Just the opportunity to talk to one of the original Hip Hop legends from its earliest days in The Bronx is enough to get me amped for a great interview. But how many of them went on to revolutionize the portayal of women in hip-hop by assembling the wildest stage shows and releasing some great records in the 80's, then become a controversial pop music icon in the 90's, and finally reemerge as a Las Vegas headliner in the 2000's? I'm pretty sure Wanda Dee is the only one. ;)
When did you first see/hear a hip-hop show or record?
Right outside my window on 194th Street and Marion Avenue in The Bronx. After all, The Bronx was and is THE birth place of Hip Hop. So I didn't have to go far to find it.
And how did you go from being a fan who wanted to be a part of it to actually being a part of Bam's crew?
Well actually, I met Kool Herc first and he put me down on the turntables FIRST in Edenwall Projects in The Bronx at a local community center. Eventually, I met Afrika Bambaataa through a mutual friend named Love Squigg... LOL! Yes, I know his name is funny, but that was his moniker. He told Bam about me and Bam told him to invite me to come see him personally at The Bronx River Zulu Anniversary Party back in the 70's. He took to me like a father and a mentor and gave me many a great opportunities to spin. Thanks to Bam, I became The First Lady of The Universal Zulu Nation as it's FIRST official female inductee.
What do you remember about your first set?
It was a house party in The Bronx. I had practiced for so long in my house, that by the time I got up there to do my thing, I was in great form. It was originally set to be a group thing between me, another (male) DJ and a male & female rapper (who were all siblings), but I ended up doing the set by myself. And I'm glad I did. I can't recall their names right now anymore, but I do know that they fought all the time. I can remember that! LOL!
Do you remember any of the records you spun, how you mixed, who was there?
James Brown, Brothers Johnson, Mardis Gras/ Rock the Bells, etc., etc., etc. I was back spinning real fast, scratching, mixing / blending records from one break beat to the other. Can't recall exactly WHO was there, but let's just say it's safe to say that there was a room full of party people having a good time... and I got paid doing something I love to do. That was great then, and it's great now!
You're recognized as the first female DJ, but I don't think many people realize you battled... Like what was your experience competing in the New Music Seminar against Jazzy Joyce like?
NOTHING! That experience was like NOTHING, because it NEVER happened!!!! It is an utter and complete lie! A fabrication continually and falsely represented on Jazzy Joyce's web site and MySpace page on her bio; and I've asked her repeatedly through my manager, to CORRECT IT. And she has not. She has obviously refused to cooperate with telling the truth.
And the truth of the matter is that when I was coming up, Joyce looked up to me as a protege would a mentor. She loved both me and the late, great Whiz Kid (Harold McGuire), and was inspired by both of us. I can remember Joyce at my sets, I've given her jobs (including the one replacing me when I left the initial group I was in with Debbie Dee, Sha-Rock & Lisa Lee) and she was always a huge fan of mine (especially as she's much younger than me). So for her to all of a sudden create this phantom DJ battle between us that NEVER happened (in which she, of course, declared herself The Winner), is really pathetically sad and a cold slap in my face.
Our history / herstory must be preserved and told, sold & retold with honesty and integrity, and she has desecrated that. I am deeply flattered that she so felt the need to exalt herself above all others (in her imagination) that she would pretend that she battled ME and WON, but the naked truth still is... that this incident in question you're asking me about (probably because you read the false info yourself somewhere in correlation to her)... NEVER HAPPENED!
I have participated in The New Music Seminar, two years in a row to great success, but I've never been in ANYTHING with Jazzy Joyce, including a cab!
So when did you decide to make the jump from behind the turntables for people like Debbie Dee and taking up the mic yourself?
1986, when I wrote "Blue Eyes." This was two years after Beat Street. It was time, and at that point I had met a manager, Eric Floyd, who had helped encourage me to do just that. I had already made my mark as Hip Hop's 1st female DJ... 1st female inductee into The Zulu Nation... 1st female DJ to tour The U.K.... 1st female DJ forever historialized in a motion picture (Beat Street).
How did your record on Critique ("Blue Eyes") come about? And who did the scratching on "Blue Eyes?
I did the scratching on "Blue Eyes" on my own personal turn tables. Peter Waterman of PWL Records (U.K.), which allowed Critique to distribute it in The U.S. was the one who discovered me and signed me for the FIRST PWL go round. I did it all over in England and was quite proud of myself, indeed.
What was the filming of your scene in Beat Street like?
Harry Belafonte' himself auditioned me personally in the South Bronx and hired me on the spot. When I filmed it, I felt surreal and excited! At the time, Richard Sisco was my boyfriend / business partner, he was the rapper in front of me with the cowboy and called himself The Sisco Kid. However, when the film came out and the offers came to tour, they only came for ME! I know that hurt him deeply and drove an even deeper wedge between our already unraveling relationship; and that was fine with me, as Eric had come along at that time and swept me off my feet. And we've been "sweeping" now for almost a quarter of a century, ever since!
I recently saw Richard at a memorial function that we organized at Monroe High School in The Bronx to commemorate the beautiful Hip Hop Pioneer mural that the students painted of some of us Hip Hop veterans who started the game in their cafeteria. They had my photo painted up there with Kool Herc, Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash & Sha-Rock. It was something that Eric discovered one Sunday morning online while googling my name, and it was incredibly humbling to me. I think I cried.
So we got Sha-Rock, Melle Mel, Paul Anthony & Bow Legged Lou of Full Force and several others to come to the high school to speak to the students, and it was sensational. In any case, Richard came and I couldn't believe that he had gained so much weight, lost most of his teeth and clearly had a drinking problem. That was sad. He was truly shocked to see me, especially still together with Eric almost 25 years later. But hey, that's life!
When did you start incorporating some of the wilder aspects of your performance (the costumes, dancers, etc) into your show?
That would be 1987 at The World (nightclub) in front of a star studded Hip Hop audience that included Aaron Fuchs of Tuff City Records. I had on a red two piece, tight spandex ensemble with a full length, white, Chinchilla coat, high heels, make up, big 80's hair and four male Hip Hop Jazz Dancers (which had never been seen or done before that). Of course, this was Eric Floyd's idea, as my manager, who had come from a background of Broadway / Vegas style shows, revues and television. In fact, he was one of my original four dancers. We absolutely rocked the crowd and killed it!
That was when Aaron made his offer to me on the spot to join Tuff City (but more about that later)!
From there, Eric felt like all women in Hip Hop were way too masculine and that the only way to beat a man is by being the one thing he cannot be... 100% WOMAN! So, he called in folks like renowned double jointed vogue specialist, Willie Ninja to teach me to walk in heels, Gerard Dure' (also one of my original dancers, as well) to do my hair & make up and some kick-ass, incredible dancers, all under his choreographic, production and staging genius.
Next thing I knew, the act, along with my success grew ever more exotic, erotic & hypnotic! Sex, sensuality, power, glamour, humor, harmony, choreography, beauty... these are all universal languages, and my act speaks ALL of them. I guess it's rather ironic that I sing in 8 different languages, and (apparently) so does my act.
Was there ever talk of recording a full album for Tuff City (or even Critique)? Are there any unreleased Wanda Dee songs that were recorded back in those days?
There was initial talks of a full length album briefly for Tuff City, but once it was firmly established that Aaron Fuchs was not ever going to play fair contractually, my manager Eric Floyd, along with his manager, Sal DiSanto and friends Pete Guzman and Wayne Smallwood paid Aaron a visit and got me out of my contract with a quickness. Critique never discussed a full length album with me, but as it's main parent company of PWL out of England under the auspices of Peter Waterman with THE most successful European production team of the 80's / 90's (SAW) Stock, Aitken & Waterman did record a full length UNRELEASED album[!!] with me. It was NEVER released due to the fact that they broke up as a production unit, with Mike Stock arguing with Peter Waterman daily, and eventually going his own way! My product went down in history as their final co-production project, and although they took good care of me and handsomely paid me, that album still remains unreleased at this time. I'm sure one day, it will see the light of day... they always do!
Artists who've been on Tuff City have had some pretty extreme opinions of Aaron Fuchs (both good and bad); how was your relationship with Aaron Fuchs?
Aaron was a visionary, I give him that! But he was a victim of the worlds oldest demon... GREED! I thank him for my singles, "The Goddess" and "To the Bone," which went on to become the first two platinum selling singles by a (solo) female in Rap. Another FIRST for me in a career full of FIRSTS, so he will always hold a very special place, near and dear in my heart!
Tell us about Rapmania. That whole show had an amazing line-up; and the show you put on was off the hook.
LOL... THANK YOU! Rapmania was the brainchild of producer Van Silk, and I was honored and humbled to be asked to be a part of it. My manager & husband Eric Floyd outdid himself once more with amazing choreographic and production prowess! He knew that this would be recorded for all time, and it would consist of 40 of the biggest rap artist veterans of the day, so he really wanted me to have a spectacular show! So he personally hired the African drummers / African dancers, Hip Hop/Jazz dance duo (Cheetah & Cougar), and that long, multi-ethnic line of drop dead gorgeous, g-string/oil clad army of "G-Men" that brought me out atop their massively muscular shoulders; along with my Nubian shaman carrying my boa constrictor (whose head he placed entirely in his mouth TWICE during my intro to the stage).
It was probably the first time I had an out-of-body experience on stage, as all I can remember is being introduced and the drumming starting amidst the incredible waves of applause and love that came pouring over the foot lights and onto that stage from The Apollo Theater audience, and then I remember the 3-minute standing ovation I got afterwards when it was all over. I knew we had made history at that point, especially in Hip Hop, because this was before any of my fellow Hip Hop artists had done big productions... this was before Hammer, Nelly and the like. This was 1990 and that kind of raw showmanship had NOT been experienced before in the Hip Hop genre.
ALL of the stars backstage ran over to me and were slapping (me) five, high fiving me and patting me on the back for a job well done, and that's when I laughingly discovered that the man who had put all of this together (my husband/manager, Eric) was actually locked out of The Apollo during the whole performance, because I sent him back to our tour bus to pick up my black feather bolero jacket (that I was supposed to be wearing and subsequently did NOT); and some narrow minded security guy would NOT let him back into the theater because they did NOT believe he was my manager. So poor Eric only got a chance to see the results of our collective labors that night, but alas, he NEVER got to see the show. Well, the next morning, we drove out from our Riverside Drive apartment to grab some breakfast at the 125th Street / Harlem McDonald's and Eric had just bought the paper, and while in the drive through ordering our hot cakes, he started screaming because there I was on the cover of USA Today labeled as "THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE ENTIRE RAPMANIA PAY-PER-VIEW TELECAST" the night before! WOW! What a moment... what a milestone in my life... and I rightfully shared it privately with THE man that made it all happen with me... my only TRUE love in life (other than our son, Siameze)... ERIC FLOYD!
When did you first find out the KLF was using your voice?
Well, he took down ALL of the contact information and went on a one man warpath that night calling Wax Trax Records in Chicago, KLF Communications in London and so on and so forth. When Eric finished with them, he got me a huge six figure $ettlement, star featured credits on The White Room album, starring roles in The KLF music videos, and a lucrative co-publishing deal with them (as I wrote the hooks to their biggest world wide hits). In fact, to this day, I get weekly checks in the mail from ALL 10 of The Blue Man Group shows around the world that still close their shows with "Last Train To Trancentral," and have for the past 16 years and counting...
I would like to say that Bill Drummond and Jim Cauty of The KLF, although admittedly copyright thieves, are still two of THE most prolifically brilliant producers in modern pop music history. Light years ahead of their time, which is why their productions from The White Room album still sound refreshingly fresh and radio friendly TODAY! No one can deny them that. What also cannot be denied is the fact that although The KLF had previous releases before me with marginal underground success (never selling over 100,000 units), it's safe to say that THE RAPPING brought them street appeal... I brought them sex appeal... and combined with their uncanny productions, (finally) gave them MASSIVE COMMERCIAL APPEAL. And let's also make mention of the fact that in knowing that I now had an invaluable vested interest in The White Room album as a co-publisher, Eric organized a massive world tour under the moniker of WANDA DEE & THE KLF EXPERIENCE and/or THE VOICE OF THE KLF, WANDA DEE... and the promotion we did on an international level insured us huge record sales. At last count I do believe I've toured to some 150 cities, 90 countries on 6 continents, platinum status in 77 countries and over 25 million albums sold. Not bad for a one time tom boy / day dreaming little girl from The Bronx, who started off as a Hip Hop DJ turned rapper turned singer turned multi-lingual chanteuse turned producer turned Vegas headliner, huh!? LMAO!
That's why I always say, I wasn't INVITED into The KLF, I was IGNITED! People have to remember that had The KLF not illegally sampled / "stole" my voice in the first place, none of this would have ever happened. And my manager & husband (who is usually criticized for what he did by the narrow minded and ill informed) did what any GREAT manager and husband would and should do... #1, as a man, he protected me and my interests... and #2, as a manager, he got my black ass PAID! And they're still paying me almost two decades later, and what bit of publishing monies that KLF raped and ripped me off for in the beginning BEFORE we got a hold of them, we more than made up for in the live concert / merchandise money that we've $uccessfully raked in through the years. So my relationship with Bill & Jimmy on a PERSONAL level is non-existent for the time being (time healing all wounds), but PROFESSIONALLY, I'm sure that they and their accountants appreciate me for the hard work I've put in around the globe as The KLF Ambassador, because my world touring efforts have produced millions in revenue and album sales. And that's the bottom line!
It came out the same year Eric's blessed Mother died... 1994. This came about from my continued love and work with ZYX A&R man, Harry Towers and his hooking me up with Giuseppe D. and The Brandt Bros., longtime production partners of ours. Eric and I love all of these aforementioned gentlemen and we absolutely loved that project. Happy times... happy tunes!
Starting G.E.R.L.: Goddess Empire Record Label was the natural order of progression for me as an artist. To be able to map your own creative works from beginning, middle and end is an artistic license and freedom that no one would ever want to give up, and why should they. If they get my music for free, online... so be it... but I make most of my sales from the tons of live shows I do every year and selling them directly to the consumer, especially in LAS VEGAS!
It was Eric's idea to mount, finance and produce NAKED @ THE FEAST: AN EVENING WITH JOSEPHINE BAKER here in Las Vegas with an all-star cast that includes the likes of Delia Sheppard, Antonio Fargas, Pendu & Roshe Davis (among others), because he felt like it was a show project whose time had come. She was and is Diva Originale... when you read the Bible Of Divadom, The Book Of Josephine is the first chapter!
I saw a video on Youtube recently, which says it's your latest single. That is Melle Mel we hear kicking the rap verse on there, yeah? What's the deal with that song?
Finally... so often, being a mother pulls women right out of the entertainment industry... the answer to "whatever happened to that great actress/ singer/ whoever?" is so commonly, "oh, she became a mother and quit the biz forever." You've not only stayed in the game, but performed with your son! How has your experience been being a mother in the hip-hop and dance music scene? And what would you say to a really talented female facing that conflict?
At the end of the day, all of the applause, designer clothes, platinum singles and money can't hold you in bed at night... lift your spirits when you're really down... and/or bring true meaning and fulfillment to your life (or at least NOT mine). But watching my son grow up into the fine young, well mannered man that he is today, who respects women, his fellow man, nature and the environment around him with the impeccable character of love, honor, honesty and generosity of spirit that he possesses... now THAT'S my crowning glory and achievement in this thing we call LIFE! And I'm sure Eric would agree.
He is now doing his debut album project; Born To Dance under his own namesake, Siameze: The Godson Of Rock & Soul! He is a remarkable young talent that possesses the best of BOTH of us (Eric & I), as he's got Eric's DANCE abilities and my SINGING abilities. I think Bow Legged Lou of Full Force says it best... "If Michael Jackson & Prince could somehow ever have a baby, SIAMEZE would be that love child... and James Brown, Tina Turner, Elvis & Eartha Kitt would be the grandparents!" I expect great things from him in the future, and you would all be wise to do the same... LOL!
THANK YOU John for the time, love and forum you've allotted me to speak to both you and your readers all over the world. Keep up the GOD work and God(dess) with you always, Wanda Dee