In the final part of my interview with founding Stetsasonic member Daddy-O, the veteran artist discusses hearing Prince Paul’s work with De La Soul for the first time in the late-80s, recording Stet’s 1991 album “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” and seeing the music business from the inside out as an executive throughout the 90s – check Part One, Part Two and Part Three.
Alongside DBC you produced the majority of UK rap act the Cookie Crew’s 1989 debut album “Born This Way!”. How did you approach that particular project?
“Let me say one thing, the Cookie Crew album was one of the most fun projects I ever did. Those two girls delivered everything I expected. Plus, we got to do some stuff musically that I’d wanted to do for a long, long time. I mean, “Shaft In Africa”, I’d been wanting to sample that on a record (laughs). It just never worked out with anybody. I mean, can you imagine me trying to use that sample on an Audio Two record? Really, man, working with the Cookie Crew I was having flashbacks to those old Grandmaster Flash tapes that I used to listen to before I started making records. I was thinking of all those breaks that Flash and them were cutting up on those tapes and a lot of those same breaks I was able to use on the Cookie Crew album. I was able to be more uptempo with my production on that project. But I just had such an incredible amount of fun doing that album. Plus, the mixes on that project just came out sounding so good, man. But a lot of that was London too, man. I don’t even remember the studio I was in, but that s**t was incredible, yo. To this day, yo, those mixes hold up against whatever.”
The overall sound of “Born This Way!” has definitely stood the test of time when you go back and listen to it now…
“One memory I have of that album was that working with the Cookie Crew I actually got to feel like a real producer. But I also had a weird experience with that record, and I don’t mind talking about it as I’ll talk about anything (laughs). So the Cookie Crew was done with me and DBC. The way that whole record came about was through Lisa Cortes, who’s now in film, but she was working at Rush and started this thing called Rush Producer Management, RPM. Basically, the whole idea was that they could have this whole other stream of income because they had groups like Stetsasonic with producers like Daddy-O and Prince Paul, Public Enemy who had the Bomb Squad, Grandmaster Dee out of Whodini and a few other people they were grabbing who were either the deejay or the production arm of groups that Rush was already managing. But when the Cookie Crew album first dropped we got a really good first review here in the States, but that first review was mentioning me and not DBC and he thought I did that. Now, even though we still talk, that was a real glitch in our relationship at the time. It was a really weird kinda situation, because I would never try to take any shine from him or nothing.”
There were a few US / UK collaborations happening at that time in the late-80s with Ice-T signing Hijack, Professor Griff producing for the She-Rockers, you and DBC working with the Cookie Crew. It was a big deal to UK Hip-Hop heads because it really felt like the talent we had in our scene was being acknowledged and taken seriously…
“Exactly. But that was definitely a great experience for me working with the Cookie Crew on that first album. Then I also went on to produce the title track on their second project “Fade To Black”.”
Stepping back a little, can you remember the first time you heard any of the material Prince Paul had been working on for De La Soul’s “3 Feet High And Rising” album?
“So Prince Paul came to me with the “Plug Tunin'” record before it came out and I really don’t know how to explain what I felt the first time I heard it. It was like the first time you heard Ultramagnetic MC’s “Ego Trippin'” or Audio Two’s “Top Billin'”. It just had a totally unique sound to it. I was like, ‘Yo, I don’t even know what to say (laughs). I can get a deal with this for your tomorrow’ and Paul was like, ‘Cool!’ So I go see Ice-T and Jorge Hinojosa who I had a great relationship with and they were ready to set me up with Seymour Stein at Sire to talk about a great deal. I went to see Joel Webber who was over at Island, God bless the dead. He also liked the record. Then for safe-keeping I let Monica Lynch at Tommy Boy hear “Plug Tunin'” as well. I mean, really, I wasn’t even thinking about De La signing to Tommy Boy because we were signed to them as Stetsasonic and I wasn’t really in love with our deal to be honest with you. But I did it so that at least if a bidding war started then we had another label there. So within a week those three labels had all heard “Plug Tunin'”. By the following Monday, De La Soul were in the office at Tommy Boy and Monica was already offering them a deal. I was telling Paul that I had these other people over at these other labels who were interested but he was like, ‘The guys just want to go…'”
So De La’s Tommy Boy deal literally happened that fast?
“Yeah, that De La deal with Tommy Boy happened really, really fast. But musically, here’s what I thought. I thought that Paul had a bunch of silly things that he wanted to do. I mean, I think that you can hear that to a degree on some of the Stet records with tracks like “Music For The Stetfully Insane” and particularly on the “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” album with tracks like “Your Mother Has Green Teeth” and “Paul’s A Sucker”. I mean, some of those tracks could have easily been De La records. So, I thought that De La was the perfect outlet for Paul to be able to do that kind of stuff. But going back to “Music For The Stetfully Insane”, I think that track has one of the best Hip-Hop stories ever because Paul actually went on to make an album with Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic and all that track actually is was Bernie playing on the keyboard being sampled by Paul with a little bit of George Clinton thrown in there saying, ‘Good eeeevening.’ So that track was so prophetic almost because Paul then went on to do that album with Bernie and I think that’s so dope.”
During that late-80s period you were producing and remixing for a variety of artists from different musical genres such as Levert, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Third World etc. Had you made a conscious decision to start working with people outside of Hip-Hop or did that happen purely through opportunities presenting themselves?
“I think it was both. I think it really started off with people just giving me different opportunities, but then once I actually took those opportunities I started to see what it could become. It opened me up to the possibility that I could do certain things with other artists outside of Hip-Hop. But at the same time, as much as my skill set as a producer was increasing thanks to some of those outside opportunities, the fun level also increased for me as well. I mean, when you’re in there doing remixes for a group like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, you’re able to mess around with all these different sounds that maybe I wasn’t able to before. Then it just becomes really fun and that’s exactly what happened and I just started working with more artists.”
So with both yourself and Prince Paul having been involved in different creative ventures during the years immediately following the “In Full Gear” album, what was the overall mindset of Stetsasonic when you started to work on 1991’s “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” project?
“It was very scattered. I mean, there are a couple of things about that album. Around fall of last year, I put the record on repeat for about three weeks and I remember calling Bobby Simmons almost every day like, ‘This album is a lot better than I thought.’ I hadn’t listened to that album for a long, long time. But after picking it up and listening to it over and over I definitely felt it was better than I thought it was. There are some really good moments on that record. But the mindset of the group at the time we were recording it was very, very scattered. Frukwan had left the group, which happened pretty shortly after we’d finished “In Full Gear”. We went back and forth on a couple of things but finally he just walked. Now, we knew we weren’t going to stop making music as Stetsasonic, but when we started making “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” almost everyone came to the project from their own perspective. Bobby came with his records, I came with tracks that I thought we should have been using, Paul came with his records and DBC came with his material as well. So we weren’t really working on tracks together like we had done on previous albums. It was just all very scattered.”
Is that why each format of “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” contained a number of different tracks because you’d amassed so much material with everyone bringing their different ideas to the table?
“No, that was just something that we decided to do to make things interesting. But that whole period was a very interesting time for us as a group. There wasn’t a whole bunch of clarity in terms of what we were doing. I mean, at that time, I was more of a producer then I was an artist to be honest and so was Paul. We’d both established strong identities in the music business that went beyond him being the deejay for Stetsasonic and me being an emcee in the group. In some ways, you could say the identities we’d built at that time were even greater than what we were known for within Stetsasonic. I mean, looking back on that period now, my opinion is obviously worth just one-sixth of what actually happened and everyone else would have their own opinion. But looking back on it, I would probably say that created some kind of thoughts from the rest of the guys who, when they came to the table for that album, Stet was all they had. So there wasn’t a whole bunch of other things going on for them. I mean, I’m saying I gave “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” my best, but who knows? I’m sure that from the point of view of the other guys, they might have looked at it like Paul and I didn’t put in as much as we could have done because of everything else we had going on. But like I said, when I listen back to the record now, there’s definitely some good material on there.”
After “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” the group seemed to drift apart into different things. You continued producing and remixing for the likes Mary J. Blige and then dropped your 1993 solo album, Paul had set-up Dewdooman Records and then reunited with Frukwan for 1994’s Gravediggaz album. Did that separation happen organically or was there a moment where different members perhaps felt the group had run its course?
“It really just happened organically. I mean, there’s never going to be a time when as a group Stetsasonic is over because of the chemistry there is between us. Which is kind of what amazes us with Frukwan, but he’s a stubborn guy (laughs). But I mean, when you formulated what we did, and you have that kind of bond as a group, when it’s gone you really do miss it. I mean, we may not be the best act in the world or whatever, but we’re very good at what we do. The last show we did together was back in 2009 at the Knitting Factory in New York and we killed it. So there’s never been a time when we’ve said that the group is over. So after “Blood, Sweat & No Tears” I guess to say things moved on organically is probably the best way to describe it. I mean, we did what we did, and then life kinda continued on. I mean, at that time I always had the idea in my head about some kinda solo piece. Delite did too, I just don’t know why he’s never done it, although he said he’s actually working on it now. But at that time I really didn’t know what that solo project would sound like or what it was going to be. I actually cut a whole solo record before I did the “You Can Be A Daddy, But Never Daddy-O” album in 1993.”
Was there a major difference between that unreleased album and the music that ended-up on the “You Can Be A Daddy…” release?
“I’m sitting on it right now. It was called “The Odad, The Gun & The Children” and it was a beast. “You Can Be A Daddy…” was more towards bouncy, kinda fun production. My main concept on that whole record was what the reggae guys call ‘voicing’. So if you listen to tracks like “Intro Joint” or the “Swung It, Blunted, Brung It” record I was staunch on how I was voicing the tracks on that album and I achieved what I was trying to do. I mean, I like the record a lot but that’s mainly because of the voicing. But there isn’t really anything particularly deep on that record. In comparison, “The Odad, The Gun & The Children” was a very deep record. That project was all about politics, society and things like that. I mean, that whole album could have been the soundtrack to the Trayvon Martin case. It’s that intense.”
So why did “The Odad…” never come out?
“What happened was, I actually recorded “The Odad…” when I was on Tommy Boy and I turned the album in. Monica Lynch looked me in my face and told me we had two choices. She said that Tommy Boy really didn’t know what the album was, so they could put it out, but it would be with no promotion because they didn’t understand the project or know how to promote it. Or, she said they could just sign me a release and I could leave the label and take the record with me. So I left and took the record.”
So was there a reason why you then decided to release a different album and recorded “You Can Be A Daddy, But Never Daddy-O” rather than put “The Odad…” out through Island?
“I actually attempted another album even before “You Can Be A Daddy…” came out. I attempted to do the type of thing that Uptown were doing with Father MC and Teddy Riley was doing with Heavy D. It sounded like crap, so I erased the tracks (laughs). But I attempted to do it.”
So was that your attempt to mesh what you were known for in Stet with the New Jack Swing / Hip-Hop Soul sound you’d been dabbling in through your production work for other artists?
“I think it was really just me trying to figure out what I should sound like in that particular year. So I came up with the idea of trying the Hip-Hop / R&B thing. I mean, I had enough production staff and singers around me at the time to really be able to try it out. I think I tried two or three tracks and once I listened back to them I just thought, ‘I can’t really do this.’ It was just too soft for my liking. But I think ‘You Can Be A Daddy…” was just a better fit all-round at the time in terms of me being able to do some of the things I wanted to do as an emcee on there. I didn’t have to get too deep politically on that album and it really allowed me to play around with some different production styles on there as well. I have no complaints about that record. PolyGram was so-so as a label but I had a good run with that album. I went number one on radio in a couple of regions with “Brooklyn Bounce”, I got out to tour and it was cool.”
Following the release of “You Can Be A Daddy…” you then made the switch from artist to music exec spending much of the mid-to-late 90s working for MCA and Motown. How have the experiences you had during that period influenced what you’re doing now with some of the digital business ventures you’re currently involved in?
“The reason I went to work for labels was to prove my friends wrong. My friends used to always tell me that labels would shelve artists and do this or that to them and I used to always say, ‘Nah. Artists are doing that to themselves. Why would a label shelve an artist? They’ve got a vested interest in these people…’ So I was always a naysayer back in the day when it came to that stuff. So my decision to start working for a label was based on me wanting to prove my friends wrong, get behind the veil so to speak and really figure some of that stuff out. So lo and behold, my friends were right (laughs). There were artists being put on the shelf and labels were doing all kinds of shifty things behind the scenes. So I learnt a lot about corporate lifestyle which was invaluable and I really was able to experience the business from the inside out. But ultimately, I was out of there, because I didn’t fit. I was yelling at the boss (laughs). I mean, if I thought a record was wack then I’d say so. I just didn’t believe that we were going to be able to convince people that a record was good if it was wack.”
So you were still looking at label projects primarily from a creative viewpoint rather than purely from a business angle?
“As an artist, I’ve always believed that if you do the right thing creatively then you’re going to stop traffic. If you hit the right note or say the right rhyme, everybody is going to be still and listen. It’s like that Eric B. & Rakim “My Melody” moment at the Latin Quarter that I was talking about earlier. I mean, I remember the Aleems who worked with Jimi Hendrix telling me that Jimi had once told them that artists go through life thinking that we control music, but really music controls us and it moves through us at particular times. I mean, that’s pretty profound and I kinda think the same way. But when I was at the labels, there were a lot of artists who just really weren’t putting that work in and I was saying so. But during that time I was really able to learn the inner-workings of a record label and the music industry which has been very relevant to what I’ve been doing now with some of the digital solutions stuff that I’ve been working on. Structurally the record business never had it wrong as it was always smart to have the marketing department, the radio department, the publicity department etc. What we didn’t like was the fat cats getting all the money while everyone else was running around like worker ants or something. So the economic structure of the music business was wrong. Now, for five or six years, they’ve been telling these kids that you don’t need a label, but it wasn’t the structure of the labels that was wrong, it was the economics behind it. So my challenge now with this company I’m heading-up, Cogo Fusion, is to digitize that experience. The easiest way for me to describe it is to say that it’s a record company in a box, even though that doesn’t totally sum-up what I’m trying to do with this. But I’m putting all of the experience I’ve had in the music business into this.”
Final question, do you think we’ll ever see another Stetsasonic album?
“I think so. I’ve been working on my own album for about three years now and I’ve almost finished that. So I think once they hear my record, we’ll be able to do something. Now, when I say hear my record, I don’t mean when I actually put it out, I mean when I have the opportunity to play it to the rest of the group because I haven’t been able to let anybody hear it yet. I want the group to hear where I’ve gone with it and I think that could help with the evolution of where we can go with what we’re doing as Stetsasonic. I think I’ve found a way to make grown Hip-Hop that isn’t based on being an older artist who feels like they have to keep reminding people all the time of what they’ve already done, if that makes sense. But what I’d want to see more than anything else when it came down to Stet, was us being able to make a new album with Frukwan. That’s the one thing I would really like to see happen because I don’t think I want to make another record without him. I just miss that voice, man. So that’s my dream, to make another Stetsasonic album with everyone involved.”
Follow Daddy-O on Twitter – @ProfessorDaddyO
Stetsasonic – “No B.S. Allowed” (Tommy Boy Records / 1991)