Tag Archives: Will-Ski

Old To The New Q&A – Omniscence (Part Two)

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In this second part of my interview with 90s favourite Omniscence, the North Carolina emcee talks about performing at the New Music Seminar in NYC, recording his debut 1993 EP “The Funky One Liner” and rhyming with a young Jay-Z – check Part One here.

Shortly after that initial run of releases on Payroll Records the crew split with Ski going up to New York – was there ever any talk of you going with him at the time?

“So this is what  happened. When I first came through the door and said those rhymes to Ski, he had immediately introduced me to Fanatic. But it was kinda like the situation when Dipset joined the Roc-A-Fella camp, although obviously on a much smaller scale (laughs). There were already tensions happening within the original crew. So you’re coming into that as a new jack and you’re looking up to all these guys but you don’t know that there are these underlying tensions and the crew is actually getting ready to split. So what happened was, Fanatic, Mark Sparks and Dizzy Dee from B.A.D. Rep decided to stay together in North Carolina and Ski decided to go with Roland Jones and Supreme Nyborn to New York. With both Roland and Nyborn originally being from New York, they decided to go back up there because that’s where everything was happening. I mean, even though the Bizzie Boyz and Nyborn had put those records out which had got some buzz, nothing was happening in North Carolina because of that. When it came to Hip-Hop, it was all happening in New York. So they decided to go up there to make it happen and that’s where the split in the crew came from. So Fanatic and Mark formed a production crew called Def Rhythm Productions, with the name coming from DJ Def, which is what Mark was known as then, and the Rhythm Fanatic. That was actually where I got my first shot on wax when they put out a vinyl compilation called “Back To The Lab” in 1990.”

Which featured your solo track “Lost In The Music”…

“Yeah, that was my debut, man (laughs). There was this local guy called DJ Starchild and we all went over to his house way out in the woods and literally recorded all the vocals for the album in one day. If you listen to the record, you can hear there are no ad-libs or doubling or anything like that. Plus, if you listen to my voice, you can hear I sound totally different on that record to anything else I did afterwards.”

To me, you sound like a mix of Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith’s rhyme styles off the first EPMD album on “Lost In The Music”…

“Right, right, laidback (laughs). For one, my voice hadn’t really developed when we made that record as I was only sixteen-years-old. But also, at that time I enjoyed the smoothness of rhyming. I was a huge Rakim fan and he was one of the first guys to get on who wasn’t screaming or shouting his lyrics. He just had that smoother vibe. But then as time went on, my style started to become a little rougher around the edges as I was becoming a little older and starting to see certain aspects of the street life which were then having an influence on me as an emcee. Plus, Hip-Hop in general was starting to become a little grimier once we started to get up into the early-90s, with groups like Das EFX, Lords Of The Underground, Onyx. Basically, when I made “Lost In The Music” I hadn’t been corrupted yet (laughs).”

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So after Ski had left for New York did he keep in touch at all because at this point I’m assuming he hadn’t met up with Clark Kent and started doing the Original Flavor stuff yet?

“That’s a great question, man. Like I said, it was Ski who introduced me to Fanatic. I’ll never forget there was this one Saturday afternoon when him, Fanatic and myself were going to meet at Mixmaster D of the Bizzie Boyz’ house to go over some beats. The original plan was that I was going to be on the second Payroll compilation and they were recruiting artists at the time to be on that. But the split was happening between the crew at the same time. So Ski never showed up at the house that day and I’ll never forget that Fanatic was very upset about that and was like, ‘Yo, Ski’s on something else, man. He’s got something else going on.’ But I’ll never forget, before Ski went to New York he called my house and was like, ‘Yo, I would love to bring you with me but I know you can’t go.’ I was only sixteen-years-old and I already knew my mom wasn’t going to let me go to New York (laughs). Now, at the time, Ski was still really learning to make beats and Fanatic was the more seasoned producer. I remember Ski telling me, ‘Yo, you’re in good hands with Fanatic, man. You’ve got the beats so you’re good.’ I’ll never forget that conversation. But to answer your question, yeah, Ski would come back to North Carolina from time to time. Then of course, when we put out the “Back To The Lab” compilation under Def Rhythm Productions, we were like, ‘Yo, we’ve gotta go to New York and let this be known.’ I’ll never forget we went to the New Music Seminar in 1990 and we ran into Clark Kent who already knew Fanatic from being in the Bizzie Boyz and he was like, ‘Yo! Where’s Ski, man? I’m looking for Ski!’ He thought Ski was still with us even though there had been that split in the crew and Ski had already gone to New York with Roland and Nyborn. So there was definitely a rivalry there between the two sides of the Payroll camp, although Ski and I were never rivals like that.”

So did the two sides of the crew bump heads at the Seminar that year?

“This is a crazy story, man. I’ve never actually told this story in an interview before. So we’re up there in New York City at the New Music Seminar. Now, the name of our crew was the Over-Due Crew. Obviously we couldn’t run with the name Payroll anymore because the other guys were running with that. Now, there was this showcase at Irving Plaza in Manhattan the weekend of the New Music Seminar. Now, when I say that everybody was there, I mean everybody was there. I’m talking about Poor Righteous Teachers, BDP, Leaders Of The New School before they’d even come out. I remember Poor Righteous Teachers were having a problem with their sound, and Busta Rhymes, who I had no clue of who he was at the time, he jumped onstage and started beat-boxing for them (laughs). Ultramagnetic MC’s were there. Everybody was there. I’ll never forget that night. But I was very, very nervous (laughs). There must have been about forty acts who performed that night, some established and some who were coming up. The night was hosted by Ice-T and a then up-and-coming group from the Native Tongues called Black Sheep (laughs). Which was crazy for me to see because of knowing Lawnge from back in the day. I remember telling Fanatic that Lawnge used to deejay in Sanford and he didn’t believe me (laughs).”

That must have been a mind-blowing experience as a fan of Hip-Hop to be seeing so many huge acts all in the one place?

“I’m really trying to paint a picture for you (laughs). There were just so many people there and it was packed to capacity. I remember, every now and then either Dres or Lawnge would shout-out who was coming up later and I remember they said, ‘Yo! Brand Nubian is in the house tonight!’ and the whole place erupted. I was looking around like, ‘Who is Brand Nubian?!’ (Laughs). I think they had ” Feels So Good” out at that point, but I didn’t know who they were yet (laughs). I’ve also heard Common say he was there that night as well. Anyway, I might have been like act twenty on the bill and Ski and the Payroll crew were on a few acts afterwards. Now, if you remember, during that era everything was very fast-paced and uptempo with people trying to prove that they could rhyme over really fast beats and everything. I remember, everybody before me had come out and was rhyming super-fast. Now, as we said earlier, at this point I was a lot smoother in my style and delivery. We had a record called “Make The Connection” which sampled the “Superman Lover” joint from Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson which nobody had really used yet. It was so smooth and the crowd just really got the opportunity to sit back and listen to my lyrics. I did have two dancers behind me, but even they were cutting some smooth steps (laughs). But everything just went really, really well and I could have so easily messed everything up because I was super nervous (laughs). Well, later on that night Ski and all of them got up onstage, with Mixmaster D on the turntables. Now, both Ski and D were assassins on the mic and turntables, so this is no reflection on the skills of the Bizzie Boyz, but there were just a few things that didn’t go their way on the night. There was a banner that was behind them that fell down whilst Ski was performing and they had to take it back on a couple of records because the turntables were skipping. It just didn’t go well for them, man (laughs). I’ll never forget that night because with my performance going so well, it felt like I was carrying the flag for my crew. I came through that performance and it really gave me a super-boost of confidence that I could actually do this, man.”

It let you know that you had the talent to carry on without the Bizzie Boyz etc being part of the crew…

“Yeah, man. I mean, like I said, there was still a little tension between the crews. Supreme Nyborn went on to make a record called “What If I Was Serious” where he threw a little shot at our crew and he was clowning Fanatic at the end of it.”

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Speaking of lyrics, on the track “Stage Domination” which you recorded in the mid-90s after the East West /Elektra situation, you say a line ‘Back in ’89 I was gassed up by Funkenklein.’ Now around that time, Dave Funkenklein would have been putting his Hollywood BASIC roster together, so I always wondered what that line was in relation to…

“Oh my god (laughs). Yes indeed. Well, I didn’t know Funkenklein personally and never had any dealings with him myself. It was Fanatic and Mark who had made some connections with him. They were dealing with him and they’d always tell me that Funkenklein was loving my “Lost In The Music” joint. So they were always talking about how we were going to try and get some more music to Funkenklein. Now, I never met the man or had anything against him, but back then that line really came out of me wondering what had happened with that situation, because I kept hearing the name Funkenklein from Fanatic and Mark but then nothing came out of it. So I was just throwing it out there. But from what I understand Funkenklein was a fan of what I was doing. Yo, you’re the only guy that’s ever asked me about that line so big-ups to you for that (laughs).”

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So what happened after the success of the Over-Due Crew’s appearance at that 1990 New Music Seminar?

“I mean, in terms of people who were part of the Over-Due Crew, many of whom were included on the “Back To The Lab” project, there was probably about twenty of us, all of whom I hold in high regard. But what happened was, if things ain’t happening then people start to fall off and go in different directions. So our crew got narrowed down to Mark and Fanatic who were the producers and Dizzy and D-Mack who formed a group called Southern Hospitality, plus me as a solo artist. So as time goes on, I’m hanging out with these guys, we’re shooting rhymes back and forth, and I want to credit both of those guys with giving me the name The Funky One-Liner. See, Dizzy’s name was The Funky Beat-Breaker, D-Mack was The Funky Break-Ripper or something like that (laughs). Now because I was on the punchline thing, they decided to call me the Funky One-Liner (laughs). I mean, they had punchlines too and we were all very influenced by Big Daddy Kane and what he had been doing with the one-liners. But then of course, there was also Lord Finesse and we were all loving what he was doing lyrically. Now, if you go back and look at all our names, you’ll see we all had ‘Funky’ in there and of course Lord Finesse had dropped the “Funky Technician” album. So I started to become known as Omniscence The Funky One-Liner. I also want to say that I was very influenced by Chill Rob G as well in terms of how he was putting certain words together.”

Were you and the guys in Southern Hospitality both looking for separate record deals at this point?

“So, I actually joined their group Southern Hospitality which we shortened down to SoHo. We recorded about five or six songs together which we started to shop around trying to get a record deal. We’d go up to New York to the Seminar, we went to the Jack The Rapper events, shopping our demo and performing. Now, we ended up signing a contract with Kenny Smith out of Queens, New York who played basketball for North Carolina and then Houston. Somehow our demo fell into his hands and he liked what he heard. The name of his label was Baseline To Baseline. So we were getting ready to fly out to Houston and Fanatic called me to say he thought the contract wasn’t the right move. He was like, ‘Yo, the only way you can get out of that contract is to get out of the group.’ So I thought about it long and hard, man. I called Dizzy and talked to him for awhile and told him I was getting out of the group. My thought was that Fanatic had brought me into the game, well Ski had brought me in initially, but Fanatic had guided me along the way since. So long story short, I got out of the group. They went on to record a song called “Shorty” which was actually produced by Mark Sparks as he stayed with them even though he wasn’t part of the contract. But it was a dope record.”

So is this when you and Fanatic started working on what would become 1993’s “The Funky One Liner” EP?

“Yeah, now it’s just me and Fanatic. We didn’t have a deal or nothing, but Fanatic had a connection to a real high-quality studio in Greensboro called Ultimix. This is where he would begin the 6th Boro label. Fanatic had actually formed his own little group called the Funke Leftovers and he came to me and said he wanted me to write some rhymes for him that were aimed at the ladies and then we’d work on my stuff separately at the same time. So the first release on 6th Boro Records was a record by the Funke Leftovers and they had a real Jodeci-type look with the leather vests, no shirts on and everything. Of course, I wanted no part of that (laughs). But simultaneously I was crafting what would become the “Funky One Liner” EP. I’ll never forget I was writing crazy rhymes and Fanatic shot me this one particular beat-tape and that tape had pretty much all but one of the joints that would end-up being on the EP. I scrapped all of the rhymes that I’d been writing previously and decided I was just going to zone into those tracks. Something about those particular beats really caught me and I wrote all of the rhymes in about a week, man. Those beats just had a certain vibe to them and definitely put me into a certain zone. I was pretty much sleeping all day, getting up and going to the studio late at night and I would have all my peoples with me who were living various elements of the street life which had an influence on me at the time. I mean, I never want to portray myself as being the super criminal street killer or anything like that, but I was always able to be around that element and not be out of place just by being myself.”

Were those late-night sessions for creative or practical reasons?

“The late night sessions were because the hook-up Fanatic had meant that we could only use the studio after everyone else had finished and gone home (laughs). Now, Fanatic didn’t smoke or drink, but I told him that I needed to have my element around me while we were recording the EP. So I’d bring my boys in, we’d get lifted and have the forties and everything (laughs). I mean, I wouldn’t get too zooted, but enough for me to be able to really get into my zone. So that’s how the “Funky One Liner” EP was born.”

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Around this early-90s period there were so many up-coming emcees who were trying to get on. Do you ever recall battling or ciphering with anybody who went on to make a name for themselves?

“Definitely. I mean, if we flashback to the time when Ski was doing Original Flavor, he would come down to North Carolina. Now, following that moment at the New Music Seminar when Clark Kent approached us and was looking for Ski, of course he found Ski and subsequently connected him with a young Dame Dash and an upcoming Jay-Z. So these guys would all come down to North Carolina at different times and when we would go up to New York we would connect with them. So I definitely remember me and Jay going at it a couple of times (laughs). I mean, it’s almost hard sometimes to tell people that because not everyone knows where Jay-Z was at in his career back then (laughs).”

Who would you say had the edge between the two of you?

“Me and Jay ciphering together was like the immovable object going up against the unstoppable force (laughs). Jay-Z was the unstoppable force, meaning that, at that time, his rhymes were being said at the speed of light with that fast style he had back then. He was really quick with what he was saying. But then you had me, and I was about the punchlines and the one-liners. So if we had truly battled back then, I don’t know that I  wouldn’t have won that (laughs). But I definitely respect Jay to see where he’s taken it, from where he was at back when I was rhyming with him. I mean, he’s one of the few emcees to have obtained true power in the music business.”

Were there any actual battles you were involved in that standout to you?

“I mean, locally, I had plenty of battles with other emcees (laughs). But as far as the industry is concerned, right after we dropped the “Funky One Liner” EP in 1993, the main battle I had was as part of the New Music Seminar in 1994. At this time Fanatic and Ski were on much better terms so Ski had spoken to Clark Kent about getting me into the emcee competition at the Seminar that year. So I stepped up into that and I was like, ‘Wow!’ But it was a different format than how I’d seen it done previously. I would come out and spit my rhymes, then the next man who I was against in that particular round would come out and do his thing. So it wasn’t like we were onstage together rhyming face-to-face. But anyway, I went first in my round, which perhaps was my downfall, and went out and hit the crowd with a barrage of punchlines. Then the guy who beat me I’m positive was called MC Chill and was from Brooklyn. This wasn’t the same MC Chill who came out on Fever Records though. But he was really animated in what he was doing, so he really had the crowd in an uproar to, so the whole crowd was just shouting, ‘Rematch! Rematch!’ Actually, if you go back to the “Stage Domination” record we were talking about earlier, if you listen to the beginning of it, that’s my battle in the New Music Seminar that I was talking about on there. The crowd were saying they couldn’t pick a winner but the decision had to me made, so I was one and done (laughs). I remember Jay-Z was there that year and people were saying he was going to be in the battle as well. Now, I’d already rhymed with Jay, so if we’d have got put together I already knew how he was going to come. But a lot of people were definitely wary about the fact that Jay was possibly going to battle, so he was definitely feared by other emcees. But for some reason he stayed out of it. Judgemental from Chicago defeated King Sun in the final to take the crown that year”

The label on the “Funky One Liner” EP featured the statement ‘This Material Is Currently Being Shopped’ and a phone number to call if anyone was interested in doing business. Did you actually have people reach out to you off the back of that?

“Yeah, we did. That number on the label was actually Fanatic’s number. But people definitely reached out to him and we ended-up being bidded on heavy! Going back to that New Music Seminar battle, I remember stepping off the stage and the first person who came up to speak to me was Tom Silverman from Tommy Boy who said he wanted to talk about some things. But actually, before we’d gone to the Seminar, we’d enlisted the help of a lady called Enid Shor who had numerous years of experience of getting artists signed to labels with good deals. Now, at this time she was partnered up with DJ Premier’s man, Biggest Gord, and the way it would work is that Enid had the experience of the business and Gord had the access to the streets to find all the raw upcoming talent. So before going to the Seminar we were actually working with them on trying to get a deal. The way that happened was that Gang Starr had come down to North Carolina to do a show, and DJ K-Nyce, the same K-Nyce who had done some recording previously with Supreme Nyborn, he slid their road manager a vinyl copy of the “Funky One Liner” EP. They called back like ‘Yo, this s**t is crazy!’ and before they left town they actually came through the studio. So imagine this, me and Fanatic are in the studio listening to some beats or whatever, and then here comes DJ Premier with the Carhartt suit on and everything telling us how much he likes the record. So he ended up passing it to Gord and Enid who were doing their thing, which is how we ended up working with them. But we ended-up with a few deals on the table. Firstly, we had an offer to sign to East West / Elektra straight up without Vincent Herbert and 3 Boyz From Newark. Then we had another offer from Vincert Herbert, who we ended up signing with, which I’ll get into. Then we had a couple more as well. But none of those offers were as big as what Gord and Enid managed to bring to the table, which was Chris Lighty, who was very interested in the project.”

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Three of this interview here.

Omniscience – “I Gotta Maintain” (6th Boro Records / 1993)

Old To The New Q&A – Omniscence (Part One)

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Hip-Hop, like any another musical genre, is littered with the stories of talented artists who, through a combination of circumstances, business politics and fate, never quite left the the mark they perhaps deserved to.

North Carolina’s Omniscence came to the attention of most global Hip-Hop fans on a wave of excitement thanks to his 1995 promo single “Amazin'”, a punchy, drum-heavy track that perfectly showcased the upcoming emcee’s talent for memorable rhymes and battle-ready wordplay.

Having been scooped up by Elektra’s East West Records subsidiary following the underground success of his 1993 EP “The Funky One Liner”, the twenty-something lyricist appeared to be on the verge of joining the likes of Busta Rhymes and Ol’ Dirty Bastard as the major label’s next wave of mid-90s Hip-Hop talent.

1996’s Sadat X-assisted “Touch Y’all” single only further increased the buzz around Omniscence’s debut album “The Raw Factor”, a project which unfortunately would be shelved, with the NC emcee subsequently fading back into the shadows of a pre-Internet rap world.

In recent times, however, the name Omniscence has been commanding attention once again, thanks in part to the Dope Folks imprint reissuing some of the artist’s older material, but mainly due to the new music the talented wordsmith has been recording with Australian producer Debonair P.

Last year’s limited edition vinyl single “Raw Factor 2.0” announced the official return of Omniscence, with the recently-released “Sharp Objects” EP further proving the 90s veteran hasn’t missed a beat when it comes to quality lyricism, backed by impressive production from Debonair which mixes boom-bap sensibilities with a soulful flavour.

In this first part of my career-spanning interview with Omniscence, the North Cackalack-based microphone fiend discusses his early memories of Hip-Hop, being introduced to a young Will-Ski (aka Ski Beatz) and the impact of local crews such as the Bizzie Boyz  and B.A.D. Rep during the Payroll Records era.

Was music a part of your life before Hip-Hop came along?

“Well, I’m originally from Bear Creek in North Carolina which isn’t one of the main cities in the area. It’s a very rural area. But back in the day, my family was always known for music. My grandfather was in a gospel quartet who ended-up singing with some of the early successful gospel singers of the day. So they toured around a lot in the gospel circuit. Then my mom and my aunt, they were very big collectors of music. But it was my uncle who got me into a lot of the more obscure music from back in the day. He was one of the first guys in our area to have a Technics 1200 turntable. I’m talking this was around the early-80s. That’s how serious he was (laughs). But back in his day he was part of a group called The Mighty Majors and they were a local group from Greensboro, North Carolina and they made some noise going around doing live shows. It was even said that at one time they had some label offers on the table but I don’t really know what happened with those. But those were my earliest influences when it came to music. I remember my mom putting on those classic Philadelphia International records in the house, Gamble & Huff, and then of course Chic and Nile Rodgers. I grew-up listening to all types of music. I remember my dad turning me on to Steely Dan when I was about eight-years-old. I noticed that the sound was a little different to the classic soul that I was used to hearing in the house, with the jazz and rock elements that they brought to the table. So I became a very big Steely Dan fan at a very young age because of my father (laughs). I was just listening to a lot of different music and pretty much like a lot of us who grew-up at a certain time, we were hearing the records that would go on to be sampled in Hip-Hop before we really knew what Hip-Hop was (laughs).”

At what point did you first become aware of Hip-Hop?

“Well, I would really have to credit my first cousin Jeff Hanner, we called him Big Jeff, for introducing me to Hip-Hop. He had an uncle who used to drive these big eighteen-wheeler trucks out of town and sometimes he would make trips up to New York and he would take Jeff up there with him. Now, when Jeff would come back he would bring these records back with him that he’d picked up on the trip. One of the first twelve-inch singles I remember him bringing back was the Fatback Band’s “King Tim III”. He also used to bring back these cassettes. Now, Jeff had family on his mom’s side who actually lived in New York. So he used to bring back these cassettes of the Cold Crush Brothers, Flash & The Furious Five, all that stuff. He would play these cassettes to me when he’d come home and I would just be mesmerised, man….”

These were live recordings of the Bronx block parties and jams, right?

“Right, right. Exactly. I’ve actually been hounding Jeff in recent years, like ‘I know you’ve still got some of that old stuff’ but he claims he can’t get up with it (laughs). But those were some of my earliest moments being introduced to Hip-Hop. Then of course, by the time the Sugarhill Gang came through with “Rapper’s Delight” I was already fully aware of the culture and what was taking place in New York. I remember they were playing that song on the radio here in North Carolina and I was telling my parents like, ‘This is what’s coming next’ and they were like, ‘No, no, no, this record is toooo long’ (laughs). I mean, they were even fading the record out when they played it here on the radio because I guess they thought it was too long as well (laughs). One record back then that really amazed me was Flash’s “The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel”. I remember when my cousin had brought that single back and it just really amazed me because that was the first time I was hearing records being cut-up ON record! I mean, I’d heard the live tapes of Flash so I understood how he was catching the break and everything, I’d figured that much out, but I didn’t know that they could actually put that on a record (laughs). That’s what amazed me. But my cousin was bringing all types of records home, like the Treacherous Three joints, Jimmy Spicer’s “Adventures of Super Rhyme”. So those records were my early introduction to Hip-Hop.”

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At that point, given that you weren’t in a major city, was it literally just you and your cousin listening to the music or were there other local kids who were up on Hip-Hop as well?

“Honestly, because we were in such a rural area, it did actually feel like it was just me and my cousin who were listening to this music (laughs). But of course, then we started to spread what we were hearing through our friends in the neighbourhood. I mean, when I say we lived in a rural area, I guess it makes people think of farms and cows (laughs). I mean, stuff like that was around, but I definitely grew-up in a neighbourhood, there just wasn’t any real big buildings around or stuff like that (laughs). But I mean, I was about eight or nine-years-old at that time, so it definitely felt like Hip-Hop was just our thing. But then as I got a little older and started to travel to other places in North Carolina I soon started to realise the music was everywhere. But at that time, it definitely felt like me and my cousin were in our own little world with the music (laughs). See, to be honest, I was listening to some of those early records before I even became fully aware of the graffiti, the break-dancing and how all the elements of the culture fitted together. I mean, for people living in the cities, all the different aspects of the culture were happening together at the same time, but for me and a lot of us down here in North Carolina, it was the rhyming side of things that was our introduction to Hip-Hop, even more so than the deejay aspect because we were just hearing the records. As a kid back then, I would try to visualise what was going on, but like I said, as I began to travel a little more and the culture simultaneously started to become more accessible by being televised and things like the “Beat Street” movie, I started to see how everything came together. To be honest with you, I saw “Beat Street” before I saw “Wild Style” (laughs). But back then, it was about what you had access to.”

How early on did you actually decide you wanted to start rhyming yourself?

“I’ll say in the mid-80s. Now, at that point there were a few record stores that were kinda close-by to me. Still none in my town though, here in Bear Creek (laughs). I think one of the closest stores to me was in a town called Sanford in North Carolina. I would go to this record store down there and it’s kinda crazy because you would never be able to guess who worked in there. It was Mista Lawnge of Black Sheep! Now, he’s originally from New York but he had family who lived down in Sanford.”

Do you remember the name of the record store?

“It was called Diamond Dee’s and it was owned by a guy named Sammy Dally (laughs). He was one of the biggest deejays in the area and used to do gigs all across the state. Now, Will, which is what I called Lawnge at the time, had got connected with him somehow and must have told him he had some skills when it came to this Hip-Hop thing. So, they used to have a teen night that Lawnge would deejay at with his cousin called Ishmael. Obviously at this time we didn’t know he was going to go on to do his thing like that with Black Sheep, but he definitely had some skills back then. Now, it was through going to these teen nights that I first started to think about actually rhyming because at these gatherings there used to be people break-dancing and rapping and I knew it was something that I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. I mean, I didn’t want to just jump up onstage because I hadn’t really figured it out yet. It was kinda like how Nas said on “Halftime” that he used to be afraid to rap at the park jams (laughs). I didn’t want to get up there and make a fool out of myself. So, I went home and started to really think about writing. I wrote a couple of things but I still wasn’t really pursuing it. The first time I would really start to go after the rhyming thing was when I first met Will-Ski of the Bizzie Boyz.”

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Now, this is Will-Ski who went on to find fame as the producer everyone now knows as Ski Beatz, but back then he was known more as an emcee. Had the Bizzie Boyz already put records out when you first met Ski?

“Yeah, the Bizzie Boyz already had records out when I first met Ski. I mean, their first records started coming out around 1987. Now, I had a cousin who was going to school at the time in Greensboro at North Carolina A&T and she was staying with her aunt who lived right around the corner from Will-Ski. I’d already been listening to the Bizzie Boyz stuff on the local college radio station, which was North Carolina A&T’s radio station, 90.1. I was just intrigued by the fact that these guys were from North Carolina yet their music was just as official as anything else I was hearing in 87 / 88 from New York. So, my cousin knew that I was really into the music and that I wanted to rhyme but that I’d not yet really started pursuing it. So she called me one night and was like, ‘Yo, you’re never going to guess who I live around the corner from?’ She didn’t even know Ski’s name, so she was like, ‘One of the members of the Bizzie Boyz!’ I was just like, ‘Wow! I would love to meet him.’ Now, about a month later, I guess she’d caught Ski’s eye or something and they started dating each other before I ever even met him. Then, finally, my cousin was like, ‘Why don’t you come up here and meet Ski.’ So I went up there, Ski put on some beats for me and was like, ‘I hear you want to rhyme.’ So we’re there and Ski just said these incredible lyrics, because at that time Ski was definitely on-point when it came to the rhymes. He hadn’t really moved into the production side of things like he did later on, so he was definitely on top of his game as an emcee. So anyway, I started freestyling and to be honest with you I didn’t really have it together that day (laughs). I’d always been able to freestyle but on that particular day I was a little nervous so it just didn’t come out right. So Ski stopped me and was like, ‘Yo, take these beats home. Formulate your rhymes, think about what you want to say and put your own style on it.’ So I went home and wrote two verses, which were the first rhymes I ever actually penned with serious intent. I brought the rhymes back to Ski, he put the beats back on, I ran through the verses and he was like, ‘Yo, you’re a natural. You can do this.’ So that was really the start of me being an emcee.”

You also had another local crew that came out on Payroll Records alongside the Bizzie Boyz, which was B.A.D. Rep with MC Dizzy Dee and DJ Def, who would go on to be known as the producer Mark Sparks. At the time though, how much of an inspiration was it for you as an aspiring artist to see acts coming out of North Carolina who were gaining attention outside of the local area?

“It was crazy and that’s how I know that everything that happened was meant to happen because North Carolina was probably the most unlikely place at the time for Hip-Hop to shine its face. I mean, we felt like we were out there doing what we did and that nobody knew we even existed. Being overseas, I know that’s a feeling that people out there in the UK who were involved with Hip-Hop back then can probably relate to. I mean, even when I was hearing the Bizzie Boyz on college radio along with some of the other releases that came off of Payroll Records, they were coming out of Greensboro, which was still a more metropolitan area than where I was from. So even though I saw that they were doing it, I still couldn’t see how that could ever happen for me being where I was from in Bear Creek. I really didn’t know how I could ever get into that circle. So, it was just fate that my cousin ended-up living right around the corner from Ski and that I then ended-up meeting him. It was just meant to be.”

It’s also pretty crazy when you look at the wider impact both Ski and Mark Sparks went on to have as producers in the 90s…

“That’s true. But before that, you really have to look at Fanatic, who was involved with the Payroll situation and also produced my first solo release in 1993, “The Funky One Liner” EP. It was Fanatic who really taught both Ski and Mark how to use the SP-1200. I mean, Fanatic was really the architect production-wise behind those Bizzie Boyz records like “Droppin’ It” and “Dope”. But it is crazy to look at what both Mark and Ski went on to do. I mean, Mark did some incredible records with people like Grand Puba and then Guru on one of the “Jazzmatazz” projects and of course Ski did what he did with Jay-Z on the “Reasonable Doubt” album.”

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Aside from the Bizzie Boyz and B.A.D. Rep were there any other local artists you were looking up to around the late-80s?

“I will say there was an artist who was called O-Shabazz who was from around the way as well, who didn’t put records out with Payroll but his name definitely rang many bells locally. He was an emcee who had gained a lot of notoriety as far as live performances were concerned and being able to go up in the clubs or the parties and really do his thing. O-Shabazz and Ski actually used to battle each other back in the day before Ski even started making records. He’s a dude I actually got to meet some years down the line, but I always have to mention him as an emcee I definitely looked up to back in those early days. Plus, there was also a brother from around my way who was the first person I ever saw go and actually record music. Now, this was before I was recording with Fanatic in the Payroll era. This was a guy called Rule who was in a neighbouring town. I hadn’t even started to write rhymes or anything at the point he was doing his thing in the 80s. I was more of a dancer at this point and I was kinda nice as well (laughs). But I definitely have to give Rule his props because he was someone else who really got me interested in the whole idea of making music. I remember him telling me he was going to record this song one weekend and I actually got to go with him. We went over to somebody’s house, I can’t remember whose house it actually was now, but it was a small four-track set-up and the beat didn’t even have any samples in it or anything, it was one of those old 808 joints (laughs). But I got to see that whole process happen, so I definitely have to include Rule as an influence on me. There was also a guy called Darryl Jones from Fairfield who took “Outstanding” by the Gap Band and made a joint around 87 / 88. But to be honest, nobody was making records to my knowledge with the officialness and the seriousness of the Payroll guys.”

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Where did Supreme DJ Nyborn fit into all of this, as he was rolling with the Payroll Records crew as well?

“Honestly, Supreme Nyborn’s “Versatility” was actually the first record I heard from the Payroll camp, even before the Bizzie Boyz, although chronologically I believe the Bizzie Boyz came out first on the label. But Nyborn’s sound was just so New York, because obviously he was originally from New York, so at the time I had no idea that record had anything to do with North Carolina. But both Nyborn and Roland Jones, who was the founder of Payroll Records, were from New York City. So what happened is, Roland had come down to Greensboro and set-up a little record store in the hood. That’s what drew Ski, Fanatic, Mixmaster D of the Bizzie Boyz and B.A.D. Rep in, going to the record store, which then led to the music that came out on Payroll Records. I would venture to say that Nyborn was there from the very beginning of everything because him and Roland were so tight back then. But my interaction with the crew and how I came through the door was through Ski, then I met Fanatic and a guy called Eli Davis who now actually manages the singer Anthony Hamilton and 9th Wonder. So I never really got to chop it up with Nyborn until later on. So when I talk about my earliest memories of being around that crew, I always speak on the Bizzie Boyz and B.A.D. Rep because that’s who I was close with at the time.”

Ryan Proctor

Read Part Two of this interview here.

The Bizzie Boyz – “Hold The Lafta” (Payroll Records / 1989)