Friday, July 17, 2009

Still Bringing the Real - Gauge Interview

I just had the pleasure of talking with Gauge, who was good enough to take the time out, talk to me, and set me straight on a lot of questions I had about his long and varied career, from his rare indie rap 12"s in the early 90's to his upcoming (Christian rap) album he's working on now.

Ok, let's start with something I've only ever read about online… Is it true you used to be in a group with Lord Have Mercy called B.A.S.S.?

Yes. The name of B.A.S.S. means Brothers About Sight and Sound, and it came about because Lord Have Mercy and I both shared a DJ, named D-Mix. And he was just DJing for both of us and asked could we do things together? It wasn't really a full-fledged group, so much as a spin-off where you have two artists with their own identity that come together to do one thing.

And this was before the Maestro stuff?

Yeah, this was even before that. This was like when I first started rappin' period. Both of us lived in the same neighborhood: he's from Flatbush and so am I. And we knew each other from school. And when D-Mix and his brother Carl were doing beats for him, they were doing beats for me, we were just doing a lot of shows amongst each other. So it was just like, yo, why don't we try to do some things together? So how it worked out, is we did a single, where I had a song, he had a song and then we did one together. So it wasn't really like a group group.

And that came out on 12"?

Yeah, but that was years and years ago; and I'll tell you: if you're able to find that then you're really good.

Well, I've been looking! What was the label for that record?

Well, actually we were on a label called Chase Records at that time. We had this guy that we knew through D-Mix named Jason. He was a young entrepreneur trying to do his thing; and that was way before any of us decided to try our own labels. So, when I think back, I got respect for him, because since then he was really trying to do something with his own label.

Yeah, that was kinda before the 90's boom of independent 12"'s.

Right. When independents started to kick in later in the 90's, everybody was doing it. But back then when he was doing it, pretty much nobody was. So back then, when they told me to meet the head of the label and he was a young guy just like us, and he was black, I was just like "whoa! You sure that's who you are?" It really blew my mind like - this is crazy!

So, how did you go from there to being signed with Maestro? That was the time when he came to New York, right?

Yeah, he moved to New York. What happened was I lived on a street called Brooklyn Avenue, and he wound up moving around the corner from me. And there was a few times walking down the street that I would see him and be like, hey, what's up? And I didn't know who he was. It was just like, how you doing? But then I used to do a lot of shows at CBGB's - I know you know CBGB's - and when I was performing one night, he came out and saw me. And after I came off the stage, he came over and talked to me and was like, yo, I was really impressed with your show and my name is Maestro. And I said, yeah, I remember you as the guy from around the way. And he said, why don't you come over to my apartment one day and let's hang out and I'll let you hear some of my stuff. I'm a pretty known artist up in Canada and this and that.

So, of course, you know, I'm just like ok whatever. Ok, you're a known artist in Canada, and you're livin' in Brooklyn, and I never heard of you a day in my life! And I've been in this business for a minute. But of course, I wasn't into the different, international artists. I did wind up going to his house and he showed me his Juno awards and a lot of videos and I'm like, wait a minute - this guy is official! And what really brought it in for me was when he's like, why don't you come so some shows with me, and I'll let you do one song of your own and you'll be my hype man.

So we worked on a couple of his songs and we got on a Greyhound - 'cause he had a tour to do; and we drove up to Canada. And that's when I really saw who he is! Believe me! At that point, that guy was like the LL of Canada. People knew exactly who he was, and I saw all the people who knew him and all the TV shows that spoke about him. And we got off the Greyhound and into VIP status once we got into Canada. We started getting on planes, and that's when the limos came out…And at that time he said to me, you know, I really consider you a good artist; so why don't we put out this record together? And that's when he funded for me to do "Cranium."

And, actually, he had you on his remix, too, right? Before that, "Pray To da East?"

Actually, right. You're pretty on point with that. We did "Pray To da East" first, which was on LMR Records. And they were located in New York, which was the crazy thing; he's so big in Canada! But he came to New York to do his album, which of course was Naaah, Dis Kid Can't Be From Canada?!! And he got a lot of flack in Canada 'cause people took the name wrong. They looked at it like he was trying to diss Canada, but he was just trying to say Canada's not on the map at that time! And that's what people here really said, 'cause they never heard about artists from Canada.

And that's really what set up me going on tour with him. 'Cause I was already on that song, and I knew a lot of the album. And at that time I was pretty popular on the underground, with Stretch, Bobbito and a lot of those guys. Plus, I lived in the same neighborhood as The Dwellas. And the crazy thing is The Dwellas met through me. UG used to dance for me, and Phan was my hype man. And that's how they met. UG could really dance back then; but I didn't realize he could rhyme as good as he could dance. One day, I was on the phone with him, and I heard him spitting a rhyme as he was walking off. I was like, "who's rhyme is that?" And he's like, no that's mine! And I realized how hot he was, and I always knew Phan was ill. So they hooked up, got the deal with LOUD, and it's history from there.

And is that how Lord met, too? Because I know he was briefly down with the Dwellas, too.

Right. That's how that came about. 'Cause Lord was cool with me and Phan was cool with me; and we were all from the same circle. And what happened is I kinda strayed off, and then they all started working together. Then Busta stepped in and took Lord! We all knew Busta from high school, because he went to school with us. He's originally from Flatbush.

Oh? I didn't know that.

Yeah, he does represent LI; but he went to Walt Whitman high school with all us in Flatbush. So did Special Ed; he was really tight with Busta. And me and Special Ed used to battle all the time on the block. We all got history. Same thing with Chip Fu and all the people from Flatbush. We all know each other here; and there's a lot of talent from Flatbush. We just weren't pushed the proper way and things didn't go exactly where I would've expected them to. But of course, you know, Busta did his thing.

So, Lord got down with Flipmode, the Dwellas did their album, and I did "Cranium," which sold over 9000 records. Now, you know, on the underground, on vinyl, that's a lot! It really shocked me when I started to tour out of the country, going to Germany, Switzerland and England and DJs were going into their crates and grabbing my record!

And after we did "Cranium," Fat Beats stepped in and actually gave me an advance to do distribute the next record. Ever hear of an underground record getting an advance? They said, we'll give you money up front if you bring this record here. 'Cause we were doing the remix with the Dwellas, so they wanted that bad. And we used the same beat for the remix. But what I didn't realize, when your biggest selling place is Japan, who don't really understand too much English, all they really are vibing to is the beat. So, I didn't think of that, but when I gave them the same beat, I really almost gave them the same record!

But the remix still did well, and The Dwellas had their following and we just kinda pushed from there. Actually, I was talking to Phantasm last night, and he was talking about new stuff that he's working on. So he's still doing his thing.

Nice; I haven't heard too much from him lately. Oh, well, I guess he was on the Blaq Poet was the last thing I heard.

Yeah, he's working on a mix CD and then gonna do an album afterward. He's just getting his beats together and getting ready to come out. We've become really good friend and we talk all the time. UG I don't see as much, but we still got love for one another.

Let me ask you this… on that first Maestro appearance, you're actually credited as being "Gauge, of the Rough Neck Bastards." Who were the others, and what was that about?

Right, that was another thing. The Rough Neck Bastards was a group, and in that group was me, Phantasm and my boy Greg, who lived on my block… I think BodyRock was his rap name. So we did, like, four songs together, and we were on Bobbito pushin' it. And Phan told me, I got a decision to make. I could roll with the Rough Neck Bastards or go with UG. I told him, go with what you think is the best. Now, at that point they didn't have their deal yet, but things were in the making. And they also had that edge where they were doing that mystic stuff, so they had something that was different.

So, UG came with us to Bobbito, which shows you how we were fam. This was before they were Dwellas. And we were just ripping it back and forth for like an hour. And what happened was, Phan told me he had to go with UG, and I would be foolish to tell him to turn down LOUD. LOUD was definitely a leading supreme team label at that time. So there was no way for me to even be their friend and tell them to not take that.

There was never a Rough Neck Bastards record, though, was there?

No. But we were in the studio. We used to be managed by Joeski Love. And he was helping us to get in the studio, and we recorded like 3, 4 records. But we never had a record out. We did demos; not records.

Ok, that actually goes into another question I had for you. I don't know if you know, but there's a Gauge demo album floating around the 'net now…

Oh yeah?

It's like 5 or 6 songs, and a couple of them are from your Unsigned Hype review, so I guess it's from around that time. But there's another song in that write-up called "Down To Earth" that's missing.

The Unsigned Hype thing was crazy, too. I was sitting on Church Ave. with Phantasm in the car, and we were listening to some new music of mine. And we were sitting in the car, and this guy walks down the block and notices Phan. He says, "aren't you Phan from the Dwellas?" He's like yeah. "I happen to be the new editor of The Source." We look at him like what? You're kidding me! Young black guy, walking down Church Ave giving us this line? He said he was the new editor for The Source and he wanted to do an interview with The Dwellas, and they exchange numbers. Phan says, by the way, this is my boy Gauge, listen to some of his material. So he sat and listened to it with us, and I said, I would like to see if I could get on that Unsigned Hype column. He said, "you know what? You got it for next month." I was in The Source three times actually, and I was also in Rap Pages as well, one of the unsigned hypes in there as well.

But. I don't know about that demo. There's definitely a lot of things floating around, because the internet is a crazy tool. But, yeah, I did a lot of demos! It came to the point where some demos were getting played. Like Stretch was playing the "Cranium" record, which was a demo first. I would credit the success of that record a lot to him. He played that record for 13 straight weeks! He literally said to me, "I'm gonna blow this record." And it did do a lot better than I actually thought. And even 20 years later, people are still calling me about that record. The remix as well. I like the remix a lot better.

Do you still have all those demos and tracks like that?

No. You know what's so funny. I used to be managed by a guy named DL; they used to do a lot of mix-tapes back then…

Like Eddie Ill and DL?

Yeah. DL managed me for a while. And I'll be honest with you: he was one of the best managers I ever had, 'cause he was the guy who had me all over Europe without even a record deal. I was touring all over the place just off the "Cranium" record, with a lot of different artists. I was doing records on their tapes that was considered records, and I was doing songs on Groove Attack.

But, anyway, what happened was I got a call recently about this underground record that was gonna come out called The Best Of the Underground. And they wanted "Cranium." They wanted the original, not the record, but the DAT. So I had to call Self who did the beat. And he's like, "I think it's in my garage…" And it never manifested because he never found the DAT. I said they could take it off the record, but that wasn't good enough; they wanted the DAT. It goes to show you, that one man's junk is another man's treasure. You wouldn't believe the amount of people that would love to have that DAT!

Now, you did a record with a group called Etcetera. Tell me about that, because I have that record, but I still don't know a lot about them.

Yeah, I read that blog you put up about that. Etcetera is a group that consists of a rapper and a producer. And the producer's name is Self, and he's the guy that did the beat for "Cranium."

Oh, I didn't realize that!

And the rapper is a guy named Shawn, and we go way back. We used to go to the studio together in Crown Heights, and Kweli used to go to that same studio. Queen Pen as well. I met Etcetera at the studio and we became good friends from there. And he used to hype man with me, so we created a bond. So he told me "we're creating a record, and we would like you and UG to guest star." So I was like ok, that's no doubt!

And it's funny, when I read your blog, that's kinda how I felt about it, too. I was like, ok… I wonder how this record's gonna come out. But it came out pretty good! Me and UG were sittin' in the studio going, yo, we're going hard on this record! We actually performed it a few times, and I think there was a video out.

Ok, well, now it's obviously been a long time since your 90's material and your latest album…let's get into what went on during that time.

Well, I think you know by now my whole life changed for me; I'm actually born again. I'm a Christian now and my life was given over to Christ. What happened was, in '99, I went through a major break-up, and I was shocked. I was out there, touring with Maestro, out there wildin' out; let's put it that way. Living the life of an artist. And when the relationship broke up, it really broke me up. And in that time I really had to do some soul searching and find myself; and it was honestly the best thing that ever happened to me.

Now, when you come to God, most people figure that He's not gonna want me to rap anymore. But, actually that's not what it was. He's actually now changed my context… and if you know my history, I never was that shoot 'em up, killer artist.

Right; you were never like a Geto Boy.

Exactly. So anybody that does know me… that's the good thing about my transition. It wasn't like a Hammer transition - not to diss him - but to go from a dancer to a hardcore thug look is not gonna work. And it didn't work, which is why you notice that he's coming back to the old way. And that's the good thing for me, because when I did go from the underground to the gospel, it didn't really show too much of a change.

And I've listened to your new music, and it's not like you changed your style or your voice or anything. It still sounds like Gauge.

Right. And I still get that kinda love. Because people contact me from all over the world telling me, "yo, I bought your new album because of "Cranium" or "Off-Key." And at first it was kind of concerning to me, because I try to let people know… One thing, I'm not trying to rob you! (Laughs) So I was hitting people back like, "understand that I'm a different person!"

Before the internet was so huge, we didn't know who loved us. We didn't know the type of fanbase we had. Because if we had a guy in Australia that just bought your record on vinyl, you weren't able to know that because he wasn't able to tell you. But nowadays, with the internet, it's such a huge, weird thing to see the tons of love that I get. Because I never felt as an artist, because I never had that major deal… so I never felt that until these things came about and I hear people say, "man, I've been following your career since day 1!" It's real humbling.

So my whole life had changed over. I started my own label and I got my own clothing line and I got my own things going. Things have changed for entrepreneurs, too. Everybody has more opportunities now. I was telling Phan the other day, all he has to do is put out a record and make it available on itunes. You know, he had over 200,000 fans. So if he got over 200,000 downloads, he could be a wealthy guy! It's that simple now. You don't even have to put out vinyl anymore, though I know guys like you who love the vinyl.

You can't ever fully do away with the vinyl. Like Evil Dee? That's one guy I give credit to: he stayed with that. Anywhere I go and see him, he'd be like "I'm not giving it up!" He's still lugging the records, and I'm like, one day your back's gonna be killing you! You're better off to go with the little CDs! But he'd rather lug the records.

But it's just been a roller coaster. Maestro's still doing a lot, and me and him are still great friends. He's an actor now, doing a lot of movies now. And we still keep in contact and he's proud of me and what I'm doing with this new album and still supports me 100%, and that's it.

You know what's so crazy about it is, if I didn't just come out and say I'm a Christian now, people wouldn't know it. If you listen to my music, I still bring the real, straight street information, and that's how I'm even labeled amongst the Christians. Within Christianity, we're considered all one body, but different parts. And there's some rappers that are more bible orientated; and they're more designed for the church. So people who already know it go in there and just get fed what they already know. Now, when it comes down to the street, to just grab people off the street and teach them truth, they always look to me. Like, if there's an outdoor thing that's not in the church and we're dealing with a bunch of 15, 16 year-old Bloods and Crips that's walking around and don't want to hear anything, I'm the one they call. Like, Gauge, get in there; they understand you. When I do my record "May Day" live, they go nuts offa that, because it definitely shows the skills, still, of the street.

Now the producers that produce on my album as well… I've got the Producers Coalition, which is Shamello, who did "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See" for Busta, I got Spiderman on my album. I've been blessed. I'm about to do my new album and I've been talking to a lot of different people. Rockwilder called me; he wants some cuts on the new album.

What really happened to me is that…. When you're a new artist, a mainstream artist? You are one person amongst ten million. When you come to Christianity now, and look at Christian rappers, you're one in ten thousand. Even on your ratings like on myspace, if I took off Christian rapper than I probably wouldn't even be seen. But since I am, and when you put in New York and Christian rap, I'm like number 4. And I'll be honest with you, since I have changed over, I haven't stopped working! My schedule has been bananas; I perform pretty much every week. And when I do shows now, we got CDs, and people BUY the CDs.

And when you look at it, the churches are getting bigger, and the crack houses are getting smaller. So it's growing, the artists are getting better… Back in the days, when you said "Christian rap," people assumed they were garbage!

Well, it was probably because a few came out early on that were pretty wack that painted a bad picture.

And just to be real honest, that is the truth. But as artists, we had to learn. And the artists are getting better. So, it's a huge market out there for us now. As far as spirituality, I'm in a much better place than I've ever been. And then, on top of that, as far as financially, I'm in a much better place than I've ever been! I got it better both ways; so that's why I try to keep it down to Earth and let people know this is the way to go. It's better off to stand out than to fit in.

And now you're also part of a group called Shamellion Rebellion?

Yeah. Ok, now that's another group. Shamello and Spider put that group together of rappers that they produced. I happen to be the Christian rapper of that group. We got NJN, we got Intelligence, we got SI… it's like a mixture of a whole bunch of different rappers that come together to make one group. So whenever we are performing, what happens is we do it separately as well, like I did with Lord Have Mercy in the beginning. We each did a song by ourselves. Then, the song off my album, "Rebelution," was the first record we did together.

So, tell us about this new album you're working on and how it connects with your last one.

Well, December Thirty-First Nineteen Ninety-Nine was the last album, which was pretty much a testimony that talks about when I first started when I first came to God in '99 onto the point where I'm at right now. So it pretty much summed up seven years of my life. Now, the new album is called January First Two Thousand, which is the next day! So that pretty much speaks from when there until now. So people ask me, when are you gonna come out with the new album, and my answer is "I'm living it right now." That's the difference between what I was doing then and now. When you're just making up stories, it's easy to write ten albums. But when you're telling the truth, you've got to live it! One thing I can say is that everything on that last album is true. Even that "Sunshine" record, that's about me and my fiancé that I'm with right now. And everything you hear down through the whole album is true.

With this new album, I just did my first record for it, and I'm real happy with it. I'm working with some new producers, and I'm getting beats from people all across the world. So I'm real blessed right now. So I just want to thank everyone out there who's keeping my career going, all my friends and everybody that supported me. God bless.

You can still cop his last album and get the latest updates on what Gauge is working on here at his myspace page. Don't be afraid to message him reminders that he needs to press up some vinyl! haha


  1. excellent interview! very interesting, thanks!


  2. Great interview. I was always a big fan of that off key style you spit, Gauge. For real, and that sample on Cranium used to bug me out. Anyone I made listen to it, couldn't help but like that shit. And yeah, the demo tape is pretty great. For anyone that needs it, here's the tracklisting:
    01. Caught Up
    02. Cranium(demo version)
    03. Keep Your Compliments
    04. Mind Over Matter
    05. Miss You Man
    06. Past Tense

    Peace to the renowned kev beacham at Philaflava for that one. I guess Gauge must have went up to his radio show in Chicago back then or something. I forget the story.

    John, you got the mad demo tapes, don't you? Do you ever plan on doing anything with them? Like, I'm wondering if you got that Cella Dwellas demo tape with the other version of 'Medina Style', 'Duck, Duck, Goose', and that Jane song on it.

  3. Yeah, definitely props to Kev for that demo... I've got it on my iphone! haha

    Sorry to say I don't have those Dwella songs (except the Jane track I have on vinyl from the Archives 12"), but UG does.

    I interviewed him not too long ago; he's got those specific tracks and others... he said he was thinking about putting together a little unreleased Cella Dwellas compilation or something. So definitely hit him up on his myspace and let him know I'm not the only fan hoping he'll make that happen! :-D

  4. You do the best interveiws. The questions you ask are on point and you do your researh.

    Keep it up


  5. Here's a freestyle by Roughneck Bastards from 11-18-92 on Stretch n Bobbito.
    Don't know if you heard this one, Gauge kills the 1st verse.
    Phantasm does the 2nd verse using the name Starchild.
    I'm not sure if it's UG on the 3rd verse or Gauge's other boy. But during shoutouts, I'm pretty sure I hear UG's voice in there.

    A LOT OF RAPPERS AND REGGAE ARTIST RECORDED DEMOS AND SONGs.Produced by me and Goldie. wE EVEN GOT DAS EFFEX shit, talib kweli, Queenpen, sun of man, kwame,Rampage, Maestro (My brother)who we share production credits. THANK YOU FOR THE MENTION GAUGE!!!!pS I GOT RUFF NECK BASTARD STUFF and the joint you did with prince poetry of organized confusion TOO...LOLO

  7. Cranium samples Where!!!!!!!!
    Naw im not telling...ok ill give one!!! the ill sound is Manard Ferguson Horns. Distorted by a transformer scratch!!!!!!naw iwas not high!!! if you listen to all self shit in the 90d's had ill little sounds that was my trade mark.!!!

  8. Damn, Self... 0_o

    I really hope that stuff can come out one day!

  9. Great read. Props

  10. Yo, Self...
    Just give me a yes or no on that, please. That sample has bugged me out for years...

    Props on the beats and I can't wait till you get those DATS out there for the heads.

  11. Gauge: I've to thank you for being the artist who rose to the occasion and friend who stood by when the chips was down.

    It's About The Music & The Connection!™

    Delmar Browne AKA De'-Mix

  12. Looking for Gauge now?
    This is his myspace.

  13. I'm way late to the party, but great interview and glad you guys like that demo. The reason why I have the demo is because it was sent to me because I owned a magazine in '94/95 called Caught In The Middle. However, I knew Maestro Fresh Wes from my radio show, Time Travel. I once did a radio show dedicated to Maestro's career, which I sent him a copy of the tape If you listen to the song "Clap Your Handz" by Maestro, the skit before the song is me talking and is an excerpt from that radio show. Anyway, Maestro stayed in touch and when once he connected with Gauge he sent me the demo for a review and it got reviewed in our first issue. I also used to play that Gauge demo heavily on my radio show as well.

  14. Anyone have any contact for Gauge now? I'd love to give his demo the full treatment on Heavy Jewelz vinyl. Win win situation for everybody, where you at Gauge?!

  15. you can find Gauge here