at that point. I mean, the whole group were incredible to me but Run was my man! But then overtime it actually shifted to DMC when I realised how he was just so chill with it (laughs). I bumped into Grandmaster Dee from Whodini who came down to the store and I remember him telling me about Rakim before Rakim was even popular. So I really put myself in the middle of it all working in that store. Before the internet, social networking and everything else you really had to keep your ear to the street to keep up with everything and by working at Funk-O-Mart I was really in the trenches and could see exactly what was selling, what people were asking for and what was happening on the street. I remember people would come in with tapes and play me songs they’d heard on the radio asking if we had it in the store and if we didn’t then I’d order it because overtime I was in put in charge of that side of things because I always knew what was going on. Working in Funk-O-Mart was major because I was able to learn so much more about different genres of music from soul and jazz to salsa and reggae, plus different artists like Bob James. I’d listen to all this different stuff and there were these Spanish cats who worked there who really put me up on all the different merengues etc. I even learnt how to speak Spanish from working there with them (laughs).”
So were you still just practicing your deejay skills in your bedroom at this point or where you performing in public?
“To answer your question, yes I was still a bedroom deejay at that point and I was practicing heavy, heavy, heavy. I would do a tape every now and then at that time, but I really didn’t feel that I wanted to let my talent out at that point because I still didn’t really know that I even had a talent. So I didn’t want to really showcase it in anyway and then have people say, ‘Well, you messed up there’ and things like that (laughs). So I wouldn’t really make a lot of tapes. I would just make a few for myself to listen to. Now, in Philly at that time, the way that people gauged whether you were a good deejay or not was how well you could cut up a few different records. One record was “Dance To The Drummer’s Beat”, another record was Hashim’s “Al-Naafiysh”, another was “Superappin'” and also “Good Times” by Chic. Now, if you could cut those records up and you could do it well, then you were considered a great deejay.”
So those records were some of the early staples of the Philly Hip-Hop deejay scene…
“Oh yeah, oh yeah. If you could chop those records up well, particularly the faster ones like “Dance To The Drummer’s Beat”, if you could really catch those records then people would validate you and start telling everyone else that you were a good deejay. So you always practiced with those records. Then you’d go back to the slower records like Masterdon Committee’s “Funkbox Party (Live)”. But those faster records, they were the true test of your talent. Plus, back then, if you made a mistake, there was no Serato or anything to cover your back. If your needle skipped people were going to hear it, so that was a big part of how people decided how good you were back then as well; how fast you could catch the record without the needle skipping (laughs). I mean, if people thought you could cut those records well, you would get booked for gigs off of that. Now, once people gave you that title of being a good deejay you wanted to keep that title, so that was why I was really careful about letting people hear what I was doing while I was practicing.”
Were you aware of other Hip-Hop deejays in Philly at that time?
“Yes I was. I mean, we had guys like Grandmaster Nell who was one of the big pioneers in Philly. He’s actually where Jazzy Jeff got a lot of his smoothness from as a deejay because Jeff was definitely watching what Nell was doing back then. Jeff was in a crew called the Network Crew and I used to hear about those guys. Now, this was around the time when Cash Money and I first became friends, although he wasn’t called Cash Money back then, he used to be called Lite Brite.”
So this is around the early-80s?
“Yeah, definitely around 83 / 84 because I was still in high-school at that point. I used to hear that Jazzy Jeff was the best deejay in Philly and then I’d hear his tapes and be like, ‘Man, is this all it takes to be the best?!’ I’m not downplaying what he was doing at the time, it was just that back then I felt I could do what he was doing as well. So it was just that spirit of competition. Now, remember, back then I still couldn’t get into a lot of the hotel events that they used to have where you needed to be over twenty-one to get in. Jeff and Cash are both four or five years older than me, so they were ahead of me at that time and had already been out there doing it. So I was just shooting for being great at what I did so I could be recognized. I actually partnered up with Jeff in the beginning and that’s actually how I got on and learnt who the different promoters were because Jeff was doing all these different parties at the time.”
Was he already rolling with the Fresh Prince at that point?
“Jeff was on his own at that time. Actually, I was at Jeff’s place when the Fresh Prince came over to his house for the very first time. I was in Jeff’s basement when he first came there. It’s probably something that neither one of them remember now, but we were all in the basement at Jeff’s mother’s house. Jeff was telling me that this emcee was coming over and he was like, ‘This guy’s so good! He’s dope!’ So Jeff is building it up and I’m hyped to see who this person is and then Will comes walking down the steps and I’m like, ‘You’re talking about this dude right here?’ I knew who he was because Will was from Wynnefield and was just around the corner from my parents’ house. I didn’t know him, but I knew of him. I’d actually seen Will in a battle prior to that and the battle hadn’t really gone in his favour because the dudes he was going up against were pretty hardcore (laughs).”
Who was the battle with?
“Well, the Fresh Prince was rolling with a crew called the Hypnotic Crew and the name of the crew they went up against was the Poison Clan. It was a tough battle, man. It was at this place called the Wynn Ballroom which was on the corner of my grandmother’s block and I remember not many people were there at the time because it was a day-time battle. But I got in there and my man Eric from Poison Clan was killing it. He was going at the Fresh Prince so hard, saying that he got his name from a fa**ot R&B artist and stuff like that. But he said it in a freestyle rhyme and the people there went crazy. Will had these parachute pants on and these boots and Eric started going at him about those as well, saying that he didn’t know if he was going to fly away and things like that (laughs). But that was a tough battle for Will and that’s why I remembered the name Fresh Prince. So when he came down the stairs into the basement, I was on Jeff’s turntables because I used to go over there to practice. I look up and I’m like, ‘Oh my god! This is the guy from the Wynn Ballroom. This is that Fresh Prince guy.’ So Will comes down the stairs, like ‘Oh my god! I’m over Jazzy Jeffrey’s house! My god!’ He’s all jolly and he had a Polo shirt on and I was like, ‘Polo? I can’t afford Polo! What kind of rich kid is this?!’ (Laughs). But we started talking and we’ve been friends ever since that day. We were always really cool. It was Will and Steady B that had the problem.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.
A true veteran of the Queens, NY Hip-Hop scene, Rotten Apple resident Satchel Page spent his youth surrounded by pioneers of the game, from those who made their name turning-out the park jams of the early-80s, to others who went on to become internationally known once rap began to make its journey from the streets to the mainstream.
But unlike many of his peers, Page didn’t spend the 80s or 90s in the Hip-Hop spotlight, even though he was associated with some of the most well-known figures of the culture’s golden-era. Having sharpened his lyrical skills onstage in front of first-generation Queens b-boys and b-girls, fate and circumstance would prevent the New York native from sharing his passion for the microphone with the masses, with Page instead deciding to step back from pursuing a career in music in favour of a more secure and stable lifestyle.
Having returned to the studio in recent years, working with producer Ayatollah and appearing on childhood friend Neek The Exotic’s 2011 Large Professor-assisted album “Still On The Hustle”, Page recently released his own new solo project “Fine Wine”.
In this two-part interview an animated Satchel Page takes a walk down memory lane, as he remembers rolling with a young LL Cool J, battling Biz Markie and seeing his Queens neighbourhood ravaged by the crack epidemic of the Reagan-era.
How and when were you first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“Well, I’m from Southside Jamaica, Queens, which I would say is one of the meccas of the Hip-Hop culture. I really started rhyming after making the transition from break-dancing, which shows you how long ago I started (laughs). When I started grabbing the mic most of the people my age were still break-dancing and it was the older cats who were rhyming. But I was one of those young cats who was grabbing the mic early in Jamaica, Queens back in the park jam era.”
So before you started rhyming, when did you first start breakin’?
“Breakin’ came to Queens, I would say, in the late-70s. We’d have the block parties, people would bring out their music equipment and we would just dance to the music all night long. That was when we first really started to see this new music taking form and the break-dancers would come out and everything. We used to call it the electric boogie back then (laughs). People would be poppin’ and stuff and it really just took off from there in Queens. Everybody was doing it in the late-70s and early-80s.”
Were acts coming from the Bronx to perform at those early park jams or was it strictly deejays and emcees from Queens?
“I always tell people that if Hip-Hop started in the Bronx on a Monday, then the rest of New York was doing it on Tuesday and Wednesday (laughs). It really spread that fast. The first memory I have of those park jams in Queens was when I was playing Little League baseball. I was about ten-years-old and I can remember everybody on the baseball field dancing and not being able to concentrate on the game because there were people in the next field over playing music! That was like a phenomenon to us. We could hear the music and they were playing these disco break-beats and everybody was dancing and trying to play baseball at the same time (laughs). I mean, that had to be around 1977 or 1978. So this was early and it wasn’t anybody who was coming from the Bronx doing that, this was Queens cats just bringing their equipment out and doing their thing. Hip-Hop started in the Bronx but we were doing it very early in Queens with the jams and stuff. We’ve been jammin’ in Queens for a long time (laughs).”
Who were some of the best known deejays in the parks during the early days of Hip-Hop in Queens?
“Ah man, at the height of the park jams in Queens the biggest name was Grandmaster Vic. He was the ultimate. Vic was like Grandmaster Flash to people in Queens. So there was Grandmaster Vic, the Amazing Dewitt from Baisley and Kid Quick from Rochdale. Those are some of the names that I remember. But a lot of the time it wasn’t about the single deejay, it was about the crews. So there was the Boss Crew, you had Cipher Sounds who were coming out of 40 projects, you had the Clientele Brothers which had people like Mikey D, LL Cool J and Johnny Quest down with them….”
Eddie O’Jay, Everlovin’ Kid Ice and those dudes…
“Yeah, yeah (laughs). So we’re talking the early-80s at this point. This was still really before making records was your claim to fame. Your claim to fame was being able to rock at a park jam and having tapes of that circulating around New York. That was how you made your name back then.”
Going back to Grandmaster Vic, he was known for his blends, right?
“He invented that. He invented that whole idea of blending Hip-Hop with R&B. Puffy and all these people like Jodeci and Mary J. Blige really owe Grandmaster Vic. When he did it, it was unheard of to take the accapella of an R&B record and blend it with straight Hip-Hop breaks. When he started doing that it was a previously unheard phenomenon that really took people by storm. I mean, in the early-80s people were buying Grandmaster Vic tapes for like fifty dollars. Those were real mixtapes.”
How early on was Vic actually mixing Hip-Hop with R&B?
“Early on, early on. That’s what he was known for. He was good with the scratches and everything and was a real pure deejay, but when it came to the blending, he had such an ear for putting two records together that you would never think would blend but he would make it work. That was in the early-80s he was doing that. I remember he could pretty much blend Keni Burke’s “Risin’ To The Top” with anything (laughs). I think Keni Burke might owe Grandmaster Vic some royalties because he really helped make that song famous. You don’t even understand, when Vic would put that record on at the jams people would go crazy. To this day, “Risin’ To The Top” is the Queens anthem. That’s the Queens anthem because of Grandmaster Vic and his crew, the Boss Crew which consisted of cats like Divine and Chilly Dee who were legends back then. They had the Boss Crew, which stood for Brothers Of South Side. They would tear parties up so bad that it was the equivalent of going to something like Summer Jam now. But when it comes to Grandmaster Vic, all those dudes like Funkmaster Flex, DJ Clue, Kid Capri, Ron G, all the deejays that went on to become big and famous from making mixtapes, they all took a little piece of Grandmaster Vic.”
So at what point did you make the transition from dancing to rhyming?
“I’ll tell you when it happened. It was when I met LL Cool J. My cousin was also a big deejay at that time and I’d say he was on the same level as Grandmaster Vic. His name was DJ Jesse James. Now, his emcees were astronomically huge in Queens at the time. They were called the Albino Twins. They were these two albino dudes and they used to just destroy the parties. I mean, they were really more party emcees and not so much on the lyrical tip, but this was when we were still in that party and park jam era. So they were big in Queens and I used to roll with them and be the one carrying the equipment and stuff. I mean, I’m only about ten or eleven-years-old at this point. So my cousin came to me and said, ‘Yo, I’ve got this new young cat and he’s just ferocious on the mic.’ He introduced me to him and it was Cool J. Now, when Cool J came he just brought a whole new style to the streets of Queens that was unheard of because at that time everybody was just doing the party style of rhyming. That’s really what emcee-ing was to us back then. But when LL came out, and he was only about fourteen-years-0ld, he came with that very lyrical style that, when I first heard it, it just blew me away. So after the first time I heard LL rhyme, I went home and started writing my own rhymes because there was more of an intelligence aspect to it that I felt I could do rather than just the crowd participation stuff which you really needed a huge amount of personality for.”
So when you first heard LL, was it at a park jam or on a tape?
“It was in my cousin DJ Jesse James’ basement. They were practicing for a jam we were about to go to that night and LL was rhyming freestyle off the instrumental to T La Rock’s “It’s Yours”.”
Which is ironic considering the comparisons that were made between LL Cool J and T La Rock when “I Need A Beat” came out…
“”It’s Yours” definitely inspired him. When he was rolling with my cousin I would be with LL and he would recite that record all the time. I mean, we all knew the record but LL was the only person I knew who could recite that record word-for-word. He knew every single word to that song backwards and forwards. So yeah, LL could never deny T La Rock’s influence on him.”
So was LL performing regularly with your cousin and his crew?
“Ah man, when LL got down with the Albino Twins it was crazy because then you had the illest party rockers with the illest lyricist. I used to roll with them and see them just turn jams upside down (laughs). Their style used to be that they’d turn up to the party, tear the place up and then just leave (laughs). I mean, after they left people didn’t even want to stay no more. There was no reason for them to stay around. It was like they’d just been hit by a tornado (laughs). Now, LL and the Albino Twins were actually from the Northside of Queens and back then Queens was very localised. But I remember walking up into the hardest neighbourhoods in the middle of 40 projects with them. Now, dudes from the Northside, which is Hollis and places like that, they didn’t really come to Southside Queens. The Twins and LL were some of the few who would come from the Northside to the Southside, in the middle of 40 projects, and be able to actually get the microphone, much less then tear the place up. I saw them do that on more than one occasion (laughs). So LL was definitely a big influence on me when I first started picking up that pen.”
Are there any battles from that period that still standout to you?
“Yeah, actually one of the illest moments I ever had in Hip-Hop was when LL had a battle with this guy called Cap who was from Laurelton, Queens, which had the L.A. Posse. Cap also had a crew called the El-Producto Brothers. Now, this particular battle was at a block party, and they always used to start around three in the afternoon. LL was on early doing his thing, and Cap got on him just out of nowhere. Cap had this disrespectful rhyme that just killed LL. Now, LL was about to get back on him, but it was still real early and I remember my cousin Jesse James coming up to LL and saying, ‘Yo, chill, chill. Don’t do it now. Let’s wait until night time when the crowd’s here and then you can go at him.’ My cousin had this van at the time and LL went straight into the van. We didn’t see LL for the rest of the day. Now, around the time the party was really rockin’, my cousin came up to me and told me to go get LL. I remember opening up the van and LL was in there with the music going and he was just putting the pen to the pad (laughs). I told him that my cousin had said it was time. I remember LL asking me, ‘Yo! Is it crowded?’ and I was like, ‘Man, it’s packed!’ I remember LL getting out that van, going up onstage and he said a rhyme to this dude Cap that was tailor-made for him (laughs). The crowd just went bananas. I mean, the rhyme was just so skillful and advanced that people were looking at LL like he was a martian (laughs). Cap tried to come back at LL and right in the middle of his rhyme LL just turned around and mooned him (laughs). The crowd fell-out laughing and that was the battle over. But I remember there were people there that day who went on to become legends. I mean, DJ Irv, Irv Gotti, he was there, Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, Ed Lover was there. Ed was actually someone else who used to roll with my cousin and the Albino Twins. He always used to do songs over to perform at the parties and make them funny. I remember when Run DMC had “My Adidas”, Ed did “My Skeezers” and things like that (laughs).”
Do you recall the first time you performed in public?
“The very first time I performed was at a block party. Now back then, when crews used to battle it was more like a battle of sound systems which was taking something from the Jamaican thing. At the time my cousin had the illest sound system and there was also this other crew from Southside called Cipher Sounds. I remember, both of them wanted to jam at this particular park on the same day. Everybody knew that they were going to jam at this park. So my cousin showed up on one side of the park, Cipher Sounds showed up on the other side of the park, and it was about whoever was rockin’ the most and who the crowd was swaying to. That was the first time I ever got on the mic and I just tore it up. People were just astonished because they were only used to seeing me carrying the equipment and dancing. I was real short as well. I mean, I’m still short now, but I was even shorter back then (laughs). So that was my first time rockin’ a jam and I just loved the feeling I got from doing that. Afterwards, I’d be walking around the neighbourhood and people would be pointing me out like, ‘That’s that dude who rhymes with the Albino Twins…’ and stuff like that…
What name were you rhyming under back then?
“My name back then was G.L.T. which stood for Genuine Lyrical Technique. To be honest, it stood for pretty much whatever I felt at the time (laughs). It also used to stand for Good Lookin’ Troy, with Troy being my first name.”
So were you battling other emcees on the street at that point as well as performing at the jams?
“I had a battle with Biz Markie before he even came out on record which was funny. Biz was actually walking through my neighbourhood with Rahzel who went on to be the beatbox for The Roots. This was before Biz had come out with the Juice Crew and all that. Biz was just walking down the street doing that ‘Boom-ha-ha..’ thing he used to do (laughs). Now, Biz is a funny-looking cat and we actually thought something was wrong with him (laughs). We were just young and crazy back then, so we started clowning on him and Biz started telling us how he’s into music and is doing this and that. So we’re laughing at him, thinking that he’s lying. Then before you know it, Biz started rhyming, I started rhyming, and we were going back and forth. I pretty much think I got him though (laughs). But we laughed Biz Markie off our block. We told him, ‘Yo,you sound corny. You sound crazy.’ Then maybe about a year later we heard that same laugh of his all over the radio and we all just looked at each other like, ‘Oh no!’ Me and my crew swear to this day that Biz made “Vapors” about us (laughs).”
On the subject of the Juice Crew, with their early members coming from Queensbridge, how much of a connection did QB have with everything else that was going on in Queens at the time?
“Queensbridge was always just off on their own doing their own thing. Like I said, Queens was very localised so you didn’t always know what was happening outside of your own neighbourhood. I mean at the age we were back then, none of us were driving or anything like that. So you pretty much stayed in your neighbourhood. We thought we were all of Queens (laughs) I mean, for us, our introduction to Queensbridge pretty much was the Juice Crew when MC Shan and Marley Marl came out with “The Bridge”. So when they came out, that was something brand new to us. But when MC Shan came out that was big. I mean, most of the guys I was rolling with didn’t go on to make records, so when Shan started coming to other parts of Queens to perform, that was big because he was already out with his records.”
What impact did it have in Queens when Run-DMC first came out?
“That was huge. I remember, you’d see them driving down the block. I mean, back then, if you were a rap star you were still living in your old neighbourhood really. It’s not like now where rap stars are living in Hollywood (laughs). Back then you’d go to the shopping mall in Queens and you might bump into Run-DMC. Matter of fact, I knew where Run lived so I used to always drop off my demos to him. I used to go right to his house, ring his bell and give him any new demos I’d been working on. Run actually tried to get me a deal with Profile Records but right before it happened things happened at the label and it all went crazy. But anytime I had new music, Run would listen to it. He was definitely cool. But it was crazy to see an act as big as Run-DMC on an everyday basis just up in Hollis chillin’ or in the barber-shop.”
Did people in Queens expect Run-DMC to blow-up like they did?
“It was a surprise to tell you the truth. Based on the reputation they had in the streets, people would have probably bet that the Albino Twins would have been bigger stars than Run-DMC at the time. The Albino Twins had a bigger name and were known more all over Queens than Run and them. To be honest, the first time a lot of us heard Run-DMC was actually when they came out on record (laughs). I don’t remember Run and them doing jams locally like Grandmaster Vic and them were. But Run-DMC did come out very early, so they were doing the record thing early on and were doing that rather than doing the jams like everyone else. But once “Sucker MCs” came out, it was a wrap. They were all over the place. But when they were big, they would still come to the jams. I remember they had a battle with the Albino Twins at a Hollis Day event. This would have been around 1983 or 1984 and the Albino Twins took ’em out (laughs).”
What was your reaction when LL got signed to Def Jam?
“I knew it was coming because it was the summer right before he got signed when I was with him everyday almost. I was listening to “I Need A Beat” months before it even came out and I was telling everybody about him. I think I was LL’s first fan (laughs). I used to tell everybody that he was my cousin because he was down with my cousin and I thought I’d ride that a little bit, so I used to tell people, ‘Yo, my cousin’s got this joint coming out called ‘I Need A Beat.’ I mean, when LL’s first album came out, I was singing those joints word for word because those were rhymes that I’d heard LL writing in my cousin’s basement. Some of those rhymes LL had written when he was twelve-years-0ld.”
So what was your plan at that point considering you were seeing local acts from Queens signing major record deals?
“At that point, it really became less about rockin’ jams and more about getting a record deal because everybody was getting a deal (laughs). You started seeing people that you grew-up with on TV and things like that. I mean, that’s what happened with Neek The Exotic. He was one of the dudes that I grew-up with. Then I looked up one day and he’s doing “Fakin’ The Funk” with Main Source and I was like, ‘Wow! This is really getting close.’ Neek was like my brother but I hadn’t seen him for about six months at the time and next thing I know he’s got a record out (laughs).”
You mentioned earlier that you would give your demo tapes to Run – when would that have been exactly?
“That would have been around 88 / 89. That was when the golden-era was really starting. All over Queens and New York as a whole, Hip-Hop was just going out of control. I remember, I was actually graduating high-school and had the chance to go away to college, but I turned that down because New York was so hot with the Hip-Hop and that’s what I was doing, so I wanted to stay.”
Was that a hard transition for some people to deal with when the music started to leave the parks and become more about the actual record industry?
“Nah, I think at that time everybody was pretty much thinking that they had a chance to be the next big star. So everybody was welcoming the chance to take it from the streets and actually make real money from the music. You still had people doing the jams and everything, but everybody was in the studio. That was like the catchphrase of the day, ‘I’m in the studio’ (laughs). Everybody was making demos and beings as so much of the Hip-Hop of that time was coming from New York, everybody knew somebody who was a connection to the industry. Like, I knew Run, so I’d drop my demos off to him. People always had their connections. I remember, I went to high-school with Fredro Starr from Onyx and Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz, and we would tell each other about the different contacts and connections we knew about.”
From what I understand the Lost Boyz already had a reputation on the streets of Queens long before they ever put a record out…
“Yeah, well, Mr. Cheeks is my man. The Lost Boyz were always a little crew that used to roam around and do their thing in the streets. This was the time when crack was really dominating the era and everybody was doing their little things with the drugs and running around making their little bit of money. I mean, if you were young, the main two things you did in Queens in the 80s was either rap or sell drugs and some did both (laughs). So the Lost Boyz used to do their thing in other ways, but Cheeks always represented the Hip-Hop part of it and was always doing his music thing.”
Did you know B-1 who was also down with the Lost Boyz?
“I mean, I didn’t come up with him but I knew of him. But I didn’t know him personally like I knew Cheeks. To this day, Cheeks is my brother. But I didn’t know B-1 like that. I mean, I grew-up with Cheeks, Freaky Tah, Fredro Starr and Big DS, rest in peace. Those were my brothers that I really grew-up with.”
So you were there when Fredro and them were in their house music stage before they hit with Onyx?
“It’s funny, because when Onyx first came out I didn’t recognise them (laughs). These were people that I grew-up with my whole life and I’d watched the video and heard the song and I didn’t realise it was Fredro and them. It was Large Professor and Neek who told me it was them. I’d linked up with Neek again after he’d done “Fakin’ The Funk” and I was up at Large Pro’s house with him and Large was like, ‘Yo, your boys are blowing’ and I was like, ‘Who?’ Large and Neek were telling me it was Fredro and them. I was saying, ‘Well, I ain’t heard their song’ and they were telling me it was “Throw Ya Gunz” and I’m there saying, ‘Nah, I’ve seen that video. That ain’t Fredro and them. That’s these bald-head cats with mean faces.’ I had to go back and look at the video and really look at the faces and I was like, ‘Wow! It is them!’ Before that they were doing house music and had big purple hair like some punk rock stuff. I’ve gotta give it to Jam Master Jay because that transformation was genius and it definitely came off, but it took those of us in the ‘hood who grew-up with them by surprise (laughs).”
In this third part of my in-depth interview with Pete Nice, the former 3rd Bass member discusses recording the group’s two classic albums, beef with MC Hammer and almost starring in one of Spike Lee’s most iconic movies – check Part One and Part Two.
How did it feel to see “The Cactus Album” go gold approximately just six months after it was released in 1989?
“It definitely felt like we’d accomplished everything we wanted to when we went into the studio and even way beyond that. We were just hoping that someone would pay us to let us make music, so to go gold was a massive achievement. I mean, to put it in perspective, when Slick Rick’s first album came out in 1988 there would be promo copies up at Def Jam, and Serch and I used to steal those and sell them on the corner for ten bucks so we could buy pizza from this place that used to be right next to the label offices. So you couldn’t even compare where we were at then to where we ended-up. It was just ridiculous.”
One of my favourite tracks off the album was “Product Of The Environment” but the Marley Marl remix that was released just took that record to a completely different place in terms of its sound and mood…
“Of all the remixes that were done off that album, that was actually my favourite. I remember when we had different producers who were presenting us with ideas and then we heard that one. I mean, we were cool with Marley Marl as it was, so to have grown-up listening to his radio shows and then have him want to remix our music, that was just a no-brainer. I think he dropped us off a tape with the beat first and then once we heard it we were just like, ‘Let’s go with that one.’ I mean, the album version was really just like an album track, but that remix really turned it into a single musically. I mean, that record in a club….”
The album will always be remembered for the beef between 3rd Bass and MC Hammer which culminated with a hit being put out on the group when you were touring on the West Coast. How seriously did you take that particular situation at the time?
“From everything that we were told it was serious and was apparently real because we had to go through some channels with Russell with some people that he knew like Mike Concepcion who was like a kingpin out on the West Coast. We definitely met with him out there and talked to him at the time. We had security who had worked with N.W.A. following us everywhere. So it was definitely something the record company weren’t taking lightly. Apparently it all got squashed. It really all came from the song “The Cactus” where I had thrown out the line, ‘The Cactus turned Hammer’s mutha out…’ Obviously I wasn’t talking specifically about Hammer’s mother it was just a play on words based on the title of his single. But Hammer’s brother took that and just went nuts with it. I know it was his brother Louis who was the one who called-up Def Jam just flipping out when the record came out. Then to top it off they said that Serch said it, so Serch ended-up taking more of the heat for that when I was actually the one who said it. But our beef with Hammer, aside from when Serch had that little altercation with him at the celebrity basketball game dance contest, was that Hammer had actually come in and totally dissed Run DMC at one point. Now, this was very close to the time when we were recording the “Gas Face” video, so Russell had told us that all of them were going to come to the video, but actually only DMC and Jam Master Jay got out there. We told Lionel Martin to get us a big hammer and that we were going to have Run DMC kick the hammer down (laughs). So that really came out of our respect for Run DMC and was our way of saying that you couldn’t just come out and talk s**t about your founding fathers and be in the position that Hammer was in. I mean, there weren’t too many people who looked at Hammer as being a legitimate artist at the time anyway.”
What was 3rd Bass’s connection with KMD at the time you were recording “The Cactus Album”?
“Well, our dancers Ahmed and Otis, who were also known as Thing 1 and Thing 2, they were from Long Beach, New York and were all down together in the Get Yours Posse with KMD. Doom (Zev Love X) and Subroc were very young at the time when we first started out, and then they were doing their own material and writing. Subroc at the time wasn’t even rhyming, he just had his drum machine and was programming beats. Serch actually knew them before I did and then through the affiliation with our dancers we just started hanging out with them. If you look at the photos that are on the inside of “The Cactus Album” that look like we’re all at a house party, those were taken in the basement of Ahmed’s house. We were very close with them at that time. I remember, we were taking the Long Island Railroad out to see Prince Paul to work with him on “The Cactus Album” and Doom was coming out with us. Doom had been using the term ‘Gas Face’ relentlessly at the time and Serch said, ‘Let’s do a record called “The Gas Face”.’ So we literally wrote that record on the train to the studio and while we were actually in the studio. It was all just totally spontaneous. That’s why, even saying the stuff about Hammer on there, it was just all totally off the top of the head.”
“Brooklyn-Queens” was another big single off the album…
“”Brooklyn-Queens” was a song that I’d had as a concept back from the days of being with Lord Scotch. So that was us expanding on an original idea. The same thing with “Product Of The Environment”, which was us expanding on one of Serch’s original demos. He’d done “Product Of The Environment” with Sam Sever before we ever got together and I had “Brooklyn Queens” before Serch was with me.”
Another favourite track of mine was “Monte Hall” although it sounded totally different to anything else on “The Cactus Album” – where did the idea for that track come from?
“The music that was used on “Monte Hall” with the Grover Washington Jr. loops was something I’d actually planned to use for the “Soul In The Hole” song. But when we looped it up we just decided it would work better on “Monte Hall”. When you looked at Hip-Hop at the time, everyone had their love jam or whatever, like Whodini or UTFO, there was that tradition of having that type of record. So we wanted to have that type of record on the album but not be corny about it. We didn’t want it to come off as being something that wasn’t real. But “Monte Hall” was another record that just totally came together in the studio. I think I had thrown out the name and Serch was just like, ‘Yeah, we’ll f**kin’ call it “Monte Hall”‘ and then we just wrote s**t right there with Sam Sever hooking up the beats. So that song was totally something that wasn’t planned that just got created in the studio”
So there was definitely a lot of spontaneity involved in the recording of “The Cactus Album”?
“Yeah. I mean, we definitely had a lot of things planned out in terms of how many songs we wanted on the album and what the overall concept of the album was going to be. I mean, I’ve told people before how I had conversations with Chuck D about how your A-side should be the same length as your B-side on a cassette because if someone’s listening to it in their car you don’t want there to be any dead-space on your tape because then they might just put in someone else’s tape. So we definitely put a lot of thought into some things, but there was also a lot of spontaneous creativity involved.”
Moving forward, what was the concept behind the imagery used on 1991’s “Derelicts Of Dialect” album cover with the group being shown as ageing men?
“I mean, we had the idea for the title of the album and the concept for the cover came from us tying it into the idea that we kinda came into the business as almost like bums off the street and we figured we’d go out the same way. Actually, I think the people who did the make-up for the album cover were the same people who did the make up for the “Saturday Night Live” TV show. It was something that really we just planned for the album cover, but then it turned into a whole concept for the “Portrait Of The Artist As A Hood” video. I guess overall that was more of a darker album, but it was definitely a progression and reflected our personalities at the time.”
1991 was definitely a pivotal year in Hip-Hop in terms of the friction that was happening between the commercial rap that was starting to be embraced by the mainstream and the true-school artists who were still trying to be heard and recognised. It seemed like “Derelicts Of Dialect” really fell right alongside other albums that year like De La’s “De La Soul Is Dead” and Tribe’s “The Low End Theory” as a response to the commercial music that was being championed by the industry…
“That is true and the album was probably a reflection of the time too which is something I didn’t even think about, so you’re right on point there. Back in that time period we would get offered endorsement deals for Sprite, different soft drinks and other stuff and we would regularly turn them down as it was something that was kind of unheard of back then. We were all about our credibility. Nowadays people wouldn’t even think twice about an artist taking a deal like that, but back at that time it was foreign to us and didn’t really fit into the way we had patterned our career. Even to the point where Spike Lee had Serch and I come in and read for his “Malcolm X” movie. We read for it and he liked us. I remember Laurence Fishburne was in there reading for one of the other parts when we were coming into Spike’s office. He wanted us to play two of the prison guards who roughed Malcolm X up and we were just like, ‘Spike, can you picture people going into a movie theatre and seeing 3rd Bass rough up Malcolm X?’ In retrospect I can see what he was trying to do, but we actually turned it down. As much as we might have wanted to do it, we just couldn’t see ourselves in that role. Who knows how it would have been accepted if we’d done it, but the fact we turned it down because of how it could have been accepted just shows what a different time it was back then in the early-90s…”
I’m sure James Bernard would have written a column in The Source at the time if you had taken those roles…
“Yeah, exactly (laughs). We just didn’t think that it was appropriate so we stayed away. I mean, Spike really wanted us to do it and he might have had better judgement on it than we did, but we decided it’d be best to pass on that one.”
In the same way the MC Hammer beef was attached to “The Cactus Album”, 3rd Bass’s beef with Vanilla Ice was linked to “Derelicts Of Dialect” with the infamous “Pop Goes The Weasel” video beatdown. Were you going at Vanilla Ice primarily because he was one of the most successful commercial rap artists of the time or beccause he was a white successful commercial rap artist who you felt was damaging what Serch and yourself had achieved as white emcees?
“It just seemed to be the music in general at that time. You had Hammer. You had Vanilla Ice. I mean, to a lesser degree, you had Delicious Vinyl with Tone Loc and Young MC. There was a whole commercial side of the music that was going out to the whole country. Radio was really playing that stuff and still ignoring real Hip-Hop. So “Pop Goes The Weasel” was really our answer to that. I mean, that record was successful based on the strength of the familiarity of the Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer” loop, which got it into certain places that otherwise probably wouldn’t have been paying attention to our music. It was almost like a joke between us. I mean, we figured we’d do the record but didn’t really think it would be a single. But we kinda duped everyone into playing our little game because the next thing you know you had all these pop radio stations playing the record which was actually mocking the same people who were playing it. We’d even get sent out to be interviewed on some of these radio shows and then have to explain the concept behind the record (laughs)”.
Did you get any strange reactions once some of those pop deejays realised what the group’s intentions were with “Pop Goes The Weasel”?
“I mean, all the traditional morning jocks and people like that probably still didn’t get it (laughs). I think at that point, we’d turn up at these stations like, ‘Word to your mother’s grandmother’s aunt’s third cousin..’ and all kinds of other stupid s**t (laughs). I mean, I think our core audience at the time understood what we were doing with “Pop Goes The Weasel” and that we were using it as a way to get the message out there but at the same time still keep our own integrity. But that single definitely helped us sell more records. I mean, if we hadn’t broken up at the time I think “Derelicts Of Dialect” would have even sold more than it actually did. We were still out on tour when the group actually split up, so there were definitely more tours and singles planned in connection with that album. So overall, “Dereliects Of Dialect” could have been a much bigger record if we hadn’t split at the time.”
KMD and Chubb Rock were both featured on the album, but “Microphone Techniques” with Nice & Smooth is still one of my favourite collaborations of the 90s to this day…
“That was fun to make. I always loved Nice & Smooth. Greg Nice is just such a character. Being in the studio with those guys was just nuts and something that I’ll always remember. The same thing with being in the studio with Chubb Rock when we did “Kick ‘Em In The Grill”. The verse that Chubb kicked on there just killed me. But with both Greg’s verse on “Microphone Techniques” and Chubb’s on “Kick ‘Em In The Grill”, when they each actually got in the booth to record and dropped their rhymes, everyone just lost it (laughs).”
What memories do you gave of working with Prince Paul on “Derelicts Of Dialect”?
“I mean, when we worked with Prince Paul on “The Cactus Album” it was very spontaneous and just came together. But when it came to the second album, we definitely had more time in the studio with Paul. We recorded most of those songs at this studio called Calliope, which is where KMD did a lot of their stuff to. But we spent a lot of time in there working with Paul and he was working on other stuff at the same time, like a lot of the De La stuff. So it was a cool time creatively to be spending time working with Prince Paul. We were collaborating with him quite a bit, throwing ideas that we had at him, then he’d pick up on something and throw an idea back at us. It was a great process because Paul was never tied to pre-conceived ideas of what he wanted to do as a producer going into the studio. I mean, sometimes we’d go in the studio and he might just have one loop set-up and we’d be like, ‘Man, what is that? We gotta have that one.’ The song “Come In” is something that came together like that. I mean, the actual song “Derelicts Of Dialect” was another big collaboration between us. We already had the concept of what we wanted and then Paul came up with the 9th Creation loop that was used on that record. I think that was actually the first record that we did for the album and really established where we wanted to go with the “Derelicts Of Dialect” project in terms of it being a darker album compared to the first album.”
You mentioned earlier about the group splitting-up – was there a particular moment when you realised that 3rd Bass was over or was it a gradual process?
“I mean, Serch and I had personal problems on the tour we did to support “Derelicts Of Dialect”. We probably didn’t speak to each other for a long stretch of that tour. We’d perform and people probably went to the show and didn’t think there was anything wrong whatsoever. But we had beef together and it probably started a lot earlier than we even thought. I remember there was one point where we did a show for Hot 97 in New York and I think they wanted Marky Mark to open up for us. We told Lyor that we weren’t going to perform and he basically had to beg us to get us to do it. So he basically knew there were some problems in the group and he tried to give us a little talk which probably prolonged things for another couple of weeks, but we just couldn’t move forward together at that point.”
Was it a mutual decision between you and Serch to end the group or were either of you pushing for it to happen more than the other?
“Actually, because we were so succesful at that time I don’t think we really thought that Def Jam was going to let us split-up. We had a lot of things that we were tied into contractually as well. So I think that was a bad move on the label’s part and also with our management. I think a lot of people could have done things differently. But it’s not like we were hammering it home like, ‘We’ve gotta do our solo s**t! We’ve gotta do our solo s**t!’ So things just progressed into that. I mean, at some point I think Serch did some demos and spoke to Russell. I don’t even know if Russell just thought that we could do some solo stuff and then still be 3rd Bass. Who knows what he thought? I mean, if there’s anything that describes where me and Serch were at back then, I guess my “Rat Bastard” video kind of answered any thoughts anyone had about ‘Do these guys have problems together?’ Yes, we did…”
That video definitely didn’t leave much to the imagination…
In the world of Hip-Hop there are those who boastfully make misguided claims of legendary status and those who have legendary status bestowed upon them by fans and peers due to their talent and contributions to the artform. Queens, NY icon Mikey D definitely falls into the latter category.
Making his name on the streets of early-80s New York as a ferocious battle emcee, the skilled wordsmith quickly built a reputation that would see him continue to be respected as an artist throughout the years, from his L.A. Posse releases with innovative producer Paul C. and childhood friend DJ Johnny Quest, to his time as a member of Main Source in the 90s and up to the present day.
Despite enduring numerous career setbacks during decades of destroying microphones, Mikey’s passion for the music and culture which grabbed his attention as a young kid from Laurelton’s Merrick Boulevard has never left him.
Currently putting the finishing touches to a project with NY vinyl veteran DJ Mercury under the name Elements Of Hip-Hop, Mikey D kindly took some time out to discuss his long personal history for this three-part interview, including his relationship with a young LL Cool J, winning the 1988 New Music Seminar emcee battle, the tragic murder of Paul C. and his future music plans.
Can you remember when you were first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“It was around the late-70s, like 78, 79. I was in Laurelton, Queens, but my boy Derek, we called him Dee Money, he was from Harlem but his grandmother lived next door to my grandmother and in the summertime he would always come to Queens. Now, his brother was a little older than him, so he would be going to Harlem World and have all the cassettes of the live shows. So Dee Money used to steal his brother’s tapes and bring them with him to Queens for the summer (laughs). So, we’re just little kids at the time, sitting on the steps listening to this new music, which was Hip-Hop. After awhile I started emulating what I was hearing coming out of that big radio on the tapes and I had it y’know. I was saying the rhymes I was hearing on the tapes but I was doing it my way. Then eventually I started writing my own rhymes. I remember Grandmaster Caz had this rhyme about a girl named Yvette and the rhyme that I wrote was about a girl named Kim (laughs). So I was emulating Grandmaster Caz when I wrote my first rhyme and that was really my introduction right there because after I wrote that rhyme everybody started feeling it and I wanted more.”
So it was the lyrical aspect of Hip-Hop that grabbed you immediately rather than any of the other elements?
“It was definitely the rapping and the way the crowd took to the rapper that drew me in. The way the crowd would respond to a rapper’s punchlines and things like that just drove me crazy when I heard it. I was always a class clown and stuff like that and I liked the attention so that was my niche right there (laughs).”
At what point did you make the move from writing rhymes to actually performing in public?
“Johnny Quest used to live right down the block from me at the time I started writing rhymes. Johnny’s brother gave him some equipment for Christmas, around like 1980 / 81, but we were still young so we were really just rapping in the house and making tapes. Then the tapes started getting known publicly. Now, at this time, they used to always throw these park jams around the way, but I was always scared to get on because it was the older guys that were running the set and doing their thing. I was getting known underground from the tapes, so I was being recognised for that, but I was still just rapping in people’s houses. But one day I went to this park, 231, where they had this jam and I’m sitting there vibin’ and enjoying what’s going on. There was this guy there called TLC, I’ll never forget it. For some reason he had the balls to call me out. Now, at this point I’d never had a battle or rocked in front of a crowd and now we’re in the park, there’s a big crowd, I’m already hot from the tapes but I don’t have the experience of rockin’ in front of a large crowd. So TLC calls me out and starts disrespecting me in his rhyme and I was like, ‘Holy s**t!’ But what he didn’t know was that I’d come prepared. I’d already written battle rhymes just incase something like this ever happened, because when we were rockin’ in the houses there could be seventeen other emcees there getting on the tapes with you, so you never knew who had what, so you always had to be prepared for a battle. So I went out there and tore TLC apart (laughs). That was the first time I ever performed in front of an audience and it was the first time I got a taste of blood and like a pitbull I wanted more (laughs).”
Did TLC already know you from the tapes or did he call you out because he thought you were an easy target?
“TLC definitely knew who I was at that time but he had the crown in the park jams already. I was only known from the tapes, not for the park jams. So he took it upon himself to try and play me. But that was a bad decision for him and that was it for me. After I won that first battle it was off to the races, man.”
So that was the moment you decided you wanted to be known as a battle rapper?
“Yeah. I think a lot of these emcees and rappers that come out now, they learn how to do it. I feel like I was born to do this. From hearing those first tapes that Dee Money had, I knew from that point on that rhyming was what I wanted to do and it just came so naturally to me. I knew rhyming was something that was meant for me to do.”
How old were you when you had that first battle?
“I was around twelve or thirteen.”
Do you still remember the rhyme that you dropped?
“Oh my god, I don’t even remember what I said to TLC (laughs). But it definitely shut him down. I don’t even think he was rapping after that (laughs).”
And this is back when losing a public battle and having your reputation damaged by another emcee could easily end someone’s reign as a popular rapper in the neighbourhood…
“Exactly. And it wasn’t only the emcee as an individual who suffered when they lost a battle, it was the whole neighbourhood as well. See, TLC was from Farmers Boulevard and Farmers was in the house that day in the park. So he’s seen as being the best emcee from Farmers, and now here I come, a new jack from Laurelton, Merrick Boulevard to be exact, and those two places were already rivals. So here TLC is putting me on the spot, which meant putting the reputation of the area he was reppin’ on the line as well. So once I took him out, that’s what put Laurelton on the map and that was really the moment the L.A. Posse was born.”
What other artists were there at that time on the street who had reps in Queens?
“Well at that time there weren’t too many people out. I mean, this was before Run DMC, this was more around the Sugarhill Gang / Funky Four Plus One More era and a lot of those guys were coming from the Bronx. In Queens at that time we were still finding our way. We had a group called the Rappermatical 5 from Laurelton. They were the only group I knew from Queens at that time who had a record out. They were from my neighbourhood. I never had the opportunity to battle them though because I looked up to them at that time. There was another group around called the Professional 5 as well, but Queens was really still trying to find its way. We didn’t get on the map until Run DMC really.”
How did you become part of the Clientele Brothers?
“The Clientele Brothers lived in my neighbourhood. They were the baddest. They were to Queens what Cold Crush was to the Bronx. There was four of ’em. They were all hot emcees. They had the dance steps. They were that crew that I really looked up to. There was one particular guy in the crew called Eddie O’Jay and he was like the Black Fonz. He was the coolest dude on earth to me (laughs). He had all the girls. So I followed his path in terms of the way he carried himself. I was like a young him. He didn’t even know who I was back then because they were already doing their thing, but eventually we got an opportunity to meet and talk and that’s when I actually became a part of the Clientele Brothers.”
Is that when you started using the name Playboy Mikey D?
“Well Playboy Mikey D was a little before the Clientele Brothers. At the time we had a group called the Sensational 5 and we all had our little nicknames like Everlovin’ Kid Ice, Loveable Little B, Loverboy TC, Romantic Lover Snow and I was Playboy Mikey D. That’s actually when Cool J got down with us and we gave him the name Ladies Love.”
So at what point did you meet LL and what stage was he at in terms of his aspirations to be a rapper?
“Well me and L, we were about fifteen when we met. I went to Springfield High School and he went to Jackson High School. We didn’t know each other. Now, in the same way the neighbourhoods would have one person to rep a particular place, so did the schools. Springfield and Jackson were rival schools. I was the baddest dude in Springfield and word of mouth had it that Cool J, or Jay-Ski as he was known then, was the best in Jackson. So we had mutual friends who wanted to see us battle. They hooked up a place for us to meet, which was Roller Castle in Elmont, Long Island. Flavor Flav was down with his crew called Spectrum and they used to deejay and host all these different events there. Now, me and Cool J weren’t scheduled to battle on the flyer or anything, that was just the place where everybody would go on the weekend. But we arranged to meet there, get on the mic and battle. So Cool J and I both got there and met each other for the very first time. Now, back in those days, before you’d even battle or get onstage, you might be off in a corner somewhere comparing notes, you say a rhyme, I’ll say a rhyme, just feeling each other out. So that’s what we did and both of us were buggin’ out because his voice texture and how he would spit certain rhymes reminded me of myself and vice versa. We didn’t have the exact same style, but we did have similar styles. We were feeling each other, we slapped five, we became friends and we got up on that stage and we rocked together. We didn’t battle. We thought we sounded too much alike, so we decided we should get up and rock together. We got cool from that day on and he started coming around the way all the time. So that’s how me and Cool J met in the beginning. Jay-Ski!”
So was the plan for you to continue performing together?
“Well, I was down with both Sensational and the Clientele Brothers, doing shows with both of them. Cool J was from Hollis, borderline St. Albans. He would come around my way all the time to check me out because I was already doing things. I was a street legend already from the tapes and Cool J was on the come-up. So he used to walk from his ‘hood to my ‘hood. He wasn’t wearing Kangols at this time though, he was just wearing regular clothes, head-bands, whatever. I introduced him to the whole crew and the guys from Sensational wanted to put him in the group. Now, his name being Jay-Ski just didn’t sound right with the rest of the names we had in the group. So he went home, slept on what I’d said, then came back around the way the next day and was like, ‘I’ve changed my name! I’ve changed my name to Cool J!’ I was like, ‘I like that! That sounds dope! But you need a nickname! You’re always talking about how you want the ladies to love you, so you should be called Ladies Love Cool J. That would be dope!’ He went home, thought about it, then came back the next day and said he was keeping that name. So that was the birth of Ladies Love Cool J. That’s where the name came from. The LL part got broken down when he started messing with Def Jam because they thought the name was too long. He didn’t want to get rid of the Ladies Love part of his name so he broke it down to LL Cool J.”
Were you aware of LL’s deal with Def Jam before it happened?
“Yeah, he brought it to my attention. But you see with Cool J, in the early days, he had a reputation for stretching the truth and exaggerating about certain things. So I didn’t believe him (laughs). I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ First of all, I’d never heard of Def Jam at that particular time. LL showed me the contract, he told me we could be the next Run DMC and I thought he was day-dreaming again and running off with his mouth (laughs). At that time as well, that was when I started to become more street-orientated and was really finding my own way. I was hangin’ with the Clientele Brothers who were much older than me, drinking forties, and starting to be around the wrong elements. Whereas Cool J on the other hand, he was really taking his dream seriously and was following those proper channels. What I did wrong was that I doubted him. I didn’t believe him. First of all he’d tried to steal my spot in the Clientele Brothers, he started getting this ego thinking he was better than me. So there was a little jealousy and animosity boiling between us back then. So when he showed me the Def Jam contract I just didn’t believe him. I thought it was another one of his stunts to try and impress people and make me look bad, that’s how I was looking at it. But I was wrong. Then LL got signed to Def Jam and the rest is history (laughs).”
Do you remember hearing LL’s debut single “I Need A Beat” for the first time?
“Yes I do, yes I do. The first time I heard it I was in Rochdale Village, Queens. It came on the radio and I was like ‘Damn! This s**t sounds like me. Holy cow! Cool J did it!’ I swear to God when that record first started getting played my phone was ringing off the hook with people congratulating me about my record because that’s how much we sounded alike. Everybody thought that record was me (laughs). Cool J came by the house a couple of times after that record came out and we talked, kicked it and stuff like that. But see, he wasn’t trying to put me on then because I’d have been a threat.”
So there wasn’t ever any talk at that point of you working together on any of his Def Jam material?
“No. He really tried to stay as far away from that as possible because I would have been the only person out at the time who could have given him any type of competition or been able to take any attention away from him. There would have been two of us out there then who were equally as nice and LL wouldn’t have been getting all of the attention. Plus, after a little time the streets started rejecting him because of the similarities. The way he changed his style to sound even more like me. My image became his image and people on the streets noticed that. If you were to ask anyone who came up around here during that time they would all vouch for me because the streets could see what was happening and that’s when the real animosity came in because he really wanted to prove to everyone that he was better than me. But what’s so funny about that is that a little after that Russell Simmons called my phone and asked me to sit down for a meeting with him and Rick Rubin. So I went to the meeting and these guys told me that they wanted to put me on, this, that and the third.”
How early in LL’s career did this meeting happen?
“Well, it was kinda early. It was before the “Radio” album came out so it would have been between 1984 and 1985. I remember it was a little before I got the contract with Reality Records to do “No Show” with the Symbolic Three. But the reason I never signed with Def Jam was because their intention was to have me there as that back-up in case Cool J’s fire started to go out. So they would have had a similar artist ready to come straight out. But I would have just been there sitting on the shelf. Now, LL Cool J has been going for thirty years and is still going strong so if I’d have signed that contract I’d have still been sitting on that shelf (laughs).”
Was LL aware that meeting had taken place?
“No, we never discussed that and even to this day I’m not sure he’s aware that actually happened (laughs). I think the reason they wanted to sign me was because they knew that if I got with another label then I would have been a real threat to what they had going with Cool J. Eventually we would have bumped heads and that could have meant a big problem for Def Jam back then.”
How did you end-up writing and featuring on the Symbolic Three’s 1985 Doug E. Fresh answer record “No Show”?
“Well, I already knew the group who were known as the Symbolic Four at the time. But one of them was so bad she had to go to reform school or something like that, so it just became three of them. I started dating one of the group, Sha-Love, that’s my daughter’s mom. Now what happened was, I went to the “Krush Groove” film set to be an extra. I met DJ Dr. Shock that day. Me and my human beatbox Prince Cie went down there and although we were only supposed to be extras in the movie we were all over the set freestyling. We were getting a lot of attention that day. So I met Dr. Shock who took my number and he said he knew someone who was a manager, which was Arthur Armstrong. I met with Arthur Armstrong and he wanted to sign me and then I brought in the Symbolic Three because they said they needed a girl group. Now Arthur was close friends with Jerry Bloodrock who ran Reality Records back then. Now at this time Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick had just come out with “The Show” and Jerry said he knew a lot of people were going to try and answer that record so he wanted to put out an answerback record immediately on the same label. Now back then, I was the master of parody and used to always flip people’s records, so I wrote “No Show” for the girls and obviously wrote myself into the track and threw a couple of jabs here and there (laughs). So that’s really how that record came about because Jerry Bloodrock wanted to try and keep all of the answer records to “The Show” in-house. “No Show” came out before Super Nature’s “The Show Stoppa” with Salt-N-Pepa and them.”
Considering how big of a record “The Show” was were you comfortable making “No Show” knowing that it could be seen as a diss record?
“I really didn’t care because I was just trying to get out there. My whole M.O. back then was battling so it was second nature to me to do that song. I just made it a funny song. I didn’t know Doug or Slick personally at that time but I really wasn’t caring what the response might have been if they’d wanted to battle after that because I knew Slick Rick couldn’t have touched me lyrically and Doug wasn’t really a rapper. Plus, I didn’t go too hard at them and get personal on the record or anything like that, I just wrote a fun song. I wasn’t trying to start beef or anything like that, I was just doing what the company wanted and was hoping to be able to put some hit records out.”
Did you ever get any feedback on that record from Doug or Rick?
“I never heard from Slick Rick but I did hear from Doug E. Fresh. I remember him telling me, ‘Yo! You are nice on the mic but you’ve gotta stop dissing people’ (laughs). Doug and I are friends to this day but I’ve never actually met Slick Rick personally.”
Considering you’d largely made your name as a battle emcee up to that point, how did you find the transition from rhyming in the street to working in the studio?
“It was easy because, like I said, rhyming came natural to me. When I first started writing rhymes I was already writing material based around concepts anyway. The first rhyme I ever wrote was a story. So I was used to writing stuff other than just battle rhymes. All I had to do was format the song, which wasn’t nothing. I just had to write one looooong rhyme and then just break it up. So it wasn’t hard. The only thing I did wrong back then was that I kept the streets with me. I didn’t separate the streets from the studio. I was busy, as they say now, trying to keep it real and all that crap. I didn’t separate the business from the street and that was the biggest mistake I made back then.”
Looking back now are there any street battles that you think of as moments when you really earnt your stripes as an emcee?
“Wow, there were so many of them (laughs). I remember going to Kool G. Rap’s house before he even had any records out and his name was just Kool G at the time. I remember telling him, ‘Your name sounds like you’re trying to bite off my man Cool J’ (laughs). I’d just put “No Show” out, so they took me to his house and we battled. That was a pretty nice battle. That was cool. He said I won but I actually thought we were kinda even. I think he was just being humble (laughs).”
Did G. Rap say that at the time or was that something said in hindsight?
“Nah, we slapped five and G. Rap was like ‘You got it! You got it!’ That’s just what I did back in those days. See, I just got so fed up with going from corner to corner in my neighbourhood and battling and being the best in my area, that me and Johnny Quest used to buy a quart of beer, we would jump on the bus and the train, get off at a random stop and if we saw any people in a cypher we’d assume they were rapping and I’d step into the cypher and be like, ‘Who’s the emcee over here? Who’s the baddest emcee around here? I’ll battle aaaanybody!’ We used to walk through ‘hoods doing that. We walked through Queensbridge doing that. Nobody wanted it. A few tried but they lost. There were so many of those battles (laughs). I actually remember one particular time, I used to go with this girl called Shantel who was Run’s cousin and she had this birthday party. DMC was there and Jam Master Jay was there. They were walking around the party like they were all that and I was like, ‘I’ll battle y’all! Y’all ain’t saying nothin’! I’ll battle both of y’all’ (laughs). Jam Master Jay was saying ‘Wait until Run come and then we can do it.’ I was saying that we didn’t even have to do it at the party, we could do it outside in the park, because at the same park where I beat TLC in that first battle, they were jammin’ outside that night as well. They accepted my challenge, I went to that park and those guys never showed up. So I battled them without them even being there (laughs). There’s still tapes of that going around. But when it comes to battles, the New Music Seminar in 1988 when me and Melle Mel went at it, that was the one. That battle was when I really had to earn my respect on another level.”
Lookout for Part Two of this interview coming soon with Mikey D discussing working with legendary producer Paul C. and his infamous New Music Seminar battle with Grandmaster Melle Mel.
“Bad Meaning Good” is a documentary put together by current Radio 1 ‘big dog’ Tim Westwood which originally aired in 1987 on BBC TV here in the UK – at the time the film was shown it was ground-breaking to see British Hip-Hop figures such as London Posse, Cookie Crew and Crazy Noddy on mainstream television – vintage footage alert!
Today is the ten year anniversary of the tragic death of Run DMC’s legendary Jam Master Jay – the footage below is of Jay lecturing in Australia in 1998 at Sydney’s United DJ Mixing School sharing his love of Hip-Hop – RIP JMJ!
In the autumn of 1986, Dutch film-maker Bram Van Splunteren undertook what, at the time, many of his peers no doubt deemed to be a foolhardy quest, travelling to the drug-ridden, poverty-stricken inner-city streets of New York to gain a better understanding of the Hip-Hop artists who had caught his imagination and begun to rival his passion for rock artists of the day.
Entering the Rotten Apple with a small camera crew, a list of contacts and a wide-eyed fascination with this new style of cutting-edge music that had seemingly appeared on the world stage almost from nowhere, Splunteren unknowingly captured footage of artists who would go on to become some of Hip-Hop’s most iconic figures during the early days of their recording careers. At the same time the film also shows the close connection between Hip-Hop and the streets the culture was born from by including a handful of rap-obsessed youngsters attempting to look towards a brighter future in a social environment battered by Reaganomics, the 80s crack epidemic and failing school systems.
As the documentary begins, Splunteren is seen in his hotel room flicking through a copy of David Toop’s seminal 1984 book “Rap Attack”, doing some last minute research accompanied by the radio sounds of the late Mr. Magic and a youthful Marley Marl before fully immersing himself in a week of interviews, live performances and tours around some of NYC’s roughest areas of the time.
First visiting turntable pioneer Grandmaster Flash in his South Bronx stomping grounds, the journalist is shown the already defunct Dixie Club (as seen in classic Hip-Hop flick “Wild Style”) before returning to Flash’s nearby apartment where the legend shows-off both a typically garish 80s-style personalised leather jacket and also his natural ability to “take (a record) apart and put it back together again”, cutting up the timeless “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” breakbeat whilst explaining how his first attempts to showcase his talents back in the 70s were disappointingly met with public bemusement.
Before leaving the BX, Splunteren pays a visit to the Harry S Truman High School, capturing teenage students dropping old-school rhymes in the playground, whilst an astute teacher explains how Hip-Hop had provided a creative outlet for the kids seen adopting b-boy poses for the camera at a time when lack of funds meant that music classes had been stripped out of many inner-city schools.
A young Doug E. Fresh is found standing on a Harlem street-corner, running through his beatbox repertoire whilst also predicting Hip-Hop’s rise to global prominence, before Bram makes his way to the crack-infested blocks of Manhattan’s Lower East Side to interview events promoter Vito Bruno about the supposed connection between Hip-Hop and violence.
Perhaps suprisingly, two of the forty-minute film’s most memorable scenes don’t involve any well-known names or soon-to-be legendary figures, but instead capture the hopes, dreams and fears of unknowns caught up in the excitement of being part of a cultural movement the world-at-large was still attempting to understand.
First comes a sobering moment during a one-on-one interview with a member of Manhattan’s CBS Crew, where, away from the boisterous teenage energy of his homeboys, the young Hip-Hop junkie expresses his desire to see his friends succeed in life by making positive choices, but resigns himself to the fact that, living in ghetto circumstances, there’s a strong chance some of those close to him may find themselves caught up in gangs and crime.
Then, upon arriving at Def Jam’s headquarters to meet with Russell Simmons, Splunteren encounters Chicago duo The Mystery Crew, who have travelled all the way from the Windy City to rhyme outside the label’s offices in the hope they might attract the right sort of attention and land a record deal. Delivering lyrics in a brash, back-and-forth Run-DMC style, the pair power their way through inspiring verses speaking out against social ills with a sense of purpose that hints at the fact that, even if the rest of the world hadn’t yet worked it out, these Chi-town emcees knew that Hip-Hop had the potential to change both their lives and the lives of those around them.
It’s difficult to watch “Big Fun In The Big Town” and not find yourself wondering what happened to both the members of NY’s CBS Crew and the Mystery boys. The stories of other artists featured such as Run DMC, Roxanne Shante and Schoolly D have been well-documented, but the inclusion of these moments with relative unknowns only goes to illustrate how much of a lifeline and powerful force Hip-Hop was (and still is) to anyone who felt the cultural ripples of the creative blast that exploded out of the Bronx during the 1970s and early-80s.
Another highlight is seeing a teenage LL Cool J naively discussing how he doesn’t feel Hip-Hop artists should contain messages in their music as such subject matter might alienate listeners, with Mr. Smith’s interview being juxtaposed against footage of Suliaman El Hadi of The Last Poets criticising Hip-Hop artists for not doing enough to make their audience think about the world around them, choosing instead to use their lyrics to, as he sees it, simply boost their own egos.
Call it foresight or just pure luck, but Splunteren seems to display a knack throughout “Big Fun In The Big Town” for touching on topics that would become huge issues for the Hip-Hop community in the years to follow, from the lack of female emcees in the rap world, to the relationship between rap and violence, on to the subject of artistic authenticity and the place of rappers as role models.
Although enthusiastic and obviously keen to find out more about the artists whose records he’d been buying and listening to, Bram’s interview technique and approach to his subjects goes far beyond simple fandom. The Dutch journalist treats the artists he speaks to with a respect and overall awareness of the culture’s roots that wouldn’t come from the mainstream music media for some time.
An undiluted snapshot of a burgeoning artform trying to find its place in the world, “Big Fun In The Big Town” is a timeless piece of film-making that captures everything that was exciting and fresh about Hip-Hop during the culture’s unreplicable golden-age, without ignoring some of the more serious social issues that surrounded the music.
Essential viewing for both old and new Hip-Hop fans alike.
Trailer for the forthcoming DVD release of Dutch film-maker Bram Van Splunteren’s classic 1986 documentary “Big Fun In The Big Town” which was filmed in NYC and features Hip-Hop icons such as Run DMC, Doug E. Fresh, Grandmaster Flash and more.