Fat Joe’s debut album “Represent” is a personal favourite of mine. Not just a favourite album from 1993. Not just a favourite album from the 90s overall. But a personal favourite of all-time.
“Represent” may not have been considered the most polished or ground-breaking album when it dropped, but there was something about the raw Bronx attitude of a 22-year-old Joey Crack combined with the thunderous beats of some of the East Coast’s finest producers that ensured the project remained stuck in my Walkman headphones for months after its July 27th release date twenty-five years ago.
Introduced to the Hip-Hop world at large via D.I.T.C.’s Diamond D, who produced a Fat Joe promo for DJ Red Alert’s Kiss FM radio show in 1991 before offering the Rotten Apple rhymer some mic time on his classic 1992 album “Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop”, the graffiti-writing rapper was clearly starting to build a buzz for himself during the early-90s, with his street reputation appearing to precede him.
Yet it wouldn’t be until the spring of 1993 that Joe would make his official solo splash into the rap game with the release of the brilliant “Flow Joe” single on Relativity Records, a heavy-duty slice of horn-laced BX boom-bap flavour crafted by the aforementioned Diamond, featuring NY turntable legend Rob Swift on the cut, a catchy-yet-hardcore hook and the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer rhymes of a hungry Fat Joe who clearly felt he had something to prove as he sought to hold it down for Latino lyricists (“Everybody knows Fat Joe’s in town, ‘Nuff respect for the Boogie-Down, I’m livin’ in the Bronx on an ave called Trinity, My name rings bells within the vicinity…”).
This single immediately grabbed my attention when I first heard it on Tim Westwood’s Capital Rap Show over here in the UK. Already a big Diggin’ In The Crates fan thanks to prior releases from Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG and, of course, Diamond D, I was wide open at the thought of a full-length Fat Joe project, not least because after hearing that initial single, any subsequent album felt like it promised to be an uncompromising dose of gritty New York rap music.
Hip-Hop in 1993 was in a state of flux. Times were changing. Fat Joe’s “Represent” landed right in the middle of a year that was seeing new sounds and voices from the West Coast beginning to dominate, whilst the East Coast was starting to lose its vice-like grip on the culture.
The impact of Dr. Dre’s classic “The Chronic”, released at the very end of 1992, was casting a synth-heavy G-Funk shadow across Planet Rock. Anticipation for Snoop’s debut album “Doggystyle” (released late in ’93) was steadily building. Ice Cube remained one of the culture’s most controversial voices. MC Eiht’s “Streiht Up Menace” from the “Menace II Society” soundtrack was one of the most popular singles of the year Stateside. Cypress Hill were selling huge amounts of records. 2Pac was beginning to gain notoriety.
Meanwhile, some veteran New York giants were either splitting-up, faltering or rebuilding. EPMD had proven that business was personal by announcing the group’s break-up. Public Enemy had lost some momentum following the release of their 1992 album “Greatest Misses”. LL Cool J had received mixed reviews for his”14 Shots To The Dome” project, released in March 1993. Whilst Big Daddy Kane’s “Looks Like A Job For…” (released in May) found the Brooklyn legend having to regain the trust of many fans who’d balked at the overt R&B influences of 1991’s “Prince Of Darkness”.
The full impact of Nas and Biggie was still yet to be felt in 1993, with the future icons still each only having a single and some guest appearances under their respective belts. Neither “Illmatic” or “Ready To Die” would be released until the following year, with both artists then being credited with bringing the Hip-Hop crown back home to New York in 1994.
Many people, however, quite rightly point to late 1993 album releases from A Tribe Called Quest, Black Moon and Wu-Tang Clan as all having played a major part in drawing attention back to the traditional New York sound.
I, however, would go one step further and say that, in the summer of that same year, knowingly or not, Fat Joe was already doing his best to ensure New York remained on top of the game.
To say I was amped for the release of “Represent” would be an understatement. Whilst the first half of 1993 had definitely seen some strong album releases from a selection of East Coast artists (Onyx, Lords Of The Underground, Akinyele, Masta Ace Incorporated, Trends Of Culture etc), I had a different level of excitement in relation to Fat Joe’s debut. Partly because of his Diggin’ In The Crates affiliation and partly because the overall power of that “Flow Joe” single really had me hooked.
In the pre-Internet Hip-Hop world, you didn’t always know the definitive release date of an album, you just knew it was coming based on ads you would see in magazines like The Source. That was the case with Fat Joe’s “Represent”.
I can distinctly remember going on a family holiday at the time the release of “Represent” was looming. At almost eighteen-years-old, I hadn’t been on holiday with my parents for a few years. My sister had been diagnosed with cancer mid-1992, and twelve months into her treatment the future was looking a little uncertain, so my mother had decided it would be a good idea to go on a holiday that year in-case it was the last opportunity we had (thankfully it wasn’t and my sister is still alive and well today).
Before we left I gave my cousin fifteen pounds (the average price of an import CD in the UK at that time) and strict instructions to look out for “Represent” dropping whilst I was away. He worked in Luton, then home to the brilliant Soul Sense Records, so I was confident that if the album came out he’d be able to get it.
My girlfriend at the time also came on that family holiday with us and I can recall laying on a beach listening to a Westwood radio tape with “Flow Joe” on it and repeatedly telling her how high my hopes were for “Represent” and how disappointed I was going to be if my cousin hadn’t succeeded in his mission by the time we got home.
Any music lover who has ever bought physical product will tell you about the eagerness involved in tearing the wrapping off of a new purchase. But when it’s an album you’ve been anticipating for a period of time, that eagerness is heightened. When I returned from holiday and got my hands on my CD copy of “Represent”, I needed to hear it immediately.
I remember looking at that cover shot of Fat Joe standing on a darkened Bronx street-corner and thinking how rugged it looked (I hadn’t yet seen the “Flow Joe” video), then flipping the case over and seeing the picture of the In Memory Of…mural dedicated to Joe’s late friend Anthony Crespo aka Tony Montana. Then I ran down the tracklist which was followed by these words – Produced By Diamond D. Additional Production By Lord Finesse, The Beatnuts, Showbiz and Chilly Dee.
I had no idea who Chilly Dee was, but I remember thinking that if his production work was sitting next to beats provided by dudes who were already considered living legends then he must be up-to-par.
I plugged in my headphones and hit ‘Play’ on the CD.
The segue from the short “Scarface”-sampling intro “A Word To Da Wise” into the beginning of the moody and atmospheric Lord Finesse-crafted “Livin’ Fat” remains one of the greatest album openings ever, with the Funkyman’s work behind the boards on that particular cut standing as unquestionable proof as to why he should forever be considered one of Hip-Hop’s greatest producers.
With the echoing horns, heavy bass and pounding drums of “Livin’ Fat” capturing the ominous energy of a late-night encounter in a Bronx project building hallway, the track offered the perfect opportunity for Fat Joe to make his intentions clear, shouting out his affiliation with the late Chris Lighty (“I can’t get played ‘cos I roll with Baby Chris…”), detailing his expectations of “Represent” reaching Gold status (at least), and offering some very direct info on his day-to-day routine (“I be rippin’ the mic, Clockin’ dough, Stickin’ the hoes, After every single show, y’know?!”)
Joe’s claims on “Livin’ Fat” of being “One of the best to grab the mic…” may have seemed unfounded to many in 1993, but in reality who was going to argue with someone who by their own admission used to bully their way onto the mic at block parties and was able to remain in control of said microphone because people were scared to tell him his lyrical skills just weren’t as impressive as those of others.
“Bad Bad Man” was another immediate standout from the album, with Joe giving props to Gang Starr, threatening to hand-out physical beatdowns and “checking out stunts in the Polo Grounds” over an ill Diamond D-dissected loop from Yvonne Fair’s 1975 track “Let Your Hair Down”.
In more recent times, Fat Joe has mentioned that he is unable to listen to “Represent”. In 2010 he told HipHopDX.Com, “I can’t listen to my first album. It’s like brutal to me…Lyrically, I’ve grown so much over the years.”
Yet, if the rapper had any doubts about his rhyming abilities in 1993, he definitely didn’t let it show, placing himself on tracks alongside emcees with deservedly formidable reputations and defiantly holding his own, resulting in “Represent” containing three of my favourite 90s posse cuts.
The Tenor Saw-sampling “Watch The Sound” found Diamond D and Grand Puba delivering politically-incorrect punchlines over speaker-rattling jeep beats, whilst amidst dialogue snippets from the Matty Rich-directed film “Straight Out Of Brooklyn” and the sound of loud gunfire, Fat Joe called on the tough-guy terminology of lyrical architect Kool G Rap and the Flavor Unit’s Apache for the Hip-Hop adrenaline rush that was “You Must Be Out Of Your F**kin’ Mind” (with Joe verbally date-stamping the track with his infamous line “I’m sick and tired of muthaf**kers trying to sound like Das EFX!”).
The greatest posse cut on “Represent”, however, has to be the Chilly Dee-produced “Another Wild N****r From The Bronx”. Based around the same Bobbi Humphrey “Blacks And Blues” sample made popular by K.M.D.’s 1991 track “Plumskinzz”, Fat Joe was joined by homeboys Gismo, Kieth Kieth and NY legend King Sun for an absolute juggernaut of a track, with all involved (Kieth Kieth in particular – or should that be Keith Keith?) delivering some potent New York straight talk.
The Beatnuts supplied Joe with a swaggering head-nodder in the form of the autobiographical “The S**t Is Real” (a track which would gain further traction when released as a single in ’94 complete with a DJ Premier remix), whilst the huge drums of the Showbiz-produced “I Got This In A Smash” inspired the Bronx representative to show some uncharacteristic vulnerability as he described the moment he found out about the murder of his friend Tony Montana (“Ahhh s**t, Another brother hit, This time it’s Tone, Life is a f**kin’ bitch, It really hurts when the s**t hits home, Early in the morning, They’re callin’ me on the phone, Tellin’ me my man caught eight to the chest, Nah this couldn’t be, Tone always wore a vest…Man, I’m gonna miss him, I love him to death, Charlie’s in jail and I’m the only brother left…”).
The juvenile humour of “Shorty Gotta Fat Ass” and the lively “Get On Up” offered moments of light-hearted respite from Joe’s relentless, hardcore attack. Yet the closing “I’m A Hit That” left me scratching my head at the time. Obviously aimed at the ladies, this Showbiz-produced track featured Fat Joe adopting a playful, Heavy D-style flow which seemed out of place within the overall context of the album. To end the project with a track that almost seemed like an afterthought seemed like a strange decision.
In the September 1993 issue of The Source, “Represent” was given a three-and-a-half-mic review. I believed then (as I do now) that the album deserved four-mics (which would have elevated it to ‘Slammin’ – Definite Satisfaction’ status). The overall response to the project from Da Ghetto Communicator was positive. But obviously the magazine’s mighty Mind Squad weren’t all as enthusiastic about Fat Joe when it came time for the group vote to take place which determined the mic-rating the album would receive.
“Represent” would reach a peak position of 46 on Billboard’s Top R&B / Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Fast-forward to the winter of 1993, almost six months after “Represent” dropped, and I can clearly remember still rocking the album in my headphones on freezing cold mornings as I walked to my local bus station en route to university lectures.
When I say I kept “Represent” on heavy rotation long after its initial release, I really do mean heavy rotation.
Whilst “Represent” may not have had a particularly influential impact on the culture, to me, it was, and still is, a rough diamond of an album that had undeniable character, with Fat Joe’s sense of purpose and determination to succeed remaining tangible throughout.
This was raw, uncut New York Hip-Hop at its best – no frills, no apologies, no sell-out.
As the saying goes, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking at the intimidating figure on the cover of “Represent” back in 1993, it’s safe to say few people would have singled Fat Joe Da Gangsta out as being an artist destined for a lengthy career involving mainstream success.
Yet in the years following the release of “Represent”, Fat Joe’s career would indeed go from strength-to-strength, albeit with mixed musical results, as the Bronx rapper navigated his way from his boom-bap beginnings, through the Puffy-dominated late-90s jiggy-era, and on to the radio-friendly R&B trends of the early-2000s and beyond (in-between all of this Joe would of course introduce the incredible Big Pun to the world via his Terror Squad crew).
A quarter-of-a-century after his debut album dropped, Fat Joe remains a larger-than-life figure both inside and outside of Hip-Hop. And if his Coca Vision interviews are anything to go by, Joe’s passion for the culture definitely doesn’t appear to have been worn-down by the politics and drama of the music industry.
So, Fat Joe, if you ever find yourself stumbling across this write-up whilst online, let me take this opportunity to personally thank you for dropping a classic debut album which has given me hours of listening pleasure over the years.
As the man himself said on “Another Wild N****r From The Bronx” – “My rhymes are homicidal, I take your title, I’m Joe Da Fat Gangsta, Far from Billy Idol!”
The Combat Jack Show’s turntable technician returns with another quality mix, this time taking a walk down memory lane to 1994, a year which gave us classic music from Biggie Smalls, Organized Konfusion, Nas, OC, Outkast and many, many more.
Pulling together a lengthy list of 94’s greatest remixes, BenHaMeen effortlessly blends together timeless favourites from the likes of Craig Mack, Common, The Beatnuts etc.
Holland’s Lost Perfection flexes his production skills on this remix of the Nuts’ 1994 single, swapping the feel-good upbeat flavour of the original with a completely different atmospheric, late-night vibe.
Queens, New York. From Run-DMC, LL Cool and Kool G. Rap, to Nas, Mobb Deep and Large Professor, not forgetting other rap giants such as A Tribe Called Quest, Organized Konfusion and Tragedy Khadafi, the Rotten Apple borough has a strong Hip-Hop lineage which has left an indelible mark on the art-form over the years.
Whilst KRS-One may have once dropped the infamous line “Queens keeps on fakin’ it…” on his 1987 classic “The Bridge Is Over” during the BDP / Juice Crew rivalry, history has proven over and over again that definitely isn’t the case.
In recent years, a new generation of Queens emcees have put themselves on the map, each with their own style and musical identity, but all sharing a passion for lyricism and a desire to remain true to the foundations of the culture which spawned them.
The likes of Meyhem Lauren, Spit Gemz and Timeless Truth have delivered some of the best Hip-Hop present-day NYC has had to offer, with all being worthy of adding on to the QU legacy, holding their microphones in one hand and the future of their home borough’s continued place in rap’s history books in the other.
Another artist more than capable of ensuring the Hip-Hop credibility of Queens remains intact is Starvin B. A naturally gifted emcee, the Indonesian / Irish lyricist has already built himself an impressive catalogue, including 2010’s “Uplifted”, 2012’s “Something In The Water” and his most recent album “Blood From A Stone” produced entirely by frequent collaborator One-Take.
Mixing sharp wit and street smarts with battle-ready punchlines and a vicious sense of humour, Starvin is the type of artist that you feel you’ve really gotten to know after listening to his music. Honest, creative and authentic, the native New Yorker’s brand of Hip-Hop wears its golden-era influences with pride whilst avoiding simply retreading old musical ground.
Speaking live and direct from the Galaxy of Queens for this interview, Starvin B discusses growing-up in NYC, working with childhood rap heroes and the creative process behind his “Blood From A Stone” album.
Do you remember when you were first introduced to Hip-Hop?
“It was as a kid, y’know. My mom actually put me on to Hip-Hop. My mom was a Public Enemy fan and she would show me the tapes. It was the beats that caught me at first. But Hip-Hop just really stood out to me as something that could give you a voice and allow you to speak out and say what you thought about the world and what was happening around you. So, I really have to give credit to my mom for introducing me to Hip-Hop. I mean, I’d heard Run-DMC before when I was a real little kid, but I didn’t really understand the music at that point. But what really got me interested was mom with her Public Enemy tape of the “Apocalypse 91…” album and I’d also probably have to say LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” album as well.”
How old would you have been around that time?
“Man, I’d have been about seven or eight-years-old. But like I said, before that I remember hearing Run-DMC and some other stuff that had come out, but I was young and I didn’t really know what I was listening to. But around those times when moms was listening to her Public Enemy tape, that’s when things started to get real crazy (laughs).”
What was it about that particular Public Enemy album that really drew you in?
“It was the “Can’t Truss It” beat. That beat was just something that I’d jump around and go crazy to as a kid (laughs). So it was that and also the fact that they were talking about social issues. I mean, I didn’t know anything about the injustices that they were talking about, but I just knew that something was wrong with the way the world was. Something was a little off. My mom coached me along with it as well and would talk to me about some of the things that Public Enemy were talking about on their records. So it was cool.”
You grew-up in Queens, right?
“Yeah, yeah. I grew-up in Woodside, Queens, Sunnyside, Queens, the Long Island City area…”
So were you aware at that young age that Hip-Hop was all around the neighbourhoods you were living in?
“Absolutely. I mean, I remember going to the store as a young kid and seeing people break-dancing on cardboard out in the street, people on the corner freestyling and stuff like that. So Hip-Hop was definitely something that was all around me at a young age. To me, back then, it just seemed like Hip-Hop was the main outlet that everyone seemed to be migrating towards. I mean, I remember thinking as a kid that there were a lot of cool things about Hip-Hop, but that there were also some weird things about Hip-Hop, like seeing people on the corner sucking dinkies. Grown men sucking on dummies?! (Laughs). I remember seeing that and thinking there was some weird stuff around Hip-Hop as well as the cool stuff (laughs). But I remember there was graffiti everywhere that I was growing-up and it was cool to be able to walk down the street and read the walls. I just thought Hip-Hop was dope. I mean, back then, Hip-Hop wasn’t everywhere like it is today. Now, you can walk into a Walmart, there’s rap playing and it’s considered normal. Back then, you’d walk into the supermarket and hear Lite FM playing or something. Hip-Hop hadn’t caught on with the mainstream like it has now. I mean, as far as what frequency I was on back then, it was popular on the street and amongst my friends, but it was really like a secret code, y’know. If you knew then you knew.”
I remember back then, growing-up here in the UK, if you even saw someone wearing their laces a certain way it let you know they must be a Hip-Hop head because it just wasn’t as widely integrated with the mainstream as it’s become now…
“Yeah, definitely. That was the code. It was all about the style of dress, a certain way you might wear something, certain things that you would say and slang that you’d use. I mean, there was nothing set in stone back then in the late-80s / early-90s, so people could come with their own styles…”
Exactly. There were definitely rules to the culture, in terms of not biting etc, but that encouraged people to be original in what they were doing and led to there being so many different flavours and styles in the music…
“Yeah, and we were listening to all of it. I mean, here in New York, Video Music Box was something that mixed all the different elements and flavours of the music together, so whatever was on offer and was good, you messed with it. I mean, really, there wasn’t a lot of artists to choose from back in those days, but most of what you were hearing back then was good because the music was still new and fresh and people were experimenting and bringing new things to the table. Of course, you liked certain things more than others. I mean, I never really liked PM Dawn (laughs). But one thing that I always look at now and think is crazy is how the social voice of Hip-Hop became less and less as the music grew in popularity. I mean, if that side of Hip-Hop was more prevalent nowadays, I think the whole world would have a different view on it.”
When you were growing-up, did you spend most of your childhood in Queens or were you also getting out and seeing the other boroughs of New York?
“I mean, the neighbourhood I grew-up in is real close to Manhattan and is only twenty minutes away on the number seven train. So I’d go across to Manhattan as a kid and caught a little bit of what was going on back then, like the old-school Times Square with the peep shows and arcades. Then, when I hit about twelve-years-0ld, I started going out on my own, hitting the arcades, running around, going crazy and doing retarded s**t (laughs). But I didn’t really get into the real life of the other boroughs until I was about sixteen, going to places, coppin’ weed and stuff like that. But back then, I didn’t really understand any other borough like I understood Queens.”
What were some of the biggest differences that stood out to you between Queens and other New York boroughs?
“I mean, I didn’t really know about the rivalries that had happened between different boroughs until I was about fifteen or sixteen. At first, I thought everywhere in New York was pretty much a place that you had to adapt to. I mean, Queens, to me, was, and is, the most multi-cultural borough in New York. There’s a lot of different ethnicities in Queens. In my neighbourhood, there’s a lot of Dominicans and Colombians, then you also have a lot of Asians. A lot of people in Queens are from families who came from immigrants coming to New York. My pops was an immigrant who came to New York with a couple of dollars in his pocket and he just wanted to make it. So, even from a young age, I always thought that New York is the melting pot that it is. You never know who you’re going to meet walking down the street. I mean, I never had one dominant group of people in my life in terms of race and culture. So to me, it’s just like, people are people. But in terms of the differences between the boroughs, I always remember thinking that Manhattan was a lot more flashy. People always seemed to really want to spruce up their s**t and make it more of a spectacle. Coming from Queens, when you think about the style and fashions that Hip-Hop artists from the area were coming with in the early-90s, it was almost just like work gear. Carhartt jackets, Timberland boots, people were looking like they really worked and were about to put up a roof or some s**t (laughs). So Queens to me was always a little less flashy than some of the other boroughs.”
So when did you first start writing rhymes?
“When I was a little kid, I wanted to know the words to songs that I liked, like Main Source’s “Fakin’ The Funk”. I would sit there, play a little bit of the song, stop it, write the words down. Then play it and stop it again. I’d do that until I had the whole song written down. Doing that kinda taught me the pattern of how to write a rhyme. I did that to a bunch of songs, so I could learn all the words and then look cool as a kid when the song would come on (laughs). I did that with some other Main Source records, Brand Nubian, of course Public Enemy. That Public Enemy “Apocalypse 91…” album helped you out with that as well because they actually gave you the lyrics on the cover (laughs). Then the next thing you know, I was like, ‘Let me try and do my own thing.’ Now, here I am twenty years later still doing that s**t (laughs).”
Was there a point where you felt like you’d made that transition from just being a fan to actually being an emcee in your own right?
“I mean, that feeling really came from me just showing-out, participating in cyphers and people telling me that I was that good. I was always just a fan who wanted to participate, but then there were a couple of moments that made me think that I might really have a shot at doing this properly. I’d be just rockin’ in the neighbourhood and people would be telling me that I was nice, which definitely made me feel good. I remember this one time when I was in sixth grade, we went to this ice-skating rink for a class trip and they started playing A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario”. Me and a couple of friends basically rocked the ice-skating rink just imitating “Scenario” (laughs). I guess because we were little kids it looked kinda cute and was a novelty, but it just felt good seeing people going crazy. There were teenage girls lifting me up in the air and stuff like that (laughs). It felt good. I remember, my boy Malik, he played the role of Phife Dawg in that, he was having a good time to. Plus my boy Tommy, who isn’t here anymore, rest in peace. We would just alternate who would take which verse (laughs). Those were good times. But that was a moment that really made me think, ‘Oh man, I really want to do this.’ I was still a little kid at that point though. So, in terms of me actually doing things myself, I was probably about seventeen when I started doing the open-mics here and there. There was one particular event that we rocked really good that made me think I could really do this. Foul Monday was there as well and he’s someone I still rock with today. So there were a couple of situations that happened which made me think I could do this, like when you’d be rhyming and a crowd would develop and people would tell me that music was something that I should pursue.”
Would you see other artists from Queens who were already putting records out around your neighbourhood during that time?
“Not really. I mean, you’d hear about people from Queens who were putting records out. There was always a couple of degrees of separation, like, you’d know someone who knew someone who was involved in something. I remember when Killa Kids from Queensbridge put out a record and I actually used to go to school with a couple of them. So when I saw they actually had a record out, that was cool. But in terms of established artists who were already out there, I never really saw anyone face-to-face or just saw them hanging-out. I mean, a couple of artists would pass through now and then, like you’d hear someone say that Mobb Deep were around the way. So you might see them, but it wasn’t something that would happen everyday, so it was still something special when that would happen. I mean, of course, you might have run into different artists in different neighbourhoods or if you were involved with certain circles of people, but I didn’t personally.”
When you first started rhyming did you have the intention then of releasing music to a wider audience or was it just something you initially intended to keep within your own circle?
“In my mind, when I was writing anything, I was writing it like it was going to be the most famous hit song ever (laughs). But really, it was just for the craft of it and to entertain myself, like, ‘How well can I write a rhyme right now?’ I never felt like I could rest creatively. I would always be trying to see if I could write something better than the last rhyme that I wrote.”
Something that’s been very clear listening to the projects you’ve put out in recent years is that you obviously really enjoy the creative process that goes into writing rhymes….
“Of course. I mean, you’re the controller of your own world when you’re rhyming. You can take what life gives you and feed it back out in your own way with your own spin on it….
You can definitely tell that you’re putting real effort into your verses and not just writing down the first thing that comes into your head. Your style is very vivid and visual and you have plenty of quotable lines that stay with the listener after the music has stopped…
“That’s cool. I appreciate that. I mean, that’s the aim. As an emcee, I want to write rhymes that are timeless. I feel that Hip-Hop has really poor representatives right now, because so many people think that it’s all about them and their quest to get rich. Not many people are really doing new stuff right now or trying to bring new fans to Hip-Hop. I mean, I want to try and reach the girls who work in retail and listen to techno (laughs). I want to catch their attention because I’m doing something a little different to what they’re used to, so that if they heard my music they’d be telling people, ‘I heard this really cool song today.’ I mean, that’s how we all got turned on to Hip-Hop. That’s how you got turned on to Hip-Hop at one time. It might seem so long ago now, but at some point you heard something that was so odd and so honest that it really stood out and brought you into Hip-Hop and made you want to know and hear more. I just don’t think there are enough artists doing that today.”
You’re definitely right. For me, hearing Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” in 1982 introduced me to Hip-Hop and what intrigued me about that record so much was that it wasn’t like anything I’d heard before as a kid. I wanted to understand it. But I think part of the problem today is that a lot of listeners don’t have the attention span to peel back the layers of a record. They want to understand everything straight away and not have to try to decode what an artist is saying or find a deeper meaning in their rhymes…
“Definitely. But, as an artist, you have to be interesting enough to make people want to decode your stuff. Like, for example, if you think back to when Wu-Tang first came out, they were a lot more interesting than a lot of other artists that were out at the time. I mean, if you were to compare Wu-Tang to another act out at the time, like a Das EFX. That might seem like a weird comparison, but a group like Das EFX, they didn’t really have any deep substance in their rhymes. That’s not to dis them, but they were more about their diggedy-diggedy style and how they said their rhymes rather than being about substance. But with a group like Wu-Tang, when they came out, you really had to pay attention to what they were talking about because they came with their own slang and their whole approach drew you into their world and made you want to understand where they were coming from. Wu really started their own sub-culture in Hip-Hop. So, as an artist, I think it’s important to make what you’re doing interesting enough to make people want to get deeper into your music and try to understand what you’re about once they do hear it.”
Some years back you began working with fellow Queens lyricists Spit Gemz and Shaz Illyork and became affiliated with their movement The Opposition. How did that happen?
“It was really through the internet. Spit Gemz hit me up on the internet, told me that he’d seen that I’d done some stuff and that I should come by and try to work on something. So he brought me over to Goblin Studios in Queens, introduced me to everyone there and I’ve been working with them now for some years. So it was really cool. But we really just hooked-up on some regular checking-your-inbox type s**t.”
Goblin Music Studios really seems to have become a focal point for a lot of today’s Queens emcees as well as attracting established artists from elsewhere in New York…
“Yeah, yeah. I mean, there aren’t a lot of places now that are able to facilitate what you want to do with your music but also be part of the music as well. I mean, with a lot of studios, you go there, you exchange money for the session, you rock for a few hours and then you take your stuff and leave. You don’t really care too much about the place itself or the studio dog (laughs). But Goblin Studios is a little bit different. It just has so much character. It’s kind of an edgy place. I mean, I knew Gob Goblin from back in the days. I met him in a cypher rapping when I was a teenager and he’s definitely a talented emcee in his own right.”
Was that before or after he was featured on a couple of the Beatnuts’ albums?
“That was actually during the time he was out on the Beatnuts albums. Then when Spit Gemz first took me to Goblin Studios I was like, ‘I know this guy.’ But it’s a different element in that studio. It’s like, a lot of that back in the days kind of energy, like high-school stuff, mobbin’ out with a bunch of kids, rockin’ on the corners. There’s always a bunch of people around the studio hanging-out, so that creates an audience for what you’re doing. I mean, there’s one side of the studio that’s about making music and being creative, then there’s the other side of it which is about hanging-out, drinking, telling jokes and then it might turn into a cypher and the next thing you know you’ve got a performance going on (laughs). There’s definitely a lot of different elements that are part of Goblin Studios that make it different from most other studios. Plus, there’s the fact that a lot of old-school artists come there to record now. I mean, Sadat X has been in there a lot, M.O.P. are there a lot, Sean Price. So the studio has kind of been a beacon to like-minded people and has drawn them there.”
It must be kind of crazy for you to be in Goblin Studios hanging-out with legends like Sadat X when twenty years ago you were writing down his rhymes so you could learn them…
“Yeah, I actually said that to Sadat. It is crazy. But you get over it. I mean, you don’t want to make too much of it and make it out like it’s some crazy, mystical thing, y’know (laughs). I mean, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people I grew-up listening to and I hope I get to work with more. You’ve always gotta pay homage to those who came before us in anyway you can, but I think the best way to pay homage is to make good music that comes from an honest place, reflects some skill and gives Hip-Hop some credibility back.”
Given how vivid your rhyme style is, what’s your creative process when you sit down to write?
“It really comes down to whatever I feel when I turn on a beat and then I try to hold onto that feeling for as long as I can. So, often, I’ll get an idea from listening to a particular beat and it builds from there. Like, with the “Buddha Bless” joint on the new album, One-Take sent me a video of him making a beat with his son on his lap and it was that beat. So I started thinking about all the wild s**t that I did when I was a kid and I wrote the song hoping that One-Take’s kid wouldn’t turn out to be an a**hole like I was (laughs). I just put a more crazy spin on it with the things that I was saying on there. But when I’m writing in general, I really just try to stay free with what I’m thinking about and I really try to have fun with it.”
Considering how closely linked a lot of the current generation of Queens emcees are, Spit Gemz, Eff Yoo, Nutso etc, how much competition is there amongst you all?
“It’s always there. I mean, there’s a certain vernacular that people use in Hip-Hop, like, ‘Yo, you killed him on that song!’ But I really don’t try to take it that far. You’ve just got to be yourself and offer your own style. So I don’t really take it that far with those type of conversations because when you start thinking like that I think it can really affect your writing and you can starting coming across like someone who’s constantly trying too hard. I mean, there’s always competition, but you’ve just got to deliver by being yourself, and if you’re not doing that then people won’t be mentioning your name. As long as people are mentioning your name and checking for your music then you’re good. I mean, no-one wants to be known as the weakest link in the chain, so that competitive element is always there, but it’s not that intense or prevalent in every conversation we have. It’s not like we all sit around telling each other, ‘Yo! You really did me in on that song!’ There’s none of that s**t (laughs).”
You definitely all seem to support each other’s work as well through social media etc…
“I mean, I have no doubt in my mind that most of my real fans are rappers. I don’t have the fanbase that I need to have, and the reason that I have been able to gain any momentum is because other artists who do already have fanbases have shown people my music and told them that it’s something that they should be listening to.”
There’s been an on-going debate in recent years about New York having lost its musical identity etc. Do you find yourself becoming frustrated with the New York Hip-Hop scene when major media outlets such as Hot 97 and different magazines / websites continue to front on a lot of underground NY artists who’re putting out quality music?
“Nah, I just don’t think people are really up on it like that. I mean, if you know then you know. People wouldn’t be complaining about the music if they really knew the sources to go to. They wouldn’t be complaining about the lack of New York Hip-Hop if they knew about certain artists. To me, the people who deserve to know about it know about it. For those who don’t know, and don’t try to look for it, then stay in radio land or wherever. There’s always going to be dope records out there for people who keep their eyes peeled. But I don’t get frustrated about it. I’m still going to do what I’m doing. It’s not really that much of a big deal to me. Whatever the end of the story may be, it’s all about the journey for me. Regardless of what is happening in the mainstream, I still have people who’re supporting my music and keeping it above water. It’s definitely not falling on deaf ears and there is still an audience and an appreciation for it. I mean, of course there are industry politics involved as well. If I had a huge budget and a lot of money to throw at my projects, then I know I’d be in a different spot to where I’m at right now. I’m at the stage where the money I make from music goes into making more music. I might have some money left from it here and there which I can use to pay some bills or buy some food, but otherwise the money is going back into the music. So, if people really want to see artists who’re not getting the attention they might deserve make it to a certain point, they just need to support them to the fullest extent. Buy the albums, buy the merchandise and go to the shows if they’re touring in your neighbourhood.”
You seem to have built up a very strong fanbase across Europe. Has that surprised you at all?
“I’ll be honest, the support is much greater from Europe than it is anywhere else in terms of fans buying the music and reaching out to collaborate on material. It was crazy at first when I saw that was happening. It was back in the MySpace days that started to happen with me. I noticed that people from Europe were buying my music and then producers from places like France and Switzerland started to reach out to me with beats wanting to work together. It was definitely cool and surprising when it started happening. But now, it’s really just part of the game. Those are the people who I’m making my music for now. You always try to aim at your target audience when you’re putting a project together, so I’m thinking about those fans all across Europe when I’m recording music now and hope that they continue to enjoy what I’m doing and come back each time I put something new out.”
Why do you think the support is so strong across Europe when you’re having to fight to get the same level of support at home?
“Me and a friend were just talking about that. I think the respect that people have for Hip-Hop in Europe is that much more intense because it’s not in your face. I mean, you guys out there aren’t from the place where it started and I think that means you have more respect for the origins of the culture. Over here, in New York, it’s like old news to some people. Whereas, to people elsewhere in the world, New York Hip-Hop culture is almost like a mythical creature. So it goes beyond just supporting the music and becomes about supporting that feeling of golden-era type s**t. People want that feeling of genuine Hip-Hop with honest lyrics that’s true to the history of the culture, which they’re not getting from hearing contrived music that’s made in a laboratory somewhere to brainwash your kids (laughs). I think in Europe there’s just more of an awareness that the feeling of Hip-Hop is going away and they’re trying to bring it back around perhaps more than people are doing here in the States. But yo, I’m trying to get to Europe as soon as I can. I just need to get my name out there more, keep making music and I’m sure it will happen.”
The artwork for the new album “Blood From A Stone” is definitely striking. What’s the concept behind the cover?
” I love the cover art, I think it’s great. But I originally wanted it to be very scary-looking like a “Tales From The Crypt” comic. I just wanted the image to make people think a little and tamper with the idea they might have of what living in America or New York is really all about. I wanted to take an image of New York that’s glorified, the Statue Of Liberty, and make it something dark. I just wanted to show people that we’re not living in the land of freedom that some people think we are.”
“Blood From A Stone” is produced entirely by Brooklyn’s One-Take. You’ve featured his production before on previous projects such as “Something In The Water”, but what prompted you to work exclusively with him on this new album?
“I work really, really fast if I like a beat. With One-Take, he was around Goblin Studios and he’d leave me beats to check and he also started emailing me stuff. So when I was at home chillin’ and in the mood to write, I had a nice collection of his beats already. I mean, we’d already done a couple of really good joints on “Something In The Water”. So we just started stashing songs away. Then, by the end of last summer, we realised we had about twelve or thirteen songs finished so we decided we had to start thinking about how we were going to put them out. I mean, the songs on the album came together gradually, but it just worked out that they sound very cohesive as an album. But in terms of the beats, One-Take has a very golden-era sound to what he does and I like to rhyme over music that has feeling to it. So the album definitely isn’t contrived in anyway, it’s just natural stuff that came out of the two of us working together.”
What I like about One-Take’s production is that it’s definitely influenced by that golden-era boom-bap but it still has its own character and flavour. It doesn’t sound like someone just trying to emulate a DJ Premier or a Pete Rock…
“Yeah, it’s definitely original. I mean, One-Take has been doing this for a long time and he’s a student of the game. As a producer, you don’t want to fall into the category of sounding like another producer, otherwise people are just going to go and listen to the original rather than listen to the knock-off. So you have to be doing original stuff.”
You also have veteran NY emcees on “Blood From A Stone” like Shabaam Sahdeeq and Tragedy Khadafi. It must feel good knowing that your music is being embraced by those artists who came before you and left their own mark on the game…
“Yeah. But I really have to give a lot of the credit to that happening being down to me being stationed in Goblin Studios. I mean, Shabaam Sahdeeq isn’t necessarily an artist who records a lot at Goblin, although he’s always welcome to, but we did do the song together there as he happened to come by. We’d been talking and were both fans of each other, so that’s how that happened. With Tragedy, he’s an artist who records at Goblin all the time. So I met him over there, we got to talk and build, and I have a lot of respect for him in terms of his contribution to Hip-Hop and what he does on the mic. Tragedy is definitely someone whose opinions you need to respect and you have to listen to any advice he may give creatively. That’s why I’m honoured that he would even want to do a song with me. It’s a blessing. But I really have to say a lot of it came down to me being in the right place at the right time and that place was Goblin Studios.”
With the amount of artists who’re affiliated with Goblin Studios, are there any plans for a Goblin compilation project?
“I’ve been trying to do that. I might have to be the one that steals all the music out of the studio and just puts it out (laughs). I might have to just go in there with a USB stick, take everything, put all the music out, and then have everyone mad at me for a couple of weeks. But I’ve definitely been saying that’s something we should do. I mean, Gob Goblin himself is a tremendous emcee in his own right and there’s tracks in the studio that are laying around waiting to be released. But, he’s also a business-minded guy, so I think that’s part of the reason why a compilation hasn’t come out yet because he wants to make sure anything that does come out is done the right way.”
When you look at the newer generation of artists currently coming out of Queens, Meyhem Lauren, Timeless Truth, yourself, the borough definitely seems to be putting the New York underground in a choke-hold right now with a real collective focus on lyricism…
“Yeah. I mean, similar to what we were just saying about Europe, out of all the New York boroughs, I think we care more in Queens. I mean, Hip-Hop is like a sport really, and I think we take it very seriously, we put the training in and that shows in the way we express ourselves musically. It’s just what we do. I mean, in Brazil there are dudes who practice kicking a soccer ball around for fifteen hours. In Queens, we do rap s**t for fifteen hours (laughs). If you’re from Queens, then you know the code of what’s right and what’s wrong as far as what you want to hear in music. At the same time, you can’t put yourself in a box as an artist, but there’s certain s**t that’s just not going to fly.”
So what future plans does Starvin B have?
“Well, I’m trying to see the whole world and put out as much music as I can. I basically just want to enjoy life, man. Eventually, I’d like to get into writing some screenplays and putting some visual art together. Maybe some short films, stuff like that. That’s definitely a goal of mine. I’ve always liked movies and I’ve already started writing some screenplays. I’ve read screenplays so I understand the format they’re put together in, like working on the dialogue and writing the whole scene out. I’m not really looking at focussing on a particular genre, I’d just like to tell some stories. But anything that I did would definitely be very closely based around real life because my problem with movies sometimes is when they’re just not realistic and I’m like, ‘That’s bulls**t!’ (Laughs). But the writing side of it is what interests me, I’m not trying to be an actor or a director. I’m sure I probably could do some acting, but that’s not something that I’m rushing to get into.”
What are some of your favourite films?
“There’s a lot of them. I could go everywhere (laughs). I mean, I really liked everything from “Ghostbusters” to “Edward Scissorhands” to “Taxi Driver”. Then there’s things like “Goodfellas”, of course. But that was everyone’s favourite movie (laughs). “A Bronx Tale” is another one. “The Gods Must Be Crazy” is an ill movie as well. I’d like to do a movie like that. But I like all kinds of movies. I mean, Disney’s “Fantasia” was an ill movie growing-up. “Fantasia” is a trip, man. There’s something about that movie that doesn’t feel like it was really made for a child’s mind. There was just something about that movie, man (laughs).”
So for anyone reading this who isn’t already familiar with your music, why should they now check out Starvin B?
“Well, they should definitely listen for the simple fact that I’m being written about right now. Somebody has chosen to do this interview and talk to me about my music. That would intrigue me enough. I mean, if you’ve read this whole interview I think that should be enough to make you wanna listen to my music. My music is something that’s done from a very honest place and if you respect anything with any grit to it, then you’ll like it.”
Any final words?
“Just for everyone to try to support. Also, I’m always down to network, so hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anybody that’s wants to work can hit me up there. I’m doing this grassroots, so anyone who wants to work or collaborate, I’m the guy that you talk to.
Follow Starvin B on Twitter – @Starvin_B
Starvin B – “Blue Note” (StarvinB.BandCamp.Com / 2014)
The Nashville-raised producer drops his impressive video remix project and Rap City tribute “Bap City” which features M.O.P., AZ, The Beatnuts and other 90s favourites – you can also support the Gummy Soul movement by picking up “Bap City” as a DVD or audio download here.
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.”
“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.”
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)…”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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”.