Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Megadope Jazzy Jeff

"The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff" is one of those cuts that's dope now, but you had to've been around in 1987 to really appreciate how impressive it was when DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince first dropped it. Actually, the rhymes are pretty simple... Smith is of course praising the DJ, but in a less playful, clever way than he we've come to expect from him, instead just providing a basic platform for Jeff to showcase his skills. The instrumental features unapologetically crashing drums, bashed cymbals, and the occasional classic old school sample as Jeff flexes. Sometimes he just gets nice on the hook, other times he cuts in samples to finish his partner's sentences (The Prince starts, "in a battle you cannot win, because my DJ will" and Jazzy Jeff rolls in a vocal sample from "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" to finish the sentence: "tear your butt limb from limb!") or does tricks ("make it sound like a bird... now make it chirp." And of course there's the unforgettable moment where "my DJ transformed into an Autobot" and he showcases the transformer scratch.

So this 12" doesn't offer much by way of non-album versions of "The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff"... there's just the regular and Instrumental versions. But there is a dope exclusive B-side.

A megadope exclusive B-side, to be exact. "The Megadope Mix" is a 10 minute mix of songs from their then forthcoming album, Rock the House. And this is really a pre-commercial Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Any keyboards or samples and such that may've been featured in the original songs are cut out or at least mixed down in favor of playing up the thumping drums, handclaps and constant rhythm cuts. They even use the original, rawer version of "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble," as opposed to the 1988 Extended Mix that most audiences are familiar with today. You really get the sense that young Will Smith is just freestyling these raps to you, rather than it being a series of major label records being spun in a mix. Jeff even finishes with the least melodic moments from "A Touch of Jazz," but don't mistake that for a criticism. This mix is banging and even makes the cheesiest and most kid-friendly moments of their early catalog (I'm looking at you, "Just One of Those Days") palatable to a hardcore purist.

This is one record that's truly earned its place among as a classic crate staples. And because it was backed by a major label, it's in cheap, plentiful supply. It may not be as mind-blowing as it was in '87, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a head who won't still enjoy giving this a listen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Learn Along With Werner, part 3

It's not about Father MC this time!

...Sorry; I Just wanted to get that out of the way so nobody bounces out before we get started. haha

Here's what this is about. I've decided it's finally time to settle down on exact, 100% correct track-listings for P.E.A.C.E.'s debut album(s), A Wing Dinner: The EP (1999) and Southern Fry'd Chicken (2000). Now you might say, dude, you been had the track-listings on your Freestyle Fellowship page already! And the track-listings are right on the album covers.

Yeah, "dude," but it's not that simple. See, the first EP clearly has more tracks than are listed, and the second actually has one less. Further more, a quick, needle-dropping session of Southern Fry'd will tell you something further is wrong with the track-listing. So, I'm taking them both out, side-by-side, and we're gonna work this out together, once and for all. It's just a little thing; but it's constructive. So let's get to it.

So, let's start with Wing Dinner. It's pretty accurate for the most part. By the way, "Way Cool Inst." is actually just a short clip of the instrumental to the old Freestyle Fellowship record from '93, and the next track, "Harder and Harder" is just a thirty-second acapella freestyle. Just FYI. Anyway, the track-listing for the EP is essentially correct, all six songs are as they're listed on the cover.

But that still leaves two more tracks on the CD that aren't mentioned in the listing. The first one's a bugged out 3-minute freestyle that starts out over a smooth beat, but winds up being acapella as P.E.A.C.E. keeps going when the beats run out. Then the last track, curiously, is an instrumental from the excellent Beneath the Surface compilation album ...that P.E.A.C.E. was never even on! It's from "Line Postin' In Pedro," by Brothers Manifesto (St Mark 9:23 & J-Smoov). So yeah, dunno what that's doing here. But this EP is the first and only place the instrumental was released, so it's a kinda cool bonus.

Ok, so now let's jump over to Southern Fry'd. The first two tracks are correct again and the same as the EP. But after that is where the first glitch comes in. Track 3 on Southern Fry'd is actually "Souf' West Rida" from Wing Dinner, which isn't even supposedly on this LP... which means now there's two too many songs on the LP's credits.

Well, when you take "Souf' West Rida"'s insertion into account, this line's up the track-listing for the album. Basically, every song on the track-listing is one ahead of the actual album. In other words track 4 is supposed to be "Already Gone," but it's actually "Southernwit," track 5 is supposed to be "Packedhouse" but it's actually "Already Gone," and so on right up to the end of the album. ...Which means that the last two songs listed, "Hell Yeah" and "Man Slaughter," aren't actually anywhere on this album (boo!).

Ok, that might be a little confusing to read out in paragraph form like that, so let's list it out properly... these are the new, accurate track-listings for both albums (you'll notice some titles are also spelled slightly different between projects), done in my unique discography-style. Again, this is what's really on them, not what they've written on the covers:

A Wing Dinner:
1. Way Cool Inst.
2. Harder & Harder
3. Souf' West Rida
4. Southern Wit
5. I'm Already Gone
6. Packed House
7. unknown freestyle
8. Line Postin' In Pedro Inst.
(B-Boy Kingdom - 1999)

Southern Fry'd Chicken:
1. Way Cool Inst.
2. Harder & Harder
3. Souf' West Rida
4. Southernwit
5. Already Gone
6. Packedhouse
7. Southern Fried
8. Good 4 Nothin (freestyle)
9. R.T.A.
10. Physical Form
11. Six-Tray
(B-Boy Kingdom/ Meanstreet - 2000)

So it's a little disappointing for Southern Fry'd Chicken... we lose two songs (which now I'm pretty darn curious about!), and just gain 1 that we already had on the EP. But it turns out Wing Dinner was a bit fuller than it took credit for, so I guess it almost balances out. Anyway, at least now we P.E.A.C.E. fans can sleep a little less confused at night.

(MC) Ted Nugent and The Don in '91

"Big 12 Inch" is The Don's second single. Remember The Don? He's essentially a Young MC clone (his flow, his content, his voice... really, if you weren't familiar with him you'd assume you were listening to Young) who came out on RUSH/Columbia, and his first single, "In There" got a lot of MTV rotation in '91. His most notable accomplishment, though, is doing the Livin' Large theme song with Herbie Hancock. He did that, his album (Wake Up the Party) and the two singles all in the same year, and then disappeared. His album was kinda interesting, because though the opening song and singles were produced by studio man Daniel Shulman, giving him some 80's guitar and a lot of slick, pop music sound, the bulk of the album was actually produced by old school DJ Vandy C. You know, the Viper, "Let's Whop?" And he even had two Large Professor beats, so it winds up in completists' crates.

But, anyway, this is that other single that came and went with basically no fanfare. You could tell the studio was no longer behind The Don at this point, but they were still willing to press up one more single... why? Because it features 70's hard rock legend Ted Nugent, that's why!

Huh? God knows what the thinking was here. If Ted Nugent was gonna do his big, "Bring the Noise" style rap/rock collabo, you wouldn't think he'd do it with a virtual unknown act like The Don? Somebody must've owed somebody some favors. And it certainly was a big non-draw fan-wise. Fans of The Nuge didn't want to see him prance around in some ultra-corny pop rap video, and us hip-hop heads were certainly nonplussed by some big-shot 70's rock star slumming around with our worst musical emissaries.

Even the basic concept seems designed to widely miss the mark of any kind of 1991 target audience. The whole song's a pretty basic pun where The Don laments about how the ladies show no interest in him... until he finally whips out his big 12 inch. Oh gosh, The Don has a foot-long porno dick? Maybe he's just in the wrong career! No... he means his 12" vinyl single. Nyuk, nyuk.

But how many middle-class non-urban kids across the nation knew what the Hell a 12" record was in 1991? Maybe, generously, 5%? So, now the two biggest selling points of this song are lost on the people they're trying to sell. Brilliant. But it's not the first big mistake of The Don's very short career... check out the twelve minute long "Super Club Mix" on the B-side of his first single!

So, yeah. That's the song idea. Daniel Shulman lays down a pop track with a nice little bassline and some grinding guitar loops courtesy of Ted Nugent. The Don tells some predictable tales about hot girls ("she had sandy brown hair, and her eyes were green; every ounce was lean and mean with nice amounts to be seen") who won't give him any play (yes, he uses that expression - it was 1991 after all!) until he gives them his record. Susan Campbell provides "sexy female vocals," during the hook, saying things like "oh, it's so big!" like a cheesy phone sex operator. And finally Ted Nugent RAPS! Yes, he's not just here to lay down the guitars but to kick a verse. Not even a quick couple of bars, but a whole damn verse you keep expecting to end, but it doesn't:

"Yo, Don... Hey. It's the Nuge, man.
When in doubt,
You got ta whip it out.
If you're in a pinch,
I've got an extra 12".
And it's a cinch.
When you were still in diapers,
I was training the 12" pipers.
You gotta go with the flow
Of the almighty Gonzo.
You looking for wang-dang, sweet poontang?
Well, what I got right here's the real thang!
The cats were scratchin' for the weekend warrior;
Rock & roll was getting gorier and gorier,
And I romanced the ladies
In the 70's and 80's;
And like a hot Damn Yankee,
The 90's get cranky!
So go ahead and run, son,
'Cause the fun is gettin' done.
Like a cocky little gun
I ain't even begun;
And I'm second to none!
And in case you didn't know,
We've already won!
Ted Nugent and The Don in '91."

And if you've got the titular 12" (or, like me, the maxi-single cassette), you get even more. First of all there's the Instrumental. Ok. But then there's Extended Mix. For the most part it's the same, but it's got a new breakdown, where they repeat some of Susan's lines, as well as some new guitar soloing. But, interestingly, this new stuff isn't by Nugent but by one Andrea Straub. She does a good job matching with Ted's stuff, though. She manages to both make it sound like it's all by Ted, but still really goes for her spotlight... as opposed to Ted's playing, which pretty much just sticks to the basic rhythm and groove. So, it's already the definitive, superior version (for what that's worth)... but at the end of the song, we realize we're in for a special treat: Ted Nugent's verse is even longer! "Like the past, I last and last. Just try to get rid of my rockin' white ass! Yeah..."

Wow... This is the kind of stuff the internet lives to dig up and make fun of, but surprisingly there's not much out there on this one. But this single DID make Ego Trip's second book (not Rap Lists, the Racism one), because apparently there were rumors that Nugent told Russell Simmons during the video shoot, "I'm a bigger nigger then you'll ever be." He admits, "THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I SAID ... I meant that I've got soul, that I don't resort to fuckin' electronic drumbeats and I listen to James Brown and Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave - THOSE ARE NIGGERS! THOSE ARE FUCKIN' SPIRITED, GENUINE AFRO-AMERICANS ... BECAUSE THE BLACK GUYS WITH THIS RAP, ELECTRONIC MAKE BELIEVE TALENTLESS MUSIC MAKE ME WANT TO THROW UP! WHERE'S THE SOUL?" Unfortunately that's all the book devotes to the incident/record, but I guess it let's us know pretty definitively that The Nuge doesn't exactly endorse this tune... lol

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life

This Is the Life: How the West Was One (I think they over-reached for puns by one there) is the new documentary on The Good Life, the LA hip-hop venue and the movement it spawned. And I'm happy to say it's definitely worth checking out.

A whole heap of Good Lifers are interviewed, and there's a lot of vintage footage on hand. They interview the owners, some regulars, and a ton of artists like PEACE, 2Mex, BusDriver, Medusa, Cut Chemist and a whole ton more. For someone like me, who's familiar with The Good Life artists and music but was never actually there, it's a bit of a revelation to finally see what it was like inside what was essentially a health food store with a stage.

Everyone interviewed is happy to share and seem to have a lot to say. They talk about how it got started, different artists who came up, the origins of Ganjah K's super0huge bong, the time Fat Joe got booed off-stage, when Freestyle Fellowship first got a major label deal, etc etc. And they constantly strike just the right balance between interview and performance footage. There's no fancy CGI effects bullshit or pointless shout-outs clips like most of the junky docs I cover in my InstaRapFlix series (heh). Just simple, quality content.

But it's not flawless. After you've passed the halfway mark, the film starts to get a bit redundantly formulaic. Pick an artist and everybody talks about how brilliant he is for five minutes, then move on to another one. No one has anything to say about anyone else besides "brilliant," "genius," "wonderful," etc. It basically turns into one big, shameless stroke session. And topics like why many of these artists weren't able to transition their freestyle skills to making quality records - or basically anything that isn't 100% ego-inflating - are artfully dodged. And this would've been easier to excuse if they were being comprehensive and managed to document everybody, but there's still plenty of great artists who were left out.

But stick around for the DVD extras, because a lot of what goes South in the film is right here!

There are several full sequences in the deleted scenes that are much meatier and more important than a lot of what's actually dragging the film down. There's a great segment on The Nonce, covering the time their record "Mix Tapes" became a hit to the moment they found Yusef's body mysteriously left on the side of the freeway. It's by far the most emotional moment of the film... I can see why they cut that out! Wait, what?

Other important topics they cover in the deleted scenes but leave out of the film are the spreading of Good Lifers' music through tape-trading across the world and how everybody came together for the classic Project Blowed album. Seriously, I'm a fan of Medusa and Figures of Speech, and was glad to see them in the film; but I would've been happy to see 20 redundant shots of guys all marvelling at how the ladies are both attractive and talented disappear, in order to fit these much more historically relevant and compelling topics in. It's a little frustrating to think that with a decent re-edit, a good film could've been a great film. But at least it's all there for anyone who's got the DVD.

Then there's the the bonus footage which wouldn't have fit in the film, but is still great to have as DVD extras. There's a segment called More Mikah, which is just that: more interview time with him, more performance footage, etc. And then there's a 50-minute long collection of performances shot at The Good Life. It's all shaky VHS camera stuff shot from somewhere in the audience, so the quality isn't amazing (sound or picture), but there's some great material, including performances by a lot of artists not featured anywhere else on the disc (like Ahmad springs to mind).

It's a nice package for a good movie... definitely worth your time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Outsidaz, Come Rain Or Shine

This is the debut of the Outsidaz right here. I mean, granted, Young Zee had come out a few years earlier, and through his singles and (unreleased but leaked) album, we'd been introduced to his Ouz crew already. And they cameo'd on The Fugees' second album... But this is their first collective single as The Outsidaz, the penultimate in New Jersey hip-hop. "Rain Or Shine" on Proceed Entertainment/ Out House Productions, 1998.

The track is simple, but a killer, produced by Kobie Brown. Proceed Entertainment was his label, and I think he was also acting as a sort of co-manager for The Outz at that time. He's the same Kobie who speaks up once or twice in my 1998 Outsidaz interview. and had been down with the Outz at least since Young Zee's earliest Perspective singles, which he also worked produced and collaborated on. He seemed to drift more towards the R&B side of the industry after this, but "Rain Or Shine" shows he was certainly adept at producing hip-hop. It's basically all about one ill, pounding piano loop and a crisp, slow and hard drum track. It's immediately compelling, you could just listen and focus on that loop the whole five minutes. But it's also simple enough to play the background for the Outsidaz sick and varied flows.

The line-up for this record is spelled out on the label, albeit in the wrong order. In order of appearance, it goes: Pace Won, Axe, Yah Yah and Young Zee. There's also a short, fifth verse which is uncredited... I think that's Azizz, but I'm not certain. The hook is a catchy example of The Outz' interplay, with each MC taking turns saying different lines each time, sometimes in unison. Each MC really gets a chance to play to their strengths, with Pace Won dropping some playfully slick wordplay, "The lethalest, I'm evil as Kneival is; I drop the bomb and leave your city people-less." Axe kicks a lot of quick, short syllable rhymes, "Swift to smack a lady actin' shady, that's the way the Axe amaze thee. Blastin' crazy, get the cash, then Axe be Swayze." Zee kicks his entirely unique brand of drug slanging raps, "I used to make a grand a day out in Santa Fe. Cops came, I ran away; moved to Tampa Bay. Now they say my tape promotes drugs when I bust, like I be out sellin' dust in front of Kids 'R Us." But it's Yah Lover, Zee's younger brother who sometimes manages to be more Zee than Zee, who possibly manages to steal the show with some of the sickest, craziest rhymes:

"We sever the ligaments of army confederates
For leverage. I smoke a blunt and dump two sedatives.
Still flowin' looser than the bitches I seduce;
After a noose, crews get disposed like a douche
From the grittiest, shittiest, climax climidiest[?],
Whose affiliates be on some old Willy shit!
Keep an open eye, you think of scopin' Yah?
Ya better apply for life with Mutual of Omaha.
All you biters'll die from malnutrition,
Or Yah Yah'll stomp out your endocrine system!"

The b-side isn't by The Outz at all, but by R&B singer Tonya Von featuring A.L. (short for All Lyrics). I don't think being paired up with the Outsidaz wound up doing her any favors, because the song got completely overshadowed by all the buzz "Rain Or Shine" was getting. And the Proceed family must've felt the same way, because they later re-released "Tonite" as its own single, but it still didn't catch on. Tonya Von, though, was also an artist who Kobie was working with back in mid 90's, who was also signed to Perspective Records, and who also got dropped before dropping her album (she had a single called "Bounce"). Anyway, it's not a bad track... the beat (co-produced by Kobie and somebody named Ibo) is a smooth head-nodder, Tonya's a talented vocalist, and A.L.'s guest raps are decent, if unexceptional... he was one of those Lyricist Lounge-type 90's MCs who was heavy on the punchlines ("lyrics so deep I wrote 'em in submarines"). But he's got a nice, swift flow and multi-syllable that definitely keep things interesting.

"Tonite" comes in two versions (not counting the Instrumental), the Main Mix and the Queens Mix. The instrumental and everything is exactly the same in both cases, but the difference is that the Queens Mix has an extra verse from A.L. right at the beginning. So for hip-hop heads like us, the preferred version is obvious.

So, pictured above is the classic vinyl, but I have something else I think you'll enjoy for today's show and tell: pictured right is the promo-only cassette singles Proceed was giving out to labels and rap journalists like myself. It does away with the instrumentals, clean edits and stuff from the vinyl, and just features the main, vocal mix of each song. They've got some slightly different credits (and different spellings: "Pacewon appears courtesy of Roka Block"), and they've also got stickers on the back covering up a 212 number with a 973 phone number.

Unfortunately, Proceed closed its doors after this (and the other 12" pressing of "Tonite"). Kobie and The Outsidaz were a good pairing, and I would've liked to see them continue to do more work together. But, hey. Maybe it's not too late. The Outsidaz have been doing more and more collaberations lately, and Kobie doesn't seem to have been doing much in the public eye, lately. Surely he has the time to link up and provide those guys with some beats again. Everybody would win.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You Should Pay Close Attention When We Drop It

Update 9/27/11: The HHC site seems to be down, so I've posted the article below... Click 'em to enlarge 'em to a readable size.

The new issue of HHC Digital drops today, with a special double-length column (Fear Of the Rap! pages 18 & 19) by yours truly. Why is it double-length? 'Cause I needed the space to make a definitive, set-the-record-straight guide to the Natural Elements' unreleased tracks. There is possibly more misinformation online about them than any other hip-hop group ever... And I also had access to some pretty exclusive details, so even the really knowledgeable heads should learn something by clicking here. 8)

The rest of the issue's dope, too. There's a big look back on the DMC tournies throughout the years. I'm still reading most of it myself.

Oh, and by the way. You know their unreleased Tommy Boy LP (which I touch on briefly in the column)? Well, it's not gonna be unreleased much longer. We've got it from Traffic themselves that they've rescued it and are putting it out this year. Quote: "Yes, 12"s were released back in 90-whatever to promote the shelved album, this is that album. not a recent effort by some old, fat rappers trying to sound jiggy." ...That's a bit harsh; the new 2Face stuff sounds dope; not pseudo-jiggy. lol But, hey, it's all good news.

Hopefully, this will be different than the bootleg people have heard, too. In an interview for Unkut, L-Swift has said, "The album people have, it was never mixed down. Nothing was mixed down. The song 'I'm Not Sure Anymore' (Track 3 of the Natural Elements Unreleased Tommy Boy Album), we were going to have Super Cat on that one. Those are skeletons of songs. They were in pre-production period." So, hopefully the Traffic album will have all the meat on it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spyder-D Interview, part 2: Malpractice

...continued from part 1:

So you started doing stuff at West End Records as a producer because you were tied up contractually as an artist?

Right, due to disputes between Telstar and Vaugn, I couldn't record as an artist. If I had been able to follow "Smerphies" up right away, there's no tellin' what that would have been. But at the same time, I honed my craft as a producer which I'm grateful for.

But B+ was you, right? As an alias?

Yeah, that was me under a different name. I'm trying to think of why I came up with B+; there was some reason that it was chosen… Again, I kind of blocked that period out, and we were so getting weeded up at that time. I remember, it was something because we were talking about the record being called Vitamin C, so I said ok, I'll call myself B+. That was the thinking there. (Laughs)

I couldn't come out as Spyder-D. And so I couldn't put my vocals on there, so I said, ok, I'll put the vocoder on there, and that way they won't be able to say it's me. You know, you caught me in a good mood to reminisce… I'm remembering more than I normally do. Because I had a mental block on a lot of this stuff, man, because financially, a lot of it didn't really turn out right. A couple dollars up front, and then never seeing royalties later on, which is the case with all of these records, man! These record companies would sign you and you'd have to pry some front money out of their hand; and then they got the nerve to turn around and tell you they're not paying you another time afterward.

As a matter of fact, Ed Kushins, Mel's partner at West End Records, told me straight up one day - and I'll always respect him for this - you negro guys are dumb screw-ups. We're never going to pay you a dime for these records. And his reasoning was: you guys go out and do shows; we don't get any of that money. You couldn't do shows if we didn't put the record out. So y'all are not sharin' any of the show money… so almost like: you keep the money off the shows, we'll keep the money off the record. And my reply to him was: you know what? When I was writing that record, I don't remember you sittin' there with a pen in your hand. His whole thing was, if we're paying you any money up front, we're buying the master. And in his mind, you shouldn't receive another dime afterward, because we're gonna go out and market this record so you can do shows. And he was dead serious about that, too. But I always respected the fact that he looked me in the face and told me that. As opposed to stabbing me in the back and keeping the money, he told me: if you don't see no statements from us, this is why.

When I told Mel Cheren this a few years back, when we finally reconnected with each other, he told me he never realized that was Ed's attitude. Because Mel was more or less the guy that vibed with the artists and bought the record. Ed took over after that. He found out later on that Ed had kept different sets of books and everything. He was robbing him like he was robbing us.

So that's what marred early careers. Profile was probably the best at actually paying royalties. You could call Profile every week and ask them how many records you sold that week, and they would tell you. Sure they were hiding a few records here and there, but it was better than waiting six months to find out, "oh, you only sold ten thousand records," when you really sold a hundred thousand. That's one thing Vaugn Mason taught me: get as much as you can up front, because you don't know much you're gonna get later on, if anything. Those were the 12" days. And it's a shame, because a lot of them guys are doing bad. They're doing bad and their records are still being sold! They're classics now, and they're still not seeing a dime. It's not right.

I guess that was a similar situation with Tuff City for you, then? Where they put out that compilation by you?

Yeah, I had to threaten to come and burn the building down for them to give me a $600 check. So these guys - and I say Aaron Fuchs is one of them, and I told him to his face - they still have the mentality that "we don't have to pay you for these records. You make the record, we make the money, and we might give you dribs and drabs." I'm like, Aaron, if this is all the money that this record has accrued, then what was the point of even doing the record? I said I know for a fact that you have done licensing deals and have been paid up front for them. But this is the game that these people still play.

And the thing is now - this is the hypocrisy - the RIAA will send a college student to jail for downloading a few records, but the record companies get away with robbing the artists who actually should be getting paid royalties. And they get away with it, scott free. Is that not the most crazy shit you ever heard? And I gotta read about some college kid going to jail. You know what? I'm happy he downloaded "Smerphies Dance." I wasn't getting paid any damn way! So he may as well spread the move about it. It's crazy, man.

And when they get licensing deals, like when "Smerphies Dance" came out on Thump Records…

I did that! I made that happen. I cut that deal myself. When I got older, I said to myself, this is my music, I gotta cut these deals. I gotta catch up with Profile now, because Profile sold their whole catalog to Arista/BMG, and I ain't seen a dime!

And they've certainly used your records, too. They've put out compilations with "Can't Wait" and stuff like that on them.

Oh, no question! But actually, "I Can't Wait," I forfeited the rights on that record. I actually got so pissed at Profile that I told them I wanted a release from my contract, and that was a condition of my release, to relinquish my royalties for that record. And like a dumb ass, I said, "whatever." I lost at least a hundred thousand dollars on that to cut myself loose… only to come back to the label anyway!

Right, I was gonna say, you had one more record with Profile after that.

Yeah… and they let Kool Moe Dee beat me on that one. After I left Profile, I went and cut "How You Like Me Now" with DJ Doc at PowerPlay, and my tried and true formula was to go see my buddies at either radio station, Kiss and Red Alert, or Marley Marl & Mr. Magic at WBLS. And once again, they played the record. But now the record is getting played and it don't have a deal. So Cory [Robbins of Profile Records] hears the record and he's like yo, we want that record; we want you to come back. I said I'll go back under one condition. Since I don't have an album with them yet, they gotta give me a picture cover for this 12". They agree, and that ended up being the death knoll for that record. It took them three months to get that picture cover artwork done. By that time, Moe Dee had went and cut his own version, and made a video and an album!

I remember thinking at the time that yours was an answer record to Moe Dee.

Nah, my record came first. My record was played on the radio three months before Kool Moe Dee ever did his record. Profile took so long to put the record in the stores. They could've put the record out in their regular 12" sleeves while the picture cover was being worked on. They absolutely killed me on that. I had to think, somebody had it in for me; something is not right here. Because when the record was played, the city went nuts over it. That record was cut based on my fascination with Prince's production at that time. And by the time Cory put the record out, everybody had moved on to James Brown and every other record was a James Brown sample. And Teddy Riley, who usually never sampled, sampled a bit of James Brown for Kool Moe Dee's "How You Like Me Now."

Now, "How Ya Like Me Now" blew up on the charts as soon as the record started playing. But Jive Records, being a bigger company, started calling all of the radio stations and telling them, "no, you guys are confused. The record everybody's calling in about and that should be on the charts is our guys' record." And Profile never did anything to combat it.

So that's clearly what inspired "Try To Bite Me Now."

Oh, that pissed me off! People in the streets… I saw T-La Rock. No, I saw T-La Rock's brother, Special K. I was bringing Ray Daniels and them "How Ya Like Me Now" with the picture cover - I had ten copies under my arm - didn't know nothing about Moe Dee's record yet, because it hadn't been played yet. And I gave K a copy and he said, yo, we just shot the video for this yesterday. I said, video for what? He said, Moe Dee just did "How You Like Me Now," too; and I literally stopped dead in my tracks. I said, you gotta be kidding!

And then T-La Rock really got under my nerves when he came to the studio one night. "Yo, don't think that was an accident. Yo. Moe Dee heard your record and since it wasn't out yet, he said he was gonna do one." Oh, that got me so heated! And Profile didn't do anything. I was so mad, I left the label. That and I wasn't getting royalties on the Nu Shooz record. I said, you know what? I quit again! Y'all wimped out on me, instead of getting behind me and having my back. Y'all just let it drop down the charts as this man releases a video. Can I do a video?

So I said, ok, I had started Fly Spy Records before. And I knew someone who would put this out immediately, and that was B-Boy Records. But Jive told him, do not answer me. They wanted him to keep going against LL, because that kept the records selling; but that was a mistake, because LL was a career killer. And that's actually what kept L's career going, because all it would take was somebody like Canibus to start beefing and then L got his street cred back.

But B-Boy were going through their own things… the two owners, the one saying he was stealing from the other one. Jack Allen accused Bill Kamarra of embezzling the company funds. I'm like, yo, this is crazy! I'm just gonna produce and engineer for a while, and back off this stuff as an artist. I was burnt out; there was more pain than pleasure by this time. You know, I had started doing Sparky's records, and I was getting paid more for Sparky's records than my own.

Well, staying in the B-Boy period for another minute, you put out one 12" as The Spydo Music Band?

Yeah, that was all me. Everything on there was me except for the scratch mixing. I played every instrument and I sang the lead vocals and the background vocals. That was an ahead of its time record. It was an R&B cut, and probably the first of its kind. The first R&B ballad using hip-hop scratching elements. The record was so impressive, that Clive Davis of Arista was about to sign it through Arista when he found out that it was me. And he knew I was a rapper, so he was like, I can't sign a rapper that's singing! If I had two or three more R&B cuts already in the can, he would've went ahead and signed. But when he found out it was me, a rapper, he thought maybe it was a one-shot deal and maybe I had gotten lucky in the studio. And when Clive Davis gets behind you, he really gets behind you. So they weren't gonna spend that kind of money on a rapper that they happened to like. And that kind of thinking is exactly why I used that name; because saying it was Spyder-D was gonna pre-prejudice people about it, and I wanted people to keep an open mind when they listened to it.

So the record did make it into regular rotation on WBLS, albeit the late night Quiet Storm rotation. But still, that was quite a feat for a rapper to be added to The Quiet Storm. I actually shot a little low-budget video for it, but B-Boy folded before we were able to distribute that. Another one of those near misses. I'm still very proud of that record.

Also there were two pressings of "Try To Bite Me Now." And one of them has a song called "What's Up Doc" on the label, but it's not actually on the vinyl.

Ah, ok, "What's Up Doc." Well, I did a deal with B-Boy Records for two albums: one on me, one on Sparky. We got Sparky's album done. I never was able to finish my album before B-Boy Records folded amidst all of the embezzlement, scandal and everything else that was going on there. And "What's Up Doc" was meant to be part of my album for B-Boy.

And once again, B-Boy Records falsified documents, and they told ASCAP that I signed over the rights to every one of my records. All the publishing and all the writers' royalties. And I'm about to sue ASCAP and B-Boy, because ASCAP actually allowed them to do that. How I found out about it was because I did the liner notes for Throwdown and the Fat Beats and Bra-Straps albums for Rhino. So, when they sent me the cover, I'm looking at the thing, it says, "writer: Ira Allen." What? I called up Rhino like, what the Hell is this? They said, "well, they told me that." Oh, OK. Well, then, I wrote "Billie Jean. I'm telling you now that I wrote "Billie Jean." Is it that fucking simple? They told you that I turned over the rights and that they own 100% publishing rights on my song - which ain't even really my song, because it's Boz Skaggs' song. I said, that should've been your clue right there, geniuses! Without precedents having been set for sampling back then, out of respect, I put on there, "Boz Skaggs," 'cause I didn't write this music; it was Boz Skaggs' music.

So, when I found out, I was actually in Virginia at the time. If I was in New York, I probably would've drove to New York and shot the man. That's how heated I was. I actually called him and told him I was gonna shoot him. And Krs had warned me. I was like ok, here's a label that understands creativity and just allowing an artist to do his fucking thing. Krs was leaving B-Boy to go to Jive, and they needed a flagship artist. I said me and Sparky are gonna go over there and we are gonna be huge. We'll have carte blanche to do whatever we want to do over there as the flagship artists.

They were gonna build me a studio; I was gonna be the king. Bill did show me a check one day, he said, here's the check right here. DJ Doc was gonna build the studio from the ground up; he can do that. He built a couple of peoples' studios. Ok, but I never saw that check. I said, is that my signature on that check? I don't know who cashed that check. Why would I be recording in PowerPlay Studios if I was gonna build a studio?

And this was after having the Aleem twins tell me they couldn't pay me royalties on Sparky's records, because Sunshine Distributors had filed bankruptcy and couldn't pay them what they owed them on the couple hundred thousands of 12"s we sold over there of "Sparky's Turn," "The Battle" and "He's My DJ." They were paying us, but we never even had an agreement. The Aleem twins were paying me for the Sparky records on a handshake. Every couple of weeks, they would hand me cash money. So, I was cool with that; we had a great relationship. But when it came down to doing Sparky's album and signing a contract, their lawyer was trying to rip me off. So I didn't sign the contract. And then Sunshine pops up with this bankruptcy, which means that everybody that they were distributing - which was basically every 12" label in New York - they weren't going to pay. And that got passed on to the artist.

I tell you, man, I wouldn't recommend this business to anybody. You know, Left Eye of TLC broke it down. She said, we had the number one album in the country, the best selling female group of all time… in history. And we come home off tour, my lights are off. That says it all, man.

So now how did you wind up coming out on Macola Records, which was basically the main 80's West coast label?

Ok, so Sparky's "Throwdown" is a hit. She's now pregnant with my daughter. I'm like, you can't do these shows and be pregnant; you're gonna lose the kid. What do you want to do? Do you want to have an abortion? I just resurrected your career. She said, no, I want to have this baby. Ok! But you know as a producer you've got a hit record when you're being called to perform it everywhere. So I knew it when I wrote it for myself for Profile that it was going to be a hit. That was back when I couldn't record, so Sparky did it and to her credit she did a great job on interpreting it basically the way I would've done the lyrics.

So, Bill Kamarro who was on his way out the door, just as he was leaving, told me, you've got up to 175,000 12"s sold. Of course I never saw that statement. My contract called for fifty cents a record. So that's over $80,000 that I don't got… that Sparky would've had $40,000 of. So by this time, I said I've gotta get the Hell out of New York, because I'm gonna kill somebody.

So my man Greg Mack from K-DAY, the first all hip-hop station in the world just cut a deal with Motown for a compilation album, and were gonna give him a full-fledged label deal. One, because he was on the radio, and he had access to all this talent, so it just seemed like a natural fit. So I told Sparky we gotta get up outta New York because somebody's gonna get killed… and it might be me. So we leave to go to California, and Greg Mack is gonna sign us to his Motown deal.

So we get out there, everything's lovely, and Motown's appropriating funds for our deal. And the number one single for Greg Mack at the time was MC Trouble's. She was the lead who was gonna get the first album in the deal. And we were getting real close, her and Sparky were really good friends. And she just, out of nowhere, up and died. And Motown just deaded the whole deal when she died. I said, ok! Let me just me a poppa for my newborn daughter and get outta this business, because you can't even write this stuff. A Hollywood scriptwriter could not write this!

But I'm the kind of person who'll get discouraged for a minute, but it just makes me more determined. So I started a little label out there and did a distribution deal with Macola. Now, I was already told: you know, if you do a deal with Macola, you ain't getting paid, right? I was like, shit, I ain't BEEN getting paid! So I did the deal, and of course I've never seen one statement from Macola. If they're gonna rob you… they can't even give you a statement saying you sold no records! Because then, that's a paper trail. So now I see my stuff on all kinds of compilations… Dr Dre's Drugstore! What? They took one of my records and said it was me featuring The 2 Live Crew. No, The 2 Live Crew featuring ME! On my own record! Where do these people get the nerve? What it is, there ain't been enough bullets spread in the right place. Rappers run around shooting each other, as opposed to shooting the record company executives that's robbing.

So also for Gangsta Wages, there's the overseas version on ZYX Records…

Yeah, I cut that deal.

But they've got a song on their version that's not on the US album called "Suzy."

Oh yeah, "Suzy!" Another Profile record, dude! That was a record I did and they said no. I did "Suzy" before Stetsasonic did… didn't they do a record called "Suzy?"

Yeah, "Talking About a Girl Named Suzy."

Yeah! That was way before they did that, and Profile wouldn't let me put it out. Unbelievable. "I remember Suzy was a floozy. Boy, was she a doozey. When it came to choosin' something-something, she wasn't really choosey." Oh my god, you just bugged me out when you brought that up! I forgot all about that. I'm gonna have to put out a greatest hits joint: Greatest Almost Hits. Bambaataa told me to do that. He said I just started putting out my own records, and I dare somebody to come say something about it, because then they'll have to give me a statement! They scared of Bambaataa, 'cause they know Bambaataa'll just snap his fingers and have the whole Zulu Nation rolling on somebody.

That's what Cozmo D is doing, too. He was telling me in his interview how he was putting out his records that he wasn't getting paid for.

Oh, did he think he was gonna get paid from a Morris Levy company? (Laughs)

His son, Adam Levy, is like the nicest dude. He knows what his name his and who his father was, though. He could have you killed at the drop of a dime. But he's quiet… the nicest dude. But obviously traditions get carried on. They'll put your record out, but don't expect to see no money. And I'm sure they sold well over a million of those records.

Well, So You Wanna Be a Rapper? That's the name of the book. Just lettin' you know, that it ain't all that it's cracked up to be. You gonna get robbed. But that's why I'm kinda excited about what's going on now… even though I'm still getting robbed. But you got your own label, you're doing things digitally.

Well, before we get into that, tell me about the 2000 album True Dat.

Oh, long story. Well, before the album, I had met some investors who ended up becoming very good friends of mine: Jewish attorneys in New York. And I did a business plan and proposal, and they decided to invest in the label, but I was not the primary artist; I had an executive role as a co-president of the company. But I ended up throwing one or two of my songs on our compilation of other artists as we shopped for distribution. And we actually signed with Private Eye Records, which was Joe Isgro, a very powerful figure in the music business.

I kept trying to remember where I knew Isgro's name from, and we went out to Ventura Blvd to meet with him. And we were talking and exchanging Teddy Riley stories, and it hit me where I had heard of him. I remember reading in Billboard they were trying to indict him for Payola and they were saying he was a mobster and this and that. And I said, that's where I know you from! I didn't meant it blurt it out. And I went into the story about reading in Billboard, and my partner was looking at me like I was crazy. Like, are you nuts?

But still we cut this deal… and now Private Eye was distributed by Universal. So that was great for us. But what had impressed him on the compilation was my single, and I had Peter Gunz - who I had produced when he was a kid, and who was blazing hot at the time - do a guest appearance on my record. And that was gonna be the single. We'd done the CD cover and everything, it was all set to go. Universal had given us release dates and everything. And TWISM, which is of course owned by Shaq, had Peter Gunz as an artist. And they wanted to play hardball. They said, we know you and Peter are friends and we don't mind him being featured on your album, but it can't be the lead single.

So everything got pushed back and everybody got pissed off. This was like late '98. And there was a lot of internal squabbles with me and my people, because they wanted me to be an executive but they still wanted an album on me. I couldn't be in the office and produce an album. So there was squabbles with me and my partner Tony White, who I had met through Davey DMX - we had become partners in Fly Spy Records. So there was just a whole lot of confusion and it ended up becoming two years. I finally get the album done, but it's no longer coming out on Universal/Private Eye because, through the grapevine, Joe Isgro was being indicted for racketeering and extortion. He got caught on tape about breaking somebody's legs; you can google it. They even got a transcript of what was taped.

But to me, Joe was one of the best music promotion men in the business. And if it had come out the way it was supposed to, it would've been a successful album, a successful single featuring Peter Gunz. But they had scratched the Private Eye imprint. And me and my partner had actually split up from Fly Spy, because he and the investors had a disagreement. And they said we'd put it out on Mecca, and the investors and I put together Propane Records. So it came out as Mecca, distributed by Propane Records, who was distributed by K-Tel. By the time all of this happened, and the album was mastered in March of 2000, K-Tel was about to file bankruptcy. So here we go again!

We shot the video for "Yes, Yes Y'all," but never distributed that, because that's when the hammer dropped about K-Tel. And then the investors decided they weren't gonna put another dime into the project. So everything just stopped dead.

But I think the birth of my daughter in 1988 put some of this in perspective to me. Her mother, Sparky, when we moved out to California, started hanging with the wrong crowd, got strung out on drugs and I had to take my daughter. I became a single parent by 1990, right about the time we released the Gangsta Wages album. So between 1990 and 2000, I went back and forth between being a single parent and managing PowerPlay Studios.

And between 2000 and what you're doing now?

Well, I kept producing beats and stuff, but just being a parent was overwhelming, because I had two kids by myself, and I actually took in Dominque, who was Sparky's son that she had after we split up in LA. It was just a lot! And I started doing security because royalties were coming slow - people talk about running around with guns and this and that, but mine are legal! I can walk out on the street with five nine millimeters strapped to me. (Laughs) And I'll still do that part time. The IRS had a lean on my royalties at one point, so even when they were being accrued, they were going to the IRS. So I got married in '94, that didn't last for two seconds, although we remained married. But basically just being a responsible parent took over.

And, you know, I was engineering in between. Patrick Adams encouraged me to start doing that when I was managing PowerPlay Studios. So, when I first moved to Atlanta, I was freelancing in Dallas Austin studio and Bobby Brown's studio. I brought in some of my North Eastern clientele. I didn't want to do engineering full time, because it kinda makes you see you're not gonna do your own thing for yourself, because you're too tired to work on your own album after being in the studio for 10, 12 hours doing someone else's music. You start getting hooked on that money, but it didn't feel right… like I was giving up on my music career.

So, working at the CDC, I met my fiance - my current fiance - and we have a three year-old son. And I want to leave something for him. So I'm gonna revise my label and do one last album, something that's accruing royalties. So, if I die, there'll be something over the years that my son can bank on. So that's part of the purpose of my last album, to leave my son an inheritance. But if the album flops, he won't be inheriting much! So I gotta get some hits off of this album. And one thing: I'm in control this time. Of course, I'm a David going up against Goliath, but in this global digital world, I have a fighting chance 'cause of viral marketing. And then I'll concentrate on running my label and producing other artists or remixing already hit artists, however it breaks down.

And where is Sparky D now? I think I read you're still promoting shows with her?

Well, Sparky's now an evangelist. She's trying to do holy hip-hop, but she's torn because part of her still wants to be Sparky D. She just did "My Green Eyes," which is something she thought about 20 years ago when "My Addidas" was out and we were touring with Run DMC. She took "My Addidas" and flipped it to "My Green Eyes." So she just recorded that, and I'm like, why are you recording "My Green Eyes" and trying to be holy hip-hop? You've gotta be one or the other. So I'm trying to manage her and guide her through that.

And your brother, Spyder-C?

My brother came up with LL and Mikey D. They were in the same age group and used to run around at house parties rapping in Queens. You're probably familiar with the beef that was happening for a while between LL and Mikey D, and LL did kinda take some of Mikey's stuff back then. Because I heard Mikey rapping, and then I was surprised to hear some of that same stuff on LL's hit records. But Mikey and L are good friends now, and my brother ran around with that crew. I listen to the record I did with them, "PBC In the Place," and I said to myself, these kids were using metaphors like way ahead of their time!

But my brother got turned off by the industry, the lack of getting paid, and he just went through a self confidence thing. He's always worried about what somebody else is gonna say. So he has a permanent case of writers' block, because he's gonna second-guess anything that he writes. So that's why I very rarely listen to the radio when I'm recording. I'll listen to maybe just an hour here or there a week. All I gotta do is listen to one hour, anyway, because after that it's gonna be the same songs played again!

A lot of the artists that I produced that were relatively unknown, they never would've even done it if it weren't for me. Diamond "D" was a football player that I went to college with. I just said to him, "you're gonna be a rapper." I was like the leader of those artists back then, they would never have been in the studio if I didn't take them. And afterward, they never went back to the studio on their own. I was the one that had the heart. I got it from playing basketball; I was not afraid of taking the last shot of the game. I want the ball in my hand in the fourth quarter. I'm not afraid of taking chances. I read I was credited for that record I did with DJ Divine for starting porno rap. That was never the intention! But reading those things, the peoples' reviews, the comments on Youtube… those things are rewarding to me. And it lets me know that records sold! But the accolades, and people reminiscing and calling you a legend. There's no telling how much money I've been ripped off of in my career, but I'm not worrying about that anymore. I'm still gonna try to track down as much as I can, but I'm just doing my label and what I gotta do with this album, Legendary, and my new artists, including the son I adopted from Sparky. He's on one remix I've done and I'm getting ready to do an album on him.

And another thing I've got coming out, I can tell you about now, is Spyder-D University.

What's that?

It's gonna be a hip-hop college. Crazy, dude. People are gonna actually be able to enroll and take courses in hip-hop online, like in a virtual world. It's been a secret, but I can tell you now. Engineering, writing rhymes, battling, everything that involves hip-hop and the hip-hop culture. Design, clothing, image, all of that stuff. It's gonna be a University. We're getting it together and it's all coming in line with the album. I'm not afraid to push the envelope. I'm excited about it, and we're gonna start making announcements about it and publicizing it right now, in case there's any Kool Moe Dees out there planning to bit it.

So, it's gonna be quite refreshing to get those and the book out. One of the reasons I wrote about Twitter is it's so mind-boggling to me, but also I wanted to write about a topic that was socially relevant. And that's out of the pages of Vaugn Mason. I can hear Vaugn saying, "yo, you should do a song about Twitter!" And I'm just realizing that was his influence on me. That's Vaugn; somewhere in the back of my head I heard Vaugn saying, "you should do a song about Twitter;" just like, "you should do a song about the Smurf dance." I tried to keep my motif, but updating my motif.

I've got some profound songs on the album that'll open a few ears and raise a few eyebrows. On the next song, I'm coming hardcore. I'm coming really street hardcore and grimy on the level of anything that anybody's doing right now. It might shock a few people, because I'm gonna name names. It may start some controversy, but so what? I'm fifty, I Stay strapped, and I'm legal. (Laughs)

I mean, I don't really anticipate that kind of fireworks, but I'm gonna definitely let a few things be known. As a matter of fact, I'll tell it! You can print it. They listed "Smerphies Dance," when they did "This Is How We Do." They actually came to my publisher and asked to use "Smerphies Dance," and when Sony, my publishing company, asked for 50% publishing, they said, nah, that's alright, we ain't gonna use it. And then they went and used it anyway! So now I got a lot of money tied up again.

So Fifty was cool and said yeah, we used the record. And The Game was actually the first to come out and say, yeah, we used your record. He relinquished because they only gave him 10% writers' credit on his own song. That's part of the beef with him and Fifty. So now the last hold out is Dre. So now, I had a lot of respect for Dre, but I lost a lot of respect for Dre. The next record I come out with, behind the Twitter song, is gonna be aimed directly at Dr. Dre, called "Malpractice."

I'm not gonna say anything that isn't true; it's gonna mainly be about, you're such a super producer? Then how come you gotta steal beats? And it ain't the first time! Quietly, under the table, he's been settling suits out of court on a lot of other peoples' stuff that he lifted. He covers it up and dresses it up; he's very talented at that. Like what he did with me, he added a new melody to it, over it. Very clever. But if you snatch away the beat, that record is nothing. And he wouldn't've even come up with the melody, because the beat triggered the melody. But there hasn't been a precedent set up in court. Previously, you couldn't even claim a beat. But why not? You can actually write down drum notes just like any other instrument, so why isn't it copyrightable? So I'm getting ready to set a new precedent, because Dre's refusing to relinquish a portion of the money. And Universal even wound up holding up The Game's album - and they had to cut a new deal with him - simply until this is settled, because of that one song. Because it was his lead single.

So I would be disrespecting myself to let him house my song like that and at least let me get my share of the money. Gotta talk about it. I was told not to talk about it, but since it isn't settled I gotta go ahead and get it off my chest, just like I did "Try To Bite Me Now." I'ma let it be known and how he takes it is how he takes it. You're taking food out of my kids' mouths right now. And when I look at it right now, I get angry. If it had been the other way around, and I sampled something off of The Chronic, they'd've had my ass in court before the record came out!

So, yeah man, that's what's gonna be next. People think I'm a nice guy all the time, but I get tired of being the nice guy. I wanna be the hell-raiser for once. I'm definitely going out with a bang!

You can already check out Spyder-D's Twitter song, "Who You Follow?" on He's also got, which is where he'll be putting up stuff on his new artists and the University project, so definitely check that out as well. And, yes, you really can follow Spyder on Twitter at!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Spyder-D Interview, part 1: The Early Years

Spyder-D has had a long and varied career. Plus being a huge fan since long before high school, I knew before I went into this interview I was going to have a lot of questions and a lot to talk about. So in order not to cut any of the great stories or to hit you over the head with a TL;DR epic, I'm breaking this one up into segments. Ready? Here we go:

Let's start out at the beginning, with "Big Apple Rappin'" and even how you just got into rap in the first place…

Well, truthfully, I always saw rap as a vehicle. I grew up - and really, the death of Michael Jackson kinda brought out the fact in a lot of people… When Queen Latifah was giving her part of the sermon at the memorial, she talked about how kids would be in the basement, pretending to be the Jackson 5, and we weren't different from anybody else. My cousins and I used to get together and lip sync for our aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers at holiday time. We'd put a 45 on and lip-sync "Who's Loving You" by the Jackson 5 or a Blue Magic ballad. So we all fantasized about being recording artists when we got older. I was a basketball player, and when I messed up my knee - my knee was really bad - and realized that basketball was not gonna be my ticket, I got serious about recording. I was going to school for broadcasting. And I just thought, for a young black male who didn't know anything about recording, hip-hop was the quickest way to break into the industry.

So I remember in college, when Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers came out with "Bustin' Loose," I recorded all of it on quarter inch reel-to-reel. And one of my friends there let me use the Eastern Michigan University studio, and I'm sitting there trying to splice together Chuck Brown. I'm trying to splice the break together over and over again. I had no idea what the Hell I was doing! I knew nothing about cutting the tape on the beat - none of this stuff had I learned yet - so as I started splicing it back together, it was so off-beat, it was like what the Hell are you doing?!

So I took a different path than a lot of the Harlem and Bronx rappers, which is kinda why I started producing myself right from the beginning, and why I was the first rapper to start a label. Because my in-roads to the hip-hop game were really a means to a more deeper end than just being a rapper or hip-hop recording artist. And, you know, I grew into the culture. I guess you could say I'm a second generation rapper, where the Harlem and Bronx rappers were the originals and first generation. I learned as a second generation from listening to them, but the difference was that I studied more about the craft of making a record than I did about writing rhymes or being a rapper. That was just a way for me to break into the recording industry.

So, at the time, when I started to get into the recording industry - I'd say late '77, early '78 - I started really getting into it. There was a local DJ in Hollis Queens named DJ Reggie Reg, who never really got the notoriety. And he lives here in Atlanta now, and we were talking about this the other day. Because he's one of the best DJs I've ever seen. He used to do little battles with Davey D, Solo Sounds and Infinity Machine and all of those legendary DJ groups from the 70's, but he was a football player. He was a linebacker and that was kinda his thing. I made my very first demo in his basement. I did my very first professional gig with him at Boston University.

So I had a humble beginning in hip-hop. I started off drinking 32oz bottles of OE and getting drunk and saying whatever I could off the top of my head and making it rhyme. It's not easy, especially when you're drunk. So that was kind of my humble beginning. And I'm finishing my book, by the way, called So You Wanna Be a Rapper, and this is one of the points that I talk about that stands out when I think about me starting my career. One day, I was sitting on my room really distressed, because nothing was going right, and I just got through smoking some weed. And I was listening to WBLS and Frankie Crocker comes on. And Frankie Crocker was the man. You always wanted to catch Frankie, because you knew he was going to play something that nobody else had. And sure enough, Frankie throws on "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll," which at the time was an acetate plate that he had. The record hadn't even been signed to a deal yet. Somebody brought him a plate and he listened to it and said, let me throw this on, because that's what I'm known for: breaking records that nobody else had.

So that record came on and I was mesmerized. One, because it eerily sounded like "Good Times," but the tonality on the bass - and I'm a bass freak - the tonality on the bass that they used, which was like a moog type of bass, what I call a rolling bass. And it just intrigued me and I was like, oh man, that's hot. And I'm the kind of person that'll get a vision, and I'll follow through on it. So I said to myself right then and there, I gotta find out who made this cut, and hoped Frankie'd say who it was. And at the end of the cut he said that was Vaugn Mason and The Crew. So when he said that, my intuition told me that's gotta be a New York-based group, because that's a New York term: crew. As funky as they were, they could've been from the Midwest, but sure enough I went to stores trying to find that record. And they didn't have a deal yet, but they struck up a deal based on that one airplay, because everybody was in stores asking for that record. So it might've been two months before that record was actually in stores. But I finally saw it on the Brunswick label, and I'm like ok, the record company's in New York. Cool. I'm gonna find these cats.

So I went to the record company. Me and Reggie Reg brought them our demo. And Ray Daniels was the A&R at the Brunswick who had actually signed that record. They called him Mr. Ears because all he ever signed were hits; he had ears for hits. So, anyway, he turned down my demo, "you're rapping over our beats. So what? Big deal." I was really discouraged, because we made what I thought was a HOT demo.

So I'm one where, if the door is slammed in my face, I'm gonna figure out: is there a back door or a side door. I focused back on meeting Vaugn Mason, and so I had to devise a scheme. So my scheme was: I knew some people in Queens that know some people. So this one cable TV producer that I knew had his own cable TV show they shot once or twice a week on the west side on Manhattan. So I said, ok, this group just came out with a record, so they want exposure. So they're not gonna turn down an invitation to perform on a cable TV show. So I set it. I took the record to his house and said, call this record company and get these guys to come perform on your show.

We set up a date, and I'll never forget it: January 15th, 1980 was when I met Vaugn Mason. And I introduced myself, gave him the demo, and he was flattered. He thought it was nice, gave me his number, and after all of the disappointments I'd had up to that point, it was very encouraging. I'm talking to a bonafide, on his way to being platinum recording artist taking an interest in me. But at this point, it was actually after I had cut "Big Apple Rappin'" on my own.

I took a van to Detroit Michigan, went into an 8-track and took every dime I had. I didn't even pay the band. They were cool they were gonna be on the record. I don't understand if I was that ambitious or that stupid. Because people looked at me like, here's this 18 year-old kid, who the Hell does he think he is? He knows nothing about recording, but here he is booking studio time to produce a record that he's going to press and start his own label with. I was so naive and stupid that I didn't know I couldn't do that! The ignorance of youth can sometimes be your best asset. And I noticed that down the road, when I noticed in my recordings that I was becoming too formulaic, as opposed to when I first started in the business, didn't know what I was doing, and experimenting.

Because "Big Apple Rappin'" had actually gotten great reviews from music critics. Dance Music Magazine, Tom Silverman himself reviewed that song. All of the critics gave me pretty good reviews. But other than that, I didn't know what the Hell I was doing. And that's when I met Afrika Bambaataa, because Bambaataa had read the review in Dance Music Magazine or like I did when I used to go to record stores to get the names and numbers off of the label, Bambaataa actually called to make an appointment. And my office for Newtroit Records was actually our place on Jamaica Avenue. It was a commercial building, but we also lived there. I had just come home from Detroit, and my mom told me she had gotten a call from some people who wanted to sign to Newtroit Records, and lo and behold, it was Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay. And I knew who they were; she didn't. Mom, these guys are legends! So I was straight up with Bam. I told him we're just a little label, it was really a Ma and Pa operation - or in this case, a Son and Ma operation - and I have no idea what the Hell I'm doing. I wouldn't even ruin your career. But that was a mistake; I should've signed Bambaataa!

Because we had probably sold 10,000 copies of "Big Apple Rappin'" right away. But then I signed a deal with the pressing plant where they became our partner, and I found out they were selling records out the back door. I wasn't seeing any money.

So, eventually, Vaugn and I did "Smerphies Dance," and that was the one that broke me wide open. That was an absolute smash.

But you also did "Rollerskaterrap" between those two points with Delmar International?

Yeah, the Delmar thing was really funny. He was like this raspy-voiced uptown hustler, and I was fascinated by him, because he was an older cat. And I'm just now finding out that I was his first pressing. The other day, somebody showed me in Freddy Fresh's book - in fact, "Big Apple Rappin'" was on the cover. I was going back and forth between Detroit and New York, and it's a little fuzzy, because, you know, between the alcohol and the weed, all the stuff going on, and it was like thirty years ago! But I know for a fact that I met Vaugn Mason on January 15th, 1980, because that date is etched into my mind. One because I hit the number that day - the illegal numbers in New York, not the lotto. January 15th stood out because I dreamed that I was eating a bowl of cereal, and the date stamped on the quart of milk said January 15th. So when I woke up, I said yo, I'm going to play that number. And in those days, I didn't have much money… I had this much to get on the subway and go and meet Vaugn. So I put two dollars down on 115… actually, I put it on 151, because I wasn't so confident in myself. And I would've hit it for like $600 had I played 115.

So, anyway, I stepped to Delmar, because I figured he knew how to handle everything, because I didn't know what the Hell I was doing with Newtroit… not knowing that he didn't know what the Hell he was doing! The recording was horrible. I listen to that record now and I cringe. And my brother was laughing when I made it, like, yo, who is that singing in the background? Some wet cat? And I don't know where those girls are now, but I didn't have the heart to tell them then, but they can't sing! It's like, they were so bad, just thinking about this is funny!

So anyway, Vaugn got co-production credit on that because he came in and arranged the guitar for it. The guitar player I had for that record was named Jimmy. Jimmy was drunk as Hell. He used to sit in the studio, noddin' out, while Vaugn was trying to tell him where and how to play the line. He got mad and started yelling, who does this guy think he is? I was like, dude, he's platinum. He was like, so what?

But Delmar was an experience because he had no intentions of paying me. I saw Delmar after "Smerphies" came out, he actually came to PowerPlay Studios, like, "yo man, now that you're making hits, you don't know nobody." I was like, dude, I never even seen a statement from you! And he went and licensing deals off of that record with Aaron Fuchs and whoever else he could cut deals with… You know, once you get a hit record, all your other stuff becomes valuable again. And that's what he did. I don't want to talk about him too much because he's dead now, but he had the nerve to look me in the fact at PowerPlay and be like why don't I go to Delmar and deliver some more hit records?

But I kept working with Vaugn, and I think he respected me because I stuck with it and kept learning the craft. So we recorded a demo of what became "Smerphies Dance," but it wasn't called that. It had the same bassline and everything, It was called "Nothing But a Party" at the time, and he said, why don't you come down to my studio and we'll work on this song. He had just bought an 808, and he hadn't even opened it or turned it on, so he told me to go down in the basement, mess around with it, and have fun with it. It was all trial and error, but I ended up recording what was the beat for "Smerphies Dance." And that whole hand-clap thing was basically just because I didn't know what the fuck I was doing… but I liked what I heard.

And that's all you really have to do as a producer. People get down on Puffy because he doesn't really make music, but he's still a producer, because he's saying yay or nay. Whether he's programming the beats or whatever… because I used to criticize him for that, too. How's he gonna be a producer when he's sitting there with a phone in his ear. He's got producers working for him, and he's just telling them, yeah I like that, change this, move that. He's still a producer.

So I made the beat up and Vaugn liked it, but he wanted me to change the lyrics for "Nothing But a Party." He said, save that for another day. He wanted me to rap about the Smurf dance. I said, Vaugn, I'm not rapping about the Smurf dance! Dances are fads, and especially in New York, they come and go. We argued about that, over and over. But eventually, I started to write some lyrics about the dance.

A couple days later, we went to Atlantic City to cut the beat, they put a couple of variations in some of the lines. All I used to do was hum. I used to hum the lines out to the musicians and they would play them, and then I would either give them a little liberty to put their own little flair to it, or I'd tell them nah, that's too far away, go back to it. That's how I worked with all the bands on my early cuts, because obviously I wasn't programming back then, I was using live bands. On "Big Apple Rappin'" they played the tempo a little faster than I would've liked. That's another thing my brother used to tease me about, like, "you sound like you're running out of breath!" And I was producing my own vocals, and it was hard back then to be able to critique your own vocals, so I would lay my vocals in one take and be done with it. But those were the early records.

After we finished cutting, we had a big argument over the hook, "heads, shoulders, feet and toes…" I didn't want it in there, Vaugn wanted it. In fact, that was Vaugn's contribution to writing the song. But he and his partner, who was basically the drummer on "Bounce, Rock, Skate," were all supposed to be co-producers. It was my beat and my lyrics, but we ended up splitting the writers' credit three ways, which pissed me off. Because as naive as I was, I wasn't that naive!

But I said, ok, they're platinum producers, I'm gonna have to pay my dues. So they signed me to a production group, which gave them the rights to shop the record. So they took the record around and they were asking for too much money for back then! Brunswick was gonna sign the record, but Vaugn had already told me that they had robbed him. He signed a contract for 27 cents a 12", which was kinda low, but he sold millions. He sold a million plus "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll." So let's do the math, a million times 27 cents, that's $270,000. They gave him a check for $35,000. Can you believe that shit? Plus, they were getting ready to close their doors… we had heard the rumor. So I said, Vaugn, why don't we take it to Brunswick and he said, yeah, they'll probably sell half a million records, but you'll never see a dime!

Then they went Profile, and Profile was strugglin'. I think Jeckyll and Hyde's record saved them, because they ere running out of money. They had took like 30k to start their label and were running out of money, and then Jeckyll and Hyde had that "Genius Rap" and that saved Profile. So Vaugn took our record to Profile, but I think Vaugn was asking for anything between $7,500 and $10,000 for the single. And that was unheard of in that day for a 12" single. No record company was paying that much money up front. To give you an example, Profile paid $1,500 for "Sucker MCs" and "It's Like That." Fifteen hundred dollars, and that included rerecording it. That was the budget. Larry Smith had to take the 8-track and go into a bigger studio and rerecord it, mix it down, and hand over the master to Profile. And they had to do it within $1,500. So Vaugn and them asking for $7.500 was nuts!

So I'm starting to get discouraged again… like two months after we cut the record, we can't get a damn deal. And I find out later on why! So we finally settled on this company that Ray Daniels took us to. He took us to Roy Norman, probably because he was black. Roy Norman's claim to fame was, I'm the only distributing black label with his own distribution," blah blah blah. He had a record company called Telstar Cassettes, which I couldn't understand. I said, yo dude, I don't want to be on any record company called Telstar Cassettes! It's the stupidest thing I ever heard in my life!

Dude, why are you making me relive all of these horrible memories? (Laughs)

We finally sold to Telstar Cassettes for $35,000, which we split three ways. Trust me, by the time we made that deal, I was so happy to have twelve hundred dollars in my pocket, it wasn't funny. I was ghetto fabulous at that point. So it had to be late November of 1982, when Telstar finally pressed up DJ copies, and I mean, everybody jumped on that record! They told me, Flash is playing the Hell out of it! JuneBug is playing the Hell out of it! All of the Uptown DJs were killing that record! But yet I hadn't heard it on the air yet, so I was still discouraged… plus, it wasn't in the stores. So, finally, Mr. Magic played the record one night… and it was the last record before he went off the air. And I'm sitting in my father's basement with the stereo I had bought with the money that we had sold the record for, and again I'm weeded up. And Magic's getting ready to go off, like 7 minutes to 12, and I'm like, yo, Magic's not gonna play this fuckin' record! And then all of a sudden as I'm about to turn it off, I heard that intro. I got on the phone real quick, I called my moms, I called my grandma; I said turn on WBLS right now, right now!

And after Magic played that record, it blew up. It just took off. Frankie Crocker… when Frankie Crocker played it, I was like, ok, I'm good. I am officially validated in the recording industry. Frankie Crocker is where all of this really started, when he played "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll." I had come full circle, and there was nothing you could tell me then. When he programmed my record into his show - in fact, he used to open his show with the instrumental. And at the end of the instrumental was where Vaugn and them let me put some of the lyrics from "Nothin' But a Party." That was the compromise for me making the song about the Smurf; I get my little verse off towards the end. So when he played that, you couldn't tell me nothing! Frankie Crocker played my record. And that was the start of the whole thing.

This is the end of part 1. Click here for when we talk about his hits with Profile Records, his battle with Kool Moe Dee, B-Boy Records, Sparky D, his new material and so much more.

The 10 Rap Commandments

So, seventeen years after "The Ten Laws of Rap" came out, Mad Skillz followed that up with "The Ten Rap Commandments." Of course, this wasn't intended as a sequel to The Showboys' record, but rather a play on Biggie Smalls' 1997 record, "The Ten Crack Commandments." Well, it was an album track in 1997 (from Life After Death), but it came out on 12" with the instrumental etc. in 1999.

That's worth noting because for "The Ten Rap Commandments," Skillz completely jacks Premiere's instrumental, including the scratching etc. He's literally just rapping over the instrumental version. That's why they probably label this specifically as a "Freestyle" on the label... Rawkus' way of asking Bad Boy, "please, don't sue us."

So the concept is pretty obvious from the title, right? Skills changes Biggie's ten commandments about dealing crack and turns it into a ten point manifesto on the rap game. But i thought it'd be fun to see how Skills' ten differ from The Showboys'. How far did the hip-hop scene come between 1985 and 2002? How would the ten most important rules for an MC have changed? Well, again, Skills has a whole (albeit short) song to break it down, so I'll paraphrase:

1) Don't trust your A&R
2) Don't play rough mixes of your songs for your label
3) Don't trust anybody who makes you promises
4) "I know you heard this before: do what your label say. They the pimp; you the whore."
5) Stay true to where you're from
6) Charge everything you can to your label
7) Pay your taxes
8) Don't trust your label mates
9) "You don't work at your label, so don't go there a lot."
10) Keep your publishing

...Now it's debatable how much of this can be attributed to a change in the times, and how much would simply come from personality differences between Skills and The Showboys when they wrote their songs. But it's interesting how much more cynical and business-oriented this new list is compared to the old one. Have rappers gotten more mercenary? Or have they become simply more jaded and aware of the shady side of the music industry? The answer is probably the age-old, "a little bit from Column A..."

So, there's nothing to this pseudo-white label (it looks like a white label; but Rawkus still puts their brand on it and catalogs it) besides the one version of the one song. Side B is exactly the same as side A. Of course, it would've taken some kind of lawsuit-tempting nerve to include the instrumental mix here... If you want that, just get the "Who Shot Ya?" or "Kick In the Door" 12"'s. Maybe you can make up your own "Ten ______ Commandments" rap. ;)