Tag Archives: Russell Simmons

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

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In the final part of my interview with Prime Minister Pete Nice, the Hip-Hop legend talks about recording his 1993 solo album “Dust To Dust”, the death of KMD’s DJ Subroc and the legacy of 3rd Bass –  make sure you check Part One, Part Two and Part Three before reading further.

When you started working on your 1993 solo album “Dust To Dust” with Daddy Rich were you concerned about how it was going to be received by fans considering you were coming out of a successful group?

“I mean, I’d always done more of the production on the 3rd Bass records. Serch didn’t really do too much on the production end. So me and Rich were already working really well together both with other producers and on the things that we would do on our own. So we liked the challenge of musically doing s**t on our own. Plus, I’d been working a lot at the time with The Beatnuts with Kurious, so it kinda fell in together. I mean, some of the beats that they had that ended-up on the songs we collaborated on were just nuts. Rich and I were always very proud of “Dust To Dust”. Some people just look at commercial sales but we had a lot of critical acclaim with that project. I mean, listen, if that album had had Serch on it as well and was a 3rd Bass album, it probably could have done better. Obviously, we would have had some different songs on there, but “Dust To Dust” was probably going in the direction of what another 3rd Bass album would have been.”

Personally, I thought Serch’s 1992 “Return Of The Product” project was a solid album, but it did have a slightly different musical vibe to it in comparison to 3rd Bass, mainly due to the work he was doing with production duo Wolf & Epic…

“I mean, Serch had more of a kind-of R&B influence on his album. Now, when we were in the studio, we would both have different ideas of what we wanted, and at some point if me and Rich weren’t there to tone Serch down then the music would go to a certain point. So it was almost like, his solo album was the album you would have had if me and Rich hadn’t been there to pull him back on certain things (laughs). But, you could also say that Serch would hold us back on certain ideas we had as well, which is why 3rd Bass worked so well together when we were in the studio.”

Do you feel that any label politics played a part in how well “Dust To Dust” performed?

“I mean, this was all around the time when Russell was looking to the West Coast and signing Warren G and Montell Jordan. Plus, the other thing that was figured into the mix was the fact that I was working with Kurious Jorge at that point and Russell really wanted Jorge. I wanted a good deal for Jorge and at the same time Donnie Ienner at Sony offered me my label deal for Hoppoh with Bobbito. We really couldn’t turn that down. So there was animosity between myself and Lyor because had had beef with Donnie Ienner as Def Jam was going through a break-up with Sony at the time. I guess you could say that “Dust To Dust” kinda got caught up in the middle of all that. I know I used to speak with people and they’d tell me that Def Jam weren’t working my solo record on purpose. I mean, when they saw that Serch only got to a certain level with his first release as a soloist with a lot of push, that might have influenced things. I mean, Rich and I had some success, but we had no push. That was a really strange time. There were all the problems with KMD at Elektra when Ice-T had the whole “Cop Killer” censorship situation which totally f**ked-up KMD with the album artwork for “Black Bastards”. Then Elektra ended-up dropping the group. We had the tragedy with Subroc and it was just a crazy time. It had even got to a point where KMD had beef with Serch when we had beef together. We did a song for KRS-One on the H.E.A.L. album and Serch said a couple of lines on the track that KMD didn’t like. It was just weird, man. So I ended-up managing KMD when originally they were Serch’s group. I mean, he discovered them. I didn’t know them beforehand. So it was all pretty strange.”

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“Dust To Dust” came out following the release of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and the East Coast / West Coast split was starting to happen with gangsta rap really beginning to dominate the industry. What was your opinion at the time on the direction Hip-Hop was moving in?

“I always thought there was room for both East Coast and West Coast groups. I mean, when we came out as 3rd Bass there was a lot of West Coast music out there with the whole N.W.A. thing. When we went out on the road we would see all these pockets of local artists who were big regionally, but there was always room for music from people outside of each region. I guess that West Coast sound did kinda take over, but I still think a lot of East Coast groups at that time still had great followings. Then of course Biggie Smalls came out and did what he did. 2Pac was someone who was interesting to me. When we were with him, we were touring with Digital Underground and he was basically just doing crowd warm-ups and being a roadie. I remember buying 2Pac Whoppers in Burger King and he would get his hair cut by Daddy Rich in my hotel room at the Holiday Inn or something (laughs). That’s the 2Pac that I remember. He was a very intelligent, thoughtful kid at the time. It just seemed that when he was in “Juice”, which Daddy Rich was in as well, he just turned into this more gangsta persona which really wasn’t him. We did a show soon after that out in San Francisco and we saw him there thugged-out with the gold chains. We went up to him and it was almost like he was playin’ us like, ‘I’m too big for this now’ (laughs).”

The Beatnuts produced a number of tracks on “Dust To Dust” – what drew you to their sound?

“I had seen them around and knew them, but when Jorge formally hooked-up with them and said he wanted the Beatnuts to do a lot of tracks on his album, that was when I’d be in the studio with them working on the Kurious stuff. So then it was a natural progression and they’d play me certain things they’d been working on and I’d hear certain tracks and just totally fell in love with their sound. To me, they were taking a certain style to a different level than even someone like a Prince Paul, with it being a little darker and a little heavier. They were definitely very creative with the way they would manipulate sounds. All they really had to do was play me a couple of tapes with tracks they’d done and I was sold right there. I mean, I was already sold on them with the stuff they’d done for Jorge.”

The track they gave you for “Verbal Massage” off “Dust To Dust” still stands as some of the best Beatnuts production ever…

“That beat was ridiculous. Something else that was interesting about recording the album was that, after doing a couple of albums and seeing how much money gets wasted by using a big studio like a Chung King, we actually did “Dust To Dust” in our engineer Adam Gazzola’s house. So we saved a lot of money actually recording it there and then we’d mix it in the bigger studios. That was an interesting process, because it was right at the time when you were able to do more on computers.”

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The album had some crazy skits on it. Was that your mother on the answerphone interlude getting upset about her “intelligent son” being at a Public Enemy concert?

“I’m trying to think who’s mother that was (laughs). That wasn’t my mother. It just shows you how long it’s been since I fully listened to the album (laughs). Right at that point, it was around the time that the Jerky Boys were coming out, so that interlude was definitely influenced by that. That was one of my favourite interludes as well. But it definitely wasn’t my mother. It was one of my friend’s mothers. Now you’ve got me thinking and I definitely have to play that back and try to figure out who it was (laughs). The “Pass The Pickle” skit was funny because that was MC Disagree & The Re-Animator. Their stories are funny because those dudes basically hung out with us when we were still trying to make it as 3rd Bass and obviously they had the tie-ins with the Beastie Boys and everything. But at a certain point, John, who was the Re-Animator and lived on the Lower East Side, when we did the first album we had that part where we said you can call up our man Re-Animator and put his number out there. We did all that s**t totally unplanned, just gave out his number and didn’t even tell him. At any point, he would be at home and he would have girls calling him up from Sweden or whatever. But he loved it because he would actually talk to all these people (laughs). That’s actually how he met a guy who would become a good friend to mostly all of us, this kid Beckham. He started to come to a lot of our shows. He called-up John, John got him in touch with us, then next thing you know this kid’s doing the shows with us (laughs). It was nuts.”

So it was the ultimate fan hotline…

“I mean, you think you’re doing something just as a goof, and then John was just getting calls all day long. I remember, he had some calls from people trying to buy Serch’s underwear (laughs). It got to the point where I used to give him stuff to send out to people (laughs). I mean, I had a fan show up who’d tracked me down just recently who collects all kinds of 3rd Bass memorabilia. I have to laugh because I’ve been collecting baseball memorabilia since I was a kid and my interest is in fraud in that particular industry, so I’ve been known to track down old-time baseball guys in the same way that this guy tracked me down. So I definitely had to hit him off with some items.”

I guess your passion for baseball helps you put it into context when you meet old 3rd Bass fans who’re still so enthusiastic about the group, because you are to us what an old baseball player would be to you…

“Exactly (laughs). So I definitely don’t look at people like they’re nuts when they do approach me like that. I definitely appreciate it.”

Unless they’re asking for underwear…

“That’s when it kinda goes wrong (laughs)…”

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What was the deal with the Drednotz who were also featured on “Dust To Dust” and went on to release the brilliant “Causin’ A Menace” single in 94 on Elektra?

“The Drednotz were Rich’s group and Benz was the main emcee. Rich had gotten them a deal and that was totally his thing. But we put Benz on “Dust To Dust” on the “3 Blind Mice” track with Kurious. But Drednotz were another great group at that time who kind of got lost in the mix. Artifacts were another great group who were affiliated with us on the management side through Bobbito, and they still have a great following today. But I guess at that time, that was the point where things started to get saturated, even on the underground.”

Taking it back a little, how did you first actually meet Kurious?

“When I was at Columbia, my room-mate and the guy who ended-up being our 3rd Bass road-manager, SAKE, he was a graffiti artist and was also on my basketball team. We lived on 100th & Columbus and Jorge’s building was over on the otherside of the park on, like, 97th. So I knew Jorge through the neighbourhood and also through Bobbito because he lived in Jorge’s building. So when Jorge came-up, he would just be hanging-out at clubs rhyming. First, we got Bobbito a job at Def Jam starting at the bottom. I remember he showed he had potential over there in terms of knowing what the kids were listening to in the streets. I remember he was up on Special Ed before anyone else was (laughs). So then they had him promoting records over at Def Jam, then one thing led to another and he took it further with his own talents. Then Bobbito got Jorge a little gig working at Def Jam and so then he was around everybody and it went from there.”

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How much of an impact did Subroc’s tragic passing in 1993 have on you?

“I think the point when Subroc passed away was a real turning point. I mean, I had KMD with Serch, we were their managers, they came in as basically like this innocent group of devout Muslim artists who were very young. Then they got a little older, started to get their own identities, then next thing you know they’re drinking forties and poppin’ acid all over the place. I had Subroc come to my office several times with a machete in his coat and I’d be like, ‘You’ve gotta calm down, man.’ I remember he came to the office one time, I hit him off with an advance for one of their records or whatever, and I figured I had to drive him to the Long Island Railroad so that I knew I’m getting him on the train and he’s not going to get into any trouble. So I’m driving him to the station and he’s asking me how much dynamite it would take to blow up the railroad station in his town in Long Beach?! He was definitely experimenting with drugs and s**t and it was very hard to keep tabs and keep control on the artists that I was dealing with. Then when Subroc actually died it was just such a shock, even though in some ways you could see it coming, y’know. It was just very disconcerting all around.”

Zev Love X’s re-emergence some years later as MF Doom has to be one of the greatest artist comebacks in the history of Hip-Hop…

“I’ve gotta give it to Doom, because he went underground for awhile and was just totally out of it. Then he re-emerged doing the poetry slams and everything and just totally re-invented himself with the whole MF Doom persona. I don’t know if you already know this, but Lord Scotch designed that whole mask. Then you had MF Grimm who was also involved with Doom’s re-emergence early on, but then they had beef. But there were just so many talented people involved with what we did when you look at the outreach of the wider crew, with the whole KMD crew, Kurious and all of his people, the whole 3rd Bass army (laughs). I mean, when you look at Serch as well and the whole Nas thing, there was definitely a lot of influence all the way around. It’s interesting to look back so many years after the fact and see where everything fitted together.”

So did you make a conscious decision to step away from the music business after the release of “Dust To Dust” or did it happen gradually?

“It got to a point where personally I got really disillusioned over just the whole music business in general. Subroc died. What happened with KMD. What happened with our project. That was the time when I started doing a lot of things outside of music, then one thing led to another and it was like, ‘Okay, well this is where things are going.’ I think, also personally for me, Kurious’s first album was dope but was a very slept-on album. We had a certain push at Columbia on it, but also at the same time Nas was coming out and he obviously overtook Kurious in terms of being a label priority. But Jorge had enough success and sales, which I think was about 150,000 copies, to do a second album. Columbia were all-set for that to happen. Then Jorge just kinda disappeard for awhile and didn’t want to be involved. That was just such a crazy time. I mean, I had Jorge not wanting to get into the studio, and then I had Cage who we were trying to put a project together for. Me and Bobbito were basically getting him beats from everyone under the sun, like DJ Premier, and Cage was just like, ‘I don’t like these beats.’ Then when we finally did get him to do something, his lyrics are talking about how he wants to take out a Sony exec with a sawed-off shotgun (laughs). I mean, Cage was like Eminem way before there even was an Eminem, but it just wasn’t timely. If there had never been an Eminem and Cage had come later, he probably could have had a lot more success commercially. When I put him on the “Rich Bring ‘Em Back” record off “Dust To Dust”, he was nice, man.”

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The Kurious debut project definitely ranks as one of the greatest albums of the 90s. I remember when Columbia first started pushing both Kurious and Nas thinking how ironic it was that they were doing split-page ads in The Source  featuring them both given the 3rd Bass connection each artist had…

“That was bizarre to me. I mean, it made sense on one side because a label only has so much money to promote new artists and there were some similarities between Kurious and Nas, but at the same time they were also very different. But the thing with Jorge was, Columbia were behind him, and obviously my label Hoppoh would have been operational for a lot longer if he’d decided to do that second album. But he kinda went off into the mountains to meditate (laughs)…”

Did Kurious ever give you a reason why he didn’t do that second album at the time?

“I think it was just a mental thing where he wanted to get away from everything for awhile. I mean, we would get him all sorts of beats but one thing just led to another. Then, of course, I had the artist Count Bass D who was really talented and his album was incredible. I thought Count Bass D could have hit and blow-up more than anything, but it just didn’t happen.”

So how long was it before you actually first spoke to Serch after the 3rd Bass break-up?

“I think it was around 96 / 97 when we first spoke after the group split. The graffiti artist and designer Cey Adams had a company called The Drawing Board  with Steve Carr and they would do all the in-house artwork for Def Jam. Then Steve started doing videos for people like Heavy D and he’s a big Hollywood director now and did the “Daddy Day Care” movie and things like that. So they played a joke to put me and Serch together on the phone without either of us knowing about it. So that was the first time we’d spoken in years. Out of that reconnection there was talk of a reunion album and we got in the studio and cut a couple of records which I think Serch has since put out online. Then we did Woodstock in 1999 and also Tommy Hilfiger’s brother’s birthday party. So we were actually doing some stuff together, but we just never officially took the full-step to do a whole album. Part of that was down to me being involved in so many other things and not being able to devote the time to it. It’s funny, because both Serch and Rich have spoken to me recently about there being a lot of interest for us to do certain shows and I’m like, ‘Listen, let’s see what happens and maybe I’ll come out of the mothballs.’

Do you still ever write any rhymes at all?

“Because I’m writing my book and I’m writing all the time, I sometimes do think about writing rhymes, but I can honestly say I haven’t written too many rhymes lately (laughs). You do have thoughts that come into your head at times that give you flashbacks, but I haven’t had the motivation to actually write anything. But I guess you’d consider it more poetry at this time rather than just rhymes (laughs). I mean, I can definitely see there’s a lot of nostalgia out there for music of the time we were out as 3rd Bass, but I always lose respect for artists who are way past their prime and then try to put a new album out. I actually respect it more when older artists go out on tour and actually focus on the older material that the fans want to see them performing. But I was in the city the other night and was just flipping the stations and I guess there’s a little buzz on that new Edo.G album and I got into it just listening to a couple of songs. I thought it was pretty good.”

Are there any particular golden-era Hip-Hop albums that you still reach for today when you want to listen to some music?

“Personally, I’d have to say the ones I was involved in like the Kurious album and the KMD stuff, which is kinda self-serving for me to say that but I do actually still listen to them. But then I’ll listen to to the Jungle Brothers first album which will always be a classic to me, all the Public Enemy stuff, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest. Even going back to old Just-Ice stuff. The first Brand Nubian album is one of my favourites of all-time and Grand Puba was always a favourite emcee of mine. The Eric B. & Rakim albums. There’s just so much music from that period in Hip-Hop which has stood the test of time. I know people say you sound like an old-timer when you’re there saying that s**t was doper back when we were doing it, but I really think it was (laughs). There’s something missing in the music today and it’s just not as organic and creative as it used to. I’m sure there are artists like that out there, but everything’s just so fragmented now that it must be so hard for anyone like that to breakthrough on a commercial level and get that kind of recognition.”

Finally, looking back, what would you consider to be the legacy of 3rd Bass?

“I would hope on one level that me, Serch and Rich came up as group that looked beyond race, really had no hang-ups about that and put it out there to both Black and white kids that, ‘Hey, you can be a white kid and be into Hip-Hop.’ I would hope that would be the most enduring legacy that we have. Beyond that, if people still like the music and it holds-up years after and people can listen to it and reminisce on it as being part of the golden-age of Hip-Hop, if people put us in the same realms as our own favourite groups of the time, then that’s like the ultimate compliment. We put out quality music and never sold out to any other influences that were out there at the time. A lot of kids today can’t even begin to comprehend what things were like for me and Serch when we came out, let alone just battling people or doing shows, but actually putting out the records, promoting the records and having hits. I look back on it all now and it’s amazing that things even happened.”

Ryan Proctor

It’s always a great experience to speak with artists I grew-up listening to, but in this particular instance I’d like to give huge props to Pete Nice for being so generous with his time to ensure this interview got completed (three hours on the phone in total!) and for being so detailed and honest with his memories, thoughts and opinions.

Word To The Third!

Visit Pete’s site HaulsOfShame.Com to catch up on his activity in the world of baseball.

1990 3rd Bass Appearance On “The Arsenio Hall Show” Performing “The Gas Face”.

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

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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….”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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)”.

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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…

“Yeah, I guess it kinda said it all right there…”

Ryan Proctor

Check out the final part of this interview here.

Prime Minister Pete Nice & Daddy Rich – “Rap Prime Minister & Daddy Rich (Rat Bastard)” (Def Jam / 1992)

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

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In the second part of my interview with 3rd Bass’s Pete Nice, the Prime Minister talks about the origins of his and Serch’s beef with the Beastie Boys, signing with Def Jam and touring the UK – check Part One here.

What were your thoughts when the Beastie Boys first came out on Def Jam?

“When they first came out, my room-mate at Columbia who hooked me up with Lord Scotch, SAKE, he actually went to high-school with Mike D and MCA…”

Is this where MC Disagree & The Re-Animator come into the 3rd Bass story?

“Yeah, well MC Disagree & The Re-Animator were all together with SAKE, who was Mark Pearson and who actually ended-up being our 3rd Bass road manager. So I didn’t know the Beastie Boys personally at that time, but I knew all about them from hearing stories. I mean, MC Disagree, Dan Kealy, he was very close with Ad-Rock when they were growing up in the same neighbourhood and everything. I guess the whole thing was, I don’t know if it was animosity or whatever, but Disagree and SAKE would always go to earlier clubs than even I was going to, like the Northmore and other early Hip-Hop spots in the city. I mean, they were into Hip-Hop and were white b-boys before most people were. They were like a year or two older than I was in school. So they always looked at the Beasties like, ‘Yo, those guys were into punk rock and now all of a sudden they’ve got up on Hip-Hop.’ I don’t think they really had any specific beef with the Beastie Boys, but of course throw into that them hanging out with us, the Beasties coming out first, and then the “Sons Of 3rd Bass” song we did on “The Cactus Album” kind of grew out of that. Plus, at the time me and Serch were trying to come out, their record had dropped so there was now already this perception of what a white Hip-Hop group should be about, so all these other record labels wanted us to kinda be like them and we really weren’t like that. Labels wanted us to have more of a rock edge, which is why that group the White Boys got signed around that time. Most people would listen to our records and say that we just sounded like a regular Black rap group. We took that as a compliment, but we just sounded the way we sounded and we weren’t going to change that to try and get a record deal. What’s funny, actually, is around that time Kid Rock was an emcee as well. I remember when Serch was entered into the New Music Seminar and Kid Rock was there rockin’ almost like an Evil Knievel suit with a flat-top (laughs).”

So it wasn’t really a personal beef that you had with the Beastie Boys, it was more about the indirect impact their success was having on 3rd Bass getting signed?

“It was probably as much about frustration as it was anything else. I mean, we would run into them at different clubs here and there. I remember running into MCA at Hotel Amazon once, and one time I ran into Ad-Rock at a barber-shop. But of course, Sam Sever was cool with them and also Dante Ross was boys with them from way back to. So there were just a lot of common denominators involved in the situation. Also, at the time, the Beastie Boys had left Def Jam, so that added to a lot of it as well. Like I said, I didn’t really know them. In fact, the only time I ever really had any contact with them myself was when our then manager Lyor Cohen got marrried in the Dominican Republic in 1988 and he invited all the artists. I remember Serch was dying to go but he couldn’t get out of work. But it was literally everybody; Run DMC, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, LL, me, EPMD, Davy D, Tashan, Original Concept. It was nuts. I mean, if the planes had gone down there would have been no Def Jam (laughs). I have pictures of Flavor Flav in a yarmulke at the wedding (laughs). But that was really the only time I had any contact with the Beasties and they probably didn’t even know who I was at that time, they’d probably just heard about these couple of other white rappers.”

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Serch knew the Beasties previously though, right?

“Well, the other part of the beef was, Serch knew Mike D and apparently one day Serch ran into Mike or one of the other guys, went back to his place to play some beats or whatever, and apparently Mike D was kinda clownin’ Serch and Serch definitely took offense to it.”

I remember Sam Sever telling me that same story some years back when I did a short interview with him about working on “The Cactus Album”…

“Exactly. So then, obviously I’ve already got the stuff that my boys were telling me about the Beasties and then as I got closer to Serch that happened. So the situation was almost like it was destined to be (laughs). I mean, you look back on it now over the years and there was definitely some stupidity involved. I mean, when MCA passed away I was asked to write a piece for Gawker.Com (note: Requiem For A White Emcee)  and I really had to think whether it was MCA or Ad-Rock that I ran into at that barber-shop that time and it actually turned out to be Ad-Rock. So I told them at Gawker that I didn’t really know MCA and had just met him a couple of times. But there was still that common link of what we did as white emcees, so I just wrote that piece based on that.”

You mentioned earlier the chip-on-the-shoulder that a lot of white emcees carried around back then. Did that ever come into play between you and Serch in terms of each of you wanting to be seen as the better emcee in the group?

“I don’t think there was really any of that between me and Serch back then. I mean, we would compete with each other more for ourselves to make better music as a group rather than going against each other. But I think other people would always bring it up more about who was the better emcee between me and Serch. That was definitely something that I felt was brought up more to some level from fans than maybe you’d hear people having similar conversations about a De La Soul or a Tribe. But that was really on a very small scale and when you have a group containing members with different styles it really just comes down to what people’s preferences are. But that’s what makes your group diverse.”

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So did the Def Jam deal actually happen quite quickly once the label were aware that you and Serch were working together?

“Nah, I mean the whole thing was actually quite difficult for us. When the Beastie Boys came out we had demos going around and all these labels wanted something else that was different to what we were doing. So we actually got turned down by a lot of labels that wanted to sign us to big deals but then backed out. That happened with Arista and some other big labels. Then, we started to get more credibility and buzz around us from performing at different clubs and turning up everywhere. Plus, me and Serch both had promos playing on the radio with Red Alert, which for us back then was pretty much the ultimate. Even if you didn’t actually have a record out back then, you could still have a promo playing on the radio. I had a promo on Red Alert for my radio show and Serch had the promos for his early singles. Those were still playing, so we thought we’d made it anyway (laughs). Even if we hadn’t made a record as 3rd Bass, we were still known around New York. But we had a difficult time getting those records deals. Profile Records were looking at us and then when Dante was at Tommy Boy they made a play for us. At the time we really wanted to be on Def Jam and I think Lyor and Russell finally looked at the whole landscape and realised that the Beasties were gone. At that time, Def Jam were kinda down and it was really Public Enemy who were picking them up. I mean, LL’s “Walking With A Panther” was a dud compared to how his other albums did. So 3rd Bass definitely gave the label new blood, along with EPMD when they moved over as well. The first Slick Rick album was doing well, so along with Public Enemy, I think us and EPMD gave the label a new identity for them to build on. But at the same time, Russell was still always trying to find that one R&B act that he could be successful with which he finally got years later with Montell Jordan (laughs).”

I think Russell’s main problem with that in the late-80s was that the R&B artists he was signing like Chuck Stanley and Alyson Williams were largely making traditional soul albums, which compared to the New Jack Swing sound of the time didn’t necessarily connect with the average teenage Def Jam fan…

“Exactly. I mean, Tashan was incredible and Sam Sever was working on his first album when we were doing our first stuff for Def Jam, but it was almost like that record was too good for the time. But he did have Oran “Juice” Jones who kinda blew up with “The Rain” which was a big single. He was a classic, man. I used to love that guy (laughs). He was just such a character. I remember, we’d used Grover Washington Jr.’s horn licks on our song “Monte Hall” and he was also on Columbia. There was an event that the label did for this new record from Grover Washington and they invited us to it and Oran “Juice” Jones. I remember we all took a picture where I’m sitting in this big chair with the cigar, Grover Washington Jr. is above me and Juice is to the side of me (laughs). But Juice was always the guy to come up with the good one-liners and everything he said at the end of his record “The Rain” was definitely not scripted. He could just come up with stuff like that at any time (laughs). But that record totally blew-up in New York at the time.”

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Given the impact Russell Simmons had already had on Hip-Hop by the time 3rd Bass signed to Def Jam, what were your first impressions of him when you joined the label?

“Obviously we were impressed. I mean, Russell was Run’s brother and had already had so much success. “Krush Groove” had already come out and Russell was really on top of the genre at the time. If there was anyone you were going to roll with back then, you’d be rollin’ with Rush (laughs). You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at the time other than with Russell. I remember, we were talking to different managers at the time and they were telling us to make sure we kept our publishing. So we spoke with Russell to try and keep our publishing and he was like, ‘Listen, I’ve got fifty percent of Run DMC’s publishing, I’ve got fifty percent of LL’s publishing, fifty percent of Public Enemy’s publishing, so why the f**k am I going to give you your publishing?’ But back then the business side was a lot different during that period when we were signed to all the big money that came later on with all the label consolidations.”

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What was the working dynamic like between Russell and Lyor Cohen?

“Russell and Lyor would always play the good-cop / bad-cop routine in any given situation. I mean, they were genius together. As different as they where, with Lyor being the hard-nosed business guy and Russell always being the nice guy, Russell was definitely just as shrewd. I could just write books about episodes with those two all day long (laughs).”

The “Russell Rush” interlude on “The Cactus Album” still makes me laugh with Russell discussing the name of the group and then he starts talking about the Dickhead Six…

“That was totally live. What happened was, when I was still at school at Columbia when I first hooked-up with Serch, Russell would tell us some s**t like, ‘We’re going to put you out on some dates with Run’ or ‘We’re going to put you out on some dates with LL.’ There were always these carrots that he would stick out there. It even got to the point where I had to speak to one of the counsellors at my school to tell them I might have to take the semester off to go on tour with Run DMC (laughs). But then these things would aways fall through. We just got so frustrated, so I said to Serch, ‘Look, we’re getting so much smoke blown up our ass, I’m just going to take a little tape recorder in to the meetings and we’ll tape that s**t.’ So we would go into meetings with Bill Stephney, Russell and Lyor, and I would just have the s**t running (laughs). So I just had all these tapes of our meetings and when we were doing the album I remembered the tape of the meeting where we were coming up with the name of the group. Russell was trying to get a date with Paula Abdul for the American Music Awards at the same time we were coming up with the group name so that’s what’s on the rest of that tape which is just classic (laughs).”

Any classic Lyor memories?

“I remember, one time we were in London with Lyor at a big hotel around Piccadilly Circus. We’d come in at the time for those rave shows they used to have out there where kids would call a phone number to get the location of the party. I remember, there were these Nigerian princes who were funding and organising them and they’d promised to pay Lyor £25,000 for Public Enemy and another £5,000 for 3rd Bass. It was just a whole s**tload of money. I remember Lyor saying to them that he was bringing us over and if the authorities came after them or anything that he was getting his money either way. So what happened this time we went was the show never happened. Lyor flew us over with PE and De La Soul. I remember it vividly, because right when we went on that trip our  “Steppin’ To The A.M.” video was released on Video Music Box in New York. So we weren’t actually in New York when it first hit, but that’s when our record sales really started to jump. But I remember Lyor with one of these Nigerian princes in the restaurant of the hotel we were in just going crazy like (adopts angry Israeli accent), ‘Listen you motherf**king prince, get me my f**king money or you’re going to be living in the f**king bush! The king, your father, is going to send you out to the bush by the time I’m done with you.’ Sure enough, he ended up paying Lyor even though there was no show (laughs).”

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Outside of New York that “Steppin’ To The A.M.” video was largely the first visual introduction to 3rd Bass for a lot of people – where did your whole cigar, cane and suit image come from?

“I mean, it kinda came from the days when I was hangin’ out with Blake (Lord Scotch). He gave me the name Prime Minister when we were hanging-out at the Albee Square Mall. We always used to hang-out at this jewellery store K & I Jewelers which I think Biz Mark mentions in “Albee Square Mall” a couple times. Big Daddy Kane would be at the Albee Square Mall as well. So I think Blake kinda looked at me as being a white Kane kind of character, so that persona was pretty much from before I was even with Serch. Then when first did the “Steppin’ To The A.M.” video with Lionel Martin from Video Music Box, he definitely picked up on that and was like, ‘Yo, I’ve got this huge chair, so you can sit in the chair like it’s a throne with your cane’ and it really just took off from there. I mean, I was smoking cigars anyway. And with the whole cane thing, when people would ask me why I needed the cane I’d tell them, ‘Yo, I got shot in the leg when I was a kid’ and all kinds of different s**t which was fun (laughs). Actually, I remember we did one show in Scotland and sometimes Flavor Flav would tell us to ask him to come out during our set. So at this particular show, he wanted to come out after we’d done “The Gas Face”. So we introduce Flav, people go nuts, and he comes out like, ‘Yo Pete! I was at this store today. Now, you’ve got your cane and that’s fly, but check this s**t out, man.’ He takes out this thing that looks like a cane, hits it on the stage and it turns into a little chair (laughs). He sits on it and is like, ‘Look at this Pete!’ and then goes into his whole ‘Yeaaah boy!’ thing and the crowd just loses it (laughs). But I will say, my favourite moment onstage was probably in England when the Poll Tax was around.  I was like, ‘F**k Margaret Thatcher! I’m the Prime Minister!’ and the whole crowd was going nuts (laughs). That’s probably as political as we got at that time (laughs).”

I think 3rd Bass was political to some extent just by your mere presence in Hip-Hop at the time as two white emcees in a Black-dominated artform…

“The other thing that I think people totally overlooked was that we were really the first integrated group as well because it wasn’t like Daddy Rich was just our show deejay or something, he was actually a member of the group. Hurricane was the Beastie Boys deejay for shows and stuff but he wasn’t actually in the group. But that’s actually a funny story too because our first deejay for 3rd Bass was this kid called DJ White Knight. Serch knew this guy DJ Holiday who was well known in New York but ended-up going to Tennessee. Serch went down to visit him and he met White Knight there who was definitely a nice deejay. Serch comes back from Tennessee and is like, ‘Yo Pete, I’ve got our deejay.’ He didn’t talk to me about it or anything and I’m like, ‘Are you f**kin’ kidding me? You’re going to bring this kid back from Tennessee and he’s all of a sudden our deejay?!’ Now Rich at the time, he was was at school in Farmingdale out on Long Island, so he really wasn’t available. But I was trying to get to him to be our deejay and join the group. So Knight shows-up after leaving Tennessee to live with Serch. I’m just beside myself and we were in the studio at the time and I’m like, ‘What the f**k is going on here?’ Sure enough though, I like Knight, he starts growing on us and I’m totally down with him (laughs). He’s doing cuts in the studio, we did a couple of early performances, he’s in the “Steppin’ To The A.M.” video in the back of the car. He did one of our first photo-shoots with us. It was almost like he was the fifth Beatle or something (laughs). But it turns out, him and Serch had some sort of falling out. Knight was living with Serch and his girl, some s**t happened and next thing I know they kinda split-up and Knight’s heading back to Tennessee (laughs). So Serch brought him in and Serch took him out (laughs). I was as baffled when he left as when he came. So that’s a bit of 3rd Bass trivia for you (laughs). But after that happened, that’s when I told Rich that we wanted him. We had already produced the first album but Rich did those early tours with us and then when we got into the second album Rich was involved with the production.”

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I still have tapes of your appearances on Tim Westwood’s Capital Rap Show from 3rd Bass’s visits to the UK – what do you remember of being on-air with Tim in London?

“I remember Tim had the late-night show on Capital Radio at that time and we used to go up there with this guy from Def Jam in the UK called Trenton. I just remember going up there late-night after we’d been running around all day with Serch going nuts and Tim would end almost every line he said by saying ‘Respect!’ So it just became a running joke between me and Serch where we would imitate Tim Westwood all the time (laughs). Then we’d get back to the States and hear is tapes back home and there was somewhere that used to list his charts in New York and we’d see we’d made it onto his charts and be happy about that. But Tim was was always very receptive to what we were doing and gracious enough to have us on his show so we always got along well with him.”

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Three of this interview here.

3rd Bass – “Steppin’ To The A.M.” (Def Jam / 1989)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How and when were you introduced to Hip-Hop?

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

When did you actually start rhyming?

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

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

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

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Was that demo shopped to any particular labels?

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

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

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

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

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

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So this was around 1986?

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

Did you have many artists coming through the show?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So you and Serch clicked together from the very beginning?

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

Ryan Proctor

Read Part Two of this interview here.

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

Album Review – Def Jam 25

Various Artists

“Def Jam 25: DJ Bring That Back”

(Def Jam)

If there’s one label that fully encapsulates the highs, lows, successes and disappointments of hip-hop’s journey from underground art form to commercial money-making juggernaut, it’s Def Jam Recordings. Founded in 1984 by long-haired music visionary Rick Rubin and rap promoter Russell Simmons, the pair’s love of hip-hop, ear for new talent and savvy business sense led to Def Jam signing some of rap’s most influential artists in its earliest years, with the likes of LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Slick Rick all releasing classics that helped define the culture during the 1980s.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of arguably the most important label in modern black music history, ‘DJ Bring That Back’ trawls through the Def Jam vaults to dust off some sonic memories, whilst also highlighting more recent releases that have enabled the label to remain at the forefront of popular urban music. Highlights include LL Cool J’s boisterous 1984 debut single ‘I Need A Beat’, Slick Rick’s good-natured-yet-cautionary ghetto tale ‘Children’s Story’ and Method Man’s gothic b-boy banger ‘Bring The Pain’. Of the more contemporary material, Kanye West’s stirring ‘Jesus Walks’ recalls a time when the producer-slash-rapper was more interested in his music than throwing award show tantrums, whilst Young Jeezy’s ’Go Crazy’ stands as one of the Southern rapper’s more engaging moments.

Yet whilst ‘DJ Bring That Back’ definitely contains some of Def Jam’s most memorable output, not every artist here is done justice by the track chosen to represent their contribution to the label’s legacy. No disrespect to the larger-than-life Flavor Flav, but his solo cut ‘911 Is A Joke’ from Public Enemy’s 1990 album ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’ is hardly the best example of the Long Island group’s brand of politically-charged musical terrorism. Similarly, the brilliant 3rd Bass are sold short by the inclusion of their ironic Peter Gabriel-sampling stab at commercial appeal ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’, and former label president Jay-Z must be thoroughly disappointed seeing possibly the worst track from his entire discography making the project, the throwaway Jermaine Dupri-produced ‘Money Ain’t A Thang’.

With music from the likes of Ludacris, Onyx, Nice & Smooth and DMX rounding out this two-disc set, ‘DJ Bring That Back’ stands as a fairly comprehensive, if at times uneven overview of a label that has experienced the best and the worst of the hip-hop record business over the years and is still standing tall today.

Ryan Proctor

Rollin’ With Rush – Russell Simmons / Tim Westwood

Russell Simmons kicks some Hip-Hop therapy on Tim Westwood’s Radio 1 rap show.

Part One

Part Two