Originally, before there was even Newcleus, it was a DJ crew that consisted of myself, my cousin Monique and my cousin Pete. Monique and Pete were brother and sister. And we started, well, I started around high school. In '75, I used to spin on some friend's turntables, and we got the bug. So we went and we got some equipment for Christmas. As a matter of fact, it was before Christmas, but they were Christmas presents in advance. In '76 we started spinnin' and doing houseparties and stuff like that. And eventually, what happened was Monique, the next summer, was going to college, so we needed somebody to take her place. My best friend Dave St. Louis already had a little DJ crew - we're talking houseparty stuff back then - with another guy I grew up with, Al T. McLaren, who we called Tuga.
So Dave and Tuga had their thing called Jam Brothers Incorporated. We didn't have a name. So we got Dave - we stole him from Tugga, 'cause Tuga was younger. You know, that's what you do when you're a teenager, you go, aw, leave him and come with somebody your own age. We ditched Tuga, and Tuga ended up becoming an MC. But to make Dave feel like part of the crew, because me and Pete were first cousins, we took on the name Jam On Productions. So that's basically where it started.
And what kind of stuff were you spinning back then?
We were spinning a lot of disco. In fact, it was in '77 that hip-hop - of course, nobody was callin' it hip-hop yet - started hitting Brooklyn, like with people rapping on the mic. Before that, what we were playing was mostly disco and funk. You know, Brooklyn funk. But the stuff started coming down from the Bronx... and it basically came because of the dance The Freak. It slowed the music down, and we started playing partied where everybody wanted to do the freak, so you're playing that kind of music, and we also started picking up rapping on the mic. So we were still doing a lot of disco, but we were doing that as well.
And the name I had taken back in '76 was Cozmo Dizco. I had named myself after the record "Mondo Disco" and a comic book character I had made when I was younger called Captain Cozmo. Because I figured "Mondo Disco, Cozmo Dizco," that would sound great. I was originally going by the name Dr. Freeze, but Dave took the name, so that's why I ended up going by Cozmo Dizco. I was just like, "what are you using my name for?" But I didn't care, so I just came up with Cozmo Dizco. So what happened was in '77, when everybody started rapping on the mic and everybody was Frankie D and This B; I just shortened it to Cozmo D. And I've been that ever since.
So that was '77, and now the crew is me, my cousin Pete - who went by MC Harmony at the time -and best friend Dave. And other people were coming and going, we had other DJs that came and went. Soon after, Monique comes back from college, and we went through the heyday. We got a lot of equipment and all that, and Jam On Productions got pretty big in Brooklyn, especially in Bed-Stuy and Park Slope. We did a lot of block parties and park jams and got pretty well known. Slightly known fact: I was the one that originated that mix of "Good Times" and "Here Comes That Sound" in 1979 that everybody started biting, and they ended up using for "Rapper's Delight." That was my mix - just to let you know how popular we had gotten by then. We didn't do a lot of paid gigs, because we were young then - so we didn't get notoriety from newspapers and stuff like that; but if you came out to Brooklyn, everybody knew us. Everybody knew the Superman rap; I was already doing that back then.
Now, end of '79 - early '80. The crowds in the parks were the biggest they'd ever been by then. Huge. But what started to happen is that people started to realize they could stampede the crowds. So they would get firecrackers, or fire up in the air with pistols or something, and we'd have thousands of people running. DJs just called it running. "Oh, they started running.' So that was the end of that, because, you know, you had thousands of dollars worth of equipment that you worked hard for, and in a minute it could all be smashed and destroyed by people running at a free jam. So that's what killed the park jams in New York - people started running.
Also in 1979, I met my wife Yvette. She wasn't my wife yet, but she was a chick that one of my cousins came around with and she started hanging out and being part of the crew. Then we started going out; and she went by the name of Lady E. And she would MC and she would DJ. And also at the same time, a kid down the block named Bob, who I used to be in a rock band called Thunder Funk with, started going out with my cousin Monique. And Bob's DJ name - he was DJing back then, but he wasn't DJing with us - was Chilly B. So that was the foundation.
So at that time, because of the running, we started doing more indoor things. And I had gotten a job and noticed a little synthesizer in a store window - and from DJing I had always wanted to make my own songs. S. I took one week's check and I bought that, and then I bought a drum machine, I started fooling around, and I started making music. And one of the things we first did as Freak City Crew - because one of our business names that we had registered was Freak City Disco. So, at this point, I don't know what I'm doing... don't know an E from an F. So I'm just making whatever sounded good to me and going from cassette to cassette; and nobody believed in it.
Most of the crew started drifting off and we weren’t doing any gigs anymore. People started wandering. I'll say this much, though. As I’m accumulating equipment, we started incorporating that into when we were DJing, so we would do partied and I'd have my 808, my vocoder and my Pro One and we would do live stuff and mixing it in. That was about '81.
So, what happened in '81 is that Yvette and I got married. And Monique and Chilly B had a baby. And I wanted to get a Tascam portastudio so I could stop going from cassette player to cassette player and making these horrible sounding tapes. And Monique had money at the time from a settlement that she had gotten. So she was like, "ok, I'll lend you the money, but do me a favor. Start letting Bob do some music with you." So that's how I ended up working with Chilly B.
So we got the portastudio and that's how we started doing music. The girls became our singers when we wanted female singers, but mostly it was me and B doing a lot of stuff, and me doing a lot of stuff independently. We were all living in the same house - my mother's house - by this time, because they had the baby so they were living together and me and Yvette were married.
So we called what we were doing Positive Messenger, because we were all on a Christian kinda thing. Now, the Christianity thing we were doing wasn't a church-going thing, it was trying to find the truth and all that. So we were putting messages in our music and talking about the world, but we were never religious. We had bible studies, my mother ran bible studies, so we were religious in our beliefs; but we were never religious in the sense of following a religion with all the rules; we never were into that. But all our music either had a message, or was talking about the state of the world, or it was in praise of God. Because we were actually starting to sound pretty good, and we figured that was God's work, because I never had a lesson in my life and Chilly B never had any formal lessons. Neither of us could read or write music, and here we were doing songs and putting that stuff together.
At the same time, I'm still doing the Freak City thing. The music that we were doing as Positive Message was electronic, more Kraftwerk-oriented stuff... it had the funky beat underneath it, but more musical songs sung and all that; but the stuff I was doing for Freak City was straight up rap. Chilly B wasn't really a part of that; that was me and the rest of the crew. Because, remember, Chilly B wasn't in Jam On. But the Positive Messenger stuff was with Chilly B.
So, in fact before I got the portastudio and started working with Chilly B, I started this tape to tape called “Freak City Rappin’.” Now, I could hear what I thought it was, but it really sounded horrible. It's tape to tape, going back and forth with the kind of five dollar microphone that came with those old-fashioned tape recorders. I mean, it really sounded horrible. So I was going to all the record companies of the rap records we respected - because, you know, we didn't respect a lot of the rap records, 'cause we came from the streets, and Brooklyn rhyming was a lot different than the Bronx rhyming, where everybody had routines. In Brooklyn, everybody went for delf, went solo; so all of our rhymes were battle rhymes. And it wasn't battle rhymes on a lot of rap records that were coming out. So different labels that had rap records I respected; that's who I would go and shop the tape.
But every record company I went to didn't want to listen to it; they wanted me to leave the tape. But since it's tape-to-tape, I only had one tape. So I needed somebody to sit down and listen to it. I went all over the place, and finally I went to Reflection Records. You remember that record, I think it was "Chill Town, New York," it started off, "the sounds you are about to hear..." That was on this label called Reflection Records, the last one I was going to. And I went there and it was a little, teeny office upstairs in a one-stop on 18th St in Manhattan. There's just space for one desk, and in there is this cat; and I said, "look, I only got this one tape," and he said, "I'll listen to it."
So we sit down and listen to this tape and he gives me some constructive criticism, like, "all in all, it sounds really horrible, but I think I hear what you guys are going for. Keep working at it, and when you got something, bring it back to me."
So I respected that. This guy out of all of them was the only guy out of all these people who listened to what I had. So that cat was Joe Webb. And I said ok, I'll bring it back when we have something. And that had to be '80 because we got the portastudio in '81.
So in ''82, we'd gotten really good. I used to have this old electro-harmonics Dr. Rhythm drum machine, really non-programmable stuff. But in '92 we got the 808 and we were programming beats and that blew our shit up. It opened it up completely because then we could program our beats, our rolls, and really put our songs together. And I came up with this song called "Computer Age." And at the same time, Soulsonic is out with "Planet Rock." I'm saying, "this is a hit! If 'Planet Rock' is a hit, this is a hit! Because this has the same kind of feel and driving force has, but it's a song. And it has more of a breakdown." So I know it's a hit. You can't tell me it's not a hit; I know it's a hit. I got this determination. So what I'm gonna do is take it right out to Tommy Boy.
So we started putting all of our stuff on a cassette - a cassette I could leave finally! And the showstopper on the cassette was "Computer Age." But at the end of the cassette on the other side, there was room left. So I put on this song that I had made. One of the guys, Salvador Smooth, who was part of Jam On - remember Jam On had DJs coming and going - he had said he liked the music that I was doing, but why don't I ever do a rap record. So I'm laughing at him, you know, "why you don't ever do a rap record;" so I said I'm gonna do one just for you. So I did this anti-rap record with these chipmunk voices talking all this crap and I called it "Jam On's Revenge." And it was basically about Jam On Productions coming to town and ripping tons of rappers, because remember, we didn't like the stuff that was on the radio. So that's what "Jam On's Revenge" was all about.
So remember, we're doing Positive Messenger. Every song has a meaning, has a purpose, has a message. And here's this one song that I basically made as a joke for Salvador Smooth. But I'm playing it at house parties and people are loving it; so I say to myself, "let me throw this on there anyway." So I say ok, let me take this to Tommy Boy - I KNOW Tommy' Boy's gonna sign this, I'm not even worried about it. But I say, you know what, out of loyalty, the one guy that listened to my stuff back when nobody else would, Joe Webb. Let me see if I can find him. So I look, but at this time, Reflection's out of business. They're no longer there; I go tot he one stop and they say, "no, they're long gone." So I said, ok, let me take a chance. Back then they used to have phone booths; and back then they actually used to have phone books in them! So I look in the phone book and sure enough there's only one Joe Webb in the book. I call him up, he remembers me right away and he says "Yeah, come on down!" So I think, ok, I'll go to his house, a mansion and so-forth... I go down to where the address is, it's in the projects!
So I go up there, he puts in the tape, and he really likes it. He's loving "Computer Age." Some of the stuff is really out there, but no, it's good sounding music and he's liking it... "Jam On's Revenge" comes on, he loses his mind! He starts dancing, he's jumping up, he says, "that's the one!" I said, "no, no, no. That's just on there to take up room on the tape."
"No, no! Let me tell you..." and then he says the magic words. "If we put this put, I'll make you a half million dollars within a year. Here I am, 23 years old, I'm not gonna argue with that. So, "ok, great!" So, you know, never got to Tommy Boy.
Anyway, it takes him a while to get us in the studio. And of course we're wide open. We get in the studio... And the bassline, back then, was on the TB303, but I forgot it. And we didn't want to go all the way back to Brooklyn to get it. So Chilly B brought his bass, anyway, so he plays the bassline, and "Jam On's Revenge" is recorded.
And here it is, they're ready to record it. What's your name? And we say, ok, wait a minute. We can't use Positive Messenger because it's no longer what we were about. So we figure let's come up with a name that still says who we are. And here we are, a group with me and Yvette, right? And Monique and I are first cousins who grew up like brother and sister. And Monique and Bob. So, we're all connected together. We're like the nucleus of three families. So we decided, ok, we're gonna call ourselves Newcleus. And because of Jam On Productions, the first recorded was billed as Newcleus featuring Cozmo and the Jam On Crew. It came out on May Hew Records, and they messed up. They forgot the "S" so "Jam On's Revenge" became "Jam On Revenge," they forgot the hyphen between "Jam" and "On" and they added "The Wikki Wikki Song" to the end. Actually, I don't think they did that until it was picked up by Sunnyview.
Jonathan Fearing started playing it; it just came out on May Hew Records - I don't think he pressed up more than 5000 copies. But it started getting airplay, and Jonathan, who was at WBLS at the time, was rocking it, and it started making it big. This was '83 by the way, because it took that long for them to record it, and it took that long to get the damn thing out. And then it took even longer... the record's already out and all over the place, and we don't even have contracts yet. So, when Sunnyview picks the record up, they insist on there being contracts. So Joe came up with some contracts, we signed them, and we never saw them again. That lays the foundation for what is to happen later.
Now, going back to Tuga, he was also a main rapper on "Freak City Rapping." We have a piece of the demo we shopped in the vaults on our site. It's hilarious. You'll hear some of the "Jam On It' Rhymes on there, too, which shows you how long I was doing the damn things. That was '80, which is why the quality sucks. So, he was supposed to be in Newcleus. He was always part of the vibe, he plays congas, he was musical. He was supposed to be in Newcleus, but he went in the army. And while he was in Korea, he heard "Wikki Wikki;" but the one he was familiar with was slower, because they wanted us to speed it up. So you can hear the original version of that in the vault, too. So he heard it and called me from Korea and I said, "I told you you shouldn't've gone in the army!" So he comes back, he's home on leave, and we took him in the studio to do a record called "Drunk Driving." Because Joe was tapped into something that the Mothers Against Drunk Driving wanted to do. So Chilly B wrote the rhyme - the only thing I wrote is a bridge in there while the girls are singing - and Tuga's rapping on it. And it was released under his name because we couldn't come up with another name and he had to go back to the army. Tuga was his nickname we called him when he was a little kid. And that was released on MCA. And MCA was the label that Morris Levy was doing his racketeering through, who’s someone we’ll get to later.
So, “Wikki Wikki” is out and we start doing shows. And he decides when we do a show, he has to put people on. It can't be just the four of us. All of our stuff was electronic, but back then you couldn't do an electronic show. You had to have a band. This is before people were even performing with turntables. So, I'm not sure if she's his cousin, but he's at least a friend of his family and might be his cousin - he gets Tracy Green from Niagra Falls to play drums. He gets his son who's learned how to breakdance, and a few of his friends, to be dancers. And we add Salvador Smooth for keyboards -0 I had to show him all the keyboard parts - and we add Yvette’s sister Denise for vocals, to back-up Yvette and Monique. We only had the "Wikki WIkki" out, but we're performing other stuff we had worked on, too, when we do shows.
The record does well, and at first we were getting paid more, but pretty soon Joe Webb decides that everybody should be paid the same money. We made noise, but we were kids and we finally said ok. So everybody in the band started getting paid the same as the four of us. And, I know the business now, that would never happen, but it happened then. There was, what, ten of us at the time? As a matter of fact, I think there were four dancers back then, so there was eleven of us.
So, to clarify... on the early records, it wasn't Kid Fresh and them doing the kids' voices.
The only record that Kid Fresh and Lil’-O-Me performed on - they might've done some background on "Where's the Beat," I don't remember. I was there in the studio, but I was so pissed, I basically blocked most of it out. That's Joe Webb going "Where's the beat?" and they got me to laugh on the end. And if I realized I was authenticating the record by doing that, I probably wouldn't've. But I didn't know much then. But the only record they really performed on was "I Wanna Be a B-Boy," and that was our idea. Because we said, you're performing all over the place with us, let's give y'all something to do. So I wrote that for them, and it took forever for them to be able to do it halfway as decent as they did, which was really horrible... but we got them to do it.
I used to think it was them doing the voice of the kids on like "Wikki WIkki" and all.
No, that was me and Chilly B! We just slowed the tape down, did the rap, and sped it back up. When we went out live, they did the voices, and they never did it right either. But, no, that was me and Chilly B. All the munchkin stuff was us. And all the instrumentation was us.
So, "Jam On's Revenge" is out there and we wanted to do "Computer Age" next, because of course, "Computer Age is the one we know is a hit, and that as the plan. In fact, I think we went in the studio and recorded "Computer Age" to put out; but Sunnyview came back and said they wanted a rap record. We tried to tell them, "Jam On's Revenge" was ANTI-rap; but they said, no no, we want a rap record. So of course I gave in.
So I sat down and thought of my favorite beats that were out. And one of my favorites was "Release Yourself" by Aleem, so I copped that beat a little bit; of course added my own flavor to it. And my favorite bassline was "Situation" by Yazz, so I copped that bassline a little bit. And I tweaked them and tweaked them and came up with "Jam On It." Threw a bunch of other stuff on there and did it all in forty-five minutes. So I said, ok, that's something great to rap to, and then I threw a bunch of old rhymes on there. So I said to Chilly, ok, you need a verse, because I had rhymes galore from back when we used to rock the parks. But he couldn't come up with anything, so I wrote his rhyme. Here's a rhyme for you, boom. So we went in the studio - of course, Joe Webb never heard anything until we got it in the studio - we said, what do you think? He says, "I don't like it." We said you're out of your mind.
Our record hit, and it took off immediately. And people didn't wanna play it. Adam Levy who was promoting the record told us radio stations refused to play it. We said, don't worry, they will. Sure enough, that record just kept going and going. So, now all of a sudden, we're rap artists!
So that's when we went and we did the album. And Joe came up with - because of the stupid commercial - he wanted us to do a record based on "Where's the Beef?" called 'Where's the Beat.: And we refused to do it; that was one of the few times I put my foot down and said, that is stupid! It's a stupid commercial, ridiculous idea, and we're not gonna do it. But he went and he got the same cats who did the "Chill Town, New York" thing, Dennis and umm... I forget their last names, but they were two brothers. So they went and did "Where's the Beat," and you can tell it's them because them motherfuckers could play!
So you hear all that fancy keyboard work going on... you weren't gonna hear none of that on the stuff me and Chilly B were doing. Because, like I said, we toured ourselves. But yeah, they had all that corny rapping and all that stuff going on, and that's how "Where's the Beat" ended up on the album. Every other song on that first album was stuff from Positive Messenger that we figured would fit in. "Computer Age," of course, "AutoMan," "Destination Earth," which originally had lyrics that Jonathan Fearing took out, "No More Running." Those were all songs with messages, talking about the world or painting a picture, all left over from Positive Messenger. So I always chalked up that first album being more successful because it was true to who we were. Whereas, on the second album, we were basically trying to give the record company what they wanted. But even so, I'm just as proud of the second album as I am the first, because by that time, we had gotten into the musicianship a lot more. And also by that time, we had Midi. We didn't have Midi on the first album.. Midi came along and that changed everything!
So, first album, we toured with Cameo and O'Brien. We are the original hip-hop band. I know Stetsasonic likes to go around saying it, but all you gotta do is look when our records came out and when Stetsasonic came out. We were performing completely live.... drummer live bass player, live keyboards, plus we had the drum machine and the 303 programmed. We had that locked in and our drummer was playing with headphones to a click; not many people were doing that already. We were doing all this in '83-'84. So we toured with Cameo and O'Brien and then we toured on the first FreshFest.
What was the reaction, coming as a hip-hop group touring with Cameo and all? Were they put off by you guys at all, or?
No, no! Them cats were cool. And remember, our show... the only hip-hop we had... well, I consider it all hip-hop because the core was the beat. But the only rap record that we had at that point was "Jam On It." You know, "Wikki Wikki" I GUESS you could say was a rap record, but really it's just a bunch of nonsense while the beat's going on. We'd perform "WIkki WIkki," then "Computer Age"... We'd have this interlude where we'd bring the kids out and they'd dance, and we'd do "Jam On It." It wasn't a long show, I think it was a twenty-minute show or sometimes a half hour show. But, you know, they loved us. We had a great time on tour with them. And it was funny, because when we first went out on tour with them, "Wikki Wikki" was our big hit, which of course wasn't anywhere near as big as Cameo was at that time. But while we were on tour with them, "Jam On It" dropped, and suddenly even though we're opening the show, we're killing! Because "Jam On It" changed shit in a hurry. Whereas we were doing nicely with "Wikki Wikki," when "Jam On It" came up, and that bassline, "Dum dum" they were like "AHHHH!!!" Cameo and O'Brien came out and they'd watch our show!
And during that time, we were learning. We didn't rehearse or stuff like that; Joe was too cheap to set us up with the proper tools that we needed out there. So basically we rehearsed on the road and we developed our show on the road. Everything we learned, we learned baptism of fire. So we got mad love from them on tour. And we got mad love on FreshFest, too. I heard from cats that were on the later ones that egos started to come in.... wasn't no egos on the first FreshFest! Because it was all brand new, hip-hop was at its infancy and it was the first real hip-hop tour. It was all brand new and it was great. While we were out there, cats blew up! Friends blew up while we were out there, AJ Scratch blew up... You got to be in these places in front of 8,000 people all singing these songs; that was fantastic. And back then you did a show! It's not like nowadays, everybody's just standing on stage and swaggering. Back then people had routines and everything, costume changes, all kinds of shit. It was a different time. And it was all love.
Ok, so now the next album...
Right. Ok, so while we were doing the first album, Joe Webb and I went down to Florida. Sunnyview was owned by Morris Levy, who’s the guy who owned Roulette Records, Buddha Records, all of that stuff. Morris Levy is the guy who ripped off Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. You watch the Sopranos? You know Hesh? He's based on Morris Levy. Morris Levy, Jewish mafia cat, alright? There's a whole book about Morris. Morris was a character. He was a funny dude, but he was a stone cold crook. So he owned half of Sunnyview and Henry Stone owned the other half.. Henry Stone was the guy behind TK Records. You know all the big-time disco stuff that came out around that time, KC and the Sunshine Band? That was Henry Stone. He owned Florida... he probably still does. So we went down to Florida to work on some of the songs for the album, and while we were down there, I met this cat who worked for Henry called Amos Larkin. And Amos was cool people; we did a lot of hanging out while we were down there. Amos did a lot of stuff for Henry, and Amos wound up being one of the guys who invented Miami bass, probably THE guy.
So, here we are, the first album went great. It never went gold, probably because Morris didn't want it to go gold, because if it went gold, he was gonna have to pay some money. I guess he was paying somebody something, but we hadn't gotten a dime. I was starting to make some money, because I had written most of the songs including "Jam On It." I had written that, "Computer Ag" and "Jam On's Revenge," which were our three biggest records. So I was making some money off of the publishing. Not because I owned the publishing, but because I was the sole songwriter. Chilly B and 'Nique weren’t doing all that great because we were getting no royalties, and we wasn't making anywhere near the money on the songwriting that I was.
Here we are, hanging out with Adam Levy, Morris Levy's son. Adam Levy is also the guy who ended up starting and owning Warlock Records. Chilly B wasn't there, but I was asking them, when are we gonna start making some money? And Joe kept telling us we're still in the red, you guys haven't recouped yet. We're on the road, the album's doing well, everything's wonderful except we're not making any money. I'm asking Adam, when are we gonna start making some money, we're still in the red? He says, what are you talking about? You guys aren't in the red! We cut Joe a check for $280,000 a couple of weeks ago.
Well, needless to say, we got pissed! And that's when we realized we needed a lawyer. We're getting ripped off. So we found a lawyer, we had a meeting with Joe Webb at Sunnyview the day that the second album dropped. And meanwhile Sunnyview is in trouble because Morris Levy is under indictment for racketeering!
We let ‘em know, we’re not gonna do any more work with you until you come right with the money. So that’s how things leave. We got back on tour again, but this is a tour unlike the FreshFest. They wanted us back on the FreshFest, but Joe Webb nixed that because he wanted more money, more billing and all that. He said Newcleus is that big now, we don’t need the FreshFest. So he put us on some bullshit tour with The Boogie Boys. We would be playing these arenas with 30, 40 people in them. Oh, it was a disaster.
With The Boogie Boys, do you know if it was the original members then?
This was when they had first come out. I didn’t know they changed members of the Boogie Boys. Well, this is when “Fly Girls” first came out, so we shoulda been pulling people in there! They were closing the show, but no. It was terrible. I don’t think there was any promoting going on. Newcleus and Boogie Boys should’ve gotten way more people than we did, but every show there was like 100 people, 150 people…it was terrible.
So, we’re on tour with that and meanwhile all Hell is breaking loose with Sunnyview. So the album isn’t selling, it’s not getting promoted and all of that shit is breaking out. We’re not seeing any money from Joe Webb. So that situation is getting worse and worse and basically Newcleus started to come to a screeching halt. Eventually the tour ended because it just wasn’t happening anymore, so we got pulled off of the tour. It just got to the point where my calls to Joe are just screaming matches, and he’s not showing us no money and no statements. Getting no help from Sunnyview. Adam Levy ended up leaving and going to his own record company, and one of the things he told me on the way out was, “you guys can’t go out and perform and be Newcelus, because you’re under contract… but you can produce.” He should never have told us that! Because Chilly B and I said, “that’s what we do anyway!” So we started thinking about producing other people. We ended up not even bothering. We weren’t gonna give Joe Webb another record, because he already made more than enough money off of us.
Well, what about “Na Na Beats?” That’s after the second album, but it’s still the original line-up, I believe. It’s still you, at least, definitely.
Ok, so we were going into producing mode, and right when this was happening, we got a call from Joe Webb. And he had gotten a call from Henry. Because, remember, all this shit is going on with Morris; but Henry owns the other half of Sunnyview. So he has this beat that Amos has done, and he loves the bassline, so he wants it to be a Newcleus record and he wants us to get on the record.
Now, we had never done anything where we didn’t do the music. But we figured we liked Henry. Still like Henry. Henry’s a crook, by the way, but I like him. You can deal with the crooks who you know are crooked right up front. It’s the ones who lie to you and steal from you behind your back that you can’t take.
So we liked Henry, and I liked Amos, so we said, ok, let’s hear the beat. So we hear this “Na na na na, na na na beat! Na na na na, na na na BEAT!” And like, this shit is awful. And I’m listening to the music and I’m saying, “what is this?” And suddenly I realized. I said to Chilly B, I said, “Bob! Do you know what this music is? It’s Gilligan’s Island!” He took Gilligan’s Island and made it into a Miami bass track! Oh my god! But we said, ok, we’ll do it. So we wrote rhymes to the damn thing and we put the thing out. And this was the last straw, because when they put it out… what Joe Webb did, because he realized that I was making money that he didn’t have any piece of, on my songwriting. He had part of the publishing, but that wasn’t enough. So he went, and he took the kids into the studio. AFTER we had recorded everything and submitted it, with just us, the real group, on it. He took himself and the kids into the studio and at the end of the record they went, “Na na BEAT! Na na BEAT!” And then he claimed writer’s credit on it. And Amos was never one who would know anything about the business. As a matter of fact, I was the same way; but I had learned by then. But he claimed writer’s credit and to this day he’s getting a piece of that. …Of course, the record doesn’t do anything.
So, after that, he took the kids… remember, Kid Fresh is his son and Lil’-O-Me is his best friend. And we, by this time, are concentrating more on the Jam On Productions thing. We started producing different acts and we started doing the Latin Quarters night down there with The Awesome Two. And one night, they came in. What were their names… Next Edition or something like that…?
No, they weren’t New Edition! We had ton a lot of tours with New Edition, so that’s kinda funny. But, no. Latest Edition, I think. Some shit like that. They had some record on Atlantic.
Another funny thing, while I’m on Atlantic. I’m shopping some of the stuff we’re producing, and I call up Atlantic because I was in IDRC by this time as a DJ. So I was getting to meet people at different record companies, and I call up Atlantic and the guy says, “Cozmo! Great, I’m glad to hear from you!” Like he’s known me forever. He’s like, “oh, I’ve got your record here, I’m loving it and we’re gonna do this!” And I said, “what record? I haven’t sent you any record.” And that’s how I found out that Joe Webb was shopping a phony Newcleus. So I told them I had nothing to do with it, and that’s a phony Newcleus and so forth and he killed that. Otherwise, the phony Newcleus would’ve been up in Atlantic.
I managed to kill that, but of course Joe Webb kept on and he dropped it himself. So I didn’t even know about it until the thing was out there, but thank god Joe Webb always stunk as a promoter. So it never did anything. But by the time I found out about it and he’s hooked up with Henry – who did the Home Base distribution for him – I figure, he’s done killed the fucking name. And by this time, all my royalties had dried up, “Jam On It” had basically been forgotten and we didn’t even bother pursuing him for this phony Newcleus. He’s killed the fucking name.
Later, when Tuga got out of the army. Greg - who's a guy I used to do a lot of house records with - left to go to Jump Street Records, and they had nobody left to do A&R up at Warlock. So I needed eyes up there, because Adam's a crook, too. So I said, look, give my boy T the A&R job - give him two weeks, you don't have to pay him. And quiet as kept, when Warlock started blowing up in the house scene, that was all Al T. He became the guy that made Warlock happen. He was the guy that decided to put The Jungle Brothers on "Can You Feel It" for "I'll House You." Bringing "Voodoo Ray" to the states, all of that was him up there. Me and Al T. also discovered PM Dawn. We produced and put there first record out. And then we got screwed by Gee Street and kicked to the curb, and that ended our relationship with Adam and got Al. T fired from up there, and all kinds of nonsense. And it ended up being the end of Warlock, too, because they never had nobody else work house records like T did. They went from being legendary to a jazz label and then that fell apart.
And he's now the fourth member of Newcleus when we go on the road today. It's me, Lady E because we're still married. Because back in '89, we started doing a genre of house music called deep house, and we're known as being pioneers in that. And around that time 'Nique and Chilly B broke up. And because we're dealing with family, that basically ended Chilly B and my work relationship as well. And that has a lot to do also with why there was no pursuit of Joe Webb and the phony Newcleus.
Then after Rhino and the released of the greatest hits, we started working sparingly, performing with B again. And the three of us are now the group along with Al T. 'Nique has decided she doesn't want to perform anymore; I guess it's too painful, so she's in North Carolina now.
So Chilly's on the new stuff you're doing now?
Yeah, as a matter of fact, there's a new version of "Computer Age" with new sounds and new lyrics... updated for now. But it's like the version, if you listen to the original one in the vault, that's longer... it was close to fifteen minutes. So he did that and the solo, but now I'm here in Pennsylvania with the studio, so I'm gonna see if I can get him in to do some more for the album.
On the first album, they loved how much Jonathan Fearing did the mix that they put him in charge. And he decided first of all that "Destination Earth" should be an instrumental. So he took the vocals out of that. He decided 'I’m Not a Robot" was too slow, so he sped it up and had me come in and do the vocal over, in a key I couldn't sing. As a matter of fact, I don't think it's in a true key at all, so the vocals on "I'm Not a Robot" suck because of it. And I didn’t realize until I found the original version - which is also in the vault - he sped it up, no wonder I couldn't sing the damn thing. And it's a shame, because "Automan" is considered a classic by b-boys, but "Automan" was originally a rock ballad kind of thing. It had the beat on it, but it had rock synths on it, and it had the girls singing operatic background vocals. And I guess that's what he disliked the most, because we didn't like it, and we were supposed to go back in and rerecord. But Joe Webb never had us come back in, so he just took them out and he took out all the instruments. So the proper 24-track of that is also in the vault. And we updated "Automan" the way we wanted originally, updated with all the vocals.
He butchered those, and the songs that John touched the least were "Jam On It," "Computer Age" and he didn't get to touch "Jam On's Revenge" at all, because he didn't mix that. That was actually a rough mix that Joe said oh, we're gonna go back in the studio and mix that, but of course we never did.
Oh, and you said that we started going in a sing-songy direction with "Why?"
Yeah, I did say that.
You know, "Why" is probably older than any song on the first album. Because of the way it is, we didn't put it on the first album; it didn't really fit in. We were doing more up-tempo stuff. And that song was important to us. So when midi came out, I said I wanted to put it through its paces, so I redid "Why/" And the original version of "Why" is in the vaults, too. It was actually on the demo tape that we shopped. And Joe loved it and kept bugging me to put it on the album. But I didn't want to because first of all, it didn't fit. And second of all, I don't want Jonathan Fearing destroying it like he did the songs on the first album! Because we gave them a bunch of songs on the second album that we knew they would like and we wouldn't give much of a damn about Jonathan Fearing ruining, because they weren't as close to our heart. But Joe promised me that Jonathan Fearing wouldn't touch it, so we put "Why" in the studio. And, I don't want to speak ill of the dead - like Money Mike, too; he died of a heart attack - but Jonathan Fearing at the time was in the hospital dying of AIDS. So we recorded "Why," Jonathan Fearing came out of the hospital, went and got the master tape, had them bring all the equipment to his apartment and mixed "Why" in his apartment. And if you listen to the mix on "Why" you can tell he wasn't well. Because the strings are out of phase and fading in and out, the piano solo is out of phase ands is fading in and out. It comes in and goes out. The mix on "Why" is just horrible. All of the things he does with effects? None of that was on there. And he did that, went back in the hospital and died. It was crazy.
Oh ok. I thought with "Why" and all, it was you guys taking a new direction, branching out from hip-hop. Like a lot of groups, Force MD's, Warp 9, etc. started out being pretty hip-hop then put that behind them to be more mainstream.
No, see, we did the exact opposite. We started out as an electro group and started going more hip-hop. In fact, on the first album, "Jam On It" is really the only rap song on there. Second album, we're rapping all over the damn thing. So, I just wanted to let you know, when you said, "Oh, they started going on a sing-songy direction," no, it wasn't by design. The song is actually older than all the other songs practically, and it's only on there because Joe insisted on putting it on there.
Speaking of that, did you know the other people he brought in for that next version of Newcleus?
I know every single one of them! Let’s go through the list so I can tell you who they are! Ok, we know who Kid Fresh and Lil’-O-Me are. Name another one.
Ok, Reggie Reg?
Ok, Reggie Reg is the guy that he brought in to replace Tracy as the drummer in the group, because Tracy was starting to flake out. Reggie Reg, by the way, was ten times the drummer that Tracy was. But he was one of Joe’s stable of family and friends up in Niagra Falls who he would always pull in.
Jason was another one from Niagra Falls. He was a singer. Jason could sing his ass off, too, but he was a flakey motherfucker; I couldn’t stand him. Reggie was alright, but I couldn’t stand Jason. So I’m not shocked that these cats stabbed us in the back.
One thing I’ll always respect Tracy for: he tried to get Tracy to do it. But he wouldn’t do it, he wouldn’t be part of Joe’s phony shit.
So, there’s those two. Then, ummm… Money Mike. I’m not sure what his name was when he was in the group…
No, no, no! Ok, let me tell you who Dynamike is. We did a record with the Dynamic Breakers called “Dynamic.” You know who the Dynamic Breakers were? Dynamic Breakers were on the FreshFest. Remember, FreshFest was dancers and artists. They would have two stages. The Dynamic Breakers used to be the Dynamic Rockers, but they changed their name for the FreshFest because they were under new management or some bullshit. I didn’t know what that was. But Joe Webb signed them to do a record, and he had us do the music. They were already doing a record with this management group, and Joe Webb signed them as producer and they already had managers who they changed their name for. Now, they already tried to do a record, and they had these cats named Total Control who were rapping for them. Now they broke off with the managers, so Joe comes and gets ups to produce a new track for the rap record. So we helped them write rhymes, and he gets Total Control to come in, too. So we do a while new beat, called “Dynamic” and Total Control are on there, but they didn’t get any credit… just the Dynamic Breakers. So the whole thing is Total Control rapping with Dynamic Breakers coming through with some weak raps here and there, because they were horrible. We had written rhymes for them, but they were really horrible so they had to get Total Control back in. So what I told them they had to do was since they didn’t give them credit, they had to make the name of the record “Dynamic (Total Control).” So that’s the only reason they even got some credit for it.
So that happens, but the record does nothing. Even though it’s now considered an electro classic; I talk to cats all the time now who think that record is cherished. That came out on Sunnyview, by the way. So what apparently happened is Total Control broke up.
'Cause I started working with Frankie, who was from Total Control. I started producing him. In the meantime, the other guy Dynamike, Joe keeps him and puts him in the new Newcleus. I actually talk to Dynamike every now and then.
So, that's DynaMike. Money Mike replaced Dynamike - because there were two incarnations of the phony Newcleus.
Right, The Next Generation.
I think that was the name of the album, but I don't know if they really called themselves The Next Generation. I really don't care. But Lil’-O-Me was gone by then, right?. Who’s next?
Well, then the next main MC I think called himself Trigger.
Well, "Trigger" was the name of a record. I don't think anybody was named Trigger.
I don't know if his name was ever technically Trigger, but he calls himself that on a couple other songs, too.
Really? Well, maybe that's Mike. Trigger is probably Money Mike's new name, then. He was from a group when we were still Jam On Productions, rockin' in the parks in the 70's. We had a group that we were rivaled against called The Old Gold Crew, named themselves after Old English 800. They were younger than us, and they were MCs. They had a little DJ system, but they couldn't touch us, so instead of trying to battle us, they just talked a lot of shit. But we had grown up in the same neighborhood, so we were like family together basically.
So they came up to us after the first album but before the second one, and they wanted to come out with a record. So I started producing them. But we were producing under Joe Webb's stuff. The same way we had done Total Control, we did this at the same time and they changed their name because he didn't think it was good to call yourselves after a bottle of beer. So they changed it to OGC, and we did a record called "Buggin' Out" with them. So Money Mike was one of those guys and he was a cat I knew from way back, long before I met Joe Webb. So his betrayal probably hurts more than anybody's betrayal, because he came from my area. So that always hurt me when I realized he was down with that shit.
So the other guy I got close to from them was Troy. What was his first name? He changed his name so much, umm... I.C. He was also in The Old Gold Crew. He's the guy who produced The Move's "Greedy Girls." That's on our Destination Earth album. That was the last record that Henry put out on Sunnyview and our first venture into producing. This was after "Na Na Beats." We went to Henry, put "Greedy Girls" by the Move out, got a nice write-up in Billboard and everything. But the trouble that Morris had, because by then Morris had been convicted, is that then they went after Morris's assets. So that was the end of Sunnyview, and that killed "Greedy Girls."
But Troy always stayed with me. He hated Joe Webb. As a matter of fact, I think he hated him more than I did. Because they got ripped off on the "Bugging Out" thing of course.
Well, let me ask you this about The Next Generation, too... You guys, like you and Chilly, are on that album, on a version of "Jam On It."
There's a "Jam On It" on The Next Generation album?
Yeah, there's like six! They've got "Jam for the 90's," "Jam On This 1994," "Jam On It - Live"...
Yeah, they did a lot of coppin'. What Joe Webb did was he took the original tapes and threw crowd noise over them, acted like they were live versions, and put them out again. And when Rhino bought the masters, I told them, "this guy's bootlegging our shit and we're not getting a dime for it," and Rhino didn't care. I complained, like, "he's putting out YOUR masters and getting paid off them, acting like it's live versions." That's what he did. If you check the versions that're out on Unidisc, it's the same thing he did there. He took the original "Jam On It," the original "Wikki Wikki," and the original "Computer Age," threw crowd noise over it and sold it to Unidisc.
Yeah, there's a "Computer Age" on Next Generation, too.
Yeah, the man is amazing. Totally amazing.
It's funny, because the new stuff from Next Generation sounds totally different, modern 90's hip-hop; nothing like the original Newcleus... And then suddenly they cut to "Jam On It."
Mm-hm. That does not stop him at all. With the amount of crooks involved... it got to the point, I realized I was dealing with so many crooks, I had to crook myself.. And just come out and take back what belonged to us. When things started to turn around, and people started to say that "Jam On It" was a classic.... I'd say right around the time that Boyz N da Hood came out, people remembered the record and it started, so we said look. These people don't deserve it. They took it from us, they never paid us a dime, and now it's gonna happen and we're gonna sit back and allow 'em to steal from us again? I said no. So we basically took it back. We took back ownership of our name, and we took back ownership of our music. Because the good thing dealing with a bunch of crooks is that crooks will eat up each other. So let them chew on each other and leave us alone.
And what was Rhino like to deal with? I've heard some stories about other artists....
Well, again, we got no royalties, because they just followed behind what everybody else was doing and didn't pay royalties. There was one check. This was about the time of The Next Generation, and I went after Rhino to find out what the situation was. And they said the money was just accruing. So I found Joe Webb and said, look. We'll just split the money in half because there's money sitting there. So he said ok, and from then on we'd split it half and half. But then after that, when the money started coming in, he said they decided to hold the check up and he started to lie and keep the money again. So I got them to shut the whole thing down again. But otherwise, there was no dealing with them. They didn't care; they just put the stuff out.
So around 1997, they contacted me again about putting a Greatest Hits out. And I'm glad they contacted me, because then we realized ok, it was time to take our shit back. And they were ok to deal with then. They were still large and we were small for them, so we didn't get so much attention. And then they got bought by Atlantic. And once they got bought by Atlantic, forget it. Now nobody knows what anybody else is doing up there. Which is fine by me.
Ok, and then there was a release in 2000?
Right, that's with Pail Klein. "Jam On It" with all the remixes? Yeah, I did that with Paul Klein. That was part of us taking it back. And, by the way, Paul Klein worked with Henry Stone, and he still was in 2000. As a matter of fact, Henry actually got on the phone and talked me into doing it. They said, let's do a whole new version completely, but do it like the first one. That way you own the masters. So then he also did a bunch of remixes, and I worked on it together with Paul. By the time it came out, Paul had split from Henry and put it out on his own label, AfroWax. That probably ended up being the best move that I had made, because it established our own master out there. And I've been able to since make some noise with our own stuff. But that got us out there again without having to deal with Rhino or Joe Webb or anyone else whatsoever. It was a license deal we did with him, so we own the master.
Which brings us to now, I guess, where I see you're selling your back catalog on your website.
Well, we won't talk too much about that. I'm crookin' the crooks now. It's out of print, it's not available... well, now it is. And now the artist is getting money where the artist never got any money before, so all is right with the world.
So we're back on the road, performing new material. Got new stuff coming out. We've put out new remixes of "Jam On It," found an old version of the original mix with a part of Chilly B's rap that was taken out that wasn't on the 12". Put that out. Actually, there was another chorus and another 8 bars of Chilly B's rap that's missing. So we put that in.
And that's on the one now that you're selling on your website?
When was the last time you spoke to Kid Fresh?
I ran into him right before we moved, at the end of August in a movie theatre.
So, just this past year? What was it like between you two?
I never blamed him. Because he was a kid, and his father was promising him stuff just like he was promising me stuff. What did piss me off about him is that we used to tell him when we were on tour that they weren't part of the group, but his father was telling him he was! So they used to argue, "yes we are!" No, you're not. The group is four people. "No, it's not!" So because he believed that, it was easy for him to go and be Newcleus, because he always thought that he was Newcleus, even though he didn't perform on anything. So I can't blame him; I know who the person was who did all the shit. So it was a cool meeting.
Is he still doing any music or anything?
Nah. At least, from what he told me, he wasn't. I know that he was trying to do stuff way back when, but... well, he wouldn't tell me what he was doing, so that tells me he was hustling. I know he's not working! I asked him, You working, wha5t do you do? "What do I do? Uhh,,," and he hemmed and hawed at that, so definitely on a hustle of some type. And I know Otis had been in and out of jail, I know that, which is where he was when the Next Generation came around. It was a cool meeting, but I made sure I didn't give him no info.
And now you're doing a new album...
Yup, we're doing a new album. We did new versions, and this new album I've been working on for three years, but I'm hoping to have it out by this summer. We're involved with Street Sounds Records. They're putting out a new electro compilation album. And that's what I've been working on this week, a new track for that new electro album.
And what is the new Newcleus sound like?
It basically picks up where the second album left off, with flavors of Positive Messenger. We've gotten back to doing more of the message stuff again, but with the more technological feel that we had on the second album with the advantage of having more equipment. So it's very electro.
What I decided to do was because the genres have split. Back then, electro and hip-hop were basically the same thing. It was just a different phase of hip-hop. But since then, they split. And I still love them both. And since we found from doing shows and all that, we're considered pioneers in both genres, but it's in electro that we get more love and appreciation; and we're considered more core to what happened in that music. Whereas in hip-hop we're basically remembered for "Jam On It." But in electro, we're remembered for "Computer Age," "Automan," - actually, we're remembered in hip-hop for "Automan," too, because they used to breakdance to that - but even stuff like "Cyborg Dance" is still fondly remembered in electro.
What I decided was to take Newcleus, and follow the electro route with it, but we're going to do Cozmo D and the Jam On Crew - which of course goes back to our original release anyway - and do hip-hop with that. Two separate formulas. Cozmo D is gonna be hip-hop and funk because I'm still gonna do funk records. They're both gonna be Newcleus, but Cozmo D is gonna be the hip-hop oriented Newcleus... the slower, funkier Newcleus. Some stuff is songs, some stuff is solo and a lot more rap is involved. You can go to the Cozmo D myspace and there's a song we did called "The Summer of '79." It's a straight-up hip-hop record, but with that old school flavor to it. But on Newcleus, we're gonna be more following behind "Computer Age," "Technology," more in that kind of feel. Back then, you could do both genres and it would work. Now, well... it might work, who knows what works? But it didn't seem as feasible to do now. I've actually got more than two directions in me, because my first love is jazz. But that gives me the freedom to go wherever I want to go, and I love it all. So we're gonna stay true to both genres.
And it's gonna be interesting, because I turn 50 this year. And I plan to be the first 50 year-old rapper out there.
If you're anything like me, after reading this interview, you're jumping at the bit to go visit that vault he's talking about and check out all those demos and unreleased joints (like that "Drunk Driving" song!) of Newcleus's hits, so don't let me hang you up any longer, their official site is: jamonproductions.com. And remember to check out his store - for the first time the actual artists will get paid. And of course their upcoming album, Returned To Earth, will hopefully be available there by this summer.