Born and raised in the birthplace of Hip-Hop, Bronx emcee Majestic Gage takes his craft very seriously. It’s that same dedication to the art of lyricism which led to the 28-year-old wordsmith being recruited by NYC’s mighty D.I.T.C. to stand as one of the crew’s next generation of artists (alongside A-Bless and the now sadly deceased Tashane), building on the classic foundations set by the likes of Lord Finesse, A.G. and O.C. with genuine raw talent and a true love of the culture.
Having already recorded with established Diggin’ In The Crates affiliates D-Flow and Milano as one-third of Barbury’N, Gage has also been taking his own steps to showcase his skills, recently dropping the solo track “Fair Warning” produced by Harlem’s Ty Ahart.
With heavy involvement in the forthcoming D.I.T.C. compilation and his own projects on the horizon, Gage is determined to earn his props and respect the old-fashioned away, by displaying authentic microphone techniques rather than relying on gimmicks or being forced to embrace popular trends.
Here, the BX resident discusses his initial forays into rhyming, being co-signed by legendary producer Showbiz and his thoughts on New York radio.
What are some of your earliest Hip-Hop memories?
“My earliest memories of Hip-Hop are just hearing it around the house. My aunt, my mom’s younger sister Keisha, she used to always play Hip-Hop and I’d be hearing songs like Audio Two’s “Top Billin'”, other songs by Rakim, and I just used to walk around the house and listen to them. I used to think that rapping was cool, but at that point in time I never thought about actually doing music or anything like that. I mean, I was real young around that time, about seven-years-old, maybe even a little younger. So Hip-Hop was just something that I would hear in the house that I thought was cool and I used to rap along with the lyrics and I’d see the videos on TV.”
Although you were obviously very young at that point, did you have any awareness that the music you were hearing actually started in the same borough of New York that you were being raised in?
“I wasn’t aware at that age that it had happened in my borough like that. But, I used to watch “Beat Street” all the time (laughs). That was one of my favourite movies when I was little. I used to watch that movie over and over and over. Then, as I got older and a little more into the music, I started going back and listening to a lot of the older stuff which gave me some of the history behind the music. I mean, my mom wouldn’t even let me listen to the new stuff that was coming out, like when Biggie was first coming up and artists like that. She would not let me listen to that stuff due to the content of the music (laughs). So I used to listen to a lot of older artists like Kool Moe Dee, Rakim, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and stuff like that. In fact, listening to KRS-One on “South Bronx” was actually how I really found out that Hip-Hop started in the Bronx (laughs). Looking back on it now, that was kinda fortunate for me, because I got to hear that stuff first and to know where the music came from. Plus, like I said, I was watching “Beat Street” and seeing the break-dancers and people putting graffiti on the walls, which was all just intriguing to me. But I still wasn’t actually rapping at that time. It was just cool to me to see Lee and them get down at The Roxy (laughs). I must have watched that movie about a hundred times.”
So being exposed to that older material helped you join the dots between what had happened in the 80s and the newer artists who were coming out at that time in the early-90s…
“Exactly. It was just fortunate for me to be exposed to that older music before I really heard the new stuff at the time, rather than starting to listen to the music where my era started in the 90s and then having to go back.”
So when did you actually start rhyming? Was it something you made a conscious decision to pursue or did it happen more naturally?
“Man, I remember this like it was yesterday. I was nine-years-old and I was in the fourth grade. It would have been around 1994. It was the beginning of the school year and my teacher gave us a homework assignment where we all had to go home and write a rap about ourselves. Then, when we came back to school on Monday everybody had to say their rap in front of the class. Now, my step-father used to rap back in the day, so when I went home I got him to help me with the rhyme. But aside from that, I’ve always had music in me anyway as my biological father is a musician and plays guitar. So anyway, my step-father helped me write this rhyme and I memorised it, even though it was probably only about six bars long (laughs). So I went to school on Monday, I said the rhyme in front of the class and everybody went crazy (laughs). That was a real rush and it was something I’d never felt before in my life. I mean, I was a pretty shy kid and I wasn’t someone who talked a lot or anything like that, but doing that in front of the class just made me feel some sort of way and I just couldn’t really explain it. But my teacher liked the rhyme so much that she brought me down to the second grade class and they all sat down in a circle around me and I said the same rhyme in front of these second graders and they were going crazy again! That feeling just came back (laughs). So, after that, I was like, ‘That was pretty ill.’ So what I started doing was, my step-father had a bunch of rhymes that he’d written back in the day….”
Was your step-father someone who was known for rhyming back-in-the-day or was he just doing it more as a past-time with his boys because Hip-Hop was so prevalent in the Bronx?
“Nah, he wasn’t really known for it. I mean, he was around people like Showbiz and them back in the day being from the Bronx, but he was rhyming just to rhyme. He didn’t put anything out or really do anything with it. I can’t even remember the name he said he used to rhyme under. But he had a whole bunch of rhymes written down and I used to go home from school and just read them. Then I started changing little words in the rhymes and I would learn those. But what happened is, after a certain amount of time, all of my step-father’s rhymes ran out (laughs). Now, I would change the words in his rhymes, spit the rhymes to my friends and everyone would be like, ‘Whoa!’ So when they eventually ran out, I had to start writing my own rhymes (laughs). I started rapping with my older brother, who had been writing rhymes before me. He was the person who put me on to people like Biggie and 2Pac. So we were writing our raps together and making little tapes to let our friends hear. Then, as I hit my teenage years, there weren’t really many people rhyming in my junior high-school, so my first ciphers were in my neighbourhood with some of the kids around there…”
Were you confident about your skills at that time or did it take awhile before people started saying that you were nice?
“Okay, so it was 1998 and I was about thirteen-years-old. I had mad raps already that I’d written and different song ideas. So this was around the time DMX had put out “It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot”. I remember, it was night-time and me and my boys were on our way to Harlem. We were walking down the block in the Bronx going past this restaurant called the Shrimp Box. One of my boys was like, ‘Yo! That looks like DMX!’ and I was like, ‘Nah!’ Now, we used to play games like that if we saw someone that looked like a celebrity. So I thought that’s what he was doing. We went across the street and my man Shawn was like, ‘You should go in there and rap to him, yo.’ Man, I was scared (laughs). I was petrified and was just like, ‘Naaah’ So Shawn said, ‘I’m going to go in there and talk to him.’ So he went in there, came out and was like, ‘X said that you ain’t no real rapper if you can’t go in there and rap to him.’ So I sucked up all my nervousness, went in there, gave DMX a pound and he was crazy cool. He was in there with his wife and a couple of his boys, I spit my rhyme for DMX and he was bobbing his head. Now, the whole situation was crazy to me because this was when DMX was at the height of success and he was right there in the Bronx. He called his manager right there on the spot, but he never picked up. But that’s when I really started thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve really got to get on this music thing, because if DMX says I’m nice then I must have something.’ I mean, X was one of my favourite artists back then.”
That must have really been an incredible moment for you as a young emcee to be given props by one of New York’s biggest artists at the time…
“Yeah, definitely. What was funny though was when I went back to my ‘hood and I’m telling people, ‘Yo, I rapped for DMX!’ everybody was like, ‘You’re lying!’ I was like, ‘Yo! I rapped for DMX on Third Avenue in the Shrimp Box!’ He autographed my dollar bill, so I showed them that and they just told me it was fake (laughs). But that was dope though to meet DMX like that. But it was after that, when I went to high-school, that was when I started to have my first battles. I’d only ever been in ciphers before and had never really battled, but people were telling me that I was nice so I was kinda itching to battle. I’d seen people battling before and always wanted to test those waters. So once I got into high-school, it was on (laughs). I remember a kid approached me within the first two weeks of starting high-school, he just walked right up to me and was like, ‘Yo! You wanna battle?’ It was just me, him and his man, nobody else was even paying attention and we just started going at it. We ended-up getting escorted out of the hall because everyone had to go to class, but I felt like I’d won so I was telling people that I’d battled him and that I ate him (laughs). Now, I wasn’t knowing that this guy Dave was considered the king of battling in the school. So, I was in the gym one day and he came up to me with mad people and was like, ‘You said you ate me? Let’s battle right now!’ We battled each other everyday after that (laughs). Every time he saw me, we battled. So I would go home and write my little raps because I knew he was going to come looking for me the next day. That went on until he gave me my respect and was like, ‘Okay, you’re nice.’ But that whole situation really helped me sharpen up my skills.”
At that time in the late-90s, Bronx rappers like Big Pun, Fat Joe and Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz were really holding their own against other NY artists like Jay-Z, DMX and Nas who were starting to make mainstream noise. Were you looking up to BX artists like that as a young kid or did their success make them feel a million miles away from where you were at?
“I mean, Lord Tariq and them, as young emcees we definitely looked up to them. I’d never actually seen Tariq or Money Boss in person because I’m not from their section of the Bronx. Tariq was from the Soundview area and I’m more real southern Bronx, around about the 150s and the 130s. But I did used to see Fat Joe back then. Joe used to have his store on Third Avenue, right next to the Shrimp Box where I met DMX (laughs). This was when he first came out with his 560 clothing line and he opened up his store in the Bronx. So, Fat Joe used to be up there all the time and I remember Shyheim used to come through as well. I remember seeing Big Pun up in there one time as well, but this was before Pun had even come out. I just saw this big dude up in the store and thought it was Fat Joe’s brother (laughs). But Joe was from Forest which isn’t too far away from my projects, so he used to always be around the area.”
So how and when did the link with D.I.T.C. happen?
“I hooked-up with D-Flow first. My man Dunn Dee had known Flow for years because our project buildings aren’t too far from each other. So Flow and Party Arty used to be in my hood all the time and they knew my man Dunn Dee who I used to rhyme with and then he actually ended up managing me. I put a mix-tape out called “The Landlord” around 2004 and while I was working on my second mix-tape project, Dee let D-Flow hear the first one. He came to my hood and I guess he liked the mix-tape because he was like, ‘Yo! You should come to the studio and record.’ So the first time I went there me and Flow actually did a song together. It wasn’t even planned or nothing like that but he heard what I was doing and was like, ‘Yo, I’ve got something for that too.’ The song actually came out dope (laughs). So I just kept going up to Flow’s studio to record and then after awhile he approached me and my man Dunn Dee and told us that he wanted me to be a part of Get Dirty. Flow broke everything down to me and told me that he still wanted me to do my music the way that I was doing it, but that I’d rep the brand and all that. I was definitely cool with it and I met Party Arty and all of that. Arty was crazy cool and he treated me like a brother from the gate. Both Flow and Arty really treated me like family from the jump.”
Did you have to get the official stamp of approval from Showbiz?
“The first time I met Show, I’d gone to the studio with D-Flow to record. We’d gone down to D&D, which is now HeadQCourterz, and that was the first time I met Show. He didn’t really pay attention to me at the time because he wasn’t even really there for that. I just gave him a pound and that was it, y’know. But then Flow kept saying that he was going to tell Show that we should do a group and he was telling me about Milano. But anyway, Flow kept saying that he was going to tell Showbiz about me. So, I waited patiently and it was probably about a year after that when Flow took me down to D&D and let Show hear my music. All three of us were sitting in the room listening to my music and Show was saying that he liked it and that he also really liked my concepts. That was something that I always tried to do, have concepts, because I can rap all day but I really wanted to show people that I could actually structure a song. So anyway, Show liked the music and it was on from there. But the first few times we went to the studio after that, we didn’t even record no music, we were just in there having conversations and building. That’s what I like about Show, the fact that we didn’t just jump straight into the music, we were in there having conversations about everything from just life in general to Hip-Hop and whatever else.”
Considering at this point you were starting to mix with some real Hip-Hop legends, were you fully aware of the legacy that Diggin’ In The Crates had already created?
“Yeah, I definitely was. I mean, I used to see A.G. around my hood and I already knew that he was a legend because the older guys around me were putting me on to the music that Show & A.G. had already put out. I always thought they were dope, Show with the beats and those drums…”
It’s almost impossible to talk about Showbiz without mentioning drums…
“Exactly (laughs). So to have the opportunity to actually work around people like that was just so dope to me. When Show first told me that he liked my music I went home and I was just so happy (laughs). I went home to my girl like, ‘Yo! He liked my s**t!”
When you then started recording with D-Flow and Milano as Barbury’N, did you feel a lot of pressure considering they were already established and respected, while you were a new name to a lot of people?
“I definitely felt that pressure but I liked it though (laughs). I knew that people really weren’t expecting anything from me because most people had never really heard of me before. You had Milano, you got D-Flow and then you got this kid Majestic Gage and I knew people were going to be like, ‘Who’s that?’ But I feel that whole situation really helped me get better as an emcee and it really let me showcase my talents alongside two already respected lyricists. I’m just really glad that both Flow and Milano let me work with them on the Barbury’N music like they did because they were already veterans and they really didn’t have to let the young boy into their circle. So I really do thank them for that.”
Barbury’N – “Living At Still” (D.I.T.C. Entertainment / 2011)
Lyricism is obviously something that’s very important to you, but what keeps you on that creative path of putting so much effort into your writing considering how quick people are to accept simple, throwaway rhymes today?
“Number one, it’s just because I love to be super lyrical, y’know. That’s the era I came up in when dudes were just super nice. You had to be nice. That’s just something that I’ve always stuck to regardless of what the climate of the game might be. But also, I keep doing it for people like yourself who’re still checking for it. I do it for people who still want to really listen to lyrics. So I don’t mind going against the grain with my music and swimming upstream because I feel like the game’s going to come full circle and it’s going to get back to being about people’s skills. But that’s why I still make my music like that, because I know there’s still people out there that love to listen to music like that. That’s what I love to listen to. I mean, I understand that not everyone can be lyrical. But I have the ability to do that, so why not put my best foot forward every time and deliver that, y’know.”
Also, with the Diggin’ In The Crates affiliation and lyricism really being at the heart of the music the crew have released over the years, you really have an obligation to carry on that tradition…
“Definitely. The core D.I.T.C. fans won’t expect anything less than that. So I definitely have to deliver on that aspect. I mean, sometimes I think it was destined for me to land in this position with Diggin’ In The Crates because they’re such a staple of the Bronx. Obviously, Big L was from Harlem and O.C. repped for Brooklyn, but the original members like Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG, they’re all from the Bronx, so I definitely think it was meant for me to be here.”
Recently there’s been a lot of discussion around New York stations like Hot 97 not being totally supportive of underground New York artists and Old Man Ebro’s Minors / Majors comparison has generated a lot of feedback. What are your thoughts on that?
“I mean, I tell people all the time, the climate of the game is so different now that you don’t need stations like that to win. You don’t need Hot 97 to win. You don’t need Power 105 to win. I mean, it’s great to get your records played on there and it definitely helps, but you can still get your music out there without them. Plus, the deejays up at those stations, they can’t really choose what they want to play, they get told what to play. I mean, I run into people all the time that say they don’t want to hear the same ten or twelve records all day. But as far as the artists here in New York who do still cater to that traditional sound, they’re coming up and it’s through others means of winning aside from the radio. Dudes like Action Bronson and Joey Badass, they get radio spins now but they put that work in themselves so the radio had to take notice. Then you’ve got other artists like Spit Gemz who’re doing their thing. I mean, the radio situation is what it is, but as New York artists we can’t lose our identity through trying to follow trends because trends only last so long, y’know. I just feel like we shouldn’t be making records just to get them played on the radio. I mean, we’re at a point now where some dudes have hooks that are longer than there actual verses (laughs).”
What’s the status of the forthcoming D.I.T.C. compilation project that was announced last year featuring yourself, A-Bless and Tashane?
“All the music for that is done. I mean, A.G. and Show have got some other things that they’re working on and obviously they announced the remix album project with a variety of producers working on there. But the compilation is definitely still in the pipeline and all the music is done, all the videos are done and everything. A.G. is on a bunch of joints on the album, but it’s basically just focusing on the next generation of Diggin’ In The Crates. Show and them didn’t want to take too much of the shine away from us by having everyone on the album. But I do understand that when some of the fans see that name Diggin’ In The Crates they do want to hear the original members. I do get that. I read the comments on the Internet and everything. But this compilation project is about those same original members passing the torch to us so we can continue that legacy. I mean, a few years ago you had people talking about the generation gap in Hip-Hop and how some of the younger cats didn’t respect the artform and how some of the older cats weren’t giving younger artists a chance. But now that gap is actually being bridged by what D.I.T.C. are doing, some of those same fans who were talking about that generation gap don’t want to accept the music. But this isn’t something that you see happening a lot, with respected older artists putting out talented new artists and really embracing what they’re doing. But those negative comments didn’t surprise me when I first started reading them. I mean, Showbiz prepared us for it early on and he told us that there would be people out there who didn’t want to accept us as part of Diggin’ In The Crates. So when I started seeing those comments, I was just like, ‘Show said this would happen a looooong time ago.'”
Everyone really represented in that D.I.T.C. cipher video that was released last year with A.G. and DJ Premier, but it was definitely sad to hear about the passing of Tashane not long after that…
“Yeah, definitely. I mean, it was so dope to put that video together. Myself, A-Bless and Tashane all had a really good relationship already because we’d been recording songs together before we actually did that video. We were all just hungry. So for the three of us to be around Premier, Showbiz, O.C., A.G. and Lord Finesse, it was just dope for them to let us rock out like that. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I can remember Tashane joking around like, ‘I ain’t got my rhymes, son. Let me hear what you got?’ I was like, ‘Nah, son.’ (Laughs). But Tashane was just super talented and creative. He was passionate about everything he did. Even when he was just talking, you could hear his passion when he would just speak. That was just him. Everything he said, he meant it, although he was also a joker as well. But when it came down to that music, he was definitely on it. So him passing was definitely a real loss.”
So what can people expect from you next as a solo artist?
“I got music, y’know. I could put out a project tomorrow if I wanted to. But I don’t want it to get mixed up with the D.I.T.C. compilation. I’ve got some songs that I want to release, so I’m going to be putting those out with some visuals just to keep feeding the people something. Then, eventually I will be dropping a project. Hopefully that will be sometime this year. I just really want to be consistent with putting the music out because nowadays people can forget about you real quick. But I’m not going to put just anything out for the sake of it. I definitely want the music I put out there to really leave an impression on people. So this year, I really want the people to be able to get to know me better through my music.”
Follow Majestic Gage on Twitter – @MajesticGage
Majestic Gage – “Fair Warning” (Majestic Gage Music / 2014)