Friday, February 29, 2008

Werner Interviews Romeo JD of the Boogie Boys! (Part 2)

...Continued from part 1.

So, going back for a second to cover some little things we kinda skipped over… you guys had some songs on the soundtrack to a movie called Enemy Territory… there was like a four-song EP.

Yeah, that was a Ray Parker Jr. movie that didn't do jack. I think the main song on that was "Dealin' With Life," off our second album, and Lil' Rahiem was actually the creator of that song. I gotta tell you, man: a lot of what happened back then in the 80's is like a big blur to me now. I don't even remember how that happened… back then, I was just kinda drifting. I just wanted to be in the studio, and if something was jumping off, it was cool. And I wasn't even really paying attention to where anything was coming from. If I was paying attention, I would've learned a lot earlier about publishing!

So from there you went on to Romeo Knight, like you said… do you know who did that cover, because that was classic.

Yeah, that was an artist from New York who was one of the biggest dogs in graffiti, whose name was Phase II. Boogie Knight hooked that up, as a matter of fact. That was crazy, we had a whole Egyptian thing going on with the pyramids and being born on January 13th, 1964 - Phase dug deep on that. Me and Boogie always talked about old R&B who had album covers we used to love, like Earth Wind & Fire. So yeah, that cover was crazy.

Also on that album, in the liner notes, you've got The Awesome Two, Teddy Ted and Special K, credited as "special hip-hop consultants." What does that even mean? What did they do?

Well, the Awesome Two were actually the first cats to interview the Boogie Boys. They ultimately ended up taking us on the road a little bit… As a matter of fact, I talked to Special K yesterday. Those cats are some of the few people I maintain contact with in the industry after all these years. And they are still doing their thing, they're still doing a show on Sirius Satellite radio. So more than likely, if I get this situation going and go on the road, that's probably who I'm gonna have handling things. They're still in my circle, and the circle is small.

So, they were more credited for being involved like promotionally?

Actually, they've been in this hip-hop thing since the beginning. So we would like consult them with beats and concepts we were working on, on the album - and like the show, how we put it together. And they ultimately took us on the radio, like Special K was road manager and Teddy Ted would DJ for us. That's a friendship that I seriously treasure in this music industry. Some people are acquaintances, some people are business acquaintances, some are friends and some are just real cats… and the Awesome Two, they're all of the above, and still are.

And you also had a DJ Dynamite credited on that album?

Yeah, Dynamite was a guy named Daryl who also went to Brooklyn Tech with Boogie and I, and yeah, he did some cuts on that album. Wow. You bring me back… like I said, I lot of the stuff we did in the 80's are like a blur and Dynamite… I don't know where he is these days.

So how did you transition from being an MC and singing into the production end of it?

Well, during the production of all the albums, my favorite part was being in the studio. We used to be in the studio for hours and we recorded most of the Boogie Boys' stuff in a studio called Unique Recording here in New York. It was a real high-end studio here in New York with state of the art equipment… like we were one of the first artists using an instrument called the Fairlight. The only other artist using that instrument was Stevie Wonder. So I really got into being at the boards while we were recording, and I got into using drum machines. And back then we used something called Sequential 440, and the 808 drum machine of course, the classic. And it really wasn't about sampling, we were using the real 808 drum machine. And I just always dug it. So when I started making money, I didn't really buy a whole lot of jewelry - I bought some jewelry, you know - but most of my money went to keyboards and drum machines, and I kept all that stuff at home. And I built a little studio at the crib: a little four-track studio. That's where I wrote "Hooked On You" for Sweet Sensation and where I did production for the Boogie Boys' stuff. You know, we didn't get no production credit, but we did a lot of our own stuff. Like Boogie Knight, on alot of the songs he originated, he did a lot of his own drum programming. I did my own drum programming, keyboard playing and stuff. And I really got into it, man. And when I got back into it, I had to dust off all the stuff I had kept in my closet!

So I kept my focus on keeping things simple. What I learned in the room that they had built in Queens, there was a lot of stuff… there was a bunch of samplers, a bunch of sound modules and just a whole lot of stuff in there. But what I realized when I came home, is that it's not really about what equipment you have. There's a lot of cats out there with million dollar studios producing garbage. I learned it's not about how many things you have… when you had a small system like I had, you just had to make every sample count. So I went from a room that had like twelve samplers to a room that just had one, and I only had enough memory to take like four or five samples. So that meant that every sample I took had to be the bomb. That really taught me how to simplify my production approach, and I kinda still live by that today.

Yeah, when you listen to the Boogie Boys albums… right up to the last, there's a unique, really strong production sound to it. And there's a few recognizable samples, like obviously "Fly Girl," but for the most part it's something different, and really distinct.

Yeah, yeah. It was really kind of a blessing and a curse for us. Because, like with some of the songs I did, the approach was to try to do something different than everybody else was doing. I didn't really have anything against sampling, it's just that that's what everybody was doing, so I was trying to get more into clean instruments and playing sounds and being original with it. The problem was that we would present the songs in a real simple and basic format: like a hot beat, maybe a little sample, and a bassline, keyboard… a little sprinkle hear and there. But then, after we got into the studio, the producer would like bring in other keyboard players and start adding shit… mad strings and all kinds of crazy stuff. So it ended up being a lot more polished than it should've been; and that's something that Boogie always used to beef about. Like, "yo, it's not street enough. You're making it too pretty." Like we had a song called "Always On My Mind;" it was like a slow jam, a ballad. We were actually doing some singing on it, but the original joint was like real raw. And when it came back, it wasreal polished up.

You know, I'm not really criticizing the producer to a degree, because he was just trying to be on the next level. Sometimes you've gotta do that; it's a risk you take. But at that time, we were like the only group that was on a major, major label, and we had to do something to try and separate ourselves. But you have to be careful, taking yourself so far that you take yourself out of your element. That's why on the Romeo Knight album we tried to make sure we reached back and had a couple of joints that were just real basic and raw. We had a song called "This Is Us," that was my favorite joint on that album. It had just this beat, you know? Another joint Boogie wrote was "Pitbull," and that's the kinda joint we really wanted to make sure we had on that album. And then we had a couple joints that were a little more musical or whatever, because some people expected that from us.

But, you know, that's kind of our legacy - we never really got as big as some of the other rap groups did at the time. But people who really listened to the Boogie Boys and got into it, really loved us, you know, for what we did. And I don't regret anything; it was all experience.

So, from what you were saying earlier to sounds like… was there sort of two separate stages of production? Like where you guys would do a rough version of the song, and then where you'd go to like Ted Currier for a second pass?

Yeah, we were presenting them with the basics of what it was. We'd come up with what we were saying, come up with our beats… like I said, we did that programming ourselves. And then Ted would take it in the studio and sometimes yeah, he would call in other keyboard players. Like one guy he always used to use was Gary Henry. Phenomenal keyboard player, but again, some of the stuff just went too far, like with the orchestration. But like I said, I'm not trying to knock Ted, because he was trying to make our album sound different than everybody else's. And even from working on the stuff like "Fly Girl," we used the emulator on that - you know, the "fly- fly- fly- fly," and all that - and a lot of people weren't really using it; we were like one of the first ones to use the emulator and do all that sampling stuff, which was cool. And also, on one of the songs, I think it was "Colorblind World," we had The Funkadelics - the original Parliament Funkadelics - doing backgrounds on the song.

Oh wow; I didn't realize that was them.

Yeah, yeah. That was like phenomenal for me because Parliament and George Clinton was the reason I ever got into it. The first concert I ever went to when I was young the Flashlight Concert. "Star Child" and all that, "The Bop Gun." I was young, man. I was so small, I had to stand up on the back of the chair in The Garden and hold onto the person's shoulder in front of me - I didn't even know them. But back in the days, it was love like that. I was young and my moms let me go to that concert; I couldn't believe it. And when I saw them, I was like, "yeah, that's what I wanna do."

So it was real deep for me to work with The Funkadelics. Also, there was another cat that played keys on the album; his name is Rob Kilgore. He's a synthesizer genius, and he actually did most of the synthesizer on Shannon's stuff, "Give Me Tonight" and all that. And that Shannon album was the album I used to play… because I used to have a DJ crew, too. So we had big speakers and that whole set-up for outside, and I used to play those big speakers inside, full blast, sitting in the middle of the room listening to the Shannon album. So when I found out we were gonna use Rob Kilgore who played on that shit, I was like blown away.

Things like that - working with Ted and having the budget gave us access to a lot of stuff that other people didn't have. And, like I said, that was a blessing and a curse. Because other people didn't have access to all of that, so they kept it grimy and gutter, and that was part of the sound of hip-hop. We were just a little too polished and a little too far ahead of our time, as far as our production approach went.

That's interesting, though, because if you listen to like Boogie Knight's stuff after he left Capitol, he didn't really take it anymore street. It still had that heavy kind of production sound, plus a lot of dance and love songs… he kept going in that direction.

Yeah, I don't know what that was. I think he did that overseas in Germany, and I think maybe he was trying to appeal a little bit more to what the European hip-hop appeal was. But the original, basic and raw hip-hop, that was in his soul. There ain't no question that's where he came from. But he was also a visionary. He wasn't afraid to try different things and do different things. You know, really nobody would listen to him or us when we would complain about the stuff at Capitol, because the reality,coming off a record as big as "Fly Girl," there was a lot of pressure to try and get another hit. It was like a shot in the dark. Like, damn, do we abandon what we did to begin with, or try to follow the formula and harden it up a little bit, or what? It's hard to know when you're in the middle of it; and you don't know until after whether you made a mistake or not. Even afterwards, if the record didn't get big, that doesn't mean you didn't do the right thing.

We were stuck with Capitol who actually learned on us. They had no idea what to do with hip-hop. They got "Fly Girl" and didn't know what to do with it. We were telling them that "Fly Girl" was the hit, and they disagreed. They wanted to put out "City Life" because it had the singing in it and everything. And we were like, "yeah, that's something that we do, but we gotta hit our market first. Put 'Fly Girl' first, then we can come with the other stuff." So we compromised: we put out "City Life" as the A-side and "Fly Girl" as the B-side; so when it came out, DJs were like, "yeah, 'City Life' is hot," but then when they flipped it over and heard those drums it was like, "oh shit… what's this?" So that's how it jumped off; and the streets is gonna make happen what they want to happen. So "Fly Girl" is the record that popped off and they still didn't do a video for it. People were running in the stores trying to find "Fly Girl" for weeks and weeks, and they didn't have any copies in the stores. So Capitol got caught with their pants down. Doug E Fresh came out with "The Show" and they had mad records in the stores, so he sold crazy records and we got shitted on.

The catch was, by the time they decided they needed to do a video, the record was "You Ain't Fresh," and that's why the video ended up being for "You Ain't Fresh." When really all they had to do was throw out a cheap video of "Fly Girl" and we would have blown up really crazy if they had done that. But it is what it is.

To be continued again, immediately...

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