3rd Bass’s MC Serch reminisces with Ed Lover on the group’s late-80s beef with MC Hammer.
3rd Bass’s MC Serch reminisces with Ed Lover on the group’s late-80s beef with MC Hammer.
In this third part of my in-depth interview with Pete Nice, the former 3rd Bass member discusses recording the group’s two classic albums, beef with MC Hammer and almost starring in one of Spike Lee’s most iconic movies – check Part One and Part Two.
How did it feel to see “The Cactus Album” go gold approximately just six months after it was released in 1989?
“It definitely felt like we’d accomplished everything we wanted to when we went into the studio and even way beyond that. We were just hoping that someone would pay us to let us make music, so to go gold was a massive achievement. I mean, to put it in perspective, when Slick Rick’s first album came out in 1988 there would be promo copies up at Def Jam, and Serch and I used to steal those and sell them on the corner for ten bucks so we could buy pizza from this place that used to be right next to the label offices. So you couldn’t even compare where we were at then to where we ended-up. It was just ridiculous.”
One of my favourite tracks off the album was “Product Of The Environment” but the Marley Marl remix that was released just took that record to a completely different place in terms of its sound and mood…
“Of all the remixes that were done off that album, that was actually my favourite. I remember when we had different producers who were presenting us with ideas and then we heard that one. I mean, we were cool with Marley Marl as it was, so to have grown-up listening to his radio shows and then have him want to remix our music, that was just a no-brainer. I think he dropped us off a tape with the beat first and then once we heard it we were just like, ‘Let’s go with that one.’ I mean, the album version was really just like an album track, but that remix really turned it into a single musically. I mean, that record in a club….”
The album will always be remembered for the beef between 3rd Bass and MC Hammer which culminated with a hit being put out on the group when you were touring on the West Coast. How seriously did you take that particular situation at the time?
“From everything that we were told it was serious and was apparently real because we had to go through some channels with Russell with some people that he knew like Mike Concepcion who was like a kingpin out on the West Coast. We definitely met with him out there and talked to him at the time. We had security who had worked with N.W.A. following us everywhere. So it was definitely something the record company weren’t taking lightly. Apparently it all got squashed. It really all came from the song “The Cactus” where I had thrown out the line, ‘The Cactus turned Hammer’s mutha out…’ Obviously I wasn’t talking specifically about Hammer’s mother it was just a play on words based on the title of his single. But Hammer’s brother took that and just went nuts with it. I know it was his brother Louis who was the one who called-up Def Jam just flipping out when the record came out. Then to top it off they said that Serch said it, so Serch ended-up taking more of the heat for that when I was actually the one who said it. But our beef with Hammer, aside from when Serch had that little altercation with him at the celebrity basketball game dance contest, was that Hammer had actually come in and totally dissed Run DMC at one point. Now, this was very close to the time when we were recording the “Gas Face” video, so Russell had told us that all of them were going to come to the video, but actually only DMC and Jam Master Jay got out there. We told Lionel Martin to get us a big hammer and that we were going to have Run DMC kick the hammer down (laughs). So that really came out of our respect for Run DMC and was our way of saying that you couldn’t just come out and talk s**t about your founding fathers and be in the position that Hammer was in. I mean, there weren’t too many people who looked at Hammer as being a legitimate artist at the time anyway.”
What was 3rd Bass’s connection with KMD at the time you were recording “The Cactus Album”?
“Well, our dancers Ahmed and Otis, who were also known as Thing 1 and Thing 2, they were from Long Beach, New York and were all down together in the Get Yours Posse with KMD. Doom (Zev Love X) and Subroc were very young at the time when we first started out, and then they were doing their own material and writing. Subroc at the time wasn’t even rhyming, he just had his drum machine and was programming beats. Serch actually knew them before I did and then through the affiliation with our dancers we just started hanging out with them. If you look at the photos that are on the inside of “The Cactus Album” that look like we’re all at a house party, those were taken in the basement of Ahmed’s house. We were very close with them at that time. I remember, we were taking the Long Island Railroad out to see Prince Paul to work with him on “The Cactus Album” and Doom was coming out with us. Doom had been using the term ‘Gas Face’ relentlessly at the time and Serch said, ‘Let’s do a record called “The Gas Face”.’ So we literally wrote that record on the train to the studio and while we were actually in the studio. It was all just totally spontaneous. That’s why, even saying the stuff about Hammer on there, it was just all totally off the top of the head.”
“Brooklyn-Queens” was another big single off the album…
“”Brooklyn-Queens” was a song that I’d had as a concept back from the days of being with Lord Scotch. So that was us expanding on an original idea. The same thing with “Product Of The Environment”, which was us expanding on one of Serch’s original demos. He’d done “Product Of The Environment” with Sam Sever before we ever got together and I had “Brooklyn Queens” before Serch was with me.”
Another favourite track of mine was “Monte Hall” although it sounded totally different to anything else on “The Cactus Album” – where did the idea for that track come from?
“The music that was used on “Monte Hall” with the Grover Washington Jr. loops was something I’d actually planned to use for the “Soul In The Hole” song. But when we looped it up we just decided it would work better on “Monte Hall”. When you looked at Hip-Hop at the time, everyone had their love jam or whatever, like Whodini or UTFO, there was that tradition of having that type of record. So we wanted to have that type of record on the album but not be corny about it. We didn’t want it to come off as being something that wasn’t real. But “Monte Hall” was another record that just totally came together in the studio. I think I had thrown out the name and Serch was just like, ‘Yeah, we’ll f**kin’ call it “Monte Hall”‘ and then we just wrote s**t right there with Sam Sever hooking up the beats. So that song was totally something that wasn’t planned that just got created in the studio”
So there was definitely a lot of spontaneity involved in the recording of “The Cactus Album”?
“Yeah. I mean, we definitely had a lot of things planned out in terms of how many songs we wanted on the album and what the overall concept of the album was going to be. I mean, I’ve told people before how I had conversations with Chuck D about how your A-side should be the same length as your B-side on a cassette because if someone’s listening to it in their car you don’t want there to be any dead-space on your tape because then they might just put in someone else’s tape. So we definitely put a lot of thought into some things, but there was also a lot of spontaneous creativity involved.”
Moving forward, what was the concept behind the imagery used on 1991’s “Derelicts Of Dialect” album cover with the group being shown as ageing men?
“I mean, we had the idea for the title of the album and the concept for the cover came from us tying it into the idea that we kinda came into the business as almost like bums off the street and we figured we’d go out the same way. Actually, I think the people who did the make-up for the album cover were the same people who did the make up for the “Saturday Night Live” TV show. It was something that really we just planned for the album cover, but then it turned into a whole concept for the “Portrait Of The Artist As A Hood” video. I guess overall that was more of a darker album, but it was definitely a progression and reflected our personalities at the time.”
1991 was definitely a pivotal year in Hip-Hop in terms of the friction that was happening between the commercial rap that was starting to be embraced by the mainstream and the true-school artists who were still trying to be heard and recognised. It seemed like “Derelicts Of Dialect” really fell right alongside other albums that year like De La’s “De La Soul Is Dead” and Tribe’s “The Low End Theory” as a response to the commercial music that was being championed by the industry…
“That is true and the album was probably a reflection of the time too which is something I didn’t even think about, so you’re right on point there. Back in that time period we would get offered endorsement deals for Sprite, different soft drinks and other stuff and we would regularly turn them down as it was something that was kind of unheard of back then. We were all about our credibility. Nowadays people wouldn’t even think twice about an artist taking a deal like that, but back at that time it was foreign to us and didn’t really fit into the way we had patterned our career. Even to the point where Spike Lee had Serch and I come in and read for his “Malcolm X” movie. We read for it and he liked us. I remember Laurence Fishburne was in there reading for one of the other parts when we were coming into Spike’s office. He wanted us to play two of the prison guards who roughed Malcolm X up and we were just like, ‘Spike, can you picture people going into a movie theatre and seeing 3rd Bass rough up Malcolm X?’ In retrospect I can see what he was trying to do, but we actually turned it down. As much as we might have wanted to do it, we just couldn’t see ourselves in that role. Who knows how it would have been accepted if we’d done it, but the fact we turned it down because of how it could have been accepted just shows what a different time it was back then in the early-90s…”
I’m sure James Bernard would have written a column in The Source at the time if you had taken those roles…
“Yeah, exactly (laughs). We just didn’t think that it was appropriate so we stayed away. I mean, Spike really wanted us to do it and he might have had better judgement on it than we did, but we decided it’d be best to pass on that one.”
In the same way the MC Hammer beef was attached to “The Cactus Album”, 3rd Bass’s beef with Vanilla Ice was linked to “Derelicts Of Dialect” with the infamous “Pop Goes The Weasel” video beatdown. Were you going at Vanilla Ice primarily because he was one of the most successful commercial rap artists of the time or beccause he was a white successful commercial rap artist who you felt was damaging what Serch and yourself had achieved as white emcees?
“It just seemed to be the music in general at that time. You had Hammer. You had Vanilla Ice. I mean, to a lesser degree, you had Delicious Vinyl with Tone Loc and Young MC. There was a whole commercial side of the music that was going out to the whole country. Radio was really playing that stuff and still ignoring real Hip-Hop. So “Pop Goes The Weasel” was really our answer to that. I mean, that record was successful based on the strength of the familiarity of the Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer” loop, which got it into certain places that otherwise probably wouldn’t have been paying attention to our music. It was almost like a joke between us. I mean, we figured we’d do the record but didn’t really think it would be a single. But we kinda duped everyone into playing our little game because the next thing you know you had all these pop radio stations playing the record which was actually mocking the same people who were playing it. We’d even get sent out to be interviewed on some of these radio shows and then have to explain the concept behind the record (laughs)”.
Did you get any strange reactions once some of those pop deejays realised what the group’s intentions were with “Pop Goes The Weasel”?
“I mean, all the traditional morning jocks and people like that probably still didn’t get it (laughs). I think at that point, we’d turn up at these stations like, ‘Word to your mother’s grandmother’s aunt’s third cousin..’ and all kinds of other stupid s**t (laughs). I mean, I think our core audience at the time understood what we were doing with “Pop Goes The Weasel” and that we were using it as a way to get the message out there but at the same time still keep our own integrity. But that single definitely helped us sell more records. I mean, if we hadn’t broken up at the time I think “Derelicts Of Dialect” would have even sold more than it actually did. We were still out on tour when the group actually split up, so there were definitely more tours and singles planned in connection with that album. So overall, “Dereliects Of Dialect” could have been a much bigger record if we hadn’t split at the time.”
KMD and Chubb Rock were both featured on the album, but “Microphone Techniques” with Nice & Smooth is still one of my favourite collaborations of the 90s to this day…
“That was fun to make. I always loved Nice & Smooth. Greg Nice is just such a character. Being in the studio with those guys was just nuts and something that I’ll always remember. The same thing with being in the studio with Chubb Rock when we did “Kick ‘Em In The Grill”. The verse that Chubb kicked on there just killed me. But with both Greg’s verse on “Microphone Techniques” and Chubb’s on “Kick ‘Em In The Grill”, when they each actually got in the booth to record and dropped their rhymes, everyone just lost it (laughs).”
What memories do you gave of working with Prince Paul on “Derelicts Of Dialect”?
“I mean, when we worked with Prince Paul on “The Cactus Album” it was very spontaneous and just came together. But when it came to the second album, we definitely had more time in the studio with Paul. We recorded most of those songs at this studio called Calliope, which is where KMD did a lot of their stuff to. But we spent a lot of time in there working with Paul and he was working on other stuff at the same time, like a lot of the De La stuff. So it was a cool time creatively to be spending time working with Prince Paul. We were collaborating with him quite a bit, throwing ideas that we had at him, then he’d pick up on something and throw an idea back at us. It was a great process because Paul was never tied to pre-conceived ideas of what he wanted to do as a producer going into the studio. I mean, sometimes we’d go in the studio and he might just have one loop set-up and we’d be like, ‘Man, what is that? We gotta have that one.’ The song “Come In” is something that came together like that. I mean, the actual song “Derelicts Of Dialect” was another big collaboration between us. We already had the concept of what we wanted and then Paul came up with the 9th Creation loop that was used on that record. I think that was actually the first record that we did for the album and really established where we wanted to go with the “Derelicts Of Dialect” project in terms of it being a darker album compared to the first album.”
You mentioned earlier about the group splitting-up – was there a particular moment when you realised that 3rd Bass was over or was it a gradual process?
“I mean, Serch and I had personal problems on the tour we did to support “Derelicts Of Dialect”. We probably didn’t speak to each other for a long stretch of that tour. We’d perform and people probably went to the show and didn’t think there was anything wrong whatsoever. But we had beef together and it probably started a lot earlier than we even thought. I remember there was one point where we did a show for Hot 97 in New York and I think they wanted Marky Mark to open up for us. We told Lyor that we weren’t going to perform and he basically had to beg us to get us to do it. So he basically knew there were some problems in the group and he tried to give us a little talk which probably prolonged things for another couple of weeks, but we just couldn’t move forward together at that point.”
Was it a mutual decision between you and Serch to end the group or were either of you pushing for it to happen more than the other?
“Actually, because we were so succesful at that time I don’t think we really thought that Def Jam was going to let us split-up. We had a lot of things that we were tied into contractually as well. So I think that was a bad move on the label’s part and also with our management. I think a lot of people could have done things differently. But it’s not like we were hammering it home like, ‘We’ve gotta do our solo s**t! We’ve gotta do our solo s**t!’ So things just progressed into that. I mean, at some point I think Serch did some demos and spoke to Russell. I don’t even know if Russell just thought that we could do some solo stuff and then still be 3rd Bass. Who knows what he thought? I mean, if there’s anything that describes where me and Serch were at back then, I guess my “Rat Bastard” video kind of answered any thoughts anyone had about ‘Do these guys have problems together?’ Yes, we did…”
That video definitely didn’t leave much to the imagination…
“Yeah, I guess it kinda said it all right there…”
Check out the final part of this interview here.
Prime Minister Pete Nice & Daddy Rich – “Rap Prime Minister & Daddy Rich (Rat Bastard)” (Def Jam / 1992)
1990 3rd Bass appearance on “The Arsenio Hall Show” – Pete Nice and MC Serch discuss racial Hip-Hop politics of the time before performing “The Gas Face”.