Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Keep Your Head Up, Paula Perry Interview

We first heard Paula Perry as a member of Masta Ace, INC, where she proved to be far more than simply a token female crew member. She struck out on her own with her debut single "Paula's Jam," which was a monster underground hit. And she soon released a slew of singles, including "Extra, Extra" produced by Premier. She eventually wound up on Motown Records, but her album, Tales From Fort Knox, got lost in the system. But she's stayed in the game, and fifteen years later, you'll find that there might be hope for Tales yet, and she's got a hell of a story to tell...

So to start, tell us how you first got started in hip-hop, making that transition from just a listener to doing it yourself.

Well, me bein' young and rapping outside the jams and stuff like that, you know. And Eric B & Rakim came to Fort Greene back in those days. And that kinda made me wanna become a full-fledged rapper. Because he, Eric B, was semi-managing me and my old partner. So that's how it started, really. But you know, it wasn't something that I really took seriously back then until I met Masta Ace.

And how did you meet him?

I met him through a friend of mine. He was telling me he was looking for a female rapper and stuff like that. So he called me to his house one day; and I rapped for Ace and he took it from there.

Is that how Lord Digga came in, too?

I think him and Lord Digga had went to high school together. So that's how they met. I'm not sure how he started rapping, but they knew each other for a long time before that.

I don't know if you've heard, but a label called Chopped Herring has been putting out the tracks Master Ace's unreleased second album, the one he would've recorded for Cold Chillin'.

Oh yeah?

Yeah, and you have a track on there.

I have a track on there? That was the first time... When I first met Ace, he was still on Cold Chillin'. So he did record an album. But I don't actually remember recording anything for that album specifically. Anything he might have on there would just be something he did outside of the album.  I have to find out about that.

Oh ok, so that was separate?

Right, right. To my knowledge.

Wait, I've got the record here. It was called... "Kick it On the One" [on Shelf Life vol. 1].

Oh! "Kick it On the One." Mm-hm. That was like the first recording I had with him. No album. That was like a demo, or maybe it was for like one of Mister Cee's freestyle tapes.

So you were already there with him for the shift from Warner Brothers to Delicious Vinyl.

Yeah. I was working with him in the studio, but I wasn't with him behind the scenes, as far as like or the office meetings, anything like that.

So as part of the INC, were you really considered, like would the label have considered you a member? Were you signed with them?

No, and that's something that I didn't really understand back then. You know, I was young and there was a lot about the business side I didn't truly understand. So actually we were on the records, but we never really got paid for being on the record. We just got paid for going on tours and doing shows with him.

But at least the touring must've been pretty successful, right? Because "Born To Roll" had sort of opened him up to the west coast and more of the rest of the country outside New York...

Mm-hm. Yeah, we did do a lot of touring. Like I said, you know, it was a lot of underhanded stuff that Masta Ace was doing that wasn't quite fair to the INC.

Another thing I wanted to ask you about with The INC, or the Action Posse. was Ice U Rock. You hardly hear anything about them.

Right. And they were actually part of the INC before me and Lord Digga was. Both of them was rapping, Ice and Uneek, and I think one of them started making beats. But after me and Lord Digga came on the scene... You know, everybody was in the crew, but they weren't traveling or anything with us.

Oh, like they wouldn't be on the tour?

No, nope. And even Steadypace. Remember, he had Steadypace DJing for him first, and he had that changed up... I never really knew what happened with that situation.

After he left Delicious Vinyl?

Yeah. Sittin' On Chrome he was around more.

So would you still be working with Masta Ace these days? It sounds like not.


So, when you came out with "Paula's Jam," that came out first through INC then again on Loose Change, right? Well, first of all, what even was Loose Change exactly? Who ran it?

Loose Change was an existing label, the president was Lisa Cortes, she did the movie Precious; she executive produced that movie. And, you know, I don't think it was a real good label for me to be on, because they were going through their problems. And of course the label folded... which shifted me to Mercury. And then something happened with Mercury, and then that shifted me to Motown.

What did happen with Mercury?

I'm not sure, but something happened where everybody got fired off the label. A lot of people lost their jobs. And they merged.

So back to when you came out with "Paula's Jam," were you like...

Signed? No. I didn't have a deal yet quite yet. So he decided to put a white label on me. And actually the labels were calling my house directly. People would give them my phone number, and they were trying to have a bidding war with me over the phone. I let Ace know, and at first he didn't really believe it. I had to put it to his attention: labels wanted to sign me to a deal. And like the next couple of weeks, that's when we started going up to labels, and I got my deal.

But I think, if I wouldn't have brought it to his attention... I think he knew, but I don't think he was planning on getting me a deal that quick. Of course he wanted me to still be with the INC and travel with him on his tours; but yet I wasn't getting paid off the album.

So then when you landed with Motown, that must've been sort of a weird situation, too. Because up 'till then, they had sort of an unusual relationship with hip-hop. It took them ages to start signing acts, and then it was always more pop stuff like Wrecks-N-Effect or Doc Box and B Fresh...

Yeah, it was weird. A lot of people up there. The only person who really knew what they were doing up there with hip-hop were Mister Cee and Shakim, Latifah's manager. You know, with Shakim and Mister Cee, there was a lot of competition going on with me and her album and stuff like that. Me and her are long time friends, but you know, in this business there was a lot of bullshit going on.

The reason why my album never came out with Motown - and I'm letting this out now; you're the first one I'm telling this to - is because they gave my money for my promotion to Laitifah for her deal. by the time the were ready to release my second single, I didn't have no money in my budget to promote. On top of that, Mister Cee stole fifty thousand dollars out of my budget.


And then you have Masta Ace, he had the promotion payments. He was taking money. They were giving him like ten grand a month to do the promotions and stuff. He wasn't doing anything.

So between Mister Cee... Shakim & Latifah and them... And Masta Ace... My deal fucked up. Excuse my French. I'm not gonna be quiet about it.

So, when you did "Getta Grip Muthaphuckas" on MIster Cee, was that during that time too?

Oh, that was way before that. That was before I even had the deal. So, you know this business... With Mister Cee, I haven't spoken to him in years; I haven't spoken to Master Ace in years. So it was like the greed. And in the end it was so messed up because a lo of labels didn't really want to deal with Masta Ace because of his activities, you know. So they were telling me to get off of Masta Ace's - because I was signed to his production deal. so they wanted me to get off his production deal in order to even deal with me. Def Jam included; they wanted me bad. But they didn't wanna deal with him.

And I guess you couldn't get away from him because of contracts, is that right?

Yeah, because of the contracts. My lawyers told me to get off him, but I couldn't bring myself to  do it really until when I got to Motown I realized, wow. You know? I knew they were jerkin' me all along, but I didn't know to what extent it was.

So not to get too dark here, but when did you realize that Tales From Fort Knox wasn't actually going to come out? Because it got pretty close, it was even reviewed in magazines.

I realized that after Kedar [Massenburg] took over. After he took over and he let Jay-Z and Bleek and all of them get in there and do what they wanted to do, you know, I knew that was it.

And then a couple of the tracks from the album came out on a label called Buds Distribution...

Oh yeah, yeah. I was dealing with Lyvio [R. Gay]. Just really "Six Pack" and "BQE." Everything else was outside the album. I didn't put out anything else off the album.  I knew the album wasn't coming out, so I knew I had to get money some other kind of way. So I just started dealing with them, putting out little singles here and there; just to keep my name alive and keep money in my pocket.

And then you came out on Fully Blown, which is probably an interesting story.


What was it like working with them? Who even ran that label?

Fully Blown, that was Bud's. too. Lyvio, I forgot his last name. And Tariq [Nelson]. And actually, he put out another single of mine, and just skipped town. I haven't heard from him and Lyvio either. That was the end of that. There's a lot of people lookin' for 'em. (Laughs)

So then you came out with another 12", on Familiar Faces, which I know is also your management team? Or what is that exactly?

Yeah. that's something me and my baby's father built from the ground up. You know, it's like a production slash management label; and that's where Lil Mama came out of.

Yeah, I was going to ask about that.

Yeah, so it's still working now, but we just have to put a lot of things back in order. We got couple of vans, got a studio, put out some CDs, got some packages and stuff together on some artists, landed Lil Mama a deal. And we got hopes for our other artists coming out of the label, but we have to see about that.

Who else do you have?

We have Negus, we have Vidal, which is Lil Mama's brother. We have Kadar, another artist of ours. And then we have the young producer Laron. I don't know if you've heard of Astronomical Kid? He did X-Factor. And LA Reid signed him to a label a couple years ago, but I don't know what's going on with that. But he came out of our camp as well.

And is Lil Mama still an artist now, or has she stepped away from that?

Well, she's still recording and stuff like that. I know MC Lyte's manager is supposed to be managing her now. And she's supposed to be part of a new reality show they got coming out now called Hip-Hop Sisters. Hopefully I can be a part of that, too. She's supposed to be part of that. And, outside of that, I know she's doing that show America's Best Dance Crew. They have a place for out in LA. She's livin'.

And I know you put out a mixtape in 2009, and releasing tracks on Youtube and stuff for a long time. So you've been staying in it.

Yeah, you know, when you have access to your own studio, you know I record myself. (Laughs) So I record a few songs there, I and Lil Mama record a few songs. It's just something so I can let people know I'm still a little bit active.

So are you coming back to that - putting together a new album?

Well, actually I started shooting videos for a lot... like all of Brooklyn, basically. And a little managing and stuff like that, a few shows on the side.  So I kinda like took a back seat; I was behind the scenes a lot. So somebody approached me a couple years ago and said I should put out a mixtape, which I haven't really finished yet. So I was just throwing out random songs here and there. But, you know, maybe if the right opportunity comes my way, I might think about putting out some more stuff.

But I would like to put out the album. From my understanding, Motown gave me the reels to the stuff, you know; they said I could do with it as I please. That's why I was putting out a couple of  singles through Lyvio, and I never had a problem.

And, and this is a good time for it, too; because a lot of labels have been releasing previously lost albums and all.

Yup, I noticed that.

So this re-release - or first release I guess, actually - is it locked down yet, or where is it at?

Well, I'm still pretty much shopping it around.

I know you had a lot of big stuff on there people haven't heard yet. I know you had like Brian McKnight on there...

Yup, Brian McKuight, Kelly Price, Lost Boyz... And the song I did with Kelly Price, I mean, it still bumps now, to me. It'll do good I think. It's danceable, it's R&B mixed with hip-hop. Radio, definitely radio. "I Wanna Be," the song with Kelly Price, it has a message, you know. Like you can be what you wanna be.

That's interesting, though. Because when you were reviewed in The Source, I know you got a lot of flack for that, having the R&B and radio elements to it that you mentioned.


Was that your decision, or like a Motown influence?

It was my decision. Really, it was mine and Mister Cee's collab. We just thought it would be the best strategy for the album, just to keep it more radio oriented. Although the first I put out was "Extra, Extra" because I wanted to stick to my underground roots. And which to me, looking at it now, was a mistake. Because Motown didn't want me to put that out. And a record label is behind you as long as you do what they want you to do. (Laughs)

Actually, they wanted the first single to be "Ghetto Vows," with Brian McKnight and Que 45.

Let me ask you about Que 45. Because I only really know him from appearing on your records. Who is he, or what's his story?

Okay, well he's actually my son's father. I got him into rapping years ago, and he started writing for Latifah and a couple more artists. And he was helping manage Lil Mama, which is his niece. So that's how all that comes to play.

So you're still working with him now?

No, not really. He's not really into the rap business anymore. Really, I'm just working for myself right now.

Well it would be great if this album could finally come out. I remember seeing the "Extra, Extra" cassette single in stores, and I didn't buy it. Because I was like: I'm gonna buy the album instead, like it's gonna come out in a few weeks...

...And it never came out. And I was hearing about everything that was going on in Motown and the other labels and stuff. And you know, I was like: wow, I can't believe it. So I pretty much knew what was coming. So when I started seeing a lot of people get fired off of labels, and other people coming in, they didn't really have no knowledge about my album. They were going in a new direction, and it was just crazy. And then to find out from Shakim himself what happened to my budget, which shook me.

And I could have worked with him, too, after the fact. My lawyer wouldn't let me sign the contract with him after what they did. And they were having a lot of problems with their other artist, and then they were one point four million dollars in the hole with the hip-hop industry, so that's why they started doing so many movies.

Right. I guess that would've been about the time they re-did The Flavor Unit as just The Unit, with all those new artists?


And when you said you could've worked with them, too; do you mean they would've signed you to that Unit?

Yeah, they were gonna sign me to The Unit, but I would've been able to own my masters. They weren't offering an advance. So really I don't know what type of deal that would've turned out to be.

Yeah, it didn't seem like that Unit went too far anyway, so maybe just as well.

Exactly. But you know, everything else came with that. Like, oh you can get some Cover Girl commercials, and you can be in a movie, you can do this and you can do that. But I wanted to be a rapper. I was just a hardcore rapper.

And they knew what to do with that back on Motown? Or was that an issue with them?

No, it wasn't an issue with them, because I did a lot of R&B oriented songs, like the Kelly Price, Brian McKnight and all that. All of them had dance beats. The only real hardcore songs I've done were like with Jesse West, "Extra, Extra" with the Primo beat, and a couple other songs. But the rest of them were for radio. I think they knew what they were doing and had in mind what they wanted me to do. And I was comfortable with it. Because I was still rapping like myself, but the beats were more dance-oriented and the hooks were more broad. And that's why i think the songs will survive today.

Yeah, in a way, the scope of hip-hop has really widened up.

Yeah. It did, it did. And that was part of the dilemma as well. (Laughs) Because I was a hardcore rapper, and they wanted to clean up a lot of stuff. And now they just trying to turn everything to sex, money and drugs.

So if you were to do an album today, with a big budget and everything, is that the direction you'd be headed in again?

Something definitely for radio. I mean, I learned that from Biggie Smalls. You know we all used to rap together. I knew it took Puffy a while to convince him that this was the way to go, but I see that's where the money's at. You know, so if I can keep my hardcore edge, and rap the way I rap just over some nice danceable beats with broad singing hooks or whatever, it's fine with me. And do the other stuff as well.

Well, hopefully people get to finally hear the whole scope of what you wanted to get out there with Tales From Fort Knox...

Yup. Call it Unfinished Business, because I think the album would have done real, real well. And Motown was actually real happy with the album, and I'd done the album the cheapest in Motown's history.

Basically, all the struggling artists out there, just keep your head up. Keep going; don't give up.

Thanks again to Paula for taking the time to talk to me... it's really great to finally get the answers to questions I've been wondering about as a fan for years and years. You can find Paula Perry on Twitter and especially Youtube, where she's got a lot of content up.


  1. Interesting read man, thanks.
    Always liked Paula's Jam since I heard Flex cutting up 2 copies on Tim Westwood's show one night.

  2. Just an add: the original promo CD version of the tales from Fort Knox album was recently sold at, so the album exists in physical form.

  3. Great interview, I've been playing a lot of Paula Perry lately, love her stuff.