To start out with, tell me about your first group, Chapter Three.
So how did Chapter Three link up with T-Ski Valley?
But back to this: we did our thing locally in The Bronx. And what had happened is that my bro Barry - he was in the group; he was Chapter #1 - he had hooked up with The Erotic Disco Brothers. They were in the Tracy Towers section of The Bronx, by Jerome Avenue. And those guys were really doing their thing on a slightly bigger scale, and they had connections with a lot of the other early hip-hop groups that were coming up. So, T-Ski Valley was one of the DJs of The Erotic Disco Brothers. There was us, there was Disco Prince, and a couple other groups and guys that were off-shoots of that. So he was a DJ back then in our group - we had a lot of fun - and that's when we really formed The Chapter Three, when we were with them.
Yeah, that was Grand Groove Records. The history there is pretty cool, and T-Ski stayed on to work with the owner at the time, Brad Osborne and did even more work with him. But we got to Brad because he owned a record shop not far from where a number of us lived. A popular record store in The Bronx on 219th St. called Brad's Record Stand. And that was just the local spot where even if you were working with DJs or anything back then, he had all the 12" singles coming in, so you would go there every week so you could rock at the parties or find the disco breaks to do your thing with. So he had just one of the key record shops back then in The Bronx that brought all the early hip-hop music in. He was a very cool guy: Jamaican born and raised who was living in that area in the Bronx and opened his own record shop and was doing his thing. And I think T-Ski gave us the connection to him. I'm pretty sure they were talking about doing some recordings, and it was him that referred Brad to us.
And at that time, we ended up on Mr. Magic's radio show after we had done that single. And that was huge for us. He was the only guy in New York... it was Thursday nights, starting maybe 11 or midnight you could catch his rap show. He was about the only person back then really playing rap music. And so we got to go on the show, promote the record and do everything on it, which was really great.
So, now there's obviously a large gap between your Chapter Three records and Partners In Kryme.
Right. Well, about that time me Chapter #1, Barry, we were going into our college years. And I went out to Syracuse, and my buddy went out to University of Maryland. And our third member, CJ; he stayed home locally in the city. We went separate ways to further our education. We stayed in touch... we tried a little bit to get together, but obviously when you're doing your school stuff, that's what takes your focus. Although, when I went to Syracuse, later in my freshman year, I actually had the guys come up and we did an event for one of the fraternities, because they knew about us, knew we had some records out. Because we also had another record out, "Smurf Trek" like the animated show, which was a popular dance at the time. A lot of records had the title Smurf.
So that's what split us up. But I kept active in it. I started to DJ more, from back in those first early days when I started catching a love for it. So I also took my interests in school towards radio and communications. They had a program at that time which was the four thirties, which let you take thirty credits in your major, thirty arts and sciences, thirty in the concentration in the Newhouse School of Public Communications, which is where I did the radio and film, and thirty electives. That was a great program; I don't think they're offering it anymore for anyone who was right in that niche. So I started to work on the radio, for both school stations, and by my sophmore year I started to work professionally in Syracuse radio.
Were you on-air then?
Yeah, it was on-air. What happened was there was a small AM station, WOLF AM, and they were changing formats to R&B/ dance/ hip-hop; and I just stayed up there. I didn't even go home like most kids did on summer break, I stayed there, got a job and did a shift on-air on weekends while I attended school. So I did my own rap radio show, I hosted it and did my own rap promos, and I just stayed real active in that because that was my passion. And the guys I Worked with also worked with a local cable station that used to work with community access channels, and had a rap/ dance video show. And I became a host. It was called Syracuse Soul, and then it also became slash Club Beats Videos when the local FM picked up and simulcast our video show.
And when you were doing stuff, were you still going by GV back then?
Yeah, that makes sense and it makes sense when I found out you were doing voice acting.
Yeah, like an actorly delivery the way you say the lyrics, where you're not just rocking the rhythm with an even cadence to the music, but expressing the meaning of the lyrics and the message behind what's being said.
I think absolutely. And going from the old school guys to the next wave of artists who blew me away in that way, in the new school, was Biggie. In storytelling, the way he'd write, and he could use tonality and his command of the language to give the listener the ability to envision what he was talking about and really feel it; I thought he stood out. I loved it.
And I'm at a party and I hear the DJ cutting it up, and I was like, "he's got some skills, sounds like he's from the Bronx or something... I wonder who that is?" I make my way through the crowd to see who the DJ is and I see this white guy, cutting and scratching and doing his thing. And not just any white guy, he looked very much like David Byrne from Talking Heads, which cracks me up. He doesn't really love the reference, but he could be David Byrne's son!
No, no! Shane comes later. Shane was a producer who we met back in New York when we started doing the record deal. He was introduced to us by people from the label, SBK & EMI. He was good, though. A couple years later, he asked me to consult on a project. For whatever reason, it didn't happen - I was busy with something else and we didn't get down. That project turned out to be Digable Planets' debut - imagine having the opportunity to contribute to that! But I'm happy for him. He got a Grammy out of that.
And the three of us really started going into demos. Jim and I had started to do some things, but the three of us really hit demos hard.
Ok, good question. Here we were, just demoing. We were also just feeling each other out, I guess, learning, and finding your niche amongst yourselves. And what had happened was he put out an independent record with a record store owner in Syracuse. I can't remember the label name, but it was similar to what we did in The Bronx.
So SBK liked our stuff right off the bat. One of their A&Rs, Peter Ganbarg, gave me a call at work saying he had heard our stuff and he really liked it. After many years of demos, finally. So Pete says, I love what I heard on your demos, I like your style, you've got talent, I dig your sound. But here's what I've got goin'. We've got a brand new movie comin' out. It's based on a popular kids' comic book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; I don't know if you've ever heard of it. I said I heard of it, but I never read a whole comic book of it. So he says I'll give you a call later and give you some background on it. What I need is a great single to put in this film. And I need it to talk about these characters, the movie. So when I got that call, it was on Friday afternoon, I think. He was like, I need this yesterday; how fast can you have it? I said I don't know, but I'll start working on it immediately. We worked on it all weekend, and gave it to him on late Monday.
Right. I was thinking it's surprising they gave such a big record for a major film to virtual unknowns.
So ok; here's something of Turtle lore... You know, there's a lyric in the song, where I talk about the leader of the turtles.
"Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello
Make up the group with one other fellow:
Transformed from the norm by the nuclear goop."
Yeah, Raphael was the angry one.
So tell us about the "Turtle Power" music video.
Ah yes, the video! Ok. That was filmed under a bridge and we filmed all night. Like, say we got there around 2 in the afternoon, we filmed until 4, 5 in the morning.
Did you have any say in the concept of the video?
No, we had no control over the concept. That was all the director.
And is that KS in the scene standing with the mayor (with the shoulderstrap keyboard)?
Oh, you went back and watched it, huh? You did your research! Yeah, that was James. Again, I didn't have any control over how little you see him in it. I guess they had to get a lot in with the turtles, and they used me because I'm narrating; but that was all the director.
And you're actually there with the turtles. It looks like the full, proper suits from the movie. Was the shooting difficult because of working with those suits?
Yeah, I think it was the same actors from the movie, too. These Asian guys who did the stunts from the film. The suits weren't really a hold-up because they didn't speak. They did the fighting and dancing, but that didn't take too long. If they had them talking like in the movie, with the animatronics; that would've taken forever.
They did a good job matching the film clips with the new footage, though. There are a few points where the turtles are fighting and you can't really tell if it's from the movie or the video.
Yeah, they did a good job with that. They took their time, and also put some effort into finding dark locations that matched with the movie. It was a fun shoot. Kids had started gathering around to watch us shoot because they saw the turtles. They started coming, like ten to twelve years old. And they were all races, which was cool; gathered there. And I was performing and they started to yell. And I couldn't hear what they kept yelling about. So finally, after we finished, I went to talk to them and I asked them, what were you yelling about? And it was because they'd heard me say that line about Raphael; they were all shouting "no! You said Raphael was the leader! He's not!" So I knew back then. I was like, it's too late to change it, the record was cut. If i knew at the time, before I recorded it, I would've said, that's wrong, I'm not gonna rap it that way, but it was too late. But fortunately the record was a hit anyway.
Ok, now let's get to your second single, "Undercover."
"Undercover." That was a song we did not want to do, John. After "Turtle Power," we got invited to a party. It was Charles Koppelman, the K in SBK Records, holding a giant mansion party for everybody. It was one of those huge places, you've got to enter through the big gates, and he had his tennis courts, everything. And he had this idea. Because at that time, the Dick Tracy movie was coming out, which everybody thought was going to be a huge deal. So he wanted us to do this song to tie in with that. But we didn't want to do it. Because for one thing, it wasn't our movie! SBK didn't own it; they just wanted to cash in on it. And also we didn't want to become known as the movie song guys. So we didn't want to do it, but we eventually agreed. We thought we'll just get through it, and then takes what comes next. Besides, you basically have two choices: you can either play along, or just refuse, stick to artistic integrity, and eventually just get stuck someplace, shelved, and they'll find somebody else.
But that happened anyway. The album was never released.
Right. Well, that was really because of Vanilla Ice...
Yeah, that's what I would've guessed.... SBK kind of turned into the Vanilla Ice machine.
Exactly; they became the Vanilla Ice machine. Everybody else got pushed aside.
Did you know Fifth Platoon? They were another dope group that got dropped when Vanilla Ice blew up.
Were those the guys from Lean On Me? I met them. Or, no, that was Riff; I met them.
Yeah, I remember Riff too, the R&B group; but I didn't realize they were in Lean On Me.
Yeah, they were the group singing in the movie. That's what they got signed off of. But they still died the same watery death!
It's interesting; I was a big of "Undercover" when it came out, and I remember seeing Dick Tracy when it came out and all the hype around it; but I never made the connection.
Well, I mentioned him in the lyric.
You mention a ton of detectives, though. You name all the great detectives, basically, and he's just in that list.
That's true! Well, we tried not to make it too obvious. We tried everything in our talents to make it different, so I'm glad to hear you say that. Because we really didn't want to do that. Kopplemen then came to us with another idea; he wanted us to do a song of "Back To School." But that's where we drew the line, we didn't make that song.
That's funny, because "Back To School" was a Fifth Platoon record! It was on the soundtrack to Turtles 2.
Oh, ok. Yeah, they just had somebody else do it.
Was there ever going to be a video for "Undercover?"
Yes. There was a video for it, but I don't think you can Youtube it. But it was made. It was black and white, in the style of the period detective movies. Have you seen the cover for the "Undercover" single? It looks like that, that was how we were dressed. You saw a lot more of James in that one; I remember it worked out for him, because he looked cool in the fedora and all. The director for that was good, I liked him. I saw recently that he did an episode or two of The Wire on HBO. That was good to see; I'm glad to see someone still making it doing what they love all these years later. I remember there was one thing, though; the only time we didn't totally get along. He wanted me hold up this magnfying glass, you know, like keeping with the detective thing. He wanted to shoot my lips through the magnifying glass. I just refused to do that. He was coming from Europe, so I don't know if he realized that's the stereotype with black people and our lips. He kept saying what's the big deal, just do it, but I wouldn't do that. But that was the only thing; he was a good director and I'm glad he's still doing his thing.
And so, just to clarify... apart from all the demo tracks and stuff, was the official SBK album [according to the back of the "Undercover" single, it was taken from the self-titled Partners In Kryme album] completed? Like is there a totally "official" version sitting on a shelf somewhere?
Yes, there is. It's finished and they just never put it out, although we got paid for it, which is ok. But it's a shame people never got to hear what we had.
And then after "Undercover," you had one other song: "Love 2 Love U" with Debbie Cole.
Yeah, I don't know if you know, but that was a hit in Europe. It came in on the charts, I think we knocked out like Elton John. That's the thing, if you have a hit record, even if it's like sort of a novelty song; you still get all that... we were touring over there, and we met Chuck D, Public Enemy. They'd just come from Germany, we were in Heathrow Airport. And they were excited to see us, which was an honor that Public Enemy being who they were, appreciated what we were doing. Chuck said, "have you been to Germany? They're playing your stuff to death in Germany." I said, "well, they're playing yours to death everywhere else in the world!" But they loved our stuff; it was nice.
We also performed for Royalty in England. We did a birthday party for one of the Sultan of Brunei's sons, Prince Akbar, in the early 90's. At that time we were also working on our second album. While the first one was done and SBK had it, we didn't know what was going to happen with that, so we just started working on our second. It was called New 4 92; an EP, which also went unreleased. One song was called "Beatnik" - they loved the vibe of this track in England!
Well, speaking of shows, I actually saw you guys live...
Oh, you did? You saw us?
Yeah, it was in Jackson, NJ: Great Adventure.
Oh, ok; I do remember that show.
Yeah, it was you, Mr. Lee, and somebody else, I forget... you guys were last. I remember you played a song, which I guess from the hook would be called "Why Can't We Be Friends?"
That's right! Did you like that song?
Yeah, I was psyched... waiting for the album to drop and it never came.
That was a song we recorded for the second version of album. We had already finished the album, but after "Turtle Power," we added a few more songs in line with what people who were fans of "Turtle Power" would've expected. "Undercover" was one of those. We also upped the production on the older songs, bringing it into 64 track. So those were a little more kid-friendly.
In fact, we later did a children's television program, for Scholastic. We performed a new kids' song every week. That was more ok, doing that kind of thing within that context. In fact, we even used "Why Can't We Be Friends," but a shortened version of it.
Finally, before we end this, let's just talk a but about what you've been doing since Partners in Kryme - I know you've done some voice acting and different things.
Right. Well, I wound up working with an urban communications company, Mee Productions, as creative director. I was doing music productions with Jim, and his wife got a job which precipitated his moving to Indiana. I kept doing soundtracks. Then I got into voicing commercials and even directing commercials.
One of the cool things I did was with this band, My Brother's Dream, a cool band in New York. You know that show 3rd Rock from the Sun? That show was getting syndicated, the reruns, and the network wanted to promote the show to more urban audiences, which is a big market. And the president of marketing was really into Parliament Funkadelic. And so I thought about it, how they're into aliens and everything, and came up with a campaign. It was great. They let me go through all of their episodes and pick out anything for what clips I wanted to use of John Lithgow, etc. I hunted down George Clinton for the rights, and we recorded this "Make My Rock the 3rd Rock." It was a success, the ratings definitely went up in that market.
Unfortunately, there's no myspace or anything to link for GV or Partners In Kryme (though he says maybe someday because there's still a fan following out there), but hopefully this interview has satisfied you, at least for a while. It was certainly a thrill for me.
REMEMBER: Keep Rhythm Your Motivating Energy